HC Deb 21 April 1837 vol 38 cc170-97
Lord John Russell

rose to bring forward a motion relating to the privileges of that House. A report had been made to the House from the select Committee on the Poor-law Amendment Bill, stating that parts of the evidence, and parts of the documents produced before that Committee, had been published in The True Sun newspaper. Had the publication been one of an ordinary nature, he conceived there would have been no difficulty in proceeding according to the ordinary forms and privileges of the House, and, without entering into any details on the subject, to direct at once, as in the case of the proprietor of The Dublin Evening Mail, brought before the House on the 31st of May, 1832, that the party offending be taken into the custody of the Sergeant-at-arms. But, in consequence of the declaration of the hon. Member for Southwark, who was instrumental in procuring the publication of the proceedings of the Committee in The True Sun newspaper, he could only suppose that the hon. Gentleman, by taking part in the proceedings, and by avowing it, wished to bring under the consideration of the House the question of privilege—whether it were a privilege of the House or not, and whether, being a privilege of the House, it ought to be maintained. It was in consequence of the part that the hon. Member for Southwark had taken, that he felt it necessary, instead of proceeding in the ordinary course— seeing that a Member of the House wished to bring the matter under the consideration of the House—that they should come to some resolution that should embody the sense of the House on the subject. The resolution, that he should have the honour to move, stated not only that according to the undoubted privilege of the House no such publication could be permitted, but it stated likewise, that for the due protection of the public interest, no such publication ought to take place cither by a member of the Committee, or by any other person. And he was ready to say, that he placed that resolution upon the ground not only of the ascertained and undoubted privilege of the House, but likewise upon the ground that those privileges were for the protection of the public interest. He would state two or three cases in illustration of that assertion. In the first place, he would mention a case which occurred with respect to an inquiry relating to the affairs of Canada before a select Committee of that House, and in which, though he was not a Member of it, but as he understood, various documents were produced for the information of the Committee. At the close of the Committee, it was resolved, that those documents should not be presented to the House. Another case, which he thought illustrative of that now before the House, occurred in the instance of the finance Committee, of which also he was not a member, but before which the Duke of Wellington was examined as a witness. The noble Duke's evidence, which was extended to a very considerable length, related to the means of the military defence of our colonies and dependencies. The noble Duke might be very willing to give that evidence to the Committee—it might be of great importance to the Committee to enable them to make up their minds with respect to the question before them— but, at the same time, it might be very inexpedient that the particulars of that evi- dence, or the statement of the Duke of Wellington with respect to the particular means of defending particular parts of our possessions, should be reported generally to the House, and thereby made public to all the world. There was one other case of a very different sort to which he would just call the attention of the House. It was the case of a Committee of which he was a member, namely, the Committee which sat to consider the subject of the renewal of the bank charter. Before that Committee some of the witnesses, and Mr. Rothschild in particular, stated, in support of the various opinions they gave, transactions of a strictly private kind. Mr. Rothschild, for instance, mentioned several private transactions of his with respect to the transmission of bullion, and also much of his affairs of a private kind with certain merchants in London and Paris. These were matters which Mr. Rothschild said, he had no hesitation to state for the information of the Committee, but, being of a private character, he did not wish them to he reported to the House. What he submitted to the House then was this—not only that it was not expedient in such cases that such evidence should be reported to the House, but that if it were decided, that all evidence taken before a Committee should be published, Committees would thereby be debarred from receiving evidence useful for the public interests, and prevented from obtaining information upon which their ultimate opinion might be formed. In the case of the Canada Committee, for instance, secret despatches were produced by the Secretary for the Colonies, which tended much to govern the decision of the Committee, but which could not have been produced if they must necessarily have been made public. So also in the case of the finance Committee. A military commander, like the Duke of Wellington, might hesitate to state facts with respect to the military defences of any part of our colonies, or any part of our possessions, if next day the whole of those facts were to appear in the public journals. In like manner, an individual like Mr. Rothschild might hesitate to state matters relating to his private affairs, if he knew the moment he stated them that they would be sure to appear in the newspapers of the following day. He wished not to debar the public from this information, but to preserve to Committees of the House the means of obtaining such information. It was upon that ground, therefore, and for the public interest, that he wished to preserve the privileges of that House, which, as he was always ready to admit and acknowledge, ought only to be preserved and maintained upon the ground of their being favourable to the public interest. He would not allude any further to the resolution which he intended to propose; but he would say one word with respect to the amendment of which the hon. Member for Southwark had given notice, and which was to this effect—that the Committee upon the Poor-law Amendment Act, be directed to report the evidence taken before them from day to day. Now, he ventured to submit to the House, that the question he brought forward was one seriously affecting the privileges of the House, upon which they ought to come to a decision one way or the other— either that the privilege of the House should be maintained, or, if its maintenance did not tend to the public interest, that it should be abandoned. His objection to the hon. Member's amendment was this, that it did not deal with the question of privilege in any way, but tended only to put it aside, and to deal alone with the question of the expediency of the Committee being henceforward directed to report from day to day. It might, no doubt, be argued that the Committee ought to report from day to day, and, on the other hand, it might be contended that the rule they had hitherto adopted of reporting from time to time was the better one to observe. These were matters of convenience; and it was at any time competent to the Committee, if it thought proper, to ask leave to report from day to day. It was, also, competent to the House if it thought fit to instruct the Committee to report from day to day. But that, he repeated, was a mere matter of convenience, and had no relation whatever to the question of privilege. If the House agreed with him, that this privilege of preventing the publication of proceedings before Committees under certain circumstances tended to the public interest, he hoped they would vote with him in maintaining it. If, on the other hand, the House thought that the privilege did not tend in any way to the public interest, and that the publication of the proceedings ought to be allowed either to a member of the Committee, or to any other person, then, of course, they would negative his resolution; bat be submitted that they could not enter into a debate on the amendment, which (related to a totally different question, and had no relation whatever to the privileges of the House. With these observations, he begged to move the following resolution:—"That according to the undoubted privileges of this House, and for the due protection of the public interests, the evidence taken by any select Committee of this House, and documents presented to such Committee, and which have not been reported to this House, ought not to be published by any member of such Committee, or by any other person."

