HC Deb 09 March 1821 vol 4 cc1162-70
Mr. Stuart Wortley

rose to call the attention of the House to a gross breach of its privileges. He was among those who approved of the publicity given to the debates and proceedings of that House. But, while those reports were allowed by connivance to go forth to the world, it was material to guard against any misrepresentation, especially with respect to the decisions or votes of the House; and it was a misrepresentation of this nature which he felt it his duty to submit to the House. That misrepresentation appeared in "The Morning Chronicle" of the 26th of February, and contained a very foul libel upon a majority of that House. The terms of this libel were as follows:—"List of the minority of 37 who voted on Friday last, the 23rd, for hearing the petition of Thomas Davison read before it was rejected, and against lord Castlereagh's admonition to the people of England, not to trouble and take up the time of the House of Commons any more with their petitions [Hear, hear.] After hearing such a libel, he could not but express his surprise at the cheers on the other side. Did any gentleman mean to assert that the majority who voted upon the occasion alluded to, did decide in favour of the admonition which lord Castlereagh was alleged to have given? If any gentleman were so disposed, he would say to I him, look at the Journals, do you find there that any such proposition was ever brought forward as this paragraph implies was supported by the majority?'* He would dare any man to prove that the decision of the House was here fairly described. The statement, then, was a libel The statement to which he referred imputed to a majority of that House a decision which it never pronounced, and a motive upon which it never acted. Such a proposition was never made, and was it not then most unwarrantable to charge a majority of that House with voting in favour of words to that effect, not one of those words appearing in the motion upon which this majority decided? Some such words were, it was said, made use of in the course of the debate. But, whether such words were made use of or not, they formed no part of the motion upon which the House divided, and it would be too much to charge upon a majority every word used any member of that majority If such a principle were established-there would be an end of all freedom of debate There was another publication within a few days in the same paper, with respect to the members who voted upon the motion of the hon member for Abingdon, in which a false colouring was given to the views of the majority. Upon this publication, however, he did not mean to call for any animadversion. But if the practice were to go on, of publishing the names of gentlemen as they voted in that House (and by the way he could not account for the manner in which such lists were furnished, as strangers were excluded, upon a division), he must say, that accuracy should be attended to, and that: no false description should be sent forth as to the motives of either the majority or the minority. He felt it necessary to assert the privileges of the House, and should move, "That J. Lambert, the printer and publisher of the Morning Chronicle, do attend this House on Monday.

Mr. Bennet

said, that as to the passage complained of, he was led to believe that every word of it was true. Since he had heard of the intention to bring forward the complaint under consideration, he had taken the trouble of inquiring with respect to the practice of publishing lists of the names of members who voted in majorities and minorities of that House, and he had found, that it had prevailed for above a century. The first instance was that of a division in the House of Lords in 1703; next, that of a division in 1714, upon the expulsion of sir It. Steele. Then followed the lists upon the proposition of the Excise laws, and upon the employment of foreign troops in 1742. From that period down to the present this practice had prevailed; and now, for the first time, a complaint was preferred against it, and that too, upon very untenable grounds; for, although the House did not distinctly come to a vote upon the extraordinary admonition of the noble secretary for foreign affairs, from all that he had heard the paragraph complained of contained a correct description. Whether any gentlemen Were; ashamed of what, they did, or how they voted generally in. that House, he should not pretend to say. But he should be at all. surprised, to find some gentlemen unwilling to have it known to the world that they had voted against the reception of the petition of a fellow-subject, without even allowing a to be read, although it came from a poor man pining in gaol. The hon. move was not among those who voted against the reception of that petition, and the re-fore it was found. Convenient to put him forward upon this occasion. But, as to the motion, he considered it peculiarly indiscreet, and in order to get rid of it, he would move, "That this House do now adjourn."

Sir Charles Long

said, that the ground of his hon. friend's complaint was not against the practice alluded to, but against a particular paragraph, imputing improper motives to a majority of the House upon a certain occasion. By this paragraph' that majority was charged with supporting an admonition to the people hot to trouble that House any more with their petitions; which charge was contrary to the fact. His noble friend had been accused of admonishing members of that House net-to present the petitions of the people. But what was the fact? Why, that some gentlemen, declaring that they felt it their duty to present any petition, couched in decorous and respectful language, his noble friend had observed, that it was the duty; of every member, not merely to examine the style or expressions, but the matter or object of any petition which he was called upon to present.

Sir R. Wilson

expressed a hope, that as the publication alluded to did not contain any direct censure upon the House, or upon the majority alluded to, the hon. gentleman would have the liberality to withdraw his motion.

