§ Order for the consideration of his Petition read.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, he would now beg to move that Mr. Wilks be discharged from the custody of the Serjeant at Arms. He had heard that there were some objections to release Mr. Wilks, but he was not aware exactly what they were; and he should, before entering into any explanation on this petition, desire to hear what these objections were. He made the Motion because he conceived that Mr. Wilks had in his petition withdrawn the particular imputation of corrupt motive which caused the House to pass the Resolution for committal. There might be other parts of the article condemned which might give displeasure to hon. Members, but they were not parts which came under the consideration of the House, and caused the procedure to be taken against Mr. Wilks. He considered that Mr. Wilks having made an apology, and withdrawn the particular imputation of which the House had taken notice, he was in a condition to make a Motion for his discharge.
Motion made and Question proposed,—
That Washington Wilks, now in the custody of the Serjeant at Arms attending this House, be discharged out of custody, on payment of his fees.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, he did not think his right hon. Friend (Mr. M. Gibson) would be in a position to move for the discharge of Washington Wilks till that gentleman had apologised, not only for the particular charge made against the hon. Member for Hereford, but also for his general charge of corruption. He (Mr. Roebuck) wanted to know distinctly whether Mr. Wilks withdrew that general charge of corruption as well as the personal charge against the Chairman of the Committee. Until he received an assurance that Mr. Wilks did that, he should refuse his consent to the Motion of his right hon. Friend.
§ MR. CLAY
said, that he would treat this matter as one affecting any other Member of the House, although it was not easy for the friends of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Clive) to mistate the temper and moderation which that hon. Gentleman had exhibited. Indeed, every Member of the House must feel that it was a matter affecting each individual of it. 1314 The libel complained of, though contained in several paragraphs, divided itself into two heads: the first was a charge of open and notorious partisanship—and so open that the hon. Member's partisanship for the Caledonian line had frequently been made the subject of allusion in his presence; the second was the more grave charge of being influenced by corrupt motives. He need not say anything as to this second part, because that particular charge had been withdrawn. As the hon. Member (Mr. Clive) had done him the honour to consult him upon the subject, and to a certain degree placed the conduct of the matter in his hands, he hoped the House would bear with him for entering somewhat into an explanation of what had taken place. He had sent a gentleman well known to Mr. Wilks to say that, assuming his professional honour prevented his giving up the name of his informant, or the names of the authors of the various stories, if he would furnish such details of those stories as would enable the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Clive) satisfactorily to disprove them, he (Mr. Clay) would undertake to furnish Mr. Wilks with evidence of their utter falsehood. It was said, for instance, and more or less repeated by Mr. Wilks when he stood at the bar, that the hon. Member (Mr. Clive) had been seen with a stockbroker known to act for the Caledonian Railway, or had been seen in his office, or in communication with him. He undertook to show that this gentleman had never seen or known the hon. Member (Mr. Clive), and to get the most solemn declaration that in no way, either directly or indirectly, had he been either a seller or buyer for investment, or for what was called time bargains, of any railway stock for some years past. He undertook to get a declaration from his own stockbroker to the same effect, in terms as distinct as the ingenuity of man could devise. As regarded the open partisanship, which was said to be patent to the counsel as well as to the audience, he hoped to be able to prove with regard to all of the learned counsel—he knew that he could with regard to one of them—that up to the moment of the decision being given it was uncertain to which side the bias of the Chairman's mind inclined. The statement that the hon. Member was frequently rallied on his partisanship was very easy of proof, but not very easy of disproof; but if there were any gentlemen who had rallied the Chairman, either in or out of 1315 the Committee, they might very easily be found, when, no doubt, they would repeat the statement they had formerly made. His (Mr. Clay's) proposal therefore was that he should, upon his own responsibility, establish the falsehood of all the charges made, but only upon one condition, namely, that the retractation of the whole of those charges should be made at the bar of the House, and should also be published in the paper of which this gentleman was the printer, in a form of words with which he (Mr. Clay) would not trouble the House, but such as any gentleman might sign under the circumstances. This proposal was made verbally to Mr. Wilks before he appeared at the bar, but was not accepted. He (Mr. Wilks) might have conceived that the evidence upon which some of the charges were made was stronger than he had since found it to be. Since that proposal was made, he had seen a letter addressed by Mr. Wilks to his right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton, expressing his desire to inquire further into those charges. He was not now laying any blame upon this gentleman; he merely mentioned this to show to hon. Members that this inquiry having been made, and requiring a very short time to carry out, there would be no excessive hardship, if Mr. Wilks should persist in not retracting the whole of his charge, in his further confinement for a time sufficiently long to enable him to put himself in possession of this evidence, and thus leave him without a shadow of an excuse for not retracting the whole article. With regard to the