HC Deb 05 July 1843 vol 70 cc720-30
Mr. T. Duncombe

rose to call the attention of the House to what he conceived to be a gross breach of its privileges. It was with great reluctance that he did so; and more particularly when that breach of privilege was one in which he was personally concerned. The publication of which he complained, would be found in the Standard newspaper of last Saturday. He had only seen the paragraph—not being in the habit of reading the Standard—in the more respectable paper, the Suit of yesterday, where he saw the article copied as an extract from the daily evening papers. The paragraph related to what occurred in that House on the subject of the Nottingham 'election. He would appeal to the recollection of hon. Members who heard that debate, whether there was any thing said by him which could at all justify a public writer, in declaring that either lie or his hon. Friend, the Member for Nottingham (Mr. Gisborne) was a confessed corrupter and suborner of perjury and of fraud. Certainly, if either he or the lion. Member for Nottingham had been guilty of anything like the offence that was imputed to them by the Standard, it would be unquestionably the duty of the House to expel Members having been so guilty. If it were by a technicality considered a breach of the privileges of the House to publish even a faithful report of its proceedings, how much greater must that breach of privilege be, when the public press thought proper totally and entirely to misrepresent the proceedings of the House—wilfully and maliciously to misrepresent them, as had been done in this case? The paragraph of which he complained ran thus: The confessions made last night by Messrs. Gisborne and Duncombe are a disgrace to the country. These men talk in Parliament of having hired others to the potential sin, at least, of perjury, doubtless frequently to the actual commission of that horrible crime, with as much levity as if they were mentioning their most indifferent or even laudable actions, If the House of Commons is not altogether constituted of corruptors (and well we know that not a tithe of its seats are obtained by bribery), surely such men as Messrs. Gisborne and Duncombe, confessed corruptors, confessed suborners of fraud and perjury, are unfit to sit in that assembly. As they cannot be expected to imitate that conscientious Pope who sentenced himself to be burnt for his sins, the House ought to take some order to get rid of them. They have confessed their heavy guilt, so That no precedent of inconvenient inquiry would be created by expelling them—and expelled they ought to be. Expelled or molested, however, they will not be, and we doubt not that most of those who have read so far have arched their brows at the weakness or ignorance of those who could believe in the possibility of punishing Messrs. Gisborne and Duncombe for only luring some thousands of poor and ignorant creatures into the path of perdition. It is not for such things men are punished by Parliament in our enlightened days.. Happily there is amore just tribunal from which the kidnappers of men's souls and consciences cannot withdraw themselves, and to that tribunal, the tribunal of public opinion, we denounce the Gisbornes and the Duncombes on their own confessions. Now, he would ask any gentleman who was present the other evening, whether there was anything in the speech which he made that could at all justify any one in saying that he had either confessed to corruption, or to the being a suborner of perjury and fraud? Whether he had said anything that could justify any one calling him a "kidnapper of men's souls," or a liner of "poor ignorant creatures into the path of perdition." All he did on that occasion, having heard the speech of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, was to say that he thought the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was so just and reasonable, and that the argument he had put forth against granting the committee asked for was so forcible, that he having formerly presented a petition connected with the Nottingham election, felt it his duty to support the view taken by the right hon. Baronet, and tried to persuade the House not to grant the inquiry, contrary, he believed, much to the wish of his hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham. His speech accused no one of bribery—confessed to no subornation of perjury on his own part, nor was he aware that his hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham had done anything of the sort, Had he confessed to the heavy crime of bribery, and subornation of perjury of which the paragraph accused him—it would have been the duty of the House to have expelled him, for he would have been guilty of an offence that would have subjected him to transportation. There had been many cases of these breaches of privilege, and the attention of the House had been called to them on numerous occasions; but on looking back upon all of them, he never remembered such strong language as that used by the Standard newspaper. Any libel so atrocious, so false, so utterly without foundation or pretence, he would venture to say, could not be found in the annals of Parliament. The only case which came near it, was one which took place in 1819. The hon. Member quoted the case as detailed in "Hansard," vol. 40, pp. 1137, 1163, 1195. If a case of that sort was considered worthy of being taken notice of, the present was certainly one that ought not to be passed by without censure. It was not only due to himself, but to the constituency he represented, and to the House itself, to call attention to the subject of the paragraph in which the House was itself implicated. But if they had among them any member guilty of such things as were thus imputed to him, they ought not to retain him among them a single hour. Having stated the circumstances of this case, he should leave it to the House to deal with it as the House thought fit. He hoped that those hon. Gentlemen who heard him on the former occasion, would say, that the allegation of this paragraph was a gross falsehood, and libel, and would testify that lie had not made any confession whatever of having been guilty of subornation of perjury.