Mr. Harvey

said, that the noble Lord had greatly mistaken the motive which bad induced him to suggest an amendment, when he supposed that it was to evade the operation of a principle. Quite the reverse. If it were, as the noble Lord bad contended, the undoubted and the universally acknowledged privilege of that House to prohibit the publication of evidence taken before Select Committees, whence the necessity of the resolution now moved? Apparently it was Parliamentary law as palpable as that they were legislators. If that law had been violated, there was a penalty for it; and whoever had incurred the penalty ought to be exposed to it, and be made to bear it. He was quite willing to do so if he had violated the law. Therefore, let it not be understood that be moved this amendment for the paltry purpose of evading a principle. He denied the terms of the motion when it was stated that the suppression of evidence was the privilege of that House, and at the same time, the interest of the public. It asserted two distinct propositions—first, that the House had privileges; secondly, that it had privileges apart from the interests of the public. He denied, that that House had any privilege apart from the interests of the public. Every privilege that the House possessed it possessed solely for the good of the public. But he did not understand exactly what was meant by the term "Privileges of the House." "Privilege," as he conceived, meant something that was conferred—something that some enjoyed, and from which others were excluded. It implied, therefore, the power of conferring. Now, it was impossible for Parliament to have any privilege conferred upon it; because its Members being the representatives of the people, were in themselves the people, and inasmuch as that they were the origin of all power, so was it clear that they could confer no privileges upon themselves. But the noble Lord connected the privilege with the interests of the public. He confessed it was a matter of great regret as well as of surprise to him that a Government professing popular principles and a respect for popular rights should have thought it discreet, through the leader, of that House, for the first time to assert a great principle, under the pretence of protecting the rights of the people, at the very moment when those rights appeared to be placed in the greatest peril. If the noble Lord were proposing to the House that the Committee on the Poor-law Amendment Act should cease to be a Select Committee, and be converted into a Secret Committee, the precedents to which he had alluded would, be abundantly in point. The very fact of there being two distinct classes of Committees, public and secret, implied that there might be circumstances, rare but strong in themselves, to make it incumbent on the House to enforce the distinction. He (Mr. Harvey) could fully understand that, when the Duke of Wellington was examined before a Committee as to what the military defence of the country or the colonies should be, that that inquiry might take place under circumstances and at a time when the slightest publicity of the evidence obtained from such a quarter would be to strengthen the enemies of the country and prejudice the public interest. But the Committee before which the noble Duke was examined was not a public but a Secret Committee—secret under the highest guarantee that honour could invoke. The same observation applied to the Finance Committee, before which a great part of the proceedings were carried on by [symbols known only to a few. But if the noble Lord had inundated the House with precedents of that kind, if he had brought forward an ocean of cases, not like those he had quoted, but of another kind, where this right was clearly asserted, and its utility made manifest, he should take no heed of them; because he was ready to maintain that the Poor-law inquiry was an inquiry peculiar to itself. Who were the parties composing the Committee? On the one hand there was all the property of the country, in every variety and form, aggregated to support a measure peculiarly framed for its interest and protection. Who were the other party? All that was pitiable and miserable in the land, sunken alike by ignorance and extreme poverty. The law that had been passed affected this latter class of persons in a degree which he would not trust himself to state, but which had been told in the Committee, and of which something yet remained to be said. Therefore, he regretted that the noble Lord had seized an occasion on which the rights and interests of the unfortunate were the peculiar objects of the inquiry before the Committee. If all other Committees of the House had been Secret Committees, he maintained that this Poor-law Committee ought for the first time to be an open and public Committee. See how it worked. Who were now before it? There was before that Committee, day by day, one of the most active and vigilant bodies of men—the authors, framers, and executioners of the Act; there were the Poor-law Commissioners—there were the Poor-law Commissioners' assistants—there was the whole establishment of Somerset-house— There was the active and intelligent Secretary—all sitting day by day; and beyond these the Committee had every resource it could require for the purpose of effecting its object. The Commissioners and their assistants sat there day by day taking minutes of what passed, and adapting the inquiry and the evidence they produced upon it to what they had heard stated. What was the condition of the other class—the unprotected and oppressed millions? Evidence was given before the Committee, affecting not only their little fortunes, but every thing that belonged to their character and history — The names of men were brought before the Committee, of whom it was said that so far from being prejudiced by the operation of the Poor-law Bill, they had been greatly benefitted by it, and were in a state of perfect contentment. There were 123 men whose names had been so brought forward? How were they to know what had been stated of them? How were they to know any thing of the proceedings in which their interests were so deeply affected, except by frequent and repeated publications? It was a mockery to say that the poor man might consult the printed reports of that House.—What time had the man who, to earn eight or nine shillings a week, was compelled to work from sunrise to sunset—what time had that man to wade through printed reports of many thousands of pages?—Looking, indeed, at the sad testimonies of emaciated forms which had appeared before the Committee, he much doubted whether many of them would be sufficiently strong to bear home such bulky volumes, even if they ever had the means of getting them into their possession, or time to peruse them. How then was the working man, far away from places of public resort, and chained to the soil upon which he dragged out a miserable being, to become acquainted with what took place except through the newspapers? It was to be observed that there was no imputation that the reports published in the present instance had been garbled. The only imputation was, that they had been published some short time before the Committee of the House thought fit to authorise their publication. It was the more necessary that immediate publicity should be given to these proceedings, looking at the disparity of members upon the Committee who were the advocates of the law, and those who contended for substantial alterations. Of this latter number there were only four in a Committee of twenty-two. The right of giving immediate publicity to the proceedings of all the law courts in the