HC Deb 13 April 1875 vol 223 cc787-811

Sir, the Notice Paper which has been distributed amongst hon. Members will have conveyed to their minds the reason why I venture to trouble them on the present occasion. The question I have to bring under their notice is one of Breach of Privilege, and I assure the House that I feel the utmost confidence, that when I come to the conclusion of the short statement I think it necessary to make, the House will be of opinion that although I may have interrupted their deliberations, it has been in the cause of right and justice. I think that at this time of day it would be an idle and ludicrous thing if any hon. Member were to get up and complain of a technical breach of those ordinary Rules of the House which are intended to produce good general results, but which are not in- tended to be enforced, unless in exceptional cases, when some great breach of them has been committed; but when the honour of a Member of this House is concerned—and indeed the dignity of the House itself—I am satisfied that I shall not appeal in vain for a patient hearing and an impartial consideration. It is not meet That every nice offence should bear its comment in dealing with the Rules of this House, and if I had not to bring before the House the case of a Member, who is personally unconnected with myself, and with whom I was unacquainted until the other day, I should not have ventured to intrude myself upon the House. Sir, I venture to say that it is one of the well-established Rules of this House that in the case of a Select Committee, no person outside that Committee has any right to print or circulate evidence which is in course of being taken and on which that Committee has not deliberated. It is not necessary to quote an authority for that proposition; but so late as the 21st of April, 1837, it was resolved by this House— That, according to the undoubted privileges of this House, and for the due protection of the public interest, the evidence taken by any Select Committee of this House, and the documents presented to such Committee, and which have not been reported to the House, ought not to be published by any Member of such Committee, nor by any other person. And, Sir, that Resolution has not remained unexercised, or unused. I believe there are precedents in the Journals of the House having exercised its plenary authority of imprisonment on those who have offended in this respect. It will be in the recollection of every one here that very early in the Session a Committee was appointed on a subject which engrossed a great deal of public interest—the subject of the way in which certain Foreign loans were effected in the English market by divers Governments, especially in connection with certain South American Republics, and the transactions connected therewith. A large part of the community had had great reason to complain, if not of positive fraud, still of transactions that savoured very much of it. Upon the occasion of that Committee being moved for, I took the liberty of making a few observations in furtherance of the views of the hon. and learned Gentleman who proposed it (Sir Henry James). I was aware that considerable anxiety was felt by many not undistinguished Members of this House as to what the result might be of appointing a Select Committee to fulfil a new and delicate duty; but I confess I never thought that, when that Committee had sat not more than five or six times, an instance of grave doubts on the part of hon. Members as to the expediency and propriety of entering upon so delicate, if not dangerous, a task would have to be presented to the House in the interests of substantial justice, and for the purpose of vindicating the honour of an hon. Member of the House. On the 22nd March last, the hon. Member for Graves-end (Captain Bedford Pim) was examined. I happened to be present during part of that examination, and I will only say of it that it was at least a very strong sort of examination.


I rise to Order. As Chairman of that Committee, Sir, I must request your opinion as to whether it is competent to the hon. Gentleman to go in full House into the matters that pass within that Committee before they have reported to the House?


It is not competent to the hon. Member to refer to matters which have arisen in the Committee. The hon. Gentleman should adhere as strictly as possible to the matter he wishes to bring before the House, which I understand to be that The Times and Daily News newspapers have published articles which he considers to constitute a breach of Privilege. The proper course would be that those articles should be read by the Clerk at the Table, and the hon. Member, in raising the question of Privilege, should confine himself to the points raised in those articles.


Perhaps I went a little beyond the point that I intended to raise. I merely wished to let the House know as a matter of fact that Captain Bedford Pim was examined on the 22nd of March.


I rise to Order again. I submit that if the hon. Gentleman is allowed to go into this, it will be expected from me that I should answer him, and I maintain that it is entirely contrary to my duty to answer him upon anything done by the Committee while the dele gation continues. When it is over, of course the House can go into it.


I will proceed, Sir, at once to the complaint I have to make. It is that in The Times of the 9th instant and in The Daily News of the same day, under the heading of "The Committee of Foreign Loans," it is stated that the Committee had sat the day previously, and the evidence taken before the Committee is then set out. It is also stated that Mr. Lowe said, he had received a letter in French from M. Herran, the Honduras Minister at Paris, which was read to the Committee in English by Mr. Kirkman Hodgson. To this letter, and especially to the opening paragraph of it, I will call special attention. The letter commenced—

"Paris, April 7, 1875.

"To the Eight Honourable Robert Lowe,

"Chairman of the Committee on

"Foreign Loans, London.

