HC Deb 15 June 1819 vol 40 cc1188-91
Mr. Wynn

said, he was extremely sorry, after the time of the House had been so long occupied with discussions relative to breach of privilege, to be obliged to request their attention to another instance of the same kind. The breach of privilege which he was now about to notice was contained in an article which had appeared in "The New Times" newspaper, and had been adverted to in the course of a former debate. It was of such a nature that he thought it was quite impossible for the House to pass over it without being guilty of a dereliction of duty. The publication in question contained a series of remarks on the speech delivered a few evenings since, by an hon. member (sir J, Mackintosh), and were of such a nature as called for the severest censure of the House.—[The hon. gentleman here read extracts from the publication complained of. It was in the form of a letter to the editor, and contained a number of scurrilous observations on the speech delivered by sir J. Mackintosh on the Foreign Enlistment Bill, on the 10th instant. The writer expressed his surprise that cheers and thunders of applause should have awaited the accusations of sir James against his majesty's government, as the subservient supporters of a tyrannical system. Was sir James (asked the writer) always of the same opinion? Was he the same sort of man in 1808? Did he not then basely surrender the hope, the chance of establishing rational freedom? Was he not ready to submit to the tyranny of Buonaparté? He wondered that such men should now dare to reflect on ministers. If he were to believe newspaper reports, those scandalous and impudent observations of the old upholder of Gallic principles were loudly applauded, &c]—Now, really (said Mr. Wynn), if such observations are allowed to be published without notice, the daily press is our master. We must not complain of these daily comments, but court the favour of those who indulge in them. If we suffer such remarks, believe me we open the door to the worst and most dangerous species of influence.

The article was read by the clerk; after which Mr. Wynn moved, "That A. Mitchell, the printer and publisher of the said paper, do attend the House this day."

Sir J. Mackintosh

said, he looked upon this attack, as he trusted that he should upon all others which might be preferred against him on similar authority, with the most perfect indifference. As far as related to himself, he hoped never to see his name joined with any question of privilege. If the House should think it requisite, for the defence of its own dignity, to call the printer to their bar, he hoped they would punish the offence with as much lenity as they possibly could. With respect to the truth of the charge which had been brought against him, he must say, that the individual, who had invented it, had betrayed the grosesst ignorance of his conduct. At the time he [the writer of the letter] had represented him as playing the part of a sycophant to Buonapartè, he was administering justice in the East Indies.

Mr. Croker

said, that though the letter in question was most undoubtedly a libel on the character of his hon. and learned friend, it was a libel of such a nature as could not possibly do it any harm. He should, therefore, take the sense of the House, whether it was or was not a breach of privilege. The falsest part of the libel had evidently nothing to do with any question of privilege, as it referred to the conduct of his hon. and learned friend before he had become a member of that House. It would be not merely a gross libel on his hon. friend, but also an infraction of the privileges of the House, to state positively that any member had brought forward false and impudent accusations; but this was not stated in the newspaper complained of; the writer had merely stated, that, if he were to judge of the reports in the newspapers, sir J. Mackintosh had brought forward false and impudent accusations. He thought that the best plan which the House could pursue, would be for some member to move that the writing of these comments was a breach of privilege. He had stood up in the defence of the newspaper in question from a feeling of justice, and because he thought that the purity of his hon. and learned friend's character could be impaired by such imbecile, attacks as the present.

Lord Milton

could not help thinking that there might be some doubt whether this letter was or was not a breach of privilege. If the charge were a libel at all, the latter part of it was most grossly libellous, not merely on his hon. friend, but also on the House, as it charged the House with receiving false and shameless not accusations with the loudest applause and approbation.

Mr. Wynn

thought, that the breach of privilege was so evident as not to require the passing of any such resolution as the hon. gentleman had proposed. He could not conceive any grosser infraction of their privileges than to say of any hon. member that the statements which he made to the House were false and impudent assertions. How could the House expect to stand well in the esteem of the public, if the discussions which were carried on within it were to be published with such comments as those of which he complained? He agreed with the general feeling of the House in the advantages resulting from their publication; but if they were to be given with such comments as were now used, the shutting of the gallery altogether, though it might be an evil, would be a less evil than the continuance of the present system. That system had grown to its present height, because each individual, standing upon the strength of his own character, had failed to complain of, nay, even to notice it. He had brought forward this question, not with any view to protect the character of his hon. friend, but with a view to maintain the dignity of the House and the security of the public.

Lord Castlereagh

thought, that as some degree of warmth had been excited in the House by the discussion which had incidentally arisen in the course of the evening, and as the present was a subject on which they ought to decide with calmness and deliberation, he should suggest to the hon. gentleman the propriety of deferring it till to-morrow.

Mr. Wynn

said, that though he did not entertain the slightest doubt on the question himself, he could not have any objection to withdraw his complaint that night, if he was allowed to bring it forward to-morrow.

The motion was then withdrawn.