§ The order of the day having been read for the attendance of the Reverend T. Thirlwall, Mr. Bennet moved, that Mr. Thirlwall, be called in.
§ Mr. Bathurst
said, that though he thought the committee of police had a right to complain of the expressions which the gentleman, who was called on to attend had made use of, it would be proper, before they proceeded further, to settle how far they might be disposed to proceed against the individual in question.
§ The Speaker
said, it might be proper first to hear what the party had to say for himself; the House would then be able to decide on the whole question.
§ Mr. Bathurst
said, that when so great a tenacity was shewn of the privileges of the House, that a person who in any publication made reflections on the proceedings of a committee was to be called to the bar, he wished to know how far the House was disposed to go, with regard to other reflections on the House!
rose to order. It had already been determined that the gentleman in question should be ordered to attend. When the House had heard what the individual had to say, any thing might with propriety be urged in his favour.
§ The Speaker
said, that though it was an order of the day that the rev. Mr. Thirlwall do attend, yet, on the question that he be called in, it was competent for any member to make any further remarks.
§ Mr. Bathurst
said, that though an order had been made for the attendance of the gentleman in question, it was competent for them to relax. What he wished to state was, that notwithstanding the attack upon the proceedings of the committee was censurable, there were other animadversions on the proceedings of other committees, and on the House itself, which had been passed over. He held an extract from a publication in his hand, respecting another committee: — "The aim and object of this committee of placemen is to find reasons, not for the reduction, but for the continuance and preservation of as much establishment, of as many places, and of as much idle and 244 extravagant expense as possible." The House itself, or any member was at liberty to make remarks on the conduct of its committees; but when such animadversions were made out of the House on other committees, it was hardly just, if one case were brought before them, that others should be permitted to pass unnoticed. If, therefore, the House punished an individual for conduct of this description, it would be open to any gentleman to call for the censure of the House on others who made reflections on its proceedings or those of its committees, equally unjustifiable and unfounded.
said, he was sure he would be the last man in the House who would be wanting in support of the right hon. gentleman as to any case where the authority of the House or of any of its committees was reviled or impeached. But then it was to be considered that each case must rest on its own particular grounds; and that there could be nothing more injurious than, when anyone case was brought forward, to say that there were such and such other libels against other committees, which were equally atrocious, and yet had not been punished. Certainly, he had often seen in the public prints attacks on the privileges of the House, which he regretted had been passed over by the House. But here was a case which impeached the authority of a committee while exercising one of the most important functions of the House, namely, its inquisitorial power. The charge made against the committee was that of gross partiality. It had been determined by the committee, that this attack upon it should be noticed to the House, and it was in his capacity of chairman of the committee, and not as coming forward to express his individual opinion, that the hon. gentleman brought forward the subject. The case therefore was this: One of the committees of the House called upon the House for protection of its privileges. This call was entered and recorded on the journals of the House. The libel was acknowledged by its author. His attendance was ordered by the House; and now, if he was not called to the bar, the House would virtually acknowledge that the imputation which he had cast upon the committee was well founded.
§ Mr. Brougham
agreed that every case of breach of privilege should stand upon its own basis, and that no publication could be defended by a reference to others 245 which a member might conceive to be of a more objectionable tendency. During the debates seven years ago, respecting a breach of privilege, in consequence of which the worthy member for Westminster had been committed to the Tower, he had differed from the majority of the House; he had held at that time in his hand publications of that very morning, which, with this aggravation, that a discussion was then pending, contained, not indeed remarks on the decisions of the House or its committees, but the most indecent and scurrilous libels on the parliamentary conduct of individual members, but it was then argued by the members to whom he had urged these publications, that no defence for one breach of privilege was to be drawn from others. Yet, though it was strictly no defence for Mr. Thirlwall, that many breaches of privilege have passed unnoticed, it was a most material consideration in settling what degree of animadversion should be inflicted on that individual. The feeling, that this infliction should be extremely light, was so general that it was unnecessary to say a word more on that subject. As to the general notice which the right hon. gentleman had given to the House and the public of a new course of proceeding on the subject of privilege, he hoped that idea would be abandoned. A new course of dealing with the public press, unless greater licence prevailed than he saw any reason to apprehend, would be attended with the most serious mischief; and unless the House desired to descend from the high ground on which it had hitherto stood, by putting itself on the opinion of the country, it would never depart from the system which it had hitherto wisely pursued, and by which, the conduct of that House, as well as the conduct of the government, or that of any individual, were open to discussion within certain bounds chalked out by sound discretion. If public discussion respecting their proceedings transgressed all bounds, the House might at any time by making an example of the offender, declare that it should go no further. Hitherto they had lost nothing by abstaining from a too vigilant regard of the publication of remarks on its proceedings; the more they were scrutinized the less it might be found their reputation would suffer, and he dreaded a contrary course more than any blow against the House, except, indeed, one which would destroy their privileges, which might de- 246 stroy their existence, and certainly would put an end to their practical utility—the cutting off what passed there from the knowledge of their constituents.