"Sir,—Absent from Paris more than a month, I returned only the day before yesterday, and could not at an earlier period reply to the attacks of Mr. Bedford Pim, which are reported in the journals, The Times and The Daily News, of the 23rd of March last. Although I am not fond of controversy, I cannot pass over in silence the false and calumnious allegations of Mr. Bedford Pim, who is unable to pardon me for having done my duty in preventing him from emitting a loan of £2,000,000 in Paris, on the 26th of December, 1872, under the false title of Special Commissioner of Honduras. I say 'false title' because he was never named by the Government, and besides, the guarantees which he offered were illusory and without value, considering that the domains and forests, like all the other revenues of the State, were already hypothecated for the purposes of the first two loans, English and French, say for £3,000,000. Mr. Bedford Pim declares that if I prevented the loan, it was because he was unwilling to consent to give me £40,000 for myself, and £16,000 for the Consul General, sums which we had caused to be demanded of him, says he, by the mediation of Messrs. Dreyfus Frères, the bankers, and he adds that if he did not consent to give this sum it was because such an act was alien from the habits of English sailors, I will ask Mr. Pim if the end he sought, to draw to himself from the savings of the French nation, without legal authorization, £2,000,000, is according to him one of the habits of English sailors. I leave to the Committee the decision on this point.

"The house of Dreyfus Frères, quoted by Mr. Pim, with the object of giving to his declaration an air of veracity, is not known to me. I defy him to prove that I have ever had direct or indirect relations with it.

"As to the charge of having denounced him to the French Police to procure his imprisonment, there is no word of truth in it, but it suited Mr. Pim to present himself before his countrymen as a martyr. Encouraged by the marks of sympathy which he obtained at the London Tavern on the 10th of January, 1873, when he roused his complaisant audience against mo, he thought he could continue with impunity to play his rôle of calumniator against the agents who performed their duty strictly and honourably, and serve as the salaried instrument of those who ruined an international work calculated to render immense services to commerce all over the world—such is the part played by Mr. Pim. As for the £70,000 sterling which Mr. Pim says he paid for the arrears of interest on the French Loan with the funds coming from the English Loan of 1870, that is impossible, seeing that the dividends of the French Loan were always regularly paid with the money coming from the Paris Loan, of which the following is a proof.

"In July, 1870, Messrs. Bischoffsheim and Co. received in bonds and money the amount of the French Loan, 28,808,800f., and Messrs. Waring Brothers, contractors, had received in March 1,543,275f, making in all 30,352,0751, on undertaking to carry out the agreement come to between the Government of Honduras, Messrs. Bischofifsheim, and Waring, on the 2nd of July, 1870. I write this to show that the declaration of Mr. Pim is erroneous on this part as on all others.

"That Mr. Pim did not remain longer in prison is through my intervention with his Excellency Lord Lyons, with whom I interested myself to bring him out on the day on which he wrote the letter enclosed.

"When Mr. Pim naively declares that he resigned his post as Special Commissioner of Honduras because he could not obtain my dismissal from the Government, that proves that my Government did never nominate him, but had estimated him at his true value. Besides the official decree of the 1st of March, 1873, of the President, approves my conduct, and declares that Mr. Pim has never been Special Commissioner, and that no one had the power or right to appoint him.

"I believe I have sufficiently refuted the defamatory and calumnious attacks of Mr. Bedford Pim, and counting on your well-kuown impartiality, I have the honour to beg you to cause my letter to be published in The Times and The Daily News. Accept the assurances of, &c.,


"Honduras Minister in Paris.

"P.S.—If you should desire other information, I shall make it my duty to furnish it to you. I put myself entirely at your disposal."

Now, Sir, I have drawn the attention of the House to the fact that the proceedings of the Committee have been published in The Times and The Daily News of April 9. I have read what gives point to this—that, under the guise of the publication of the inchoate and incomplete proceedings of this Committee, a document has been printed and circulated all over the world which, I venture to say, is as great a libel as ever was published, and upon which, but for the cover thrown over it as being part of the proceedings of the Committee, a criminal indictment would lie. Is not this a case in which the House should inform itself how it came to pass that this letter passed bodily into these two newspapers? On looking into the other newspapers I discover that they give merely a summary of it. By the action of the two papers in question, therefore, evidence given by Captain Pim before the Committee on oath is allowed to be contradicted in the outer world, by means of the public Press, in a letter written from Paris, without any means of identifying the writer, without any verification of the signature, without the writer submitting himself to examination or cross-examination, although the accusations of the letter are directed against a Member of this House, and charge him with falsehood in his testimony and iniquity in his conduct. Is it right that such statements should be put forth in such a manner, in contravention of the testimony of a Member of this House? In dealing with this matter I should like to act in accordance with the precedent adopted on a similar occasion, as recorded in the Journals of this House. I should like to call the printers of The Times and The Daily News to the bar of this House, and to ask them from whom did they receive this document which enabled their newspapers to print this letter at full length all over the world? I desire to ascertain who are the real offenders in this matter who have circulated these libels broadcast over the world. The letter contains a charge of personal and pecuniary fraud against the hon. Member for Gravesend, and there is a direct allegation of falsehood made against him. The hon. Member has therefore been libelled by two newspapers in doing that which by itself might have been brought under notice as a breach of Privilege. Therefore, I say, we ought to have these gentlemen here in order that we may ascertain who is responsible for the setting in motion this libel, what foundation there is for it, and why the proceedings of the Committee have been published. What is the foundation for the Rule of the House that the evidence taken by Select Committee shall not be published before their Reports are laid on the Table of the House? It is a rule of convenience and a rule of justice: of convenience, because delicate and important matters are considered which ought not to be laid before the public in an incomplete and ragged way, so that the statements and allegations made before the Committees should not be published to the world until the whole state of the case has been ascertained. It is well that the conventional rule in these cases should be observed, for it is the rule of simple justice. From the first day the Committee sat until now the inquiry was—


