§ SIR JOHN HAY
, who had given notice of a Motion—That this House sees with regret that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not considered it his duty, after the explanation given last night, to withdraw the imputations which he has cast upon the hon. Member for Dudley"—said, I rise for the purpose of bringing before the House a question of Privilege. It will be in the recollection of the House that a challenge was given very recently, in reference to certain allegations made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer against the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. H. B, Sheridan). The right hon. Gentleman said that if the allegations he had made were not sustained, not only was an apology due from him to the hon. Member for Dudley, but that he should deserve the censure of the House. "Upon that issue," added the right hon. Gentleman, "I intend to stand or fall." Now I am anxious to bring under the consideration of the House the circumstances which led to that challenge. Certainly I owe an apology to the House for intruding upon them on this matter; but I venture to think—
§ MR. SPEAKER
The question of Privilege having been raised, that must be decided before the hon. and gallant Member can proceed to address the House.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I wish, as the person mainly concerned, to make only one observation, I 306 do not set myself up as an authority on the rules of the House, but I may perhaps be permitted to say, that it would be most acceptable to me if the hon. Baronet could be allowed to proceed with his Motion, and that every facility should be afforded for its discussion.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I think the House will be of opinion, that it would not be a convenient course to extend the area of privilege without due consideration: as regards the occurrence being a recent one, so far the hon. Member is in order. But I should say, on looking at the terms of his Motion, that what has occurred in the House does not fulfil other conditions as regards privilege. In my opinion, it does not distinctly concern the privileges of the House, or call for the present interposition of the House. At the same time, I should be sorry to give any opinion to the House which is not perfectly fair and candid; and I must admit that the challenge referred to on the part of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer does materially complicate this question. After what has been stated, if it should be the general desire of the House to pursue this discussion, I would venture to recommend that the area of privilege should not be extended; and I would suggest that it would be a more convenient course, if the House deems this a matter which it would be proper at once to entertain, if the noble Lord will consent, not to deal with it as a question of privilege, but to postpone the other Orders until after the Motion of the hon. Member has been disposed of.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, in accordance with the recommendation you have just given, I beg to move that the Orders be postponed till the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for Wakefield has been disposed of.
§ MR. E. P. BOUVERIE
Sir, there are two points of order which I would respectfully submit for your consideration. I understand that the intention of the hon. Baronet the Member for Wakefield, is to submit to the House a Resolution of which he has given notice. As I read his Resolution, it seems to me to be a vote of censure on a Member of the House for words spoken in a past debate. Now, there are two rules of the House which I have always understood were strictly observed. One is, that we have no right in this House to refer to a past debate in the same Session. The other rule is still more important and absolute, and is necessary for the 307 protection of Members of the House and for the freedom of debate. It is that no Member is to be called upon to answer for words spoken in this House unless it be immediately moved that the words used be taken down by the clerk at the table. Therefore I want to know, Sir, whether the House can now be called on to pass a vote of censure on a Member of this House for statements made by him, and "imputations conveyed," to quote the phrase of the Resolution, in the course of a speech spoken by him nearly a fortnight ago? [A MEMBER: Only last night.] I understood that the "imputations conveyed" were those originally made in a speech on Monday week—nearly a fortnight ago. I can only say that if the House comes to a vote of censure on a Member for words used at that distance of time, no matter what these words may have been or how open they were to censure at the time, it will be distinctly contravening what has been the universal rule and order of the House in such a case. This is a matter not of mere form, but of substance. It is a practice essential to the protection of the liberty of debate in this House, and if it be broken through, any Member may be liable to be censured and ill-treated for words which were never really spoken by him, at the will of a majority of the House. As far as I can judge, it seems to me that the House would be committing a breach of our most respected orders if it were to go into a debate on words spoken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on a previous occasion.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
I think, Sir, the object of the hon. Baronet is not to find fault with any particular expression used by the right hon. Gentleman, and therefore the words could not be taken down. That to which he wishes to draw attention is the whole tone and spirit and temper and behaviour of the right hon. Gentleman in the discussion to which he refers.
