HC Deb 15 July 1833 vol 19 cc646-9
Mr. Cobbett

rose to complain of what he considered a Breach of Privilege. The House would remember it had been stated in the House, a short time since, that Police Spies were about. A publication had been put forth to-day of a very singular nature, and which had all the appearance of being sent forth under the auspices of the head of the police. The publication set forth at great length the evidence that had been given before the Committee appointed to investigate into the facts contained in the petition presented by him (Mr. Cobbett) from persons belonging to the Union of Walworth and Camberwell. And not content with that, various comments were made; and it was stated, that there was little doubt the Committee would acquit the accused, for the evidence of the parties who had been examined against the police was contradictory, and the witnesses themselves were persons of disreputable character. It appeared also, that the Secretary of State had been most improperly furnished with a copy of the proceedings, whilst the Committee was sitting, certainly, without his consent, and before the Committee had been furnished with it. The spy Popay had been permitted by the Secretary of State to take extracts of the evidence given against him, which he had published in the newspapers, aspersing the character of the witnesses. Having put the House in possession of these facts, he would leave the House to act as it thought proper.

Lord Althorp

said, it was difficult to understand what the complaint of the hon. Member was. Was it that the publication in question referred to the proceedings of a Select Committee?

Mr. Cobbett

That the publication aspersed the character of the witnesses.

Lord Althorp

said, this was the first time he had heard of it. He did not believe the Secretary of State had any connexion with the transaction.

Mr. Cobbett

said, that the publication took place in a paper called the Police Gazette. It was published in Surrey-street, under the auspices of the police; and the policemen were desired each of them to take a copy of it, which they had at a penny less than it was sold for to other persons. There was no stamp on the paper; and, upon an information on that ground having; been laid before the Magistrates, they refused to take cognizance of it, saying it was the province of the Stamp Office to take proceedings, and that they could not do so, without an intimation from the Stamp Office. The complaint he made was, that Popay was allowed to get and publish extracts from the evidence taken against him before the Committee. This, he considered, most improper, especially when the evidence was not yet submitted to the House.

Mr. Kennedy,

as a member of the Committee, wished to observe, that the hon. Member for Oldham had, according to a practice not unusual with him, stated as facts things which were of a very opposite character to facts. He had stated, that a copy of the evidence had been furnished to the Secretary of State before a copy had been supplied to the members of the Committee themselves; it was true that a copy was furnished to the Secretary of State, with the permission of the hon. Member himself, but the Committee had also a copy of each day's proceedings, each succeeding day, ac-cording to usual practice. It was also insinuated, that because a copy was furnished to the Secretary of State, extracts were furnished by him to Popay; but the hon. Member had no right to draw such an inference; the hon. Member should recollect that the Committee had given permission for Popay to see the whole of the evidence, and, therefore, he had an opportunity of taking extracts if he pleased. Indeed it was indispensable that Popay should have a copy of the evidence, as his character was attacked. But as to any Member of the Government giving him permission to publish paragraphs in the newspaper alluded to, he disbelieved it. No person connected with the Government had anything to do with that publication.

Mr. Tennyson

said, it was a little remarkable that the Secretary of State should wish for a copy of the evidence when the conduct of the Government was not impugned. Had he been present in the Committee at the time, he would have protested against it. When such was the case, it was perfectly natural that the hon. member for Oldham should assume, upon his seeing the paragraph in the newspapers, that Popay, who was charged, and, in point of fact, proved to be a spy, had access to the evidence, through the Secretary of State, and had published it. He could have got it in no other way; for, although it was ordered, that Popay should have a copy of the evidence against him, yet the copies of the evidence were not yet delivered. The inference of the hon. member for Oldham was, at least, a natural one.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that the hon. member for Oldham had stated this paper to be published under the sanction of the police. He doubted very much whether the police ought to become gazetteers, and certainly if their conduct were impeached, they had no right to publish to the world that the witnesses against them were persons of bad character.

Lord Althorp

wished it to be understood that he thought it impoper to allow the police to have anything to do with such publications; indeed, he did not think the police had anything to do with it more than himself, or than the hon. and learned Gentleman,

Mr. Kennedy

said, when it was proposed in Committee, that Popay should be furnished with a copy of the evidence, it was stated, that if he were so furnished with it, he would have to pay the expense; upon which it was arranged that he should be permitted to see the Secretary of State's copy.

Mr. Cobbett

said, he had been always present in the Committee when five members were there, and therefore he knew what passed in the Committee better than the hon. Member who preceded him. Popay was to have the evidence read to him next Wednesday, and then to have a lawyer, and to be permitted to cross-examine the witnesses if he pleased. So that he had never yet had a copy of the evidence, nor was it ever ordered, that he should have a copy. Popay had told the Committee, that he had seen a copy at the Secretary of State's Office, and had been allowed to read it, to examine it, and to take extracts from it, in order to frame questions to cross-examine upon. He did not object to this permission being granted him for that purpose only. The hon. member for Lambeth objected to such accommodation being given. He, however, would say, let him have all the accommodation that any person could ask for him. He did not complain of Popay being allowed to obtain extracts, but of his disparaging the character of witnesses whose demeanour and conduct were most proper, and whose characters he firmly believed would bear the strictest inquiry.

Mr. Wynn

objected to copies of the evidence being furnished for such a purpose, or that Counsel should be permitted to cross-examine the witnesses. It was contrary to all rule and precedent.

Mr. Estcourt

said, that popay had been allowed to have access to the evidence, for the special purpose of enabling his Counsel to cross-examine the witnesses. In bringing the matter before the House, the hon. member for Oldham had designated the man Popay as a spy, and that he had published the extracts of the evidence. Now he thought it was too much to fix so odious an appellation upon the man before he was convicted of being so, or to set him down as the publisher of the evidence before there was any proof to that effect. If, through the inquiry, it was shown, that Popay deserved such a designation, he would be the first to say, let the consequences of his conduct be attached to him; but, in common justice, hon. Members should abstain from making such assertions until the whole truth was known.

Colonel Evans

thought, that the observation of the hon. Member was very just; but, on the same principle, Popay should have abstained from attacking the conduct of the witnesses against him. He thought it would be satisfactory to the House and the public, if the noble Lord would declare, that, should such conduct be repeated, serious notice would be taken of it.

Lord Ebrington

said, if the matter complained of was a breach of privilege, the hon. Member could bring it before the House in a substantive shape, when other hon. Members of the Committee would be able to give their opinion of the matter. The Motion would come with propriety from a Member of the Committee.

The subject dropped.