HC Deb 18 May 1846 vol 86 cc815-9

said: Sir, I rise for the purpose of mentioning a circumstance which I should have desired to bring forward at an earlier period, had it not been that I wished to avoid the accusation of attempting to interpose unnecessary delay in respect to the passing of the Corn Bill. For this reason alone I have delayed referring to a publication in one of the morning papers, which appears to me a direct violation of the privileges of the House. Sir, I am not at all desirous of being more critical than any other Members with respect to remarks on their speeches or votes. But I think that there is a considerable difference between these general observations on our public conduct or opinions, and personal attacks on the character of individual Members, such as are contained in a letter to which a signature is attached—the signature of a person of station and character. I advert to the letter of a clergyman which appeared the other day (I think Friday last) in the Times. It may be remembered that in the late debate, the noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland, in reply to a question of mine—that question being as to the present state of Ireland—threw out a taunt against me as to the condition of the labouring population in Dorsetshire, to which I was not then competent (I having already spoken) to reply; and on that account, one of the Members for that county felt bound to make a statement, in which I am not aware that any material inaccuracy occurred. But a clergyman of Dorsetshire thought fit to make this speech the text of a letter addressed to the editor of a newspaper—a letter which, apart from the reverend gentleman's private character, I must confess I think was not worthy of him, and was not inspired by feelings which ought to influence those in his sacred office. It is scarcely necessary for me to read any part of that letter. It would be painful for me to do so. This is not a solitary instance of that kind of conduct by this gentleman. He has been pleased to make similar comments upon me for a considerable period, which I have always regarded with contempt. But when a young Member, speaking for the first time in this House, is assailed by such a letter, publicly reflecting upon his character, it assumes a more serious aspect, and is a decided breach of the privileges of this House. This clergyman has long been in the habit of writing such letters; for, unhappily, with many virtues, they are counterbalanced by a miserable love of notoriety, which brings him constantly forward in a very unfavourable light; so much so, that the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Home Department termed him "the popularity-hunting parson." He is on the right hon. Baronet's side now, and I do not know if the right hon. Baronet would repeat the epithet. I do not adopt it, however; I only mention it to show that this gentleman has been in the habit of thus adopting a course so unworthy of his character, and so little calculated to be beneficial to the cause he has at heart. I now mention the subject with no view of proposing that he should be called to our bar, but in the hope that what falls here from me may, perhaps, meet the eye of his diocesan, the proper authority on all such points respecting the conduct of a clergyman within his jurisdiction, and who may kindly state to this gentleman that no good is done by taking such a course. It is in this view alone that I mention the subject at present; but, undoubtedly, if I again observe that this course is pursued by him, in defiance of this House, I will move that he appear at our bar; because I do not think that we ought to exert the authority of this House against such as are of inferior station, and allow offences so serious to pass with impunity when committed by those of rank and education—who ought to know, and who do know, what is the proper course to adopt; and this very gentleman, indeed, showed that he was aware of what course he should take, for he addressed to the hon. Member for Shaftesbury an explanatory letter fit to be read; and yet, after thus evincing that he knew what was the proper way to effect his object, he strangely adopted so improper a course as I have stated. I am sorry not to see the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland in his place—still more sorry, as I hear his absence is on account of indisposition—for which reason, I can no further answer the taunt with which he recently replied to me than by saying, that the question I put to him he did not answer, nor any of his Colleagues. That question was, "How is this Corn Law measure to benefit the people of Ireland, either now or at any future period?" As to that, he only answered by saying, that the condition of the Dorsetshire labourers was as bad as that of the peasantry in Ireland. Then, I say, that makes my question only wider; and I ask, "how will your measure benefit the people either of Ireland or of Dorsetshire?" To that you have given no answer. I feel your taunt, it is true, though not so deeply as you think, because I know it is unfounded; but I adopt the taunt for the argument, and ask, how will your measure make the peasantry better in the one country or the other? To that question, I repeat, you have ventured to attempt no answer. Sir, I wholly deny that their condition in Dorsetshire is such as has been stated. [Mr. BRIGHT: Hear, hear!] And as I hear the cheer of the hon. Member for Durham, I will remind him of what I heard him admit on one occasion (not confidentially)—"that it was owing to Lord Ashley that the attacks had been made on Dorsetshire; that the condition of the peasantry was not worse, it was well known, in that than other counties; but that as Lord Ashley attacked the manufacturers, they attacked him." These are my answers to those taunts. I feel them to be unfounded and unjust. I never will say that the wages in Dorsetshire are what I should wish them to be; but I will tell you what is the effect of the constant understatement of the rate of wages there—that those who see such statements of wages, lower than they are in the habit of giving, of course conceive that they are behaving handsomely. Thus, the course adopted certainly produces no good for the peasantry who are professedly the objects of so much solicitude.


