HC Deb 26 February 1872 vol 209 cc1032-4

Sir, I rise for the purpose of calling your attention to a question connected with the Privileges of this House. An article appeared a short time ago in a London daily journal, of wide circulation, reflecting in terms so strong, and preferring such serious charges against the mode of conducting the Business of this House, and also reflecting upon the conduct of several distinguished Members of this House, that I have felt it my duty to call your attention to the subject, for the purpose of ascertaining whether, in your opinion, the publication of the article to which I refer involves a question of the Privileges of this House? But before I read that article, I ought, in deference to yourself and to the House, to state two facts. The article in question was placed in my hands on the first day of the Session; but, as it involved serious charges against your predecessor in that Chair, I felt, and I hope the House will feel with me, that to have brought forward charges which I have no doubt will be at once disproved, but still charges which would have affected the character of that right hon. Gentleman at a time when he was about to leave that Chair, under circumstances which we all most deeply regretted, would have been a proceeding most painful to the House, and equally painful to myself personally. I therefore thought it best to defer any allusion to the subject, Sir, till you were placed in that Chair, when—you being in no way implicated in the matter—an unbiassed judgment could be given on the subject. The article to which I wish to call attention includes a good deal of personal matter, couched in not very courteous language. It is not my wish to bring all the details of it before the House; and, unless compelled to do so, I shall avoid that course. ["Read, read!"] I wish you then to understand that I am reading everything that I wish to refer to, omitting those parts which convey personal attacks upon hon. and right hon. Gentlemen. The article to which I beg to call your attention was published in a London daily journal, called The Morning Advertiser, of the 5th February. That article involves a grave charge against the conduct of certain persons in this House, and the proceedings of certain hon. and right hon. Gentlemen. The article proceeds thus— Probably few of our readers have ever heard of 'the Speaker's list.' It is, indeed, a comparatively new invention, which we owe to the People's William, the champion of all our liberties, and to his stanch henchman, Mr. Glyn. We were at first incredulous, but have been credibly informed, that before any great measure comes on for discussion, a list is prepared by Mr. Glyn, in which he inserts the names of such Gentlemen as desire to speak on the side of the Opposition, for which he applies to the Conservative Whip, and the names of such Gentlemen as are to speak from the Speaker's right hand, for which he applies to the People's William. This list is given to the Speaker, with strict injunctions that no Member is to speak whose name is not upon it. And if any Member whose name is not upon it rises, he only rises to be told, by the Speaker, that another Member—that is, the one next in order on the list—has the ear of the House. When the list is run out, it might, perhaps, be thought that there would be a chance for an independent voice. Not a bit of it. No sooner is the list closed than Mr. Gladstone rises to his legs and insists upon a division. His dutiful majority rushes to the lobby, and all is over. Nor is this all. We have every reason to believe that Mr. Gladstone, who is nothing if not vindictive, uses this list as a rod by which to coerce obedience. A steady supporter of the Government, who votes dutifully upon every occasion at Mr. Glyn's behest, has only to signify his wish to speak, and he is put upon the list at once. But let a Liberal Member be at all recalcitrant—let him stray into the wrong lobby—let him make any unpleasant remarks, and, unless he be a man of extraordinary note, his request to be allowed to speak will be met with a blank denial. In point of fact—under the pretext of economizing time, and securing a better order of debate—Messrs. Gladstone, Glyn, and Denison have taken it upon themselves to deliberately gag the representatives of the people. Great fishes, of course, break through the net. Rules were not made for such sons of Anak as Mr. Osborne or Professor Fawcett. But the throng of ordinary voters are held firmly in its trammels. They know the price at which they may open their mouths—a steady Government vote and liberty of speech, an adverse vote and the gag. We hope it is true that Mr. Brand will be asked whether it is his intention to allow so monstrous and impudent an innovation as a Speaker's list drawn up by the Ministerial Whip. We for our part can conceive no greater mockery than a House of Representatives in which freedom of speech is practically not allowed. That is the article, Sir, to which I wish to call your attention; and I now ask—and it rests with you to say—whether the grave charges contained in it do or do not involve a breach of the Priviliges of this House?


The hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. G. Bentinck) claims the attention of the House to a matter which, in his opinion, is a question of Privilege. It appears to me, however, that the matter in no way affects the Privileges of the House; but, as it raises a point of Order, I should be glad to satisfy the hon. Member, and other hon. Members equally with him, with regard to it. According to the rules and usages of this House, the hon. Member who first catches the Speaker's eye is entitled to be heard. For my own part, I have never seen a so-called "Speaker's list." I shall endeavour on all occasions to call upon hon. Members to speak according to their respective claims, in a spirit, and with a desire of fairness and impartiality, and with the view of eliciting the several opinions which prevail in the House on the subject before it.


Perhaps, Sir, I may be allowed to say, without entering into discussion, on the part of my hon. Friend near me (Mr. Glyn) and myself, that neither of us is cognizant in the least degree of a practice in which we are supposed to take the deepest interest.