HC Deb 12 February 1844 vol 72 cc578-600
Mr. Christie

I wish first to say that I feel I ought to apologize for bringing forward a question so closely relating to the privileges of this House, and also of very considerable constitutional importance. The only excuse I can offer is, that, having been connected in the last Session with the Bill for the amendment of the Law of Libel, which originally contained a clause giving protection to publishers of faithful Parliamentary reports from actions or prosecutions for libel arising out of any matter in these reports, and which was deprived of that clause in the other House, chiefly for the reason that all such reports were strictly breaches of the privilege of Parliament, I have had my attention directed to a practical consequence of the present anomalous state of things, and have hoped that I might be allowed to submit, for the better consideration of the House, the propriety of getting rid of forms that have fallen into complete disuse, and are indeed so contradictory to our practice, that they can only excite ridicule, and are attended with some practical inconveniences, and of substituting regulations conformable to our practice, and which, while they recognize what is now daily not only permitted but encouraged by the House, shall retain for the House all the control over both the admission of strangers and the publication of debates, which it can be necessary or proper for the House to exercise. Now, if this were a mere question of obsolete regulations, which have lost all practical influence, I will not say there would be no justification, but there would be little inducement to trouble the House with a formal motion for rescinding them. I have already adverted to one instance of the practical operation of these regulations. There is another which has been probably presented to the mind of every Member of the House, however short his Parliamentary experience. Old Resolutions of this House declare, that any publication by newspapers of what is said in it, is a breach of its privileges, and that the House will proceed with the utmost severity against all offenders. But the House never seeks to exercise the power so declared, except in cases where a published report involves gross and apparently wilful misrepresentations. Now the power of the House to prevent these misrepresentations, which, in order to prevent their recurrence, no one will say that it ought not to possess and to exercise, is greatly weakened by a theory as to all publications at complete variance with practice. The House cannot notice any such misrepresentation without declaring the report to be in itself a breach of privilege. This at once lays bare the inconsistency of the House: it so far gives an advantage to the offender; it places punishment on a wrong ground, or at any rate, not solely on the right one; it is at best a clumsy circuitous mode of punishing the offence you wish to punish, instead of proceeding straight to the object; and the consequence of the present state of things is, as every one knows, first, that the House is rendered slow to act, in cases where for the sake of the public, to whom faithful reports of Parliamentary Debates are all-important, it is desirable that it should act, and secondly, that, when it does act, it acts with diminished efficiency. I will mention an instance in illustration. In the year 1819, a reporter of the Times newspaper was brought to the bar of the House on the complaint of Mr. Canning, for a misreport of a speech of Mr. Hume's, which, as misreported and so grossly misreported, that the House could not believe the misreport to be unintentional, was roost offensive to the feelings of Mr. Canning, and calculated to injure him seriously in the public estimation. Any one who reads the debate which arose, and the proceedings in that case, will see how the House was hampered by the theory, that publication is a breach of privilege. I find that Mr. Wynn, who directed the course taken by the House, said, The breach of privilege was, in the present instance, of a complicated nature; the first breach of privilege be need not mention, as it was well known to every Member of the House, and had now been overlooked for many years; the next breach of privilege was against the right hon. Gentleman opposite, whose character had been calumniated; and the third breach against the hon. Gentleman to whom foul language had been attributed. Mr. Wynn afterwards moved a resolution, which is remarkable for the pains taken to place the theoretical offence of publication,—the sole offence for the House to consider if it acted in the spirit of the Resolutions on which it professes to act—as much as possible in the background. The Resolution was— That the said paragraph is a scandalous misrepresentation of the debates and proceedings of this House, a calumnious libel on the character of one of its Members, and an aggravated breach of its privileges. Now, the breach of its privileges was the publication—the calumny and the misrepresentation, which are put foremost were the aggravating circumstances. The reporter was committed to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms, and the next day, having presented a petition to the House he was ordered to be reprimanded by the Speaker and discharged. I have extracted a sentence from the reprimand delivered on that occasion by the Speaker, the present Lord Canterbury, which seems to me a very happy and forcible illustration of the difficulties in which the House is now placed with regard to reports of debates. After speaking of the lenity with which the House was disposed to treat the offence, he says, Let not, however, that lenity be misunderstood—let it not be forgotten that it is alone from the indulgence of this Rouse that there is room for the commission of any such offence, and that the abuse of such indulgence aggravates the offence. That is, "we allow you to commit an offence, and make ourselves parties to its commission; but if you infringe the terms on which we allow you to violate our privileges, we consider that you break faith with us, and that we are entitled to assume a higher tone of moral indignation towards you." Now I cannot but think, that the dignity of this House would have been better asserted, its high functions as a representative assembly more worthily vindicated, and, I will add, the Speaker placed in a juster position, if he had been able to say to the