present petition, he would only remark that it contained but a partial retractation. It retracted, it was true, what was the gravest of the charges, but it left wholly untouched that which was a very grave accusation against any hon. Member of that House acting in his judicial capacity. Why was one-half of the imputation to be retracted and not the other? The charge was that the Chairman had exhibited open and notorious partisanship, and that he was frequently rallied in the Committee for his partisanship. He (Mr. Clay) did not see why that charge should not be retracted. It had been denied that any one ever rallied the hon. Member either inside or outside the walls of the House; and if the statement were not established, he thought that Mr. Wilks must retract it. He (Mr. Clay) would leave it to those hon. Gentlemen who led the decisions of the House to take the steps which would be necessary to 1316 carry out the view to which the House might arrive, and would content himself with observing that this apology, as it stood, could not be wholly satisfactory to his hon. Friend—could not be wholly satisfactory to his friends, to whom his honour was dear, and hardly satisfactory to the House, which was very properly jealous of the fair fame of every one of its Members.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, he was sorry to say that he did not think the House could at present arrive at a conclusion which he was sure they would be most willing to arrive at—namely, to accede to the Motion of the Right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ashton (Mr. M. Gibson). The House would remember how the question had been dealt with on the last occasion. A paragraph had been published in the newspaper which the House declared to contain grave and libellous accusations against the Chairman of one of their Committees. The printer and publisher of that newspaper was called to the bar, and one of two alternatives was offered to him, either to retract his statement or to state that lie was prepared to substantiate its truth. He declined to retract, and he also stated that he was not prepared to substantiate its truth; and, therefore, according to precedent an order was made for his committal to the custody of the Serjeant at Arms. He (the Solicitor General) could not see how the fact of this Gentleman's committal into custody could make any difference in the terms which had been offered to him—namely, that he should either unqualifiedly withdraw the charges or should state that he was prepared to substantiate them. He should be very glad, if it were shown to be possible, to come to the conclusion that the form in which this petition was drawn was either owing to inadvertence or to the want of a due consideration of the nature of the charges made. In the article complained of in the petitioner's paper there were two distinct charges against the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hereford, one no doubt graver than the other, but both of a most libellous character. The one charge was, that, while sitting in a judicial character as Chairman of a Select Committee, the hon. Gentleman had acted as a partisan—that he had shown a clear animus in favour of one party and against the other; and that in consequence of that improper bias it was notorious that the Bill which was rejected was thrown out. The second 1317 imputation was a suggestion that improper conduct was connected with certain corrupt dealings on the part of the hon. Gentleman in Caledonian stock. These being the charges, what was the retractation proposed? The petitioner said that "he humbly submits to the House that he was not the author of the article condemned, and that in causing the publication of that article he was influenced solely by a conception of public duty, which was perfectly compatible with the profound respect for the House which he had ever professed." Then he went on to say, "that he was not at the time of publication aware of what had since been stated to him, that hon. Members before serving on railway Committees made a declaration of entire disinterestedness." Now he (the Solicitor General) could not help remarking in passing that this statement was in his opinion perfectly irrelevant, and that whether such a declaration was or was not made by the members of Committees on private Bills, the charges remained exactly the same. Mr. Wilks proceeded as follows:—"That he unreservedly retracted the imputation of corrupt motive conveyed in the sentence Does he (meaning the hon. Member for Hereford) stand quite clear of any transactions in Caledonian stock while the case was pending? that imputation having been solemnly denied, and the information on which it was founded having been misunderstood by the author of the statement." That was a retractation which, as far as it went, he should submit to the House was satisfactory; but it was a retractation carefully and markedly confined to one point only—the imputation of corrupt motives contained in one out of several sentences. if the petitioner were discharged on this retractation it would be perfectly competent for him to turn round afterwards and say, "I retracted the imputation of corrupt motives because it was denied, but the hon. Member for Hereford still remains under the other imputation which I made against him, and with regard to which the House of Commons has professed itself perfectly satisfied." Mr. Wilks added, "That in making this retractation he was influenced not only by respect to the Resolution of your honourable House, but also by the desire natural to an honest man to withdraw an imputation which he was not able to substantiate, and which he regretted had been made." That again was satisfactory as far as it went; but then came this further passage which com- 1318 plicated the matter still more:—"That in refusing to make this retractation when at the bar of your honourable House on Friday last, your petitioner was actuated by the impression that he was called upon to withdraw the entire article, and thereby to confess that there was no ground for the dissatisfaction which he knows to prevail very extensively in the districts affected by the Bills rejected." So that in point of fact he