HC Deb 25 July 1833 vol 19 cc1242-52
Mr. O'Connell

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to a matter which he considered of very great importance—the manner in which the proceedings of that House were reported in the public prints.

Colonel Perceval rose to order, and moved, that strangers should withdraw. The Gallery, however, was not cleared, and

Mr. O'Connell

proceeded. He was aware, that the House was engaged in an important measure, which he was sorry to delay, but he thought it his duty to rescue that House from a most degrading species of slavery. The hon. Member went on to complain of his speeches, and the speeches of other Members, having been imperfectly and incorrectly reported in the newspapers. He therefore thought it his duty, as the reports had been this Session worse than ever they were before, to call the attention of the House to the subject.

Sir Edward Knatchbull

rose to order. As the Standing Orders of the House did not recognize any reports of their proceedings, he thought the hon. and learned Member must be out of order in discussing such a subject.

The Speaker

said, that he understood the object of the hon. and learned Member's Motion to be to enforce the Standing Orders of the House, in consequence of the inaccuracy of the reports of their proceedings. If by sufferance such reports were published, it was a double breach of privilege to publish them incorrectly, and it was competent for any hon. Member to move the Standing Order for the exclusion of strangers on that or any other ground which he might think fit.

Mr. O'Connell

continued. The Speaker had described the purpose of his (Mr. (O'Connell's) Motion in better language than he could have done. He should move, that W. I. Clement be called to the Bar of that House. He had also to complain of the proprietors of The Times, Mrs. Anna Brodie, Mr. J. J. Lawson, & but he gave the priority to The Morning Chronicle, on account of the article which appeared that day, excusing the omissions of a report of a speech of his (Mr. O'Connell's.) The article in question exhibited evidences of shrinking; but he found, that the very same day a speech of his (Mr. O'Connell's) was treated in the same manner. He ascribed the inferiority of the reports to incapacity in the reporters, as the most charitable view of the subject which he could take, and attributed that incapacity to the falling off in the wages of the reporters; but perhaps that was not the case. He was, therefore, compelled to suppose that there were some other motives. He did not complain of the misreporting of his own speech in particular, for he believed, that hon. Members had in general been very impartially misreported. The hon. Member then proceeded to state, that he had procured from the Stamp Office a list of the Journal Proprietary of the Metropolis, and that he should wage war with them all till he defeated them—that he would move day by day for their appearance at the Bar of the House for breach of privilege. He alluded to The Morning Chronicle, as under the control of an hon. Member of the House, whom he would not then name. He attributed the defects he imputed in the Reports of Parliamentary speeches to the deteriorated character of the reporters. He then denounced the monopoly of the Press, and said, that a capital of 20,000l. was insufficient to originate a new morning paper. The chief burthen of the hon. Member's complaints was that of his own speeches—those he deemed the best were often not reported at all. Of all the morning papers, The Morning Post was the one in which he had observed the greatest impartiality—a circumstance which probably arose from the reporters being generally Scotchmen. The hon. and learned Gentleman laid on the Table of the House copies of the The Morning Chronicle, and Times of yesterday, with the legal documents from the Stamp Office, which served to show the proprietorship of these Journals, and concluded by moving, "that Mr. W. I. Clement, the proprietor of The Morning Chronicle, be called to the Bar of the House to-morrow for publishing certain reports, purporting to be accounts of their proceedings.

Mr. O'Dwyer

seconded the Motion. He stated that he had himself, by his literary labour, been greatly assisted in his progress to the station of independence in which he was at present placed; but he could not allow that, having been engaged in putting down despotism of other kinds, the House should submit to the spurious despotism which it was now attempted to exercise over its Members. The hon. Gentleman then read an extract from a Report in a morning paper, in which the hon. and learned member for the University of Oxford (than whom no man practised more unvarying courtesy) was made to speak of the hon. and learned member for Dublin and "his tail." This could not be a mistake—it was a wilful falsehood. If the writer meant that he (Mr. O'Dwyer) was a joint of that tail, his answer was, that he had been returned to Parliament independently, by a free constituency. He heartily approved of his hon. and learned friend's Motion, because it would bring the question to a short issue.

