HC Deb 24 March 1846 vol 85 cc2-4

said, he had to bring under the consderation of the House the petition of Thomas Wood, the proprietor of the Wolverhampton Chronicle. [Hon. MEMBERS: Move, move.] He said he had a short statement to make, and the House had better hear him without interruption—it would be the shorter plan; because, if not, he would take the liberty of moving the adjournment of the House. The petitioner had copied the report of a Government Commissioner on Education in respect to Lichfield Free School. An action was brought against him for libel. A verdict was had against him, which, together with costs, amounted to 300l., while the actual publisher of the report got off with only a nominal verdict. On the 6th May, 1844, he stated his case to the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury; but no answer was vouchsafed by the right hon. Gentleman. He then wrote to Mr. Allan, who, besides being the Government Commissioner, was chaplain to the Bishop of Lichfield, and also held a high office in the London University, asking him whether the report was published by order of the House, and if so, whether it were not privileged? To that communication he received no answer. On the 30th of July he again wrote to Mr. Allan, asking for some pecuniary assistance, which, under the circumstances, he considered himself entitled to. Again, there was no answer. A memorial was then sent up to the Treasury, signed by the corporation of Lichfield and Mr. Wood, but it was not entertained. Now, he considered Mr. Wood's case one of very great hardship. The report in question was made by Mr. Allan to that House, and was ordered to be printed; so that he considered the case pretty much like that of "Stockdale and Hansard." Surely an editor of a paper, in the discharge of his duties to the public, had a right to suppose that a Report gravely presented to that House by a Government Commissioner was true, and that he had a right to lay it before his readers without being visited by a heavy pecuniary fine. An action had also been commenced against the publisher of the report, who was defended by the Solicitor to the Treasury; after being in communication with Mr. Wood up to the trial, without any notice to him, the counsel for the publisher apologized for the inaccuracy of the report, and a verdict of 40s. was taken, which 40s. had been paid by the Treasury, who refused to defend Mr. Wood, after taking away from him the only defence he had; the consequence was that a verdict passed against him for 50l., although it was clear that there was no malice on his part; and he had offered to apologize and give up the name of the party who furnished him with the report. He thought the case one of considerable hardship, and he had been induced to bring it under the consideration of the House, because he thought it involved an important principle—viz., whether newspapers, which were daily more and more becoming the organs and directors of public opinion as well as its vehicles, were to be mulcted in damages for publishing the report of a Government Commission which had been ordered to be made public by that House. Having thus stated the case he should not dwell upon it, but should conclude by moving for a copy of the memorial presented to the Treasury respecting the trial which had taken place.


said, he had not heard the observations of the noble Lord in such a manner as to be enabled to form a judgment of the merits of the case. He therefore thought it would be unfair that he or the House should be called upon now to decide upon the subject; but whatever might be the ultimate decision of the House, he wished to observe that the public was not only anxious but deeply interested in the speedy settlement of the question which the right hon. Gentleman had brought under the consideration of the House—namely, the Corn Bill. He, therefore, thought it would be unreasonable to proceed with this Motion, as he did not find that other hon. Gentlemen who had Motions on the Paper were disposed to press them; and he thought it would not be unreasonable to move that the Order of the Day be now read. The House had heard the statements of the suspense and inconvenience which prevailed in the manufacturing districts, where it appeared a great proportion of the labouring classes were only maintained in work at the present moment from the consideration that it would be ungenerous not to supply them with work while the question was under the consideration of Parliament. This being the case, it appeared to him that to enter upon considerations of this kind would be most unfair; and he should, therefore, move the previous Question.


moved that the debate be adjourned.

After some conversation the debate was adjourned to March 31.

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