§ MR. SPEAKER
It appears to me that the view taken by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield is the correct one. This is not a question of words liable to objection used in debate. If it had been, the words, no doubt, ought to have been taken down at the moment. The House will, however, remember that last night the time of the House was occupied for nearly two hours by a matter of personal explanation, extending far beyond the ordinary limits of such explanations; and a series of statements and facts were 308 brought under discussion. My understanding is that it is on these statements that the challenge was offered, and the challenge has been accepted. At the same time, I think the House has been judicious in not considering the question as one affecting the established rules of privilege.
§ MR. H. BAILLIE
I think the view taken by the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) is the correct one — namely, that if we are to have a discussion at all, it must be upon words recorded by the Clerk at the table, and not upon the mere tone of a speech. Holding that opinion, I shall take the sense of the House upon any Motion for postponing the Orders of the Day.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
I think it must be perfectly apparent to common sense, that when the House is asked to act judicially, the exact substance of the indictment upon which we are invited to give a judgment should be laid before us, and after notice, unless the words to which exception is taken have just been spoken, and are quite fresh in the memory of the House. I am sure the hon. Member for Wakefield (Sir John Hay) would not wish to induce the House to enter upon an inquiry to discover what were the objectionable passages in a speech which is not before us. It seems to me that we are asked to pass an opinion upon the temper manifested by a Member of this House in debate, without having any evidence of the temper of which the hon. Baronet complains. I do not see, therefore, how the House can, in the present state of circumstances, without having any distinct issue before us, express an opinion creditable to itself.
§ COLONEL FRENCH
I hope it will not be forgotten that a challenge has been given to the House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The complaint, as I understand it, is not that any particular words have been spoken, but that certain words have not been spoken. Let us hope that, under the circumstances, the right hon. Gentleman will relieve the House from the necessity of going into this debate, by withdrawing the imputations upon the hon. Member for Dudley.
I think the House is in danger of getting into great difficulty if it proceeds further in this matter. The question is not merely of form, but of substance also. There seems to be great weight in the observations of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock 309 (Mr. Bouverie), and it certainly would not be worth while—I say so with all respect to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the other party concerned—for the sake of bringing this particular question to a satisfactory issue to establish a precedent that might become in times more troubled than these a source of considerable inconvenience. There is another point that I would recommend to the consideration of the House. I confess I do not see how we are to come to a satisfactory solution of the points in dispute—if they are still in dispute—between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the hon. Member for Dudley. If we are to be called upon to adjudicate upon these matters, we cannot do so merely upon an ex parte statement from either side. I, for one, utterly disclaim the responsibility of undertaking to decide who is right and who is wrong in such matters as those which were the subject of discussion yesterday upon a mere ex parte statement on each side, with no evidence, no witnesses to examine, no means of satisfying ourselves upon the points on which we might desire further information. I do not think there could be any satisfactory issue to this discussion if it were to take place, and I am persuaded it would be better that the matter should be allowed to remain where it is.
§ LORD ROBERT CECIL
If the House should refuse to go into this discussion tonight, it must follow that hereafter, when a Minister of the Crown or any other Member, having uttered words affecting the reputation of another Member, challenges the judgment of this House, that challenge must be held to be a mere idle and futile flourish. The Chancellor of the Exchequer closed the debate last night by distinctly challenging the judgment of the House. Are we now to say, by allowing the matter to end here, that the judgment so challenged shall not be given? There is another point. The reputation of a private Member of this House has been, in the opinion of many of us, cruelly dealt with. For that great wrong, if it be a wrong, there is, if you refuse to go into this matter to-night, absolutely no redress. Protected by the privileges of this House, the Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot be sued before the ordinary courts of the land for having, as it is assumed, slandered and calumniated another Member. I do not say that he has actually slandered and calumniated any man, but I do say that if he has done so he cannot be subjected to 310 those processes of law to which every person has a right, in ordinary cases, to resort when he feels his reputation has been wrongfully and foully injured. It appears to me that if we maintain this privilege of protecting Members of this House from all actions at law—and we must maintain it— and if we do that by the side of the fact that words spoken here are published over the length and breadth of the land, and are soon known to the whole world, we must make up our minds, when imputations affecting the character of a Member are made in this House, and are denied, and when the judgment of the House is challenged, not to refuse to pass the judgment so demanded.
