continued: He then came to a different subject. The attention of the House having been called to the Coercion Bill, he would take this opportunity of alluding to a circumstance which was connected with it. It had been publicly stated that votes had been procured in support of that measure in a manner so disreputable, as to be scarcely within the bounds of belief; but he did not wish Ministers to suppose that he believed the part which was attributed to them in the transaction. A statement, however, had been published in the newspapers, 120 with the name of a Member of that House attached to it, which contained a serious charge against the Ministers, and before he determined how he would vote upon the Address, he wished to give them an opportunity of refuting it. The utterance of the calumny was attributed to the hon. member for Hull. In a speech which was published in all the newspapers in the British dominions, that hon. Member was represented to have made use of these words:—"It is impossible for those who are not in the House to know the secret machinery by which votes are obtained." They were Treasury secrets, probably, that were alluded to here; and he did not wish to inquire into them; but he had a right to call upon the noble Lord opposite, to disclaim the imputation which followed. Again, he begged to declare his disbelief, that Ministers had any share in the transaction—"Non meus hic sermo." It was, however, but right to give the noble Lord an opportunity of refuting the calumny, if he thought fit. The hon. and learned member for Hull, then, was represented to have said further, that "an Irish Member who spoke with great violence against every part, and voted against every clause of the Coercion Bill, went to Ministers and said—'Do not bate an atom of the Bill, for it is impossible to live in Ireland without it.' 'What!' said the Ministers, 'this from you, who vote against the Bill?'" Well might they say so (continued the hon. and learned Member); the only wonder is, that it could be supposed they would speak to an individual who could so conduct himself. The narrative proceeded:—"Oh, yes," rejoined the Member, "I am obliged to vote against the Bill, because if I did not, I could not be returned from Ireland, and then I must be out of Parliament altogether." And that would be no great loss to Parliament, and still less to Ireland. The constituency of Ireland had a right to know whether there was such a person as was thus described. He had already expressed his disbelief that Ministers had circulated such a story, and he would add, that he believed it was totally untrue, that any Irish Member had acted in the manner represented. He had spoken to every Irish Member who could come within the description, and they assured him it was impossible that Ministers could have made such a statement, because it was untrue with respect to any of them; and the noble 121 Lord and his colleagues were incapable of fabricating a deliberate falsehood. Although he acquitted Ministers of any share in the transaction, it was possible that the story might have been circulated by some person about them without their knowledge and sanction. Under these circumstances, he felt it his duty to ask the noble Lord, first, whether he or any other member of the Cabinet, had ever stated, that an Irish Member had acted in the manner described; and secondly, whether any Irish Member ever went to the noble Lord, or any other Minister, and made the statement which had been imputed to him?
§ Lord Althorp
said, that to the first of the questions, he could answer positively for himself, and to the best of his belief, for his colleagues, that no such assertion as had been referred to had ever been made. With respect to the second question—namely, whether any Irish Member who voted and spoke against the Coercive Bill ever made any statement to the Administration similar to that which the hon. and learned Member had referred to, he was prepared to say that, as far as he was aware, no Irish Member who voted and spoke against the Coercive Bill had made any such statement to a Cabinet Minister. He felt that he was placed in a peculiar situation. The hon. and learned member for Dublin a few moments since said, that his right hon. friend had properly answered a question, because it was put to him; and, under the same circumstances, he felt that he should not act a manly part if he answered the question short. He had said, that to his knowledge no Irish Member who voted against the Coercive Bill had made the statement in question to a Cabinet Minister; but he should not act properly, if he did not declare, that he had good reason to believe that some Irish Members (certainly more than one), who voted and spoke with considerable violence against the Bill, did in private conversation, use very different language.
I am astonished at the noble Lord's statement. "The noble Lord is shrinking—why not state the names of those Members?"
I retract the word 122 "shrinking," as applied to the noble Lord. I thought that my questions implied more perhaps than they really did. I feel that I ought not to use a harsh expression towards the noble Lord, and therefore I retract it. I now come back to the point, and I ask the noble Lord who are the Irish Members who have acted as he has described?
§ Lord Althorp
I am answerable for what I say, and for what I believe. With respect to naming the Irish Members to whom I have alluded, I am perfectly ready to do so if they choose to call upon me; but unless they do so, I think I should not be justified in doing it.
I am authorised by every Irish Member [Oh! oh!]—well, by every one now present in the House ["No!"]—then I will take another course: I ask the noble Lord whether I am one of the Members to whom he alludes?
§ Lord Althorp
No. [Mr. Carew O'Dwyer and Mr. Lynch, severally put the same question, and received the same answer. Several other Irish Members rose from their seats with the view of putting the same question to Lord Althorp. Great confusion prevailed, and amidst shouts of "Order," and "Chair."]
§ The Speaker
was certain, that upon a moment's reflection, the House would see the difficult situation in which they would be placed if this discussion were continued in the spirit and manner in which it had commenced. He deeply regretted that the noble Lord had felt it his duty to answer the questions which had been proposed to him. Any person acquainted with the rules of the House must be aware that even subjects infinitely less calculated to excite the feelings of the public and of individuals could not be dealt with by them unless they assumed a public character, and were brought before them as questions of privilege, being defamatory of a Member or Members. He put it to the House whether what a Member had said out of the House or in private could assume such a character as to form the basis of public discussion?
hoped that the House would bear with him and his friends, and that every man who valued his character would aid them in endeavouring to prevent equivocation on the subject.
