said, it was with great concern that he felt it to be his duty, as chairman of the committee appointed to inquire into the state of the police of the metropolis, to bring under the consideration of the House a Breach of Privilege contained in a book recently published, and which had been sent to the committee by the author purporting to be "A Vindication of the Magistrates acting in and for the Tower Division, from the Charges contained in a printed work, intituled, 'The Report of the Committee on the State of the Police of the Metropolis; together with the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Committee of the House of Commons.' By Thomas Thirlwall, M. A. Rector of Bowel's Gifford, Essex, and magistrate for the counties of Middlesex and Essex." Without making any comment on the general tone of the work, which was by no means respectful towards the committee, he would only observe, that several passages were so extremely offensive to the feelings of the committee and so hostile to the privileges of the House, that it was thought fit to summon Mr. Thirlwall before them, to require some explanation of his conduct. When Mr. Thirlwall appeared before the committee, he avowed himself to be the 108 author of the work in question.—But before he proceeded to state what had taken place on that occasion, he would request the clerk to read from the book the passages which were the subject of complaint.
§ The Clerk accordingly (after repeating the title of the work) read as follows:—
§ "I have inquired into the constitution of these committees of the House of Commons, and the mode of their proceedings, and I have no doubt others will be surprised as well as myself at the description. My impression was, that a committee is composed of a number of members who personally attend, that the evidence of every witness, and the whole entire evidence of each witness, are entered in the minutes, literatim et verbatim, and printed for the use of the House.
§ "My information, however, has taught me that my impression is most erroneous, and that this was not the mode at least pursued in the examination of witnesses, upon the charges against the magistrates of the Tower division. During the examination of several of the witnesses, the chairman only was present. Mr. Calvert is the only member I could learn who did assist him occasionally, particularly when the House of Hanbury was in question. This hon. member very much wished Mr. Fox, of Shadwell, to give his evidence, but the private explanation of that gentleman induced him not to insist upon it.
§ "A considerable part of the evidence given in was not entered on the Minutes, and a very material part that was offered was not accepted. I have not the smallest knowledge of the chairman, other than by his occasional speeches as an opposition member, by the name of captain Ben net, from which I infer, he has not dedicated much of his time to the profession of the law, and directed his studies to the nature of legal evidence.
§ "It is pretty well known my loyalty to my king and attachment to the constitution; and I had almost said enthusiastic admiration of its forms. I have contributed my part in the worst of times to its safety. I hope, therefore, that my observations will not be tortured into any intentional disrespect to the committee. I acknowledge its authority, and bow to its decisions. But when I make this declaration, it does not follow that I am bound against my conscience to admit either candour or impartiality in the proceedings, or that if the body of magistrates are to be 109 tried, I should not prefer Mr. Beaumont bringing his charges before my lord Ellenborough, rather than before a committee of the House of Commons, with even captain Bennet in the chair. I am not partial to the committees in the time of Cromwell, nor to the committees in France in the time of the Revolution. I do not wish to be tried by committees. I protest against a trial by committees, inquisitions, or star-chambers."
proceeded to state, that when Mr. Thirlwall appeared before the committee, some explanation was required from him of the passages which had been read by the clerk. He would pass over that part of the explanation which related to himself personally, and confine himself to that which regarded the last paragraph which had been read by the clerk beginning with "It is well known my loyalty to my king, and attachment to the constitution," and ending with "I protest against a trial by committees, inquisitions, or star-chambers." The committee observed to Mr. Thirlwall that this passage contained an innuendo strongly pointed against them, and proceeded to ask for explanation on the subject.—The hon. member proceeded to read the interrogations and replies, which were as follow:
"You are one of the Middlesex magistrates?—I am.
"Is this book, which the chairman holds in his hand, purporting to be, 'A 'Vindication of the Magistrates,' &c, your publication I—I am the author of the Vindication.
"The next sentence in the book the chairman wishes to pass over as concerning himself; the last is this, 'It is pretty 'well known, my loyalty to my king, and 'attachment to the constitution, and I had 'almost said enthusiastic admiration of 'its forms. I have contributed my part 'in the worst of times to its safety; I hope, therefore, that my observations will 'not be tortured into any intentional disrespect to the committee; I acknowledge 'its authority, and bow to its decisions. 'But when I make this declaration, it 'does not follow that I am bound against 'my conscience to admit either candour 'or impartiality in the proceedings, or 'that if the body of magistrates are to be 'tried, I should not prefer Mr. Beaumont 'bringing his charges before my lord 'Ellenborough, rather than before a committee of the House of Commons, with 'even captain Bennet in the chair. I am 110 'not partial to the committees in the time 'of Cromwell, nor to the committees in 'France in the time of the Revolution. 'I do not wish to be tried by committees; 'I protest against a trial by committees, 'inquisitions, or star-chambers.' The committee, considering that latter innuendo as being most clearly pointed against their proceedings, require from you an explanation of those observations: the first question they ask you is, before they require from you an explanation as to the latter innuendo; What grounds have you for accusing the committee of either want of candour or impartiality?—I deny that I have.