The Standard

of Saturday was put in, and the article complained of was read by the clerk.

Mr. T. Duncombe

then moved, that Mr. Charles Baldwin, printer of the Standard newspaper, be called to the Bar of the House on Friday next.

Mr. Gisborne

said, that all he sought on the present occasion was an opportunity of denying in his place in that House that he had, in the words of this paragraph, confessed being "a suborner of perjury," or that he had been guilty of corruption. With respect to his hon. Friend, it appeared to him (Mr. Gisborne) that the statement of the Standard newspaper was a pure invention. He recollected nothing in the speech of his hon. Friend that could lay a foundation for any such statement as that made by the Standard. Then, with respect to himself, all that was stated was a gross misrepresentation. He said, that after the Reform Bill, he thought that the justification for either selling or buying a seat had ceased, and that since that time he had never, at any of the numerous elections at which he had been a candidate participated in, or been cognizant of any corruption whatever. That statement he now distinctly repeated. As he had said before, he was only anxious to deny, in his place in the House of Commons, that he did confess that he had been guilty of corruption, or that be had been a suborner of fraud and perjury. He had no desire whatever to withdraw himself from the censure of public opinion. He did not in the least object to this writer stating, if he thought proper, that he (Mr. Gisborne) ought to be expelled from that House; that was a matter of opinion; but he did object to his representing him as a person who had confessed very great crimes, and that he ought therefore to be expelled from his seat as a Member of that House. He was willing to leave the matter in the hands of the House to deal with it as they thought proper.

Sir R. Peel

remarked, that it was rather unfortunate to be called upon to come to an immediate decision, without having had any opportunity of referring to precedents. The breach of privilege complained of was contained in reflections by the editor of an article in a newspaper —severe comments on what had passed in the House, and an assertion that an hon. Member had made a declaration in his place which in fact he did not make. As to severity of comment in newspapers, if the House once began to punish upon that ground, he did not see where it could leave off. If calumnious charges in newspapers, with reference to speeches in debate, were to be thus noticed, the House would find abundant opportunities of vindicating its privileges by the exercise of its power. He had listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Finsbury at the time, but he had not since had the means of referring to any report of it, and the animus of the article in question might, in some degree, depend upon a correspondence between the report of the speech and the comments upon it. If there were; no report at all warranting such corn-meats, that fact would be an important element in the question, and he (Sir R. Peel) could say, that he had not the slightest recollection that the hon. Member for Finsbury had said anything to warrant the expressions of the newspaper respecting subornation of perjury. The hon. Member was certainly at liberty to compel the printer and publisher to attend if he thought fit, although this was not, perhaps, so direct a breach of privilege as some others; but, so far as his memory served, he could say that he did not hear either of the hon. Members state anything that could be construed into a confession that they had been parties to subornation of perjury in any matter connected with the Nottingham election. [Mr. Gisborne: Nor with any other election.] He (Sir R. Peel) had thought, that the paragraph referred only to the Nottingham election; but it was highly improbable that any confession or admission could have been made without exciting comment at the time. So far as his memory served, he repeated that he recollected no expression of the kind. Whether the writer of the article had confounded the ample and candid confession which the lion. Member for Finsbury certainly had made in a previous debate—not indeed as to perjury, but other irregularities connected with an election—he could not take upon himself to say. He recollected to have heard a very ample confession formerly from the hon. Member, and the writer of the article might possibly have confounded the two occasions. As the hon. Member had referred to him on the point, he was bound to say, that he had heard nothing in the nature of a confession of subornation of perjury during the late debate, nor had the hon. Member made any declaration inconsistent with his position in society, or with his character as a Member of Parliament. Whether, under the circumstances, the hon. Gentleman would think it necessary to carry this proceeding further, must be left to his own discretion. He (Sir R. Peel) had had a very brief opportunity for referring to precedents, but it seemed to him, that if the hon. Member persisted in his motion for the attendance of the printer of the Standard, it would be in conformity with them.