re-affirmed the whole of the charges except the one which he had specifically withdrawn. Finally, he said:—"That the article, published by your petitioner on the 25th of May, parts of which your petitioner is informed were read to your honourable House, was not intended as a reiteration of the charge denied by the hon. Member for Hereford, but simply as a general answer to what your petitioner felt to be a harsh and arbitrary proceeding." Now he (the Solicitor General) hoped that the House would not adopt harsh or arbitrary proceedings against a person who, from ill advice or from want of knowledge, had made a charge of this description; but he thought that the course which had been taken with regard to Mr. Wilks could not be called either harsh or arbitrary. Mr. Wilks declined at the time to retract the charge or to prove it, and under the circumstances he certainly regretted that the petition had not been couched in different language. The matter concerned, not only the hon. Member for Hereford, but the honour of the whole House; and he thought that they should either give up the practice of taking cognizance of libels of this description altogether, or take care, after entering upon an examination of them, not to render the whole thing a mockery by releasing a person from the custody of the Sergeant at Arms upon an illusory and insufficient apology. For these reasons he was afraid that it was his duty to move as an Amendment to the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, "That the order for the consideration of the petition of Mr. Washington Wilks be discharged."
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the Order for the consideration of the Petition of Washington Wilks be discharged," instead thereof.
§ MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN
said, he did not wish to make a martyr of any man. He therefore would beg to suggest that Mr. Washington Wilks should be called to the bar again, and, if he re- 1319 tracted the rest of the charges he had made, that he should be discharged; if not, that he should remain in custody.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, he agreed with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) that no retractation would be satisfactory that did not withdraw the general charge of corruption; and he felt as strongly as any one that the hon. Member for Hereford was justified, both as a duty to himself and to the House, in taking notice of a charge imputing corrupt motives to him as Chairman of a Railway Committee. He understood, however, that Mr. Wilks had withdrawn or meant to withdraw any charge of corruption. The Solicitor General, however, said that there was something more than a charge of corruption involved—there was the charge of partisanship. It might be that particular expressions in newspaper articles were calculated to give offence, and that unjust decriptions might be published of the conduct of hon. Members; but did those articles constitute charges of such gravity that the House would be prepared to commit the persons making them to Newgate? Where they prepared to commit any editor to Newgate—whoever he might be—who stated that the Chairman of a Committee was partial or biassed? If so, there was no gaol in this kingdom that would be large enough to hold the editors who would have to be committed. Now, did the charge of partiality necessarily imply the charge of corruption? Not at all. A man might be partial because he had opinions of a particular character that inclined him to look with favour on one scheme rather than on another, and not be corrupt. Moreover the hon. and learned Solicitor General was in error when he described the Chairman of a Committee as sitting in a judicial capacity alone, because the fact was that in his case the judicial and legislative capacities were combined. Upon this point Mr. May, in his able work upon the practice of Parliament, said—The union of the judicial and legislative functions is not confined to the form of procedure, but is an important principle in the inquiries and decisions of Parliament on the merits of private Bills. As a Court it inquires and adjudicates on the interests of private parties; as a Legislature it is watchful over the interests of the public.Suppose that the Chairman of a Committee, entertaining general views of railway policy, were opposed on principle to competition between railways. With those antecedent views upon railway policy he 1320 would naturally not look with much favour upon a scheme which violated his previous convictions. It might be correct to say that such a person was partial, but it by no means inferred that he was corrupt. Was it required of Mr. Wilks that he should appear at the bar and declare his belief, that the hon. Member for Hereford was an impartial Chairman? How could he say that unless he positively knew that there were no feelings with reference to a general railway policy in the mind of the hon. Member? The only paragraphs with which the House had to deal were those that had been taken down at the table; and Mr. Wilks was perfectly ready to withdraw the passage in those paragraphs which implied a charge of corruption. Any reflection upon a man's judgment, or a charge imputing bias, or partisanship even, was not, he submitted, such a charge as the House should take cognizance of. Why, they were all partisans. He had himself recently been charged with being a partisan of the Earl of Derby, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and it was said that be discharged his legislative duties under the influence of that partisanship. What would they say, however, if he were to propose to call an editor to the bar, and to commit him to Newgate, for making an accusation of that sort? And yet the essence of the charges was the same. They must draw a line somewhere and he would submit that no charges which fell short of attacking the moral character of a Member should be entertained by the House as constituting a breach of privilege. If they pleased, let Mr. Wilks be called to the bar again. He had no objection; but his opinion was, the charge of corrupt motives being withdrawn, that there was nothing left of which the House ought to take cognizance.
