§ Lord John Russell
had another petition to present to the House from Messrs. Hansard, which he moved should be read by the clerk.
Petition read, and laid on the Table. It stated, that a further proceeding, being a fifth action, had been brought against the petitioners in the Court of Queen's Bench by John Joseph Stockdale for the publication of certain papers, in obedience to the orders of that House; and that they had been served with a writ of summons for Thursday, the 20th February next. The petitioner concluded thus:—That your petitioners find, on examining 319 the foregoing declaration with the declaration in the former action against your petitioners, in which the damages were assessed at 600l, that the cause of action is identical—namely, for the publication of a libel of and concerning the plaintiff, contained in the Reports of the Inspectors of Prisons of Great Britain; and, also, in a letter addressed by the said Inspectors to Lord John Russell. That the said Reports and letter were printed by your petitioners by direction of your honourable House. Your petitioners, therefore, humbly pray the instructions of your honourable House in the matter of this their petition, and on the course they should pursue with respect to the said notice and writ of inquiry.
§ Sir E. Sugden
asked the noble Lord if it were true, that Mr. Howard the attorney of Stockdale, had brought an action against the son of the Sergeant-at-Arms?
§ Lord John Russell
had received no official information on the subject. If the fact was so, it would no doubt be stated in a petition to that House. His Lordship then moved the order of the day for the consideration of the petition of the Messrs. Hansard. The noble Lord said that the motion he was now about to make was in consequence of the resolution the House had already come to in reference to the present action, directing the Messrs. Hansard not to appear in the court of law, to plead to that action. In order to prevent judgment being signed against the Messrs. Hansard, it now became necessary for the House to say what other course they would think proper to take in order to maintain that privilege of publication which they had already so frequently supported. This being the only question involved in the present position of the question, it was unnecessary for him, on the present occasion, to enter into any consideration either of the power of the House to publish, or the propriety of their officers appearing in a court of law to plead to an action of this kind. The only question to be considered now was, what course the House would take to vindicate those privileges they had so often asserted, and to prevent the consequences that must otherwise result from that action—the recovery by Stockdale from Messrs Hansard of any sum of money as damages for a publication made under the authority of that House. It appeared to him that the most proper course to follow in the present case was to resolve that the action was a contempt of the House and a breach of its privileges; and that any person who should act in pursu- 320 ance of the said action would incur the displeasure of the House. He proposed to move that resolution with special reference to the officers who would have to act in prosecution of the judgment in the case—namely, the sheriffs of London and Middlesex, the under-sheriffs' officers, bailiffs, clerks, and others. He would first move that those parties would be guilty of a breach of the privileges of the House, by aiding in the said action, and then that care should be taken to inform the sheriffs, under-sheriffs, and others of that resolution. In the first case the information given to the sheriffs did not come directly from the House, It had been given by a servant of the House; but it had not come directly from a resolution of the House on that particular occasion. In the present case they had an opportunity of giving a more formal notice to the sheriffs. He, therefore, thought that the proper course would be to give the sheriffs the advantage of that information, and that they should be clearly told what would be the consequences of any course taken by them in violation of the privileges of the House. He thought it necessary to do nothing more than to propose that course as if they were determined on maintaining the privilege of publication, because having resolved with respect to this action that they would not endeavour to maintain the privilege in question by pleading before the Court of Queen's Bench, it was necessary for them to interfere in order to prevent the consequences which might follow from the action against the Messrs. Hansard. He would therefore move,That John Joseph Stockdale, by commencing this action, in which notice had been given to the defendant to attend a writ of inquiry on the 20th February, such action being brought for acts done by a servant of that House, pursuant to the orders and resolutions of that House, made in the exercise of the privileges of Parliament, had been guilty of a contempt of the House and of a breach of its privileges; and that the sheriffs, under-sheriffs, and others who should aid in the prosecution of the said action, would be guilty of a contempt of the House, and of a violation of its privileges, and subject themselves to the severe censure and displeasure of the House.If that resolution were carried, he would then move that a copy of the said resolution be served by the Sergeant-at-Arms on the sheriffs, and that copies of the 321 same be served on the under-sheriffs, bailiffs, clerks, and others.
