§ DR. KENEALY
I rise, Sir, to ask the hon. and learned Member for Poole (Mr. Evelyn Ashley) a Question of which I have given him Notice—and, having seen the hon. and learned Gentleman in the House, I presume he is in his place. I have read in a newspaper called The Isle of Wight Observer, of the 27th February, a report of a speech purporting to have been made by the hon. and learned Gentleman, which report I shall now read to the House. It is as follows:—The Hon. Evelyn Ashley said they might hear, perhaps, among their Conservative friends a moral drawn from a notable election which had recently attracted considerable attention—that for Stoke-on-Trent. (Applause.) He had no doubt a great deal might be said to them about that, but he would only give them one 1186 answer, which was that it was the Conservative Party and not the Liberal Party which swamped the constituencies by the Reform Bill which brought in such a large body of the residuum. (Hear, hear.) The whole history of that election in his opinion was this:—Three candidates went down, and the man with the glib tongue got in. (Laughter.) The fact was that where they had a very large working-class constiuency they must no longer trust to the old party points, but they must, if there were a man with a ready tongue to tell his own story, take care that somebody else came down on the other side who could tell the other story. (Applause.) The history of the Stoke election was simply this, that the working men of Stoke only heard one side of the question, and therefore he did not blame them for what they did. He blamed those who had the management of the election, and who did not take care that the gentlemen who opposed Dr. Kenealy were men who had the power and the will to come forward on the platform and state their own side of the question. Had that been the case Dr. Kenealy would not have been a member of Parliament. He was sorry for this, because Dr. Kenealy was where he was not fit to be. (Hisses.) He did think the man who put a witness in the box whom he knew to be a false witness was not fit to be there. (Hisses, and a Voice,' How about the Pittendreigh forgeries?') Well, he thought it best to go to another subject.I wish to ask the hon. and learned Member for Poole whether that report is substantially correct.
§ MR. EVELYN ASHLEY
I wish to begin by correcting the hon. and learned Member for Stoke in what he has said about giving Notice of the report to which he has called attention. He has done no such thing. I have now for the first time heard that report read by him from a newspaper. The only notice that I have received is, "I am desired by Dr. Kenealy to say that he will bring before the House on Wednesday your speech as reported in The Isle of Wight Observer of the 27th of February, 1875." But I do not complain of this—because a man ought always to be ready at a moment's notice to answer for anything he may have said in public. Before I proceed any further—and what I say shall be a very few words—I wish to express to the House my very deep regret that anything that I may have unwittingly done has brought on them the annoyance, at the beginning of this Session, of another personal explanation. I can assure the House that nothing I can do shall be wanting to make the solution of this difficulty—if there has been any breach of Parliamentary privilege, of any Rule easy to the House, I shall or put myself entirely at the disposal of the House and at its order. In answering 1187 the Question put to me, I say that that report, as read by the hon. Member, is virtually correct. But I must claim the indulgence of the House for a few minutes, while I tell them the circum stances under which the speech in question was delivered, and the exact words I used, so far as my memory serves me—
§ DR. KENEALY
I rise to Order. I apprehend, Mr. Speaker, that the hon. and learned Gentleman is not entitled to discuss a Question. I intend to conclude with a Motion, and upon the discussion of that Motion the hon. and learned Gentleman will have a full opportunity of giving his explanation. The only matter before the House, I submit, is one of Question and Answer.
§ MR. SPEAKER
AS the House is aware, the House is specially indulgent in a matter of personal explanation. The hon. Member for Poole is now entering into a personal explanation of the words attributed to him in the Question of the hon. and learned Member for Stoke, and is perfectly in Order.