kingdom, from the highest to the lowest, was ceded in every instance, often whilst most important questions—questions affecting the life or death of a fellow being— were pending. Why, then, should the right be refused in Committee of the House of Commons? The noble Lord had not uttered a syllable to show that the publication of which he complained had had any pernicious effect. On the other hand, he (Mr. Harvey) contended that the effect of the present motion, if carried, would be most injurious and unjust to the poor throughout the country. In his opinion, the Committee, as at present constituted, could not lead to any good. To be efficient, it should be an ambulatory Committee, holding its sittings in the work-houses of the great unions, and taking evidence upon the spot from all persons interested or concerned. He knew that parties whose interests were deeply affected by the Poor-Law Amendment Bill were actually afraid to come up to be examined before the Committee, because there prevailed such a spirit among those who were benefited by that measure, and who were endeavouring either to bolster up their rents, or to obtain the means of paying their rents, by squeezing the utmost that was possible out of the labour of the people. There were exceptions; and he mentioned it to the great credit of the clergy, that more than one clergyman had been examined, who had given their evidence with a fairnes and frankness which reflected honour upon them as Christians and men. But these instances were rare, and it was utterly impossible that the object of the inquiry could be effected unless some mode were pursued by which the practical working of the Bill could be more efficiently examined. But as his Majesty's Ministers had negatived the proposition which he had made, that the Committee should be ambulatory, the only alternative was to publish from day to day what was passing before that Committee in Westminster. But it was said, "You will have the evidence from time to time." No such report had been published since the holidays, although the Committee had been sitting six days, and it would be impossible to give that evidence in less form than in six large sheets of The Times newspaper. Who was to read such a mass of print? and how was such an accumulation of matter to find its way into the quiet hamlets of the country? In what way were the agricultural labourers to be put in possession of it? Every question that had been put and every answer that had been given in the Committee bore most peculiarly on the humble fortunes of those people. Besides, how could they expect a poor man to pay so large a portion of his earnings for such a mass of printed matter? It was in evidence that those whom they were wont to call their country's pride, could not earn sufficient bread upon which to subsist. One man stated that he had not had more than three pennyworth of bacon a-week for himself, wife, and children, for the space of three months; and when he applied for relief he was told, that until he sold all his implements of trade he could not be relieved; and this man was actually compelled to sell his saw in order to entitle himself to assistance. Were these the men to buy the broad sheet of the Times or True Sun? The evidence ought to be published in a cheap form, and as Ministers had no objection to commissions, let them appoint Commissioners to disseminate these publications, in order that the people might know in what way that inquiry was carried on in which they were so deeply concerned. As far as he himself was concerned, if he had violated the rules or privileges of the House he ought to be subject to the penalties of that violation; but he begged to say that if he was to be interdicted continuing the publication of this evidence he should decline altogether to be a Member of the Committee. He could not sit down without making one observation—namely, that this was not the only proceeding which had been taken in that House which had a personal origin, and a personal application to himself. Was this the first time, he should like to know, of a publication of this sort, but of which no notice whatever had been taken? It was hypocrisy to talk of it. What real means of protection had the House against publicity? There might be a hundred people in the Committee-room taking private notes; what was to prevent their dispersing them in the provinces? Hon. Members, too, might write letters, and make copious extracts from the evidence; in fact, they might be doing anything but that which was honest. He charged this Committee with a breach of that principle for which they seemed so sedulously alive, and that in a way which invoked reprehension; because, if the people were not allowed to be present, what right had the Poor-law Commissioners to be there? He pledged himself the very next day the Committee sat, if the Commissioners should be present, to move that they should be excluded. To allow the Commissioners to be present taking notes, and sending letters into the country, in order to get up evidence, at the same time that others were prevented publishing the evidence, was not merely a mockery of justice, but was an insult to the people of England. If those who were the guardians of the people's interests were to be interdicted from any intercourse with those who were effected by the inquiry, what right had any individual to have the slightest conversation, directly or indirectly, with any party on the other side? It was said there was a difference between publishing the evidence in the newspapers and writing confidential letters about it, but he did not understand this affected secrecy. Either the public had or they had not a right to know what passed before the Committee; and if they had not, then any communication, however secret, was a violation of the law, and ought to be treated criminally. He hated all evasion. He was now contending for the utmost publicity in a case in which unprotected and uncommiserated millions were concerned; and unless that publicity were given fairly, honestly, and fully, he would at once denounce the inquiry to be altogether fallacious, and one which would terminate in utter disappointment. He begged to tell the noble Lord that he should proceed in the discharge of what he deemed to be his duty in publishing the evidence. He heeded not any penalties they could inflict, whether they consisted in sending him to take up his quarters in Newgate, or in expulsion from the House. He would brave both if necessary; he was determined to have the principle decided, whether the public had or had not a right to know what was passing before a Committee of the House of Commons upon an inquiry affecting the lives and happiness of millions of the industrious classes. He would now conclude by moving the amendment of which he had given notice; at the same time he was not anxious to press it now, if the noble Lord would say, that he was prepared to support the amendment as a substantive motion, because he had no desire to evade a discussion on the grounds of the noble Lord's abstract proposition; but if he (Mr. Harvey) could not secure that, he should feel himself compelled to pursue the course which he was now taking, with a view to effect an object which he felt it to be his bounden duty, by all means, if possible, to obtain. The hon. Gentleman then moved, by way of amendment, "That the Select Committee appointed to inquire into the administration of relief to the poor, under the orders and regulations of the Commissioners appointed under the provisions of the Poor-law Amendment Act, be instructed to report the evidence taken before them from day to day to the House.