reminded the hon. Gentleman that he was now referring to what had taken place before the Committee, and was therefore transgressing the Rule of the House.


At all events, I may be allowed to say that the object of the Committee was to inquire into transactions of a very delicate nature, which itself made the Rule of the House a rule of convenience and of justice. It is not necessary for me to do more than to say that I have pointed out what the Rule of the House is. I have pointed out also that that Rule has been broken, and that in breaking it a most serious injury has been done, at all events for a time, to a Member of this House. Under these circumstances, Sir, I beg leave, first of all, to move that the Clerk at the Table do read the commencement and end of the reports which appeared in The Times and The Daily News newspapers, on the 9th April instant, of the proceedings and evidence taken before the Select Committee on Foreign Loans on the 8th instant, in breach of the privileges of this House, in order that we may have proof before us of what facts were presented in those reports.

[Complaint made by Mr. Charles Lewis, Member for Londonderry, of the publication in "The Times" and "Daily News" newspapers on the 9th April instant of the proceedings and evidence taken before the Select Committee on Foreign Loans on the 8th instant, in breach of the privileges of this House.]


Will the hon. Member bring the articles up to the Table?

[Copies of those newspapers put in, and extracts proving the publication of the Proceedings and Evidence of the Select Committee on the 8th instant read.]


then moved— That the publication in 'The Times' and 'Daily News' newspapers on the 9th April instant of the proceedings and evidence taken before the Select Committee on Foreign Loans on the 8th instant is in each case a breach of the privileges of this House.


seconded the Motion. Question proposed.


said: I should like, Sir, for my own information and those around me, to be allowed to put a question to the Chairman of the Committee, though not as regards any of the subjects considered in that Committee, or of the manner of their consideration—the delicacy regarding which has been so well brought to the recollection of the House by you, Sir, within the past few minutes—but before we call, or are asked to call, two great organs of public opinion before us, evidently with purposes of disfavour and with the intention of rebuking their presumption, I think we owe it to ourselves to know whether they have been tempted into a disregard of the old practice of the House by any circumstances which may have arisen in the conduct of the Committee. That I may not be misunderstood, I wish, on the authority of a right hon. Gentleman with whom I have been in communication in the last few minutes, to ask whether provision is not made in the Select Committee room, by the usual accommodation of tables, chairs, and stationery, for the reporters of The Times and The Daily News; and whether they have not frequently, if not continuously, exercised their vocation with the knowledge, cognizance, and, presumably, with the sanction of the Committee. When that question has been answered, it will be time enough to consider whether that is a variation from the old practice. All I can say is this, that having sat upon Select Committees frequently in past Parliaments, I never saw such provision made; and although I have known incidentally that the old rule of exclusion has been evaded, I have never known the fact brought to the cognizance of the Select Committee of which I was a Member, nor do I know of a Committee of the nature of that which is now sitting, in which the rule has been disregarded. My question, therefore, will be—if I am permitted to put it to the Chairman of the Committee—whether it is the case that the public Press has been, with his sanction and cognizance, constantly present during the whole of the evidence taken before him, and whether the Committee have not been aware that the proceedings were reported de die in diem in the London Press?

Question, That the publication in 'The Times' and 'Daily News' newspapers on the 9th April instant of the proceedings and evidence taken before the Select Committee on Foreign Loans on the 8th instant is in each case a breach of the privileges of this House, put, and—a few voices declaring for the "Noes "—agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That Mr. Francis Goodlake, the printer of 'The Times' newspaper, do attend at the Bar of this House on Friday next, at half-past Four o'clock."—(Mr. Charles Lewis.)


