Sir Robert Inglis
said, that he rose under a sense of duty, though with much reluctance, to point out to the attention of the House a breach of its privileges, which was of a peculiar tendency, as it had been committed on the eve of such a discussion as the House had recently been engaged in, and which it was about to renew. He alluded to a publication of a libel upon the character of that House; out before he entered into the subject, he should beg leave to premise, that personally he was not the party directly affected by it, nor had he in his own person any reason to complain of any paragraph in the public press, in which his name had been mentioned. Notwithstanding this, he should feel himself totally unworthy of a seat in that House, if, when there had been put into his hands such papers as those which he now held, he could refrain from calling the attention of, the House to them at the very earliest opportunity. At the eve of such an imports- 599 ant discussion as that upon which they were about to enter, every man must agree with him, that Members should not come to vote under threats of popular abuse, conveyed in language which required some degree of nerve on the part of any Member to divest his mind of its effects. The publication he alluded to had attacked Members as constitutionally chosen—until the measure of the noble Paymaster shall become a law, which God forbid—as any person who had a seat in that House. The paragraph he complained of had appeared in a newspaper called The Times, of respectable talent, he believed, but what respect it was entitled to in any other point of view it was not for him to state. It was, however, well known to be a newspaper of very large circulation, and it had arrogated to itself the merit of being the "Leading Journal" of Europe. From these circumstances he was naturally more anxious to call the attention of the House, than if the objectionable matter had appeared in a newspaper of an inferior character, and not of so large a circulation. He was not one of those who was in the habit of reading The Times newspaper, (and he did not consider this a misfortune), or he might earlier have called the attention of the House to the subject; but he should now lay before it only one paragraph, which was part of a series of articles upon the same subject, and of an equally improper character; some of those articles did not come under his notice till this very day. These articles had appeared in The Times successively from the 1st of March—from the day on which the noble Lord (the Paymaster of the Forces) had introduced the Reform Bill, to that hour in which he was addressing the House. The Times newspaper had attacked the Members of that House, depreciating them in the opinions of the people, and holding up large bodies of them, for the part they took in the deliberation upon Reform, as totally unworthy of occupying the seats to which they had been elected. Members were, therefore, carrying on their deliberations like, the National Assembly with the poissardes in the gallery. No person who did not utterly disregard public opinion, could say that he was placed in that situation for deliberation in which a Member of that House ought to be placed. They would betray their duty to the people, they would betray their duty to themselves and to the whole Constitution, if, as Repre- 600 sentatives of the people, they suffered any Member to be outraged in such a way — if they suffered Members to be insulted in the way in which they had been insulted. He could make many extracts from the paper in question, but he should content himself with one single paragraph. In that journal (The Times) there had been continued articles upon the same subject, and in one paper there was a list of members who were supposed to be introduced into that House by the nomination of individual borough-holders. This list having connected the paragraph to which he objected with the persons and privileges of this House, he should now, with the leave of the House, proceed to read it. Here the hon. Member produced a copy of The Times newspaper of the 14th instant, and proceeded to read as follows: —"The unanimous enthusiasm of the people of England in defence of the national rights and liberties [cries of "hear, hear, hear," and at length loud and reiterated cheers.] The hon. Member recovering himself from this interruption, proceeded to say, that if any Members meant to insinuate that he had any wish whatever to check the fair and free expression of the opinions of the public upon any measure in Parliament, they utterly mistook his object and his general character. The paragraphs which he meant to read, would hardly have been understood without the introductory lines which he had quoted, but he had no intention of founding any motion upon the lines themselves. The hon. Member resumed his reading—"The unanimous enthusiasm of the people of England in defence of the national rights and liberties was never so manifest within our recollection, as on this present question of the Reform Bill: nor have we found recorded a single instance of rich and poor, high and low, men of all conditions, professions, and fortunes, feeling an equal sympathy in any cause, except, indeed, that of war against some hated public enemy. That enemy is now the usurper of the people's franchises,—the cut-purse of the people's money, — the robber of the public treasury under the forms of law—of law enacted by the plunderer himself to favour his own extortion—his own systematic conversion of the fruits of other men's industry to selfish or criminal uses." [hear, hear.] Sir R. Inglis, turning round to Mr. O'Connell, said, that there was one lawyer, and but one lawyer, in that House, who cheered, 601 and that lawyer was the hon. member for Waterford. Now came (continued Sir R. Inglis) the passage to which he was most desirous to call the attention of that House: —"When, night after night, borough nominees rise to infest the proceedings of the House of Commons with arguments to justify their own intrusion into it, and their continuance there, thus impudently maintaining what the lawyers call 'an adverse possession' in spite of judgment against them, we really feel inclined to ask why the rightful owners of the House should be longer insulted by the presence of such unwelcome inmates?" There was no lawyer he was happy to find, who cheered that. Sir Robert proceeded to read—"It is, beyond question, a piece of the broadest and coolest effrontery in the world for these hired lacquies of public delinquents to stand up as advocates of the disgraceful service they have embarked in." If there was one man in that House who would state that what he had read was not a gross and scandalous breach of their privileges, he should be much surprised. He would ask, was not such a paragraph a violent endeavour to disturb the freedom of debate? was it not an attempt to degrade the House in the judgment of the community? On this point he trusted that not a single Member could be found in that House who would oppose him. An instance of a similar case being brought before the House occurred in the time of Mr. Fox, who had moved the House against a libel upon its character, which had appeared in the Public Advertiser.✶ He should have contented himself with being silent on the subject, and certainly should have abstained from bringing the matter under the notice of the House, if this were a paragraph which only affected himself individually. Under such circumstances, he should probably have shrunk from the duty (notwithstanding he might have felt it to be a duty) of bringing the matter forward. But because he did not feel himself individually affected by the attack, he considered it the more open to him to raise the question, and because he thought the dignity and privileges of the House would be materially affected if such a paragraph were allowed to pass without attention. He had acted under this feeling in calling the attention of the House to the subject. If it were said,✶ See Hansard's Parl. History, Vol. xvii, P. 1054.602 "Wait a little longer before you proceed to extremities, and see whether a better tone may not be adopted," he rejected the proposition at once on this plain and simple ground,—that further forbearance would only give rise to an idea of impunity, and to fresh, and perhaps more violent attacks, under that idea. Under all the circumstances of the case, he thought he had no option, having brought the subject before the House, than to proceed as it was now his intention to do. He should move, first, that the paragraph complained of be now read by the Clerk at the Table; and that done, he meant to follow up the reading with another motion, expressive of the opinion of the House on the subject.
then read the last passage which Sir R. Inglis had quoted, beginning "When, night after night," &c.