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
I think the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley) has shown a great deal more wisdom than the noble Lord who has just spoken. If it were intended to raise a discussion upon certain words which had been uttered in this House, those words, as the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock has said, ought to have been taken down at the time by the clerk, so that there should be no doubt as to the words which had been actually used. If, on the contrary, certain allegations of fact were to be called in question, and we were to invite the Chancellor of the Exchequer to withdraw imputations if we decided that they were unfounded, then it would be necessary that at the outset we should come to a solemn judgment as to whether those imputations are true or false. Has any one Member in this House compared the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with the reply of the hon. Member for Dudley? Has any one Member set the imputations against the answer which had been given to them? If not, then not a single Member of the House is in a position to give judgment in the matter. But, even supposing that hon. Members had compared the speeches in question, item with item, and statement with reply, then they must, moreover, take some evidence to prove whether the imputations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or the answers of the hon. Member for Dudley are true or false. Both the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the hon. Member for Dudley, I have no doubt, have stated and would always state what they believed to be true. Yet either the one or the other may be mistaken, and, therefore, we cannot give judgment upon their statements alone. For these reasons I entirely agree with the noble Lord the 311 Member for King's Lynn, and I shall vote against the Motion of the noble Viscount at the head of the Government.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I rise, Sir, in the hope that in the fewest possible words I may be able to assist the House in what undoubtedly appears to be a serious dilemma. I do not feel very confident upon that subject, but I think it my duty to offer the few remarks which I have to make. They may, at any rate, help the House to a conclusion on the question whether they would proceed to the consideration of this matter in full detail —which would be the course most agreeable to myself—or whether they should take some other step in conformity with the general rules which regulate our proceedings. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Roscommon (Colonel French) appealed to me to relieve the House by withdrawing what he called my "imputations." I think the House will feel that no man being a Member of this House, not to say a Minister of the Crown, can, except in vague and general terms, deny what is only vaguely and generally imputed. The hon. Baronet the Member for Wakefield (Sir John Hay) is met with this difficulty—that he did not cause the words to be taken down at the time they were spoken. My sincere object is to help the hon. Baronet out of that difficulty, and, at the same time, to avoid saying what is offensive to anybody. I shall endeavour to avoid repeating anything that would give pain, but I shall also endeavour to define, as far as I can, the state of the case. Let me distinguish between what was said of a certain company or institution and what was said of the hon. Member for Dudley. I have never shrunk from avowing, I have never attempted to conceal, I thought it part of my duty to make manifest, that I described in my speech a certain company or institution, which need not now be named, as a company of a certain character. [An hon. MEMBER: Fraudulent.] My object at present is to state the case without using offensive expressions, or allowing a syllable to pass my lips calculated to give offence. I showed that the company or institution was of a certain character by a series of allegations of facts, and, with the exception of a verbal matter, I am not able to recede from any one of those allegations. I shall not now enter into any detail, but I may say that I am perfectly prepared with conclusive documentary evidence to re-establish any one of my 312 allegations impugned in the statement which followed mine last night. That is my position. Two questions, I think, arise—are the allegations true; in other words, was the character attempted to be fastened upon the company or institution just? Or is the House prepared to affirm that the allegations are untrue and the character unjust? Upon the first question I cannot promise to do more than I have done, because, in my opinion, the allegations have been sustained; but I may point out to the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Lord Robert Cecil) that if he thinks they have not been sustained, and if he desires to make them the subject of inquiry, it is competent to him or any other Member to move words of instruction to a Committee of this House which would completely open up the question of the truth or falsehood of the allegations. Or, if the noble Lord prefers a shorter course to his object, and thinks fit to move a Resolution that the company described by me was a company which, although perhaps unfortunate, did nothing to forfeit moral confidence and respect, it is open to him to move such a Resolution; and although I could not vote for it, yet, if it were the sense of the majority of the House, I should at once express my regret for having been so unfortunate