§ MR. EVELYN ASHLEY
It was impossible for me to answer the hon. Member for Stoke Yes or No. It was absolutely necessary for me, if I answered the Question to which he desired answer, to request the indulgence of the House while I briefly recounted what I did say and what really occurred. I was attending an anniversary dinner of the Liberal Working Men's Association at Ryde, and among other topics I alluded to the Stoke election, and I virtually did say, so far as I can remember, almost exactly what the newspaper report attributes to me. When I came to the point when I said, "If the working men at Stoke had heard both sides of the question, I venture to believe the result would have been different," strong expressions came from a small lot of persons to my right. I turned round to this small lot, and with some indignation I said these words—not the words reported in the newspaper—What do you think that man would make a good representative who is Editor of The Englishman and who put a false witness into the box?" I own that I said these words hastily, but I said them on the spur of the occasion, and not without a certain underlying feeling and conviction that it is necessary in these clays to speak out the truth now and 1188 then, even at the risk of encountering annoyance and trouble afterwards. Well, as to the first part of that assertion, I suppose it has a basis broad enough to support it, and that the hon. and learned Member will not rise in his place and deny that he is Editor of The Englishman. As to the second part, I would merely say this—that the hon. Member has only himself to blame, if the opinion I expressed was the opinion which I had formed. I wish to say no more about it than this—that I was not speaking from mere hear-say or from the talk of the streets and newspapers, but from what had come under my own personal observation. As a member of the Oxford Circuit, I was present at a meeting of its members on whom devolved the painful task of deciding whether the hon. Member should be removed from the list of the bar mess; and the hon. Member did not appear at that meeting to give any explanation of points which demanded explanation. But, after all, the question before us today, and the question on which I submit myself to the House is, whether I was justified or not in speaking as I did. I assure the House that I shall be ready to make any reparation which is in my power if I have exceeded the privileges of Parliament. But I venture to ask the House, before they proceed to decide upon this question and, so to speak, to pronounce sentence upon me, to remember that one of the most admired maxims of our Courts of Equity is that he who comes to seek redress must come with clean hands. Will it be said in the High Court of Parliament, which is more abundant in its remedies than the High Court of Chancery, that it does not signify in what condition the hands are that are extended to claim protection and redress? I humbly submit to your decision. I can only state that in what I did say I spoke with no personal feeling, for I have never been in collision with the hon. Member for Stoke, but merely from a keen sense and jealousy of the dignity of the House, which, though a young Member, I have learned is a desirable quality. I am ready to bow to the decision of the House, and to make any retractation and any apology I am called upon to do.
§ DR. KENEALY
I will not discuss this matter now, but I will give Notice that on Friday next—that is, to-morrow 1189 —I will call the attention of the House to the speech of the hon. Member for Poole as reported in The Isle of Wight ob-server of February 27, 1875. Witbreference to the hon. Member's complaint that I did not give him notice, I submit that the letter which he read was notice.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I wish to point out that there is no Question before the House. The hon. Member for Stoke has given Notice that he will bring this matter under the consideration of the House to-morrow. That being so, there is no Question before the House.
§ MR. LOWE
I intended to point out that this is a Question of Privilege, and the question is whether the hon. Member can in this manner, at his own will, adjourn a question of Privilege. We give precedence to a question of Privilege in order that it may be at once heard and decided. After having heard an answer to his Question, the hon. Member for Stoke does not make a speech, but informs the House he will adjourn the question of Privilege till to-morrow. Is that a course which the House will approve? If I am at liberty to discuss the question whether this is a breach of Privilege, I am ready to do so.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman will place himself in Order if he concludes with a Motion. [Cries of "Move."]