Sir R. Inglis
felt it unnecessary to add another sentence to what he had before taken the liberty to submit to the House, except this Motion—"That the paragraph now read by the Clerk at the Table is a false and scandalous libel on this House, directly tending to deter Members of this House from the discharge of their duty, and calculated to alienate from them the respect and confidence of their fellow-subjects."
Sir Roger Gresley
seconded the Motion. He was understood to complain of having been himself a victim of the attacks of the editor of The Times newspaper, in a report made of certain proceedings at a meeting in the City, in which he was pointed out as being either a fool or a knave. It had been insinuated that he had a large sum of money embarked in an undertaking, and that his vote had been influenced by that consideration. At the suggestion of some hon. friends, he had turned it over in his mind, whether or not he should introduce the subject to the notice of the House, and it was in consideration of the advice of persons more experienced than himself, that he had passed the matter over, it being the opinion of authorities to which he felt bound to yield, that it might be thought to argue too much sensitiveness in so young a Member of Parliament to act differently. He accordingly abandoned his intention. He bore his humble testimony, and with the utmost sincerity, to the remarks of the hon. Baronet, the member for the University of Oxford, who had so properly brought this Motion before the House and he declared it was his firm and hearty conviction, that the extravagant lengths to 603 which the public press had gone, required correction. He thought the present a case well deserving of the attention of the House, whose duty it was to take some course by means of which we might defeat and put a stop to the licentious and unwarrantable attacks of the Press. It was not that Members of the House felt their own bosoms reproach them,—it was not that they experienced any alarm at the menaces held out,—but, there were considerations affecting their constituents, and ignorant persons out of doors, which rendered it desirable, and, indeed, made it the duty of the House, to check the coarse abuse and scandalous libels in which the Press habitually indulged.
§ The Question having been put
§ Lord Althorp
merely wished to put it to the hon. Baronet, whether it was taking a proper course to press a Resolution, such as this, without previous notice. He suggested to the hon. Baronet, that it would be better to delay his proposition, so as to postpone the discussion upon it till after the other important motion fixed for that evening should be disposed of.
Sir R. H. Inglis
begged to state, that he had carefully followed the precedents established in such cases. The noble Lord would find that it was not usual, or according to the practice of the House, to postpone discussions on such subjects as he had then brought forward.
§ Mr. Calcraft
thought that the hon. member for the University of Oxford ought to feel satisfied with having his motion read by the Clerk at the Table. It would be much better to avoid a discussion upon the matter, particularly as the words of the Motion could not be borne out, for the paragraph had no tendency whatever to prevent hon. Members from doing their duty. He resisted the Motion, because he felt quite sure that the paragraph in question could have no such tendency as was imputed to it. He begged to have the Resolution read, in order that it might be seen whether his notion of it was correct.
§ The Resolution having been read—
§ Mr. Calcraft
resumed. In his opinion, and speaking on his knowledge of the spirit which animated the Members of the House of Commons of England, he did not think the paragraph in question had any such tendency as the hon. Baronet supposed; he could not believe that it would have the tendency of deterring the Com- 604 mons of England from a proper discharge of their duty. With him, this alone afforded a sufficient reason for rejecting the motion of the hon. Baronet. Besides, he thought it impossible to proceed in a more unbecoming or ungracious manner than to attempt by discussing a subject of this sort, to divert the minds of Members from the great question of Reform which was that night expected to come before the House. He was not prepared to defend the course taken by The Times on the occasion in question, or upon any other occasion,—he was not prepared to defend the course taken by any other newspaper in relation to this or any other question,—neither was he prepared to pass a vote of condemnation upon them; but he said boldly, that the Press of this country must continue free, and he had never known the House of Commons gain any thing in the opinion of the country, or finally in its own opinion, by controversies of this sort. If these were libels so scandalous that it was impossible to pass them over in silence, the Attorney General was the proper person to take the matter in hand and prosecute them ["no, no," from the Opposition benches], and he would rather have prosecutions originating in that quarter, than see the subject taken up by a Member of that House. He hoped the hon. Baronet would withdraw his Motion.
concurred with the right hon. member for Wareham, in the hope that the hon. Baronet would withdraw all further proceedings in this matter, but for a different reason, and under different feelings, from those which actuated the right hon. Gentleman in making the suggestion; for he maintained, that if the lower House of Parliament, as now constituted, or in the altered shape proposed by the noble Lord (J. Russell), suffered itself to be insulted and trampled on by the Press, the liberty of discussion within those walls (one of the most valuable privileges of Parliament) must necessarily be infringed upon and shackled. Moreover, he did not concur in the right hon. Member's recommendation to leave the matter to the Attorney General, because he was of opinion, that nothing could be more fatal to the freedom of Debate than to adopt such a course. He differed from his right hon. friend opposite as to the principles on which the House should be governed in matters of this kind; nevertheless, he joined in the recommendation that the hon. Baronet 605 would not press his Motion; but his reason for his recommendation was, because he thought they should recollect a little the nature of the subject which they were about to debate in the course of that night: that subject was no less than the future constitution of the Parliament of this country, and if they debarred the public writer or the public voice from declaring that the present Constitution of the House of Commons was vicious and defective, they in reality said to the country that there should be no freedom of discussion, no liberty of opinion among persons out of doors, on this important subject. Was this a course desirable to be taken at such a moment as the present? Unlike the hon. Baronet, he was a reader of The Times, and he freely admitted that this paragraph, and it might be many others, went very far, and was perhaps extremely injudicious,—so much so, that if it referred to another subject, it might be the bounden duty of the House to notice it. But upon this subject he had no disposition to do any thing calculated to impede discussion out of doors: he saw no symptoms in the country encouraging or calling for such a hindrance. For his own part, he had no apprehension in consequence of the vote which he should give on the question of Reform. A good deal had been said that sounded like intimidation, although it might be that it was not so intended. He should give his vote with as much confidence as if he were voting upon a turnpike-bill. With respect to the subject before the House, if the hon. Baronet's Resolution were pressed, it would be impossible for the House not to notice the paragraph in the proper manner; but he hoped that his hon. friend, seeing the inexpediency of carrying the question further, would abandon his Motion, which, however, might serve as a notice to public writers, that although the subject of Reform was to be discussed with freedom, it must be treated with a little more decency in future.