§ Mr. Hume
rose to order. On a former 123 occasion he had defended his hon. and learned friend the member for Dublin from an attack made against him on account of words spoken out of the House at a public meeting. He held that what a Member uttered out of the House, unless it came under the definition which the Speaker had given, could not be a subject, for their consideration in that House. He put it to the House whether, if speeches and correspondence out of doors were to be brought under the notice of the House, they would ever see a termination to such discussions as the present? He was fully aware of the delicate situation in which many Members must be placed by the aspersions which had been cast upon them, and should be most happy if the House had the power to extricate them from it; but as it was, his hon. and learned friend must excuse him for appealing to the Chair to know whether his hon. and learned friend could proceed further in the matter.
said, he must observe that the question before the House was a public one, inasmuch as it concerned deeply the constituency of Ireland to know whether any of their representatives had behaved in the manner described. The noble Lord had satisfactorily replied to the question put by himself and another Irish Member, but other Members, and amongst them his hon. friend, the member for Tipperary, (Mr. Sheil) had been interrupted when they rose to propose the same question to the noble Lord. His hon. friends had constituents who were deeply interested in their character, and therefore he pressed the noble Lord to be more explicit. He asked whether there was a single Scotch or English Member who would be content to rest under the imputation which had been cast upon some Irish Members? Was it anything but fair to ask that the guilty should be detected, and that those who were innocent should have the opportunity of freeing themselves from imputation? The noble Lord had said "more than one" Irish Member, who had voted and spoken against the Bill, had made the statement referred to. An opportunity of clearing themselves had been given to some two or three, but why should not the same indulgence be extended to all on whom the imputation had been cast? He thought that, in justice, the House could not refuge them the opportunity. The hon. 124 member for Tipperary had constituents, who had a right to know whether the Member they had sent to that House was worthy of their confidence or not; for the sake of that portion of the community thus interested, then, and also for the characters of the hon. Members themselves, he felt, and he was sure the House would on a little reflection concur with him, that an opportunity of explanation ought not to be denied to those who sought it.
§ Mr. Henry Grattan
said, that as one of those interested, he claimed the right to offer a few words. This was a charge brought by one Member of Parliament against another, appearing first in a report of a speech in a newspaper. He would suggest that the House, in order to be able to take cognizance and to go fully into the inquiry, should in the first instance have the statement itself before them. There were precedents for this in Hatsell—cases were there mentioned in which individuals, not members of Parliament, had been called before the House to answer for certain allegations made against Members of the House. He would refer to cases upon record; those, for example, of the Earl of Suffolk, the Bishop of Lincoln, and the Archdeacon of Bath. In these cases committees had been appointed. The same course ought now to be followed. They ought to have the printer or publisher of the paper in which the statement first appeared, or they ought to call on the individual whose statement it was represented to be, if he chose to acknowledge it. It was of the utmost importance to the character of many Members in that House, that the individual who had been described as having gone to Ministers or their friends, and recommended them to support the Bill which he himself was at the same moment publicly opposing, should be known, if in fact any such person existed; for there could be no doubt that to some such influence it was owing that many English Members who had promised to oppose the Bill had afterwards voted for it. He felt it necessary to say that there were thirty or forty English Members who had declared to him that they would vote against the Bill. They stated that they did not choose to communicate with Mr. O'Connell, for that they thought his politics too severe. He had a list with the names of many of those Members whom he met 125 in the library, and where he took those names down. They there said, "Mr. Grattan, we will vote with you against the Bill;" but when the question came to a division, there were only two of them who opposed it. This was on the 2nd of March last. If this change in the determination of so many hon. Members was brought about by underhand representations, the author of them ought to be known. It turned out, however, that the charge, as originally made, was false, at least in one respect; for it said that some Irish Members, who had voted and spoken strongly against the Bill, had gone to some of the Cabinet Ministers; but, according to the statement of the noble Lord, no such communication had been made to any Cabinet Minister. Here the alleged speech of the hon. member for Hull was at variance with the declaration of the noble Lord. In whatever way the case before the House was viewed, it could not rest where it was at present, and if his hon. and learned friend who had introduced it, did not prosecute the subject, he gave notice that he would bring it forward as a case of breach of privilege, and would move that the editor of the paper in which the statement first appeared should be called to the bar.
§ Mr. Sheil
said, the noble Lord had, in answer to questions put by his hon. and learned friend, and put at his (Mr. Sheil's) instance, stated two circumstances. The noble Lord stated, that no communication had been made in support of the Bill to the Cabinet, or to any Minister of the Cabinet, by any Irish Member who had spoken and voted against it. The noble Lord had also said, that not only had no communication been made to the Cabinet by any Irish Member who had voted and spoken strongly against the Bill, but that no such communication, with a recommendation that the Bill should be passed, had been transmitted by any such Irish Member. He repeated those statements of the noble Lord, that he might be set right if he had misunderstood him, and for the purpose of showing that, whatever might be the nature of the charge against one or more Irish Members on this subject, it had now taken a shape quite different from its original form. The original charge was, that an Irish Member, who had spoken violently and voted against the Bill, had gone to Ministers and recommended that it should be persevered 126 in without alteration. This charge had now been distinctly negatived by the noble Lord. So far, therefore, the charge as originally made was not true. He perceived by what was intimated by a gentleman on the opposite side, that he dissented from this view of the case; but he entreated that hon. Gentleman, who he believed was utterly incapable of striking a stiletto stab at the character of another, to reserve his surmises until the conclusion of the whole affair. The noble Lord, as he understood, had said, that no communication in favour of the Coercion Bill had been made or transmitted to any Cabinet Minister by any-Irish Member who had voted and spoken strongly against the Bill, which was ground for a presumption, that no communication whatsoever of the kind alluded to had ever been made.
§ Lord Althorp
had not meant to authorize any such inference. What he had said was, that no statement had been made, or message transmitted, in favour of the Bill to any Member of the Cabinet by any Irish Member who had voted and spoken against it.