§ The first resolution having been put,
§ Sir E. Sugden
said, he should be quite as short as the noble Lord had been upon this subject, especially after the many discussions it had already undergone. He wished only for a moment to draw the attention of the House to the consequences that might arise from this further step which they were now about to take at the suggestion of the noble Lord. The resolution now proposed would, if carried, include judges and counsel. Why, it included and named "sheriffs, under-she-riffs, agents, bailiffs, officers, clerks, and others." Amongst them, then, must be included judges, for the under-sheriff sat as a judge; therefore the resolution went to effect both the under-sheriff and the counsel who pleaded before him. The House had already had difficulties enough to contend with; and it had abstained hitherto from meddling with the judges and counsel concerned in all the measures that had taken place in connexion with this business up to the present time. The House had not as yet had courage to bring any Member of the bar before it, because they knew that it would be utterly impossible to do that without grappling with the Lord Chief Justice of England. The counsel who had pleaded in the former actions they had not called to their bar; but if they passed this resolution, they would be bound by it to punish the under-sheriff, who might sit as judge and direct the jury, and also the counsel who should plead before him. He had hoped that the majority of the House were prepared to take a different course from that which they had been pursuing. True, the decision which had been come to was the decision of the majority, but it did not follow that it was a correct decision. It was the voice of the majority; but the voice of a majority was not always the voice of reason. There had been a triumphant majority in support of the opinions which he did not hold on this question, but that majority had assumed a tone of feeling very different from that displayed by the minority. The minority was respectable in numbers, and certainly they were so in point of talent and competency to deal with this question, and they had maintained their opinion with moderation as well as firmness. But he had to complain that upon this occa- 322 sion all the courtesies of the House had been forgotten. He asked the noble Lord whether he could defend the course he took on Friday night? The noble Lord then refused to state his intentions, though repeatedly requested to do so, not that he was unprepared, but because some cavil might be made against the course he intended to pursue. The noble Lord had said, that the majority had acted with great forbearance, and with a great desire to conciliate the minority. One thing, however, was true: it had been the anxious wish of many hon. Gentlemen in the minority, to conduct their opposition without any ill-feeling. He called upon the House to pause before they took this further step, the effect of which would be to involve them in greater difficulties, by bringing them into collision with the bench and the bar, which would end in their certain defeat, unless they addressed themselves to some other power beyond that upon which they were now depending. He did, therefore, enter his protest against the resolution, and should certainly divide the House upon it, notwithstanding all that the noble Lord had said in its favour.
§ Sir C. Grey
said, he had witnessed from the first with great anxiety the conduct pursued by the members of the legal profession on the other side of the House, who acknowledged that they thought the House possessed the privilege of publishing their proceedings, but thwarted the only method by which they could be vindicated. That anxiety had been deepened into pain when he saw the hon. Member for Exeter, and the right hon. Member for Ripon, who were Members of the committee from which the resolutions had proceeded. [Sir E. Sugden: I beg the hon. Member's pardon, I was not a Member of that committee.] The mistake was of little importance. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, then, without being a Member of that committee, who stood so high in his profession, and had filled offices of great importance, and whose opinions were so much esteemed, was acquainted with the resolutions which had emanated from that committee, and was in Parliament when they were adopted by the House; yet he now opposed all the measures which were proposed for the vindication of the privileges which those resolutions went to uphold. The course pursued by the minority on 323 this question, in the face of the past proceedings of the House, was calculated to involve the House in difficulty, and to aggravate the whole of the mischiefs which he was sure at the same time it was their wish to prevent. It had been contended by one hon. and learned Gentleman in the minority, that they might publish for the information of their constituents, that was to say the people of this country; and if the people of this country were to have the advantage of their publication, why might they not at once publish to all the world? He must say that he thought he detected a great deal of inconsistency in the conduct of hon. and learned Gentlemen opposite. He asked those hon. Members, who admitted that they had the privilege of publishing, how it could be maintained if they submitted it to the courts of law and they decided against them? He might have had no objection to taking his chance of a decision in the Exchequer Chamber, or in the House of Lords, to reverse the decision of the Queen's Bench, provided they could be considered as not precluded from taking any further steps in vindication of the privileges, should such a decision be adverse to them. In so submitting the matter to the judges, it would have been necessary, therefore, to reserve to themselves a power of maintaining their privileges by subsequent proceedings, should the decision of those tribunals be adverse. If they were convinced that they possessed the privilege, they would be guilty of the greatest dereliction of duty, if they took no precautionary step to enable them still to maintain it. Supposing that the House did go to the Exchequer Chamber, or the House of Lords, and their decision should be against the House, what would the minority then do? That was a question which they ought to answer, especially after the steps which had been taken. They ought not to go on blindly, without knowing whether they would support the House or not, should the decision of those tribunals be against them in resisting their, decision. If not, what would they do?, Did they mean that the House must abandon its privileges? Were they ultimately and finally to suffer any tribunal, whether it was the Exchequer Chamber, the House of Lords, or Westminster Hall, to decide against and take away a privilege which they said they possessed, and which they thought invaluable and necessary to the 324 proper discharge of their duty? He was sure that if any attempt were made to draw that House—he would not say in its corporate capacity, for it had none, but in its capacity as the aggregate House of Commons—before any tribunal at Westminster, the hon. and learned Gentlemen in the minority would repudiate such a proceeding; yet taking the officers of the House before a court, was the same in effect. He besought them before they went further, to consider how much they lowered the dignity and authority of that House, threw their proceedings into doubt, and added to the mischief that already existed.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 146; Noes 75: Majority 71.
