HC Deb 20 June 1832 vol 13 cc905-9
Mr. O'Connell

rose to call the attention of the House to a complaint personal to himself, relating to what he considered an infringement of the privileges of that House. No man living could be less disposed than he was to trench upon the liberty of the Press, being thoroughly convinced, that it could not do injury to any man who did not deserve, to a certain extent, to be injured, and no man had ever demonstrated the truth of his proposition more strongly than the humble individual who now addressed the House; for, during the last thirty years, more calumnies had been poured out against him than had ever been uttered against any one before, and he did not feel himself one bit the worse at the end of those thirty years in consequence. But he thought it rather too bad to be made to calumniate himself, as he appeared to do in The Times of that morning. He could bear that others should calumniate him, but it was going too far to make him traduce himself, and state a falsehood of himself that he might have the pleasure of being calumniated by himself. In a speech which was attributed to him in the debate of last night, the greater part was pure invention, and especially that part in which he was made to calumniate himself, and this was done in such a manner that it could not have happened by mistake. The report began by stating—'Mr. O'Connell would oppose the hon. Member's proposition. It was true that in doing so he was acting in the teeth of his reiterated pledges to his countrymen.' This mode of phraseology was totally untrue, for no such pledges existed It went on—'But as he had then his reasons for making those pledges, he trusted to his influence with his countrymen to convince them that his reasons for now opposing the introduction of Poor laws into Ireland, which he had so often and so earnestly advocated, were cogent, and valid, and reasonable.' All he had said was, that his affections and his disposition had overpowered his judgment, and that he had two or three times acceded to the proposition of Poor laws without his reason being convinced—that his anxiety for the relief of the distressed had got the better of his judgment, and that it was from motives of compassion he had changed his opinion. He was then reported as saying that—'He had formerly stated it to be his opinion, that a main source of the wretched condition of the poor of Ireland, was the total absence of a legislative provision for their wants.' He had neither said this yesterday nor any other day. It would have involved a calumny upon himself if he had. 'It was now his equally conscientious opinion, that Poor laws would but aggravate that wretched condition,—[hear, from Mr. Rice.]' It was too bad to be made to make a speech against himself, grossly calumniating his own sentiments, introducing opinions for the purpose of retracting them, and representing him as giving pledges for the purpose of violating them. The report went on, and represented him as saying—'That owing to the wretched condition of the poor, the expectation of life was much less there than in this country, and its mortality much higher.' He had not said a word on this subject at all. A speech had been also attributed to the hon. member for Preston, who would be good enough to say whether the report was a faithful one. He should wait to hear what the hon. Gentleman would say on that point.

Mr. Hunt

said, that the hon. member for Kerry might be able to form a judgment on the subject himself, for he was in the House during the whole time that he (Mr. Hunt) was speaking. He must say, that great part of the speech attributed to him on the subject of the Poor laws was pure invention. There were many points in it, not one word of which he had ever given utterance to or thought of. This was not to be attributed to the Editor of the paper, but to the Reporter for the hour; because afterwards, at a later period of the night, in the speech which he made on the subject of flogging in the army, he must say that he was very fairly reported. On this occasion, however, a speech was put into his mouth, not a word of which he had uttered.

The Speaker

inquired whether the hon. and learned Member meant to press this matter any further? The explanation of the hon. Member would seem to show that the error was involuntary. If the hon. and learned Gentleman had any ground for supposing that an intentional misrepresentation had been made, the House would owe it to themselves to take further notice of the matter; but, if the hon. and learned Member conceived that what he complained of arose from error, and was not intentional, it rested with him whether he would propose any further steps upon it.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that his principal motive in noticing the subject was, that he was afraid lest some hon. Gentlemen might say hereafter, that they recollected what, in fact, he had not said. As he could not trace it to any personal malice, he would not at present press the subject further, but he would consider of it, and if he could trace to any malicious motive the cause of his being so grossly misrepresented, he would again call the attention of the House to the subject.

Mr. Crampton

said, that he would not undertake to defend the statement of the speech attributed to the hon. member for Kerry last night. He did not know whether it was correct or not, but as the hon. and learned Gentleman had mentioned recollection, he must say, that if he wished to look for an accurate report of the proceedings of that House on former occasions, he would look to the contemporary statements in the newspapers, as well as to "Hansard's Parliamentary Debates," and the "Mirror of Parliament," and he would put those documents against the recollection of any Gentleman, in or out of that House, or of most hon. Gentlemen, even as to what they themselves said in the House.

The Speaker

said, that if the hon. and learned Gentleman did so refer to those documents, he would do that in which that House, as a House of Commons, would not support him.

Mr. O'Connell

was understood to say, that those documents would furnish a confirmation of his statements as he had explained them, and a contradiction of those attributed to him by the newspaper in question.

Mr. Dawson

said, there had been a time when the proceedings of that House were correctly reported, but to say that they were so now was a mere delusion. He knew that their proceedings did go forth to the public, and, until within the last year, the persons engaged in that labour had executed it in a highly praiseworthy and creditable manner. He admitted that he had seen, both in the contemporary journals and in "Hansard's Parliamentary Debates," most faithful records of what took place in that House, but during the last year, a shameful degree of party spirit had been exhibited by those who undertook to enlighten the public mind as to what passed there. They not only misrepresented, but they took their own view of a subject, and put in reports of their favourite speakers. If they were Reformers, as he believed they all were, they took down only the speeches of Reformers. If they were Anti-reformers, they did the same. He thought it right, therefore, to tell the people of England, that most shameful partiality and misrepresentation of what was said in that House prevailed. They had done more—they had gone out of their way to use expressions, and add notes or exclamations, and describe noises which had never taken place, necessarily giving the people a contemptuous opinion of the proceedings of that House. It was impossible, indeed, to read the reports of the last year without feeling a degree of contempt for their proceedings, and the dignity of the House was compromised in the opinions of the people of England by the way in which the reports of its proceedings were given. He had never proposed it before, but he should propose, that one of the first objects of a reformed Parliament should be, to take means that the reports of their proceedings should be sent forth to the public in an official shape. No man would be tolerated now in saying that their proceedings did not go forth to the public, but, as they did, they ought to go forth in an impartial and official shape. He hoped that one of the first objects of a reformed Parliament would be, that the front row of the gallery should be occupied by gentlemen under the control and superintendence of the House, and who should be responsible to it for the discharge of their duty in giving authentic, impartial, and official reports of the debates in that House.

Back to