Mr. Wakley

seconded the amendment.

Mr. Smith O'Brien

was anxious, that the greatest facilities should be afforded to the publication of the proceedings before the Select Committees of that House; for it appeared to him, that the value of an inquiry by a Committee, would be extremely deteriorated, as regarded the effect it would produce on the public mind, by the circumstance of the evidence not being communicated to the public from time to time, especially when the subject of the inquiry was calculated to excite a public interest. He considered, that the proceedings of this Committee were such as it was peculiarly incumbent on the House to make public, as the question was one of the greatest interest to the whole community. It had been his intention, if no other amendment had been moved, to have proposed as an amendment a resolution to the effect, that it was expedient that the publication of evidence taken before Select Committees, not being Secret Committees, should be permitted. But the hon. Member for South- wark having already moved an amendment, he had DO alternative but that of giving it his support.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that having intimated an opinion that he should move an amendment almost similar in terms to that suggested by the hon. Member for Southwark, he felt it his duty to trespass for a few moments upon the attention of the House. The resolution of the noble Lord appeared to him to be totally unnecessary. He remembered, that in the case of General Darling, which was before a Select Committee, the majority of that Committee licensed (as far as they could do) the publication of the evidence. The minority appealed to the Speaker of that day, and he gave it as his opinion, that there was no such thing known to the law as the publication of any evidence or discussions of matters undecided by that House; and, certainly, they all knew that it was a breach of privilege to publish even what was, at the present moment, going on in the House. Yet it was a breach of privilege which took place every day, and all of them would regret exceedingly in their turn, if that breach of privilege did not take place. It was therefore difficult to deal with the Motion itself, while it was also difficult to negative any vote of the kind, if the opinion to which he had referred, was correct; because, certainly, cases might arise, such as the noble Lord had adverted to, when it might be improper to apply the general rule of publication to such excepted cases. But he was of opinion, that those excepted cases might be very well left to the discretion of the Committee itself. He was, however, strongly of opinion, that publication, as a general rule, would be highly beneficial. He did not think the hon. Member had accurately stated the rule as to the publication of proceedings in a court of law pending a trial, because the judges had latterly been in the practice of prohibiting such publication. He thought the judges were wrong; and that the prohibition did no mischief. It was a modern power assumed by them. In the year 1794, when there was a great conspiracy to get rid of the Reformers, a trial took place which lasted eight days. The evidence, during the first three or four days, was published, which led to the discovery of facts with regard to the character of certain witnesses that tended materially to serve the cause of the accused. He thought, with respect to proceedings in courts of justice, it was favourable to have the evi- dence published; but he was quite convinced it was so, with respect to Committees of that House, where persons did not speak under the sanction of the oath, and where the utmost latitude was given, both as to the questions asked and the answers given. In reference to the evidence of the Committee on the Poor-law Amendment Bill, he conceived that there was every ground for affording to it the utmost publicity. The House, perhaps, might recollect, that he himself voted against that measure in all its stages; he had, however, since, become convinced that he was exceedingly wrong in having taken that course. He believed, that if time were given for it to be worked out, it was calculated to do great good. The hon. Member for Southwark appeared to him to be assuming too much, when he called himself, by way of distinction, the friend of the poor man. He thought, that every supporter of the Poor-law Bill had as good a right to be considered the friend and protector of the poor man as the hon. Member. Indeed, he considered this was just the case in which every publicity ought to be given, so as not to afford the slightest pretence for any one, to say, "Oh! you are getting up an ex parte case; I won't be a party to the delusion; I will throw up my brief." He did not mean to say, that the hon. Member for Southwark was not actuated by the purest motives, but the pretence he had described might be made, and he believed would be made, with a view to exasperate the public mind. It had been said, that this was a packed Committee. But was that true? He believed there was no Member on that Committee, who would either cause improper evidence to be given, or proper evidence to be suppressed. The Poor-law Bill was not a party measure, but was supported by Gentlemen on both sides of the House; and none had ever yet shrunk from the avowal, that they gave it their support; therefore, it was just that kind of measure which the House itself was concerned in having the fairest, fullest, most ample, and most unobjectionable investigation with respect to it. On Monday, the question of a Poor-law for Ireland would be discussed, and he should be pleased to have all the evidence he could from the Committee now sitting. It would enable the House to do their duty more efficiently, when a system of Poor-laws for a country which had hitherto no experience of the kind, was the subject of discussion. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Southwark, if not adopted by the House, was one which ought to be taken up by the Committee, to afford the country information upon a question which had already been the subject of so much misrepresentation. It had been made a topic at elections. They all knew what had recently occurred at Warwick. It was the principal war-cry of one Gentleman who went to Warwick avowedly to sustain the principles of a party, the leaders of which party had actually supported the Bill in this House. Therefore, it was absolutely necessary that the public should have an accurate knowledge on that subject. Let the advocates of the New Poor-law challenge investigation, let them take a lofty stand upon this —that the more there was of inquiry, the more there was of investigation, the more would the truth appear; and if the truth were against them, let them at once repeal or modify the law; but if the truth were with them, then the measure, no matter how distorted and misrepresented in its progress, in its ultimate results would, and must be, triumphant.