|List of the AYES.|
|Aglionby, Major||Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.|
|Baines, E.||Greig, D.|
|Baring, rt. hon. F. T.||Grey, rt. hon. Sir C.|
|Beamish, F. B.||Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.|
|Bellew, R. M.||Guest, Sir J.|
|Bernal, R.||Hall, Sir B.|
|Bewes, T.||Harcourt, G. G.|
|Blackburne, I.||Hardinge, Sir H.|
|Blake, M. J.||Harland, W. C.|
|Bodkin, J. J.||Hastie, A.|
|Bolling, W.||Hawkins, J. H.|
|Bowes, J.||Hector, C. J.|
|Bridgeman, H.||Hepburn, Sir T. B.|
|Briscoe, J. I.||Hill, Lord A. M. C.|
|Broad wood, H.||Hinde, J. H.|
|Brodie, W. B.||Hobhouse, T. B.|
|Brolherton, J.||Hodges, T. L|
|Buller, C.||Hollond, R.|
|Busfeild, W.||Hope, hon. C.|
|Callaghan, D.||Hoskins, K.|
|Campbell, Sir J.||Houldsworth, T.|
|Clay, W.||Howard, P. H.|
|Clerk, Sir G.||Howick, Viscount|
|Clive, E. B.||Hume, J.|
|Corbally, M. E.||Humphery, J.|
|Courtenay, P.||Hutton, R.|
|Craig, W. G.||Irving, J.|
|Curry, Sergeant||James, W.|
|Divett, E.||Labouchere, rt. hn. H.|
|Douglas, Sir C. E.||Lambton, H.|
|Duff, J.||Langdale, hon. C.|
|Dundas, F.||Loch, J.|
|Dundas, Sir R.||Lockhart, A. M.|
|Elliot, hon. J. E.||Lushington, C.|
|Ellis, J.||Lushington, rt. hn. S.|
|Evans, Sir De L.||Macaulay, rt. hn. T. B.|
|Ewart, W.||Macleod, R.|
|Fitzpatrick, J. W.||Miles, W.|
|Fleetwood, Sir P. H.||Milnes, R. M.|
|Fremantle, Sir T.||Morris, D.|
|Gaskell, J. M.||Muritz, G. F.|
|Goddard, A.||Nagle, Sir ft.|
|Gordon, R.||Noel, hon. C. G.|
|Goulburn, rt. hon. H||O'Brien, W. S.|
|O'Callaghan, hon. C.||Stansfield, W. R. C.|
|O'Connell, D.||Stuart, W. V.|
|O'Connell, J.||Stock, Dr.|
|O'Connell, M.||Strickland, Sir G.|
|O'Ferrall, R. M.||Strutt, E.|
|Ord, W.||Tancred, H. W.|
|Oswald, J.||Teignmouth, Lord|
|Paget, F.||Thornley, T.|
|Parker, J.||Turner, E.|
|Pattison, J.||Vigors, N. A.|
|Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.||Villiers, hon. C. P.|
|Pendarves, E. W. W.||Vivian, Major C.|
|Philips, Sir R.||Vivian, Sir R. H.|
|Pigot, D. R.||Waddington, H.|
|Pinney, W.||Wakley, T.|
|Ponsonby, hon. J.||Walker, R.|
|Protheroe, E.||Wallace, R.|
|Pryme, G.||Warburton, H.|
|Rae, rt. hon. Sir W.||Westenra, H. R.|
|Redington, T. N.||White, A.|
|Reid, Sir J. R.||Wilde, Sergeant|
|Roche, W.||Williams, W.|
|Russell, Lord J.||Williams, W. A.|
|Rutherfurd, rt. hn. A.||Wood, B.|
|Sanford, E. A.||Wynn, hon. C.W.|
|Scholefield, J.||Wyse, T.|
|Seale, Sir J. H.||Yates, J. A.|
|Seymour, Lord||Young, J.|
|Smith, B.||Stanley, E. J.|
|Stanley, Lord||Steuart, R.|
|List of the NOES.|
|A'Court, Captain||Hope, H. T.|
|Attwood, M.||Hope, G. W.|
|Bagge, W.||Hotham, Lord|
|Baring, H. B.||Ingestre, Lord|