said, he was inclined to think that his right hon. Friend who was so skilful in drawing Amendments, had had a hand in framing this petition. His right hon. Friend, however, had endeavoured to lead the House away from the real question, which was simply whether that part of the statement which Mr. Wilks had published, and which he had not retracted, was libellous or not of the character of a Member of that House. They all knew pretty well what a libel was. Did that statement tend to injure the character of the hon. Member for Hereford? Was it not a distinct imputation upon his character and conduct as a Mem- 1321 ber of that House in discharging the important functions of the Chairman of a Committee? He thought that was a question which might be very safely left to the common sense of the House: and Mr. Wilks had distinctly and apparently guardedly, refrained from withdrawing that imputation. He therefore entirely concurred in the views which had been so ably and clearly expressed by the Solicitor General and thought that the order ought to be discharged.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, his Right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton had said that he had been accused of being a partisan of the Earl of Derby because he was a bad politician. With the latter proposition he (Mr. Roebuck) might agree. The withdrawal of that proposition would be a withdrawal of the former. But here was a very different affair. The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Clive) was accused of being a partisan because he was corrupt. What he (Mr. Roebuck) wanted was that the whole syllogism should be withdrawn by the person who might soon be at the bar of the House. Until this man withdrew both parts of the syllogism—its premises and its conclusion—he ought properly to be held in custody. They heard a great, deal about the press. He (Mr. Roebuck) was not alarmed at the press—not a bit. if the press accused him tomorrow of murder he did not care. He should not care a farthing about the accusation, because he should know it was untrue. But it behoved that House to consider whether it was allowed these impudent persons to come forward and make accusations of which they had no proof—because at the bar this man was given the power of saying he could prove his accusation. The press was a powerful instrument. There might be people not so thick-skinned as he (Mr. Roebuck), who cared not about the press. But the press came forward and said that the hon. Member for Hereford in his character of Chairman of a Committee of that House had been a partisan because he was corrupt. That was a grave offence, unless the accusation could be proved. Suppose you charged a man with being a thief and you had no ground for the accusation, was it not right that an action should be brought against you? This man had been morally guilty—and he (Mr. Roebuck) hoped that he would state in his paper to-morrow that he had said so—of an accusation against an hon. Member of that House of which 1322 accusation he had no proof. He was therefore a coward as well as a malignant calumniator.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
said, he thought that the case was assuming a very serious aspect, and he would frankly own that he did not agree with his hon. and learned Friend that they would simplify this matter by instructing the public in the nature of syllogisms. He ventured to think that the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) had misapprehended and misstated the case. It was not the question whether the imputation of partisanship which was not withdrawn was a libellous charge or not. There were many such charges continually made against them. He had read a charge made against himself that very day which he firmly believed to be libellous, and most of them had the satisfaction on most days of reading such charges. But did it follow that although those charges could be noticed in a court of law, where, at all events, their antagonists would meet them on equal terms, and could appeal to an impartial jury, they were to invoke the arm of the House of Commons, and, without affording him the privilege of a trial, commit one of their fellow subjects to custody? He granted it was difficult strictly to lay down the limits within which this House must defend its own honour and the character of its Members; but the question was not what they would be justified in doing—the question was, what it was prudent for them to do. Let him say, in passing, that he had never heard any Gentleman who had been made the subject of a libellous attack conduct himself with so much moderation mid prudence as the hon. Member for Hereford. He was perfectly justified in the course he took, because certain definite acts of corruption were charged against him, and it was therefore fitting that that charge should be challenged in the face of the House of Commons. But as to the question of partisanship, the hon. Member for Hereford had given his own answer, and no person could have listened to that answer without being satisfied that it was complete and conclusive. What was the principle on which they regulated their conduct in the House? Was it their practice to bring comments of a libellous nature before the House? No. They passed them over in silence, trusting to the good sense of their countrymen to do them justice; and if the comment was of a nature that re- 1323 quired an answer, they gave that answer in their place in the House, and were satisfied to abide by the verdict of the House and the country. Now, what was the question of which Mr. Wilks had made a partial retractation. He had retracted the charge of corrupt acts—that had entirely disappeared, but there remained the charge that the hon. Member had showed a certain animus—was a partisan, in fact, and that his partisanship was open and patent. That was now the whole charge. Well, it was a material point to consider carefully and