Sir, I was somewhat surprised that the first Resolution moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry should have been questioned by any hon. Member of this House, and less surprised at the result, because, upon reflection, it is impossible to deny that there has been a clear breach of Privilege in the publication which he has brought under our consideration. But, Sir, the feelings with which we approach the second Resolution of my hon. Friend are of a different character. In what spirit do we approach the consideration of the conduct brought before us? It is not one of vengeance for the breach of Privilege which has been committed, because we acknowledge by the practice of this House—the courtesy of this House at least—that that act which has been described to-night—and been justly and technically described—as a breach of Privilege—is one which, if discreetly and properly exercised, is very conducive to the public benefit and not at all injurious to the honour of this House. But, Sir, there can be no doubt that when the honour of an individual Member of this House is impugned by means of this machinery it does become this House—and it is the duty of the House—fairly and candidly to consider the state of the facts before it. There is no doubt that a libel has been printed and has been circulated in these newspapers against the conduct and character of a Member of this House, and it is our duty to take notice of such a circumstance when it is brought before us. But if the object of summoning the printers of these newspapers before us be only to ascertain the means by which this publication—this offensive publication took place—we must remember that it may be possible by other means to obtain the information that is required, and if it be in the power of any Gentlemen who are Members of this House to throw light on the con-duet which is in question, I think that, instead of bringing to the Bar of the House these honest and innocent people, who were exercising a function which is beneficial to the public—I think that instead of putting them through the trouble of being summoned before the Bar of this high Assembly, it would be better if we can to obtain the information which is the only object in view, by other means; and I submit to you, Sir, that is a course which is highly desirable. Now, Sir, there are circumstances upon the surface of this narrative which I believe are not questioned, and which seem to point out that there are other means in this House of obtaining that information. We know that this libel was addressed to the Chairman of the Committee—we know that there were directions in the letter regulating the mode by which the desired publication of the libel should take place—and we know that the publication of the libel occurred exactly in the manner desired by the writer. And if there be any Member of the Committee, from the Chairman himself to those who have been least interested in the conduct of this investigation—if they have any information in their possession which can throw light upon the question, and which can at once inform the House by what means this publication occurred—I think it is not desirable that we should support the second Resolution of my hon. Friend.


I think, Sir, that any surprise that may have been felt as to the manner in which the first Resolution was received by a portion of the House might have been removed if the right hon. Gentleman had thought fit to give the benefit of his opinion and advice at an earlier moment. Upon further consideration, I think that the House arrived at a just decision in assenting to what is, in fact, evidently a truism—that a breach of Privilege has been committed in this case, as in many other cases, in the publication both of the debates of this House and the evidence taken before Committees. The right hon. Gentleman appears to think that there is greater doubt about the Resolution now submitted to the House, and that the necessity of summoning the printers of these newspapers to attend at the Bar may be obviated by the House—that the House may obtain the desired information by other means. I can only understand the observations just made by the right hon. Gentleman as an invitation to my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) to state what he knows of these circumstances in his character as Chairman of the Committee. Now, Sir, my right hon. Friend has not risen, and I believe does not intend to rise, to make any statement to the House on the question, because he does not think that it is his duty as Chairman of the Committee, and does not think that it would tend to promote the object for which the Committee was appointed, were he to transgress the ordinary Rules of the House, which prevent discussion of a matter that is yet pending before a Committee of this House. When the proceedings of that Committee are at end my right hon. Friend will have no objection to answer for anything, or give any information to the House, as to what has taken place in the Committee, or to defend any conduct for which he, as Chairman of the Committee, may be responsible. But my right hon. Friend does not think that he would be justified, or that it would be desirable that he should enter into any discussion whatever at the present time as to the proceedings which have taken place in the Committee. Therefore, Sir, if the House desires that any information should be obtained as to the libel which is said to have been incidentally committed by the publishers of these newspapers, I presume that the right hon. Gentleman will object to the Motion that the printers be summoned to the Bar of the House. I am not a lawyer, and I cannot therefore pretend to give to the House any authoritative opinion upon the subject; but as to one observation which fell from the hon. Member for Londonderry as to what is said to be the protection which publishers of newspapers enjoy from actions for libel on account of their reports being backed by what takes place within the walls of the Committee-room, I should doubt very much whether the publication of a libel which is a breach of Privilege, and is declared by the House to be a breach of Privilege, would be any protection to the publishers of these newspapers; and whether the hon. Member would not be at liberty to take any proceedings he pleases, just as if this House had taken no action in the matter. But, as I have said, I am not a lawyer, and I am not able to advise the House in the matter. Before the House decides, however, upon this point, and comes to the conclusion that it is necessary to strain the acknowledged practice—the acknowledged though seldom used practice—against the publishers of newspapers, it would do well to consider whether the hon. Member for Gravesend has really any practical grievance to complain of for which he has not a remedy in the ordinary way. Not having observed that this discussion was likely to take place to-day, I am not able to refer the House to any precedents; but it appears to me that, whatever decision the House may hereafter come to, it would be extremely inconvenient to enter into the discussion of matters that are before the Committee while the proceedings of the Committee have not yet come to an end.