|Barrington, Lord||Ingham, R.|
|Blackstone, W.||Jackson, Sergeant|
|Boldero, H. G.||James, Sir W.|
|Bradshaw, J.||Jones, J.|
|Broadley, H.||Kemble, H.|
|Cole, Lord||Knatchbull, Sir E.|
|Cresswell, C.||Knight, H. G.|
|Darby, G.||Litton, E.|
|Dick, Q.||Lowther, J. H.|
|D'Israeli, B.||Lygon, General|
|Dowdeswell, W.||Mackenzie, T.|
|Duncombe, T.||Mahon, Viscount|
|Duncombe, W.||Neeld, Joseph|
|Duncombe, A.||Neeld, John|
|Eaton, B. J.||Packe, C. W.|
|Egerton, W. T.||Perceval, hon. G.|
|Eliot, Lord||Pigot, R.|
|Filmer, Sir E.||Plumptree, J. P.|
|Follett, Sir W.||Polhill, F.|
|Forester, hon. G.||Praed, W, T.|
|Gladstone, W. E.||Pringle, A.|
|Glynne, Sir S. R.||Richards, R.|
|Goring, H. D.||Rolleston, L.|
|Halford, H.||Rushbrooke, Colonel|
|Hamilton, C. J. B.||Rushout, G.|
|Hamilton, Lord C.||Scarlett, hon. J.|
|Herries, J. C.||Shaw, F.|
|Hodgson, F.||Sheppard, T.|
|Hogg, J. W.||Sibthorp, Colonel|
|Holmes, hon. W.||Smith, A.|
|Style, Sir C.||Wood, Colonel|
|Sugden, Sir E.||Wood, Colonel T.|
|Wodehouse, E.||Law, hon. C.|
|Wood, Sir M.||Godson, R.|
§ On the next resolution, that copies of the former resolutions be communicated to the sheriffs and under sheriffs of Middlesex, the clerks, officers, bailiffs, and other parties taking part in the proceedings,
§ Sir E. Sugden
wished to know whether it was intended under the term "other parties," to include the jury?
§ Viscount Howick
wished to remark, that although he entirely approved of the course hitherto pursued, he thought that the House should not stop here. Howard and Stockdale had been committed for an aggravated breach of the privileges of that House; and, after continued caution, persisted in acting in contempt of their privileges. He thought that these parties ought not to be allowed to go on with their repetitions of the breaches of privilege without visiting them with extraordinary punishment, and with more severity than hitherto, both as regarded the conduct of Stockdale and Howard. The House had already committed them for instituting an action against one of its servants for acts done by its orders; and as they seemed determined to persevere in their actions in contempt of its undoubted privileges, that they should be punished with increased severity, in order to show that it was not to be trifled with, and that it would not suffer parties to persist in pursuing a course which was almost calculated to bring its authority into contempt.
§ Viscount Howick
replied, that these persons were now in ordinary confinement; what he meant was, that they should be placed in close custody, and that they should not allow access to them unless under restrictions.