§ Mr. Perceval
felt great difficulty in addressing the House at all times, and under whatever circumstances, on account of his inadequacy to do justice to the subject, that came under discussion. He found it necessary to rise on this occasion, however, because he could not at all agree in the sentiments of the hon. member for Callington, who had just sat down, still less in those of the right hon. member for Ware- 606 ham. He said this without hesitation, and with the most perfect conviction of the correctness of the opinion, that this question having now been brought forward and mooted by his hon. friend (the member for the University of Oxford), if the House attempted to get rid of it in the way proposed by the two hon. Members who had last addressed them, it would lose, and justly lose, its authority and character in the State. He repeated, the question having been mooted, having been once presented to the attention of the House,—if they declined to proceed to vote the paragraph a gross breach of the privileges of the House, they would give an ascendancy to the Press which could not be obtained by any other means. It might be, and was, open to hon. Members to question whether the Motion ought to have been brought forward at present, with the question of Reform so near at hand; but it having been brought forward, there was left to the House only one course to pursue,—namely, to vote the article a breach of privilege, and proceed to notice it as such breach of the privileges of the House. He was not present at the commencement of the hon. Baronet's speech, and, consequently was not aware whether his hon. friend had called the attention of the House to this paragraph as part of a long-continued series of attacks which could not have been written by any intelligent human being with any other view than to deter the Members of that House from the performance of their duty. That, and that alone was the obvious tendency of the long series of articles and paragraphs industriously persisted in from day to day by The Times and other papers. With respect to The Times, the paragraph of which his hon. friend complained was only the climax of the attacks; and it was impossible for any honest man to read the series of libels, and doubt the intention of the writers to endeavour to deter Members of Parliament from the discharge of their duty, and to hold up to the scorn of the country such Members as ventured to perform it according to the dictates of their consciences. Had it no tendency to deter Members from the discharge of their duty to call them infamous borough mongers, who dared not to show their faces at a popular election? Had it no tendency to render Members contemptible in the eyes of the country, if the people were told that they had no right to vote on a question of 607 Reform?—that they were slaves and hired lacquies—the hired lacquies of public delinquents, and the offspring of corruption? It could not be pretended for a single moment that such paragraphs had not the tendency imputed to them, or that they were not written with the intention of bringing the House into contempt. He thanked his hon. friend, the member for the University of Oxford, for having brought forward this Motion; whether the present was precisely the fittest moment for introducing it might admit of some difference of opinion; but now that the matter was broached, how could the House deal with it, except as proposed by the hon. Baronet? It was a duty which they owed to the country to vindicate the character of Parliament from such aspersions, and Members could not shrink from voting for a proposition in the main such as that of his hon. friend. He would not object to any trifling verbal amendment if a slight alteration would reconcile the critics of his hon. friend's Motion to the spirit and substance of the proposition, satisfied as he was that they could not suffer the subject to pass over without further notice, particularly after the long series of libels that had been emitted from the quarter referred to: they could not allow the matter to pass over in silence and quietness, without a great dereliction of their duty to the country and the constitution.
Sir F. Burdett
said, the public press of this country had most industriously, carefully, and laboriously, with the most persevering industry, with great talent, with unabated zeal and patriotism, and with unbending integrity, advocated the great and good cause now at issue between the boroughmongers and the people. He was not afraid of any course that might be taken by the House on this occasion; he did not tremble at its effects on the cause of Reform, for the course proposed by the hon. Baronet opposite, if adopted, would only bring the people and their enemies more speedily to an issue. As to the merits of the case in question, he had no apprehension for the result—he would trust any Jury with it—any body of men who had the feelings of Englishmen and loved their country—in a word, any collection of men in the realm, except those whom he had now the honour to address. He felt the utmost confidence as to the way in which the question would be disposed of any where beyond those walls. As to the 608 conduct of the House on the subject, he was perfectly indifferent to its vote: he would say the same of Reform. The fiat had gone forth from the people, and obeyed it must be. And as to the character and dignity of the House being violated by this honest writer, Members themselves must be secretly ashamed of the assertion. Who would deny this, after the fact having been so repeatedly and publicly stated, that the corruption of that House was as notorious (it was admitted and allowed to be as notorious) as the sun at noonday? After this, it was ludicrous to hear Members talking of the privileges of the House being violated, and its character lowered, because the Press dared to speak out and tell the truth. He should like to learn from the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, and who was so tender of the dignity and privileges of the House, whether he had overlooked a Resolution lying upon the Table, declaring that all interference in the election of Members of Parliament, whether the jobbers and proprietors of seats were Peers of the land, or trafficking knaves of an humbler grade, was a violation of the privileges of the people of England as well as of that House? Did the hon. Gentleman, in his zeal for the dignity of Parliament, overlook the privileges of the people,—privileges which would be equally the rights of that House, and which, as such, would be carefully guarded and defended by it, if it did indeed represent the people of England? Let the hon. Gentleman bring forward this true question of privilege, and let not a subject like the present be converted into a question of privilege, with a degree of hypocrisy which made him sick of discussing it. No man had a right to a seat in that House but as a Representative of the people, and all purchasers and traffickers in boroughs, all who nominated to such places, or in any way interfered with the election of Members (setting aside the baseness, illegality, and wickedness of the traffic), were guilty of an infringement on the privileges of the House and of the people. Let the great men who exercised an undue influence at elections think of this, and let the Gentlemen who were so anxious to defend the rights and privileges and dignity of the House make motions on the subject. For his own part, he was, upon principle, averse from proceedings such as that now proposed; feeling that they involved an infringement on the privileges of 609 the people, particularly as the House was constituted at present, an d being moreover persuaded, that even if the House were differently constituted, still a proceeding like this would be an invasion of the people's rights. He deprecated a course which made the House of Commons judge in its own cause—accuser, trier, and punisher of offences against its own dignity and privileges,—especially at a moment when, in the eyes of the public at large, the House of Commons did not possess a single particle of confidence. He repeated, the House had utterly lost the confidence of the people—that confidence had been destroyed many years ago. This was now generally admitted, and so was the corruption of the House the true cause of the loss of confidence. But though those facts were on record at present, and perfectly undeniable, when he first came into Parliament no man ventured to state them openly; and if any Member hinted at certain modes of getting into the House in violation of the laws of morality and the laws of the land, he was compelled to speak with great caution, care, circumspection, and circumlocution on the subject:—he might perhaps say, "it was known, that certain influences existed in certain quarters;" but if he dared to be more explicit, one of the predecessors of the right hon. Gentleman in that Chair would not have hesitated long in calling the Gentleman, whoever he might be, to order. They had since then been avowed. Since 1807, when Mr. Maddocks detected Lord Castlereagh and Mr. Perceval in practising this corrupt traffic, they having turned out a Member, Mr. Quintin Dick, he believed, because, holding his seat for some borough under their influence, he would not vote as they wished on the subject of the charges brought against the Duke of York in that House, they requiring only Members as tools in that House—when these Ministers were detected practising the vilest system of borough patronage and traffic—when they were discovered flagrante delicto—taken in the manner as it were—what did the House (now so prudish) do? what then was the defence set up? By the way, the case which he had in his eye bore out, to a certain extent, a suggestion that had appeared in The Times, and of which he cordially approved., This suggestion was, that the Members for certain boroughs ought in decency to