HC Deb 23 March 1835 vol 27 cc97-102
Mr. Roebuck

said, he rose to call attention to a Breach of Privilege greatly affecting this House, and committed by the right hon. Baronet, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Speaker of the House had asked, and obtained, at the opening of the Session, perfect freedom of debate within its walls; but it made little difference whether that freedom was effected by the Crown, or by the Ministers of the Crown; for the right hon. Baronet (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had called upon the hon. and learned Member for Middlesex(Mr. Hume) to account out of the House, for words spoken in it. Hon. Members were sent into that House to express all their opinions as public men, and in so doing, they were acting in the performance of a public duty. Should he offer to form an opinion of any man, particularly Ministers of the Crown, as to whether they were pursuing a course fitting Members of that House, it was not only his privilege, but his duty, to express that opinion; and it was most important that not any one should be permitted by means of threats or intimidation of any kind whatsoever to induce hon. Members to depart from that expression. He would say, if called upon to express an opinion as to the course of the right hon. Baronet (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), in reference to his late proceedings, as a Minister of the Crown, compared with his proceedings as one of the Opposition of the late Parliament, he should have felt it his duty to express himself as the right hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. Hume) had done, and he claimed the right to tell the House, and the right hon. Baronet, that he held such an opinion; and as that was his opinion, was it come to that pass, that threats of swords and pistols were to be used, and was there to be calling out to mortal duel; and that, too, by so high an authority as a Minister of the Crown, who had also done a similar thing in the case of a judge of high station in the Ecclesiastical Court? He thought, that it had appeared they had come to that stage of civilization, when men were not supposed to decide the truth by shooting each other. It might be said, that the right hon. Baronet (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had no such warlike intention; it might be so, but according to the usages and forms of society appearances were extremely warlike. If in writing to another complaining of an imputation, the person written to does not retract the offensive expression, the writer as a man of honour is bound to call the other out: whether or not the right hon. Baronet intended to do so in this instance, he could not say. Considering the state of civilization of the country, considering public morality, and as a representative of the people caring for the public morality of the Ministers of the Crown, he called upon the Speaker, as the defender of the privileges of that House, to defend and protect him—to shield him against the attack of the right hon. Baronet, should he speak the truth. He chose to express his opinion, but did not choose to be shot. If it happened, that he did use words not Parliamentary, the proper mode to canvas the matter, was within that House, by word of mouth, and not by pistols; as was done by a right hon. Member holding a high station in the State, and who was the great champion of the Church. [The hon. Member having concluded without making any Motion, there were loud cries of "What do you move?" and laughter."] He would move, "That it was a breach of privilege for the right hon. Baronet (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) to call out the hon. Member for Middlesex" [laughter.] Well, perhaps, that would not do. He would read the letter written by the right hon. Baronet (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) to the House; it was, indeed, couched in courteous language, but the intention of the writer was obvious. The letter was as follows:— House of Commons, March 20, Friday Evening. SIR—In the course of the debate, this evening, I understood you to make use of expressions of which the purport was, that I was pursuing a course with respect to the measure then under discussion, that was inconsistent with the conduct of a man of honour. Thinking it probable, that such expressions fell from you inconsiderately, and in the warmth of debate, I gave you the opportunity of recalling them, by an appeal to you in the House. I could not with propriety pursue the subject further at the time, but I am confident, that you will feel, that the expressions of which I complain are not consistent with the usages of Parliament, and not warranted by the freedom of debate; and that you will therefore not hesitate to disavow them as applied to me. I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient servant, ROBERT PEEL. Joseph Hume, Esq., M.P. He moved, that the letter be read by the Clerk of the House, and that it was a breach of privilege.