§ Mr. Law
had thought, when he heard the observations of the noble Viscount, that he was anxious to revive the peine forte et dure against them. They were no longer in the custody of the Sergeant-at-arms, but had been sent by the House to the gaol of Newgate. The House had passed 327 the custody of these persons over to those who had the control of that prison. The noble Lord's appetite for punishment in this case apparently made him anxious that it should be unbounded. The noble Lord stated, that he thought that the House should visit these persons with extraordinary punishment, and with increased severity; but surely it did not become the disposition of that House to be actuated by the angry disposition that might have possessed an individual. Whatever course was pursued by the House, he trusted that it would act with the calmness becoming its dignity, instead of manifesting the angry passions of an individual, and that it would not allow those persons to be placed in a state of custody without that access to them which was allowed to a felon. If the House was disposed to stamp its proceedings with excessive harshness—if it at once wished to convince the public that their proceedings were not instituted for the protection of the ends of justice, or for the vindication of the privileges of that House, but for the purpose of exercising a tyrannical power, they could not pursue a better course than that recommended by the noble Lord.
observed, that as he understood the noble Lord, he did not propose to inflict any such harsh punishment on these persons as had been supposed by the hon. and learned Member, but that such access should not be afforded to them as would tend to facilitate the bringing such actions as the present. He would not, however, say whether the suggestion of the noble Lord should be adopted or not, but he felt satisfied that the privileges of that House could be effectually vindicated by their proceeding with that calmness and discretion which was necessary. Was the House aware, that this was the fifth action which had been brought by Mr. Stock-dale against the servant of that House? And was it not its duty to interfere, and take care that these parties should not be allowed to proceed with actions involving continued breaches of the privileges of that House? He thought that the House could restrain the attorney from acting for Stockdale, and prevent other persons from carrying on actions in Mr. Howard's name. At present that person could employ his clerks and apprentices to act for him in these actions; and if they 328 established the principle that Howard should not act himself in these actions by imprisoning him for so doing, they should follow this up, and not allow any person to go on with them in his name. The name of the person who seemed at present principally employed in these actions was Pierce, who, he understood, was clerk to Mr. Howard, and a stop should be put to his proceedings. He regretted the necessity of acting against those who were obviously actuated by a mistaken sense of public duty, but, with respect to Stockdale and his attorney, he entertained no such feeling, and, above all, in regard to the latter, who had no public duty to perform, and without whose aid the privileges of the House would not be violated in this way. He rose to observe, with respect to the suggestion of the noble Lord, that it was obvious that he did not wish that they should proceed vindictively against those persons, but that they should adopt such restrictions as would render it more difficult for those parties to continue to violate the privileges of the House.
§ Sir E. Sugden
had asked the noble Lord whether he intended to include the jurors within the words "other parties," and he understood the noble Lord to answer in the negative; but the expression was so vague and general, that it might be made to include the jury as well as any other persons. He thought that the noble Lord, from what had taken place that night, would see the inconvenience that resulted from his refusing to communicate to the opposite side the slightest information as to the course that he intended to pursue. He repeated that such comprehensive terms as "other parties" might be taken to include the jury that would be called upon to assess the damages in this case, for no Member of that side of the House had had the means of informing his judgment on the subject until within the last few minutes, as the noble Lord, on Friday, refused to communicate the course he intended to take. Under these circumstances he should feel it to be his duty to oppose this resolution, the terms of which he maintained could not be understood. He begged to congratulate the noble Lord, the Member for Northumberland, on his suggestion, and he should be glad to hear from him how, if it were adopted, he intended that it should be followed up. He could tell the 329 noble Lord, the more they persisted in their present proceedings, and the more rapidly they followed out the course which they had recently pursued, the sooner they would perceive the almost innumerable inconveniences which must infallibly follow them. The learned Member for Dublin had also recommended (hat they should pursue a course which would tend to restrain parties from bringing these actions. When he heard such recommendations, he could hardly imagine what proceedings it was intended to recommend to the House to adopt. There had been instances of the tyrannical exercise of power by Parliament before now, and it was a matter of history that in the reign of Charles 1st, a House of Commons was found, which ordered the torture to be administered in support of its privileges. The noble Lord might say, that he did not intend to recommend the infliction of torture, but he recommended solitary imprisonment, which was rather unusual; and when they engaged in a contest of this kind, they might be driven further than they intended, and he had mentioned that even torture was not without a precedent. He would beg the House to consider what they might be led to by pursuing the course they had embarked in, and neglecting the voice of reason. The noble Lord would not believe, that the great body of the people were against him in his proceedings in this matter; but, with the exception of the miserable petition from the corporation of Leicester, which was regarded as a godsend by Gentlemen opposite, and which was so loudly cheered by them, there had not been the slightest indication of public opinion in favour of it.