§ Mr. Sheil
Or communicated in any way whatever. He did beg that the noble Lord would give a decisive answer. He had understood the noble Lord to add, that some Irish Members [An Hon. Member said: More than one.]—that more than one Irish Member, who had voted and spoken warmly against the Bill, had held language out of doors on that subject very different from their expressed opinions in the House. The noble Lord had stated, that he believed that statement; but he refused to give the name of the individual who made it, adding, "that he took on himself all the responsibility." "Now, the noble Lord having said this so unequivocally, (said Mr. Sheil), I would beg to ask the noble Lord, who has thus publicly expressed his belief of the allegation conveyed to him—I would ask him, whether I am one of the Members to whom he alludes?
§ Mr. Sheil
, who had resumed his seat on putting the question to the noble Lord, remained in it for some moments; at length he rose and said: "Having heard the statement which the noble Lord has just made to the House, I beg on the other hand to declare in the face of my country, and if I may say so without irreverence, in the 127 presence of my God, that if any individual has said to the noble Lord, or to others, that I gave any approbation of the Coercion Bill in private, he has belied me by a gross and scandalous calumny; but as the noble Lord has made the statement on his own responsibility, I shall say no more." [After another short interval]
said, that after what had just passed he felt it his duty to the hon. and learned member for Hull (Mr. Hill) and to himself, to take the earliest opportunity of publicly retracting the language he had used towards that hon. Member. In the belief that for the whole of the allegations made by that hon. Member, and for which he had refused to give up his authority, there was no foundation, and conceiving it meant to throw imputations on all those Irish Members who had opposed the Coercion Bill, he had used very strong language in speaking of him. He now publicly tendered to him his retractation of all he had said; and he offered to give it in the House or out of it, for he now fully admitted that the hon. and learned Member was justified in what he had asserted. He was sorry that he had used any such language, and he begged the hon. and learned Member's pardon. As to the other part of the charge, which involved some other Irish Members, he would say nothing. He would leave the matter to those Members themselves who felt themselves aggrieved by it. Having said thus much, he would only state further, with respect to the Amendment which he had moved, that it was not his intention to take the sense of the House upon it, or on the Address generally. He would content himself with his simple negative.
said, that it so happened that he had unguardedly made use of words at a public meeting at Hull, which, being without premeditation, did not make any great impression on him till his attention was drawn to them by the sensation they created. Upon this he looked into the published reports of his speech given in the newspapers. He found three reports published which differed materially from each other; and though he could not trust entirely to his memory as to the exact expressions used, he thought he could confidently say, that his words were not those stated. As far as he remembered, the words were these:—That he had been informed that a Member of Parliament (he 128 did not even say an Irish Member) who had spoken violently against the Coercion Bill, and voted against it, had had communications with Government upon the subject, and stated to the Government that the Bill was necessary, and ought to pass. He had not considered it necessary before this time, to make even this explanation; and he thought that the different reports of the expressions given in the papers would have been sufficient to create a doubt of their authenticity, and rendered explanation unnecessary. But as soon as he found that they had created a sensation in Ireland, and among the Irish Members, he inserted a short letter in the newspapers, offering to all the Irish Members who chose to ask the question, to say whether the person asking were, or were not, the man. Many Irish Members availed themselves of that offer; and he now confidently appealed to them if he had not, in each instance, given a prompt answer. He was compelled by his feelings as a man and as a gentleman to do this much, and he could not do more. He had since seen statements in the newspapers, and had received letters calling on him to give up his authority. Of course he could not have done so. He would have crept out of existence before he would have placed another in his situation, or shifted the responsibility of his words to another from himself. He felt disposed to agree with those on the other side, who asked for examination into the subject. He trusted that no slight irregularity in form would be allowed to form a bar to inquiry, for it was important that it should be examined into, seeing that the Parliamentary conduct of Members was impugned; and it was evident, from the tone with which the House received the subject, that it was considered by them no light matter. If any Gentleman on the other side would move for a Committee to examine into the matter, he (Mr. Hill) would second the Motion; and he pledged himself to prove before that Committee every word which he had said. He could not do more, neither could he do less. He accepted the concession made to him by the hon. and learned member for Dublin. He could not, however, help saying, that the subject came heavily upon him from those charges having been made at a time of great domestic affliction and calamity. The hon. and learned Member offered further concession out of the House; but 129 that he declined, feeling satisfied with what was already said. He had only further to add, that he begged the pardon of the House that any action of his should have cost them so much trouble.
§ The Speaker
said, that it was impossible he could allow the discussion to terminate in its present state; and much as he regretted that an hon. Member had considered it his duty to bring the subject under the consideration of the House, and regretting, also, the manner in which the noble Lord had thought it necessary to answer the question, joining, also, with the hon. and learned member for Hull in his regret, that so much public feeling and private pain had ensued from the expressions made use of (as that hon. and learned Member said) unguardedly, but which expressions conveyed charges against Members of the House, which were serious in themselves, but ambiguous. He said, this, however, without imputing any improper motives to the hon. and learned Member; he thought it, however, his duty to suggest, as the case had been brought under the consideration of the House,—as an appeal had been made, and the subject was thereby brought within their jurisdiction, and the House could interfere,—it should not be permitted for the parties concerned to carry it to any other tribunal, but that the matter should be settled entirely within the walls of the House. He was sure, that there was no old Member in the House but would acknowledge, that if the speeches of Members during a debate were picked up and made the subject of proceedings out of the House, there would be an end to all freedom of debate, of the dignity of the proceedings of the House, and of their usefulness in the public service. He hoped, therefore, that whether the question were now set at rest or not, it would not be touched by either party, except within the walls of the House.
was happy to have the high authority of the Speaker for what was passing in his own mind. He could not but think it would be unbecoming that this subject should pass without a public investigation; and he, therefore, hoped, that he should be allowed to bring forward, to-morrow, as the first business of the day, a Motion for the appointment of a Committee of Investigation; and he accordingly now gave notice of that intention. He was sure that no one could be 130 more delighted than his friend (the hon. member for Tipperary), that an investigation should take place; for he had no doubt, his hon. friend would come out of it triumphantly. He could assure the hon. and learned member for Hull, that had he known of the domestic affliction to which he had alluded, he (Mr. O'Connell) would have smothered his feelings for a time, however he might have been goaded by them. He thanked the hon. and learned Member for having accepted of his apology. He was not a person whom the hon. and learned Member could have called upon to give him satisfaction in any other way; and he had, therefore, thought it his duty to be the more emphatic in his concessions.