retire, nor vote on a 610 question in which they had so strong a personal interest. In the case alluded to, the Ministers, those who were concerned in the traffic, did as was now recommended to the borough Members to do—they had the decency to walk out of the House into the lobby, sure that the persons they left behind would whitewash them—they had the decency to go out, and did not vote on the question. Let the borough mongers imitate that conduct when the subject in which they were interested was discussed, and let them do it with a good grace—for whether they did it with a good grace or a bad grace their votes, he could tell them, would have no more effect than whistling to the winds. But to return to the case to which he had alluded, what was the defence of those Ministers?, who intended to commit an offence, but who had not completed it—who had begun a bargain, but had not concluded it, because they were caught in the fact—who were found with the hand in the pocket, but had not drawn forth the pocket-handkerchief—what was the defence of these Ministers? Why, they escaped by the great argument, that bribery and corruption were as notorious as the sun at noon-day, and it was thought unjust to visit the crime on the heads of the unfortunate Ministers, who were detected in the commission of their offences. When we stood in this situation,—when the corruption of the House was admitted, —what folly to pretend to find fault with paragraphs like the present, on the ground of disparagement to the character of the House as it at present existed, that character being pretty well and pretty justly estimated on all hands! It was a matter of indifference to him, and to other lovers of the liberty of the Press, what decision the House might come to in the present case, because—and he asserted it with the utmost solemnity on constitutional grounds —the determination of the House would have no weight with the country at large. He himself had been condemned as a libeller of the House, and had suffered under its unjust sentence. He denied the competency of the tribunal appealed to in this, as in his own case: he denied that it was a matter of any great consequence what course the House took in this instance. If, instead of constituting itself accuser, judge, and avenger, in its own cause, the House took a more constitutional mode, and sent the case to a Jury, its character did not stand so high with the 611 country as to make it likely that any great amount of damages would be obtained in a civil action, as compensation for the in- jury sustained by it in its reputation, in consequence of the publication of this article; and if the House took another course and proceeded criminally, he did not think it probable that a very vindictive sentence of imprisonment would console its wounded virtue. As to the motion of the hon. Baronet, coming to the vote, he supposed the House had not the folly and imprudence, in the present excited state of the public mind, to put itself at issue, not with the Press, but with the people on this subject. He felt that he should not be doing justice to his own feelings or to the public, if he did not express his sentiments, and the sentiments of those who were prepared to maintain the public cause, in this manner; and, acting upon that impression, he bad been induced to make these observations.
§ Sir C. Wetherell, who spoke with considerable warmth, said, no man in the House who possessed the feelings of a gentleman,—no man who was disposed to do his duty in Parliament,—no man who was not utterly destitute, who had not been robbed of both these qualities,—could sit there and permit such a speech as the hon. Baronet had just presumed to deliver in that House to pass unnoticed, and without due animadversion. The hon. Baronet gave himself out as a man of popularity—a great theorist and practitioner of the doctrines of liberty and equality, yet since he (Sir C. Wetherell) had first sat in that House, a more dictatorial speech, more dictatorial in language—more dictatorial in manner—more dictatorial in principle —more dictatorial in matter—more dictatorial in the arrogance with which it was delivered, he had never heard. Yes; he asserted without fear of contradiction, that the dictatorship of the hon. Baronet, the member for Westminster, and man of the people,—the tyranny transferred from the hustings to the floor of that House, which the hon. Baronet had displayed,—he had never heard nor seen equalled. According to the hon. Baronet, the Members for the boroughs to be disfranchised must retire. He was one of them. Did the hon. Baronet dare to tell him,—did he presume to call on him—did he venture to insult the House and the country, by calling on him,—equally a gentleman,— equally independent in principle as the 612 hon. Baronet himself,—to quit the House? Did the hon. Baronet dare to call upon him to go out of the House when the House was voting upon a question of privilege? ["no, no!"] He said "yes:" those words, or words, tantamount thereto, were used by the hon. Baronet in this his ultra dictatorship of language,—or, as the noble Paymaster of the Forces would term it, this plus-ultra dictatorship—this dictatorship surpassing and outraging all former dictatorship, of phrase. Could the hon. Baronet imagine—could it enter into the hon. Baronet's mind—to suppose that he would condescend to retire from any place where the hon. Baronet was a Member? Could the hon. Baronet suppose that he would leave those benches while the hon. Baronet had a seat upon them? He could not sufficiently admire the arrogance of any Member in calling upon him to walk out of those doors while the hon. Baronet was sitting upon the leather-covered cushions of those seats. Where was it, in what portion of the doctrines of liberalism, that the hon. Baronet found this single and individual superiority of opinion, entitling him to blackball every Member who did not happen to concur with him in his revolutionary principles of jacobin revolutions? The hon. Baronet had suffered for his sins; had he repented his criminality? Not in the least. On the contrary, he gloried in and avowed it, wishing to conceal his shame by involving in that criminality as numerous a class of persons as he could. Those who sat for boroughs were not, perhaps, all of them invested with the hon. Baronet's large territorial possessions,—they, did not represent Westminster, nor possess the various honours that at various times had been accumulated on the hon. Baronet. Assuredly the hon. Baronet had arrogated to himself considerable latitude of thought and speech. But, disclaiming the hon. Baronet's dictatorship, he considered himself on a footing of perfect equality with the hon. Baronet, and, in spite of the hon. Baronet's dictatorial assertions, he said that no man could too freely exercise his liberty of speech in that House. Let the hon. Baronet, on the hustings at Westminster cry down what doctrines he pleased, and stamp them with the seal of his indignation; but in the House of Commons all the Members were equal to the hon. Baronet, no man would submit to the degrading distinction which the hon. Ba- 613 ronet, the member for Westminster, the man of the people, attempted to establish, when he called upon certain Members of the House to walk out of it. He had been led to this, and compelled to say what he did, by the arrogance of the hon. Baronet. As long as any man maintained the independence of a Gentleman he would not succumb to the hon. Baronet; if he did so, he ought never again to enter that House. On the subject before the House, before he came to a conclusion, he must examine the premises of the hon. Baronet, and in doing so he was compelled to say, that the hon. Baronet's premises were every thing, and his conclusion nothing. For sometime past he had read The Times newspaper,—indeed, it had long been his habit so to do, and, if for no other reason, for this very sufficient one, that the foreign articles in that paper had long been written with greater ability than similar articles in any other journal. As far as he was individually concerned, his name was not mentioned in the paragraph complained of. That paragraph, and others of a like nature, in the journal in question, did not apply to A, B, or C,—to this man or that,—who might care very little about the attack; but the passage applied to the whole mass of Members to be excluded by the Bill of the noble Paymaster of the Forces,—to the entire 168,—to 168 independent Members, who were to be turned out of the House if the Bill ever passed into a law. The hon. Gentleman asked whether any Member had been prevented from delivering his opinion by the attacks of the Press? But this was not the question: look at the paragraph as a libel— on principle. Consider that this House should exercise its privileges freely and without constraint,—that it should be unharmed in its functions and deliberations, unrestricted in speech: did libels like the present tend to promote those ends? But probably the hon. Baronet, would say, "I can exercise my right of latitudinarian speech. I am not afraid of the censure of The Times, and other papers of a like kind: they will not assail me, because I harmonize with them; my cadences run in equal euphony with theirs; my language flows along with them eodem flatu." But had not those who differed from the hon. Baronet as good a right to express their opinions as he? Being one of that corrupt class, that large mass of persons which the hon. Baronet audaciously called upon to walk 614 out of the House,—be it observed, that invitation applied to nearly one-third of the existing Members of the House of Commons, who were brought within the reach of this scandalous libel—being one of that class, he declared that he never concurred in any vote of the propriety of which he was more deeply and decidedly convinced, than he was with respect to that proposed by the hon. Baronet, the member for Oxford.
