§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Complaint made to the House [17th February].
Question again proposed,
That the publication of printed placards throughout the City of Westminster, represent-
ing the part taken by Sir Charles Russell, the Member for the said City, in the proceedings of this House as 'inhuman' and 'degrading,' injuriously reflects upon the said Member, is an attempt to coerce and intimidate him in the discharge of his duties, and a breach of the Privileges of this House."—(Sir Charles Russell.)
§ MR. PLIMSOLL
Mr. Speaker, I beg the indulgence of the House for a very short time on a personal matter, and to put myself in Order I will conclude with a Motion. Though I must allude to certain matters relating to the question of Privilege raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster (Sir Charles Russell), I do not intend in any way to discuss that question, or anticipate the debate upon it. When I saw the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster, and the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Onslow), had given a Notice which would indefinitely postpone, if not defeat, the discussion of the Bill which I, in conjunction with several of my hon. Friends, am promoting, and on the success of which we believe depend the lives of many of Her Majesty's subjects, I believed that they had done so merely for the purpose of obstructing the progress of that Bill. Possessed of that idea, I prepared the document to which the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster and the hon. Member for Guildford referred last Tuesday, and I endeavoured to give this document every publicity in my power. I was possessed of the same idea when I replied to the Questions of the hon. and gallant Baronet and the hon. Member; but having had the advantage of hearing them deny that they had any such motive, and having now considered that emphatic denial, and had the advantage of consulting with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Louth—[Laughter]—having had the advantage of consulting my hon. and learned and esteemed Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan), I beg to express my regret that, under the impression to which I have already referred, I should have used language towards those hon. Members which, having regard to the statements made by me, I now beg unequivocally to withdraw. Mr. Speaker, I was prevented by an accident from saying yesterday what I have just said. I am very glad of it, for I am now able to say what will be 1110 far more agreeable to the feelings of the hon. and gallant Gentleman and the hon. Member than the very guarded and qualified language which yesterday I felt myself compelled to adopt, lest perchance next winter I might find myself face to face with the reflection that I had sacrificed men's lives to the indulgence of personal feeling. I fear that some will think me too credulous in saying what I am about to say; but justice to the hon. Members opposite requires it, and I may say also justice to myself, and therefore I say it with pleasure. I ask my hon. Friends around me—I ask the House—I ask the constituents of the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster and of the hon. Member for Guildford to believe, as I now firmly do, for sufficient reasons, that these hon. Members had no more idea of opposing the Merchant Shipping (Grain Cargoes) Bill than myself, or the hon. and learned Member for Louth who sits by my side. I would not say this if I did not believe it; but, believing it, I am bound under the circumstances to say it. Before the year is out we shall probably be engaged in a General Election—["Order!"]—and we shall be fighting for the seats of hon. Members opposite; but I should be ashamed to obtain any political advantage to my Party by allowing Gentlemen to remain under an injurious imputation an hour longer than I could help, after I knew that it was undeserved. I say this, because it is right and due to them.
§ SIR CHARLES RUSSELL
Sir, with the permission of the House, I shall say a word or two upon what has just fallen from the hon. Member for Derby. It appears to me that the position of this discussion is no longer a personal matter as between myself and the hon. Member who has just addressed the House; and I only wish to say that, it being now a matter affecting the interests and privileges of Members of this House, I beg to place myself unreservedly in their hands.
§ MR. ONSLOW
Sir, I follow in the wake of the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster. Personally, I can only say that the explanation and apology of the hon. Member for Derby will not only satisfy me, but I hope it will fully satisfy the House. The reason why I put down the Notice was because I conscientiously believed that shipping interests and the interests of the British sailors would be 1111 enhanced by a proper and fair discussion of the Bill; and I must repeat that a Bill dealing with such vast interests should not be hurried through Parliament without ample discussion. I wish also to say that it has been stated by the Central News Agency that, in concert with the hon. and learned Member for Louth, I had come to a sort of compromise in the matter with the hon. Member for Derby, and that I would make appeal to the Government to give facilities for passing the Bill. I wish to say that no compromise of any kind has passed between us, and I utterly repudiate the paragraph, from whatever quarter it came. My opposition to the Bill has been quite straightforward; and there is nothing in my action in the matter which would justify me in endeavouring to come to "terms" with the hon. Member for Derby. The apology which has just come from the hon. Gentleman is due to conscientious motives, and I would ask my Friends to accept it. I sincerely hope that, if the hon. Member for Derby has any cause of complaint against myself, or any other Member, he will not again complain in the way which he has thought fit to do in this instance.
§ MR. BENTINCK,
who was very indistinctly heard, said, that he thought the question was in a very unsatisfactory state. There had been nothing to justify the language of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll); and he would ask the right hon. Baronet the Chancellor of the Exchequer that a search might be made for precedents among the Annals of the House. He thought that the House, with a sense of what was due to its honour, should demand an apology from the hon. Member for Derby. Unless some such course was pursued the House would have no security against the repetition of such conduct as was now complained of.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, I am sure that the House has heard with great satisfaction and pleasure the statement of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) and the replies of my two hon. Friends behind me. No one who knows my hon. Friends could for a moment have supposed that their characters were in the slightest way affected by anything that was said by the hon. Member for Derby; and although it is very satisfactory that the 1112 hon. Member for Derby should have made the statement that he has made, and withdrawn, in the distinct and unconditional manner in which he has withdrawn it, the imputation which he had cast upon my hon. Friends, even without that withdrawal, I am quite sure that the House would have entirely acquitted my hon. Friends of having done anything to justify the application of the epithet "inhuman" to their conduct. As far as the personal part of the case is concerned, I think we may now consider the question at an end, my hon. Friends having frankly accepted the apology tendered by the hon. Member for Derby. But we have to consider what is the position of the House in connection with this matter. I am most anxious to avoid introducing any unnecessary element of bitterness into any question that comes before us, and I especially wish to avoid doing so on the present occasion. But we must remember that we have an important trust committed to us in the honour and the independence of this House. I will not trouble the House by going back to old precedents such as could be very easily found, and asking whether this or the other proceeding is in accordance with, or in violation of, the rules laid down in former times. We know perfectly well that with regard to the publicity of our debates and the freedom of criticism which is now allowed to persons outside the House a great change has come over Parliament and the country during the last century, and far be it from me in any way to attempt to restrict the great freedom which has been allowed. On the other hand, we should be cautious not to allow our desire to make our debates as much as possible the open property of the nation to degenerate into a laxity which might lead to improper interference with our proceedings. I wish for one moment to refer to that which may be called the foundation of our Privileges—I mean the clause in the Bill of Eights in which it is laid down that the election of Members of Parliament ought to be free, and that the freedom of speech or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any Court or place out of Parliament. I look upon that clause as a very valuable charter. It is true that at the time when the doctrine it contains was laid down it was not from the people but from the Crown 1113 that any invasion of the Privileges or interference with the proceedings of Parliament was to be apprehended; but the principle remains the same at the present time—namely, that the proceedings of this House ought not to be interfered with. Now, I cannot help thinking that if such a proceeding as that complained of on the part of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll)—namely, the publication in a form widely diffused and appealing to the whole of the constituents of such an important city as that in which we sit, and of so important a borough as that represented by the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Onslow), of statements having reference, not to past transactions, but to actual current Business, and couched in terms of appeal from this House to the constituencies outside it, is to be allowed to pass unchallenged and unnoticed and to become a precedent, we way find that very serious evil may follow. Of course, we are aware that one class of observations outside the walls of Parliament may easily merge into another class, and that one may be told that what is done here is very little more than what was not objected to there; and so by insensible degrees we may slide, if we are not careful, into a state of laxity which would be most injurious to the independence of this House and to the free conduct of Business within it. I think, therefore, that it is important on the present occasion that we should at least let it be clearly understood that we regard the step taken in the publication of these placards as one which is distinctly beyond the liberties which this House allows its Members. I freely admit on the present occasion, considering that the hon. Member for Derby has, in a very frank manner, and to the satisfaction of the hon. Gentlemen principally interested, withdrawn the expressions which gave offence, and considering that there has been a very great difference of opinion as to the precise lengths to which hon. Members may go outside this House in commenting upon proceedings within it—I freely grant that this is not a case in which to pass words of unnecessary censure upon any individual. At the same time, I think it is right that the House should distinctly express its opinion that the proceeding which has been spoken of is without and outside the liberties which it is the intention of the 1114 House to concede in the criticism of its debates; and, therefore, I am of opinion that it would be desirable that we should place upon record some Notice to the effect which I have indicated. The Motion that I should myself be prepared to submit, in preference to the Motion which is now before the House, and which, I presume, the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster (Sir Charles Russell) would be willing to withdraw, is to this effect—That, in the opinion of this House, the conduct of the honourable Member for Derby in publishing printed placards denouncing the part taken by two honourable Members of this House in the proceedings of the House was calculated to interfere with the due discharge of the duties of a Member of this House and is a breach of its Privileges:—But this House, having regard to the withdrawal by the honourable Member for Derby of the expressions to which the honourable Member for Westminster has drawn its attention, is of opinion that no further action on its part is necessary.I think we can in this manner escape passing censure where we think it is not necessary to do so, and, at the same time, distinctly mark that there is a line to be drawn; and I think for the future that line ought to be drawn short of the publication of such a placard as the one complained of.