, wished to explain why he had seconded the Motion of the hon. Member for Londonderry. It seemed to him only fair that when some one had acted in an improper manner by charging the hon. Member for Gravesend—with whom he had never had any personal communication—with very gross fraud and with perjury, without offering himself for cross-examination, the matter should not be allowed to drop. It was he thought the duty of the House to protect the honour of its Members from attacks of that sort, and, therefore, he had seconded the Motion.


It is with extreme reluctance, Sir, that I take part in this debate, but as a Member of the Committee to which reference is made and one who may be said to have the least possible interest in it, I cannot refrain from making a few observations on the Motion before the House. I must respectfully protest against the Motion, and will give my reasons for doing so. The Motion is, that the printers of two newspapers shall be summoned to the Bar of this House to answer for a breach of Privilege, and a libel upon one of its Members. The hon. Member who has submitted this Motion has stated with a frankness that I did not anticipate, that his object in making it is not the direct one of punishing these persons who have been guilty of the breach of Privilege—that he disavowed—but an ulterior and indirect object of attacking others on whom he says the responsibility really lies. I protest respectfully against that course; because, if the desire of the hon. Member is to attach responsibility to others why does he not do in a direct manner what this Motion seeks to do in an indirect manner? But I venture to say also that in the public interest it is most undesirable that, after six weeks' inquiry the proceedings of this Committee should be in any way checked or interfered with. It might have been at one time a question whether it was advisable that this Committee should be oppointed—that is a fair question, and one upon which I at one time doubted much; but this Committee having been appointed, is this House to stultify itself by listening to indirect attacks from right and left tending to bring the proceedings of the Committee to a futile and premature conclusion? No Member of this House can have failed to observe that attempts have been made to frustrate and interfere with the proceedings of the Committee. I venture to say—if I am not going beyond what is right on this subject—that the more strenuous are these efforts to prevent our proceedings, the more determined and resolute we shall be to prosecute our investigation to a just result. But the hon. Member who has submitted this Motion tells us that his object is not to punish the printers of The Times and The Daily News—these innocent people, as the Prime Minister has described them—but that his object is to reach those whom this Motion does not appear to touch. Is the House, I ask, to lend itself to the bringing up of innocent persons, for the purpose of indirectly attacking others whom those who are interested in this Motion would not dare to attack openly? If we abuse our powers, why is not a Motion made to discharge the Committee from further proceeding, when the whole subject could be brought forward, when our tongues would be loosed, and we could defend ourselves and vindicate our conduct? If it can be shown that any Member of the Committee has been guilty of a breach of Privilege in assisting the Press to publish its proceedings, why is not that Member challenged in a fair and direct manner? I cannot, therefore, reluctant as I have been to enter into this debate, resist making this protest, and respectfully warning the House to see that they may not, in an indirect way—by a pretence of attacking The Times and The Daily News—provide the means of crippling the proceeding of the Committee and frustrating the object with which it was appointed.


I hope, Sir, before we go to a division we shall have a distinct statement from the Government as to the course they advise the House to take upon the Motion before it, because as I understood the Prime Minister—his language was rather ambiguous—he said he disapproved of the Motion, if its object could be accomplished in any other way. Therefore, I should like to know whether the object has been accomplished in another way; and, if not, what course he means to take. Now, Sir, this is a motion of a very serious character, because it affects the relations between the Press and the House of Commons—the most important question, perhaps, that appertains to the public life of England. Now, Sir, that a breach of Privilege, technically, has been committed in the Committee-room cannot be doubted; and if I were to turn my eyes to the right or to the left—which I shall be very careful not to do—I am afraid that I should observe that that breach of Privilege is being committed at this very moment, and that a breach of Privilege will be committed to-morrow morning when the speech of the right hon. Gentleman appears in The Times and The Daily News. But will a Motion be therefore made to summon the printers of those journals to the Bar of the House for a breach of Privilege?—because the breach of Privilege is not in the character of what is printed, but in the fact that anything has been printed at all. This breach of Privilege is not because what is published is a libel at all, but because our proceedings have been published. I should like to ask any Gentleman forming part of a responsible Government—responsible to the country for the re- lations between the Press and the House of Commons—to tell me what is the difference between a report of proceedings in a public Committee-room and a report of the proceedings in this House. If you intended that the proceedings of that Committee should be private, you ought not to have admitted the public or the reporters. It was open, I imagine, for any persons at any time to call attention to the fact that the public were admitted to that Committee-room, that they were there every day, and that there was a table provided at which reporters sat—to the knowledge of every Member of the House present—every day to make a report of the proceedings. But that course not having been taken, I think that now to turn round on the newspapers and say to their printers—"We will summon you to the Bar of the House for reporting the proceedings of that Committee—although everybody in it knows perfectly well that the Committee was open, and that day by day the proceedings would be reported "—would that be conduct worthy of the honour—I may say of the honesty—of the House of Commons? What a position we should be placed in! The proceedings of the Committee have been reported for over three weeks, and at the end of that time you turn round and profess to be astonished that a breach of Privilege should have been committed which you knew was being committed every day. If reporting the proceedings of the Committee was a breach of Privilege, why was it not taken notice of on the first day of these proceedings by the Government, by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, or by the hon. Gentleman who has made this Motion? Everybody knew the character of the investigation, and that it was a matter in which the public were deeply interested, and I should like to know why notice has not been taken of it until this moment—and that it is now taken notice of as a breach of Privilege?—because, as I have already said, the breach of Privilege is not in the character of the publication, but in the publication itself. I entirely agree with the Member for the Denbigh Boroughs (Mr. Watkin Williams)—that these Motions we hear day after day are the fruits of that "lobbying" which is going on outside to prevent inquiry into frauds which are a disgrace to any commercial community. There is an influence, a pressure—there are social influences, commercial influences, and influences of every kind at work; the screw has been put on—the attack is made one day in one form, and another day in another form, but the object is always precisely the same. We have heard from the Home Secretary that the object of a Bill now before the House—the Artizans Dwellings Bill—is to do away with "rookeries." Well, Sir, there are rookeries of the working classes; but the object of this Committee is to do away with rookeries of the commercial class. They are in a sense the same class of people as those who frequent the other rookeries of whom the right hon. Gentleman spoke; they live by the same nameless arts; and it is for the purpose of pulling down these rookeries and clearing them out, and possibly of obtaining a more respectable population, of more decent habits—["Order!"]—that this Committee has been appointed—