§ The Speaker
hoped, that the House would coincide with him in the course which he was about to pursue. He felt so strongly the responsibility of the situation in which he was placed, that he was most anxious that the House would agree with him in asking from the hon. Member an acquiescence in the decision of the House.
§ Mr. Sheil
said, that the noble Lord, at the outset of his declaration, had referred to a private conversation, and stated, without being called upon, and by anticipation, and before he was asked any question on that subject, that he took upon himself the responsibility—that he stood as the Representative of the person who alleged the truth of the statement ["No, no.!"]. The noble Lord had certainly said, that he would take upon himself the responsibility of the statement, that more than one Irish Member had expressed different opinions of the Irish Coercion Bill in and out of the House; in other words, that more than one Irish Member had opposed the Bill, who approved of it; and that this information was communicated to him by an individual for whom he felt respect; but he refused to give the name.
§ Viscount Palmerston
rose to explain his understanding of the word responsibility, as it was used by the noble Lord, and certainly as it was understood by himself. The hon. and learned Member had called upon the noble Lord to give the name of his informant. The noble Lord did what every honourable man would on such an occasion,—he refused to give the name; but he took upon himself the responsibility of the statement he had made. But 131 he did not take upon himself the responsibility of the correctness of the statement. He merely vouched for the fact, that the statement had been made, and he felt bound to take upon himself the responsibility of having said so.
§ Mr. Sheil
said, this was not a case for diplomacy. When the noble Lord mentioned that he would not name his informant, he added, that he would take upon himself the responsibility. Now he (Mr. Sheil) charged the noble Lord's informant with falsehood in alleging; that he had expressed himself favourable to the Coercion Bill, and the noble Lord took upon himself the responsibility.
§ Lord Althorp
rose to explain his meaning. He had stated he had had information, that Irish Members who voted against the Coercion Bill approved of it; that he would not give up his informant, and would take upon himself the responsibility of not doing so.
§ Sir Robert Inglis
said, that his impression of the meaning of the word responsibility, as used by the noble Lord, was just that which was all along affixed to it by the noble Lord. He could not have meant it in the conventional sense attributed to it by the hon. member for Tipperary. Could any man, either in or out of the House, understand the expressions of the noble Lord in any other sense than that in which he himself had stated he had used them? He called on the House to assert the authority of the Chair, and not allow the question to be pursued.
understood the noble Lord to have said, that some Members had spoken differently in private from what they had expressed as their opinions in public. Now, these words did not impute a very serious degree of impropriety in any man, if no further explanation were given of them, or if not in direct contradiction to his public acts.
§ Lord John Russell
coincided with the Speaker in thinking that the privileges of debate would be injured if this question, and such questions as it, were not kept within the jurisdiction of the House. He hoped that, the House would insist, that both the noble Lord and the hon. and learned Member should either tacitly or expressly agree—and that in a manner which could leave no doubt of their meaning—that they should not carry the question beyond the walls of the House.
§ The Speaker
was satisfied, that the hon. and learned member for Tipperary felt differently on this subject from any other Member in the House. He had allowed the subject to be proceeded with, from the conviction that the Orders of the House should be enforced, and that the question being once brought before the House, should not be allowed to be dealt with out of doors. And if he now saw reason to doubt, that the Orders of the House would be observed, unless an injunction were laid on the hon. Member, he should consider it his duty to impose an injunction on either, or both. He need hardly add, that if the hon. member for Tipperary would not yield to the decision of the House, he must be restrained by its authority from doing anything further in this question but with its permission.
Sir Francis Burdelt
fully coincided with the suggestion of the Speaker. The adoption of that suggestion was necessary to preserve the freedom of discussion; and he (Sir F. Burdett) should move, that the House acquiesce in the suggestion of the Speaker, and that the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) and the learned Member (Mr. Sheil) should be put under restraint.
§ The Speaker
said, that after the expressions which had fallen from the hon. and learned Gentleman, he trusted the House would permit him to express his belief, that no Member of that House would impute to him (the Speaker) the wish or intention voluntarily to impute a meaning to words made use of by any hon. Member. He trusted that the House would permit him to say, that he would be the last man in the House to assume to himself the privilege of dictating to it the course it should pursue; but after the general expression of the feeling of the House, he would at once venture to call upon the hon. and learned Gentleman to assure the House, that, his case having been brought before them, to their consideration and judgment it must be left.
