HC Deb 24 July 1844 vol 76 cc1332-4
Mr. Hume

said, after he had left the House last night a resolution had been come to, of which he wished to have some explanation. He held in his hand a document containing the evidence taken by the Revenue Commissioners relative to the Customs frauds, which the House had ordered to be published for the use of Members only. He wished to know what was the meaning of such an order?

Sir J. Graham

said, the House some years ago had got into very considerable trouble in consequence of an indiscriminate publication of the evidence taken before a Committee of that House. When a new law, giving power to the House to publish their proceedings with more facilities and without risk, was passed, an understanding was come to that when any of their proceedings were calculated to prejudice any person or wound the feelings, then, in such case, the publication should be limited to Members only.

Mr. Hume

But what would be the effect of the order of the House limiting the publication to Members of the House? It was altogether a novel order.

Sir J. Graham

No, not novel; there had been several cases where the publication of petitions was limited to Members only. In this case the Motion was agreed to by the hon. Member for Finsbury.

Mr. T. Duncombe

said, most certainly at the request of the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer and because he was afraid, if he had not acceded to that request, he might have, altogether, failed in getting the evidence printed at all, he had made the Motion limiting the publication to Members only; but at the same time he stated, that it was the most absurd thing he had ever heard of. Suppose the Report were lying on his table when a friend called, and while he was waiting took up the book, what was to be done then? Was he (Mr. Duncombe) to roar out "Lay down that Blue Book, Sir; it is for the use of Members only. You must not touch it, or I will be compelled to call in the aid of a policeman?" In fact what was the use of the order? Were all Members to keep the Report secretly and constantly locked up from every gaze but his own or that of a brother Member? Well, but when that House of Commons arrived at its latter end—when its functions ceased, what was to become of the Blue Book then? It was published only for the use of Members of that House, and when it were dissolved were they all to be burned? or what would be the penalty if one were unfortunately to be found in a gentleman's possession the day after the dissolution? Perhaps Her Majesty's Government, as they had done before, would reconsider and rescind the absurd Resolution which the House came to, on his Motion, last night. The right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer had hitherto only gone step by step; first he would not agree to its being printed at all, but referred any one, wishing to see it, to the library; then he consented to allow it to be printed for the use of Members only. Probably he might be prepared now to take the final step, and let it be printed for the use of the public generally. Newspapers would be liable to actions if they published the Report; he was well aware of that, but would he or any other hon. Member be liable to an action if they showed it to any person not a Member ["Lord Stanley: yes,"] Well, then, perhaps the noble Lord would inform him and the House what was the meaning of the term "for the use of Members only."

Lord Stanley

said, if the hon. Gentleman had any fear upon the subject, he had better procure a legal opinion upon the subject—he was neither prepared nor competent to give him one (After repeating the manner in which the rule was laid down as given by Sir James Graham) he said, newspapers would undoubtedly be liable to a private action for publishing any matter that was libellous, even though spoken in the House, because they were not possessed of the privilege which hon. Members enjoyed; but that was not the case with the House, and any hon. Member might use the Report in such manner as he thought necessary for the due discharge of his duties as a Member of the House. But where the matter was libellous, or reflected upon the character or conduct of individuals, in the exercise of a wise discretion, the publication of such matter extended no further than to Members.

Subject at an end.