§ Motion, by leave,withdrawn.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the opinion of this House, the conduct of the honourable Member for Derby in publishing printed placards denouncing the part taken by two honourable Members of this House in the proceedings of the House was calculated to interfere with the duo discharge of the duties of a Member of this House, and is a breach of its Privileges:—But this House, having regard to the withdrawal by the honourable Member for Derby of the expressions to which the honourable Member for Westminster has drawn its attention, is of opinion that no further action on its part is necessary."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
entirely agreed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the immense importance of the question before the House, because it was a question of the extent to which the House of Commons would raise the right of Privilege as against the discussion of political action out-of-doors. He was, however, surprised, and regretted that the Leader of the House should have departed altogether from the course taken by his Predecessor (Mr. Disraeli) on the last occasion, when a 1115 similar occurrence took place. The hon. and learned Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan), on the 15th of February, 1875, called the attention of the House to the language used with respect to certain Irish Members by a late Member of the House (the present Mr. Justice Lopes). That language was to the effect that certain Members of that House were allied with a disreputable Irish band, whose watchword in the House was Home Rule and repeal of the Union. The matter was taken notice of as a question of Privilege, and it was not denied by the Prime Minister (then Mr. Disraeli) that it might be so treated; but he said—and the speech was delivered before any apology had been made by Mr. Lopes—I did not rise before, because I really thought this was an affair which would be easily and not unpleasantly settled. The hon. Member for Louth has had an opportunity of addressing the House at considerable length, and in the vein of glowing rhetoric which we always listen to with pleasure.Mr. Disraeli then made some observations with regard to the hon. and learned Member for Louth, which he would not read to the House, and went on to say—It was really unnecessary, I think, to touch now upon the language used by the hon. Member for North Lincolnshire (Sir John Astley). My recollection is that he withdrew the expressions which were the subject of the complaint; and when an hon. Gentleman acknowledges that he has made a mistake, and has used expressions which, on reflection, he sees are not justified, it is the custom of Gentlemen to forget them.Now, he (Sir William Harcourt) supposed that the House of Commons was an Assembly of Gentlemen; and they would, he thought, do wisely if they acted on the advice which had been given in that speech by the late Leader of the House. Mr. Disraeli added—Then we have the case of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Frome. I am not here to deny that it is a breach of Privilege to speak of any Members of this House in their capacity as such in terms which imply disgrace, or, as the hon. Gentleman said, ignominy. But I must remind the House that the expressions here used—when calmly considered—though they may certainly justify notice, are still not of a very extravagant character.Mr. Disraeli then proceeded to say—The hon. Member who spoke second in the debate (Mr. O'Connor Power) asks what we on the front Ministerial Bench should have done if this expression had been used respecting us? 1116 Well, Sir, what I should have done—and I think I may say what all my Colleagues would have done—would have been to take no notice of it.Now, an hon. Member of that House had recently, in a speech delivered to a Conservative Association, spoken of one of the most eminent Members of the House as being a man who would sell his soul for office; but he had never heard that the distinguished person who had been so spoken of had thought it worth his while to bring those words before the House as a question of Privilege. Mr. Disraeli further observed, on the occasion to which he was referring—At the same time, I do not say that the course we should have pursued ought to prevent Irish Members from receiving the satisfaction to which they are entitled from my hon. and learned Friend, who has now an opportunity in a full House of doing that which is, I think, the privilege as well as the duty of an English gentleman when he has done wrong—that which will only cause his friends to respect him the more—I mean, frankly express his regret for having inadvertently given pain to others. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will now make use of this opportunity—will remove all ill-feeling on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite, on account of his language, and that we shall be able to extricate the House from the painful necessity of making this a question of Privilege."—[3Hansard,ccxxii., 329–32.]Now, that being the course which was taken in 1875, why, he should like to know, should it not be followed on the present occasion? He would next call the attention of the House to another case of very great importance, which occurred in 1844, when a charge of a most odious character was brought by Mr. Ferrand against Sir James Graham—a charge which was unquestionably and undeniably false—that of using his influence, with other Members of the House, to obtain from an Election Committee a false and fraudulent Report. It was impossible to make an accusation more odious or unfounded; and he should like to observe, in reply to the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck), who complained that the consideration of the question before the House had been delayed, that that was precisely the course which had been advocated by Sir Robert Peel in 1844. Sir Robert Peel then said that the case was one which ought not to be disposed of in a hurry, ridiculous as the charge was, and unanimous though the feeling of the House might be that it was without 1117 foundation. A decision, Sir Robert Peel, who was in favour of the public discussion of the conduct of Members of Parliament, and even of Cabinet Ministers, contended, could not be arrived at on the question without establishing an important precedent; and, therefore, it was desirable, before coming to any such decision, to look back at the Records which were within reach of the House. Considering the great Constitutional question involved, Sir Robert Peel went on to urge the necessity of perfectly free discussion, and the risk that a feeling of indignation might prompt the House to adopt some sudden course which it might afterwards regret. Hon. Members, in their individual capacity, ought to have the means of seeing what had, in similar circumstances, been done in past times, and be afforded an opportunity of deliberating as to what ought to be done in the present. That, he thought, was a sufficient answer to what had fallen from the hon. Member for West Norfolk. But did the House of Commons, he would ask, in 1844, decide that a Breach of Privilege had been committed? No, although the charge brought against Sir James Graham had neither been proved nor withdrawn, Sir Robert Peel would not allow so dangerous a precedent to be set; but he made a Motion to the effect that Sir James Graham and the other Member named having denied in their places the truth of the allegations made against them, and Mr. Ferrand having declined to substantiate his charges, the House was of opinion that those charges were wholly unfounded and calumnious, and did not affect in the slightest degree the honour or the characters of the Members in question. There was in all that not a word about Privilege, for Sir Robert Peel was alive to the danger of passing such a Resolution as that which the Chancellor of the Exchequer now proposed. He would not permit the House of Commons to set so mischievous an example, and put such a restraint on the public discussion of the conduct of Members of Parliament. There was also another case—the Abercromby Case—to which he might refer, which occurred in 1824, when Lord Eldon denounced in the Court of Chancery a Member of the House as having been guilty of falsehood. The matter was brought before the House as a Question of Privilege, and was de- 1118 bated at great length. Some very eminent persons were in favour of pronouncing the language of Lord Eldon a Breach of Privilege; but Mr. Canning and Mr. Peel were opposed to that course, and a majority of the House supported the view which they took. Those were the three great precedents on the subject; and it was clear from them that, in recent times, the House of Commons had not shown itself willing to invoke the shield of Privilege for the purpose of defending its Members from public criticism. If he were to quote ancient precedents, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had very wisely declined to entertain, a rule would, no doubt, be found to the effect that there could be no criticism upon any act of a Member of Parliament in reference to his Parliamentary conduct; and if they chose to act upon the principle of Privilege as laid down in Parliamentary precedent, to speak of a man's vote, even to publish his speech or his vote, or to criticize his vote, was a Breach of Privilege. That was the only principle, if a rigorous course was to be adopted, on which the House could stand. All the rest was a question of degree. It was a question of adjectives, and, as regarded the adjectives of the hon. Member for Derby, they were withdrawn, and they had no place in the Resolution of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. What they were asked to affirm was, that criticizing and condemning the conduct of an hon. Member of that House was a Breach of Privilege. That was how he understood the Resolution. It said "publishing printed placards;" but he asserted there was no difference in the world between a printed placard and a speech. [Laughter.] Hon. Members might laugh; but a speech generally was printed next morning, and so became a printed placard. Was the objection, then, that the matter was printed in the constituency concerned? He was sure the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster did not object on that ground. Why, only a few months ago the hon. and gallant Gentleman went down to his (Sir William Harcourt's) constituency to criticize his conduct, and to express opinions in reference to his Parliamentary action. He would not use the word intimidated, because they did not intimidate him; but he knew their language was not 1119 encomiastic. At any rate, a sort ofposse comitatiswent down to denounce him to his constitutents. The hon. Member for Staffordshire was one, and the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir. H. Drummond Wolff) was another, accompanied by a gentleman of whom he never heard before—a Mr. Alfred Austin. They addressed his constituents at great length.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Well, the silence of the other hon. Gentleman of the party might be taken to mean assent in their case. The hon. Member for Christchurch had, no doubt, too much personal regard for him; but he sat and listened to what his friends had to say. Now, suppose he had come down whining to that House for protection against those hon. Members, what would the House have thought? Was the principle to be laid down that no man might write or speak against another man in his constituency? Did it make any difference whether the statements were made in a speech, a placard, or a letter to the newspapers? Did it, moreover, make any difference whether those statements were made by a Member of Parliament or by another person? All these questions were raised by the Resolution which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had submitted to the House. If the objection, was that the thing was done in a man's constituency, he would say that a man's constituency was the place of all places in the world where any charges against him ought to be made. For his own part, he had no complaint to make of the Gentlemen who had gone to talk against him in his constituency. He did not remember the phrases they had used; but they certainly did not intimidate him. Those hon. Gentlemen had provided his constituency with an agreeable entertainment, and they did him no harm. He was astonished, that the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster (Sir Charles Russell), who was the most gallant man in the world, should not have had more political intrepidity than to come forward and say he had been intimidated by these placards. The question was a most serious one. It was not whether the words used were or were not unjustifiable. They were withdrawn. The question was, whether 1120 the House was to declare that printed placards—nothing was said about the character of the language of them, which might be the most respectable—reflecting upon the conduct of an hon. Member of that House, constituted a Breach of the Privileges of Parliament. It seemed to him that, in passing such a Resolution as that before them, the House would be striking a fatal blow at liberty of speech. If, for instance, an hon. Member were to make a speech denouncing another hon. Member for obstruction, was the Member so denounced to come forward and to appeal, under the protection of the Chancellor's Resolution, to the protection of the House? It was too late in the day for the House of Commons to employ the engine of Privilege to smother public criticism upon the conduct of hon. Members. He did not say the Chancellor of the Exchequer had such an intention; but that would be the effect of his Resolution. If a Member of the House used language offensive to another Member, there were other ways of obtaining a withdrawal of, and redress for, the language. If he refused to withdraw that language, as in the case of Mr. Ferrand, then the Member whose conduct was impugned might be vindicated by the unanimous opinion of the Members of that House. But when they drew this old and rusty sword of Privilege for purposes of this character, then he believed the House would be embarking in a course which would land it in immense embarrassment, and in which he saw no end of difficulty. There would be nothing to prevent its enforcing the new doctrine of Privilege against every newspaper and every election placard. The Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman was too wide and too unguarded, and it was absolutely and entirely inconsistent with free discussion in this country. They had much better trust to the strength of the House for the vindication of their character in the manner in which it had been vindicated before. The advice tendered by Mr. Disraeli in 1875, in Mr. Lopes's case, was the proper advice to be taken; and, therefore, following the last precedent of the House of Commons, he would in this case take the course he fully believed the late Leader of the House of Commons would have taken, and, on what was now the substantive Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, move the "Previous Question,"
§ Previous Questionproposed, "That that Question be now put."—(Sir William Harcourt.)