§ Mr. Sheil
said, surely the House must see the peculiar predicament in which he was placed by these preliminary proceedings (for such he might term them). The 133 House would remember, that when the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the first instance volunteered a reference to private conversation, and stated his belief in the information which he had received, he (Mr. Sheil) immediately requested that noble Lord to give him the name of his informant. To that request the noble Lord had not acceded; thus leaving him no other resource than that which he had adopted. If that noble Lord had no intention of intimating from whence his information was derived, or if it was his determination to make no concession on his part, why did he invite him (Mr. Sheil) to pursue that course which he had of necessity adopted? The noble Lord was surely not called upon to refer to private conversation, or to state cither his belief or disbelief of the information which had reached him, but he had gone beyond this question. The question which had been put was simply, whether any Irish Member or Members went to a Cabinet Minister for the purpose of making a communication to the Ministry, and whether they made any communication for the purpose of inducing Members to take a particular course? Now, the noble Lord, not content with answering this question most unequivocally, went beyond that, and stated that notwithstanding no individual Member made any such communication to the Cabinet, yet that he believed that more than one Member had expressed certain opinions in private conversation. He submitted, therefore, that it was the noble Lord, and not himself, who had offended, if offence there had been, against the rules of the House. Let him entreat the House to give him a patient hearing. A deep wrong had been done him. The noble Lord had gratuitously declared his belief in a statement vitally affecting his character, and yet the noble Lord refused to give the name of his informant. He had a right to ask who was the person that made the communication? What manner of man could he be? He made a statement to the noble Lord, or to some other person who brought it to the noble Lord, foully and infamously false; and, having done so, he allowed matters to proceed to their present point, without declaring himself. The name of such a man ought to be exposed. For aught he knew to the contrary that anonymous informant might have picked from some phrase out of his private conversations, and, grossly and infamously 134 falsifying what he had said, had imposed upon the noble Lord. The House, under these circumstances, was not justified in calling upon him for any promise. He had said nothing offensive to the House or offensive to the noble Lord. The very moment that the noble Lord had assumed to himself the responsibility, and refused to give up the name of the author of the calumny, he felt that he had but one course. He might have told the noble Lord, had he been desirous of being offensive, that the noble Lord had made himself a participator in the falsehood; that, by screening the slanderer, the noble Lord himself must be content to bear the character. That, however, he had not done; and he repeated, that he was the party who had real and substantial ground for complaint.
Mr. John Stanley
put it to the hon. and learned Member to consider whether it was at all likely to clear his honour from the charge by fastening the responsibility on the noble Lord. Surely it would be much better to have the matter thoroughly investigated than to press the responsibility upon the noble Lord, to whom the question had been put as a Minister.
§ The Speaker
said, that if the hon. and learned Gentleman thought he meant to place him in a worse situation than he would any other hon. Member under similar circumstances, he did him an injustice. The reason why he was averse, if it could be avoided, to the House coming to any fixed Resolution on the subject was, that those hon. Members who did not take part in the proceedings that evening, as well as those who did, might think that every personal quarrel that occurred between hon. Members ought to be brought before the House for its decision. He (the Speaker) was sure the hon. and learned member for Tipperary would not better his position by refusing to comply with the wish expressed, that he would pledge himself not to take any proceedings in the matter out of the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman, he was certain, would, on cool calculation, see the reasonableness of the view which he took of the question. If the hon. Member did not make the suggested pledge voluntarily, the House must do its duty, however reluctantly.
§ Sir Robert Peel
thought it extremely desirable that the hon. and learned Mem- 135 ber should be fully convinced that the House had no intention whatever of imposing upon him a line of conduct that could by possibility be deemed derogatory to his personal honour. The question appeared to him to stand thus: There was a charge against the public character of the hon. Member, but there was none other. The House, therefore, required from the hon. and learned Member a declaration that he would not resort to means well understood and foreign to the rules of that House to relieve himself from the charge. The House asked from the hon. and learned Member no concession whatsoever. It had never occurred to him that the noble Lord, when he used the word "responsibility," meant to place himself in personal opposition to the hon. and learned Gentleman. All that he understood was this, and he believed it was the general feeling of the House, that the noble Lord, being asked as a Minister whether or not a certain statement had been made, said it had, and that he believed in the person who made the statement, but that he could not disclose his name, and, therefore, he took upon himself the responsibility of declaring that there had been such a statement.
§ Sir Robert Peel
Why, the noble Lord could not. It was impossible he should mean to attach to himself a personal responsibility.
§ Sir Robert Peel
The hon. and learned Member fixes a technical meaning upon the word. He declared solemnly upon his honour, as a man and a gentleman, that he could see nothing in the slightest degree derogatory in the course proposed to the hon. and learned Member. No concession was asked. On the contrary, the hon. and learned Member was left at perfect liberty to take whatever steps he thought necessary for the vindication of his public character, in the assembly in which it had been attacked; and that assembly had a perfect right, and was bound to require at his hands, an assurance that that which was properly within its jurisdiction should not be transferred to another.
§ Mr. Sheil
repeated, that he could give no such assurance as that required. He did not feel that the House had any right to make the demand. With respect to the meaning he attached to the word 136 "responsibility," as used by the noble Lord, he could not see that it was in the least other than it ought to be.
Mr. Secretary Stanley
was convinced that the whole of the present conversation arose out of a misunderstanding on the part of the hon. and learned Member, of the sense in which his noble friend had used the word responsibility. It was, he believed, evident to almost every Member in that House that nothing personally offensive had been intended. The question put to his noble friend was this—"Did you or did you not hear such a report?" He replied that he had heard it from parties worthy of credit—that he believed them; that the matter, however, must rest with him, for that he should not go further, and make public the source whence he had derived his information. Now, if saying that was to be esteemed an act of personal provocation, he confessed himself unable to comprehend how public affairs could be carried on. With all possible respect for the feelings of the hon. and learned Gentleman, he must be allowed to say, that after it was so evident that his noble friend was perfectly unconscious of offensive tendency in the language be had used, and when all the Members of that House who spoke upon the subject were also of opinion that it was free of offence, the hon. Member scarcely could be warranted in not coming forward and frankly declaring that he had no intention of following up the matter further.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that what he meant when he used the word "responsibility," was this:—A statement had been made to him, in which he believed. He felt when the question was put to him that a declaration to that effect was likely, indeed must give offence, and, therefore, he determined himself to vouch that such a statement had been made, to declare his belief in it, and not to disclose the name of the person who had made it, but to take upon himself the responsibility. If offence, therefore, had been given he was answerable.
said, it was quite clear that it was the noble Lord who ought first to be called upon to give an assurance to the House that he would be a party to no proceedings out of it.