person whom he was required to reprimand, "We allow you to report our debates and give you facilities for reporting them, for the public good which requires that those for whom this House legislates, and by whom this House is elected, should see the speeches of its Members: you must remember that, in pursuing your own profit, you exercise important public functions: we who permit you to perform these functions retain in our hands a control over you in order to secure their being performed justly and accurately; and the same public good which calls upon us to allow you to report, requires us to punish you if you misrepresent." And this is the principle which I hope the House may ultimately be induced to adopt: to sanction reports, and to confine punishment to misrepresentations. I hope the House will think that I am doing only what the importance of this subject and its delicate character in connexion with privilege require, if I go into a short history of the proceedings of the House of Commons from the commencement, both for excluding strangers and prohibiting the publication of debates. The two questions are distinct; for though in later times the Standing Order for the exclusion of Strangers was made the means of preventing publication, and I believe I may say also was made the ground for treating publication as an offence, its original enactment was altogether irrespective of the question of publication, and the House sought to prevent publication by distinct specific resolutions. The first Resolutions to be found in our Journals, prohibiting publication of speeches, occur at the commencement of the Long Parliament. In that crisis of the great struggle between Charles I. and the Parliament, when every possible expedient was resorted to for the purpose of protecting the privilege of freedom of speech, two Resolutions prohibiting publication were passed, which had for their object to prevent what was said by Members from coming to the knowledge of the Crown. The first of these Resolutions, forbad any Member to publish his speech without the leave of the House. The second passed on the 22nd March, 1642, was directed generally against publication, and is in these terms:— Resolved, that whatsoever person shall print any act or passages of this House, under the name of Diurnal or otherwise, without the particular licence of this House, shall be reputed a high contemner and breaker of the privileges of Parliament, and be punished accordingly. The spirit of the Resolutions of the Long Parliament was upheld in all the irregular Parliaments of the Protectorate, which contained always a large number of Members as jealous of Cromwell and afterwards of his son, as the Long Parliament had been jealous of Charles I. Mr. Burton mentions in his Diary, an attempt made on one occasion by a republican Member, Luke Robinson, to stop his taking notes. After the Restoration, there is an early instance of two printers being punished for printing some of the proceedings of the House. But the King and Parliament were now entirely in accord; and the spirit of this proceeding was no longer that which had dictated the Resolutions of the Long Parliament. Ii was not, however, till the middle of the reign of William and Mary, that a series of systematic attempts was commenced, to use Resolutions originally passed to protect the House of Commons, in the performance of its duty to the people, from the Crown, for the purpose of screening it from the view of the people. On the 20th of December, 1694, the House passed a Resolution,— That no news-letter writers do, in their letters or other papers that they disperse, presume to intermeddle with the debates, or any other proceedings of this House. This Resolution was renewed in 1695, 1697, and 1703; and fresh Resolutions more stringent in character, were passed in 1722 and 1728. These Resolutions were one after another disregarded; and accounts of the proceedings of Parliament went on, in spite of them, increasing in number and value, constantly becoming more cared for by the public, and more difficult to be prevented. There was, however, in those times, an argument that might be urged with much plausibility for preventing accounts of debates from being published, which can no longer be urged now, that the speeches of Members, if published, would be published inaccurately. Thus, in 1738, when a more vigorous attempt was made than had ever been made before to stop publication, this was made the chief ground for the desired prohibition. An account of the debate on this occasion has been preserved, and is to be found in the "Parliamentary History." The subject was introduced by the Speaker, who informed the House— That it was with some concern he saw a practice prevailing which a little reflected on the dignity of that House. What he meant was the inserting an account of their proceedings in the printed newspapers, by which means the proceedings of the House were liable to very great misrepresentation. In the debate which took place, Sir Wm. Yonge, Sir Wm. Windham, Mr. Pulteney, and Sir Robt. Walpole took part. All agreed as to the necessity of taking some step for the prevention of the practice complained of by the Speaker, and all, with the single exception of Mr. Pulteney, who was more adventurous in his argument, relied chiefly on the liability to misrepresentation. Mr. Pulteney, alone, denied the right of the public to know what was said in the House. He said— I think no appeals should be made to the public with regard to what is said in this assembly; and to print or publish the speeches of Gentlemen in this House, even though they were not misrepresented, looks very like making them accountable without doors for what they say within. The following extract from Sir Robert Walpole's speech shows that general inaccuracy and wilful misrepresentations of party virulence were the real grievance;— I have read some debates of this House, Sir, in which I have been made to speak the very reverse of what I meant. I have read others of them, wherein all the wit, the learning, and the argument, have been thrown into one side, and on the other nothing but what was low, mean, and ridiculous; and yet when it comes to the question, the division has gone against the side which, upon the face of the debate, had reason and justice to support it. So that, Sir, had I been a stranger to the proceedings, and to the nature of the arguments themselves, I must have thought this