HC Deb 16 April 1832 vol 12 cc542-5
Lord Stormont

said, that agreeably to the notice which he gave on Friday last, he now rose for the purpose of bringing forward what he conceived to be one of the grossest violations of the privileges of that House of which he had ever heard. In the first place, he wished to correct a statement which had gone abroad, and which seemed to have gained credence, that it was his intention, in bringing this subject forward, to move the Standing Order for the exclusion of strangers. He begged to state, that it never was his intention to take such a course. On the contrary, he had always conceived it to be most desirable that the greatest publicity should be given to those proceedings of the House in which matters of privilege were concerned. The breach of privilege of which he was about to complain arose out of the publication of a letter and of a placard at Sunderland, upon the subject of the proceedings of a Committee of that House which had lately sat up stairs upon a private bill relating to the harbour at Sunderland. After a careful and patient investigation of sixteen days that bill was thrown out by the Committee. The solicitors to the bill, Messrs. John P. Kidson and Joseph John Wright, then wrote a letter to the Harbour Committee at Sunderland, and that letter was printed in a provincial newspaper, and also in placards, and stuck about in different parts of the town. It was of the terms of that letter, and of the manner of its publication, that, in the first place, he complained. He would read it to the House, and then leave hon. Members to decide whether it did not amount to a gross breach of their privileges. It was addressed to the Committee of the Wet Dock, Sunderland. The expressions of the letter, and the statement which it set forth of the divisions of the Committee, constituted, in his opinion, one of the grossest violations of the privileges of that House of which he had ever heard. Could anything be more insulting to the House than for persons to talk of a Bill having been thrown out in consequence of the selfish interests, private wishes, or family connections of any of its Members? But the breach of privilege of which he complained was not confined only to the letter which he had read; there was also another placard published by the same parties, to which he now begged to call the attention of the House. It was exhibited in the streets of Sunderland. The noble Lord then moved that these placards be laid on the Table, and read at length by the Clerk.

They were read accordingly.

Lord Stormont

I now beg leave to move that these placards be taken into further consideration on Monday, the 7th of May next.

Mr. John Hodgson

said, that he had been directed by the solicitors to the bill to state that they had given no direction for the publication of the letter which they sent down to Sunderland, and of the publication of which the noble Lord now complained. While he by no means concurred in the sentiments expressed in that letter, he did not think that it furnished any grounds for proceedings on the part of that House against the writers of it. With respect to that part of the breach of privilege to which the noble Lord had directed the attention of the House, which was comprised in the publication of the divisions of the Committee, he felt that he was himself a party, because it was he who had furnished the information. In justice to himself, however, he must state that he did so in perfect ignorance of its being a breach of privilege. Indeed, if it were thought expedient to publish the divisions of the House itself, it was daily done, he could not conceive why it was not equally as expedient to publish the divisions of its Select Committees.

Lord Althorp

said, that the publication to which the noble Lord had directed their attention was undoubtedly a gross breach of the privileges of the House, as was also the conduct of his hon. friend behind him, if his own statement were correct. It certainly was not strictly according to the privileges of the House that such information as his hon. friend had furnished should be given for the purposes of publication.

Mr. Warburton

thought, that if the words of the publications complained of were a little more narrowly, a little more critically observed, it would be seen that they did not apply to the Members of the Committee up-stairs. It was undoubtedly stated that the bill had been thrown out from selfish and private interests, and from family connections; but it did not state that it was owing to the selfish and private interests, or the private connections, of the Members of the Committee.

Mr. Beaumont

thought that when the whole of the responsibility of publishing the letter was shown to rest with the Wet Dock Committee, the noble Lord ought not to persist in any further proceeding against the printers or the solicitors.

Mr. Robinson

said, the hon. member for Bridport had entirely overlooked one part of the letter which alluded to a Gentleman who was returned by a constituency interested in the bill, and which held out a threat that his conduct in the Committee would be attended with the loss of his seat. In his opinion, therefore, a grosser breach of privilege never was committed, and he called upon the House not to attend to the extraordinary species of criticism which the hon. member for Bridport had recommended to them.

Ordered that the matter be taken into further consideration on Monday, May 7.

The printers ordered to attend at the Bar of the House on that day.

Lord Stormont

said, that, as the letter of which he complained was expressly stated to be an official letter, he thought he should be justified in moving that its authors should be brought to the Bar also.

Mr. Hodgson

repeated his statement, that the letter had been published without the authority of the solicitors by whom it was written.

Sir George Cockburn

thought, that great blame rested with the solicitors. If, on the throwing out of any private bill, solicitors were to be at liberty so to libel the House, there must be an end to all privilege.

The solicitors ordered to attend at the Bar on May 7th.