remarked that the hon. Gentleman had begun with talking of a breach of privilege, and ended by stating to the House the substance of a private conversation between them, of which he must say that he had no recollection. He had, in fact, had many conversations with the hon. Gentleman since he became a Member of that House, and he had not anticipated that the substance of any of them would have been made the subject of a speech by the hon. Gentleman, especially when no notice had been given to him upon the subject. This much, however, he would admit. If he had not stated to the hon. Member what it was alleged he had said, he had certainly used, at all events, similar expressions in conversation with others—he had said that one reason why the attention of persons in Lancashire had been directed towards Dorsetshire was, because the noble Lord the late Member had made himself so busy as to the working people of Lancashire. He might have said further, that although the condition of the Dorsetshire might not be worse than that of the Wiltshire labourer, yet were he to state that it was not worse than that of the labourers in the majority of English counties, he would be making a statement very far from the truth. He believed, however, that great benefit had arisen to Dorsetshire from the exposition which had been made of the condition of the labourers on the hon. Gentleman's own property.


said, that the hon. Member opposite rose to complain of a breach of the privileges of the House. Now he wanted to know what the document constituting this alleged breach was, and who the individual was who wrote it? When a case of this kind was brought before the House they ought to be informed what the document was, where it appeared, and, indeed, placed in full possession of it.


said, that it gave him pain to read the attack, neither should he wish to name the rev. gentleman its author. After some hesitation the hon. Gentleman proceed to read the letter. The writer stated (referring to Mr. Floyer) that the hon. Gentleman was one— Whose words ought not to be too severely criticised; for from the low sum at which he is hired, one is bound to presume 'that there are some peculiar circumstances connected with him—'that he is not thoroughly up to his work, or something of that kind.' The hon. Member continued: If they wanted more, let them take this passage:— I have found the tenantry laying the blame on their own uncertain tenure of their farms, their heavy burdens, and heavy rents. The owners I generally find inclined to lay the blame on the grasping disposition of the tenantry, surplus population, and therefore overstocked labour market. The labourers themselves, to use their own phrase, say, 'The one shoots the bullets, the other casts,' which, translated, means that both alike do their best to screw them down to the lowest possible hire. It is not for me to say who is the culprit—I know the crime cries out aloud for justice—who did it I really cannot say; but I am inclined, if the farmer is accused, to regard the indictment of the landlord as 'an accessory after the fact' as only just. He did think the first part of these extracts a direct breach of privilege; but he was, of course, entitled to use his own discretion as to following it up.


was sure that the rev. gentleman alluded to would have no objection to have his name mentioned. He was a gentleman well known, and he believed much respected by all who knew him for his great benevolence. Of course it was not for him (Mr. Christie) to say that in all instances he had acted with the greatest discretion; but he had read the letter in question, and his impression was that there was nothing in that document of which the writer need be ashamed, and nothing which could be construed into a breach of the privileges of the House. The hon. Gentleman had only read portions of the letter, but if he had read the whole the House would have seen that the words complained of were mere playful annotations on the expressions used in the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Floyer).


agreed with the hon. Member as to the rev. gentleman's good qualities; but a love of notoriety, in his opinion, counterbalanced them all.


thought that some allowance ought really to be made for the rev. gentleman. He had probably either heard or read the debates in the House; and if so, he had had the most ample opportunities of studying personal attacks made against honour and character. Indeed, he feared that the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Bankes) had something to answer for in this respect.

The subject dropped.