Sir James Graham

was glad that he had given way to the hon. and learned Gentleman, for although he did not think that this was exactly the proper time for discussing the Poor-law Amendment Bill, yet he rejoiced that he had given the hon. and learned Member the opportunity of making a declaration so honourable to himself, that although, perhaps, at this particular juncture, and at the earliest stage of the experiment of the amended Poor-law, that measure had not been altogether properly administered, and although the hon. and learned Member had opposed that measure in all its stages, yet he had now gallantly and publicly come forward and avowed, that even during the short time he had witnessed its workings, he believed it to be a most beneficial measure. He thought that such an avowal from that hon. and learned Member would be most advantageous to the country, and he therefore greatly rejoiced that he had given way to that hon. and learned Member. The hon. and learned Gentleman entertaining that opinion, said, that it was a measure that would bear investigation; but, on the other hand, it would be admitted that that investigation for the purpose of eliciting truth, must be conducted upon principles of the utmost fairness and safety. The question then arose, what was the safe and fair principle? The hon. and learned Gentleman thought, it ought to be left to the discretion of the Committee. Upon that point he differed in opinion from him. The Committees were guided by the established usage of Parliament; therefore, whenever a departure from that usage was made, it should be by the House itself. Some confusion seemed to have arisen between a secret and a select Committee. He knew of no distinction except this: that while in a select Committee all the Members of the House had a right to be present during the investigation, though those only appointed by the House had voices, in a secret Committee no Member was allowed to be present who was not a member of the Committee. But with regard to the public, both Committees stood upon precisely the same grounds; and any publication of proceedings that took place before either, without the sufferance of the House itself, was decidedly a breach of the privileges of the House. It was said, that the resolution of the noble Lord was unnecessary: and if he were called upon to answer that question categorically, he should say he thought it was unnecessary; still he thought a declaratory resolution was highly expedient; he should therefore cordially support the proposition of the noble Lord. He could not conceive anything more cruel than to publish, day by day, evidence taken before a Committee deeply affecting the private character of individuals, and to which there was no opportunity of furnishing an immediate reply. It had been said, that in the courts of law the proceedings of part of a trial were allowed to be published where the case stood over to the following day. This, however, was by no means uniformly the case, for the court often forbade the publication of proceedings until the whole case was gone through. But' even if this was not the case, he did not think that it should be binding on that House. It should be recollected, that the evidence taken before courts was given in conformity with the strictest rules of evidence; whereas, indirect, ex parte, and hearsay evidence was taken before select Committees, and leading questions were put, and the examination was carried on in every manner calculated to bear on the subject. The Committees also broke up at ten minutes to four o'clock, in the middle of the examination of a witness. Now the evidence might contain the strongest accusations against private persons, and yet they would go forth uncontradicted until the next time the Committee met, for the cross-examination would be prevented at the time the evidence was given. It would he too much, therefore, to allow such evidence to go forth, regardless as to its truth or to its bearing on the real merits of the case. The hon. Member said, that he would have the evidence in such parcels as were best calculated to give the best information. This was the view the majority of the Committee took of the matter when they supported the motion that the evidence should not be reported to the House day by day, but from time to time; for instance, when the whole evidence relative to any particular union had been given on both sides. This was the wish and intention of the Committee, and they adopted this course for the purpose of disabusing the public mind, as to the statements that had gone forward on the subject of the new Poor-law, and also before the evidence assumed that bulky shape which deterred many persons from reading reports of Committees. They had pursued this course in the reports they had laid on the table of the House, of the evidence taken before them. He did not think that the hon. Member for Kilkenny was aware of what had taken place before the Committee, he inferred this from the tenor of the observations of the hon. and learned Gentleman. The Committee had been most anxious to prevent an appeal to the House on this subject, but it was forced on them. There had been a great difference of opinion before the Committee, but he hoped that there had been nothing of personal anger or hostility. He believed that the hon. Member for Southwark had stated to the House that he was the proprietor of The True Sun newspaper, which published from day to day part of the evidence taken before the Committee. The chairman of the Committee called the attention of the hon. Member for Southwark to the subject, but the publication of the evidence still went on. The hon. Gentleman was then in-formed by the highest authority, namely, the Speaker, that such publication of the evidence taken before the Committee was an undoubted breach of the privileges of that House. The hon. Gentleman was then told by the chairman of the Committee that if he persisted in the publication of the evidence day by day, that it would be necessary to call the attention of the House to the subject; but the hon. Member stated, that he had taken a view of what he considered to be his duty, and he should persist in following that course which a sense of duty dictated. With this feeling the hon. Member published not the whole of the evidence given each day, but only extracts from it; and he (Sir J. Graham) must be permitted to say that they were not fair extracts, for many very important parts of the evidence were entirely omitted. Documents were also published which had been submitted to the Committee, and respecting which, doubts were entertained whether it was expedient to receive them or not as evidence. He had himself proposed that the question should be reserved for future consideration, as to whether the documents should be received or not as evidence. This was done because doubts were entertained whether the documents in question should be placed on the minutes of the Committee. The Committee adopted this resolution; but within forty-eight hours of their coming to the determination that the documents should be reserved for further consideration, which was carried against the proposition of the hon. Member that they should at once be received as evidence, the documents appeared in The True Sun newspaper. Thus the hon. Member, by the power he possessed, superseded and overruled the opinion of the Committee, which had not determined whether any portion of the evidence or documents laid before it should be printed and published. The hon. Member, in the course which he had adopted that night, had endeavoured to raise two questions entirely distinct the one from the other. He could conceive under the circumstances of the Poor-law inquiry, great anxiety prevailed as to the nature of the evidence, as well as to the importance of the subject, and that the publication of the evidence was anxiously looked for. If the hon. Member was dissatisfied with the decision of the Committee, a motion for the publication of the evidence day by day should have been made in the House, and thus the matter would not be left to the discretion of a Committee. The House would then state whether, under the circumstances of the case, it was expedient to report the evidence day by day. If such a proposition were made, he should certainly endeavour to induce the House not to consent to it. He could well conceive that a Member might entertain such an opinion, and desire to have the evidence printed from day to day; but still, a Member entertaining this opinion, might think that the privileges of the House should be maintained. The one question then, was, whether that House would assert its privileges, and, asserting them, would maintain them, however painful to enforce them in the unpleasant manner that the indiscretion of any party might render necessary. The other question, which was entirely distinct from this, was whether a publication of the evidence of this Committee from day to-day should or should not be allowed. With respect to the former question, if a majority of the House should decide not only that their privileges should exist, but that they would exert them, it would then remain to be seen what course should be pursued with respect to an hon. Member, who stated that he would not bow to the authority of the House itself. If they consulted their own dignity, and, what was mare important, the cause of truth, the House must take care that in carrying on this inquiry, the evidence was published impartially and fairly. There had been expressed various doubts and threats, but they were too vague to be realised. The House, therefore, should at once come to the determination as to whether or not it would maintain its privileges. The question they had then to determine was, not whether the Poor-law Committee should be called upon to report the evidence taken before it from day to day, but the great question which Should not be blinked, was, whether the evidence taken before a select Committee, and the documents laid before it, should be published by any member of the Committee against the decision of that Committee, and against the orders of the House.

Mr. Harvey, in explanation, said, that so far from saying that he was prepared to withstand the authority of the House, he distinctly stated that it was not likely that a Member of that House would oppose himself to the authority of the body of which he was a Member. He also said, that he should not be deterred by any threats of being sent to Newgate, or of expulsion, from pursuing that course which a sense of fluty dictated to him. The right hon. Gentleman said, that it was something like a breach of the privileges of the House to publish documents in a state of abeyance before a Committee. The fact was this, Mr. Hawley, one of the assistant Poor-law Commissioners, was allowed, the day after he gave his evidence, to read it over for the purpose of correction, and also that he should produce a document for insertion in it, Now, instead of producing the single document that he had read to the Committee, he produced a second paper, which he stated was essential to the inquiry. He was asked whether these documents had been read to the Committee. He replied that one of them had been read, and the other was a return which be thought it was necessary should be put in. On looking over this document, the right hon. Baronet wished to have it withdrawn; but on his (Mr. D. W. Harvey) seeing the paper, he was at once convinced of the importance of it and proposed that the two documents should be printed. The right hon. Baronet proposed that the second document should be printed for the use of the Committee only, and the Committee divided, for the motion 11, against it 5.

Sir James Graham

should be sorry to be guilty of any want of courtesy to the hon. Member; but he could not help observing, that he considered truth to be of more importance than courtesy. It was true, that in the first instance he proposed that the document should be printed for the use of the Committee only; but on a moment's reflection he withdrew his motion, as he anticipated something like the course that had now been pursued.