§ Colonel Leith Hay
thought, that a more injudicious course to himself, than that which the hon. and learned Gentleman 137 was pursuing, could not be adopted. He would do well to consider the suggestion which had proceeded from the Chair. If he sought to vindicate his character, the course proposed by the hon. and learned member for Dublin was the best calculated to carry conviction to the mind. But on the other hand, to endeavour to fix responsibility on his noble friend, who only spoke when called upon in his official capacity as Minister, appeared to him to be conduct unworthy of any Member of that House. For his own part, as an individual Member of the House, he did not hesitate to avow, that similar communications had been made to him respecting the conduct of certain Irish Members, but he also would refuse to give up the names of his informants, and was ready to take upon himself any responsibility that might attach to this statement.
§ Sir Francis Burdett
said, that if it should be found impossible to induce the Gentlemen between whom the dispute had occurred, to take the course desired by the House, he trusted the House would exercise its authority. No good could result from any other course of proceeding. He put it to the hon. and learned Member to consider that no concession was asked from him. By the Motion he had proposed to make, the hon. and learned Member and the noble Lord would be put precisely on the same footing; and, unless they would voluntarily and gracefully comply with the arrangement, the House must exert its authority. He begged, therefore, formally to move—
§ The Speaker
said that, before the hon. Baronet made his Motion, perhaps he might be allowed once more to urge that arrangement which appeared to him in every way so desirable. If the hon. and learned Gentleman considered the matter, the hon. and learned Gentleman would see that he had no choice, but was compelled first to call upon the hon. and learned Member for the assurance he had requested. If he had made the like request from the noble Lord, the reply might have been that the noble Lord had received no offence; that nothing had occurred which would justify the supposition that he intended to take any steps out of that House with reference to the conduct of the hon. and learned Gentleman. The case, however, as it bore upon the hon. and learned Member was very different. It was the language of the 138 hon. and learned Member that had excited his suspicions, and induced him to suggest to the House to call for the assurance which the House evidently thought necessary. Having said thus much, he must also suggest to the hon. and learned Member that the instances were rare indeed in which, under circumstances of a similar character, the expressed wish of the House had not been fully complied with, without there being any necessity for a Resolution being adopted.
§ Mr. Hardy
agreed with the hon. Baronet (Sir Francis Burdett) in thinking, that if the House found it necessary to take any step, the proceeding should bear equally on the noble Lord and the hon. and learned Member. But he thought that the situation in which the hon. and learned Member was placed was one of great cruelty. A communication had been made to the noble Lord affecting the hon. and learned Gentleman's character; and when the noble Lord was asked for the author, his reply was, no, he would give no name, but would take the responsibility on himself. This communication somehow or other found its way to the hon. member for Hull, and was by him made public; and, therefore, he concluded that the hon. and learned Member had a full right to a complete investigation. With respect to the alleged machinery said to be used by the Government to gain votes, he must say he could not credit it. It appeared to him impossible. But he repeated that the position of the hon. and learned Member was a cruel one. On the one hand, the noble Lord vouched for an assertion affecting deeply the character of the hon. and learned Member; on the other hand, the hon. and learned Member solemnly declared that the assertion was false and foul. When the noble Lord was asked for his authority, the reply was, no, he took the responsibility on himself; and yet the House required the hon. and learned Member not to take any steps without its jurisdiction. That was a course the House ought not to take without resolving on inquiry.
complained that little encouragement was given to Irishmen to speak whilst people made noises, which were perfectly discreditable on the present occasion; for whilst they were talking of responsibility, there was no responsibility to be incurred which could equal the want of courtesy evinced by certain anonymous 139 laughers. He was sorry to find that on some occasions the private feelings of parties were disregarded. For his own part, he did not wish to make what was already unpleasant a great deal more so. He thought that the noble Lord had come forward in a most candid manner, and he was the last man to call upon that noble Lord to pledge himself to any responsibility in virtue of his official situation. He felt that the noble Lord had not meant, in using the term responsibility, to convey anything thing more than the meaning generally attached to it; though, perhaps, his hon. and learned friend's feelings had led him to interpret the word in the way in which it was made to apply on particular occasions. But he never could allow such a statement as had been made, to go forward in a manner to give it credence with a certain set of persons. He asked not, however, for any personal collisions; but he did ask for an opportunity to be afforded to the hon. and learned Gentleman to set himself right in reference to the imputation which had been cast upon him, an imputation, too, which was as unjustly attributed to that hon. and learned Gentleman as it would be if applied to himself. It was under these feelings that he would observe that the Irish Members would forget what was due to his hon. and learned friend, and to themselves, if they did not demand that an inquiry (with the acquiescence of the noble Lord) should be made. He wished to have this object attained, as, in that case, he believed the report which had been circulated would turn out to be a calumny.
§ Sir Henry Hardinge
said, he was persuaded that every Member of the House must feel that the noble Lord was restrained by a high sense of honour from disclosing the name of his informant; but, on the other hand, the hon. and learned Member had solemnly asserted that the statement vouched for by the noble Lord was false and foul. Under these circumstances, it was a difficult matter to say how the House could interfere without imposing a restraint on the honour of one party or the other. But the proposition of the hon. Baronet appeared to him to be perfectly just, with this condition, that there should be a full inquiry. Let the hon. and learned Member have that assurance from the House. He, therefore, would second the Motion of the hon. Baronet, with that addition.