said, that he never understood his right hon. friend to have uttered any thing in bar of the free communication between that House and the people. He had merely called the attention of the House to the general nature of the offence of which the individual stood charged, and had desired to know how far the House was prepared to go in the general repression of such offences. His right hon. friend had only intimated, that committees on one side of the House as well as another, might be treated with this sort of disrespect, and the chairman be compelled to undertake the painful duty of self-vindication. If the press was to be brought to entertain a proper respect for the privileges of parliament, he begged leave to remind the hon. gentlemen opposite, that the first suggestion for the rigorous exercise of authority for this purpose, did not commence on his side of the House.
§ Mr. W. Smith
thought that could be more fair or what had been just laid down by the noble lord. It used formerly to be the practice of parliament, when the language of any individual in the House was commented upon out of doors, to call the person to account who censured it. I5ut this privilege could not be acted upon now, when the debates were not confined to the walls of the House, but a portion of the House was set apart for the public [Cries of Order, order!]. He was aware he was quite out of order, but it was the shortest way of expressing what he meant.
§ The Speaker
said, if the hon. gentleman was aware he was out of order, it was to be hoped he would avoid a repetition of the disorderly expression.
§ Mr. W. Smith
went on, and described that what he meant was, that now when the debates of the House were circulated all over the kingdom, it could not be expected that the privileges of the Mouse should be insisted upon with much severity, nor was it desirable that they should. On the other hand, he had always considered it to be a kind of duty in every member to withhold himself from the defence out of doors of any expressions he might have used within. On that duty he had acted strictly and bona fide. He thought they ought not to compromise the 247 general privileges of the House for the sake of any individual; at the same time, as committees could only ascertain the truth from having parties examined before them, it was of importance to the country that those parties should be compelled to answer truly.
§ Sir. S. Romilly
felt it necessary to explain the vote he had given on a former occasion, when the reverend gentleman was ordered to be called to the bar. He was astonished to hear an attempt to make this a party question, because the chairman of the committee, by whom it had been brought forward, sat on that side of the House. It arose out of a committee on the police, one point of which concerned the licensing of public-houses. Surely nothing could be more free from party politics than this. He had before differed from the majority of the House in cases in which they had thought proper to visit what they considered breaches of privilege. He had then thought it most improper to proceed against the animadversions on the proceedings of the House, on the same ground as he should have condemned proceedings against the authors of remarks on proceedings in courts of justice. If the present case had been of this description, he should never have voted that the individual should be called to the bar. But what was the case? The police committee had made no report, but had put the House in possession of evidence on which it might proceed. The gentleman in question had published a work to persuade the House not to proceed on the suggestion of the committee, complaining of its proceedings as being similar to the star chamber, the committees of the long parliament, and the revolutionary committees of public safety, and had sent a copy to every member. This was a case similar to that of a publication calculated to influence a jury. If that had not been the nature of the publication, he should not have concurred in passing the slightest censure on it.
considered nothing more injurious to the House than to adopt a very strict conduct as to publications which noticed their proceedings. He did not distinctly understand this offence, but he understood that Mr. Thirlwall had printed and published animadversions which tended to impeach the conduct of a committee of that House; and that the committee had in consequence sent for him to explain himself. He could not tell whether 248 Mr. Thirlwall saw his error, and was disposed to apologize; but as he was ordered to attend at the bar, the question, he thought, could not now be got rid of. Certainly, it could not be done by saying that other libellous matter was published againt the proceedings or committees of the House. He must, therefore, be called in; and if he showed a disposition not to persevere, but rather to acknowledge an impropriety, he wished the lightest measures to be taken towards him. The whole liberty of this country depended on the public notoriety of the proceedings of the House of Commons. Any thing that might be done to impair it, would, in his opinion, be a greater blow to the public liberty than any other measure. For his own part, he would always rather submit to misrepresentation; than interfere in that House with public animadversions on any discussion he was concerned in. Unless the reverend gentleman shewed wilful obstinacy, he hoped the House would visit him lightly.