Mr. Hume

was accustomed to look upon the privileges of that House as framed for a wise and salutary purpose, and for the public benefit. With respect, however, to the rules adopted as to the publication of their proceedings, he must say, that one of the rules which was adopted at the commencement of each Session against the publication of the debates and proceedings of that House was of a most objectionable nature, and he had taken many opportunities of expressing his opposition to it. The motion of the noble Lord was, "That according to the undoubted privileges of this House, and for the due protection of the public interest, the evidence taken by any Select Committee of this House, and documents presented to such Committee, and which have not been reported to the House, ought not to be published by any Member of such Committee, or by any other person." He considered this resolution to be objectionable on many grounds. He would put it to the House, whether it was not inconsistent to provide accommodation for individuals to commit a breach of their privileges, and to allow them facilities to take notes to report the proceedings of the House. At any inquiry at the bar of the House the evidence would be taken, and published from day to day. It had been the custom for strangers to be present during their proceedings, and during his time he had never heard of their being turned out. He also never recollected a period when it bad been treated as a breach of privilege to publish the evidence taken at the bar of the House. He wished to know whether the House would allow these proceedings to be published from day to day, while the publication of the evidence taken before a Select Committee, to which the House delegated its entire powers, stated that the evidence given before it should not be published. Before anything could be published by the House, it was necessary that there should be the fiat of the House, and the Speaker, but still the publication of the proceedings, without that sanction, was not regard-ed as a breach of privilege. No reason had been given against the publication of evidence taken before a Committee, unless it was, that evidence affecting private character might be given before it. But in examination of witnesses at the bar, the inquiry was often postponed in the middle of an examination or of a cross-examination. Again, the right hon. Gentleman must know, that although the Committees nominally adjourned when the Speaker took the Chair, that in reality the invariable custom was to complete the examination of a wit-ness, although it might last half an hour or an hour after four o'clock; the only check on this practice was, that no division in a Committee could take place after the Speaker took the Chair, and therefore if an occasion to do so arose, the Committee adjourned. He did not see any reason why a distinction should be drawn between the proceedings of the Committee of the House, and a Select Committee up stairs. He was of opinion, that in any case, except Committees of Secrecy, they should allow of the publication of the evidence. He was a Member of the Finance Committee, and he recollected the evidence given by the Duke of Wellington on the subject of the military expenses of the colonies, and he regretted that that evidence had been kept secret. If it had been published he was sure that it would have prevented the expenditure of two millions in Canada on the canals there. He had moved that the evidence taken before the Poor-law Committee should be reported from day to day, and he regretted that that motion had not been carried, for he feared that it would be considered an attempt to suppress the evidence taken before it, Although he took a different view of this Bill from the hon. Member for Southwark, he still thought that it was only just that there should be the fullest inquiry into its operation; and he had no doubt if this was done, and the fullest publicity given to the evidence, much of the misapprehension which prevailed relative to this Bill would be got rid of. If ever there should be an exemption as to the general rule respecting the publication of evidence, it should be in this case.

Mr. Williams Wynn

agreed with the right hon. Member for Cumberland, that the two motions were perfectly distinct, and were not in opposition the one to the other. It by no means followed that because they felt that the rules and orders of that House called upon them to support the first motion, that the second question could not be put separately and agreed to. The great point was, that that House should reserve to itself the right to regulate the proceedings of select Committees. The Committees could have no authority that did not emanate directly from the House, and it was only by a special rule that a Committee was enabled to send for a single witness, or call for a single document, for they could not do so until they were empowered to send for persons, papers, and records. In the same manner, it must have permission given it to adjourn from place to place, and to report its evidence from time to time. That power had been granted to the Poor-law Committee, and it was left to their discretion to take what they considered the best division of the evidence for the purpose of reporting it to the House. The Committee were not thereby precluded from reporting the evidence day by day to the House. On the contrary, full power was given them to do so, if they thought fit. The hon. Member appeared to labour under some mistake in supposing that the printing of the evidence taken before Committees, and the printing of that taken at the bar of the House, rested on the same authority; viz. the fiat of the Speaker. The Speaker had the power of authorising the evidence taken before Committees to be printed for the use of the members of the Committees, and of them only; but when an inquiry was conducted at the bar of the House, the Speaker had no power ovér the printing of the evidence. That was a matter entirely at the disposal of the House. He recollected that, during the inquiry into the Walcheren expedition, the late Mr. Yorke regularly exercised the right, which every Member possessed, of clearing the gallery of strangers, in order to prevent the publication of the evidence until the House should think right to order it to be printed. The hon. Member for Middlesex thought it expedient the public should have full information of all the proceedings of that House. He was inclined generally to agree in that opinion, but occasions might occur where it would be judicious to prevent, for a time, the publication of what took place in the House. He, by no means, thought that the hon. and learned Member for Southwark had exercised an improper discretion when he cleared the gallery on a former evening, during a discussion which he apprehended was assuming too much of the appearance of a personal dispute, and in which the characters of two hon. Members were concerned. Doubtless, the hon. and learned Member for Southwark was of opinion that any differences which had arisen might be more easily reconciled when there were no auditors—no strangers present. With respect to the practice pursued by Committees, he might observe that, in many instances, they had very properly determined to report only a summary of the evidence taken before them to the House, and on motions being made that the minutes of evidence should be reported, the House had come to different decisions, according to the circumstances of each case. The general opinion appeared to be, that it was most convenient that the minutes should be published. At the same time, he had not the slightest doubt, that in the present instance, the motion made by the noble Lord was a true and proper assertion of the privileges of the House, and having been made, he should be sorry to see it passed by or evaded. He thought it desirable, that the evidence should be laid upon the table of the House in small divisions, though he would not have the examination and cross-examination of the same witness separately reported. It was impossible to lay down any general rule on this point, but it would be advantageous in his opinion that the rule should be adhered to of reporting the evidence only as the inquiry into each different union was concluded. At present, however, he did not see any sufficient reason, any omission on the. part of the Committee, which called for the interference of the House with that discretion which had hitherto been intrusted to Committees, of reporting from time to time, as to which, generally speaking, they were the best judges. The proper way for the hon. Member for Southwark to have taken the sense of the House as to the particular question involved, would have been to have brought it forward as a substantive motion, and not as an amendment upon a motion which the House could not do otherwise than agree to as an affirmation of their undoubted privileges.