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir JOHN HOLKER)
expressed himself entirely at a loss to understand from the emphatic, not to say vehement, speech of the hon. and learned Member whether, in his opinion, the conduct of the hon. Member for Derby was or was not a Breach of Privilege. If it was a Breach of Privilege, surely there was nothing unwise on the part of the House in resolving that it was so. Was the House to allow its Privileges to be broken with impunity? His hon. and learned Friend wished them to say nothing more about it; but he should have been obliged to his hon. and learned Friend if he had declared explicitly whether he was of opinion that such a placard as that published by the hon. Member for Derby, reflecting upon the conduct of hon. Members of that House in the current Business of the House, was a Breach of Privilege.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, that what he intended to say, and what he believed he did say, was that for anyone to take any notice whatever of the conduct of a Member of Parliament in the discharge of his duty in the House, or to comment in any terms whatever upon such conduct or upon his speeches or vote in that House, was a Breach of Privilege.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir JOHN HOLKER)
observed, that it was satisfactory to know that the hon. and learned Member did consider that the hon. Member for Derby had been guilty of a Breach of Privilege. He had, however, understood the hon. and learned Gentleman to cite a good many authorities with the view of establishing the contrary proposition.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, as this was a very serious matter, he desired that there should be no intentional misrepresentation or misunderstanding of the object with which he had cited those authorities. He expressly stated that Mr. Disraeli said Mr. Justice Lopes' speech was a Breach of Privilege, but that it was undesirable to take notice of it. He had cited those authorities to show that the House of Commons frequently refused to take cognizance of Breaches of Privilege.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir JOHN HOLKER)
observed, that, of course, if that were the view of the subject which was taken by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, he was contented with it. He was anxious, however, that this question of Breach of Privilege should not be misunderstood. He had been under the impression that the debate on this subject had been adjourned in order that search might be made for precedents bearing on the subject. There could be now no doubt as to what the law of Parliament was upon the subject. The law of Parliament affecting the question under discussion was laid down with the greatest possible clearness in the work of Sir Erskine May, who was a great authority on Parliamentary law; and if hon. Members would turn to that work they would find the law relating to that subject laid down thus—That to print or publish any books or libels reflecting upon the proceedings of the House of Commons, or any Member thereof, for or relating to his services therein, is a high violation of the rights and privileges of the House of Commons.Then the learned author went on to give instances when libels upon hon. Members of that House had been punished, and that statement of the law was founded not only upon usage and custom, but upon the express Resolutions of the House. As a general rule, he should not ask that undue importance should be attached to Resolutions of that House which were passed some time ago, nor should he ask that the principle of such Resolutions should be rigidly carried into effect on all occasions; but he maintained that such decisions of the House should be treated, at all events, with respect. Therefore, when they found that the House had arrived at a certain decision some years ago, they should not treat that decision as a nullity. Well, then, let them see what Resolutions had been passed from time to time bearing upon this subject. In 1699, a Resolution was passed—That to publish the names of Members of this House and reflect upon them, and misrepresent their proceedings in Parliament, is a breach of the privileges of this House.Not only publishing, but reflecting upon and misrepresenting them. In 1701 a Resolution was passed— 1123That to print or publish any books or libels reflecting upon the proceedings of the House of Commons or any Member thereof, or relating to his service therein, is a high violation of the rights and privileges of Parliament.That is a very distinct enunciation of the Parliament of that day. The House had acted upon those Resolutions ever since, and Sir Erskine May gave a long string of cases in which persons found guilty of Breach of Privilege had been dealt with on the principle laid down in them. In many cases such persons had been dealt severely with, although he was far from saying that they should be severely dealt with in all cases. In the case of Mr. Ferrand the House, although distinctly of opinion that a Breach of Privilege had been committed, did not proceed further in the matter on Mr. Ferrand declining to admit that what he had done was a Breach of Privilege or to withdraw his expressions. Then there was the case of Mr. Lopes, which arose in 1875. Mr. Lopes was, undoubtedly, guilty of Breach of Privilege of a minor character; and he dared say what was done in that case satisfied the justice of it. "What Mr. Lopes did seemed to him to have been very different from what the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) had done. His speech was delivered some six months before it was taken any notice of—it was said to have been an after-dinner speech; but he did not think that was of any great consequence, and what he said was—What was the present position of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons? They were deserted by their Chief; they were allied to a disreputable Irish band, whose watchword in the House was 'Home Rule or the Repeal of the Union.'Those words were uttered in reference to a Party in this House, and Mr. Lopes was not justified in describing the Home Rule Party as "a disreputable band;" but if anyone had felt aggrieved, one would have thought he would not have had waited six months. [Mr. SULLIVAN remarked, that was because Parliament was not sitting at the time.] One would have thought that someone would have made complaint long before the hon. and learned Member for Louth brought the matter under the attention of the House. The hon. and learned Member for Louth, who so chivalrously defended the hon. Member for Derby the other day, on that occasion thought the speech 1124 of Mr. Lopes was a Breach of Privilege. Apparently the House was of the same opinion, and Mr. Lopes made an ample apology, on which the then Speaker declared that enough had been done and said in the matter, and therefore it had better come to an end. But what had been the conduct of the hon. Member for Derby on the present occasion? It appeared to him, with great submission to the hon. and learned Member for Oxford, that there was a great difference between the case of a speaker being carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment and that of a man who deliberately printed and published prepared matter. When they came to consider what the hon. Member for Derby said, they found that the very day or the day after the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster and the hon. Member for Guildford had exercised the privilege which every Member of the House was entitled to exercise without fear of being deterred in the performance of his duty, the hon. Member for Derby sat down and deliberately penned a placard and circulated it through the City of Westminster and the borough of Guildford, and in that placard he deliberately libelled those two hon. Gentlemen with respect to the exercise of their privilege in relation to the current Business of that House. Now, could there be a question that the matter contained in that placard was libellous? He had no doubt that the hon. Member for Derby wrote under a feeling of strong excitement. They knew the enthusiam with which he brought forward particular measures; and he (the Attorney General) had no doubt that the enthusiasm was justified, or justified to a great extent at all events. But could anyone question this—that in describing the conduct of the two hon. Members as in certain circumstances "inhuman," and in other circumstances as "degrading," he intended to hold them up to contempt and to bring them into disfavour with their constituents? It was one thing to publish an unfounded libel of a Member, and another matter to quarrel with his opinions. The hon. Member for Derby might have said as much as he liked as to the views entertained by his (the Attorney General's) two hon. Friends with respect to the particular Bill which was before the House. He might have contested their opinions with respect to 1125 ships carrying grain cargoes, and so on. But it was not legitimate to publish against a Member of that House, in respect of the Business of the House and the exercise of the privilege of a Member with respect to that Business, libellous matter? It was because the matter was not true that it constituted a Breach of the Privileges of the House; and more because it was designed, he did not say it had the effect, to intimidate hon. Gentlemen from the exercise of their privileges. It appeared to him to be an offence of a serious character; but, undoubtedly, the hon. Member for Derby had apologized in a most manly and candid way, and all of them, he thought, must sympathize with the hon. Member after his most explicit statement. He listened with very much pleasure to what the hon. Member for Derby said; and he confessed that his admiration for his character, which was great before, had been increased by that statement. But, at the same time, he did hope the House would not come to the conclusion that a Breach of its Privileges—and a serious Breach of its Privileges—should be committed without making some protest against it, and recording that, in its opinion, a Breach of Privilege had been committed. All that his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked the House to affirm was that the action of the hon. Member for Derby, calculated as it was to intimidate the hon. Members to whom he referred in the exercise of their privileges, was a Breach of the Privileges of that House.