to have been one of the most contemptible assemblies on the face of the earth. What notion, then, Sir, can the public, who have no other means of being informed of the debates of this House than what they learn from these papers, entertain of the wisdom and abilities of an assembly, who are represented therein to carry almost every point against the strongest and the plainest arguments and appearances? The result was, that a Resolution was unanimously passed, which differed only from the Resolution of 1728 by specifically naming the recess, as well as the time of sitting, of Parliament, and is as follows:— That it is an high indignity to, and notorious breach of the privileges of, this House, for any news writer, in letters or other papers (as minutes, or under any other denomination), or for any printer or publisher of any printed newspaper of any denomination, in Great Britain, Ireland, or any other part of His Majesty's dominions, to presume to insert in the said letters or papers, or to give therein any account of the debates or other proceedings of this House, or any committee thereof, as well during the recess as the sitting of Parliament; and that this House will proceed with the utmost severity against such offenders. This Resolution did not succeed in preventing accounts of the debates from being published. The accounts were published henceforward with a fictitious name for the House of Commons, and fictitious names for the Members. The London Magazine published The Proceedings of the Political Club. The St. James's Chronicle, The Debates of the Representatives of Utopia—and The Gentleman's Magazine, whose reports have acquired a greater celebrity, as having commanded, for some years, in their service, all the resources of the genius of Johnson, published its reports under the name of Debates of the Senate of Lilliput. All this while, the Standing Order for excluding Strangers was never used for carrying into effect the desire of the House to prevent publication of its proceedings. The first Order for excluding Strangers was passed in 1662, and had no other object, than to prevent strangers from coming in to mix with Members, and obstruct business. It was an Order to shut the back door of the Speaker's chamber when the House began to sit, and to keep it shut as long as the House sat. An Order to this effect was renewed sessionally till 1833, long after anything was known about the back door of the Speaker's chamber; and was dropped in that year from a general conviction of its absurdity. An Order similar to the present Sessional Order was first passed on the 31st of October 1705. It differed in no way essentially from the present Sessional Strangers' Order, but was not expressed so fully. Every one knows the Order in its present form. It was in the commencement of the reign of George 3rd, on the establishment, after a long term of exclusion, of the Tory party in power, that this Order was first used for the purpose of preventing publication of debates. The Gallery was now constantly closed against strangers. But even this was not effectual. Members sent reports of the debates to the magazines and papers. In 1771, a bolder step was taken, and Colonel Onslow moved, to bring the printer and publisher of every reporting newspaper, to the Bar of the House. These motions were met with a determined opposition from a small minority, in which Mr. Burke, then young in Parliamentary life, bore a conspicuous part, and which vexed the House in one night with twenty-three divisions. The opposition was fruitless at the time, but the moral effect which it produced led the Tories in the next Parliament to give up the point, and from that time, reports of debates have been unmolested and virtually permitted. In a recent valuable publication, Sir Henry Cavendish's Debates, a full report of the debates on Colonel Onslow's motions has been given to the world: and there are other interesting debates reported in that work which bear on this subject. In those debates, Mr. Burke, Mr. Dunning, Mr. Fox, and others, unequivocally declared, that the exclusion of strangers was at variance with the constitution. I will read a part of a short debate which took place on February 7th 1771, and which tends to prove the origin of the exclusion, by showing, that at this time, want of room was always made the pretext. Sir John Turner, who was a Lord of the Treasury under Lord North, and who moved the enforcement of the Standing Order for the exclusion of Strangers, and said:— As there were so many Members at the call of the House on Tuesday, I conclude they are still in town, and that we shall be crowded. I am not so cold as I was; I desire, that the Standing Order for the exclusion of Strangers may be read. Sir Joseph Mawbey, a Member of the Opposition said, after strangers had left the House:— From the appearance of the House, I begin to suspect that many Members are gone out of town. Several Gentlemen complain of cold. The hon. Baronet (Sir J. Turner) has got his great-coat on. Colonel Onslow said, (and this again shows, that misrepresentation was the evil sought to be avoided)— Nobody wishes to permit strangers to be in the House more than myself; but there is one objection which I mentioned the other day. No Member would misrepresent the speeches made in this House, It must proceed from strangers. Mr. Wm. Burke replied:— With regard to misrepresentation it is more likely to take place from strangers being kept out. If they are not permitted freely to report the speeches of Members, they will set about inventing them. The hon. Gentleman need not be discontented. Many very good speeches of his and of other Members have been printed. I conclude then from this historical sketch that the publication of debates in this House was originally prohibited for the purpose of protection against the Crown, and afterwards when the House of Commons had ceased to fear the Crown, was long attempted to be maintained against a constantly growing interest in public matters on the part of the community generally, and a growing desire to make the Government responsible to the governed, by some few political zealots in order to screen Parliament from accountability to the public, but chiefly and by all moderate men in order to prevent inaccurate and unjust accounts of what passed in the House from going forth to the public, and because it was then thought there was no other alternative but secrecy of debates, or