originally as to form an opinion at variance with that of the high authority of the House, and should promise that thereafter my mouth would be for ever closed on that subject. So much, therefore, as far as the vindication of the company is concerned. Now I come to what concerns the hon. Member; and if I have been apparently prolix upon what concerns the company, it was that I might cut off and clearly separate that portion of my remarks from what concerns the hon. Member. Well, no one has given me any assistance by referring to any words or terms used by me respecting the hon. Member for Dudley; and, therefore, in the sincere attempt which I wish to make to facilitate the proceedings of the House, I have no course open to me but to state my own view—which, I grant, is totally without authority — of the bearing of the description given by me of the company upon the hon. Member. I am sure the House will receive it with indulgence. I found a company that bore in my mind a certain character. I deemed it, whether erroneously or not, a part of my duty to open up, by a single specimen at any rate, the charac- 313 ter of a certain portion of these companies. I found in the advertisements of that company a name, as auditor, which appeared to be the name of a Member of this House, although, of course, I was not absolutely justified in concluding that it was the name of that hon. Gentleman; but I adverted to it as probably being the name of a Member of this House; and I stated, in terms for which I claim no praise at all, but terms such as decency required, that I had no doubt he was in a situation to make a satisfactory explanation to the House upon the subject. It may be asked of me what did I mean to convey by that reference to the hon. Gentleman. That is a perfectly fair question, and I will give to it, not, only a sincere answer, but the clearest answer that I can offer. But, observe, that everything except the reference to the hon. Member was part of the res gestœ from which I sought to prove the character of the company—another portion of this question, although I do not say that he will not be justified in raising that also before the House if he thinks it to be his duty to do so; because I hold that those who are outside of this House are as much entitled, though perhaps, not in the same form, to our protection, as those who sit within its walls. Now, my view of the ease in its bearing on the hon. Member I left at the time to be inferred simply from the words which I used; but I think it was this— that when the name of an hon. Gentleman is found bearing a responsible office in a company which appears to be of the character to which I have referred, the effect is twofold. In the first place there arises against him a certain amount of adverse presumption that he is implicated in the transactions of that company; and in the second place there arises this patent and important fact, that his name as connected with these offices in the company has gone out to the world, and has presumably served in the eye of the public as a guarantee of the soundness and respectability of that company. Now, Sir, that is precisely what I intended to convey with regard to the hon. Member. I should be ashamed to say that I do not think my words are calculated to establish against him a certain amount of adverse presumption. I should also be ashamed to say that I do not think it is most unfortunate that many gentlemen are in the habit of permitting their names unhappily to become guarantees to the public on behalf of institutions of which they do not, perhaps, 314 know the real character in many cases— which they may in many cases believe, and which they do in many cases believe, to be thoroughly respectable and solvent, but which, at the same time, may be quite otherwise. And I do not deny that I think a certain amount of blame is to be attached to any one who, as an officer or trustee of a company such as I believe that company was, whether he has direct cognizance of its transactions or not, allows his name to be held out as a guarantee. I hope that that is an explicit statement of what I conceive to be the effect of my speech. With respect to a name given on behalf of a company that is bad, if the House thinks that the company is good, and chooses to say so by its vote, of course the charge entirely disappears, and I have already stated the course which I should take in that case. With regard to the adverse presumption against a Member of this House, of course it is obvious that it is for him to rise and purge himself by his denial of any knowledge or any complicity in any transaction connected with that company which is not according to the laws of honourable commercial enterprize. Now, I did not understand the hon. I Member—but I submit myself to the judgment of this House if I am wrong—I did not understand the hon. Gentleman in the course he took on Thursday night to adopt the method of purgation which I have described. The hon. Member questioned my allegations, stated that they were utterly untrue, touched many of them in detail, and said nothing, as far as I could gather, with respect to the admission even that there was anything whatever to blame in the proceedings of this company; and, of course, if that be so, he did not require to disclaim—
§ MR. H. B. SHERIDAN
I rise to Order. I distinctly stated, when the right hon. Gentleman made his first speech, that —[Cries of "Order! and "Chair!"] Sir, I cannot allow the right hon. Gentleman to make a statement to the House which is not founded on fact. ["Order!"]