§ MR. LOWE
I move that the House do adjourn. I do not wish to say a word on the question at issue between the hon. Member for Stoke and the hon. Member for Poole. What I want to point out—because I feel it very strongly—and the more I think of it the more I am afraid that we are gradually embarking in a very dangerous course. The matter has grown upon me by degrees. I cannot say I saw it when the mischief first began; but I think it my duty, as I have a very strong opinion on the matter, to lay the opinion I have formed before the House. There is no doubt about our rules and Orders with regard to debate. We have a Rule that no Member shall be guilty of indecorum or use language offensive to another Member. If a Member uses such language, that language may be taken down, he may be censured, and the House may do what it thinks proper. That is evidently a Rule strictly limited to the order and decorum of our debates 1190 in this House. It is evidently pointed at our order and procedure. We do not inquire in such a case whether the statement is true or otherwise. The whole object contemplated in that Rule is simply the order and decorum of our proceedings. If a Gentleman makes use of offensive or unbecoming language—although what he says may be perfectly true, he nevertheless infringes the Rule, and makes himself properly liable to the censure of the House. What appears to me to have happened and to be happening is this—this Rule which, within certain limits, seems perfectly wise and correct, we are now gradually and almost imperceptibly extending, and the House is making a most injurious and galling instrument of oppression for itself. Take as an illustration of what happened a few days ago in the case of the hon. and learned Member for Frome. He was called to account for language spoken by him five months ago, and his language was read from a newspaper. That having been done, we glided somehow or other almost imperceptibly into a course of proceeding which we should have adopted had that hon. Gentleman made use in this House, in the course of debate, of the language he was charged with having made. That is to say, we were guilty of the anomaly—if not the absurdity—of having language "taken down" which was read to us out of a printed newspaper, as if it had been used in this House. That process was meant to be applied only in the heat of debate, when language may have been used, in order to prevent controversy afterwards arising as to what had really been said. Happily, in that case, the hon. and learned Gentleman made an apology, and nothing more was done on that point; but I cannot help feeling that that was the beginning of something which, if we go on, will become very serious indeed. To allow Members to feel themselves aggrieved by language used outside the House, in public meetings or otherwise, to come to this House and interrupt our proceedings, and to call upon the House to treat as a sort of criminal the person against whom they bring their charges, will in my opinion be a most dangerous innovation. I say an "innovation," because, having taken the trouble to look into the precedents, I am unable to find any precedent of a 1191 Member of Parliament being brought up for a breach of Privilege before the House for any statement he had made at a public meeting against another Member of Parliament, with a single exception. There was the case of Mr. O'Connell, who stated that an Election Committee, which was a body appointed by the House, with high judicial functions, had grossly perjured itself. The matter was brought before the House, and the House held—as I think most properly and justly—that that was language which could not be tolerated, and Mr. O'Connell was publicly reprehended by the Speaker. But that is no authority whatever for a Motion like this made to-day. There is a wide difference between the two cases, as the House will see. The hon. and learned Member for Poole charged the hon. Member for Stoke with having done something not in his capacity of Member of this House, but in another capacity. There is no occasion for the interference of this House. It is a matter of slander. The hon. Member for Stoke is charged, no doubt, with an indictable offence; but if he wants redress, he can seek it in a Court of Law. The hon. and learned Member for Poole will then be able to plead justification; whereas, if the charge is brought before this House as a matter of Privilege, we cannot go into the question of its truth—we can only look at the question whether it was proper for the hon. and learned Member for Poole to speak in such a manner of a Member of this House. Thus the merits of the question will be entirely put aside, and we shall have to adjudicate on an issue without having any means of information. Another thing I would point out. If we do not stop short in the course upon which we are entering, another result will be that, whereas every other man in the Kingdom will be at liberty to discuss with perfect freedom the words and the conduct of Members of Parliament, Members of Parliament themselves will be the only persons unable to do so. They will be placed under restrictions under which none of the rest of Her Majesty's subjects lie. Therefore, I do earnestly entreat the House to watch these proceedings, by which matters which are not matters of Privilege are sought to be dealt with as matters of Privilege, by which our proceedings are interrupted and irregulari- 1192 ties introduced, and by which hon. Gentlemen gain the power of forcing themselves on the attention of the House without going through the form of giving Notice, which all other persons are subject to. I beg the House to consider these things carefully, and think whether they ought not rather to draw back than to go forward in the course they are pursuing; that they will come to the conclusion that if persons do speak of Members of Parliament in a manner which is disagreeable to them at a public meeting out of this House, and having no connection with this House, we will not throw our sword into the scale, but will leave the Members of Parliament who are spoken against to do what they ought to be well able to do—to fight their own battles. I am conscious of having taken very little part in discussions respecting the Rules and Privileges of this House, and it may be that I may have been guilty of some presumption in interfering on the present occasion. It appears to me, however, so clear that we are entering upon a perilous course, and that this is a matter that requires watching, that I could not rest satisfied without laying my views before the House. There can be no objection, if an hon. Member feels aggrieved with anything which may have been said against him, that he may offer a personal explanation to the House. There was no objection to this in the case of Sir James Graham, when charges were brought against him by Mr. Perrand. Sir James Graham brought the question before the House, a long debate ensued, and Mr. Perrand was censured; but the affair was not treated as a matter of Privilege. That is the distinction. The House should always be ready to hear complaints from its Members, but it ought not to permit matters that are really not matters of Privilege to be foisted upon it under the all-atoning name of Privilege, and thus interrupt the order and regularity of our proceedings. I beg, Sir, to move the Adjournment of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Lowe.)