I wish to point out that the hon. and learned Member is out of Order in discussing, on the present Motion, the object for which the Committee has been appointed.


I am sorry if I was alluding to matters that are not germane to the Motion; but I hope I may be excused if, from the warmth with which I have spoken, I did so, and I apologize to the House. Referring to the Motion immediately before the House, I do think that unless there is some distinction drawn we shall find ourselves in an embarrassing position. I object to the Motion because it is put on the ground of libel. A statement may be uttered in the course of the debates in this House which, if it were not privileged by the fact that it was spoken in the House of Commons, might be held to be a libel; but would it not, if uttered, be published in The Times and The Daily News next morning? Let us know before we accept this Motion, what is the difference between a transaction which takes place in this room and a transaction which takes place—in a room up stairs? Because, unless I am mistaken, as long as they are sitting there the Committee is invested with all the powers which belong to the House below for purposes of this character. If you choose to appoint a Secret Committee, appoint a Secret Committee. We have had Motions for Secret Committees—Motions which were not very favourably received by this House, and which I hope never will be—but if you appoint a Public Committee and admit the public and the reporters there, it appears to me to be a most extraordinary and unjustifiable proceeding to turn round on the newspapers and say—"You have done what you have no right to do; we will drag you to the Bar of this House for doing there that which we are extremely grateful to you for doing in this House." In these circumstances I, for one, if it be pressed to a division, will vote against the Motion of the hon. Member for Londonderry.


The hon. and learned Member opposite (Sir William Harcourt) has, I think, taken a somewhat strong liberty with respect to Members of this House. He has assumed that a Member of this House—my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry—has taken the matter up as the result of the "lobbying" which he says is going on outside, while, so far as appears on the face of it, the question that has been raised is purely a question of Privilege. I can say for myself that, so far from being subject to such influences, I did not know even the subject of the Motion until I entered the House this evening. I must say that I do not think my hon. and learned Friend has a right to expect, as he seems to do, that Members of the Government should read all those proceedings which are reported in the newspapers, so as to see when breaches of Privilege have been committed. I come, therefore, to the discussion and the consideration of this question solely upon what is before us; and from what is before us, it is perfectly clear that there has been, technically at all events, a breach of the Privileges of this House in the publication in these two newspapers of this particular letter which was certainly not in evidence before the Committee.


I rise to Order. The right hon. Gentleman is transgressing the limits of fair debate in this matter, because he is making assertions which it is not in my power to answer. If the right hon. Gentleman is allowed to make statements as to what passed before the Committee, and as to what was before them as evidence, and what was not before them as evidence, it is only fair that I should be allowed to answer them. Therefore, I put it to the House that the right hon. Gentleman, in the course he is taking, is out of Order.


