HC Deb 05 July 1867 vol 188 cc1065-7

felt compelled to trouble the House with a short personal explanation affecting the privileges of Members. Yesterday he had handed, in the usual course, to the Clerk at the table, a Notice expressive of his intention to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department to the circumstance reported by the Mayor of Birmingham, as appeared from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman himself, that a certain publication was finding its way into schools and becoming a serious nuisance; and assuming that this publication was a pamphlet entitled The Confessional Unmasked, of his intention to ask the right hon. Gentleman, whether he would cause inquiry to be made as to the publication referred to, whether it was or was not a true exposition of the doctrine and discipline of auricular confession as recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, and of late years introduced and adopted by many clergymen of the Church of England? On reading the terms of the Notice as they now appeared upon the Paper, he found these materially altered, doubtless in accordance with the discretion vested in the Clerks for the despatch of public business and for the benefit of Members themselves, but still so as to attribute intentions to him which he had never entertained. The Notice, as published, was as follows:— Mr. Whalley:—To call attention to the publication alluded to by the Mayor of Birmingham, and supposed to be a pamphlet entitled The Confessional Unmasked; and to ask, whether the Government will cause inquiry as to whether the said publication does or does not contain a true exposition of the doctrine, and discipline, and practice of the Roman Catholic Church? He never had the slightest idea of calling attention to the publication itself or its contents; his only object was to obtain information from Her Majesty's Government. The Notice also had been altered by the omission of material words towards the close. As the Notice Paper for the evening had not yet been printed, he wished to know whether it was not possible to restore his Motion to the original form.


If the hon. Gentleman had done me the favour of calling my attention to this subject previously to the assembling of the House, I should have had a better opportunity of comparing the two documents than I can have at this moment, when they have just been put into my hands. The House will be aware that it is continually the duty and the practice of the Clerks at the table to amend and alter in some degree the Notices that are given, some of which are not in form, and others open to various objections. It is a very difficult duty for the Clerks to perform; but it is one which, in my judgment, they have performed with great discretion, and generally with great advantage to the conduct of the business of the House. With reference to this particular matter, I hold in my hand the original Notice as it was handed in, and the amended or altered Notice; and it appears to me that everything that was material in the original document is contained in the Notice as it stands amended. An alteration has been made with regard to the statement of the Secretary of State; and it is not usual to refer in such a manner to debates which have taken place. There are also a few lines struck out at the close, where the hon. Member for Peterborough, after alluding to the "doctrine, and discipline, and practice of the Roman Catholic Church," added the following words:—"and of late years adopted by many clergymen of the Church of England." That statement involves a matter of opinion which may be considered to be, and perhaps is intended to be, an imputation on the clergy of the Church of England. It was only the other day that notice was taken in this House of the desirability of avoiding imputations of this nature in any questions which might be put. It therefore appears to me from this hasty view of the case that no injustice has been done to the hon. Member; but on the whole that some matters which might be considered objectionable have been, not improperly, removed. The House is now in possession of what has taken place, and it will be for the House to say whether, under the circumstances, any special proceedings are necessary.


There can be but one opinion in the House upon this Question. We depend always upon the experience and discretion of the Clerks at the Table. I have had Notices of my own changed, and I am sure they have always been improved through the experience and information of those Gentlemen. I am sure the House will support their officers in the exercise of a duty which they discharge with so much sagacity and discretion.


I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has said; and I will add that I think matters of opinion, especially matters upon which opinion is strongly divided, ought not to be introduced into Questions put in this House.


said, his main object in putting the Question was to relieve himself from the supposition that he had ever intended to call attention to the contents of the particular pamphlet. In all other respects, he bowed to the opinion which had been expressed.