"You wish that answer to stand as it does?—I do.
"How, then, do you explain those words, 'But when I make this declaration,' meaning the declaration of respect towards the committee, 'it does not 'follow that I am bound, against my conconscience, to admit either candour or 'impartiality in their proceedings?'—I beg it to be understood, in its plain and literal sense, that I am not bound. I have not refused the credit of candour or impartiality; I have merely stated that I, as an Englishman, and with the rights and privileges of an Englishman, and with all the lights and advantages which an education has given me, conceive, that as a general topic it is open to discussion like that of every other institution; the comparative merits of a committee of the House of Commons, and that of a trial by peers; and I have no hesitation in stating that I prefer the one to the other. I meant nothing disrespectful to the committee.
"The committee wish to ask of you, as a clergyman and a magistrate, when you wrote that sentence, whether you did not mean to insinuate that the committee was neither candid nor impartial?—I beg to object to any questions tending to criminate myself.
"The last question that the committee wish to propose, is, as to the innuendo in the conclusion of the sentence. Having stated your preference to a trial by jury, over what you are pleased to term a trial by a committee, you add, 'I am not partial to the 'committees in the time of Cromwell, nor 'to the committees in France in the time 'of the Revolution; I do not wish to be 'tried by committees; I protest against a 'trial by committees, inquisitions, or starchambers.' What do you mean by that innuendo?—I mean what it states.
111 "You mean then to assimilate, what you are pleased to term a trial by a committee of the House of Commons, with proceedings in committees in the time of Cromwell, to committees in France at the time of the Revolution, to inquisitions, and star-chambers?—No; no such thing; I had no idea of the kind.
"What do you mean then by this last paragraph i—I mean it to fill up a period.
"The committee think it right to inform you, that this is likely to come before the House of Commons; and they wish seriously to ask you, whether you stand by the answer you have last given?—I do.
"Have you any thing else to add upon this subject?—No, I have not."
The committee endeavoured in this examination to induce the reverend gentleman to make such an explanation and apology as might render it unnecessary to submit the matter to the consideration of the House, but in vain. He must say also, that Mr. Thirlwall's manner and tone on the occasion were the very opposite of what might have been expected. That morning, however, he had tendered to the committee an explanation of the obnoxious passages, and of some of the replies in his examination. With respect to the insinuation, that the committee had neither candour nor impartiality, to the question on which he had answered that he objected to any question tending to criminate himself, he now expressed his contrition for the passage. With respect to his answer to the question relative to inquisitions or star-chambers, that he meant to fill up a period, he now corrected it, by stating, that it was a rhetorical figure of speech, and that he had no intention of instituting a comparison between the committee and the inquisition or the star-chamber. He added, that perceiving the publication had given offence to the committee, he had directed his publisher to stop the sale of it. Taking, however, the whole nature and circumstances of the transaction into their consideration, the committee deemed them to be of such importance as to require that they should be laid before the House. He wished to be entirely guided by the House with respect to the farther proceedings which it might be advisable to adopt on the subject, his only anxiety being that the privileges of parliament should not be compromised on the occasion. The first step, however, would be to require the attendance of Mr. Thirlwall in the House. As the reverend 112 gentleman lived at some distance from town, and as he had his clerical duty to perform on Sunday, it might, perhaps, be inconvenient to him to attend on Monday. He would therefore move, "That the reverend Thomas Thirlwall do attend this House on Wednesday next."
Sir Oswald Moseley
seconded the motion, and desired, as a member of the committee, to confirm the statement of the hon. chairman. As he was not on the committee when the book was published, he could not be supposed to be actuated by any personal feeling, when he described the publication as a gross libel; and if any thing could exceed the impropriety of it, it was the tone and manner that accompanied the explanation.