§ MR. DISRAELI
It is well, Mr. Speaker, that the House should remember that it is in the power of the House to decide what is Privilege; and al- 1193 though we do always listen with, respect to any opinion which may be expressed from the Chairs, still that is a function which this House never must give up. "With regard to the question which is before us, it appears to me that it would be convenient for the House to decide that question at once. We have already had two discussions on personal complaints, and it is intolerable that we should have another. Personal attacks are not necessarily questions of Privilege. To make it a question of Privilege a personal attack must be made in this House, or it must be made against a Member of this House in his capacity as a Member of this House. Now, the question which was raised the other night with regard to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Frome (Mr. Lopes) was one which I felt at the time was to a certain degree strained; still it was founded on a principle. An hon. Member opposite complained that the conduct of himself and of other Members of this House had been attacked out of this House, and that they had been held up to public reprobation for their conduct as Members of Parliament. I expressed my own personal feeling on the subject. I said at the time I thought the matter was not of that significance that it need have been noticed, but that it afforded some foundation for an appeal to the House and the Chair. Indeed, as long as the precedent of the O'Connell case is on our Journals, it is impossible to say there was no element of Privilege introduced into the question with reference to the hon. and learned Member for Frome. But in the present case I do not find even the shadow of Privilege. The hon. and learned Member for Stoke comes forward and says he has been accused, outside the House, of conduct which certainly is as disgraceful conduct as can well be conceived. But the words were not spoken in the House of Commons, nor at that moment was the hon. Member for Stoke a Member of the House of Commons. Therefore, I think it is very clear that the course which the hon. Member for Stoke should take, if he be suffering under this criticism and these allusions, is to appeal to those Courts of Law with which he is so intimately acquainted. In a book of authority with which we are all familiar, I find the principle well laid down. In this 1194 work on The Law and Usage of Parliament it is written:—Libels upon members have also been constantly punished: but to constitute a breach of privilege they must concern the character or conduct of members in that capacity. Aspersions upon the conduct of members as magistrates, or officers in the army or navy, or in private life, are within the cognizance of the courts, and are not fit subjects for complaints to the House of Commons.Sir, under these circumstances, my opinion is that we ought to make some Motion which would show the feeling of the House upon this subject. If the right hon. Gentleman opposite will withdraw the Motion for Adjournment I will propose a simple one which I think would express that feeling. I shall move that having heard the charge and the defence we do now proceed to consider the Order of the Lay.