§ Mr. Ingham
thought that the House should act with extreme caution in the proceedings which they adopted, lest they should find themselves involved in a contest with the legal authorities of the land before they were aware of it. With respect to the suggestion of the noble Lord for placing these persons in solitary confinement, or for increasing the severity of their imprisonment, he would beg to remind him that the regulations of gaols were framed in conformity with an act of Parliament, and, therefore, they were not directly under the control of the House, and could not be altered by it. When a party, therefore, was sent to a prison, under a warrant of the House, he was not dealt with according to the good pleasure 330 and wishes of those who sent him there, but according to the rules for the government of gaols laid down by the law of the land.
§ Lord John Russell
said, that the right hon. Member for Ripon had censured him, and the majority of the House, for not listening to the voice of reason. He did not for a moment doubt the sincerity of the right hon. Gentleman, but the right hon. Gentleman must excuse him for not attaching the same authority as the right hon. Gentleman did to his own opinion on this subject. When he found so many high legal and high political authorities adopt an opinion directly opposed to that of the right hon. Gentleman, and concur in the view that he took of this subject, he was induced to think that he listened to the voice of reason, and that both the reason and authority in the opposite opinion outweighed even the authority of the right hon. Gentleman. As for the want of courtesy with which he had been charged, he could not help observing, that when he recollected the attacks made on the majority, and when he thought that Gentlemen opposite were greatly disposed to impute tyrannical motives to those who wished to preserve the privileges of the House, the charge came with a bad grace from Gentlemen opposite. As for the observation which fell from his noble Friend, be could not help saying that a not very fair construction had been put upon it, but that an attempt had been made to attach a meaning to his noble Friend's words which they would not bear. He was of opinion that the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, that the servants or clerks of Mr. Howard, or any person employed by him to contravene the orders of the House, should be rendered liable to the displeasure of the House—would be a better mode of proceeding than that of increasing the severity of the custody of the persons already imprisoned. As so much had been said on this occasion, he thought it necessary to recal to the House what was the main object of the present proceedings. The main object was to maintain the power of publication for useful purposes. The object they had in view, and which had been contested, was that of ordering information which was useful for Parliament and for the public to be published; not for any private purpose, not to serve any private malignity, not to gra- 331 tify any bookseller or individual with gain, but to make public information which was necessary for the public, which was required to improve legislation, which was required to improve Government. This was contested; but be had an authority to quote—the authority of a person who had been often quoted against him, and which authority he found set forth in a newspaper that morning. In summing up in the case of "Beresford v. Easthope and Black," Lord Denman had delivered an opinion which was well worth the attention of the House. The noble and learned Lord had said—Then the only question remaining was that of damages. On that subject there was no question made at the bar, and there could not now be in any place whatever, that it was desirable that free discussion should be encouraged, and that facts in which all were interested should be fully made known to the world; but at the same time no party must attack the character of another by reports which could not be substantially proved to be true, unless such reports appeared under particular circumstances. For instance, the publication of the proceedings of this day would probably be held in all the courts to be protected, if the report was fairly given as a report of a judicial proceeding, with which it was of importance that all men should be acquainted. But nobody must insert statements of his own in newspapers without being prepared to establish their truth.Now this was what he and the majority of that House contended for, and this, according to the newspapers, was stated by Lord Denman in the course of a case which was tried no longer ago than Saturday last. What that majority complained of in the course of these proceedings was, that the court of law took it for granted, as that majority thought most unfoundedly, that the House of Commons was engaged in publishing a series of libels for the sake of libelling, the House of Commons, having, all the time, no interest but to make public that which it was for the public interest to know; having no private enmity against any individual; having no wish to make gain or profit by the sale of the publication; and under these circumstances it was, that the majority of that House held that a court of law was not entitled to look upon such publications as other than privileged publications. Suppose the House of Commons were to assert that a judge had no light, in a court of law, to make any statement reflecting on the character of an individual; that it was not to 332 be permitted that in a public court, full of spectators, anything which could be deemed a slander, should issue from a judge on the bench. Such an assertion as this would be equally unfair and absurd. It was well known that the judges, after hearing what had been adduced before them, repeatedly in their charges made statements reflecting on the character of individuals; but this was done in the course of their judicial duty, and from no private desire to injure the individuals, or to indulge private malignity. If, then, the judges were admitted by the House of Commons to be right in what they did in this, some