deliberately, whether they would undertake to call to the bar and commit to prison every person, who through the medium of the press, chose to say of one of themselves that in the exercise of his duties in Parliament—duties not specially performed on oath but general duties—he was under the influence of notorious and patent partisanship. It appeared to him that the power of arbitrary, or rather of discretionary, imprisonment which the House possessed could only be exercised when it was necessary to defend the House of Commons from reproaches that would weaken their power to discharge their legislative duties. Those powers were not in harmony with the constitution or the safeguards which it provided for the preservation of personal liberty, and were consequently of no value to them except up to the precise point where their exercise was supported by general public opinion. It was not for them to commit themselves to doubtful issues. It would not do for them to take the language of Mr. Wilks and endeavour to extract from it something beyond its plain meaning. It would not do to say that there was a syllogism in the proposition. It would not do to say that there was a "therefore" in the case, and that there might be some fragment or shred of the accusation still remaining. It might be the opinion of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock that it was a prudent thing to commit everybody who charged them with being partisans to Newgate. He differed from him entirely. Such a course might be easy enough in the first step, and perhaps in the second; but they would find themselves involved in increasing embarrassment at every step. He had ventured to declare those opinions because, with all his respect for the high authority of the hon. and learned Solicitor General and of others who had spoken in that debate, he 1324 was convinced that they ought to limit their interference to extreme cases, such as where corruption was clearly charged, and that it would be unwise to claim those exceptional powers, when the licence, though it might be outrageous, still did not exceed that which was exercised in ten thousands of instances by the newspaper press—exercised without sufficient regard to reason or justice, exercised in a way that was a source of great pain to themselves and to their friends, but still exercised upon the whole for the benefit of the country.
§ MR. ELLIOT
said, there could be no doubt that an impression had prevailed in the Committee-room throughout the inquiry that the Chairman was in favour of the Caledonian line. He did not mean to say that the hon. Gentleman intended to encourage such an impression, but he did believe that the hon. Gentleman was acting upon the principle not unknown to many hon. Members of that House, that where an old established railway came before a Committee, it was the duty of the chairman of such Committee to prevent, as far as he could, the establishment of a new line which was likely to compete injuriously with the old. The great bulk of the evidence was in favour of the line which was rejected by the Committee, and which line was supported by petitions from every town, with one exception only, in the district through which it passed. When the line was thrown out, therefore, no doubt it created an extraordinary amount of disappointment and irritation, and many people felt that they were greatly injured by the decision of the Committee. Still, he believed the hon. Member for Hereford was in no respect influenced by improper motives, although he might have been by an improper principle.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he wished to recall the attention of the House to the question which was really before it, and which was a very simple one. He quite agreed with the opinion that had been expressed, that it would be a most unwise expedient for Members of that House whenever they found a statement affecting themselves personally, and which they believed to be libellous, to bring the matter under the consideration of the House. He believed every one would coincide with that opinion, and if in the present case only partisanship, or even violent partisanship, had been 1325 imputed to the hon. Gentleman, it would not have been a discreet act to call upon the House to assert its privileges. The charge, however, which had been made against the hon. Gentleman was not one of partisanship alone, but it was one alleging corrupt motives as the cause of the partisanship imputed. Well, then, the printer and publisher of the paper in which the libel complained of appeared were summoned to the bar, and the person who had been declared guilty of what had been characterized by the House as a false and scandalous libel had an opportunity of substantiating or retracting the statement which he had made, both of which alternatives he refused, and he was then committed to the custody of the Serjeant at Arms. His next step was to present a petition in which he withdrew, though grudgingly, the most painful portion of that which had been declared a libel; but there was another portion, which, if it had been brought forward alone, perhaps would not have been declared a libel, but which, in conjunction with the other portion, had been declared a libel, which he did not withdraw. The House could not allow such conduct to pass unnoticed, nor could it abstain from requiring that fair and decent apology which he should have thought any person would, under the circumstances, have been prompt to offer. There was no course in life more unwise than for an individual, whatever his position might be, if he found it, necessary to make an apology, to make it grudgingly. Now, Mr. Wilks had been in the wrong, not only as regarded that portion of the charge which he had retracted, but wrong in that portion which he had not. What said the petitioner in his petition? He said—That, in refusing to make this retractation when at the Bar of your honourable House