The Motion having been seconded,

Mr. Spring Rice

did not think that was a proper time for a motion of that description, nor did he think it was one of those questions on which the House would be disposed to interpose its authority. He was one of the last persons who would wish to have the present discussion introduced. He did entirely dissent from the principle laid down by the hon. Member for Bath. He did not speak particularly with reference to the present motion; but as a Member of Parliament, he could not admit the principle advanced by the hon. Member. If, in personal discussions in that House, hon. Members made use of expressions contrary to their honour and feelings, the principle, as laid down by the hon. Member for Bath, would preclude Members altogether from explanation. They were not an assemblage of gladiators—they were not an assembly of cut-throats, but an assembly of Gentlemen. He did not wish that they should be under no control in the sentiments they expressed. When, a few days ago, an hon. Gentleman and he had some altercation during a debate, he was not one, and considering the matter in the abstract, who would have thought rightly of himself for taking shelter under the privileges of the House for the expression of such opinions. He could not say what gave rise to the correspondence then before the House, but he would, entreat the House not to be induced to enter into discussions of that description. He meant nothing disrespectful to the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Roebuck), but he would entreat the House not to go into or entertain the question upon the principles laid down by the hon. Mover. He thought if the question were discussed, it would be found there was no breach of privilege committed; but if committed, he would entreat the House not to precipitate itself into a discussion of that description, as it would be not otherwise than productive of great inconvenience.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, it was not for him to say one word as to the course which the House might think fit to pursue on the subject. If he consulted his own personal feelings in the matter, he should regret that the hon. and learned Member had felt it to be his duty (for he was sure that it originated in a feeling of duty) to revive a matter with respect to which, as the hon. Member for Middlesex knew, all unpleasant feelings on both sides had been entirely obliterated. He felt perfectly satisfied that that hon. Member (Mr. Hume) had made use of expressions, at which any Gentleman would take offence, which they were not intended by him to give, and therefore he was sure, not intending them in that sense, the hon. Member for Middlesex was glad of an opportunity to remove any unpleasant impressions which had been produced on his mind. In the course of the very same night, the hon. and learned Member for the county of Cork referred to certain expressions stated to have been used by him (Sir R. Peel) on a former occasion, and he did not hesitate to assure the hon. and learned Member, that his impressions were altogether erroneous, and that he had never used expressions calculated in the slightest degree to wound his feelings. He would not go further into the question. But he should be very sorry, after having been a Member of that House for twenty years, having been engaged in angry party discussions, and speaking as warmly as any man, if it were thought that this matter deserved further notice. He was in the habit of avoiding personalities himself, and was as little disposed as any man to take offence at comments which might be made on his conduct as a Member of that House, or as a Minister of the Crown. But those who heard the debate were aware that the language which had been used, was applied not as discreditable to Government, but personally to himself, as pursuing a course which was inconsistent with the conduct of a man of honour. Such language being used, if unintentionally, he thought the hon. Member would be glad of an opportunity of retracting or explaining it; and as that could not be afforded in consequence of the interruption that took place in the debate, he had done so as soon afterwards as possible. The hon. Member, as a man of honour had availed himself of that opportunity to explain, and the explanation was perfectly satisfactory. Politically hostile they might continue to be, as he had no doubt they would, but not by any means on unfriendly terms. If the House thought it necessary to take any further steps in this matter, and treat it as a breach of privilege, he would at once retire; but it would be most satisfactory to his own feelings if the discussion were allowed altogether to drop.

Lord John Russell

said, certain expressions had been used by the hon. Member for Middlesex, towards the right hon. Baronet, (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), and that right hon. Baronet had desired to give the hon. Member an opportunity to explain, and there could not be a more proper course. He was not in the House at the time the expressions were used, and therefore, he could not say what took place; but he was sorry when any expressions of a personal nature were used, as they did not tend to raise the character of the House. When expressions were used that demanded the interference of the House, he always wished the House to use its power, as it had done during the last Session, in the case of Lord Althorp and another hon. Member (Mr. Sheil). He thought that no hon. Member in the House was more cautious of giving personal offence than the right hon. Baronet (the Chancellor of the Exchequer). He hoped the House would go no further in this matter.

Mr. Thomas Attwood

hoped the House would allow him to say a few words. He thanked the right hon. Baronet (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) for the Jury Bill he had given the country, he also thanked him for another Bill which he had passed about ten years ago. In so doing, he acted properly, virtuously, and honestly; in that Bill he had made it capital felony, without benefit of clergy, for one Gentleman to pull a trigger upon another. He hoped the right hon. Baronet would not forget his own child. He had made it murder to kill another, or to inflict pain by a blunt instrument. The right hon. Baronet had acted with manliness, and the hon. Member for Bath might be well advised to withdraw his motion.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Attwood) has himself been guilty under the same act, for he certainly inflicted pain on me, with a blunt instrument.

Motion withdrawn.