Mr. Aglionby

was sorry not to have been able to listen to the speech of the right hon. Baronet with that respect to which his speeches were usually entitled.

It was not fair to say, that it was at the choice of the Member whether to proceed, for, in his opinion, this was not a case affecting only an individual Member. When a grave matter of this sort was brought under the notice of the house, it was of much more importance to the House and to the public than the case of any individual Member. What was he to understand from what the right hon. Baronet had left so vague and indeterminate? The article in question was a most atrocious libel: it was a gross breach of privilege; and he submitted to the Speaker, that whether it were in the shape of an assertion in a leading article, or whether it came from the pen of one of those who, from his notes taken in the gallery, sent it to the paper, made no difference: it was equally a breach of privilege. The House was more concerned in the question than the Member; the public more deeply interested than the House; and that great vehicle of public opinion, the press, even more deeply interested than all, when an atrocious calumny was made upon an individual Member. Those who were Members of the House, and those who attended in the gallery, must know that the reports were not a ways accurate. It was monstrous, however, for the writer of a leading article so to misrepresent what the reporter had given correctly; and on the part of the House he claimed that the matter should be pursued farther, in order to ascertain how the libel found its way into the paper. Was it to be tolerated that a Member, in the fearless discharge of his duty, who had secured the respect and attachment of the public—who had never flinched from his duty on any the most trying occasion, was to sit down under an atrocious libel, and that the case was to be swamped, smothered, and passed over, merely because it was conjectured that some impossible confusion had arisen in the mind of the writer. He trusted, that the time was not yet come when, even for the sake of the honest newspaper press, such an excuse was to be accepted. Ever since he had come into public life, he had looked upon the honest newspaper press as the best vehicle and guide of public opinion; but if a malicious and unfounded libel like the present were to be disregarded, the power and influence of the press would be lessened, and in time lost. Therefore he did not put it as the case of an individual Member; he put it to the House as a public question, whether it ought to stop here, and on the part of the public he called upon the House to adopt such a course as was necessary for the vindication of its own rights and privileges.

Lord J. Russell

could not take precisely the same view of the case as his lion. Friend who had just spoken. It seemed to him, that the right lion. Baronet distinctly stated that he had heard nothing which would entitle any man to say, that either of the hon. Members had confessed themselves guilty of subornaation of perjury. It appeared to him, as far as he had heard it, that the libel was false and malignant, and, that what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet was in accordance with the general feeling of the House upon that point. The question of calling the printer to the Bar was, however, a different matter. He owned, that he always felt regret when questions of this kind were brought forward for any other purpose than refutation, and for the sake of pointing out the falsehood of the statement; and if on the present occasion any body had said, that his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury had said anything to warrant the article in the Standard, it might have been necessary for the vindication of his character to proceed further, whether by calling the printer to the Bar, or by moving that the article was a false, scandalous and malicious libel. But, as that was not the case—as it was the general feeling of the House, that no portion of the libel was justified by the truth, he did not see that his hon. Friend's character stood in need of the vindication he asked. He should, therefore, much regret if the House were now called upon to go farther. He quite approved of the mode in which his hon. Friend had brought the matter before the House for his vindication, that vindication might now be said to be complete, since the publication had been admitted to be a wanton and malignant libel. If the case' proceeded, the offending party must be brought to the Bar—the House must exercire its authority, and punishment must be awarded and carried into effect. Seeing that these evils must follow from such a course, he (Lord John Russell) should be gratified if his hon. Friend consented to proceed no further.