§ Sir Charles Forbes
was not surprised that the hon. Baronet had brought this subject before the House; he only lamented that the hon. Member had not brought it on a little earlier, and gone back a little further in the pages of The Times. Had the hon. Gentleman gone back to The Times paper of the 2nd of this month, the very day after the introduction of the revolutionary measure of Reform into the House, he would have seen that those gentlemen press-men had stigmatized,—had dared to stigmatize as infamous,—the Representatives of the boroughs to be disfranchised by the noble Lord's Bill, and further told them, that, if they dared to show their faces in the House, they would justly call down upon their heads popular indignation and condign punishment. Those were the words used by the editor in the paper of the 2nd. of March; and, not to allow it to be misunderstood to whom he applied these terms, he went on to say—"Let the public cast their eyes over the list of rotten boroughs, as contained in Lord J. Russell's speech: their mock Representatives will not much longer insult the common sense of all mankind, by retaining seats in a British House of Commons, to pass laws which are to bind the men of England." These expressions were so infamous,—so contrary to the just liberty of the Press,—so licentious, that he came down to the House, intending to call its attention to the paragraph But desirous of having the opinions of more competent judges than himself, he consulted with several hon. Members of the highest authority with regard to the propriety of bringing the subject before the House, and he was disappointed to find that those hon. Members differed from him in opinion, and preferred treating the paragraph with silent contempt, on the ground that to notice it would only give it greater publicity, which probably the editor of The Times, or other person who wrote the paragraph desired 615 to obtain. There might be much truth and force in that argument; but there was, as appeared to him, great danger in taking a course opposite to that which he wished to pursue; for he apprehended that, encouraged by silence and neglect, and finding no notice taken of their calumnies, this and other papers had proceeded from bad to worse. It had been observed to him, and he admitted there was considerable force in the remark, "What are these paragraphs but the sentiments of the individual writer in this paper? They are anonymous libels, and as little entitled to attention as anonymous letters would be." All those infamous paragraphs which were daily published were the attacks of cowardly assassins, who dared not to put their names to their sentiments—cowardly, licentious libellers, who, if they had the spirit, would be assassins. He trusted that the country had more good sense and sound judgment than to be led away for one moment by what these papers stated. He had, within the House and out of the House, heard all well-judging persons who had read the passages in question speak of them in the most decided manner as base and libellous, and in the highest terms of indignation. He had never heard any person defend those attacks, except the hon. Baronet, the member for Westminster; the cause was worthy of the defender, and the defender worthy of the cause. So far as regarded intimidation, he trusted that no hon. Member would allow himself to be prevented from doing his duty by unworthy menaces: they were assembled there to do their duty—they were upon their oaths to discharge it, and he trusted they would stand to their duty, and even hazard their lives to perform it. From the very first moment that this most extraordinary and revolutionary measure was brought forward, he had taken his stand against it, and he would oppose it from first to last. If it should ever be carried, he should never desire to enter a House of Commons so constituted as the reformed House of Commons; and he believed that in such an event, seats would not be so much sought after as formerly by those men who had been the ornaments of the House,—the greatest patriots the country had ever produced. Such men could not have found their way into Parliament, except by means such as were now denounced by the noble Lord with 616 all that consistency with his own previous opinions for which the House and the country would give him proper credit.
§ Lord Althorp
said, it was impossible to deny that the paragraph before the House was a breach of the privileges of the House, but that was, he thought, a very different question from the question as to the manner in which they ought to treat the publication. On a subject so interesting to the people as that of Reform, it was true, and less extraordinary than true, that violent and unjustifiable language had been used on both sides. When it was said there were no attacks made except against the opponents of the Reform Bill, was it forgotten that Ministers heard themselves called revolutionary? Did not Gentlemen see that Ministers were attacked for endeavouring to produce revolution in the country? On a question of this kind, it was true, and always had been the case, that the public press would use language which was not to be justified. But he would appeal to the House, whether it was prudent, in a case of this kind, for the House of Commons to put itself in opposition to the feelings of the people, at a moment when those feelings were so excited? Would it be prudent to take those strong measures usually adopted in the case of a breach of privilege? He did think, that if they allowed themselves to be carried away by their feelings on this occasion (and he well knew, that when a breach of privilege was brought forward, it was difficult to look at it temperately), they would, in all probability, do that which would not be creditable to themselves, or increase their estimation in the country. Under all the circumstances of the case, he felt some difficulty in point of form; but what he wished to do, if consistent with the forms of the House, was, to move the previous question. He wished the House to come to no decision on the subject of breach of privilege; for if it did assent to such a resolution as that of the hon. Baronet, he was convinced the determination would be very injurious in its consequences. He therefore begged leave to conclude by moving the previous, question.
