HC Deb 02 April 1852 vol 120 cc583-8

It will be in the recollection of the House, Sir, that in the course of the remarks made by me in the debate which arose on the hon. Member for Bristol's Motion respecting the Ballot, in the course of some remarks I offered upon the subject, I made two quotations of words purporting to have been used by the noble Earl at the head of the Government; the first in 1835, and the other in 1841. I have received a letter from the noble Earl respecting the quotation of 1835, which, with the permission of the House, I will read:— St. James's Square, March 31. Sir—I read this morning with no little surprise a report of your speech of last night, in which you appear to have stated that on the 2nd of June, 1835, I had declared that 'if they had the ballot, I, as an English landlord, would not only see that my tenant voted, but would see him put the ticket in the ballot-box,' and you proceed to argue on the necessity of taking measures to screen the voter, 'even from the prying eyes of Lord Derby.' The above is the report of the Times. The Morning Chronicle gives the same words, but adds, as part of my supposed speech, as quoted by you—' I do not mean to say that this would be a desirable precaution, or a course which ought to be adopted by landlords, unless forced to it by expediency; but I, as a landlord, should be driven to that expediency, if the ballot were adopted, to satisfy myself.' The reports in the Morning Post, Morning Herald, and Daily News, are substantially the same, and I can, therefore, have no doubt that such a statement was made by you in the House of Commons. Now, although it is not very easy to answer for every expression made use of in a speech seventeen years ago, yet the sentiments expressed are so entirely at variance with what have always been my opinions and my practice, that I felt firmly convinced that you must have made the statement under some extraordinary misapprehension; but, having here the Mirror of Parliament, which at that time was considered the most accurate report of the debates *, I turned to the debate in question, of which your speech gave me the date. I had been describing the practical working of the ballot in America, which I had seen with my own eyes, and the means resorted to for defeating its operation; and I went on to say,' I have no doubt that, if the ballot were adopted in England, a landlord determined to exercise his powers oppressively might declare that he would not be satisfied unless he saw with his own eyes voters put their tickets into the balloting-box. [An Hon. Member: No, no!] Let not the hon. Member who calls ' No' misunderstand me. I do not say that would be a desirable course to pursue; but if you drive men to expedients in order to ascertain how persons vote, I show you by what means they have it in their power to vote so as to defeat your object, if they think fit to use those means.' I am sure, Sir, that you will see that the above quotation, taken from the most authentic report of the day, is so far from bearing out the imputation which you have thought yourself justified in casting upon me, that I characterise the course which you would have it supposed I was myself prepared to adopt, as that of' a landlord determined to exercise his powers oppressively,' a character which I hope and believe has never attached to me. Having made this statement, I leave it to you to act as you may think that justice and honour demand.—I am, Sir, your obedient servant, DERBY. Richard Cobden, Esq., M. P. This letter was despatched yesterday morning, but some delay occurred before it reached my hands. It was addressed to me at the Reform Club, where I do not go every day—not oftener perhaps than once a week, and, not having called there since it was delivered, it followed me to the House last night, and was delivered to me after the meeting of the House. I immediately sent Lord Derby a note, dated five o'clock, in the following terms:— House of Commons, 5 o'Clock, April 1. My Lord—Your Lordship's letter has just reached me here. I should deeply regret to have misrepresented your expressions, and can plead, in justification, that I quoted them from Hansard, the most authentic record of our Parliamentary discussions. I hasten to say that, if you will give me authority for stating that the report of your Lordship's speech in that work is incorrect, and authorise me to say that your words are accurately given in the Mirror of Parliament, I shall be most happy to be the medium of making the correction in my place in the House of Commons;—and I am, my Lord, your obedient servant, R. COBDEN. Right Hon. Earl of Derby, &c. This morning I received another letter from the Earl of Derby, which is as follows:— St. James's Square, Thursday Night. Sir—I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter, dated 5 p. m. this evening, from the House of Commons, in answer to mine of yesterday morning, which appears only then to have reached you. In reply, I beg to say that if you will do me the favour of referring to my letter of yesterday, you will see that I then expressed my conviction that the report from which you quoted my speech of June, 1835, was erroneous, the grounds of that conviction, and the confirmation which it subsequently received from an examination of the only contemporaneous report in my possession of what I really said. The Mirror of Parliament had then been recently established in consequence of the extreme inaccuracy of Hansard's Reports: and so long as it contitinued, it was, I have no hesitation in saying, by far the most accurate record of Parliamentary proceedings*. I rely on its accuracy in the present instance, not only on account of its general character, but because it is in accordance, as the report in Hansard is at variance, with all the opinions I have ever entertained and acted upon; and I think, if you will do me the honour of comparing the two reports, you will have no difficulty yourself in deciding which of the two bears intrinsic marks of the greater accuracy. I have to request that your explanation may not be delayed, as I see that your unintentionally erroneous statement has already been the subject of comment, injurious to me, in many leading articles of the public press. I think it right to add that Mr. Walpole is in possession of the correspondence which has passed between us, including this letter.—I am, Sir, your obedient servant, "DERBY. R. Cobden, Esq., M.P. Now Sir, whilst I am most anxious to do justice to a political opponent, I am not unnaturally desirous that I should not suffer from injustice myself. The House will observe that the noble Earl does not bring any charge against me of having made an unfounded statement, or of having made an erroneous quotation from his speech as it is reported in Hansard. We are in the habit in this House of bringing up against each other extracts from the reports of the debates given in that work; and I was not aware when I cited these passages from the noble Earl's speech that there was any other authentic record besides Hansard of the proceedings of this House in 1835. I was aware that the Mirror of Parliament had been in existence for a few years, but it did not occur to me that it was in existence at the period to which I refer. I will read to you the passage of the noble Earl's speech as reported in both works. [Cries of "No no!"] The passage is very short, and I have no desire to trespass at any length on your attention. The passage in Hansard is as follows:— He would now come back to what his noble Friend (Lord J. Russell) said about trusting in the forbearance of landlords, and upon that point he agreed with his noble Friend. If they had the ballot, he would say, as a landlord, that he would not only see whether the elector dependent on him voted, but he would see him put the ticket into the balloting urn. He did not mean to say that that was a desirable course of proceeding, or a course that ought to be adopted by landlords unless forced to it by expediency; but he, as a landlord, would be driven to that expediency if the ballot were employed, in order to satisfy himself. And now I will read the same passage, as reported in the Mirror of Parliament:I hare no doubt that if the ballot were adopted in England, a landlord determined to exercise his powers oppressively might declare that he would not be satisfied unless he saw with his own eyes voters put their tickets into the ballot box. [An Hon. Member: No, no!] Let not the hon. Member who calls 'No' misunderstand me. I do not say that would be a desirable course to pursue; but if you drive men to expedients in order to ascertain how persons vote, I will show you by what means they have it in their power to vote so as to defeat your object, if they think fit to use those means. The House cannot fail to perceive that there is all the difference in the world between these two statements. In Hansard the noble Lord is made to say that some imaginary landlord, supposed to have a propensity to oppression, might under certain circumstances pursue a certain course. [Cries of "No, no! In the Mirror of Parliament."] Yes—in the Mirror of Parliament the noble Lord is made to say that some imaginary landlord, supposed to be disposed to oppression, might, under certain circumstances, pursue a certain course. Whereas in Hansard, the noble Lord is made to say that he would pursue that course himself. Sir, I can have no hesitation in accepting as perfectly satisfactory the explanations of the noble Lord, and in giviug him, without reserve, the full benefit of the interpretation which is placed upon his words, not only by the noble Lord himself, but also by the Mirror of Parliament. I, of course, feel bound to withdraw fully and most entirely the comments and strictures which I made in reference to the sentiments attributed to the noble Lord; only transferring such Strictures, comments, and animadversions to those imaginary landlords whom the noble Lord had in his mind's eye when he made his speech of 1835.