misrepresentation of them. The Standing Order for the exclusion of Strangers from the House, was originally resorted to for the purpose of preventing interruption of the proceedings of the House, and inconvenience and discomfort to Members from the want of sufficient accommodation for strangers. During the time which has elapsed since the House of Commons gave up the contest with newspapers, and there has been practically permission of newspaper reports, the art of reporting has been carried to such a state of excellence, and the newspapers have become so universally recognised as the full and faithful media of communication between this House and those whom it represents, that I think no one will any longer regard inaccuracy and misrepresentation as necessary dangers. The perfection to which short hand writing has been carried, the large capitals embarked in newspapers, and the rivalry between them, if aided by the more effectual control that this House could exercise if it only emancipated itself from the shackles of its present nominal prohibition of all publication, would ensure reports free from general inaccuracy which the public would discountenance, free from wilful misrepresentations which this House would punish, and free also, under the control of the public and of the House from the exercise of any political partiality or personal caprice over those who execute the duties of reporting. It is under these circumstances then, that I ask the House to grant the appointment of a Committee to consider the expediency of recognising the presence of strangers at debates, and the publication of debates under the pleasure of the House, and to consider and report what regulations may be necessary. I will explain what I mean by the words "under the pleasure of the House." I do not propose to take away the power which any individual Member now has of having the House cleared of strangers, without any debate arising on his demand for their exclusion. But I wish their presence here to be recognised as the general rule. There may arise occasions when state policy would require the Legislature to debate with closed doors. The best possible check upon a Member to prevent his excluding strangers without a good reason, would be public opinion; and with regard to the publication of debates, the power must be reserved to the House to forbid publication, if on any occasion secrecy is required. The regulations ne- cessary for thus modifying the general right of admission of strangers and of publication, it will, of course, be for the Committee to consider; and if the Committee is granted, I trust that I may be able to secure the efficient aid of experienced Members of the House; for I say sincerely, that I only look upon myself as having been accidentally led to make a suggestion to the House for other Members of more weight and experience to act upon, and conduct if they will, to a practical result. With regard to authorising the publication of debates, there is one point which I wish very briefly to anticipate, which however would be urged probably not so much as an objection, as suggesting a consequence which may tend to give a little more difficulty to this question. I mean, it may be said, that if this House recognizes reports of debates, it must go a step further, and have reporters of its own. After all, it is but a mockery to say that this House does not now practically recognize reports. But I believe, that the appointment of special reporters is neither a necessary nor a desirable consequence. The competition of newspapers and the control exercised by the public through the encouragement of the best reports, will secure justice and general accuracy; and the desired result may be confidently expected to be attained by the application of the enterprise and capital and talent of individuals, without expense to the public. Besides, if special reporters were appointed by the House, unless you excluded reporters from newspapers, the) would anticipate your reporters with the public, and the newspaper reports would after all be then generally read. The recognition by Parliament of reports of its debates, would pave the way for an alteration of the law of libel, as regards publishers of these reports, which the highest authorities have declared to be desirable. Every newspaper that reports a speech which any individual may complain of as containing a libel on his character is now liable to action or prosecution for libel by that individual, the Member himself who made the speech being protected by his privilege. But if a Member publishes his own speech, or revises a manuscript report of it, or sends notes to the newspaper, he becomes liable for the publication. Mr. Creevey's case is well known. He was indicted in 1813 for a libel contained in a speech of which he had sent a corrected report to a country newspaper, and was found guilty. It seems to me most unjust and inconsistent with the spirit of the constitution that those who do the public the great service of reporting debates in Parliament, should do so with the terrors of the law of libel before their eyes, and that Members of Parliament who assist to make reports accurate, should be subjected to the same peril. I will not trouble the House with reading the strong opinions given by Lords Denman and Campbell before the Lords' Committee on the law of Defamation and Libel which any Member may see on referring to the Report of that Committee. But I cannot, before I sit down, forbear from mentioning one striking instance, which a recent act of the Executive Government has supplied, of the inconvenience of retaining forms that have fallen into such complete disuse, that even the Lord Chancellor of Ireland could forget their existence, and embarrass himself and the Government by grounding his dismissal of Irish magistrates, on a letter deliberately written to explain it, on ministerial declarations in the two Houses of Parliament, of Her Majesty's sentiments on the subject of the Union between Great Britain and Ireland, which if known to the Chancellor himself, in any other way (and that is doubtful) were known to the public only by the newspaper reports. I move for a Select Committee to consider the expediency of recognizing the presence of strangers at debates, and the publication of debates, under the pleasure of the House, and to consider and report what regulations may be necessary.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