Mr. T. Duncombe

said, that it appeared to him that he was not fairly treated by the right hon. Baronet when lie threw upon him all the odium of calling the individual to the Bar. He had thought it his duty to call the attention of the House to the subject, more for the sake of the House itself, than to gratify any vindictive feeling by which he might be supposed to be actuated. He had no knowledge of the writer, and had never seen him, that he was aware of; but what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet almost compelled him to persevere in his motion. The speech of the right hon. Baronet was, in point of fact, a justification of the libel. In that light it had been received by many near him, and so it would be read by the public to-morrow. He wa surprised that the right hon. Baronet should attempt to justify the libel, even though the Standard was the organ of the powerful party of which the right hon. Baronet was the head; he might say, that it was almost the only remaining organ of that party, and it would, therefore, be very ungrateful if the right hon. Baronet had not stood up for it on the present occasion. It was, therefore, natural for him to say, that this innocent editor had never libelled any body, but had merely confused what had been said on a former occasion. According to the right hon. Baronet, the editor of the Standard had confounded a former confession supposed to have been made by him (Mr. T. Duncombe), and the case referred to, was, that of Hertford. He was glad that the right hon. Baronet had given him an opportunity of explaining what he did say on the occasion alluded to. It was on the motion of the hon. Member for Bath, for a committee on compromises, and what had he (Mr. T. Duncombe) then stated? That those who were to be on the committee ought to go into the inquiry with clan hands, and that no Member who had been directly or indirectly concerned in bribery, corruption or intimidation ought to sit upon it. He added then, as he added now, that certainly he must be excluded, because he could not conscientiously say, that he had not directly or indirectly been concerned in bribery. Before the Reform Act, he had left between 30,000l. and 40,000l. behind him at Hertford. A considerable portion of this money had been expended in protecting poor voters who had been ejected from their tenancies by the Marquess of Salisbury, the present Lord-Lieuenant of Middlesex. He (Mr. T, Duncombe) had built sixty or seventy houses for parties so ejected, who had thought fit to show themselves independent electors, and the cost of these was, he believed, between 12,000l. and 13,000l. He had stood five contested elections there, and spent between 30,000l. and 40,000l., besides what was necessary for election petitions. He had said also, that beyond the legal expenses, the surplus of 30,000l. or 40,000l. must have been laid out in Hertford for purposes which were not legal—no doubt in treating: but he had never said—he had never confessed then, nor did he now, that he had been otherwise a party to it; and he could assert most conscientiously, that he could not name, nor put his finger upon one individual who had been bribed with part of the money; all he knew was that he had to pay it. The same thing had happened to others. No man had a right to state that he (Mr. T. Duncombe) had been guilty of personal bribery, much less that he had been guilty of subornation of perjury, which the organ of the Tory party had imputed to him, and which the right hon. Baronet had said arose from some confusion. How could this be? The paper specified the time—it says that the confession was made last night; how, then, could there be any confusion? What had passed at Hertford? At the election after the passing of the Reform Act there had been no expenditure of money on his part beyond what was necessary for the legal charges, while on the other side it was admitted that there had been a large outlay; some 13,000l. or 14,000l. had been expended by Lord Salisbury for the purpose of defeating him, and his Lordship succeeded. On petition, however, he had unseated the two Members, Lord Mahon and Lord Ingestre, and a bill had been introduced to disfranchise the borough. The House of Lords, however, threw it out, and the writ was suspended for three or four years. He had lost Hertford because he did not bribe, and the sitting Members subsequently lost their seats because they did bribe. He had afterwards been rewarded by the honour of being returned for the borough of Finsbury; the Marquess of Salisbury, his antagonist, who admitted that he had spent so much money to defeat him, had been rewarded too—he had received the Garter, and the county of Middlesex had the happiness to call him Lord-lieutenant. He (Mr. T. Duncombe) was Member for Finsbury, and the Marquess of Salisbury Lord-lieutenant of Middlesex, with the garter round his knee. That was the whole history; and did it for a moment justify the libel in the Standard, even if the confusion speculated upon by the right hon. Baronet had really occurred? If he had confounded the cases, let the editor state it at the bar—let the House hear him; he (Mr. T. Duncombe) had no vindictive feelings to gratify, and if the writer could in any way explain the libel he should be perfectly satisfied. That it could not be explained he was quite sure, and it would turn out to be what he had charged it, a false atrocious and malignant calumny. He did not bring the case forward merely as an humble individual, but as a Member of the House, and for the sake of the honour and dignity of the House, it was not fit to allow the offender to escape unpunished, merely because the right hon. Baronet had supposed him guilty of a confusion that could never have arisen in his mind.