Mr. Creevey

said, that the first part of the statement in the paragraph complained of was literally true, while1 the second was, according to his impression, substantially correct. The noble lord, after he gave the admonition referred to, certainly attempted several explanations; but still his conception of the noble lords original meaning remained unchanged Upon such a declaration then from any minister, or any member of that House, with respect to the right of petitioning, it was the duty of the public press to animadvert. If gentlemen thought the printer had been betrayed into indiscretion, he trusted to the liberality of the House that such indiscretion would not be made the subject of punishment. The printer have; been indiscreet; but What was his in discretion compared to that of lord castlereagh, in the declaration which gave rise to the paragraph under consideration? It would not become their dignity or discretion to found any proceedings upon such a publication, especially after the course adopted with respect to the paragraph under consideration? It would not become their dignity or discretion to found any proceeding upon such a publication especially after the course adopted with respect to the address from the Presbytery of Langholme.

Mr. Wallace

observed, that the question was not whether his noble friend had made an indiscreet declaration, but whether a gross libel had been published upon the conduct of a majority of that House? For himself, he was anxious that his acts and votes in that House should be fully made known; but as to the declaration imputed to his noble friend, he denied that he had uttered any such words as those imputed to him.

Sir J. Newport

said, that the noble lord had used words with respect to the presentation of petitions, which at first struck him as bearing the construction put upon thorn, but the noble lord had afterwards qualified them. As well as he could recollect the words of the noble lord, they were these—"I would really request gentlemen to admonish those who bring them petitions, not to burthen the House with them in the manner they do." As to what had been contended that this House was not the proper tribunal for hearing complaints relative to the administration of justice, he declared, that if a petition were offered to him to-morrow, complaining, of the conduct of a court of justice, he should feel it his duty to present it: for to what purpose was a committee of justice appointed, hut to enable the people to bring before that House such grievances as they might suffer from malversation in the administration of justice?

Sir M. W. Ridley

conceived, that if the noble lord had used words to the effect stated, he had afterwards, by his explanation, done away the impression which they had made. After all, as the first indiscretion had been on the part of the noble lord and then an indiscretion on the part of some other hon. member who put the title to the minority, he thought it would be advisable to let the matter rest.

Mr. Huskisson

said, he was one of those who did not object to the publication of lists; but he must object to the introduction of such lists, with misstatements of the nature of the vote. The insinuation here was against the majority; for the minority Was described as having voted against a particular principle, and it was to be inferred that the majority were in favour of it. Now, With respect to the words used by the noble lord, he had understood them this sense—that persons presenting, portions ought to be admonished that it was, in the power of the House to refuse those petitions, if the subject referred, to was one which ought not to be brought before them. If the words of the, noble lord were misunderstood at first he had after words sufficiently explained their meaning. As to the principle involved in the present motion, he contended, that if the House refused to assert its privileges, on such occasions, they would be opening a door for great abuses.

Mr. Stuart Wortley

said, it had not been his intention to persist in his motion. for bringing the printer to the bar of that House, for he believed he was not person who was most to blame; but, after the hon. gentlemen opposite had thought proper to defend the act of which he complained, he would put it to the House whether it would be consistent with their., dignity to pass it over without animadversion. Still, however, as far as he was personally concerned, he was perfectly ready to withdraw it, provided gentlemen On, the other side would admit that it was an, unjustifiable proceeding to impute motives to members in the way in which they had been imputed in the paper complained of If they persisted in defending such conduct, he thought the House could not do less, in vindication of its own dignity, than call the printer to the bar, that he might at least receive some admonition.

Lord Castlereagh

said, that certainty a more detestable and wicked libel had never been published. If he had himself called the attention of the House to subject, it was perhaps no more then ought to have done; and he could justify himself for having abstained from taking that course, by that self-indulgence which might be allowed to a minister. Now, however, that it was brought before, the House, he must say, that to impute him a desire to prevent the people from exercising the right of petition was not only wicked, but absurd certainly had admonished the people not to present petitions, complaining of grievances,, in which that House could afford them no relief: and such an admonition he apprehended, was an act of great kindness to the people of England. But, when he was made to say, that he did not wish the people to trouble and take up the time of the House, such a calumny was evidently framed with no other view than to operate upon the mind of the ignorant, and was below contempt. Upon the discussion relative to the conduct of judge Best, he did say, that the people ought to be admonished, that that House was not a court of appeal; and certainly there could not be a greater misfortune to individuals, I than that they should be misled as to the course of remedy which it was right to Adopt. The admonition was given by him in the true spirit of the constitution; and no fair man who heard him, could impute; to him any desire of interfering with the general right of petitioning.

Lord A. Hamilton

thought the best course would be to withdraw both mo-lions. He must say, however, that it appeared to him, that an unfair interpretation was given to the paragraph in question; that there was no assertion whatever that the majority had voted for the admonition to the people; and it was unfair to argue that motives were imputed to them by implication.