Mr. Warburton

looked upon the hon. Member's amendment as an altogether erroneous mode of meeting the question. The hon. Member should have come before the House with a substantive motion. There could not be the slightest doubt about what were the powers and privileges of the House as to the publication of evidence, as a general rule; neither could there be the slightest hesitation on the part of the House in affirming, if called upon, that as a general rule, there was and ought to be in the House a power to exclude strangers; but the question was, whether the House was prepared invariably to exert those powers—whether on all occasions, when the House saw any publication of what had taken place in one of its Select Committees, it was prepared to employ all its powers in punishing those who had been guilty of the publication. He had repeatedly seen the proceedings of Committees published without the slightest notice being taken by the House of the circumstance. He remembered, for instance, the case of the Select Committee which took cognizance of certain Members of the House in the Arigna mine affair, the proceedings before which were regularly published, day by day, in The Times, without any interference on the part of the House. He was willing, he would repeat, to affirm the general rule; but he was not prepared to say, that a case might not arise in which it would be a highly expedient and desirable course to publish what took place in the House and its Committees. He could say for himself, that he had occasionally acted as a reporter in that way, and in so doing, he had considered himself to be exercising a sound discretion. His support of the noble Lord's resolution, therefore, by no means involved a condemnation of those persons who sometimes exercised a sound and wholesome discretion in publishing what took place on some occasions; and he should recommend the House to wink at the publication of what took place in Committees in the same way that it shut its eyes to the publication of the proceedings of the House. For his part, he had never been present on any Committee the proceedings of which might not be with perfect safety published to the public.

Mr. Wakley

said, that as it seemed admitted on all hands, that it was a breach of privilege for the hon. Member to publish the proceedings of a Committee, to proceed with the resolution would be a weak and unmeaning affirmation of what had been the custom of ages. It had been justly observed, that there might be cases in which the publication of the proceedings before a Committee was desirable. It appeared to him that if ever there was a case in which the deviation from a practice of the House was admissible, it was that now in question. Whose interests were attacked in this Committee? Whose interests had to be defended? In both cases those of the poor, the needy, and the helpless. What was the power arrayed before the Committee in support of the new Poor-law? The effective and well-organised power of the Commissioners sitting at Somerset-house. Who assert the rights of the poor in this Committee? Professional aid they had none. As far, however, as his own assistance could avail them, there he would never fail in the duty he owed them. He was bound, however, to state broadly and distinctly, as regarded the manner in which the proceedings before the Committee were conducted, that a spectator would find it utterly impossible to discover what was the bias, in reference to the new Poor-law, of any of the members who composed the Committee, everything was carried on with such entire openness and impartiality, and not the slightest disposition was evinced on the part of any Member to prevent any witness from making the fullest statement in his power, whatever its tendency. Seeing, however, the excited state of the public mind on this subject; the representations, true and false, extensively circulated respecting the operation of the act; it appeared to him that out of regard to the interests of the public at large, and the honour of the House, it was essential that the proceedings before this Committee should be laid before the public in the fullest and most open manner from day to day. If this were not done, he feared that most unfavourable impressions would arise in the public mind: for what would the poorer part of the community say? — "Oh, we see what this Committee is about; they are afraid the truth should transpire, and so they wish to keep the evidence secret till they have trimmed it and cut it down. If they were not afraid, why do they withhold the evidence from us." The right hon. Baronet said, that injustice might be done by publishing the evidence day by day; perhaps, in one point of view, this might, to a certain extent, be the case; but balance the great good arising from the publication of the evidence against the evil of withholding it, and the good would be found greatly to predominate. Indeed, it seemed to him that if the evidence were not so published, the Committee had better at once terminate its labours.

Mr. Ward

said, there was no doubt it was essential to the character of Select Committees that they should have the power of keeping the evidence taken before them secret, if they thought fit. At the same time, he perfectly concurred in the principle of the amendment, and he should have been ready to vote for it, had it come before them as a substantive motion. He felt, however, that he could not do so in its present shape, without negativing a rule which, it was generally conceded, it was essential to maintain as a general principle. If the hon. Member would only forward his proposition as a substantive motion, it should have his (Mr. Ward's) ready support. He had heard no reason why the rule should be too strictly enforced in this particular instance. It appeared to him to be a very great object that the public mind should be enlightened as to the real working of this measure in reference to the poor; and this object could not be better attained than by the publication of the evidence. He was sure that there was but one spirit among all the Members of the House regarding the welfare of the poorer classes; and that if it should appear that the working of the measure in any respect was injurious to these classes, the House would be perfectly ready to apply a remedy. The true state of the case would be shown in the evidence before this Committee, and for the sake of all parties, it was very desirable that no time should be lost in communicating that evidence to the public.

Mr. T. Duncombe

did not rise to protract the discussion, but, on the contrary, to put an end to it altogether, for he rose for the purpose of moving that it be adjourned till that day six months. It appeared to him, that no case had been made out for the interference of the House. There was no doubt, to be sue, that the proprietor of The True Sun newspaper had committed a breach of privilege, but he saw no reason why the House should take notice of the circumstance any more than it took notice of the circumstance that the proceedings before the Longford Election Committee were daily published in The Times. He could conceive no reason why the proprietor of The True Sun, in particular, should be selected for the censure of the House. He begged to move that the further debate on the subject be adjourned till that day six months.

Mr. Roebuck

seconded the amendment. As the hon. Member for Southwark had observed, if it had been thought that the proceedings before this Committee should be kept secret, all that was necessary was, to declare it a secret Committee. No practical advantage could possibly arise from affirming in general terms a rule of the House which everybody admitted to he a rule of the House. The only effect of the resolution would be to exhibit the proprietor of The True Sun as a martyr in the people's cause, and the rest of the House as men desirous of grinding the poor.

Lord John Russell

begged to say he had no such object in view as the making a martyr of any hon. Member. His only object was, as it seemed that the privileges of the House had been partially called in question by one of its Members, that the rule of the House should be affirmed, so that there should no longer be a doubt on the subject. It was most desirable that they should come to some clear understanding as to the power of Committees respecting publication of evidence, and he therefore hoped, that before the discussion terminated, Mr. Speaker would state to the House his opinion upon the point.