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I really had no intention to misstate what the hon. Gentleman said. I am speaking of what he said on Thursday. I thought I was only stating what was patent and obvious to all. Perhaps, when the hon. Member is perfectly cool he will see that my remark does not in any way call 315 for either that or any other interruption. Undoubtedly, to state it moderately, the main staple of the hon. Gentleman's explanation was his objection to the truth of the allegations of fact which I had made. On that my statement was, that what I felt was that if I had made allegations not founded on fact I had committed a grave offence and deserved the severest censure of the House. I am still of that opinion, and I do not mean to interpose any obstacle, if it depends upon me, to the trial of that question, if it is to he tried. And now I come to the purely personal part of the matter. If the hon. Member has made the denial to which I have referred, declaring—without committing himself, if he pleases, about this company—that he knew nothing of, and that he had no share in, any transactions except such as were legitimate, I can only say that I have not been fortunate enough to hear that declaration. But, if that declaration was made, my duty is plain, and I cannot hesitate to perform it. I heard him say that the duties of an auditor were of a definite character, and that he had given his name as trustee in various instances. I will not attempt to quote, because I do not recollect precisely the effect of what he stated; but I did not hear from his mouth that distinct declaration applicable to the whole state of the case. If he could, indeed, entirely or generally disprove the allegations of fact which I made, I do not say that it would be necessary for him to make such a declaration; but if he did make such a declaration, I would not for one moment hesitate to admit that so far as I am concerned that declaration made in this House and accepted by this House is absolute and conclusive, and entirely disposes of whatever adverse presumption might have arisen out of the facts stated by me—whether they be true or not true —as far as regards the hon. Gentleman. Can I say more than that? If the hon. Gentleman has made that declaration, I must say that I did not fully apprehend its purport and meaning, and I make an apology for not having done so. If he makes that declaration now I will abide by my word, and that declaration shall be final and conclusive upon me; and if accepted by the House it disposes of whatever adverse presumption there might have been against him, and leaves him, as far as my statement is involved, exactly as if that statement had never been made. Perhaps, if hon. Members should think that there is 316 more which I ought to state in this matter ["No!''], and should suggest it to me in debate, I am sure the House, in its kindness, will not prevent me, on the ground of form, from rising again to make good any deficiency in my present remarks. I have endeavoured to give the bearing of the case in the clearest light, to separate effectually what I think are the two distinct parts of it, to explain my position in relation to it, to vindicate myself and the statements of fact which I made, and at the same time to do justice to the hon. Member.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
I should hope, after the explanation of my right hon. Friend, that it will be unnecessary for the hon. Gentleman opposite to make the Motion which has been suggested. I am sure the House will all concur in regretting a discussion which has given pain to the hon. Member for Dudley — pain which I am certain that my right hon. Friend must, like myself, regret should have been given, and which arose out of the statements which he deemed it his duty to make. But I should really trust, that after the statement which my right hon. Friend has just made, and the frank and handsome manner in which he has accepted the declaration of the hon. Member for Dudley, it will not be thought necessary for the House to go on with this Motion.
§ MR. H. B. SHERIDAN
Sir, I have been challenged by the right hon. Gentleman to say whether or not in the course of the debate raised by him I denied certain allegations which he made. I never heard any allegations made of the nature to which he evidently alludes; hut immediately after the speech to which this discussion refers I did rise and state that I had acted as an auditor of the company many years ago; that the position of the company was then of such a character that the business was both sound and profitable; that I knew of no transaction of the company that deserved any censure; that I ceased to hold office immediately after 1856 that I was in entire ignorance of any of the other incidents by which he characterized the company; that I was not responsible for any of the conditions which attached to its management; and that neither then nor last night could I understand how or why my name was brought forward in connection with the company.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
The hon. Gentleman has made 317 the declaration to which I referred, and has stated explicitly that he knew of no transaction of the company deserving censure. If he did the game thing on a former evening, I regret that I did not gather its effect. The House will, I am sure, forgive me if it should prove that I have been misled on a particular point. He stated that he ceased to hold office in the company in 1856. I quoted his name as trustee, I think, in 1859. But it was from what purported to be an advertisement of the company itself. However that may be, accepting the declaration of the hon. Gentleman, and accepting it also as made on the first night of the debate, I must add my sincere regret if he has suffered pain owing to my failure to perceive the effect of his statement on that occasion.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
I think, Sir, after the very satisfactory explanation which has just fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, it would be very unfair indeed to proceed further with this matter. I had not the acquaintance of the hon. Member for Dudley, and my only object was to obtain what appeared to be necessary, in the first assembly of gentlemen in Europe, from the right hon. Gentleman, whom we all respect for his talents and eloquence. I myself felt, and others felt, that after the explanation I understood to be made by the hon. Member for Dudley there was something cruel, as it were, in the right hon. Gentleman not rising in his place and accepting it freely and frankly in the manner he has done to-day. The House, I am sure, will forgive me for the intrusion; but I feel I have done a service to it by placing this matter on a proper footing.