I wish to be in every respect correct. I am only referring to what has passed before the House and to what appears upon the face of the newspapers which have been read to us. According to what appears upon the face of those newspapers, this letter was not part of the evidence before the Committee; because it seems that the evidence taken before the Committee was taken upon oath, whereas this letter came by post to the Chairman of the Committee, and therefore did not form part of the evidence taken upon oath. What appears before the House is this—that a certain newspaper professing to report the proceedings before a Committee of this House—I dare say correctly enough—sets out a letter which it states was addressed to the Chairman of that Committee, which was not sanctioned by any oath nor by any witness, but appears to have reached him by post. That document contains statements alluding to an hon. Member of this House, and attributes to him conduct of a most disgraceful and unworthy character; and the hon. Member for Londonderry brings that document before us and complains that its publication in the newspapers is a breach of Privilege. It is not because we usually permit reports of the proceedings before our Committees to be published in the public Press that we should not take notice of technical breaches of Privilege when they involve abuses. We are not discussing the uses of this Committee, nor the benefit which the Press may confer upon the public by publishing the proceedings of this House or of its Committees; but our attention is directed to a particular circumstance—to the publication in a newspaper of a letter not in evidence before the Committee, but merely addressed to the Chairman by post. No answer has been given to the complaint of the hon. and learned Member against that publication. What was resolved by the House of Commons in 1837, when a similar question was brought before them? They resolved that, according to the undoubted Privileges of the House, the evidence taken by any Select Committee of the House, or any documents presented to such Committee, but not reported to the House, ought not to be published by any Member of such Committee, or by any other person. This letter, which was a document presented to a Committee of this House, and not having been reported to this House, has been published by other persons—namely, the printers of these two newspapers; and, therefore, if the hon. Gentleman thinks it of importance to press for the appearance of these two persons at the Bar, I do not see any injustice in supporting his Motion.


I wish to make only one remark upon this question. There appears to be some little misunderstanding as to the object which the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry has in view in bringing this matter before the House. It has been objected to this Motion that the information he seeks to obtain can be acquired by other means than those he proposes to adopt. Having listened attentively to this debate, I venture to think that every possible suggestion has been made and every possible facility has been offered for having that information laid before the House; but it has not been thought proper by those who might have afforded that information to give it to the House. Therefore, under these circumstances, it appears to me that the hon. Member for Londonderry has no other course to adopt than to persevere in the Motion he has brought before us, which is the only means by which he can substantiate his position and justify any further proceedings.


I only wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman who sits as Chairman of the Committee a question whether the letter to which reference has been made was part of the evidence taken before the Committee or not? If it was, there has been clearly, technically a breach of Privilege; but if it were not in evidence, then the proper remedy for the hon. Member for Gravesend is to bring an action for libel in a Court of Law—and in doing so he will not be committing a breach of the Privilege of this House. My vote will depend upon the answer which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London gives to my question.


I understood from the observations of the right hon. Gen- at the head of the Government that he thought the House had proceeded far enough in passing the first Resolution. We re-affirmed by that Resolution, what has often been affirmed before, that the publication of the proceedings of this House and of its Committees by the Press is a breach of Privilege. The House has always had the power of suspending the customary publication of evidence taken before its Committees, and it has exercised that power on proper, and I am afraid, sometimes, on improper, occasions. We all know that Committees have the power of deciding, as to any particular Committee, whether their sittings shall be open to the public or not; and the whole country would be startled were this House to order that henceforth no proceedings of Committees should be made public. Therefore, we are brought to this conclusion—that we have decided that the House has a right of preventing the publication of proceedings before its Committees when it thinks fit. But it generally permits it. There appears to be a strong opinion that in this case publicity was both desirable and necessary. I do not wish to say anything disrespectful to the House, but to outsiders it would seem absurd if, having acknowledged this, you were to call the printers of these two newspapers to the Bar of the House and were to rebuke them for what they have done. The hon. Member for Londonderry and one or two other hon. Members on the opposite side of the House appear to have a double motive in bringing forward this question—one of more importance than the other—one being that a breach of Privilege has been committed and the other the vindication of the character of the hon. Member for Gravesend. I do not think it has been suggested that in deciding upon the first of the questions so raised by the hon. Member we ought to be in any way influenced by the second. If we are to bring the printers of these newspapers before the House, it must be simply for breach of Privilege. Many other letters which were before the Committee besides the particular letter in question have been published in the newspapers; but, although their publication involves an equal breach of Privilege, no complaint has been made respecting their appear- ing in the newspapers. I am sorry to say that there is a difficulty in ascertaining who has not been libelled before this Committee—everybody seems to have charged everybody else with misconduct; and I dare say that if we were to read the evidence of the hon. Member for Gravesend we should find that he had said very unpleasant things respecting the writer of this letter from Paris. Is it not, therefore, better for us to stop here and to keep as closely as we can to the question of the breach of Privilege without going into the character of the hon. Member for Gravesend? If the newspapers have violated our rule, which we constantly think it right and convenient to suspend, we shall do better to limit ourselves to the Resolution which we have already passed, and not proceed further and ask these two gentlemen to appear at the Bar of the House to be reprimanded. In making these observations, I believe I am speaking in accordance with the sentiments of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli). If the hon. and learned Gentleman does divide the House, I shall certainly vote against his proposition.