had given the best attention in his power to the speech which had just been delivered by the hon. and learned Member, and he confessed he had not been able to discover the object which the hon. Member had in view. The hon. and learned Gentleman appeared to wish that accurate accounts of debates should be published, and he paid a just tribute to the skill, correctness, and impartiality of the press in the publication of debates. He admitted, that the existing accounts were free from misrepresentation. He admitted, that the sentiments of Members were given under the existing system with an accuracy highly commendable. In the same way, with respect to the exclusion of strangers, the hon. and learned Member would have the House retain the powers which they at present possessed; and therefore he would ask what result could possibly arise from the appointment of the committee for which the hon. and learned Member moved? The practical advantage from it was too small to be discovered. The motion appeared to him to be founded on the Sessional Order, which directed the Sergeant-at-Arms to take all persons into custody whom he found within the House; hut that Standing Order had no practical effect upon that portion of the strangers present who were engaged in reporting the debates. That resolution applied only thus far, that if strangers were found in any part of the House in which Members sat, then the Sergeant-at-Arms was to exercise the power given to him, and take them into custody. Surely this was a power which, whatever might be their feelings as to the admission of strangers to hear their debates, could not be objected to. Therefore, whatever might be their opinions with respect to the publication of their debates, he thought the objection of the hon. Gentleman to the Standing Order of the House not one to which the House could attend without having, as a consequence, persons intruding themselves into the House who were not Members. The hon. Member wished the House to recognise the publication of the debates. There was no concealment on the part of the House under the present system; and the inquiry of the committee moved for would be this—whether the public received as much information at present as they could under the recommendation of the hon. Member, if acceded to? They did not recognise the publication of their debates, nor could they, unless they did so through some authorised channel responsible to the House. This rule of the House did not rest on an Order passed from Session to Session; it was an inherent privilege of the House, which did not depend on any Standing Order, or any Sessional Order. The principle was this, that it was contrary to the independence of the House to publish or to advert to any debates which took place there. What would be one of the consequences of an opposite course if the House recognised the publication of any debates? One of the first consequences would be this,—they would have petitions without end, complaining of the speeches of this Member and that, as containing misstatements of facts, and they would be compelled, if they authorised the publication of their debates, to listen to the voice of their constituents, and have the debates re-debated, in order to ascertain whether what had before been stated was correct or not. In the present state of the House, and of the business before the House, such a course would be highly inconvenient. If they recognised the publication of their debates, they could not get over the difficulty of recognising the right of the public to comment on them, and to bring them under their notice. Against the motion they had this fact, that the public had every information respecting the debates that passed in that House reported to them accurately, faithfully, and impartially, and what more could be required? If at any future period a time should arrive when it might be necessary to resort to any prohibition of the publication of the debates (which he did not anticipate), then such an attempt as this to interfere with an established privilege of the House would be more properly made. The only ground on which the hon. Member had supported his argument, had been the effect which this Standing Order had on the Law of Libel; and he said, that it ought not to be a libel to publish whatever might have been stated in that House by individual Members. In this he confessed he differed from the hon. Member, because he conceived, that it was perfectly possible for it to be necessary for a Member in his place in Parliament to make statements greatly affecting the character of other individuals, and yet he thought it would be most unjust that the mere fact of such a statement having been made in Parliament should authorise it to be published throughout the country to the prejudice of the individual. In many cases of inquiry, it was essentially necessary that things should be stated regarding individuals which were sometimes stated with exaggeration, and he thought it was but fair that the individual should not have things published without remedy. He did not agree in the principle, that it was justifiable to publish any matter, however libellous in itself, if stated to that House. He, therefore, thought it essential, that the House should retain its power, and that Members should be enabled to state what they thought necessary without the danger of their statements being used for the injury of individuals. He would not further detain the House. He objected to the motion, because every advantage anticipated by the hon. Member was at presented enjoyed by the House, and he thought it unnecessary to enter into an inquiry the result of which could not produce any material change.