§ Mr. John Campbell
said, that he should support the amendment of the noble Lord. In times of great public excitement, they ought not to look too strictly at the expression of feeling and opinion. What 617 was the case at the time of the Queen's trial, and pending the settlement of the Catholic question? On these occasions, there was not a Newspaper that did not contain paragraphs as bad as that which was now complained of. But what was the use of prosecuting on such occasions? Did not that course extend the publication, and make the evil worse? This Motion was brought forward by an hon. Member who said that he never read The Times, whilst other Gentlemen who admitted that they did read that paper, stated it to be their opinion, that it would not be for the public good to prosecute. It should be observed, that only one paragraph was brought forward specifically on this occasion. It was true, that other passages had been noticed by two hon. Members; but still, only this one paragraph, published a week ago, on Monday, March 14, was regularly before the House. It was singular, as the House sat every day last week, not even excepting Saturday, that no notice had been taken of this paragraph before. He was convinced that no Member had been deterred from doing his duty on account of this publication—no mischief whatever had been effected by it; and therefore he thought that there was no necessity for the interference of the House.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
said, he regretted that it was impossible for him to give his vote in favour of the proposal of his noble friend. Whether it was desirable, under all circumstances, to bring this subject forward, was one question; but when it was brought forward, and a complaint was formally made to the House, whether they could then avoid doing their duty, and taking proper means for supporting their just rights and privileges, was a very different point. Considering the question then before Parliament, and the great and paramount interest which all classes of the public felt with respect to it, a much greater latitude, he admitted, ought to be allowed in the expression of opinions than would be conceded under ordinary circumstances. If the discussion in this paper had merely been as to how this House was constituted, and whether it ought not to be reformed, more or less, to such a discussion he would allow a great degree of latitude. But here the point at issue was neither more nor less than this —whether a great number of members of that House should be allowed the freedom 618 of debate In support of this proposition, he begged that the second paragraph of the article complained of might be read.
The Clerk accordingly read the following paragraph:—"When, night after night, borough nominees rise to infest the proceedings of the House of Commons with arguments to justify their own intrusion into it, and their continuance there, thus impudently maintaining what the lawyers call an adverse possession' in spite of judgment against them, we really feel inclined to ask, why the rightful owners of the House should be longer insulted by the presence of such unwelcome inmates. It is beyond question a piece of the broadest and coolest effrontery in the world, for these hired lacquies of public delinquents to stand up as advocates of the disgraceful service they have embarked in."
Mr. C. W. Wynn
continued—If this were not part and parcel of that despotic and arbitrary system of liberty which they had seen to prevail elsewhere; if it were not part and parcel of that intolerant system of toleration, which, under pretence of supporting liberty, denied to all others the right of differing: in opinion from those who advocated particular doctrines, then was he grievously in error. But it had been said, that this state of things had been induced (and he believed the fact) by the long and patient forbearance of the House. It had been said, that in consequence of this forbearance, these publications had gone on increasing in venom and virulence. Whether they would still go on increasing in venom and virulence, he knew not. But this he knew, that if they did, and the present case being passed over, some individual were complained of, and called before the House, on account of a publication of a similar character, the author of the libel then brought before them might turn round and say, "Can you with fairness punish me, because I have written a libel, when you have passed over such a libel as this?" He, therefore, could not allow this question to be met in the way in which his noble friend had proposed. He well knew the inconvenience to which public men exposed themselves by taking this direct course. They exposed themselves to a penalty, which penalty they must pay; but he, for one, was not afraid of incurring it.
Sir J. Graham
said, he had heard with regret but, not with surprise, the speech of 619 his right hon. friend who had just addressed the House. He was aware, that throughout the whole of his right hon. friend's parliamentary life, he had shown himself a devoted friend to the privileges of that House. Nothing had ever discouraged him from bringing questions of privilege before the House. Still, however, he had flattered himself that his right hon. friend,—and he could add, up to a late period, his right hon. colleague— would, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, have given his support to the proposition of his noble friend. Therefore it was, that he had heard with particular regret the speech of his right hon. friend that night. He (Sir J. Graham) was sincerely ardent in his desire that the House should assent to the measure of Reform introduced by his Majesty's Ministers. He trusted that he should be allowed to explain himself. If they stood, as many Gentlemen had strongly declared, upon their privileges, he begged leave to remind them, that no freedom was more important, that no privilege was more essential, than the perfect liberty of debate. No man, he repeated, was more ardent than he was, in his wish that the measure introduced by Ministers should receive the sanction of that House; but, at the same time, he must observe, that however anxious his desire was upon that point, there was one feeling in his heart which predominated over every other—namely, that these discussions should be carried on in a manner consistent with the peace of this country, with the safety of its institutions, and without exciting any feelings out of doors, other than those which the question itself was calculated to excite. Impressed with this feeling, he was extremely sorry that the hon. member for Oxford should have conceived it to be his duty this evening, when the great measure of Reform stood for discussion,—when the eyes of the people were on that House,— hen the public were anxiously awaiting' their discussion,—he was, he said, extremely sorry that the hon. Member, at such a moment, should have thought it to be his paramount duty,—and he (Sir J. Graham) was sure that the hon. Member felt sincerely and conscientiously on the subject,—to arrest this most important discussion, by calling the attention of the House to a breach of privilege, intimately connected with the liberty of the Press. In his opinion, when great questions were 620 agitated in that House, much latitude ought to be allowed to the Press, in discussing them on both sides. And he would ask, was the public expression of feeling and opinion, on this occasion, confined to one side only? He felt no soreness on that point, yet, week after week, Sunday after Sunday, some good-natured friend of his, who, he supposed had recently left the "warm precincts" of office, not without castingA longing, lingering look behind,assailed him with interrogatories similar to those which had been put to him by the hon. and learned member for Borough-bridge, and constantly repeated, "What will they say to this at Cockermouth?" "What will you (the member for Cumberland) say to your constituents on such and such a point?" He was constantly vilified, his motives were misrepresented, and his public conduct passed under a severe and unjust review: but did he complain? Far from it. Such strictures operated only as a stimulus to make him the more sedulously attend to the duties of his office. They only impelled him to discharge those duties frankly, freely, and fairly, in that manner which appeared to him most likely to prove beneficial to his country. Now, he must be permitted to observe, that if a course of severity were adopted with reference to one side, it would be wholly impossible, in common justice, not to visit, on the other side, those who stigmatized the measure introduced by Ministers as revolutionary, and who abused, in the foullest manner, those who supported it, as individuals who wished to overturn the Constitution. There was, he admitted, a strong feeling on this subject out of doors, but he maintained, that language equally powerful and pointed had been used within the walls of the House, If, however, these attacks were to be taken as questions of privilege on one side, they were equally so on the other; and those who would punish the Newspapers for what they may consider as libels, would be bound themselves to abstain from many of those observations which had been used but too freely in the course of the debates on Reform. It would be their bounden duty to suppress all those passages in the speeches of the Members which stigmatise the measure of Reform now proposed by the Ministers, under the sanction of the Sovereign, as tending to bring about a revolution, Why it was but the other 621 evening, in the course of the discussions, that a right hon. Baronet the late Secretary at War, (Sir H. Hardinge) declared, that the Reform Bill would, if carried, shake the Crown from the head of the Sovereign. That sentiment had been since repeated in the House, and echoed in the newspapers, and yet no one on that side of the House had thought of treating it as a breach of privilege, or an invasion of the right of free discussion. Better at once shut up the gallery of that House, and proclaim to the world, by a rigid enforcement of the Standing Orders, that no strangers shall be admitted, nor no account of the proceedings of that House go forth to the public. They might as well put an end at once to all free discussion as to attempt, by a proceeding like that recommended by the hon. Baronet (Inglis), to endeavour to prescribe the limits in which it was to be carried on. Of the danger of that course to the country and to the constitution he had not, however, the slightest doubt; and in so much dread did he hold the prospect of such an event, that although the passing of the Reform Bill was one of the objects dearest to his heart, and which he considered likely to prove most beneficial to his country, yet he would be content to forego Reform itself, rather than abandon that freedom of discussion and publicity of their proceedings which was so essential to the preservation of their Constitutional liberties. If he was called on to express an opinion on the subject of the article in The Times, he would say with his noble friend, that he could not defend it; but he called on them, at the same time, when they proposed to deal with this question in the manner recommended by the hon. Baronet, to consider that they were a deliberative assembly, and that they could not, as parties, exercise a sound discretion in the capacity of Judges. He agreed in the force of the observations of the hon. Baronet (the member for Westminster), with reference to the language of some of the petitions which had been presented, and which that House had not hesitated to receive and to allow to be printed. The Members of the Duke of Newcastle had been spoken of in these petitions? the boroughs of Lord Fitzwilliam had been alluded to; and could they, after having thus admitted themselves to be nominees, declare they were the real Representatives of the people? The right hon. Baronet concluded by observing, that he thought 622 what had been already said and done on this subject would operate as a salutary warning on both sides; but if the hon. Baronet pressed his Motion to a division, he must oppose it for the sake of the peace of the country, and the safety of our institutions.