Sir, I may be permitted to say that the frank and handsome explanation which the hon. Gentleman has just offered, is, I can assure him, as satisfactory to the Government as I have no doubt it is to the entire House. I am sure, Sir, that the House and country will feel that the imputation which has rested for a few days upon my noble Friend, is as inconsistent with the real facts of the case—now that these facts are correctly ascertained—as it must always have been supposed to be from his untarnished reputation and unblemished honour.

[* These, we are happy to say, must be understood as his Lordship's individual opinions only, and were not entertained at the time by the majority of Parliamentary men, e.g. the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel (see Vol, xxvi, 961).

The Mirror of Parliament was established in 1828; and during the earlier years of its existence was well done, The Editor took the ordinary course of offering to his patrons the means of revising the reports of their speeches; and to the extent to which they did so, the reports of that work have great value. Mr. Hansard, at the same time, had the same arrangements—which, in fact, bad existed from the commencement of the work in 1805;—and the extent to which his offers were accepted, was, both from old connexion and from the stable reputation of the work, very great; nor was this confined to those who were peculiarly friendly to him—many of those who revised the reports of the Mirror, availing themselves of Mr. Hansard's reports also. The great extent to which this was done was so well known and felt, that it was soon apparent that the Mirror of Parliament would prove of the lesser value as an authority; it consequently underwent several changes not characteristic of a permanent publication; public support was gradually withheld, and it was discontinued at the close of the Session of 1841.

Up to this time, by an oversight growing out of long usage, no record was kept by Mr. Hansard of the speeches which had received revision, But in 1841 a sys- tem was established for the purpose of regulating the printing and other mechanical arrangements of the work, which it was soon seen would prove a very interesting document—namely, a columnar Diary of—

  1. 1. The speeches of the Members which it was intended to submit to revision;
  2. 2. Of the subject of the debate;
  3. 3. Of the dates of forwarding the proofs of speeches, and the date of their return revised;
  4. 4. Any remarks which might be necessary.

From this Diary the following statistics have been gathered—sufficient to prove, beyond controversy, that there is no longer room even for individual opinion as to the value of Hansard as a record of the Spoken Proceedings of the Parliament;—.

Session Speeches sent out. Returned revised.
1841 276 232
1842 520 337
1843 515 393
1844 Diary mislaid.
1845 536 518
1846 442 343
1847 598 400
1848 710 459
1849 650 476
1850 772 502
1851 727 514]

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