respect ought to be paid by the judges to that high court, which was constituted by the united Commons of the empire: and they ought not to have taken it for granted, they ought not wantonly to have believed, that it could be the object of the House of Commons to publish private libels upon any individual. He said this because the right hon. Gentleman opposite had again raised so much of the question, and it did appear that what Lord Denman had said on Saturday was very applicable to the case. But there was another remark of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, followed by the right hon. Gentleman near him, which called for observation. They talked of the enormities which they said had been committed in former times, the lengths to which former Parliaments had gone, the tyrannies which had been exercised against the subject by former Parliaments. He could not hear such language made use of, with regard to our ancestors, without declaring his opinion in favour of those Members generally, as to the course which they had pursued on the occasions referred to, for the contest which they sustained was in reality whether liberty of speech should be permitted. The utmost extremities had been put in force against them. Members of the House were committed to prison by James 1st. His successor came down to the House in person for the purpose of putting down freedom of speech; and in the days of Charles 2nd, the attempt was renewed; on the part of the Crown to put down liberty of speech and liberty of action in the Members of that House; it was an attempt to establish a despotism in this country, and the Speaker (Mr. Williams), and those men who acted in that House against such attempts, deserved well of posterity for the noble 333 stand they made. They might, in certain and particular instances, have gone to an extreme point in executing their authority against individuals, but the contest they maintained was a contest of liberty against slavery, and he would never admit, that the conduct of these men deserved to be stigmatised by Members of that House, as though the House was ashamed of the men who had established for the House the privilege of speaking its mind. He had thought it necessary to say thus much, because, though living in different times from those in which those men lived, though he did not apprehend any such danger from the Crown now as that threatened by the monarch he had mentioned, yet he felt that, if attempts were made in that House to depreciate the authority of the House, if Members were allowed without check, to cast a slur upon those men who had so gallantly contended for the liberties of the House in former times, and to hold cheap the authority of the House in times present, though it was impossible to say what authority might not be set up in its place—it was a question whether it might not be replaced by some supreme and arbitrary tribunal, or some oligarchy, odious and oppressive to the people; but this was certain, that such a course would in the end destroy all the value and dignity of the House of Commons, and, with these, the best security for the people.
§ Lord Eliot
said, he should be the last man in that House to call in question the great national services performed by the House of Commons at the periods to which the noble Lord who last spoke had referred. He reverenced the memory of an ancestor of his own who had been concerned in those proceedings, and he trusted that he estimated them too justly not to acknowledge the benefits which they had conferred upon the cause of public liberty. But it should be recollected that in those times the judges were the mere creatures of the Crown, dependent upon the will of the sovereign, and subservient to his purposes. There did not appear to be at present the least disposition to invade the privileges of the House for any such purposes as formerly influenced their opponents. He thought that in the present times there was more danger from the usurpations of majorities of that House than from any thing which could possibly proceed from the judges.
Mr. M. Attwood
thought, that the intentions with which the present motion was brought forward ought to be clearly stated. He fully believed that the whole proceeding would prove ineffectual.
§ Motion agreed to.
—By a person whose name I have understood is Pearce, and who is stated to be a clerk of Mr. Howard.
§ The Attorney-General
—Have you been served with a writ in the fifth action? and when, and where, and by whom?
—I have been served with a writ in the fifth action. It was served on me in our counting-house in the course of last week, by, I believe, the son of Mr. Howard. It was the same person who served me with the writ in the fourth action. He said he was the son of Mr. Howard.
—I have not been so advised. We have no copies now for sale—none besides the reserved copies.
—It is the invariable practice. I had no other reason for discontinuing the sale other than the necessity of keeping reserved copies.
—That is the practice, and it was in conformity with that that I said they were considered to be out of print.
§ The Attorney-General
said, if they were not to commit the clerks, by what right could they hold the employers of those clerks in custody? They had no spite to Mr. Howard—they merely wanted to prevent fresh actions. It would be in vain to confine him if they let the clerks go at large. How otherwise could they repress proceedings? Those who thus infringed the privileges of the House of Commons were represented as heroes and martyrs. He was but following up the resolution which the House had just adopted, and he had no doubt that the proceedings would be attended with better success than the hon. and learned Recorder anticipated.
§ Mr. Shaw
would ask the learned Attorney-general whether he really believed that the course proposed would be effectual? Suppose he took every clerk of Mr. Howard, every member of his establishment, every servant of his house, did he not think there were hundreds of other attornies ready to do the duty which they were called upon by their clients to perform, and who would, therefore, take up these actions?