Mr. T. Duncombe

said the right hon. Gentleman had stated, that he could not understand the object of his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Christie) in introducing this motion. Having listened to the speech of his hon. Friend, he must say that he never heard a proposition made more distinctly or intelligibly than his had been. His motion had not been to rescind the Order which authorised the Sergeantat-Arms to take into custody any stranger who intruded himself into the House; and for all those circumstances in which it might be necessary to review any individual's conduct on a subject which ought to be kept secret, his hon. Friend proposed to retain the power which the House possessed to exclude strangers. All his hon. Friend asked the House now to do was, to appoint a committee to inquire into the expediency of rescinding a resolution which compelled the exclusion of strangers, and which made it a breach of privilege for the reporters in their gallery to report a debate in that House. It was, in fact, a breach of privilege in those gentlemen now present (if they did him the honour) to report his present observations. His hon. Friend wished to save the House from these continual breaches of privilege going on and from the anomaly of their proceedings. His hon. Friend had alluded to a letter and certain proceedings of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland last year. That letter had been founded on the report of a speech of the right hon. Baronet opposite, and on the report of a speech of the Duke of Wellington made in the other House of Parliament. How had the Lord Chancellor of Ireland acquired a knowledge of those speeches except through the public press? Suppose the individuals to whom that letter had been addressed had denied that those speeches were ever made, how would the Lord Chancellor have proved them? He could not have called on the right hon. Baronet to prove that he had made the speech he was reported to have made, nor could he have invented any mode to show that those magistrates were cognizant of those speeches. In the state trials just concluded, the speeches of Members of that House had been given in evidence. A speech of Lord Althorp had been quoted and argued upon by the Attorney-general for Ireland and other counsel, as evidence of the intention of the parties they were trying to commit a breach of the peace, and to throw the whole country into confusion. Suppose those individuals had denied any of those speeches, they could only have proved them by the reporters of the newspapers, or by calling the individuals who made them. If the reporters of the newspapers had proved that those speeches were made, they would be guilty of a breach of the privileges of that House. Now, if they took advantage of speeches so made, they ought certainly to do away with this anomalous Resolution, which made a report of such speeches a breach of the privileges of the House. Had his hon. Friend proposed to rescind this Resolution which said that a correct report of the debates which took place in that House was a breach of privilege, he, for one, should have been quite prepared to vote for rescinding that Resolution; but he did not do that; he asked them only to inquire into the expediency of rescinding that Resolution, and to consider whether it would not be advisable to make some alterations in this regulation as to privilege. He could not understand what danger the right hon. Gentleman anticipated from the appointment of this committee. The proposed alteration could do no harm, if it did no good, and it would, at all events, save the House from the anomalous and absurd position which it now was in, its Members daily giving orders of admission to strangers to the House, their presence being a breach of the privileges of the House, and it would save them from the anomaly of permitting reporters to go every day into the Gallery and report their proceedings, against one of their Standing Orders. If his hon. Friend pressed his motion, as he hoped his hon. Friend would, he should have great plea, sure in supporting it.

