§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [5th August], "That Mr. Joseph K. Aston do attend at the Bar of this House this day, at Two of the clock."
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
I think it right to state that Mr. Aston has addressed a letter to me, which it may be proper on my part to read to the House. Mr. Aston does not state for what reason he has addressed it to me. I have had no communication with the Bounty Office, or any of its officers, in regard to the Bill—the Ecclesiastical Dilapidations Act (1871) Amendment Bill—in question, nor has Government taken any share in the discussion upon it. Probably the reason is, that it was I who suggested to the House last night the adjournment of the discussion on the question whether Mr. Aston should be called to the Bar. The letter is as follows:—Bounty Office, Westminster, Aug. 6.Privilege Question—Ecclesiastical Dilapidation Act (1871) Amendment Bill.Sir—Allow me to ask the favour of your conveying to the Honourable the House of Commons an expression of my regret that the lithographed letter in which, influenced by the urgency of the Bill passing this Session, I yesterday asked Members to remain to the close of the Sitting, was so worded as to be liable to be misunderstood. I have written an explanatory letter to the hon. Member for Barnstaple, and I now most distinctly state that the words to which exception was taken were not intended by me in any way to apply to the hon. Member, or any other hon. Member; but the words referred solely to parties outside your Honourable House. I beg to apologize most respectfully to your Honourable House if I have inadvertently transgressed any of its rules and proceedings.—I am, Sir, &c.561 So far as the allegation against Mr. Aston goes it appears to me that he has said in this letter probably as much as he would be able to say in case he were called to the Bar. Of course, however, if the House thinks it necessary to proceed further in the matter it can do so.
§ MR. T. CAVE
I have no personal interest in this matter any more than any other hon. Member. Offensive expressions were used, not of individual Members of the House, but of Members who were not named, and I thought it my duty to bring the matter to the cognizance of the House. If the House approves, I am willing to accept the apology as amply sufficient, and I hope that so important an institution as Queen Anne's Bounty will in future be more careful.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
could not have voted for summoning Mr. Aston to the Bar, no breach of privilege having in a technical sense been, in his opinion, committed. A libel on the House generally, or on any hon. Member in the discharge of his duties, was, undoubtedly, a breach of privilege, rendering its author liable to be called to the Bar; but the letter, offensive and improper as it was, was not an imputation on the House at large, or on any particular Member for his conduct in the House, but referred to money lenders and agents. No doubt, the proceeding was a highly improper one. Mr. Aston was Secretary to an important public Board of which he (Mr. Bouverie), as a Member of the Privy Council, happened to be a member. It was to be condemned that any responsible officer of a public Board should think it right to write canvassing letters to the Members of that House, and particularly canvassing letters in the terms of Mr. Aston's. He thought the superiors of Mr. Aston would not properly discharge their duty to the public uuless they severely reprimanded that gentleman for the course he had taken in that matter, because it would be observed that the letter was dated from the Bounty Office, and signed by him as Secretary to the Board, so that he had used the name of the Board, and had committed that important public commission to the language and terms of that letter, which he (Mr. Bouverie) was quite sure the individual Members of that Commission would never for one moment justify. He hoped the House would follow the advice of the right hon. Gentleman the 562 Prime Minister, and that they would hear no more of the matter.
§ MR. MONK
said, that having been requested by the Archbishop of Canterbury, on the part of the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty, to take charge of the Bill in respect to which Mr. Aston's offence arose, he thought it right to state that that letter emanated entirely from that gentleman himself. Mr. Aston neither consulted him nor gave him any intimation that he intended to ask hon. Gentlemen to come to the House to support the Bill last night.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.