§ The Attorney-General
said, that he might, perhaps, be allowed to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether he believed that the House had any privileges or any means of vindicating them?
§ Mr. Shaw
said he could easily answer that question. He had before stated that it was desirable to maintain their privileges by all proper means, but not to carry their privileges beyond their proper limits. He thought they should take the opinion of a court of error on the subject, and, if necessary, procure an Act of Parliament to be passed, which he thought there would be no difficulty in obtaining, either declaratory or enactive of their privileges.
§ Sir E. Sugden
suggested that the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Cambridge should not divide the House on this occasion, but should wait until the matter again came before the House.
§ Viscount Howick
said, he should not 336 object to the course which had been proposed by his noble Friend; but as there was a new question now before the House, he begged leave to inform the right hon. and learned Member for Ripon, and the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin, that though they had been pleased to comment or the suggestions which he had thrown out on a previous occasion in terms of extreme severity, and to treat those suggestions as altogether unreasonable and monstrous, he was by no means inclined to accede to their judgment of that opinion, or to retract a single observation that he had advanced. He believed, that without proceeding vindictively, but soberly and calmly in the support of the privileges of that House, they ought to increase the severity of the punishment of Howard and Stockdale. Let the House remember what were the facts of this case. After full notice that they were acting in contempt of this House, and even while they were under punishment for that contempt, they still defied the House by bringing a fifth action against Messrs. Hansard. If they were to punish persons at all for a breach of their privileges, and trusted to the powers which their predecessors had left them, it was reasonable, when persons were under confinement and aggravated the contempt for which they had been committed, and proceeded openly to defy the House, that the House should also aggravate the severity of their punishment. That was the course pursued by the House in former times, and if former Parliaments had shrunk from the exercise of the powers they possessed, the present one would not be in possession of those valuable privileges which they still retained. If the doctrine of hon. Gentlemen opposite were to prevail, he said that their privileges might as well be abandoned at once. He could understand the reluctance of hon. Gentlemen in punishing the sheriffs, who acted under a sense of duty—a reluctance which he had also felt; but with respect to both Howard and Stockdale, no such motives prevented them from acting in accordance with the wishes of the House; they defied the House for the purposes of gain. He said, therefore, that no circumstances should induce the House to act leniently towards those individuals. But if the House were to act with greater severity towards them, they might still petition the House, ex- 337 press their sorrow, and, as the only desire of the House was to maintain their privileges, they would attach all the consideration to that petition which it deserved. He believed that the punishment of Stockdale and Howard might be very much increased from what it was at present, by preventing them from having any communication with other persons. It was said that the Crown might interfere with the Prisons Act; but he was of opinion that this case would not come under that act, for Stockdale and Howard were not subject to that discipline to which ordinary prisoners for misdemeanours were actually subjected. He therefore believed that that course would be most effectual for the maintenance of their privileges, and would be perfectly legal. He adhered to the opinion he had before expressed, that that was the course they ought to adopt; and he was the more inclined to that opinion, because, although he now concurred in the motion of his noble Friend, he was aware that there was a great deal of force in the opinion of the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin, that even placing these persons in custody would not prevent similar actions from going on; and there was a good deal of weight in the consideration of the great multiplication of subordinate agents, whom the House might be compelled to commit; but by increasing the severity of Stockdale and Howard's punishment, by preventing persons from having intercourse with them, he thought that it could most effectually accomplish the object which the House had in view. It was from that consideration, and no feeling of compassion, because he considered that such persons were beneath the compassion of the House, that he now concurred in the motion of the noble Lord.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
said, that this subject was now much discussed throughout the kingdom. He had lately been down in the country, and, at a public dinner at which he had been present, he, without any hesitation, proposed the health of the sheriffs with three times three; ay, and it was drunk, too, with great applause. The feeling of disgust at the conduct of the noble Lord and his party was every day increasing. He rejoiced to say this: it was working well, and he firmly believed that the steps taken in this matter by the noble Lord, and those who acted with 338 him, would be the very means of doing that which he every day hoped to see—namely, upset the Government.
§ Mr. Godson
wished to draw the attention of the House to the circumstance, that whilst the sheriff was in custody he had no opportunity of refusing or agreeing to the wishes of the House. He would therefore defer his motion on this subject until to-morrow, so that the Government might consider whether or not they would give the sheriff an opportunity, as a free agent, of agreeing to or refusing to act in conformity with what they directed.
§ Motion agreed to.