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
Sir, I hope the House will have observed that in the speech of the Attorney General he has dealt very little with the precise question which is before the House. He has endeavoured to show that there was nothing that was grievous, or particularly grievous, in describing an important section of Members of this House, representing one of the Three Kingdoms, as "a disreputable band," and that the fault of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) was a much more grievous one than the fault of Mr. Lopes. That is the conclusion to which we were asked to come. But that is not the question before the House. The question is, whether what the House has now done in this matter is sufficient, or whether it is desirable to 1126 proceed further? The hon. and learned Attorney General began his speech by asking whether this was a Breach of Privilege; and I think he got a very full answer from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt). Nobody doubts that, according to ancient precedents, it is a Breach of Privilege. But then there have been hundreds of Breaches of Privilege in which the House did not feel, or even imagine, that it would be desirable to place any specific Resolution upon its Records. The hon. and learned Gentleman says—"If it be a Breach of Privilege, why not say so?" From which, I suppose, we are asked to come to the conclusion that wherever there is a Breach of Privilege there ought necessarily to be on the Records of the House a Resolution declaring the Breach of Privilege to be committed. If that were done, I suspect the House would have very little time for any measures brought before it. I apprehend that an Assembly like this august Assembly is not exhibiting its strength, is not adding to its strength, by constantly showing that it has strength. It seems to me that it tends very much more to weakness in the House of Commons than to strength to place such Resolutions on the Records of the House as that which the right hon. Gentleman has proposed to-night. A certain hasty charge was made by the hon. Member for Derby against two hon. Members sitting on that side of the House. The Attorney General admits the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Derby, and says that he, no doubt, did this under a passionate feeling against Members who had opposed the progress of a Bill which he thought essential to save the lives of some of his countrymen. The position, then, in which we are now placed is this. The House has had the matter brought before it. It has listented to an entire withdrawal of the charge on the part of the hon. Member for Derby. It has listened to an equally open acknowledgment on the part of the two Gentlemen whose conduct was impugned that they are satisfied with what the hon. Member for Derby has done and said. If that be so, the question is whether the House of Commons should not feel satisfied with what has been done, and should not proceed further in the matter. The characters of the hon. 1127 Gentlemen who were concerned have been cleared and have been justified. In the case to which my hon. and learned Friend (Sir William Harcourt) referred—the case of Mr. Ferrand—the Gentleman who got himself into that dilemma—I recollect being in the House when that transaction took place—made no acknowledgment; he was totally unable to prove the charges; the charges were denied; there was not a man in the House of Commons who believed those charges; but the House of Commons, under the direction and advice of Sir Robert Peel, did not think it necessary to place on record such a Resolution as that which the right hon. Gentleman now asks it to adopt. It seems to me that precedents established by a statesman of Sir Robert Peel's character and long experience ought not to be lightly rejected, even by a majority on that side of the House. He was their Leader and guide, and neither before nor since have that Party had a wiser Minister at their head than was Sir Robert Peel. Now, surely every Member of the House will know that the House holds it to be a Breach of its Privileges, and a thing which the House must condemn, if any Member in future follows the example of the hon. Member for Derby. He will know that he had better sleep a night or two before he publishes or writes an injudicious placard. Now, if we pass the Resolution, we put a new weapon not in the hands of the House of Commons to prevent a Breach of Privilege, but in the hands of those who may hereafter be hostile to freedom of discussion. I think you will lessen, or tend to lessen, the freedom of discussion in this House, and the freedom of judgment which Members are at liberty to express of other Members, and which persons outside are at liberty to express with regard to the conduct of parties and individuals within the walls of this House. The question is, has the House done enough, or has it not? If you stop where you now are, have you not done enough to discourage the practice which you have by speeches on both sides, by the acknowledgment of the hon. Member for Derby, and by the common sense of the House, condemned? I should advise the House to let the matter rest where it is. I confess I was greatly astonished when I heard the right hon. Gentleman pro- 1128 pose to place on record a Resolution of this kind. Nobody denies that there has been a Breach of Privilege. The hon. Member for Derby is not likely to repeat the fault; no one else will be encouraged to repeat it. If the hon. Members opposite who made a complaint have had their characters cleared, and express themselves entirely satisfied, I would recommend the House very much indeed to adopt the Previous Question recommended by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford, and to refuse to place on their Records a Resolution which they must feel to be unnecessary, and which can never be used in the future except to lessen the freedom of discussion and the freedom of criticism on the acts of public men in connection with the proceedings of Parliament.
remarked, that this was no mere legal squabble, but a question of maintaining the high character and reputation of the House; and, in his opinion, hon. Gentlemen ought to mark so emphatically their idea of the proceedings which had been brought under their notice as effectually to prevent their repetition. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had pointed out the danger and mischief of being guided in the matter, in any degree, by vindictive feelings, and he agreed with every word which had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman on that subject; but there was another point of the question to which he desired to call attention, and that was that this was not a hasty act on the part of the hon. Member for Derby. If it had been, he did not doubt that the House would have exonerated the hon. Member immediately; but it was impossible to believe it was a hasty act, or anything else than a most deliberate act. Having regard to the fact that only three or four years ago the hon. Member for Derby had been guilty of an outrage of so gross a nature that he came under the censure of the House, he thought they ought to mark their opinion of his conduct in as emphatic a manner as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had proposed. In fact, he believed an addition ought to be made to the Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, expressing the censure of the House upon the hon. Member for Derby. Such an addition would have his unqualified support. As far as the 1129 Bill of the hon. Member was concerned, if the statements the hon. Member had made with regard to it could be sustained—as he felt sure they could—he would be prepared to give it his hearty support. But in order to prevent the repetition of this kind of offence, which was likely to bring discredit upon the reputation of the House out-of-doors, he thought they ought to mark their opinion of it in the most emphatic manner.
§ MR. WHITBREAD
desired to reiterate that the question before them was not whether the conduct of the hon. Member for Derby constituted a Breach of Privilege or not, but whether, in all the circumstances of the case as they now stood, it was wise of the House to go further in the matter, and whether, in any case, the course indicated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer was the safe and proper one. There was no doubt that, technically, the conduct of the hon. Member for Derby constituted a Breach of the Privileges of the House; but he thought the speech of the Attorney General was more applicable to the case as it stood before the hon. Member had withdrawn his expressions than to the present condition of affairs. As the two hon. Members immediately concerned were satisfied, he thought the House might have been content not to have proceeded further. It was impossible to defend the action of the hon. Member for Derby; but the real offence consisted, not in the more publication of a letter or placard setting forth the action of the hon. Member in blocking the progress of the Bill, but in the adjectives employed and the motives imputed. The expressions complained of had been withdrawn, and had been acknowledged to be undeserved. A reference to dates would show that the hon. Member for Derby had taken no long time for reflection, but had acted much more hastily than some hon. Members seemed to be aware. The hon. Member for Mid-Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) had referred to a previous case, in which the conduct of the hon. Member for Derby had come under the notice of the House. Though he could not justify the conduct of the hon. Member for Derby now, or his action on a previous occasion, he thought there were circumstances which might have induced the hon. Gentleman to have refrained from referring, oven casually, to what for- 1130 merly occurred. The hon. Member for Derby was imbued with one idea, and he pursued that idea in a way which sometimes brought him into collision with the House, and under its displeasure. The course which the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed was one on which they would do well to pause. The terms of the Motion seemed to him so sweeping and comprehensive as to cover much more than was intended. Moreover, they ought at least to have the Resolution put before them in print. They all knew what an immense difference was made by the insertion or omission of a single word in their Resolutions; and they were now asked to make, as it seemed to him, a most formidable change in the Privileges of the House—to fetter their action and tie their tongues for all time—by the adoption of words they had had no opportunity of considering. Was that fair to the House? He ventured to foretell that if the Motion were pressed on, either the Rule established by it would be abolished within a year or less, or else it would lead to a constant infringement of what the Attorney General had declared to be the Privileges of the House—yet an infringement which, in many cases, nobody would take any notice of.
§ MR. MOWBRAY
thought the hon. Member who had just sat down had contradicted himself. In the commencement of his speech he had admitted that this matter was a Broach of Privilege. What had been done was declared to be a Breach of Privilege by learned lawyers and by Cabinet Ministers. Nevertheless, the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) hoped to carry the House with him in the hesitation with which he concluded his speech. But it had been admitted that it was a Breach of Privilege. The hon. and learned Member for the City of Oxford (Sir William Harcourt), in rising to move the Previous Question, had said it was true that this was a Breach of Privilege. But he had asked, was it wise to go on with the matter? He thought it was wise, and for this reason, which had not before been put to the House. There had been entered on the Journals of the House the nature of the complaint made by the two hon. Members whose action had been impugned, and that there was upon the Table a Copy 1131 of the placard which charged them with inhuman and degrading conduct. It was unavailing to say that the hon. Member for Derby had since withdrawn those statements. They remained in the Journals of the House. But the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had moved that, considering the apology which had been offered, though a Breach of Privilege had been committed, they should not carry it further. The hon. Member for Bedford had complained that greater Notice was not given. But this was no new Resolution; it was a mere change of words to carry out the original proposal. But the only question now was whether it was wise to carry the matter any further; but he thought it was quite impossible for the matter to rest where it was.
MR. OSBORNE MORGAN
said, there could be no doubt that the hon. Member for Derby, acting under what he conceived to be some provocation, and feeling strongly on the subject which he had at heart, had used language which no one could justify or had attempted to justify. But the hon. Gentleman had offered a full and frank apology; and, under these circumstances, why should the Government attempt to put in force a rusty machine which would materially interfere with the liberty of debate? No doubt, in one sense, a technical Breach of Privilege had been committed. But it would lead to monstrous results if everything which was technically a Breach of Privilege was brought before the House. Did anyone believe that the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster (Sir Charles Russell), who carried on his breast the proudest certificate of valour an English soldier could wear, would be intimidated by the language that had been used? He (Mr. Osborne Morgan) thought that the less notice was taken of the matter the better; and he believed that the real Privileges of Parliament were weakened rather than strengthened by discussions like the present.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir HARDINGE GIFFARD)
said, that when the conduct of a Member was brought before the House it could not be wiped out from the memory of the House. What was the House to do? Reference had been made to the supposed absence of precedent. But he had looked into 1132 the past history of the House, and he had found a precedent which did not go very far back when they were treating of questions connected with that House. A placard which was printed in 1810, and which appeared inHansard,vol. xv., p. 481, was as follows:—WINDHAM AND YORKE. BRITISH FORMS.33, Bedford Street, Covent Garden,Monday, Feb. 19, 1810.Question:—Which was a greater outrage upon the public feeling, Mr. Yorke's enforcement of the standing order to exclude strangers from the House of Commons or Mr. Windham's recent attack upon the liberty of the press? Last Monday, after an interesting discussion, it was unanimously decided, that the enforcement of the standing orders, by shutting out strangers from the gallery of the House of Commons, ought to be censured as an insidious and ill-timed attack on the liberty of the press, as tending to aggravate the discontent of the people, and to render their representatives objects of jealous suspicion. The great anxiety manifested by the public at this critical period to become acquainted with the proceedings of the House of Commons, and to ascertain who were the authors and promoters of the late calamitous expeditions to the Scheldt, together with the violent attacks made by Mr. Windham on the newspaper reporters (whom he represented as' bankrupts, lottery office keepers, footmen, and decayed tradesmen'), have stirred up the public feeling, and excited universal attention. The present question is, therefore, brought forward as a comparative inquiry, and may be justly expected to furnish a contested and interesting debate.—Printed by J. Dean, 57, Wardour Street.Mr. Yorke, in rising to call attention to this placard, spoke of it as a gross Breach of the Privilege of Parliament. In consequence of this the printer was summoned to attend the House, and the matter was treated in this spirit. The printer said that he had no personal knowledge of the placard in question; but, expressing his regret at what had occurred, he would do his best to make amends by giving the name of the author of the placard to Mr. Speaker. But he would tell the House what had been done. The matter was treated as important, and Mr. Whitbread said that it was necessary to take some further notice of the offence. And the result was that the printer was committed to custody for one hour. The resolution was arrived at on the ground that it was necessary to preserve and keep the right of free discussion in the House. It was not a question of high-handed Privilege for the purpose of repressing discussion, as such, but for the purpose of preserv- 1133 ing the right of Members to be free from external influence calculated to intimidate them while discharging their duties. It had been said that the hon. and gallant Colonel the Member for "Westminster was not a likely man to be intimidated; but should the question whether a particular individual was likely to be intimidated or not be made the test of a Breach of Privilege? He admitted that no harm had been done in the present case; but the matter had come officially before the House, and the Government, while not desiring the punishment of the offender, asked for a solemn declaration to the effect that to placard the walls of a borough with statements respecting something which an hon. Member had done and was doing in the course of Parliamentary Business constituted a Breach of Privilege. They had heard something about musty precedents. Well, the very fact that the precedents were musty, showed how necessary it was to revive and confirm them; and, in the hope that this might be done, he would support the Resolution of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ SIR HENRY JAMES
said, the question before the House was whether this should be treated as a Breach of Privilege, because, as they were reminded by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Chaplin), the hon. Member for Derby had, upon some previous occasion, been guilty of conduct which, in the minds of the hon. Members opposite, was disgraceful. ["No, no!"] He understood the hon. Member to have so treated the question. They were now asked to place upon the Records of the House a Motion which would denounce the conduct of the hon. Member for Derby as a Breach of Privilege; but in the case of Mr. Lopes no such course was taken. The House upon that occasion recorded its Motion, to the effect that they allowed the Motion describing the action as a Breach of Privilege to be withdrawn. Why should not hon. Members make a similar entry upon the Journals of the House on the present occasion? The charge which was made by Mr. Lopes was a much more serious one than that before them on the present occasion, inasmuch as in the former case no reason was given for the charge, whereas the ground was stated in the latter; and if that proved to be wrong the charge fell 1134 to the ground. If, in 1875, the apology of a Conservative Member was accepted by the House, why was the apology of the hon. Member for Derby to be rejected? He appealed to hon. Members opposite to consider whether the remark would not be made that Mr. Lopes was dealt with less seriously than it was proposed to deal with the hon. Member for Derby, because the former was Member of a majority and the latter of a minority. He hoped that there would be no misunderstanding as to the ground upon which he supported the Motion of the Previous Question. A Breach of Privilege had been committed; but Breaches of Privilege were committed every day. Every leading article upon Parliamentary subjects was a Breach of Privilege; and, therefore, it was necessary to take a broad view of the question. If they once held out to hon. Members the suggestion that if anything was said reflecting on their conduct it would be wise to bring the matter before the House complaints would be made every day. He maintained that criticism on the conduct of a Member while discharging his duties must be offered at the time of the discharge of those duties, or be of very little use. In his own borough they did nothing else than criticize his conduct, finding holes in his political character and holding it up to ridicule. He was of opinion that they should approach a question of this kind in a spirit which would allow perfect and free discussion of their conduct. Language had been used such as no one could defend; but an apology having been made and accepted by the hon. Members personally interested, it was scarcely becoming in the majority in the House to refuse to accept theamendethat had been made.