§ Mr. Lockhart
observed, that the House would have ample opportunities of considering whether the work was a breach of privilege or not. He was totally unacquainted with the parties in the case; but he could not refrain from noticing the peculiarity of the proceedings in the committee. They were unusual, and he believed, without precedent. The committee had entered into the consideration of a breach of privilege. Now, he always thought that it was the duty of a committee of that House, or of an individual member of it, under such circumstances, to make an immediate complaint of the breach of privilege to the House, and to the House alone. He always understood that a committee of that House could never go beyond its instructions. The committee in question was instituted to inquire into the police of the metropolis, and not into the nature of any breach of privilege. Instead of complaining to the House of the breach of privilege committed with respect to them, they called a witness before them, and entered into an investigation of the breach of privilege themselves. They put questions to this witness, not tending to promote the inquiry which they had been appointed to pursue, but to draw from him a confession or a denial of his guilt. He apprehended that committees of that House were not entrusted with inquisitorial powers of that nature. To him it appeared that it would be extremely dangerous, indeed, if committees, instead of coming at once to the House, should enter on such investigations. He was not aware of any instance on record of such a proceeding. If it was contrary to the practice of parliament, it behoved the House 113 to pause before they agreed to the motion. He wished also to ask, with what view the hon. gentleman had read the explanation which had been given by the witness of the obnoxious passages in the work? Did he intend to lay it on the table of the House or not? If he did, it came in the shape of evidence heard by a set of gentlemen in a committee, which had no right to enter into any such examination. He hoped that some hon. member, more experienced in the usages of parliament, would favour the House with his opinion on this, to say the least of it, doubtful point.
§ The Speaker
said, he apprehended that the present was the time at which the House should pronounce, whether the passage in the work adverted to, was or was not a breach of privilege. If not, the author ought not to be called on to attend at the bar. From what had fallen from the hon. chairman of the committee, he did not collect that the committee had inquired into the actual guilt, in that respect of the author of the work. All that the committee had done, which was not unreasonable was, to ascertain before they complained to the House, whether the party advisedly persisted in the expressions that he had used, or whether he was disposed by explanation to do away that which, if unexplained, might be considered by the House a breach of privilege. As matters stood, therefore, it was for the House to determine, aye or no, whether there was a prima facie breach of privilege in the reflections which had been cast on the committee. If the House determined in the affirmative on that proposition, they would order the attendance of the party at the bar; if in the negative, they would proceed no further in the business.
observed, that he had very regularly attended his duty as a member of the police committee, and that it gave him great satisfaction to witness the attention and ability of the hon. chairman. It was not a fact that the chairman sometimes examined witnesses alone. The committee was in general very fully attended.
§ Mr. Wrottesley
wished to ask if it would be improper to defer the motion before them until the alleged libel should be laid on the table, and printed for the consideration of the House?
§ The Speaker
apprehended that a complaint of breach of privilege must in all 114 cases be disposed of at once. Those who were conversant with parliamentary usages, knew that any publication (generally speaking) reflecting on the proceedings of the House, or of any of its committees, was a high breach of privilege. The only question for the House to determine was, whether or not the extract which had been read contained such a reflection.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
was of opinion, that the motion of the hon. chairman ought to be acceded to by the House. When the reverend gentleman should attend, it would be for the House to take into consideration any circumstances of extenuation which he might, submit to them. In his opinion, all that the committee had done, was, not to extort from the party any improper declaration, but merely to afford him the opportunity of making such an explanation as might induce them to forbear their complaint to the House.
contended, that on the very face of the transaction the House had no discretion to exercise. With respect to any apology that might have been made by the individual in question, the House could take no cognizance of it, for it was not officially before them. It could not consider the explanation of the party either as an extenuation, or as an aggravation of his conduct, unless that part of the evidence were reported to them by the committee. There was but one course to pursue, namely to agree to the motion.
§ Mr. Shaw Lefevre
bore testimony to the temperate, impartial, and judicious manner in which the proceedings of the committee had been conducted by the hon. chairman of it.
contended, that the committee, in the course which they pursued with respect to the subject in question, had not exceeded their authority.
§ The Speaker
suggested to the hon. chairman of the committee, that after the present motion should be disposed of, it would be his duty to move, that there be laid before the House so much of the minutes of evidence as related to the explanation given in the committee. The House being in possession of that explanation, and hearing any thing further that the party might have to state at the bar, would then be enabled to come to an ulterior decision on the subject. At present the only question before them related to the attendance of the party.
115 The motion for the attendance of Mr. Thirlwall was then agreed to. It was then ordered, that there be laid before the House a copy of so much of the minutes taken before the committee as related to the matter complained of.