HC Deb 07 February 1831 vol 2 cc206-9
Mr. D. W. Harvey

said, he had a Petition to present which was of some importance, from its connection with some of the most important privileges of that House, and he therefore prayed its attention. The petition, which was from an individual named Charles Boulton Walker, set forth, that he was the plaintiff in an action for libel, which was to be tried on Wednesday, next in the Court of King's Bench, and in which Dr. Lushington and others were the defendants. It appeared, that about two years ago, a petition, purporting to come from a person named Peddel, was presented to that House. The petition complained of the practice of the Consistorial Courts, and pointed out some abuses which the learned Gentleman (Dr. Lushington) then a Member of the House, denied, and at the same time alleged, that the petition was not the petition of Peddell, but of his attorney. That gentleman (the attorney, Mr. Walker) had thought proper, upon hearing that this speech, corrected by Dr. Lushington, was afterwards published in the work alluded to, namely, the Mirror of Parliament, to bring an action against him and the parties concerned in the publication of the Mirror, for libel. That action was set down for trial on Wednesday, and it was necessary for his success, that the plaintiff should be able in the outset to prove that the petition was not the petition of Peddell, the petitioner; he prayed therefore, that an officer of the House might be permitted to attend with the petition, prayed to be produced in evidence for that purpose. The hon. Member added, that he was well aware of the importance of preserving the privileges of the Members of that House; but as it appeared the action was brought, not for what was said in the House by one of its Members, but for what was corrected and published out of it; he thought that their privileges could not suffer by granting the prayer of the petition, when its object was, to promote the due administration of justice. The hon. Member then moved, that the petition be brought up. On its being read, he moved that the proper Officer be directed to attend the King's Bench with the petition.

The Speaker, before the House pronounced an opinion on the petition, felt it right to state, that he had received letters from the parties, requesting his permission that the officer should attend the King's Bench with the petition. Finding, however, that the trial could not take place until after a period when they could apply for the authority of the House itself, he declined to make any order on the subject. It was perfectly true, that a Member was protected in his privilege of speaking what he thought fit in that House, but if he afterwards published his speech, or authorised the publication of it, he laid himself as open as any other individual to an action for libel. That violation of the privileges of the House was, however, totally distinct from the House giving its consent to, or lending itself to produce evidence in proof of the libel; and while it preserved its privileges on that point, it was a subject of satisfaction to know that the purposes of justice could not suffer, because it would be in the power of the party to produce secondary evidence of the fact he wished to prove, of a nature quite as good as the primary, which he could not procure.

Mr. Hume, as the Member who presented the petition which formed the ground of action, felt it right to say, that he hoped the purposes of justice would not. be defeated by their refusal to afford the evidence required.

Mr. Spring Rice

reminded the hon. Member, that it was in the power of the plaintiff to produce secondary evidence, of equal effect with that which could not be afforded without trenching, on the privileges of the House.

Mr. Littleton

said, the presentation of the present petition was, however, of importance, as it would secure the admission of the secondary evidence, by showing that the first was not to be procured.

Mr. Harvey

was satisfied with the effect produced in the way alluded to by the member for Staffordshire, and his only object in pressing the Motion now, after what had been stated by the Speaker, was, that the plaintiff might have it in his power to allege, at the trial, that the application had been made and refused, for which reason he was desirous that a negative should be entered on the Journals.

The Motion was negatived.

Mr. Hume

wished to be instructed by the House what he should do, in the predicament in which he found himself placed, by receiving a subpoena to attend and give evidence in the Court of King's Bench of what he knew on this subject. Now, if he were asked what had occurred with reference to the petition—which, by the by, he himself presented—he wished to know, would it be right for him so to do? or would his compliance be considered a breach of privilege?

The Attorney General

observed, that he did not imagine there would be any occasion for the hon. Member's statement of anything which occurred within those walls, as he knew, from the circumstance of being engaged as Counsel for the hon. and learned defendant, that it was intended to admit all such matters as proved, by the defendant, so that the question should be tried upon its merits alone.

The Speaker

observed, that if the hon. Member had questions put to him as to the proceedings in that House, and he should proceed to detail them in a Court of Law, there could be no doubt that a clear case of breach of privilege might be conceived by the House to be made out, should any investigation be instituted on that question. Of course he was clearly of opinion, that the hon. Member might refuse to state what had passed in that House.

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