Mr. Hutchinson

did not mean to defend the paragraph in question, but rose in consequence of what had fallen from the noble lord opposite. The noble lord had said, that no fair man could possibly have misconceived his meaning. Now he apprehended that he had the character of being a fair man; yet he certainly under-Stood the noble lord on that occasion to have read a lecture to petitioners approaching that House. The noble lord had indeed subsequently explained his expressions; and he was bound to give him credit for that explanation.

Mr. Monck

said, he had heard the paragraph read, and certainly did not think that it deserved the censure of the House. It did not say that the House had sanctioned an admonition to the people, but threw the blame of such admonition on the noble lord. If it had said that the minority were against the motion of the noble lord for an admonition, it might be blameable; but surely no one could think that the House would vote on an admonition.

Lord Castlereagh

observed, that if the hon. member was counsel for the editor of the paper, he was not a very judicious one; for if he meant to say that the attack was not on the House, but on an individual member of it, and because it was upon that individual, it was therefore to be excused, he would drive the House to that notice of it which he should regret.

Mr. S. Wortley

said, he had put it on the footing of a libel on the majority of that House; but still he was prepared to withdraw the motion, provided the libel was not defended. If, however, he found even one member defending it, he would take the sense of the House upon it.

Mr. J. P. Grant

said, that the paragraph complained of did not, in fair construction, admit of the interpretation which had been ascribed to it. It was stated, that the minority voted against the admonition of the noble lord, not against any proposition made to the House, but against the principles and sentiments of the noble lord. He hoped both motions would be withdrawn.

Mr. Hobhouse

said, he did not think that the House had the power to commit the printer.

The Speaker

said, that the power was not to be questioned by any member, when a case of privilege was brought before them. The hon. member might submit the consideration by itself; but it was clearly disorderly to question the power on the present motion.

Mr. Hobhouse

said, he would only observe, that the paragraph appeared to have been totally misapprehended. It was very possible that the minority might have voted under an impression which did not at all influence the votes of the majority. Nothing whatever was imputed to the majority. At the same time, he must say, that he did not think this was a fit subject for the deliberation of the House. It was quite clear, that this was nothing more than a political squib. Scarcely a day passed in which the worst motives were not imputed to public men; for his own part, he was constantly held up, by a certain portion of the press, as a man desirous of overturning the constitution. He thought the hon. member had better withdraw his motion, and unconditionally, for he really could see nothing wrong in the paragraph complained of.

Mr. S. Wortley

said, that the question had now assumed such importance in his mind, that he could not consent to withdraw it.

Colonel Davies

said, that if the printer should now be called to the bar, if would not be for any offence of his own, but because the hon. member would not withdraw his motion.

Mr. Bennet

said, he was not at all inclined to persist in his motion for adjournment, if the hon. gentleman would also withdraw his motion.

Mr. Barham

said, that in point of fact what the printer had stated was strictly true, for the minority had voted against the admonition of the noble lord.

Mr. Bathurst

contended, that there could be no other ground for withdrawing the motion than the admission required, of the passage being an unjustifiable attack on the majority of that House. The complaint could not be abandoned on the ground that it was unfounded. It was impossible not to consider the passage a breach of privilege, but it was not his desire to proceed farther, if the offence was not justified.

Sir R. Fergusson

hoped the hon. member would withdraw his motion. He deprecated any libel upon that House; but he looked upon the paper in question with a different eye from the hon. member.

Mr. S. Wortley

asked, whether he was to understand that the gentlemen opposite made a virtual acknowledgment that the passage was indefensible. [Cries of "no, no."]

Mr. Denman

hoped that both motions would be withdrawn, tie however, was not sorry that the question had been agitated, since it was an illustration of the mischief which must inevitably result from rejecting the petitions of aggrieved persons, without reading them.

The question being put, "That this House do now adjourn," the House divided: Ayes 34, Noes 155.

List of the Minority.
Barrett, S. M. Ossulston, lord
Bernal, Ralph Ord, Wm.
Curwen, J. C. Parnell, sir H.
Crespigny, sir W. Palmer, C. F.
Denman, Thos. Rice, T. S.
Denison, W. J. Robarts, Ab.
Ellice, Ed. Robarts, G.
Fergusson, sir R. Ricardo, D.
Glenorchy, lord Sefton, Earl
Hobhouse, J. C. Taylor, M. A.
Harbord, hon. E. Whitbread, Sam.
Honywood, W. P. Wyvill, M.
Hutchinson, hon.C. H. Wilson, sir R.
Hume, Jos. Western, C. C.
James, Wm. Wood, M.
Lambton, J. G. TELLERS.
Lushington, Dr. Bennet, hon. H. G.
Monck, J B. Creevey, Thos.
Martin, John
Mr. Lambton

then moved the previous question upon Mr. Wortley's motion; but, after some further conversion motions were, with the leave of the House, withdrawn.