Mr. Roebuck

explained that he had passed no opinion as to the object of the noble Lord's resolution; what he had spoken of was its effect.

Mr. Robinson

regretted that the hon. Member for Southwark had not made a substantive motion. Had the question come before the House in that shape, he should have supported it, for he considered that if ever there was a case which might be permitted to form an exception to the general rule of the House as to publication of evidence, it was this.

Mr. Richards

conceived that the proper course for the hon. Member for Southwark would have been to have taken the sense of the Committee as to the publication of its proceedings; had the sense of the Committee been adverse to him, he could then have brought the question substantively before the House.

The Speaker

In consequence of the appeal of the noble Lord, and of what has fallen from hon. Members during this discussion, I feel it to be my duty to state under what authority evidence taken before Select Committees is printed. The rule of the House is, that all papers laid before the House shall, under the authority of the Speaker, be printed by the printer of the House; and all papers are published under the authority of the Speaker for the use of its Members generally. The evidence taken before a Select Committee forms an exception to this rule. The practice of printing the evidence taken before Select Committees, for the use of the Members of the respective Committees, is a recent one, the rule having been made in 1814. The practice from that period to 1816 was, that the Chairman of each Committee applied to the Speaker for permission to have the evidence printed by the printer of the House, without which, the printer would not print; and, this being granted, the evidence was accordingly printed, but only on the faith and clear understanding that it was printed for the use only of members of the Committee. If evidence taken before a Committee, were printed otherwise than on these conditions, — if it were printed not for the use of the Committee but for the public, this would clearly be a direct violation of the privileges of the House. And the reason is obvious; for see what would be the consequence if it were not so,— if it had no other foundation; for if the publication were to be extended for the use of the public, it would place the Speaker in a very awkward situation. The Speaker would be put in the position of sanctioning the publication of evidence which had not been communicated to the House; and the Committee would be directing the publication of evidence which it had not the permission of the House to make known. It is obvious, then, that should it become an ascertained fact that any Member of a Committee is in the habit of printing copies of the evidence in order to communicate it to the public, without the authority of the House for so doing, the Speaker must necessarily find himself placed between two alternatives — either to recall his permission to the Committee to print the evidence, or to bring the Member before the House. The Committee has not any power to print without the permission of the Speaker, and that does not go further than to print for the use of the Committee. The Committee, then, has not the power to order any printing, much less to make public any evidence that may be taken before it.

The House divided on the motion for adjourning the debate. Ayes 18; Noes 131; Majority 113.

List of the AYES.
Crawford, W. S. O'Connell, M. J.
Dennistoun, Alex. Roche, D.
Elphinstone, H. Ruthven, E.
Fleming, John Thompson, Col.
Fitzsimon, C. Walter, John
Hall, B. Wason, R.
Hindley, G. Williams, W.
Hume, J.
Leader, J. T. TELLEES.
O, Brien, W. S. Duncombe, T.
O'Connell, D. Roebuck, J. A.
List of the NOES.
Adam, Sir C. Gladstone, W. E.
Bailey, J. Gordon, Robert
Baillie, H. D. Goring, H. D.
Bainbridge, E. T. Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.
Baines, E Grey, Sir G. Bart.
Balfour, T. Grote, G.
Bannerman, Alex. Halse, J.
Barnard, E. G. Hamilton, Geo. A.
Bentinck, Lord G. Hardy, J.
Bewes, T. Harvey, D. W.
Biddulph, Robert Hawkins, J. H.
Blake, M. J. Hawes, B.
Brodie, William B. Hay, Sir A. L. Bart.
Brotherton, J. Heathcote, Gilb.
Brownrigg, S. Hector, C. J.
Bruce, C. L. C. Hobhouse, Sir J. C.
Buller, Charles Howard, P. H.
Bulwer, Edw. L. Humphery, J.
Canning, rt. hon. Sir S. Ingam, R.
Chapman, A. Johnstone, Sir J.
Chichester, J. P. B. Knatchbull, Sir E.
Chichester, A. Knight, H. G.
Clerk, Sir G. Lefevre, C. S.
Cole, Viscount Lemon, Sir C.
Collier, John Lennox, Lord Arthur
Collins, W. Lennox, Lord G.
Coote, Sir C. C. Lister, E. C.
Crawford, W. Long, W.
Dillwyn, L. W. Martin, J.
Ebrington, Viscount Mosley, Sir O. Bart.
Egerton, Sir P. Molesworth, Sir W.
Ellice, E. Murray, rt. hon. J.
Estcourt, T. H. Musgrave, Sir R.
Etwall, Ralph Palmer, G.
Fazakerley, J. N. Palmerston, Viscount
Ferguson, Sir R. A Parker, J.
Fergusson, R. C. Parnell, Sir H.
Forbes, W. Parrott, Jasper
Forster, C. S. Parry, Sir L. P.
Fort, J. Pease, J.
Peel, Sir R. Bart. Stanley, Lord
Pendarves, E. W. Stewart, John
Perceval, Col. Stewart, P. M.
Philips, M. Surrey, Earl of
Phillips, G. R. Thomson, C. P.
Pinney, W. Trelawney, Sir W.
Polhill, F. Troubridge, Sir T.
Potter, R. Turner, W.
Poulter, J. S. Vere, Sir C. B.
Rice, rt. hon. T. S. Villiers, C. P.
Richards, J. Vivian, J. E.
Richards, R. Wakley, T.
Rickford, William Walker, R.
Robinson, G. R. Warburton, H.
Rolfe, Sir R. M. Ward, H. G.
Ross, Charles White, S.
Rundle, J. Wilks, J.
Rushbrooke, Col. Williamson, Sir H.
Russell, Lord J. Wilson, Henry
Sanford, E. A. Winnington, H. J.
Scott, J. W. Wood, Charles
Scrope, G. P. Woulfe, Sergeant
Seymour, Lord Wrightson, W.
Sharpe, General Wynn, rt. hon. C W.
Sinclair, Sir G. TELLERS.
Smith, B. Maule, hon. F.
Spry, Sir S. Stuart, R.

Amendment withdrawn. Original resolution carried.

Back to
Forward to