§ MR. HARDCASTLE
considered the imputation thrown out by the last speaker, that this question was pressed from Party motives, was a most unworthy one. A great deal of dust had been thrown in the eyes of hon. Members by the endeavour to show that Breaches of Privilege were so exceedingly common that they were committed every day, notably by the Press. The only inference to be drawn from this argument was that a Breach of Privilege of the kind now being considered by the House was not distinguishable 1135 from a Breach of Privilege by the Press. To talk about a Breach of Privilege such as that under the notice of the House as being no more worthy of condemnation than an article inThe Timeswas absurd; and such a line of argument only made it the more necessary that the House, by adopting the Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, should show that that was not its view of the matter. The argument of the hon. and learned Member for Denbighshire (Mr. Osborne Morgan) that a Notice which would have the effect of preventing the Bill of the hon. Member for Derby being brought on after half-past 12 o'clock constituted anything like a legitimate cause of provocation was most unreasonable; and he must express his surprise that so high an authority as the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) should deem so serious an offence as that under discussion not deserving of censure, and should bewilder the House by advice of such uncertain sound that he had begun his speech by saying that the course pursued by the hon. Member for Derby was a Breach of Privilege, and had ended by saying that he was inclined to think it was not.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
Sir, I can assure the House that, after the full discussion which has taken place, I shall occupy its attention but for a very few moments on this subject. Not that I think that discussion has been at all too full, for the question is one of very great importance, and may possibly influence the future proceedings of this House. I am very glad to be able, in consequence of what occurred at the beginning of the Sitting, to deal with the subject almost entirely apart from any personal considerations. There can be but one opinion as to the character of the language which was used by the hon. Member for Derby. I admit, speaking for myself, I should have felt very considerable doubt, even if that language had not been withdrawn, whether the House would have acted wisely in taking notice as a question of Privilege of what has been done. But be that as it may, the question is now before us; and the hon. Member for Derby has as fully and frankly withdrawn the objectionable expressions complained of as one could desire. Now, in recent times, our course of action has been rather in favour of re- 1136 laxing than straining precedents on matters of Privilege; and I should like to know whether there is any precedent for the House taking action of this kind after the offence complained of has been apologized for and withdrawn? If there be no such precedent, is it, I would ask, convenient to make a new precedent while declining to take any further action in the matter? These are points which it appears to me the Government would do well to consider before asking the House to pass this Resolution. It seems to me that a Breach of Privilege has undoubtedly been committed, and we know that the law on the subject has never been repealed, although Breaches of Privilege are committed every day. But we are now going to lay down a new rule, and to say that the conduct of the hon. Member for Derby in publishing a placard denouncing the course taken by certain Members of the House is calculated to destroy their efficiency in that capacity. Now, I have been induced by the cheers of hon. Gentlemen opposite on several occasions to doubt whether it is the publishing of the placard, or the denunciations which it contained, against which this Resolution is aimed, and which constitutes the Breach of Privilege. That is rather an important matter, as placards and denunciations are likely very soon to become tolerably common, and it is desirable that we should understand what it is we may do or may not do in the circumstances. May we go to the borough of a Member of Parliament or a Member of the Cabinet, and impeach his conduct in regard even to the current Business of the House or not? It appears to mo that that is a course we should be prevented from taking if this Resolution were to pass. Are we to understand, then, that it is only when denunciations of a Member of the House are embodied in placards that they become a Breach of Privilege? I have always thought that one of the most useless of the many useless election expenses which a candidate has to incur was the crowding of the walls with placards inviting the electors to vote for a particular person. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, however, seem to think there is some peculiar virtue in a placard, and that denunciations of a Member printed upon it are calculated to do him serious damage and to intimidate him in the 1137 discharge of his duty. The question was not raised by the Attorney General whether such statements were true or false, and the Resolution is also silent on the point. According to the Resolution, whether the placard be made the medium of false or libellous statements or not, the offence is equally one against the Privileges of the House. I think, therefore, that before we come to a vote upon the subject we ought to have further information from the Government on this point. We ought to know whether the use of placards is to be entirely forbidden, and whether we are no longer to express opinions on the conduct of political opponents? I believe that we should never have heard anything at all of this subject if it had not been for the strong and most objectionable language contained in the placard. But that language is now withdrawn, and is not the subject of the Resolution. The Resolution appears to me greatly wider than the occasion, calls for; and I think the House would do wisely to accept the Amendment of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford, and not to create what is, in fact, a new precedent.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
In response to the challenge of the noble Lord, I rise to make a few necessary remarks. In the first place, I entirely deny that we are making any new precedent. In a case of this sort you must make a precedent one way or the other. If you deal with it you make a precedent in one way, if you decline you make one in another. All we propose to do is to make a declaration which, by universal consent, is admitted to be a true one. The question is whether it is desirable or not to put any such question on record. I must remind the House of what is lost sight of—namely, what has already taken place in this case. In the first place, action is taken by Members of this House in a manner perfectly within the Rules and spirit of the proceedings of this House. That action is disagreeable to a Member of the House. Instead of taking the course open to him, and which he ought to have taken—namely, to come into the House and challenge the conduct of those hon. Gentlemen—instead of asking for any explanation, which he would have received and have been satisfied—as we now find that these Gentlemen are not open to the accusation against them—he goes and 1138 appeals from the Members to their constituencies by a public placard. That in itself is a very serious step to take; and when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) speaks of what we are proposing to do as a restriction on the freedom of debate I must say that it is decidedly the opposite. It is to secure freedom of debate, and to secure to Members full liberty to conduct the Business of this House according to the Rules of the House and the dictates of their own consciences. It is very important that the following considerations should be borne in mind. On the day the question was put to the hon. Member for Derby as to the course he had taken, the hon. Member not only avowed that he had put out these placards, but stated, in addition, that such an act was well within the Rules and principles of the House. As far as the particular language was concerned, the hon. Member has, on better consideration, withdrawn it; and, so far as those particular epithets are concerned, we have nothing to say except that the hon. Member has made a proper apology, which has been received in a proper spirit by the hon. Gentlemen concerned. But he has not withdrawn or qualified his statement that in making such an appeal to the electors he has been doing that which is within his right. You have the fact on record. Now you are going to leave on record that the censured words were withdrawn on the ground of their being offensive, but that the justification of the act was condoned by the House. That is not the position the House ought to take. This is not a case like that of Mr. Justice Lopes, in which language had to be explained or apologized for in the House. We are not now asking the House to pass any censure or to take any proceedings against the hon. Member. But we do think it is necessary that the House should declare that this kind of interference with its conduct and Business ought not to be allowed to pass without a record on the part of this House that it is a kind of Breach of Privilege we cannot pass over in silence. The noble Lord has said—"May we put out our election notices," and so forth. That is not the question. Here is a particular offence, and we announce by this Resolution that this particular placard was a Breach of the Privileges of the 1139 House. We are taking a course which has nothing of haste in it; but one which is really essential to the maintenance of the dignity and independence of the House.
§ MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY
said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the explanation he had just given, had raised an entirely new and distinct issue from that which the Attorney General had explained, and he had made the position of the House a good deal more difficult and more perplexing than it was before. It was no longer the printing of placards, as opposed to the making of speeches or the writing of letters, which constituted the offence of the hon. Member for Derby, but interference with the conduct of hon. Members in regard to the Business of the House. Now, if the Resolution were passed, what would be the practical result of it? Sensitive Members of that House would be at liberty to raise questions of Privilege every day as to newspaper articles or outside criticism of any kind, which was surely not a state of things to be encouraged. Those who went into the game of politics must expect occasionally to be censured, misrepresented, or even insulted. To pass Resolutions condemning the conduct of Members as constituting a Breach of Privilege by means of a heated partizan majority would be to bring the decisions of the House into contempt. He strongly appealed to the Government not to press this matter, and to allow the question of Privilege to rest in its present safe, but vague and undefined, position.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, he must complain of the unnecessary delay which the Government had occasioned by pressing this subject forward in place of proceeding with the Relief of Distress (Ireland) Bill.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. O'DONNELL,
in resuming his speech, said, that he could not but think the Government had made a serious mistake in seizing upon the conduct of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) for the purpose of limiting the rights of freedom of opinion. The hon. Member for Derby had obtained a reputation for his humanity which, he 1140 thought, would long survive any paltry triumph of Her Majesty's Government either in Zululand or in Afghanistan. The hon. Member for Derby was misled as to the conduct of the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster (Sir Charles Russell), and of the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Onslow), in consequence of the frequent declarations of the Leaders and supporters of the Conservative Party.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, he did not sympathize with the well-meant efforts of his hon. Friends to obtain an audience for him, and he would be much obliged if they would abstain from them during the remainder of his speech. He admitted that the language used by the hon. Member for Derby was utterly indefensible, and might well be characterized as most coarse and violent. He could find no parallel to it outside the language of the Ministerial Party with reference to the land agitation in Ireland. The hon. Member for Derby could not have spoken worse if he had been a Member of the Conservative Party denouncing the hon. Member for Meath. The Government were for going back to the days of Toryism and the days of comparative slavery. He denied that the placard was gross or libellous. What laughter it would excite in this country if an Irish Parliament sitting on College Green were to make a mere question of what one Member had said of another a matter of such moment as this placard had been in that House. Or suppose it was posted on a wall, for the constitutents of the right hon. Baronet the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see, that he was not so competent to lead the House of Commons as his distinguished Chief was to lead the House of Lords. He congratulated the Ministerial Party on their conversion to the policy of Obstruction, which had received an additional advocate in the person of the Chairman of Committees—the Deputy Speaker of that House—who adopted that policy in relation to the Ancient Monuments Bill of the hon. Baronet the Member for Maidstone (Sir John Lubbock). What, he asked, must be the consequence of placing the Motion of 1141 the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon the Records of House? Why, it would be found necessary to bring before the House the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman himself in going to the electors of Birmingham and endeavouring to prejudice them against their Representatives; it would be necessary to bring the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs before the House for his unworthy description of Members of the House as Circassians and Bashi-Bazouks, and to act in a similar way towards the Secretary of State for India for his threat "to pulverize obstructive Members in the massive machinery of the House of Commons." The hon. Member concluded by charging the Government with encouraging obstructive tactics on the part of Conservative Members.
§ MR. BIGGAR
contended that the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was untenable, inasmuch as it would suppress all reasonable criticism upon the conduct of hon. Members of that House. [The hon. Member then recounted at some length the circumstances out of which the present debate had arisen.] While so engaged—
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. BIGGAR
resumed. What had been done by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll), he contended, was a thing which was done every day; and he (Mr. Biggar) himself had more than once found occasion to find fault with the action of some Members of his own Party. However the hon. Member for Derby might be held to be guilty of a Breach of Privilege, he had certainly done nothing to bring upon himself a censure by the House. Nothing was more common than for newspapers to criticize unfairly the sayings and doings of public men to whom they were politically opposed; but was the House prepared to call to its Bar the representative of every journal that might in that way abuse the Privileges of the House? The hon. Member for Derby had, under the circumstances, having made an apology, naturally supposed, he (Mr. Biggar) had no doubt, that the whole matter would be at an end; and it was therefore ungenerous to propose a Resolution such as 1142 that before the House, which was simply, he was afraid, an electioneering piece of work. In fact, the proceeding now being adopted against the hon. Member for Derby was purely a Party one, bearing upon the General Election. The language used by the hon. Member was, in fact, far less objectionable than some which had been used in that House, and which had been upheld by the Conservative Party. [The hon. Member read at length a number of passages fromHansardin support of his views, in the course of which he took occasion to express his opinion that the subject could be more conveniently and appropriately discussed on the Relief of Distress (Ireland) Bill.]
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. BIGGAR
resumed, proceeding to read at length further passages from the Reports of the Debates. In the course of his remarks, he referred to an amicable arrangement which he believed had been arrived at with regard to the apology of the hon. Member for Derby, and to which he understood the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Onslow) was a party.
§ MR. ONSLOW
denied, as he had done when first this discussion commenced, that he had been a party to any such arrangement, and said that nothing but an unequivocal apology would have been accepted.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, he was bound to believe the hon. Member. At the same time, there could not be the slightest doubt that negotiations had taken place with regard to the terms on which an apology would be accepted. He was sorry his hon. Friend the Member for Derby had not stood his ground. His language, considering the evidence then before him, was not too strong; and he was sorry also that he had been involved in negotiations which he believed had taken place.
§ MR. CHARLES LEWIS
said, that he felt justified in calling the attention of the House and the country to what had been going on for the past two and a-half hours. Two hours ago they had had an elaborate discussion on the subject of Privileges; and now, with the Relief of Distress (Ireland) Bill upon the Paper, the House was still engaged on the same 1143 matter, the interval having been occupied, with the exception of time wasted in three ineffectual counts, by the speeches of three Members of that particular section of the House which had been most prominent and loud in assaults upon the Government for not attending to Irish distress. It would be waste of words to deal with those speakers, or to say anything more than to draw the serious attention of the whole country to what was being done in this House under the circumstances.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
rose to ask, if it was in Order to threaten Members of that House with the indignation of the whole country?
§ MR. CHARLES LEWIS
continued, that he had intended to rise at an earlier period of the evening, but that he was anxious not to delay the Business on the Paper. Since half-past 10 the evening had been wasted; and he was informed that there was a certainty that, if one person did not rise to prolong the discussion, another would. No one admired his hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) more earnestly than himself; he fully recognized all his humane efforts in favour of British sailors; but he could not but see that he was sometimes mistaken in the means he used; and he was inclined to think that the hon. Member periodically got up these excitements in order to keep the question well before the country. He desired also to call attention to the attitude of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. They had had four speeches from the front Opposition Bench. He would refer first to the speech of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), who began by saying yes, and ended by saying no; however great an authority he was on such a subject, he could only say that he had quite befogged the House as to what his real opinion was. Then they had had the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Denbighshire (Mr. Osborne Morgan). But it was singular that the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington), whose high character and gentlemanly feeling and dignity none admired more than himself, had not spoken. The noble Lord had, instead of taking his proper position as Leader of the Opposition, allowed the hon. and learned Gen- 1144 tleman the Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) to be the great spokesman upon that occasion. The hon. and learned Gentleman had, as usual, treated the whole matter as a huge Party joke, and then the right hon. Member for Birmingham had risen immediately to support him in his view. He (Mr. Charles Lewis) was not surprised at the attitude of those hon. Members, for the House knew that during the past six months those hon. Gentlemen had been the great professors of political vituperation throughout the whole of England. If anything like constraint were to be imposed upon hon. Members outside that House, those hon. Gentlemen would be the greatest sufferers, for the one had been the most prodigious, and the other the most prolific, in his censure of the Government. David, it was written, had said that the fool said in his haste that all men were of a certain class; and they could not read a single letter by the right hon. Member for Birmingham without finding that he declined the vague impartiality implied by David, and employed a certain designation, not for the world in general, but for his own political opponents. As to the hon. and learned Member for Oxford, he had not been fortunate in the precedents which he had cited to the House—especially in the case of Lord Eldon and Mr. Abercromby. The hon. and learned Member pointed out that no censure was passed on that occasion. But why was no censure passed? Simply because the House of Commons did not wish to come into conflict with the House of Lords. What was the second case referred to by the hon. and learned Member? Why, the case of Ferrand, a most exceptional and violent case, in which the censure of the House was not passed, because the case was so extreme that all the censure that the House could have passed would have been inadequate. The third case referred to by hon. Members opposite was that of Mr. Lopes. There could be no more unfortunate analogy than that drawn between that case and the present one, for in the former the alleged offence was committed when Parliament was not sitting, by a Member speaking of the conduct of a class of persons and dealing with their general character as politicians; and that was compared with the case before the House, which was not 1145 one of verbal slander. The hon. and learned Member for Oxford had asked, in the theatrical way he was so fond of assuming since he had enjoyed the advantage of a seat on the front Opposition Bench, whether the House "drew the line at placards?" Of course, they drew the line at placards. Was the hon. and learned Gentleman not lawyer enough to know the great difference between oral and written or printed slander? Written language necessitated deliberated action, and was evidence of malice. In the matter before them they should not only consider the issuing of the placard, but the circumstances under which it was issued. In this case, it had been issued at the very time a Notice was on the Order Book that the Second Reading of the Bill in question should be taken that day six months; that Notice having been given by a Member who had as much right to take that course as the particular Member had to put down the Second Reading. Supposing the case had referred to a Member whose constituency was 500 miles away from London, what would have been his first impulse? Why, to rush off to his constituents and endeavour to justify his actions, thereby absenting himself from his Parliamentary duties, which it might be at the time most necessary for him to attend to. No doubt, the hon. and learned Member for Oxford had pursued his course with the view that it would be palatable to those of whom he had made himself a distinguished patron. The hon. and learned Member had, on recent occasions, displayed tender feelings towards hon. Members of a certain class below the Gangway, and, having the gift of prophecy, he felt that the case, if censure were passed, might be applicable at some future time to his Home Rule Friends. Well, he (Mr. Charles Lewis) hoped the speech of the hon. and learned Member might have the effect of cementing the union between the branches of the Liberal Party more successfully than in two important constituencies in which the public had lately taken much interest. He thought the House should, in the case before it, take such steps as would discourage persons from following a course similar to that followed by the hon. Member for Derby. They all knew the generous feelings which actuated that hon. Member; but it was not to be endured that 1146 from time to time such a mode of promoting particular measures should be pursued in or out of Parliament. The question had not been raised as a Party question on the Conservative side of the House; but the action of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite had been such as to render impossible what was usual on similar occasions—namely, the union of the front Opposition Benches. He (Mr. Charles Lewis) himself thought the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had taken a most lenient course in bringing forward the Motion, for he had no hesitation in saying that it would be a most unfortunate thing if they were to have a Court of Appeal outside the House, in which violent appeals could be made to their constituents, their conduct described as inhuman, and their character degraded, while the House remained quiescent and refrained from vindicating its honour and integrity.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