§ Sir H. Hardinge
thought, that the right hon. Baronet who had just spoken, although he deprecated further discussion, was one of those who had done his utmost to prolong it. The right hon. Baronet had gone out of his way to select an illustration for his argument, and had chosen to mix up an expression of his in reference to the Reform Bill, with the subject then before the House, as if there was something in his observation in common with that libel which every Member of either side condemned. Was there anything in the expression of an opinion that the Reform Bill had a tendency to loosen the Crown on the head of the King, to be found in common with the language of the libel in the newspaper, that the right hon. Baronet should find it necessary to advert to it so pointedly? Was he to be debarred from the expression of his opinions in that House upon an important public measure because libels were published out of it? Did the right hon. Baronet mean to make it a parallel case, and to say, that the expressions which fell from him with respect to the Reform Bill were like the libel complained of, and that he had expressed his opinions on the Reform Bill as indiscreetly, and coarsely, and improperly as the libeller in the newspaper? Another hon. Baronet (Sir F. Burdett) had stigmatised him as a boroughmonger, who ought not to have a seat in that House. There were, however, some boroughmongers, even among those who were most closely connected with the Government. He saw sitting beside the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) at that moment, a member of the Government, who sat for a borough closer by far than that which he represented, and, indeed, one of the closest in the country. He begged, however, to remind the hon. Member, that he had represented the City of Durham in that House for more than nine years, and that the number of his constituents were at no period less than 1,200. He now, however, represented a place where the constituency was not so numerous, but he could conscientiously declare, that he was as free to speak his opinion and to give his vote on any subject 623 at that moment as he was before. What right, then, had the hon. Baronet to stigmatise him as unfit to sit in that House from being a boroughmonger's nominee? If it was possible for him to forget the courtesey which was due to the hon. Baronet (the member for Westminster), he would say, that if the hon. Baronet presumed to insinuate he (Sir H. Hardinge) was not at liberty to express his opinions freely and fairly in that House, he flung back the imputation with scorn. He regretted the Debate which had now taken place. He regretted that the hon. member for Oxford had brought the question before them, and he was sorry for the occasion of it. He was not, however, to be deterred by clamour from the expression of his feelings with respect to the Reform Bill. He respected the opinions of the people, and their claims; but when the Constitution of the country was at issue, he was prepared to come before the people and resist the fulfilment of their wishes on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by declaring, that he was determined to do his duty, and to express his opinions fearlessly and conscientiously, in spite of the taunts of the hon. member for Westminster, or the clamours and attempts at intimidation of any party, either within that House or in the country. Lord John Russell defended the expressions of his right hon. friend, and denied that his right hon. friend intended to draw any comparison between the expressions of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir H. Hardinge), and those of the writer in the newspaper. His right hon. friend merely wished to show the heat and strength of expression which had been occasionally drawn forth by the discussions in which they were engaged. In his opinion, the House should pause before they committed themselves to sanction the proceedings now recommended—for they who proclaimed the language of the Newspaper to be false and seditious—they who were attacked, were now about to inflict the punishment.; and, with their passions inflamed by hearing the offensive passage read to them by the hon. Member, they refused even a day for consideration before they came to their vote of censure and condemnation. He confessed that he thought the course they were pursuing would have an effect the reverse of that which, they anticipated. The people at large, who disapproved of that House con- 624 stituting itself at once an accuser and Judge, were too much in the habit of taking a very different view of such proceedings, for they frequently pronounced those who suffered by them to be martyrs, and elevated them into heroes. He had at one time in vain pressed the House to pass over a vote of the same description as that which was then recommended. An hon. Member had written a pamphlet which gave great offence to that House. It was determined that he should be committed to Newgate; and what was the result? He was returned most triumphantly as member for Westminster at the next election. If he could suppose that, by supporting the Motion of the hon. member for Oxford, he could deter others from similar offences, then he should not hesitate; but as they could not hope for that, he thought that the preservation of freedom of discussion would be materially affected by consenting to the course as proposed.
Sir F. Burdett
said, he was always disposed to adopt that course which he thought best fitted to secure the rights of the people. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir H. Hardinge) said, he had no constituents, and however much he might be disposed to regard the hon. Member, he must be permitted to say, without intending to give him any offence, that when the state of the representation, and the vital interests of the people, were under consideration, as he understood them now to be on the question of Reform, he was determined to do his duty, in spite of all the clamour and in defiance of all consequences. The hon. Member had placed himself in an awkward situation, by telling the House that he was one of those who had no constituents.
§ Sir H. Hardinge, in explanation, said, the hon. Baronet made a mistake, in persisting to assert that he had no constituents. The borough he represented had now, in the year 1831, a greater number of voters than it possessed at the time the franchise was first conferred on it, and many more than it had in the year 1688, when the Representative system was settled at the Revolution: and he might add, that for the last fifty years, the number had gone on increasing every year.