§ DR. KENEALY
Sir, I cannot disguise from myself the fact that this House is now inclined to act rather upon feeling than upon justice. ["No, no!"] I state this without having any desire to wound the feelings of any hon. Gentleman. With the highest respect for this great Assembly—which I shall always treat with the deference it deserves—I respectfully ask from the House a hearing of the reasons why I think the present Motion is not a Motion which ought to be pressed, and why I ought not to be deprived of the Privilege appertaining to Members of the House ever since the law of Breach of Privilege was known. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Poole substantially admits the correctness of the report. He denies it, however, in some very material particulars. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) says the issue between him and me cannot be tried here. I respectfully controvert that position. It is perfectly competent for the House to inquire whether the version of the speech published in the newspaper or whether the hon. Member's version of it now is a correct one—for there is a most material difference between the two. In the newspaper report, which the hon. Gentleman never contradicted or set right, he distinctly charges me with conduct unworthy of a gentleman—unworthy of a man who represents as intelligent a constituency as there is in England, and who is proud to represent that constituency. He represents me as wilfully and knowingly 1195 putting into the witness-box a witness whom I knew to be false. That is his speech. To-day he alters it, and says I put in the box a witness who was false. There is a material and a vital difference between the two statements. The most honourable man at the Bar might unwittingly put in the box a witness who was false. But the hon. and learned Member for Poole, at a time when every newspaper in the country was fulminating anathemas against me, said I put a man into the box knowing him to be a false witness; and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London thinks it right and honourable to tell you—what he would not have told you if he had been well acquainted with Parliamentary history—that we have not the means of trying that fact here. We have the means, and I ask the House to grant me the means. The hon. Member for Poole puts into his speech, as he now delivers it, something about The Englishman. Well—when anyone who has a right to do so questions me about The Englishman he shall get his answer. The hon. Member for Poole has never been mentioned in its columns, and he has no right either here or anywhere else to question me about The Englishman. Let any man who has been mentioned in that paper question me and I will answer him. And now I come to the speech of the right hon. Member for the London University. I have followed exactly the precedent in the O'Connell Case. Lord Maidstone asked in his place whether the report of Mr. O'Connell's Dublin speech was substantially true or not;—he said it was;—and Lord Maidstone then did what I have done—gave Notice, in almost the same terms as I have used, that he should bring the matter before the House. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) says my conduct is without precedent. I can only say, then, that his reading in Parliamentary and Constitutional history is not as extensive as I imagined it was. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that if Motions of this kind are to be allowed, the matter will become serious. Sir, it is a most serious matter already—and cannot be more serious than it is—that any hon. Member of this House should get up in a public meeting, called by himself or his friends, and dare to denounce the conduct of another hon. Member as un- 1196 gentlemanly, dishonourable, and disgraceful. That is what has become serious; and if we wish to preserve inviolate the character and honour of this House we must put down with a strong hand what I will venture to call a system of American rowdyism. A few nights ago we heard that an hon. and learned Gentleman had charged a body of Irish Members with dishonourable conduct. Now the hon. and learned Member (Mr. E. Ashley) ventures to charge me with dishonourable conduct. This is a most serious matter, and I am perfectly astounded at the strange obliquity of vision which prevents the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) from seeing the thing in this light. He has addressed to the House an ad captandum argument—that this Motion of mine is calculated to interrupt our Business. Sir, I say it is a most proper interruption of Business; because life in the House of Commons will become intolerable if one Member is entitled to assail the private or professional character of another Member on public platforms without being amenable to the censure of the House; thus putting the libelled and slandered man, who has given him no provocation, to the necessity of going to the Courts of Law for redress. I was sorry to hear the First Lord of the Treasury make an allusion to me in reference to these Courts of Law. As he challenges me, I will tell him that I have no respect for our Courts of Law, and will never seek a remedy in one. If the right hon. Gentleman knew as much about these Courts as I do, probably he would not recommend any man to seek justice there. I think, too, such a recommendation came with exceeding bad grace from the First Lord of the Treasury, because his avocations during the greater portion of his life have been dedicated chiefly to poetic fiction and romantic fable. ["Order!"] If I am out of Order, and you, Sir, so decide, I will bow with humble deference to your decision; but I entirely dissent from the notion that any private Member is to call me to Order unless backed by you, Sir. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) has thought fit to call this a dangerous innovation. I respectfully dissent from that opinion. It is not an innovation. It is simply asking this House to do what it has never hitherto refused to do—resent attacks made upon one of its Members 1197 in his Parliamentary capacity. I believe the First Lord of the Treasury is entirely mistaken in the construction he has put on the passage of Sir Erskine May's book. I shall read the passage to show he is entirely wrong. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for London University says—and it seems to me a sophism unworthy to be presented here—that every man, according to constitutional practice, is entitled to discuss the conduct of a Member of Parliament, and that it would be a hard thing if a Member of Parliament were alone precluded from exercising the right. Whoever wanted to interfere with the right of discussing the conduct of Members of Parliament? What I want to put down is the practice for one Member of Parliament to slander another behind his back. That is not fair discussion. It is slander; and I want to put down slander if I can. ["Oh!"] I want to put down a system which, if persisted in, will render existence in this House perfectly intolerable. I disregard the right hon. Gentleman's sneer that I wanted to force myself upon this House. I did not mean to do so; I do not want to do so; and I think it is extremely ungenerous and ungracious on the part of a Member of his experience and standing to fling that taunt at me upon the first occasion when I have had the honour of addressing this House. If young Members—young, I mean, in their standing here—are to be put down and sneered down in this way, I can only say that it is an entirely different state of things from that which hitherto has been the time-honoured custom of the House of Commons, where I have always understood that young Members are rather encouraged. At all events they are not, and I respectfully submit ought not, to be put down by sneers of this description. The First Lord of the Treasury read a passage from Sir Erskine May's book—I shall show that he was entirely mistaken in his interpretation of it. Here is the passage—Libels upon members have also been constantly punished: but to constitute a breach of privilege they must concern the character or conduct of members in that capacity.In what capacity did the hon. and learned Member for Poole mention me except as a Member of this House? In no other capacity whatever. He commented upon the conduct of the constituency of Stoke- 1198 upon-Trent in returning me to Parliament, and said I was not fit to be in Parliament. What is that but commenting upon my conduct as a Member of this House? ["No!"] Some Gentlemen may entertain a different opinion, and they have the advantage of the support of the First Lord of the Treasury; but anybody who fairly reads the passage in the speech of the hon. and learned Member will see that it refers to me as a Member of this House, and in no other character. The right hon. Gentleman proceeded further, and read from Sir Erskine May's book what he Conceived to be his great point—"Aspersions upon the conduct of members as magistrates "—I am not aspersed as a magistrate—" or officers of the army or navy, or in private life, are not fit subjects for complaints to the House of Commons." Of course not, because these are reflections upon the conduct of Members in an entirely different capacity from that of Members of this House. The whole tenour, however, of the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Poole shows that he attacked me in this character; and his attack was none the less forcible and none the less a breach of Privilege because I was not sitting in the House at the time, though I was actually a Member. I say, therefore, that his speech, fairly and judicially construed, is an attack upon me as a Member of this House. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) invites me to defend myself. Now I have always understood it to be the law—and I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman recollected enough of law to know—that it is the accuser who establishes his charge and not the man accused who defends himself. I ask the House, then, to call upon the hon. and learned Member (Mr. E. Ashley) to establish the charge he has made. That was what was done in Sir James Graham's case. Mr. Ferrand was there called upon to establish the charge he had made against Sir James Graham; and as he failed to do so the House did what I respectfully ask it to do in this case—it branded him as a calumniator and a slanderer. To me it is a matter of indifference whether the House so brands the hon. and learned Member or not. My character for honour is safe notwithstanding his attacks. He has made an attack upon me which no one ever ventured to make 1199 before. I should have thought the whole dictionary of attack had been exhausted by the Lord Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench when he summed up against me. ["Order" and "Question!"] I am keeping to the Question. Every form of attack which could possibly be made upon me by any person was contained in that memorable summing-up. ["Question!"]
I rise to Order, and ask you, Sir, whether the hon. Member is in Order in reference to the Courts of Law and the Lord Chief Justice.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is approaching the limits of propriety which confine hon. Members, in speaking, to that which is relevant to the subject in hand. I shall not interrupt the hon. Member, but I hope he will be careful to confine himself to that which is relevant.