Sir R. Peel

was exceedingly sorry that the hon. Member should have imagined that he meant in any way to justify the imputations upon him in the paragraph in question; he lamented also that the line of politics taken by the paper should have induced the hon. Member to think that he (Sir R. Peel) was on that account disposed to treat the matter lightly. The course he advised was, that which, he assured the hon. Member he would himself have taken. If he were disposed to take steps against those who cast calumnious imputations upon him, not a day would pass without some matter of the kind for the consideration of the House. At the same time, lie admitted that the motion of the hon. Member was consistent with order and precedent, and if the hon. Member felt that his character was concerned in pressing for the appearance of the party at the bar, the hon. Member was certainly entitled to that remedy. He had thought that the object of the hon. Member was to elicit testimony from those who had heard the debate that nothing had fallen from him warranting the imputation that he had confessed himself guilty of subornation of perjury. He (Sir R. Peel) had been present, and had listened to the speeches of the hon. Member for Finsbury and of the hon. Member on his right hand, but he had not heard a single word to countenance the charge of subornation of perjury. What more ample or complete vindication could be desired? This he had said before, and he had also said, that it was a material circumstance in ascertaining the animus of the libeller, to ascertain what was the report of the hon. Member's speech given in the same paper; the animus must partly depend upon the nature of the report, which might or might not have misled the party. When he spoke of confusion, he did not refer to the case of Hertford, but to a vague recollection of what the hon. Member had said regarding Pontefract, and he had since found it reported that he had told the House "that he had spent 4,000l. at Pontefract, and he had no hesitation in adding that he had spent it in gross bribery." So far from vindicating the charge of subornation of perjury, either at Nottingham or elsewhere, he would again repeat, that not a word had fallen from the hon. Member that could in the remotest manner justify the libel. Had the case been his own, he should think that any farther proceeding would not be requisite to vindicate his character. If, however, the hon. Member was of a different opinion, he was perfectly at liberty to take the course he proposed. He (Sir R. Peel) claimed no indulgence for the paper, on account of any line in politics it took, and was only giving advice he should himself be most ready to take. In a case of this kind, the really responsible person was the individual who had endited, not the party who had printed, the paragraph, and if the hon. Member felt disposed to press that the printer be called to the bar, he was entitled to do so, but he (Sir R. Peel) doubted whether anything would be gained by it. It seemed to him that the hon. Member's character was sufficiently vindicated, and that it was not necessary to call upon the House to interfere.

Mr. T. Duncombe

considered the explanation of the right hon. Baronet satisfactory, and as the noble Member for London concurred in the opinion, that no farther proceeding should be taken, he threw upon them the responsibility. The right hon. Baronet had now explicitly stated, that there was no justification for the libel in any thing that had been said on a former night, and upon that statement he was willing to withdraw his motion.

Motion withdrawn.

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