Mr. W. Williams

had on former occasions felt it to be his duty to point out the anomalous position in which the House was occasionally placed by its own Orders. Some of their Orders were, indeed, never attended to, and were not of the slightest use. What, for example, was to be made of the following Order?— Ordered that no Member of this House do presume to bring any stranger or strangers to the House or the Gallery while the House is sitting. The fact was, that any hon. Member and Mr. Speaker, were at perfect liberty to introduce strangers when they pleased. There was another Order of no more avail, Ordered, that the Sergeant-at-Arms attending this house do, from time to time, take into his custody any stranger or strangers that he shall see, or be informed of to be in the House or Gallery, while the House or a Committee of the whole House is sitting. The reporters' gallery was always in the view of the Sergeant-at-Arms, and yet the Order was violated every night; and the strangers' gallery was directly opposite the Speaker, who took no means for their exclusion. Nothing could be more inconsistent than thus constantly acting in open violation of their own rules. For his own part, he felt some desire to see the House act upon high principles of consistency, especially in the regulations which it had laid down for its own guidance; and he thought the hon. Member (Mr. Christie) would have pursued a more consistent course, if he had proposed the rescinding of the Orders altogether to which he objected with respect to the presence of reporters. He would ask what was the object of making speeches in that House? and he would appeal to the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir It. Peel), whether he ever hoped by the eloquent and occasionally long speeches which he addressed to that House to gain a convert from the other side? He (Mr. Williams) believed, that the most eloquent speeches in that House had never converted a single Member. He feared they were all too much like the Member from the north, who always voted along with Ministers, but being asked once, if he were never induced to alter his opinion by the argumentative speeches of the other side, replied "My opinions sometimes, but never my votes." He would ask, were not the speeches made in that House spoken rather with the view of exhibiting to the public the course which they were taking in that House, than with the hope of converting any hon. Member to their own opinions? And who gave those speeches to the public but the gentlemen who represented the newspaper press? He thought the Members of that House should be very much obliged to those gentlemen for the very clear, and he must say, generally very correct reports, which they gave to the country of the proceedings of that House, at the cost of great study and wonderful application and labour to themselves; but affording thereby a fund of information to the public. With regard to the exclusion of strangers, he certainly thought it was an anomaly to give so much power to one Member in ordering the withdrawal of strangers. He could imagine the necessity for that House to debate with closed doors, but the case must be very extraordinary to call for the exercise of such a power. If such a circumstance should occur, however, it ought, in his opinion, to be upon the vote of the whole House, and not at the caprice of one individual Member, that strangers should be compelled to withdraw. The right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said the Order for the expulsion of Strangers by the Sergeant-at-Arms related only to strangers found in the body of the House, and not to strangers in the Gallery; but the order distinctly said "in the House or the Gallery of the House." [The Chancellor of the Exchequer: The Members' gallery.] The Order did not limit itself to the Members' gallery. If the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair would confirm the opinion expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he (Mr. Williams) should not object to such a Standing Order, but he was of opinion that it applied to all the galleries of the House. Instead of excluding strangers from their own gallery, he (Mr. Williams) thought that more accommodation might be given to them, and he could not see the slightest utility in ordering their withdrawal during a division, for they could not interfere with the Members if they were allowed to remain in the House. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would either confirm the view taken of the Order by the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or that he would cause the Order to be altered, so as to make it in accordance with the views of the right hon. Gentleman.

Sir G. Clerk

thought there could be no doubt that the meaning of the Sessional Order, authorizing the Sergeant-at-Arms to take persons into custody found in the House, was limited to that part of the House to which his right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had referred. No doubt that House had the power, the inherent power, upon the notice of any hon. Member, to cause the withdrawal of strangers from any part of the House. This power had not of late years been exercised in any instance to which reasonable objection could be taken, and previous to a division, he (Sir G. Clerk) conceived that it was a power which it was necessary for the House to have; nor did he imagine that it was one of which the hon. Member for Weymouth (Mr. Christie) wished to deprive the House, He believed the only occasion when a debate in which great interest was felt was coming on, and the exclusion of strangers was enforced, was by Mr. Charles Yorke on moving for a Committee of Inquiry into the expedition to Walcheren, on the ground that the House was going into a very long investigation, and if the proceedings were reported from day to day, it might cause great prejudice to individuals: but the hon. Member (Mr. Christie) had brought forward a much more important question than that of authorizing the presence of strangers; he wished the House to authorize the publication of their debates, on the ground that be thought it unfair to impose upon individuals so severe a task, as that of reporting the debates of the House contrary to the Orders of the House, a task which he quite agreed with the hon. Member was performed with wonderful accuracy and truth, and with a rapidity that made it quite extraordinary how so much could be done so accurately in the time. The hon. Member said, he wished to put it out of the power of any one to proceed against a newspaper for a libel, on the ground of a report of words spoken in the House, for that the party injured could proceed only against the proprietor of the newspaper, and not against the Member; but he did not sec how the hon. Member proposed to get out of the difficulty. If an action was brought, he apprehended the answer would be, that the report was a faithful report of words spoken in the House of Commons, but how was this to be proved? Was the MembeI to be called before any tribunal to state whether he had made such a statement or not. The hon. Member said, that a reporter of The Times had been brought to the Bar of the House on account of a report which he had given of a speech of the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), but there the hon. Member said, he had not used the words. The truth was, the House would do well to recollect the awkward situation in which only three years ago they placed themselves by attempting to enforce the publication of the reports of their Committees, when at last an Act of Parliament was obliged to be passed, to the effect, that no person should be liable to action for libel upon the production of a certificate from the Speaker, or the authorities of the House, that the libel was contained in a report published by the order of the House. Now, if any such certificate was to be given in the case of words spoken in the House, the House must make themselves responsible for the truth of the reports, and after that it would be impossible, he thought, that any other publication could be allowed; they must be confined to the authorized debates, which instead of appearing next morning as at present, would not be out for two or three days. The committee on printed papers had recommended that, on committees, members should abstain as much as possible from questions that might be injurious to the feelings of individuals; and now, when there was anything of that nature took place, it was omitted in the report, and petitions containing libellous matter, were printed for the use of Members only; but if the publication of debates was authorized by the House, it would not be possible, he thought, for a Member to shelter himself against an action for libel for words spoken in the House. The consequence would be, to cramp the freedom of debate. Knowing, then, that no practical grievance was inflicted, and that the debates were given fully to the public, he thought there would be no practical advantage in going into committee, and that, on the other hand, if they assented to the proposal they would find themselves involved in a question of very great intricacy, and, instead of adding to the freedom of debate, they would be cramping it, without giving any additional security to shew who now conveyed to the public, reports of what took place in the House.