§ DR. KENEALY
I can assure the hon. Gentleman opposite that if he had only restrained his vehement impatience, he would have found that I was saying nothing out of Order. I repeat, Sir, with confidence, though with entire readiness to bow to your judgment, that everything which could be possibly brought against me as counsel in the Tichborne Case was brought against me in the summing-up, and that no one ventured to charge me, as the hon. and learned Member for Poole has done, with any guilty knowledge in the production of this witness. The Benchers for Gray's Inn have brought charges against me, but they never suggested that I was guilty of that charge. It is, therefore, an atrocious thing that, when neither the Judges of the land, nor the Benchers who carefully considered the whole of my proceedings in that case, thought it right or expedient to make such a charge against me, the hon. and learned Member should be the first to do so. Sir, I never saw that witness until weeks and weeks after he had been examined. Long before I called him, the witness had been examined by one of the most eminent Queen's Counsel at the Chancery Bar, assisted by another counsel of almost equal eminence and experience; and, having placed myself in their hands, those two gentlemen assured me and my junior and Lord Rivers, who personally interested himself in this great case, that they were as perfectly certain 1200 of the truth and bona fides of the witness as they were of their own existence. Nay, further,—when I rather shirked the possibility of danger in calling this witness, they were willing to take upon themselves the responsibility of advising me to do so. I will furnish the First Lord of the Treasury with the names of these two counsel. After taking all the pains I could to discover whether the witness was reliable or not—backed as I was by the authority of two gentlemen of the highest eminence in the Court of Chancery—it is too bad that the hon. and learned Member for Poole should think himself justified in levelling at me so unscrupulous a charge. I shall not detain the House any longer. I am perfectly indifferent as to the decision it may come to—whether it gives the goby to the question or otherwise. I have no doubt the sorry calumny against me will fall to the ground—that it will recoil upon those by whom it is thrown. Of one thing I am certain—that any slur which that decision may be supposed to cast on me I shall shake off as the hon. shakes the dewdrops from his mane. [Laughter.] I am glad I have afforded the House an opportunity for so much innocent mirth. I am not at all angry; I assure you I am quite satisfied with the reception the House has given me. I know the vast amount of prejudice which may exist against me in the minds of many hon. Members. I believe before many months elapse I shall show that I do not deserve to be regarded with that prejudice, and I trust I shall never do anything which shall make a single Member of the House of Commons ashamed of my presence.
I wish, Sir, to make a few observations before any decision is come to on the subject before the House. I agree in the course proposed by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli). It is founded upon his agreement with the arguments used by my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of London. I think every man in the House will feel that if in future Sessions we are to adopt the course taken during the short period of this Session, we shall have a good deal of work before us—therefore, I shall be entirely willing to support the Prime Minister in the course he has recommended. There is one other observation which I wish to make. The hon. and learned Member for Poole 1201 has fairly and exactly repeated all that he said on the occasion referred to, and I do not think it differs much in effect from what he was charged with having said by the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent. But no one can deny that it was a very serious charge to make. It was however made with reference to a time when the hon. Member for Stoke was not a Member of this House. He was a Member when the words were spoken, but they did not refer to anything which had occurred since his election, to what he had done as a Member of Parliament, but to something done by him as a barrister in a Court of Law. Still, the charge was a very serious charge—one of the gravest and the worst that could be made against any man, and one that might be fatal, if it were true, to the character of a barrister pleading in a Court of Justice. I think, then, after the statement which the House has heard from the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent, it will probably feel more than it did at the beginning of this discussion that the charge ought not to have been made. Of course, I am not about to say in the slightest degree whether the charge is true or untrue; but after the answer which has been made by the hon. Gentleman who has so recently come into the House, I do not think that justice would be done to him or the House be treated fairly unless the hon. and learned Member for Poole were at least to say this—that the charge was one which he made hastily, on the spur of the moment, that he regretted it had been made, and that he had no objection, in deference to the feeling of this House, to withdraw it.