§ Mr. Cobbett
said, the sort of proceeding which had been often alluded to, he for his part held in very great contempt. He thought the hon. and learned Member had been very hardly dealt with. The case was simply this:—A man goes into a company and he says, "I am informed that one of you stole a horse, but will not tell you my authority. I take the responsibility on myself." Well, one of the company says, "Am I the man you charge with stealing the horse?" The accuser replies, "Yes, you are." To which the retort is, "You lie." Well, then, the person who brought the charge must bear all the responsibility.
§ Mr. Abercromby
expressed his regret at the circumstance which had given rise to this discussion, but he hoped that the House of Commons would not shrink from the prosecution of its duty. He hoped they would not separate until they should have taken such effectual means as should prevent any such consequences as those which were likely to arise if the matter were allowed to remain as it then stood. The hon. and gallant Officer seemed to think, that a necessary condition in the present case must be, that an inquiry should be proposed, and a Committee appointed. Now he would object to the House being clogged with any such proceedings; for even if such Committee were appointed, he should still say it was not necessary to fix this as a condition upon which the House should rest. He objected to a Committee, as it would decidedly be a novel mode of proceeding, and before he should be prepared to grant inquiry, he must have time for reflection, but at the present time he was not prepared to come to a conclusion. With regard to the hon. and learned Gentleman, he was sure that no person who had taken a part in this discussion, was disposed to do anything which should be inconsistent with his honour. It was perfectly clear that, whether the Members concerned voluntarily gave their assurances that the matter should not go further, the necessary restraint must be imposed upon them. He would submit to the House, whether the House should not adopt the suggestion of the hon. Baronet, the member for Westminster, for the purpose of settling the matter in question.
thought it was the duty of the noble Lord, before the hon. and learned Member was called upon to give 141 any pledge, to promise that a full inquiry into the subject in dispute should take place, and that the noble Lord would, if required, go into a full explanation of his conduct. Without such a pledge, he did not think it would be fair to exact submission to the opinion of the House on the part of the hon. and learned Member, but with it, in the event of a refusal on the part of the learned Member to bow to their decision, they would, in his opinion, be justified in proceeding to the utmost extremity.
§ Mr. O'Dwyer
thought, if the authority of the House was to be appealed to, in restraining his hon. and learned friend from adopting such measures as in his judgment might appear most fitting for the vindication of his character, while at the same time the noble Lord was to be left free and unshackled, they were bound in justice to impress on the noble Lord the propriety of retracting one expression which he had made use of. He (Mr. O'Dwyer) understood the noble Lord to say, that he fully believed the statement of his informant ["No, no."] [Mr. Sheil: He did, he did.] It was certainly his (Mr. O'Dwyer's) impression, as well as that of many hon. Members who sat near him, that the noble Lord had so stated; and, unless the noble Lord distinctly denied it, he was bound to take it for granted that such was the fact. The case then stood thus:—The noble Lord had published an imputation against the character of his hon. and learned friend which, if it were true, would render him not only unworthy of a seat in that House, but in every sense an unfit associate for any man possessing the feelings or character of a gentleman. This imputation, the noble Lord stated, did not originate with himself, but reached him through a third person. Was it, under these circumstances, too much to ask of the noble Lord whether or not he believed that the charge he made had foundation? The noble Lord took upon himself to publish that charge to the world, but he had done so without expressing one particle of disbelief in the statement of his skulking informer. No, the noble Lord had not expressed his belief that his informant might have exaggerated the alleged conversation, or that in a spirit of exaggeration he might have ingeniously tortured an expression which his hon. and learned friend dropped inadvertently. The noble Lord had adopted 142 the entire calumny, and with great respect he (Mr. O'Dwyer) urged it upon the House that, unless they called for a retractation of the noble Lord's expressions, they would be acting with great injustice in demanding of his hon. and learned friend to make the required submission. He would not detain the House further than to say, that the statement of the hon. and learned member for Hull, contrasted with that made by the noble Lord, ought now to be regarded as false. It now appeared that there was no transaction whatever such as that hon. and learned Member had related to his constituents at Hull. A more outrageous, unjustifiable, and unprincipled attack never was made on the character and honour of any set of men than that which the hon. Member had promulgated, to whom he begged to observe that he owed it to his own character, as much as he owed it to the injured feelings of the parties whom he had been instrumental in slandering, to place his informant in such a position that he might receive the punishment his falsehood and malice so loudly called for.
§ Sir Francis Burdett
said, that it now only remained for the Speaker to call on the hon. Members in turn to give their assurance to the House, that nothing which had there taken place that evening should be personal beyond its walls, and that the subject in dispute, having been placed under the consideration of the House, should be allowed to abide its decision.
wished, before the Speaker rose, to say one word in reply to the observations just made by the hon. and learned member for Drogheda. Every syllable of what he had stated to his constituents at Hull, he had heard—he believed at the time—he still believed. He was willing, as he had already offered, to give his best exertions for having the matter placed in a train for inquiry; and if, on the termination of that inquiry, it should turn out that he had been misinformed, he pledged himself, without adopting the precise expressions used by the hon. and learned member for Drogheda, to adopt their meaning to the fullest possible extent, and, as far as was in his power, to visit his informant with the punishment his deception would then so imperatively call for.