Lord Althorp

observed, that the hon. and learned member for Dublin had brought the question of a breach of privilege forward in a very extraordinary form. The technical reason assigned by the hon. and learned Gentleman for his Motion was, that the proceedings of Parliament were reported in the newspapers; but the real reason was, that the proceedings of Parliament were not reported in the newspapers. He (Lord Althorp) was sure that there was no Gentleman in that House who wished to do anything to prevent a fair and impartial report of the proceedings of that House from going into the country. He believed that, generally speaking, the reports of the proceedings in that House were given in a very fair manner. He did not speak from any extensive examination of them for his time would not allow him to do that: but, whenever he had seen any report of their proceedings, he generally found that they were very fairly reported. It certainly appeared to him, that it must be for the interest of those who reported the proceedings, to report them fairly. As it must, of course, be the wish of the public to receive a fair and impartial report, he could not think that the reporters could find it their interest to depart from fairness and impartiality. Upon this subject he could not help observing, that the hon. and learned member for Dublin was experiencing a little of the effect of what he formerly called "passive resistance." With respect to the reports of the debates, no man could wish them to be discontinued; and every man must wish that they should be fairly and impartially given. As to the proposition made by the hon. and learned Member, he (Lord Althorp) did not think that it was one to which it was advisable to accede. He thought that the expression of opinion in that House, that the power exercised by those who reported the proceedings should be exercised fairly, would be sufficient. He hoped, therefore, that the hon. and learned Gentleman would not persevere. As matters stood, they could not, in common sense, call persons to the Bar for publishing their debates, when it was so generally understood that they should be allowed to do so. He repeated his hope, that the notice which had been taken would be sufficient to remedy the evil of which the hon. and learned Gentleman complained.

Mr. Baldwin

said, that, as far as he had been able to observe of all the Members of that House, his hon. and learned friend, the member for Dublin, had been the best treated in the reports of their proceedings which appeared in the newspapers. His hon. and learned friend had even been better treated, in comparison, than the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. He regretted that his hon. and learned friend had made that attack, the consequence of which was, the hostility towards him of the individuals in question. Considering his hon. and learned friend as one of the main props of the interests of Ireland in that House, he should exceedingly regret any circumstance that would diminish his usefulness; and he requested him, in the name of the Irish people, to withdraw his Motion. If his hon. and learned friend should persevere, he would certainly vote against him. It appeared to him that, generally speaking, those who reported the proceedings, reported with great fairness; and he repeated that, if any one had been favoured by them, it was his hon. and learned friend.

Mr. O'Connell

said, be would so qualify his Motion as to defer the attendance to Monday. Beyond that he would not go. If the noble Lord would consent to the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the subject, he should not have any objection to the proposition. But he would not consent to be a victim without defending himself.

Lord Stormont

was at a loss to know with what view the hon. and learned member for Dublin wished to call the parties in question to the Bar. It must be either to punish them for the offence of publishing the proceedings of that House—a proposition which could hardly be made; or to dismiss them untouched. That was the situation in which the Motion would place the House. The individuals in question were to be brought up upon a breach of privilege, which breach of privilege was publishing the proceedings in that House and then the charge that was to be made against them was, not that they published reports of the speeches of other hon. Members, but that they did not publish reports of the speeches of the hon. and learned Gentleman. It was, no doubt, much to be desired, that the reports of the proceedings of that House should be fairly and impartially reported; and he was certainly of opinion that, during the last two years, the reports had not been given with so much ability and impartiality as formerly. But he did not see how that could be remedied by calling the parties in question to the Bar.

Lord John Russell

felt that great inconvenience would attend the carrying of the hon. and learned Member's Motion. Supposing the proprietors or the editors of these newspapers attended at the Bar of the House, and promised that in future the speeches of hon. Members should be fairly reported, was that House to dismiss them after a declaration made by them, that they would commit a breach of privilege? The course which he had generally taken in matters of privilege was, not to pronounce any decision upon them when they were noticed, for the first time, in the House; because he had always found, that in such cases the House was apt to come to a hasty and passionate judgment. He was therefore inclined on the present occasion to move the previous question. At the same time, without saying that he entirely agreed in what had fallen from the hon. and learned member for Dublin, he was bound to state, that those who were permitted by the indulgence of the House to report the proceedings, greatly abused the power they possessed if they deprived any individual of that advantage which he might fairly expect from his speeches going forth to the country. He recollected, that his noble and learned friend, the present Lord Chancellor having, when a Member of that House, let fall some expressions not personally agreeable to the reporters, the punishment inflicted on him was, the entire suppression of his speeches on questions of law, and foreign and domestic policy. This was undoubtedly an abuse of the power which the reporters possessed; but he thought, that the Motion of the hon. and learned Member would involve them in difficulties, from which they could not escape without loss of dignity. He should therefore be disposed to move the previous question, if he could do so consistently with the orders of the House; but at all events he could not accede to the proposed Motion.