had no wish to object to this gentleman's being called in. Nevertheless, he approved of his right hon. friend's course, in the present stage of the proceeding rather than in a later one; for in comparatively a new course of proceeding, the House ought, at its outset, to mark the manner in which they were generally prepared to act. As to the distinction attempted to be made between this case and other libels, he thought it to be without a shadow of foundation. How did the libel obstruct the course of justice in the sense that had been alluded to? It referred to the last year's proceeding of a committee which had completed its labours—[Cries of "No!"]. They had reported, and for that year, at least, their labours were completed. Under such circumstances Mr. Thirlwall published a book, intituled "A Vindication of the Magistrates, &c." This book was published early in the year, and before the committee was reinstituted. Their labours, then, could not be said to have been impeded, as they were not pending at the time. The report had been already delivered in, and was, pro tanto, a concluded transaction. Under these circumstances, this octavo volume was said to have a direct tendency to obstruct the course of justice— an octavo, of which hardly any body ever heard, and which could never have had the publicity of the commonest newspaper paragraph. This was the substratum that 249 was to bear down the course of justice— a volume, which contained nothing but an idle desultory comment on a last year's Report. The right hon. gentleman who spoke last had said, it were better that these things were lightly passed over; perhaps he concurred in this opinion, and that the House ought only exercise their privileges when their proceedings were interrupted In this case, he did not think that to be the fact, as the libel referred to the proceeding of a past committee.
§ Sir J. Newport
thought, that no doubt could exist as to the peculiarly exceptionable character of the publication under discussion; for in that publication the writer stated, that "recollecting the conduct of the committee at the revolution, as well as that of the revolutionary committee in France, he would not submit to be tried by any inquisitions, star chambers, or committees." Such a reflection upon the conduct of the committee alluded to, it was impossible for the House to overlook, consistently with the respect which it owed to its own dignity, and to the character of its committee. He had as much regard as any man for the liberty of the press, but he would never consent to allow it to protest against the authority of that House, or to assimilate its practice to that of the star chamber or the inquisition.
rose to notice an observation of the noble lord, which he thought might as well have been spared. For it was a mistake to suppose that, in the conduct of the committee which was the object of the calumny under consideration, he was influenced by any political prejudice or feeling. On the contrary, indeed, he declined to avail himself of some information tendered to him with respect to an institution connected with the object of the committee, because he apprehended that to inquire into the conduct of that institution, might serve to give the proceedings of the committee rather too much of a political complexion. Then, as to the remarks of the noble lord, that the first attack upon the freedom of the press proceeded from that side of the House e protested against any such imputation, for he knew that it was totally inapplicable. But to revert to the motives attributed to himself and the committee in which he had the honour to preside. Against the charge of the noble lord, he could refer to the gentlemen who had witnessed his conduct in the committee, 250 all of whom would, he hoped, testify that his demeanour was marked throughout the inquiry by a degree of mildness and by a temper very different indeed from that which the noble lord sought to introduce into this debate. To the aspersions which the writer alluded to had thought proper to cast upon his character, he would reply by the same reference. That writer had called upon him, and told him that he meant to write upon the report of the committee, and his answer was, that he was glad of it, wishing nothing more than a fair and full discussion of the merits of that report. To every question from this writer, he gave an answer as satisfactory as was in his power, assuring him that the only object of the committee was to ascertain what was the best course to pursue, with a view to cure the evils exposed in the report. He clearly saw that this writer visited him upon a voyage of discovery; yet he withheld from him no information in his power to grant. But the return which this writer made for the frankness of his communication was a direct attack upon his character. As the best defence against such an attack, he would again refer to the gentlemen who witnessed his conduct in the committee. To the testimony of these gentlemen he would appeal against the attack of this writer, as well as against the insinuation of the noble lord.
disclaimed any intention of imputing partiality or political prejudice to the hon. gentleman, or to the committee alluded to. As to the report of the committee, he did not speak unfavourably of it, and he had read it throughout; and as to the writer under consideration, he really did not know him or his connexions. But he did observe, that the attempt to restrain the press from animadverting upon the proceedings of the House, originated on that side with which the hon. member was connected, although it was notorious that so much more provocation was offered in another quarter. But as the example was now given, he hoped the principle originated by the other side of the House would not be partially, but generally and justly acted upon.