§ The Speaker
was sure the House felt with him, that the longer the present discussion was persevered in, they were only 143 likely to get the further from the real merits of the case, and the deeper in painful misunderstanding and misrepresentation. He presumed he was now fully authorized by the House to call on the two hon. Members to give an assurance to the House, that the matter under dispute should not be prosecuted out of its walls, but should abide the inquiry, which he believed he was correct in saying it was intended it should undergo. Before doing so, however, he desired by way of preface to observe, that nothing could be more mistaken than to suppose an intention on the part of the House to impose upon the hon. and learned member for Tipperary restrictions and terms different from those by which it was proposed the noble Lord should be bound. The same assurance, in the same terms, would be required from both parties; nor would the one be more restricted or bound down than the other. He wished further to observe, that if an hon. Member, having been called upon from the Chair, in pursuance of a Resolution of the House, to give a required assurance, should refuse to answer that call, the House had the power, and further, he would say, it would be its imperative duty, to carry such their Resolution into execution, by ordering the individual so offending into the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms. There was no alternative so long as the House performed its duty; and he, therefore, hoped the hon. Members whom he was about to call upon would at once see the justice of the course pursued towards them, and willingly com-ply with their demand, instead of requiring the House to assert its authority by compelling compliance. He would first call upon the hon. and learned member to give the required assurances, but he trusted the observations he had just made would clear away from his mind the impression (supposing it to exist) that because he called on him first he had the remotest intention to impose on him restrictions differing from those which he would subsequently have to require from the noble Lord. Having said so much, it only remained for him, in the discharge of his duty as Speaker, formally to call upon the hon. and learned member for Tipperary "to assure this House, that the matter now before this House shall not be prosecuted by him out of its walls, but shall be left to abide such discussion as, upon inquiry into it, the House may think proper 144 to come to." The right hon. Gentleman, on resuming his seat, immediately called upon Mr. Sheil by name.
§ Sir Francis Burdett
rose, and moved, "That Richard Lalor Sheil, having declined to obey the Call of the House communicated to him through the Chair, be taken into the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms." The hon. Baronet observed, that nothing would mortify him more than the reflection of having urged a proposal likely to tarnish in the smallest degree the character or honour of a fellow-man; but, as he was confident such a charge could not in the present instance be made against him, he felt it his duty to persevere in the course in which he had set out.
§ The Speaker
begged to remind hon. Members, that they had come to a mere point of order, and the regulations of the House upon it were so precise as to admit of no further discussion. The House had instructed him as the Speaker to call upon the hon. and learned Member for an assurance; the hon. and learned Member had not, for certain reasons, answered that call: and it now only remained to assert the authority of the House, in pursuance of its strictly and well-defined regulations. He would, however, venture to suggest to the hon. Baronet, that in order to give the hon. and learned Member time to consider his position, he should postpone his Motion until the other business of the day was concluded.
§ Sir Francis Burdett
, would, of course, bow to the suggestion of the Chair.
The Speaker formally called upon Lord Althorp to give the like assurance demanded from Mr. Sheil.
§ Lord Althorp
immediately rose, and said, that as he had received no offence, he could have no hesitation in declaring an intention of not following up the matter under consideration, by any proceedings out of Parliament. He had received no provocation whatever; consequently could entertain no hostile intention towards the hon. and learned Member, or any Member of that House.
On the noble Lord resuming his seat, Mr. O'Connell made some observation to the hon. Member sitting next him, which was not heard in the body of the House.
§ Lord Althorp
immediately rose, amid 145 loud cheers, and with considerable warmth, demanded to know, what the hon. and learned Member meant by his gesticulations.
—Simply that I entertain a deep sense of the injustice done to my hon. and learned friend; that I am penetrated with the sentiment, that he is not getting fair play. I have ever entertained a strong abhorrence—every one who hears me will admit that I have reason to do so—to the practice of duelling; but there never was a stronger instance of the injustice and absurdity of what were called the laws of honour than the present. True, the noble Lord has received no offence, but he has given one. The noble Lord has pledged himself, as easily he might, that he will not send my hon. and learned friend a hostile message; but has he pledged himself that he will not respond to a challenge? The answer given by the noble Lord was in point of fact a mere delusion, and yet the House was content with it. Until the noble Lord pledged himself not to respond to any proceedings out of the walls of Parliament, I must say, that the noble Lord, equally with my hon. and learned friend, has declined complying with the Call of the House.
§ Lord Althorp
had to observe, that he had given the only answer he could to the demand which had been made on him. He had pledged himself not to take any proceeding with reference to the matter before the House without its walls.
§ The Speaker
said, he certainly understood the noble Lord to pledge himself, that he would not out of the walls of that House, himself either originate proceedings upon the matter in dispute, or respond to any proceedings emanating from the hon. and learned member for Tipperary. To that extent he conceived himself to have been charged by the House—to that extent he meant to call upon the hon. and learned member for Tipperary—to that extent he meant also to call upon the noble Lord—to that extent he understood the noble Lord's answer to go; and, unless he contradicted him, he would still presume, that it was to that extent the noble Lord had pledged himself to the House. He now called upon the noble Lord to say, whether he had been right or wrong in his supposition?
§ Lord Althorp
, after a pause, said, that a consideration for what was due to himself 146 must prevent him from giving a pledge not to respond to any call that might be made upon him.
§ Sir Robert Peel
thought, there was another party deserving of some small consideration in the present matter, and that was the House. He felt the hon. Baronet would now only discharge his duty by amending his Motion, and at once moving, that both the noble Lord and the hon. and learned Member be committed to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms.
§ Sir Francis Burdett
felt that the course suggested by the right hon. Baronet, was the only one now left to him; and would therefore move, "That Lord Viscount Althorp, and Richard Lalor Sheil, having declined to comply with the Call of the House communicated through their Speaker, be committed to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms."
§ The Motion carried, nemine contradicente.
§ [After the lapse of a few minutes, Lord Althorp first, and then Mr. Sheil, rose to leave the House, and were immediately taken into custody.]
§ The Question was put on Mr. Finn's Amendment to the Address, and negatived without a division.