said, he had taken part in so many abortive debates on questions of Privilege, that he would not have risen but for the remarks of the hon. Member who had just sat down (Mr. Charles Lewis). The hon. Member had made very desperate efforts to catch the ear of the whole country since the commencement of the present Session of Parliament; but he (Mr. O'Connor Power) did not suppose that the attempt he had just made would meet with any larger measure of success than the previous ones. The hon. Gentleman adopted a style of reasoning by which the country was not likely to be caught, and the House had had another example of it that evening. The judgment of the country would not be founded on the conduct of his Colleagues in that debate, but upon the statement of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll), and the perusal of the debate that followed it. If a proposition was sound, it was sound independently of the authority upon which it was enunciated. While charging the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) with having a very short memory, he must say that he agreed with him in thinking that the present case and that of Mr. Lopes were not parallel, but for a different reason. The cases were not parallel, because the offence committed by Mr. Lopes was unjustifiable; the great distinction between 1147 the offences being that, while the language of the hon. Member for Derby referred only to the policy and the conduct of hon. Gentlemen, the language of Mr. Lopes referred to hon. Gentlemen themselves, whom he characterized as a disreputable Irish band. The country, he felt satisfied, would not fail to see that all the excitement which had been displayed in the course of the discussion was nothing more than a storm in a teapot; and if there was no ulterior motive for censure of the hon. Member for Derby, then the House of Commons had never been engaged in a more futile debate than that in which they had been engaged since the Chancellor of the Exchequer submitted his Resolution. A peculiarly offensive libel on his hon. Friend the Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) had appeared inThe Globenewspaper; but when the matter was brought before the House the Chancellor of the Exchequer was in no hurry to reprove the libeller. The fact was the Government had engaged themselves in an impossible undertaking. They had two different measures of Parliamentary liberty which they attempted to apply; in the one case as regarded the language which hon. Members might use in debate, and, in the other, as regarded the extent to which obstruction might proceed; but he warned them that they had, in the present instance, entered upon a useless contest. Outside the House, those for whom he spoke had learned from them the lesson of force; while many inside the House had learned from them a lesson in obstruction which they were not likely soon to forget. As to indecency of language, he had heard of a time in the history of the House when an hon. and learned Gentleman did not think it beneath him to squeal like a cat; but, be that as it might, he hoped the House would never allow itself to be made the tool and instrument of the Government for the suppression of free criticism on the conduct of public men. The language of the hon. Member for Derby was, no doubt, strong, and out of all proportion to the conduct which it was intended to condemn, and, therefore, it was language which should not have been used; but it nevertheless did not, in his opinion, in the slightest degree go beyond that which was his privilege as a Member of the House of Commons. It did not transcend that for which pre- 1148 cedent existed; and he challenged hon. Gentlemen opposite to produce one that would justify the censure they sought to pass.
§ MR. FINIGAN
explained, that if he had during the progress of the debate called attention to the fact that there were not 40 Members present, he had done so from a Parliamentary point of view, deeming it right that there should be a sufficient number of Members in attendance to admit of the discussion being conducted with advantage. As for the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis), he thought the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) might well say of him, "Save me from my friends!" The hon. Member for Derby, in calling the attention of the constituency of Westminster to the action of their Member, had done a great public service, and no more than was daily done by other hon. Members of the House. He hoped the Previous Question would be carried.
§ SIR GEORGE BOWYER
regretted that this should have been made a Party question, seeing that hon. Members on both sides were equally interested in upholding the dignity and independence of the House and the freedom of debate. There was no doubt the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) had been guilty of a Breach of Privilege, and, everybody being agreed upon that point, he should have thought the matter might well have ended with the hon. Member's apology. The law of Parliament on the subject was perfectly clear. Anything that was done with the intent, or that was calculated to intimidate Members of the House in the discharge of their duty, was a Breach of Privilege. The law of Parliament being clear, it did not seem to him to require a special Resolution of the House such as that proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to declare it. The Government would have acted more wisely if they had declared the law on the subject to be clear, and that it was not necessary to re-assert it. It was a pity that some hon. Member of influence did not point to a way out of the difficulty into which they had got and prevent a further waste of time. Matters of Privilege should be kept apart from Party questions; and if a division were taken on the Resolution the force of the decision of the House would be weakened.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA,
in opposing the Motion, said, he thought that the terms of the placard, although objectionable, did not amount to a Breach of the Privileges of the House.
§ MR. WADDY
said, that as one of the latest importations to the House, he had had to go through a course of treatment a great deal worse than that which had been complained of by the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster (Sir Charles Russell) and the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Onslow); and although he had been subject to so much of it his health was certainly unimpaired. He could not but think that too much had been made of this placard warfare, and that the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had complained looked in as good health as he (Mr. Waddy) did. Certainly the language complained of was severe, and was unjustifiable; but, after all, it was gross flattery compared with the statements which had been made about himself in a placard warfare in Sheffield about two months ago. However, he had survived that language, as all of them would survive similar language if it were applied to them. He thought that it would have been better for each of the two Members who had complained of the language of the hon. Member for Derby to have said to himself,Virtute meâ me involvo,and to have refrained from complaining. He thought that the waste of time incurred over the Motion was entirely owing to the Resolution of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that the Resolution was calculated to produce a false impression in the country. In the case of Mr. Ferrand, which had been quoted, that Gentleman had stood to his guns, and, although his language was most improper, had refused to apologize, and in that case the House took no steps against him; whereas in this instance a retractation had been offered, and yet they had a Resolution which asked the House to call bold words to be a Breach of Privilege, which everybody admitted to be a Breach of Privilege. The speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) was of a most extraordinary character. Because the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) tried to save the House from becoming ridiculous by passing the pro- 1150 posed Vote of Censure, the hon. Member charged them with dealing as partizans with this matter. He felt compelled to make the observation, after the speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry, that whenever anything like justice was attempted to be supported by certain hon. Members of the House, there were certain other hon. Members, and also certain organs of public opinion, who tried, as far as possible, to make political capital out of the matter by misrepresenting the views and opinions so expressed. The secret was that the General Election was approaching, and it was thought that a good cry against the Liberals would be that they were going in for Home Rule, when it was known that that was untrue. It was said for a purpose, and it was said for a purpose which was unworthy and unfair. He accused the Government of obstructing the Business of the House by the Resolution, and contended that the matter had assumed an importance which it did not possess originally, but only since the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The difficulty with the right hon. Gentleman was that the charge was made by placard. Now, as he (Mr. Waddy) had already said, he had had placards denouncing him a few weeks ago, but he did not disturb himself about them; and, if the hon. Gentlemen opposite would allow him to say so, he thought they did not trouble themselves so much about them as they appeared to do. In conclusion, he hoped that some means might be devised by which, without losing their dignity, and without attempting to hunt to the death an hon. Member who had done all he could in the matter, they could avoid the painful and unworthy conclusion at which they were asked to arrive.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
said, he did not wonder at the remarks which, had been made by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Waddy), as he had been returned to that House by the Home Rule votes, and in the speech which he had just delivered had spoken in deference to his supporters.
§ MR. WADDY
rose to Order. He wished to ask Mr. Speaker whether any hon. Member had the right to impute to him unworthy motives, or that he had been instigated by other motives than those that were right and patriotic; and also, whether the hon. Member was entitled to say that what he had done was in defer- 1151 ence to a certain class of his constituents?
§ MAJOR O'GORMAN
hoped that the Speaker would not answer the Question of the hon. and learned Member.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I listened very attentively to the observations of the hon. Member for Christchurch, and I cannot say that there appeared to be anything in those observations which was out of Order.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
said, he did not mean to imply that, in espousing the Home Rule cause, the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Waddy) had been guilty of want of patriotism. As to the charges made against him by the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt), he (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) denied that he had acted in the manner imputed to him, or had tried to set the constituency of Oxford against the hon. and learned Member. There was no analogy between the speeches made by the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster (Sir Charles Russell) and himself at Oxford to which the hon. and learned Member for Oxford had referred and the question now before the House. With respect to the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll), whose advocacy of the Mercantile Marine had excited general admiration, he had never taken up a decided position either for or against his Bill. He had never taken up a position against any hon. Member of that House; and as to the speeches made by the Home Rule Members of that House they were very amusing, and he did not object to them. He considered that the House was bound to record its emphatic protest against the course which had been taken by the Opposition on that occasion.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
thought the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) had been a little mixed in his argument. He could not see what Home Rule had to do with this question. The Opposition had been blamed for failing to see the distinction between newspaper articles containing comments upon hon. Members, and such conduct as that of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll). They saw the distinction plainly enough; what they complained of was that no distinction was made in the Resolution. If hon. Members wanted to censure the 1152 hon. Member for Derby the Resolution did not go far enough, for there was no censure of the hon. Member contained in it; but if they wanted to lay down a principle for the future the Resolution would apply as well to an article in a newspaper as to the placard of the hon. Member for Derby. Provincial newspapers were accustomed to publish what were called "London Letters," which largely consisted of remarks upon the personal conduct of hon. Members. He had himself seen an amusing letter of that description inThe Newcastle Chronicle,which, he understood, was contributed by a Member of that House. If the precedents quoted to them on the part of the Government were worth anything, they should send for the printer of the placard and hand him over to the custody of the Serjeant-at-Arms for a week, and then commit the hon. Member for Derby to Newgate. They were to have considered to-night some Resolutions dealing with obstruction; but the Government came down and created new sources of obstruction, of which he ventured to say they would not hear the last for some time. If it were carried, every Member would be entitled to appeal to it, and ask the House to declare that a Breach of Privilege had been committed in almost every newspaper in the Kingdom.