Sir Samuel Whalley

said, that considering the variety of topics discussed in that House, it appeared wonderful to him, not that the speeches were inaccurately reported, but that they were so well reported. If a full report of all the speeches spoken in that House were taken, no newspaper would be large enough to contain it. It was most important that the proceedings of that House should be as soon as possible communicated to the people, in order that they might know the votes which their Representatives had given, and the reasons which guided their conduct; and it was therefore desirable that no party feeling-should influence the reporters in the discharge of their duty. He thought, that that House would place itself in a most painful and disagreeable situation if, in consequence of summoning these parties to the Bar, they refused in future to sanction the publication of Debates. A more advisable course to adopt would be to exert the privilege of the House only when the speeches of hon. Members were misreported; and in such cases the Chair should be called upon to reprimand the parties guilty of the misrepresentation. He trusted the hon. and learned Member would not press his Motion.

Mr. Tennyson

hoped, that his hon. and learned friend would withdraw his Motion. The publishing of any report of the proceedings of that House was undoubtedly a technical breach of the privileges of that House; but to misreport was a grosser and more real breach of privilege. The total omission of any speeches, which was in fact garbling the report, did certainly place that House in a position quite different from that in which it ought to stand. There was but one opinion in the House—that such a practice ought to be discouraged; and that, if persisted in, some steps ought to be taken by the House to stop it. He perceived inconvenience in adopting the course proposed by his hon. and learned friend, and it did not appear to him calculated to correct the evil. He, therefore, hoped his hon. and learned friend would withdraw his Motion, and then the House would have time to consider what measures ought to be taken if the offence complained of should be repeated.

Mr. Spring Rice

confessed, that it appeared to him desirable that the House should follow the advice given by his noble friend, and refrain from pronouncing an opinion on the case which had been brought under its notice; because the House could not be disposed to take a course which would compromise its privileges, or adopt a Motion which it was admitted by all, not excepting the hon. and learned Member himself, could lead to no practical result. The hon. and learned member for Dublin had not himself stated, nor had any one else suggested, what the House was to do if the Motion was carried. The House was placed in this dilemma—they must either adopt a Motion which would lead to no definite result, or negative it, notwithstanding that its rejection might affect their privileges. He had formerly been placed in the same situation as that in which the hon. and learned Member now found himself; but instead of occupying the attention of the House with anything relating to so humble an individual as himself, he felt, that the most fitting course to pursue was to treat the matter with the most perfect indifference. Could, then, no remedy be obtained in such a case? There was a remedy, and that was, to appeal to the principle of fairness and common sense; but if they did not rely on the good sense and impartiality of the public (he did not speak of the mere instruments by which the debates were reported), he was afraid that they had no remedy at all. Was it possible that any Gentleman could seriously entertain the idea that it could be expedient or proper for the House to employ reporters? If they employed official reporters, he was afraid that they must likewise employ official readers. In that case every word spoken must be taken down and then the Debates would be perfectly valueless and useless as far as regarded any practical purpose. That was not the place to criticise the published reports of the discussions in Parliament. The public required those reports, and if any newspaper published a partial account, the public had the remedy in their own hands; and unless an attempt was made by distortion to give a colour to the Debates, which might create an impression out of doors, either derogatory to the character of the House, or of the individual Members of it, the less they interfered with the reporters the better. On these grounds he would take the liberty of moving the previous question—a course which he found was adopted in 1771. When a paper was read, and a Motion was made that Thomas Wright should be called to the Bar; the previous question was then put and carried. The hon. Gentleman, on referring to the Journals, found that he stated the result incorrectly—the previous question having been negatived. He contended, however, that the fact of the previous question having been then entertained, proved that he had the power to move it, and he should propose it, in order that the House might not be called upon either to adopt or negative the original Motion.

Mr. Ayshford Sanford

thought, that after the declaration which had been made a few days ago by the hon. and learned Member, that his speeches were ludicrously misreported, the reporters could not do otherwise than not report him in future. With respect to the published reports of their proceedings, his (Mr. Sanford's) impression was—and as he seldom spoke, and was but little reported, he might be supposed to speak with impartiality, that they were given with as much accuracy as could fairly be expected, and he did not think that the hon. and learned Member's present complaint, that he was not reported at all, consistent with the statement he had previously made of being misreported. In his opinion the House would do well to imitate the conduct of the other House with regard to reporters, and provide them a convenient place for taking notes.

Sir Robert Inglis

assured the hon. Member (Mr. O'Dwyer), that he had not made use of the expression which the hon. Member had complained of; but at the same time, he could not understand why hon. Members from Ireland should be offended at its application. At least there was another part of the empire where no offence was taken at the title. In fact, men as gifted, high-minded, and as honourable as any persons in that House, or in the empire, had gloried in the title. As the attention of the House had been called to the manner in which their proceedings were reported, he begged to say, that he was perfectly astonished at the general accuracy with which the Debates were communicated to the public. Their fidelity might be considered extraordinary, even if time were allowed for their preparation; but when the expedition with which they were published was taken into account, the correctness with which they were given was more than extraordinary—it was almost marvellous. The proceedings of the House appeared to be taken down as it were instinctively, while they were published with a rapidity quite astonishing.