Sir F. Burdett
said, that however distinguished the hon. Gentleman might be as a Member of that House, and however honestly and efficiently he might fulfil the 625 duties of office, still be wanted the essential quality of a Representative of the people—a large body of constituents. With respect to the Reform Bill shaking the Crown from the head of the King, he must say, that, in his opinion, it would fix it more firmly on his brow without that diminution of its lustre which was the consequence of its participating in the abuses of those who had properties in boroughs.
§ Sir R. Inglis, in reply, said, he might have concurred in the proposal of the noble Lord if there had been a single individual found in that House to defend the language of the passages he had brought under its attention. But as that was not the case, he could not abandon his Motion, for, if he did so, he thought he should be abandoning his duty. The House had a jurisdiction on the question of its own privileges which it was bound to support; and unless it was prepared to renounce the rights it possessed on such occasions, it must, when a subject of this kind was brought before it, be prepared to do its duty. It might be a question whether he had exercised a proper discretion in bringing the matter before the House. In his own opinion he believed he had done his duty, and he therefore persisted in his original Motion, adding to it, "that certain passages in The Times Newspaper of the 1st, 2nd, 7th, 8th, and 14th of March are false and scandalous libels, and that they be handed over to the Attorney General with instructions to prosecute the writer."
§ Mr. Hunt, amidst loud cries of "Question," persisted in addressing the House, notwithstanding the noise by which he was assailed. He said, their patience must be great to overcome his, for he was determined to speak unless the Speaker told him he was not in order. The hon. Baronet who brought forward the Motion wished the Attorney General to prosecute; but were they sure, although they might pronounce the articles to be libellous, and the Judges agreed with them, that twelve jurymen could be found to agree with them? Notwithstanding the coarseness of the language used by the writer in The Times, he asserted, that every word of the article was true. The question was, whether they would agree to a Resolution declaring assertions false which every man in that House knew to be true? [A Member intimated to Mr. Hunt that he would only do The Times mischief.] He repeated 626 what he had said; and he thought that House, in the last act of its life, would be true to the character it had maintained through its career, if it came to a vote pronouncing that false which every man in the kingdom knew to be true.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, that as the hon. Baronet (Sir R. Inglis) had in his Motion referred to papers which he had not read, these Papers should be also read and laid on the Table before the House came to a decision on their contents.
Sir R. Inglis
said, that they contained passages of the same tendency as that already read; and his Motion now was, that they be delivered to the Attorney General, to consider the nature of their contents, and to prosecute, if he found that a prosecution could be supported.
§ Mr. O'Connell
said, if he understood the hon. Baronet, his Resolution was first to call on the House to pronounce the article in question a libel, and then direct the Attorney General to prosecute the proprietors of the paper for the libel. But he would ask, if this was anything like justice, to prejudge a question in this manner, and then order it to be tried, after having been so prejudged? He was ready to admit, that some parts of the article could not be justified, but it was substantially true. The writer in the paper says there are nominees for boroughs, and could any one deny that such was the fact? Could the hon. and learned member for Boroughbridge deny this? He could not. On the contrary, he had defended the practice; and could there be a grosser libel on that House, than to admit a practice by which part of the Members were the nominees of Peers? They might attempt by a side-wind to deny the fact that they were nominated by Peers, but, nevertheless, there could be no doubt of the fact, and he, therefore, thought, that as judges in their own case, it would be more decent for them to retire. It had been laid down, by one of the highest authorities in the law, that it was contrary to all law to constitute any man a judge in his own cause. In his opinion, it would be much more decent not to go to a vote on such a question. The House was following the practice of Rhadamanthus—they pronounced an accused man guilty, and then sent him to be tried.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, he regarded the present proceeding as purely preliminary, and it should be marked by a spirit of regu- 627 larity as well as justice. Reference had been made to other papers which were not before the House; and he confessed he could not make up his mind on the question with respect to them, for he had not read them until they were placed in a connected series before him. He had heard the first, but the House was about to commit itself on several others, of which it was presumed they knew nothing. He suggested that these papers be also read.
Sir R. Inglis
said, they were all of the same character and tendency, and he wished to save the time of the House by abstaining from reading them.
The Attorney General
expressed his surprise that the hon. Baronet (Sir R. Inglis) complained now, for the first time, of language contained in papers, not one of which was less than a week old, and found nothing offensive in any of the preceding or succeeding days' papers; and he was the more surprised, because the hon. Baronet had spoken to him on the subject, and even put the papers into his hand, without intimating his intention to proceed in that manner. He would not say he had expressed an opinion that it was or was not a libel; but coarse he had admitted it to be, although false he really could not call it. He thought, and he said, that it was highly desirable that no proceedings should be taken on it with respect to any supposed breach of privilege; and so far from believing that language of that kind would induce any Member to abstain from opposing Reform, he thought it would have a directly opposite tendency, inasmuch as it induced men, from a sense of pride and of honour, to persist in supporting that system which had subjected them to such attacks from their connection with it. He thought, on the contrary, that attacks in language such as that of which the hon. Baronet complained, were calculated to defeat the carrying of the measure of Reform, and to confirm the opposition of those Members who, although not accountable to large bodies of constituents, were, he believed, acting on a principle of honour, although he must say, that he thought their opinions were liable to be biassed by their situation. The question could not be carried unless all the passages referred to were read, and he would ask, however, whether it would be proper to occupy the time of the House in reading long extracts from newspapers, and whether, it would not be better to 628 abandon the question altogether? To refer to all the series of the papers on the subject, and read extracts to the House, he should consider extremely inconvenient, and he would therefore oppose such a course. He must express his regret that a question of this kind had been brought forward on the eve of the great Debate, and under circumstances which bore the appearance of a disposition to delay the decision on the most important topic which ever came under their consideration.
§ Sir C. Wetherell
said, whatever course might be adopted, he wished the House to remember, that the motion was precisely like the precedent of the case of Mr. Fox and the Morning Advertiser, which had already been alluded to.
§ Sir R. Peel
disowned, for himself, an intention to obstruct the Debate which was expected, and observed, that he had not even heard of an intention to make such a Motion until he entered that House, and heard that it was commenced. He trusted this explanation would clear that side of the House from the prejudice which might be raised against them by the learned Gentleman's observations.
recommended the House to postpone the discussion to another time. He could not help saying, that after it had been allowed to sleep for ten days, to bring it forward on the night of a Debate on which the eyes of the whole nation were fixed, was very like a plan for obstructing the measure.
Sir R. Inglis
thought the learned Gentleman (the Attorney General) should not have referred to the conversation he held with him on the subject of these papers, unless he had also repeated the nature of that conversation. He (Sir R. Inglis) would not follow his example by detailing it. All he would say was, that he had seen some of the papers that day for the first time, and he was ready now to read the passages to which he alluded, if the House thought proper.
§ The previous question was put and carried without a division.