Dr. Bowring

said, the real question was, that the House had Orders on the Book which they constantly violated. He thought it was absurd to be consulting on giving additional accommodation to strangers, and yet to maintain an Order on the Book that the Sergeant should take into custody any stranger who appeared in the House.

Mr. Christie

appealed to the Speaker to give an interpretation of the Standing Order.

The Speaker

said, that Standing Order was to be interpreted in connexion with the usage and practice of the House. The rule of the House was to exclude strangers. The practice was, that a Member on observing a stranger present, mentions the matter, and the Speaker, without debate, orders his exclusion. But that did not depend on the Sessional Order, but was a right inherent in the House. If not, it would not be possible on many occasions at the beginning of a Session to clear the Gallery for a division on the Sessional Order, because the Sessional Order for that purpose was frequently not passed for two or three days after the commencement of the Session. According to his conviction, this Sessional Order related to the part of the House appropriated to Members.

Mr. Christie

said, he should leave out of his motion all the words relating to authorizing the presence of strangers, and only retain those which referred to the publication of the debates.

The House divided:—Ayes 37; Noes 84: Majority 47.

List of the AYES.
Aldam, W. Marshall, W.
Baring, rt. hn. F. T. Marsland, H.
Berkeley, hon. C. Mitchell, T. A.
Bowes, J. Morris, D.
Bowring, Dr. Muntz, G. F.
Brotherton, J Napier, Sir C.
Crawford, W. S. Pechell, Capt.
Duncan, G. Philips, M.
Easthope, Sir J. Plumridge, Capt.
Forster, M. Strutt, E.
Gibson, T. M. Tancred, H. W.
Gill, T. Thornely, T.
Granger, T. C. Tufnell, H.
Hawes, B. Turner, E.
Hume, J. Wallace, R.
Humphery, Ald. Wawn, J. T.
Hutt, W. Williams, W.
Jervis, J. TELLERS.
Leveson, Lord Duncombe, T.
Mangles, R. D. Christie, W. B.
List of the NOES.
Allix, J. P. Douglas, Sir C. E.
Antrobus, E. Duke, Sir J.
Arkwright, G. Egerton, W. T.
Arundel and Surrey, Earl of Eliot, Lord
Escott, B.
Bagot, hon. W. Flower, Sir J.
Baillie, Col. Ffolliott, J.
Baring, hon. W. B. Forester, hn. G. C. W.
Bentinck, Lord G. Fox, S. L.
Boldero, H. G. Gardner, J. D.
Borthwick, P. Gaskell, J. Milnes
Botfield, B. Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E.
Bramston, T. W. Gordon, hon. Capt.
Broadley, H. Goulburn, rt. hn. H.
Bruce, Lord E. Greene, T.
Buckley, E. Hamilton, W. J.
Clerk, Sir G. Hanmer, Sir J.
Clive, Visct. Hardinge, rt. hn. Sir H.
Colborne, hn. W. N. R. Henley, J. W.
Corry, rt. hon. H. Herbert, hon. S.
Cripps, W. Hodgson, R.
Damer, hon. Col, Hope, G. W.
Denison, E. B. Howard, P. H.
Dickinson, F. H. Jermyn, Earl
Knatchbull, rt. hn. Sir E. Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.
Lawson, A. Peel, J.
Lincoln, Earl of Pringle, A.
Lockhart, W. Rashleigh, W.
Lowther, hon. Col. Repton, G. W. J.
Lygon, hon. Gen. Rushbrooke, Col.
McGeachy, F. A. Scott, hon. F.
Mackenzie, W. F. Shaw, rt. hon. F.
McNeill, D. Sibthorp, Col.
Manners, Lord C. S. Somerset, Lord G.
Manners, Lord J. Sutton, hon. H. M.
Masterman, J. Tennent, J. E.
Maxwell, hon. J. P. Thesiger, F.
Neville, R. Trench, Sir F. W.
Nicholl, rt. hon. J. Wortley, hon. J. S.
Northland, Visct. Wortley, hon. J. S.
O'Brien, A. S. Young, J.
Oswald, J. G. TELLERS.
Packe, C. W. Fremantle, Sir T.
Pakington, J. S. Baring, H.