§ Mr. Barclay
bore ample testimony to the hon. member's fair and impartial conduct in the chair of that committee. Throughout the investigation that conduct was marked with the utmost liberality and candour, and in one instance in particular he had seen enough of it to be satisfied 251 that the hon. gentleman had carefully banished from his thoughts the slightest political feeling, as connected with the inquiry before the committee.
§ The motion was agreed to, and Mr. Thirlwall being called in,
§ The Speaker
stated to him, that he was charged with printing and publishing a book, reflecting upon the character of a committee of that House, and violating its privileges, and that after the passage complained of was read, what he had to offer in his own behalf would then be heard.
§ The passage complained of was then read. It will be found at p. 108.
then addressed the House to the following effect:—"I hope that this honourable House will do me the justice to believe, that it is with the deepest concern and regret that I find I have trespassed on its rights or privileges by any writings of mine. What I did write, I beg to assure the House, was not calculated readily to meet the public eye in the form in which it was shaped. The offensive passages occurred in a work written in very great haste, and solely intended to vindicate the character of the magistrates and my own from the obloquy cast on both by passages in that part of the report of a committee of this House, which detailed the evidence of witnesses necessarily examined before that honourable committee. If, in my ardent wishes in pursuit of this object, I was unfortunately carried out of the proper path of respect to this honourable House, I have to express my regret for so offending. It is now my anxious wish to express the regret I sincerely feel for my conduct towards this hon. House, and the hon. committee; and, trusting in the clemency of this hon. House, I venture to hope and petition, that its sentence, whatever it may be, will not be such as may degrade my character as a magistrate and a clergyman."
§ Mr. Thirlwall having withdrawn,
said, that he had no inclination to press for any severity upon this occasion; such a proceeding would indeed be totally inconsistent with his disposition and habits: but he thougt it necessary that the House should come to some resolution with respect to the publication alluded to.
said, that though there could be no doubt that the writings of the rev. gentleman had amounted o a 252 breach of privilege, yet he hoped the House would be satisfied with the apology that they had heard.
was of opinion that the rev. gentleman had done every thing that was in the power of man to do. He had expressed his contrition in terms at once manly and respectful; and this was all that could be wished for. He therefore thought that the slightest testimony of displeasure which the House could express towards him would be sufficient.
then moved, "That the rev. Thomas Thirlwall, by the said publication, has reflected upon the proceedings and authority of a committee of this House, and is thereby guilty of a high contempt of the authority of this House, and a breach of its privileges."
§ Mr. Brougham
would not oppose the motion, but he was desirous of explaining the grounds of the vote he had given. Had this publication been stated nakedly to the House, without any reference to the insolent conduct of the author of it before the committee, he should have opposed the motion, and have resisted calling up Mr. Thirlwall.
§ Mr. Shaw Lefevre
bore testimony to the upright conduct of the rev. gentleman as a magistrate, and considered he had already made all the atonement in his power for the offence he had committed.
§ Sir T. Acland
expressed his entire concurrence in the lenient feeling of every gentleman in the House, and also in the manly and respectful conduct of the rev. gentleman. He must also bear testimony to the liberal conduct and ability of the hon. chairman of the committee, whose conduct throughout had been most conciliatory, and who had done nothing more on this occasion than what the dignity of the House rendered necessary.
The motion was agreed to. The House next resolved, "That the rev. Thomas Thirlwall be again called in, and that Mr. Speaker do communicate to him the said resolution, and, at the same time, acquaint him, that in consideration of the full acknowledgment of his error, and the contrition which he has this day expressed, the House is contented to proceed no further upon the matter of this complaint." Mr. Thirlwall was thereupon called in, and Mr. Speaker having communicated to him the said resolutions, he was directed to withdraw.