HC Deb 21 April 1826 vol 15 cc539-44

On the reading of the resolution of the committee of supply, "That a sum, not exceeding 6,000l., be granted to his Majesty, to defray the expense of publishing Proclamations and other matters of a public nature in the Dublin Gazette and other Newspapers in Ireland, for the year 1826; and that the said sum be issued and paid without any fee or other deduction whatsoever,"

Mr. Hume

said, that he had long been endeavouring to persuade the House to pay attention to the description of vote called for in this instance. In his view of the case, it was partly intended to bribe the public papers in Ireland. He had lately moved for a return of the sums allowed to the different papers in Ireland; and the conclusion might naturally be, that the largest sums for proclamations and advertisements would be allowed to the papers of greatest circulation. No such thing. It appeared, that the "Patriot" had been established by Mr. Wellesley Pole, when Irish secretary, to oppose the "Correspondent," then an opposition paper; and that 1,200l. of this money had been given to the "Patriot." A reduction having since taken place to 900l. Soon after the "Correspondent" turned, and received 7 or 800l.; so that the "Correspondent" and "Patriot" had about 2,000l. of this money between them. These and other papers received money, not according to the business done, but for inserting news from the London papers, and from the Gazette. In 1819, 519l. was charged by one paper for inserting news from the Gazette; and in some of the papers proclamations were inserted, fifteen, sixteen, or twenty times. He was, however, informed, that lately they had not been inserted more than three times in any one paper. In looking at the printed papers, it would appear that the sums had been made up to the papers to much the same amount in each year. It appeared that money was paid to papers in the names of members of parliament; for 130l. had been paid to sir Robert Shaw, a member of that House, for the "Kerry Evening Post." The regular bargain seemed to be, that, as long as the paper supported the government, the usual sum would be made up to it, in some way or another. In the year 1822, all the papers, however, appeared to have received one fifth more than they had received since. He then stated several instances in which papers of small circulation had received considerable sums; others, of great circula- tion, received in some years little, and in other years nothing. While "The Dublin Evening Mail," having a circulation of 395,500 stamps—a circulation far exceeding that of any other paper in Ireland—had received only a few pounds from the proclamation money; the "Correspondent" and, "Patriot," which, together circulated only 145,000 stamps, had received at the same time 1,200l. Then, he observed, that the public boards employed the government papers for the insertion of their advertisements, and no other papers. He should be able to prove, if he were allowed to go into a committee on the subject, that the present secretary for Ireland, on the reduction of the sum allowed for proclamations, had been obliged to apply to the commissioners for widening the streets of Dublin, to make up the usual sums for the papers, according to contract; and he also thought he could prove that the master in Chancery behind the Treasury bench, made it a point to insert his advertisements in the government papers, although of small circulation, and in no others. The street commisssioners had, for a considerable time, given them large sums in aid of the government supplies. He would take the sense of the House on this resolution, unless it could be shown that there was something particular in the government of Ireland, and that it could not be carried on without this sort of support.

Sir J. Newport

suggested that the whole difficulty respecting this question might be obviated, if the duty on advertisements was relinquished, and the papers compelled to insert the government advertisements gratuitously. At present, the object of publicity was defeated by the practice of giving those advertisements to the papers which had the least circulation.

Mr. Goulburn

said, he should detain the House with only a few observations; but he trusted they would be quite conclusive. The hon. gentleman had never dealt more unfairly towards any individual, than he had that evening towards him. What was the charge against him? That he had been guilty of bribing the press of Ireland. On what did the hon. gentleman found his arguments in support of this charge? Principally on a paper laid before the House in 1819, long before he had any connection with the Irish government. Another evidence of the unfairness of the hon. gentleman was, that he had taken the amount of the circulation of the Irish papers from a return made during the present year, while the return of the sums expended for advertisements was obtained in 1819. The hon. gentleman recommended the Irish government to have recourse to the English practice. The custom in this country was, to appropriate 50l. to the issue of each proclamation. If that course had been followed in Ireland, the charges during the last year would have been 9,500l., instead of being, as they were, only 6,000l.; though the hon. gentleman had, in the spirit of exaggeration, stated them to be 7,000l. From that sum of 6,000l. the expenses of the Gazette, amounting to 2,000l., ought to be deducted. The whole charge, therefore, was for the present year only 4,000l., and the same sum, it was estimated, would be sufficient for the next. With respect to the characters of the different newspapers, he confessed he was net competent to enter into the consideration of the petty details relative to their management. If the hon. gentleman had as many important duties to perform as he had when he was in Ireland, he would find his time much better occupied than in deciding on the comparative merits of newspapers. For what purpose could he be supposed to be guilty of bribing the Irish press? The frequency of the attacks on him personally was, he thought, the best proof that he did not interfere to stifle the free expression of opinion. He declared that he was entirely ignorant of the politics of the Irish newspapers. He knew not whether "The Mail" or "The Herald" was friendly to government. But the hon. member had gone the length of asserting, that money had been paid to members of parliament corruptly, on account of these papers. He had stated, that money had, in this manner, been paid to sir Robert Shaw on account of "The Kerry Evening Post." It would be enough to explain this transaction, if he told the House, that the Kerry Evening Post was a country paper; and that sir Robert Shaw, who was a banker of Dublin, had, as agent of the newspaper, merely received the amount of a bill due to it. He would assure the hon. gentleman, that if he was liable to be deceived into an improper expenditure in favour of some of these Irish papers, the hon. gentleman was much more liable to be deceived by those who, as he had alleged, had given him information which it was their duty to have withheld. He would advise the hon. gentleman to be cautious how he received information, and charged corruption, on the authority of persons who, even if they spoke truth, betrayed their trust.

Mr. T. Ellis

repelled the imputation, that the masters in Chancery in Ireland gave their advertisements unfairly to particular papers. On a former occasion, he had told the hon. gentleman, that his informants were guilty of wilful misrepresentation. He repeated that assertion, and he challenged the hon. gentleman to support his statements by proof. When he first came into office, he found that, twenty years ago, certain papers had been selected by the four masters, as the most fitting for their advertisements. It was for the interest of the suitors that the same papers should always be used, as by following that course, the public knew where to look for notices of that nature. One of these papers was "Saunders's Newsletter," a paper almost exclusively devoted to advertisements, and circulating, principally in the city of Dublin. No political feeling could have led to the selection of this paper, as it was a singular feature in it, that it had no politics at all. "The Correspondent" was another paper comprised in this selection. The circulation of that paper was 300,000, the maximum of the Irish papers being 334,000. Twenty years ago, when the selection was made, it had the greatest circulation in Ireland. No statement, therefore, could be more unfounded, than that the masters had been guided by political feelings in the distribution of their advertisements. Another fact stated by the hon. gentleman opposite, he was prepared to contradict as unequivocally. He alluded to the alleged contract between government and the Wide-street Board, by which the latter had agreed to supply to particular papers the deficiency of what the former disbursed in advertisements. He was one of the commissioners of that Board, and it was impossible that any such contract could have been made without his knowledge; and he therefore could tell the hon. gentleman again, that his informants had been guilty of wilful misrepresentation. The expenses of the Wide-street Board had diminished one-half during the very time when this contract was stated to have been in operation.

Mr. Hume

, in explanation, stated, that he had not derived any part of his information respecting the Irish Newspapers from anonymous information, but from the official returns to that House, which were then lying on the table. He found that it was not a Kerry paper, but the "Cork Advertiser," on account of which the payment had been made to sir R. Shaw; but, he repeated, the account was made out in that hon. baronet's name.

The House divided on the resolution; Ayes 40; Noes 18; Majority 22.