Sir Robert Peel

said, he would vote for the Motion if he thought it would effect the object which the hon. and learned Member had in view—if it would tend to check that which was admitted to be an abuse—the suppression of speeches by reporters, in consequence of their having taken offence at expressions used in that House. But he did not understand how, with all his ingenuity, the hon. Member would be able to effect this object by the course he proposed to take. The power of that House was so great in such cases, that the hon. and learned Gentleman himself would not call upon them to exert it. They might, if they chose, exclude strangers from the gallery altogether, and that step would entirely prevent the publication of reports. The exertion of that authority, however, would be perfectly in opposition to public feeling, and might be of serious injury to the transaction of public business. And yet what other control had they over the reporters unless they called before them such of them as suppressed speeches, and threatened them for their misconduct, though they might not choose to carry their threat into execution; another course was, not to prevent, but to authorize the publication of reports. He thought, however, that the recognition of reporting, for the purpose of obtaining a verbal and perfectly accurate report of all that passed in that House, would be attended with great inconvenience. This he did not hesitate to say, that in his opinion a verbal report of their speeches would not tend to raise the character of any Member of that House. To speak of so humble an individual as himself, he should exceedingly deprecate any verbal report of what might fall from him. Yet, if they recognized reporters at all, they must employ Mr. Gurney, or some other eminent short-hand writer, for the purpose of giving a verbal account of all that passed in the House. Such a plan, however, would not secure a faithful transcript of their proceedings, since so much depended on the manner and on the occasion in which things were said. In the present case, the hon. and learned Member might depend on it the public would of themselves apply a remedy to the evil. The hon. Member was of too much importance in the country to allow of his speeches being suppressed. Supposing the practice of which he complained should be persevered in, other means would assuredly be found than the interposition of that House to put a stop to it. He thought, that if the hon. and learned Member were well advised, he would not persist in his Motion to call Mr. Clement to the Bar, since the House would be unwilling to exert the power they possessed against that individual. It was his impression that the House, reserving to itself, as in his opinion it should always do, the power of excluding strangers, could do nothing to improve the present system of reporting. He confessed he had read with alarm the statement made by the hon. and learned Gentleman a few days ago, that the pecuniary allowances made to the reporters had much diminished of late, for he drew from it the melancholy inference that much less anxiety prevailed to hear what the Re-formed Parliament said., than used to be displayed with regard to the proceedings of its predecessors. The hon. and learned Gentleman said, that the reporters salaries had fallen from six guineas to two guineas a-week, and that only proved to him that the public took only one-third of the interest in what the present Parliament was doing compared with former Parliaments. He believed, however, that the hon. and learned Gentleman was wrong in that statement, and that he had since corrected it. With respect to the reports of the debates in that House, he must say that it appeared to him that they were given with great impartiality and wonderful fidelity. He really thought that, considering the unwillingness which was often manifested by the Members of that House themselves to listen to speeches, the reporters ought to be excused if they did not report every word which was uttered. At times, too, much confusion prevailed in the House, and in the course of that evening, when an hon. Member got up to speak, many Gentlemen rose and quitted their places, causing in consequence so much noise as to render accurate reporting almost impossible. Undoubtedly, not only the hon. and learned Member himself, but the public also, had a right to complain of his being made a victim of the prejudices of the reporters, yet he would advise the hon. and learned Member, after having by his Motion elicited the unanimous opinion of the House, that the grievance of which he complained was an abuse, not to press it. He thought that the hon. and learned Member had better withdraw his Motion, than force the House either to negative it or to carry the previous question. The public, were interested in obtaining fair and impartial reports of the debates in that House, and there need be no apprehension entertained but that this abuse would correct itself. If, however, justice was not done to the hon. and learned Member in future, he was confident that a fortnight would not pass over without some means of checking the evil, more effectual than the interposition of that House, being adopted. In his opinion, the interposition of the House would not procure the redress which was wanted, for he thought the mutilation of speeches worse than their entire suppression: yet it was perfectly impossible to prevent that mutilation. It was ridiculous to suppose, that the House could sit in judgment on the merits of every report of speeches delivered in that House. The right hon. Baronet concluded by repeating his advice, that the Motion should be withdrawn.

Mr. O'Connell

said, he should postpone his Motion for the present, but renew it on this day week, unless the reporters altered their conduct with respect to him.

Motion and previous question withdrawn.