on Friday last, your petitioner was actuated by the impression that he was called upon to withdraw the entire article, and thereby to confess that there was no pound for the dissatisfaction which he knows to prevail very extensively in the district affected by the Bills rejected.Now, no doubt he had a right to confess that there was dissatisfaction prevailing in the district, but he had no right to refuse to confess that there was no ground for that dissatisfaction, unless he was prepared to offer evidence as to what was the ground of that dissatisfaction. In his opinion there was only one proper course open to the House. The House had declared that a certain individual had published a certain 1326 paragraph which was of a libellous nature, and of which a certain portion was now withdrawn, leaving a certain portion unretracted, which, perhaps, the House would not have deemed libellous had it stood alone. Now, the House could not, he thought, recognize the principle that a person might make a grave accusation against a Member of that House, and then, if it were noticed, escape scotfree by the withdrawal of a single sentence. The question was one not affecting the hon. Member for Hereford alone, but it was one relating to the conduct of tribunals of the House in the transaction of the business of the country, and it was of great importance to induce the public to have continued confidence in those tribunals. Mr. Wilks had had the advantage of the advocacy of a most ingenious and able Gentleman, and one who took a very amiable and genial view of human conduct, and he could not help thinking that the right hon. Member for Ashton (Mr. M. Gibson) would, upon reflection, consider that in this, as in all other cases where a person was really in the wrong, and had behaved unjustly to another, he should make a full apology. and that Mr. Wilks ought to come forward and express his regret for the whole of the libellous matter which had been read at the table of the House, and then they would be able with great willingness to free him from the imprisonment in which he then found himself. At the same time it would be a very inconvenient course to allow Mr. Wilks again to appear at the Bar. The proper way of communicating with the House was the established mode of petition, and he hoped that by to-morrow this person would present a petition containing an unqualified retractation of a charge which every one felt to be most unjust, and then they would be able to do that which every Member of the House would be most willing to do, namely, to order him to be discharged from the custody which he at present found himself.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, the right hon. Member for Ashton had distinctly stated that Mr. Wills was ready to withdraw every charge of corruption which he had male against the hon. Member for Hereford. When that had been done there, would remain nothing but the general strictures on the conduct of that hon. Gentleman contained in the article in question, land surely it could not be the wish of the House to compel the petitioner to retract 1327 not only the paragraphs which had been complained of, but the entire article of which they formed part. Libellous comments on the conduct of Members of Parliament were so frequent that it would be quite absurd to bring the publishers of the newspapers in which they appeared to the bar of that House. Mr. Wilks ought to be allowed to amend his petition by withdrawing every charge of corruption against the hon. Member; and it was wholly unnecessary to keep him in custody from day to day while the House was criticising somewhat hypercritically the language of his retractation.
§ COLONEL WILSON PATTEN
remarked, that if the person in custody was permitted to withdraw his petition, in order to present an amended one to-morrow, in which he retracted generally all corrupt insinuations, such course would satisfy the honour both of the hon. Member for Hereford and of the House, and would also obviate the evil so well pointed out by the right hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. Gladstone). It was not desirable that the House should evince too great an eagerness to rebut every charge of partisanship or unfair leaning that was brought against it.
said, that the proposition of the Solicitor General, if agreed to, would attain the exact result desired by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke last. The petition having been presented the day before, and ordered to be taken into consideration that day, it was too late now to withdraw it. As that document was now found to be only a partial recantation of what the House had declared to be a scandalous libel, it would be wise to discharge the order for the further consideration of the petition. It would then be open for Mr. Wilks to present another petition containing a complete and sufficient retractation, when the House would doubtless be prepared to set him at liberty.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
, in explanation said, he could not even now clearly understand what it was that Mr. Wilks was required to do. If he withdrew the charges of corruption, would that be sufficient?
§ MR. HORSMAN
said, it was obvious that, although the House could not call on Mr. Wilks to retract his opinions, still if that gentleman had alleged certain facts on which he grounded his imputations, he ought to be required to retract those facts. Now, Mr. Wilks had not only asserted that 1328 the hon. Member held stock of the Caledonian Railway, and had evinced notorious and patent partiality in the Committee, but that he had been rallied for such conduct both in the Committee-room and out of it. If these assertions were withdrawn the conclusions based upon them would, of course, fall to the ground with them.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
That the Order for the Consideration of the Petition of Washington Wilks be discharged.