§ MR. EVELYN ASHLEY
I feel it will be necessary to say a few words in the position in which I am placed. I do not wish the House to assume that I should make so serious a charge in an inconsiderate manner. I do not feel that I am able or that it would be right in me to enter on the question now; but in making that charge I assure the House I was acting upon knowledge which was not trifling, and which was contradistinct to something that was said with reference to the conduct of the junior in the case to which the hon. Member for Stoke has referred. But, at the same time, I feel that, however much I may be convinced of the truth of 1202 the charge, such a charge ought not to be made at a political dinner. I therefore feel that it would be consistent with my feelings of honour and truth that I should so far follow the course suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham as to say that I regret much having made the accusation on that occasion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I do not think, Sir, the proceedings of this evening should terminate exactly in this manner. This question has been brought under our notice as a question of Privilege, and it is only with reference to that issue that I thought it my duty to appear in the matter. I believe we may assume that the general opinion is now that this is not a question of Privilege. The hon. Member for Stoke who has had an opportunity of addressing the House—and he has had no right to complain of the manner in which his speech was heard—did not meet the objection I made, that the comments to which he referred were not made upon his conduct as a Member of Parliament, and that the House could not touch anything except what referred to the conduct of Members of Parliament. Then the whole argument of the hon. Member was founded upon the precedent of the case of Mr. Ferrand and Sir James Graham. I remember that case very well, but it would not bear out the course adopted on the present occasion. That was not a case of Privilege; and if the hon. Member had chosen to bring his case before the House according to that precedent, he would have received the same fair treatment which was accorded at that time to Sir James Graham, and the matter might have been generally discussed. But the hon. Member has brought forward his case as a question of Privilege, and it is as a question of Privilege only that we ought to consider it to-night. It was open to the hon. Member to follow the precedent of Sir James Graham's case if he thought fit to do so—but he did not. The question of Privilege is so high and delicate a question that it ought never to be approached without deliberation. Therefore, to mark our sense of the inconvenience of the course pursued, I think it my duty after this discussion to move that the House, having heard the state- 1203 ment of the hon. Member for Stoke and the explanation of the hon. Member for Poole, do now proceed to the Orders of the Day.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
Entirely concurring with what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of London and the right hon. Gentleman opposite, I rise to second the Motion. It has been pointed out that the words complained of were not spoken of the hon. Member for Stoke in his capacity of a Member of Parliament. I will go even further; it does not appear to me that the hon. Member, if he had been a Member of the House at the time, could complain of what had been done. The act to which reference had been made not having been committed in his capacity of Member of Parliament, the question would not become a question of Breach of Privilege.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House, having heard the statement of the honourable Member for Stoke and the explanation of the honourable Member for Poole, do now proceed to the Orders of the Day."—(Mr. Disraeli.)
§ MR. ROEBUCK
There is one word I wish to speak. I suppose the object of the right hon. Gentleman is that the House should mark its opinion in some respect with regard to Privilege. The word "Privilege," therefore, ought to enter into the Motion, and the Motion ought to be—That the House, having heard the statement of the honourable Member for Stoke with regard to Privilege, and the explanation of the honourable Member for Poole, do now proceed to the Orders of the Day.I move that the words "with regard to Privilege "be inserted.
§ Amendment proposed, to insert, after the word "Stoke," the words "upon a question of Privilege."—(Mr. Roebuck.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. DODSON
I hope the House will not accept the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member, because it is so ambiguous in its wording that it may be left in doubt, if the Amendment be accepted, whether or not the House does not affirm this a question of Privilege. In order to make the sense of the House clear, it would be necessary to insert the 1204 words that it is not a question of Privilege.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolved, That this House, having heard the statement of the honourable Member for Stoke and the explanation of the honourable Member for Poole, do now proceed to the Orders of the Day.