§ MR. ONSLOW
said, no one would complain of any remarks made in these "London Letters," however foolish they might be; but it was a very different thing when an hon. Member of that House appealed during the Session to the electors of a particular constituency as to the action taken by a Member with regard to a Bill before the House, and endeavoured by an unconstitutional course to intimidate that hon. Member. There was no analogy between the two cases. He repeated that, as far as he was personally concerned, he was thoroughly satisfied with the repudiation of the hon. Member for Derby; but he thought it due to the dignity of the House to pass the Resolution, of which he cordially approved. In order, however, that no one might think he was actuated by vindictive feelings, strong as was his conviction that a gross Breach of Privilege had been committed, he should decline to vote for the Motion, and should absent himself from the House during the division.
said, there could be no doubt a Breach of Privilege had been committed. The articles which would be published to-morrow morning in the newspapers in reference to the present debate would also be a Breach of Privilege. But were they acting wisely in departing from modern precedent and taking notice of the placard, even though it were admitted to be a Breach of Privilege? Technically, it was a matter deserving censure for anybody to hold up the conduct of any hon. Member to censure; but, of late years, the House had alway shrunk from doing what they were asked to do that night. Breaches of Privilege such as that complained of were committed every day. Why, he could name seven journals in which the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) in connection with the Eastern Question was described as traitorous, and some 20 journals in which the action of certain hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House was declared to be degrading to honourable institutions. Yet the word "degrade" was the very one relied upon in the case of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll). He feared that the effect of what was proposed to be done that night would be to place a dangerous weapon in the hands of a strong majority in the House against a minority. There were three recent cases in which the House had shrunk from voting censure or punishment after the receipt of an apology. The first was the case of Mr. Aston, who was not a Member of the House, and the last that in which the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) was concerned. He (Mr. Sullivan) had been denounced himself in placards; but he should have felt that he was trifling with the time of the House if, although technically he would be within his right in doing so, he had brought the matter under its notice. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis), who had unhappily a habit of making violent speeches in that House and running away the moment he had made them, had referred to the precedents which had been quoted by the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt); but the manner in which he had dismissed them, as not bearing upon the present case, was, he thought, searcely worthy of serious consideration. Yet such were the argu- 1154 ments on which the House was asked to agree to a Resolution which would inflict a heavy blow on the precious privilege which for many years Parliament had enjoyed—the most scrupulous respect for the rights of minorities. The hon. Member for Derby, he might add, had never consulted him in the matter. If he had done so the placard would never have been issued. He had, however, urged his hon. Friend to apologize to the House for what he had done, and he regretted exceedingly that the House had not responded to his apology in a proper spirit. He implored them, before it was too late, not to take a course which would not only be ungenerous towards his hon. Friend, but hurtful to the liberties of Parliament.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
said, that it seemed to him that the offence of the hon. Member for Derby in publishing the placards was about as bad a one as could be committed against a Parliamentary Colleague. If that hon. Member, in the frankness of his heart, had not made the ample apology he had done, he should have felt compelled to have given his vote in justification of the character of the two hon. Members opposite who were aspersed by the placard. Although, however, the hon. Member for Derby had, so far as he was personally concerned, condoned, in the most ample manner, his offence, now, for some reason, which it was worth while inquiring into, the question had not been allowed to drop in the manner in which questions were usually allowed to drop in that House after the hon. Member who had transgressed had made his peace with his Colleagues. There was one thing in the course of the debate which had particularly struck him, and which appeared in the observations of the two hon. Members who had been aspersed. It seemed to him that the question of Privilege of Parliament, when raised, should be fought out upon the most lofty principles. But anyone who had listened to the observations of the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Westminster and of the hon. Member for Guildford could not help being struck with the fact that the gravamen of the offence in their eyes seemed to be that the placards had been circulated amongst their constituents. The hon. Member for Guildford had spoken of "his borough," as if it were 1155 a kind of possession of his. The offence had been against the dignity and independence of Parliament; and it seemed to him to be a very low ground on which to pass a Resolution, which might be attended with most awkward consequences, that harm had been done with the constituents of the hon. Members. No Parliamentary precedent had been quoted which exactly fitted in the present case. The offence of Mr. Lopes was one which did not at all resemble that of the hon. Member for Derby. Mr. Lopes spoke of a Party, not of an individual, as "disreputable," an epithet which had often been applied to Parties on either side of that House. He had heard Gentlemen on the other side of the House frequently called "disreputable Tories;" but he did not suppose that they cared the least about it. It was not right, however, that any hon. Member should be held up to odium, in the Metropolis or elsewhere, for taking any course which he thought it was his duty to take with regard to any particular Bill. With respect to the question of Privilege, he had put the question to himself why the Government and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been so particularly anxious to get up that very disagreeable debate. The only conclusion he could come to was that the Government wished to prevent the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) from bringing on his Motion. He had no doubt that the Government were not particularly anxious that the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, who had by the chance of the ballot obtained a very early day, should bring on his very inconvenient Motion with respect to obstruction. The only effect of the Motion would, no doubt, be to illustrate obstruction in that House, for no one could suppose that the Motion would be passed so long as some hon. Members felt it was aimed against them and the constituents they represented, and he might say against the country they represented in that House. It could not be supposed that anything of that kind could be passed by a private Member, so long as a voice, or energy, or Parliamentary precedents could prevent such a calamity. Therefore, he thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, being unable to influence the hon. 1156 Member for North Warwickshire, had found it the wisest course to raise that particular debate. Considering the language that had been used on both sides of the House by hon. Members, he did not think that anybody could really wish to crush the hon. Member for Derby by such a Resolution as the present. He wished to say, however, with regard tot he particular measure which the hon. Member for Derby was anxious to bring forward, that he was of opinion, equally with the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster and the hon. Member for Guildford, that the measure ought to be fully and amply discussed in that House. He could quite understand that, actuated by a sense of duty, those two hon. Members had taken the course which had been so objectionable to the hon. Member for Derby. But what would become of the House of Commons if any hon. Member, having a Bill in which he was particularly interested and which he considered of vital importance, should, if anyone should undertake to discuss the Bill or to talk it out of the House, as was sometimes done—and he might say that he had seen it done by hon. Members of great reputation—go out of the House to attribute to those making use of their Parliamentary Privileges the basest and most improper motives? He should, therefore, have been prepared to vote in condemnation of the conduct of the hon. Member for Derby, if he had not apologized in the handsome manner he had done. He was not prepared to lay down a rule, in view of future circumstances, that any hon. Member who felt so strongly as that hon. Member did on that question, and was so conscious that he was doing something which was good that he feared nothing in carrying the matter through the House, should not only be compelled to apologize for his conduct, but should be censured also. Surely it was the best indication of the Privileges of that House that the hon. Member should have been compelled to apologize. He should, therefore, vote in favour of the Previous Question; and he would repeat his regret that, in vindicating the Privileges of that House, the two hon. Members who had been aggrieved should have made it a matter of injury to their electioneering prospects rather than a question of the Privileges of Parliament.
§ MAJOR O'GORMAN
wished to say a few words upon the question. He was 1157 the only Member of that House who on Tuesday last recommended his hon. Friend the Member for Derby to recall the words he had made use of with respect to the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Westminster and the hon. Member for Guildford. For that proceeding he stated his reasons—namely, that he considered the words were extremely harsh, and he had no doubt that those words did very strongly wound the feelings of both those hon. Members. That evening the hon. Member for Derby had, in the most unequivocal manner, made the most ample apology which it was possible for that House to receive. Notwithstanding that in the presence of English, Irish, and Scotch Gentlemen, the most ample apology for the offence he had committed had been made by the hon. Member for Derby, he found that the House was committed to the debate which had lasted from 5 o'clock till 25 minutes past 12. For what purpose? He rose to ask that simple question. They called themselves Gentlemen in that House, and they ought to be so. But when they found. Gentlemen getting up in their places, as one hon. Member in that House had done, and making a full apology to the two Gentlemen whom he had offended, he maintained that nothing more was required. When he found one hon. Gentleman standing up in his place and making the most ample apology to those hon. Members whom he had undoubtedly offended, then not one word more should have been pronounced in that House. And what were they doing? They wanted to punish the hon. Member for Derby. If they did not want to punish him, what was the use of putting the Motion down on the Paper? Were he in the place of the hon. Member for Derby, he should certainly recall his apology in consequence of the conduct of the House. There was only one other matter to which he wished to refer, and that was to say that it seemed to him the only good of the debate was, that it would prevent the hon. Member for North Warwickshire from bringing on his Motion.
§ Previous Questionput.
§ The Housedivided:—Ayes 189; Noes 127: Majority 62.—(Div. List, No. 16.)
§ MR. RYLANDSmoved the adjournment of the debate.1158
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must point out to the hon. Member that the House has now decided that the Original Question be put.
§ MR. RYLANDS
Shall I, Sir, be in Order in moving the adjournment of the House? If so, I beg, Sir, to move the adjournment of the House.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The only question that can now be decided is "Aye" or "No" on the Main Question, ordered by the vote of the House to be put.
§ Main Question put.
§ The Housedivided:—Ayes 182; Noes 116: Majority 66.—(Div. List, No. 17.)
§ Resolved,That, in the opinion of this House, the conduct of the honourable Member for Derby in publishing printed placards denouncing the part taken by two honourable Members of this House in the proceedings of the House was calculated to interfere with the due discharge of the duties of a Member of this House, and is a breach of its Privileges:—But this House, having regard to the withdrawal by the honourable Member for Derby of the expressions to which the honourable Member for Westminster has drawn its attention, is of opinion that no further action on its part is necessary.