I wish to say, in explanation, that the right hon. Gentleman opposite has quite misunderstood me. Inasmuch as the information that I think ought to be given to the House has not been given, I shall support the Motion of the hon. Member for Londonderry.


I have one word to say in vindication of myself. I must protest against the extraordinary suggestions that have been made by the hon. and learned Member for the Denbigh Boroughs and by the hon. and learned Member for Oxford, who have spoken in a way that induces me to think they have got foreign loans upon the brain. They do not appear to be able to deal with any one who does not go the full length with them without imputing to him indirect and unworthy motives. I say emphatically that as regards myself there is not a particle or grain of truth in the motives they have attributed to me, and the hon. and learned Member for Denbigh Boroughs who knows me had no right to impute them to me.


I know nothing of the hon. Member, and I only referred to what the hon. Member himself said to-night. I understood him to say that his object was not to punish these gentlemen, but to gain another object—namely, to obtain information from them when they appeared at the Bar, whether some Member of the Committee was not responsible for the publication complained of.


The hon. and learned Member appears to me to have gone beyond what I have stated to-night by imputing motives to me. The hon. and learned Member for Oxford, in his wonderful way of approaching questions of this sort, asks, why has not this question of the breach of the Privileges of the House in publishing the proceedings of its Committees been brought before us every day? I will tell him why. It is because we do not see libels published as part of the proceedings of those Committees every day. My complaint is that, under shelter of the proceedings before a Committee of this House, the hon. Member for Gravesend has been attacked and vilified; and what is unsatisfactory to my mind is that, although the right hon. Member for the University of London has been half-a-dozen times upon his legs, he has been silent on the real question before the House. I should have been happy to put myself into the bands of Her Majesty's Government and to have withdrawn my Motion had a scintilla of information been forthcoming as to the way in which this letter reached the newspapers. As the case stands, a Member of this House has been grossly libelled, and yet no sort of satisfaction can be obtained. On Friday last I gave Notice of a Question upon the very subject. I was told I was out of Order. But we had not then the information which has been vouchsafed to-day. It is not with a view to any ridiculous vindication of the privileges of this House by inflicting a punishment on these worthy gentlemen the printers of The Times and Daily News, but because it is the only way by which the House can get at the bottom of this matter, that I ask that these gentlemen be called upon to appear at that Bar; and when they are there I shall ask them, in accordance with the precedents on the Journals of the House, "From whom, if from anyone, did you receive that letter?" Not only do I intend to proceed to a division, but I venture to say there will be no mistake on the part of the public Press as to the attitude assumed by this House. It is not for the purpose of preventing the publication of reports or of stifling inquiry, or of bringing the present investigation to a hasty conclusion, but for the purpose of preventing those reports from being made the means of disseminating libels broadcast over the country, that I proceed to a division, and in doing so I thoroughly believe that I shall be supported by a large majority.


As a Member of the Committee, I decline, whether regular or irregular, to sit still under an imputation of having acted in an unworthy or mysterious manner. As to whether any one furnished copies of this letter to either of the newspapers named, I cannot say, because I do not in the least know. But this I can say—that the Committee Room has every day been crowded by Members of the House and by others, and under the circumstances it was only natural to suppose that what happened at the meetings of the Committee would be more or loss correctly communicated to the public. This being so, the same thing was done which has been done in connection with many other Committees of which I have been a Member—that is to say, reporters were tolerated in the room. I say "tolerated," because, of course, it was in the power of the Committee to exclude them. It was thought bettor that what occurred before the Committee should go forth correctly through the medium of the regular reporters than that it should go forth incorrectly through the medium of notes taken by other persons who might be in the room. So far with regard to the presence of reporters—which, I repeat, was nothing new, being a thing common at Committees. Then comes the question which has been asked—Was this letter part of the evidence before the Committee? It has always seemed to me that the course taken in appointing this Committee was a difficult and dangerous one. After its appointment it had to be determined whether it was necessary or expedient to examine witnesses on oath. For myself, I confess I was of opinion that it would be better not to do so; but it was decided to do it.


The right hon. Gentleman is not in Order in the remarks he is now making.


It is very difficult to discuss this matter without transgressing the strict rules regulating our proceedings. I may, however, add that this letter which has been referred to was tendered to the Committee as evidence, and I understood, and I still understand, that, in common with the rest of the evidence, it was taken down by the reporters who were in the room. It has been said that there was something underhand or mysterious, but I can only say that I do not believe it and that if there has been I know nothing of it. My object in rising was simply to clear myself from any imputation of having acted in a manner unworthy of a Member of this House, or of having, as a Member of the Committee, assented in any way to any course which could be considered irregular.


Without expressing any opinion as to the merits of this question, I wish to say a word as to the course of our proceedings. A Motion has been carried declaring that a breach of Privilege has been committed. It was open to any Member of the House to object to that Motion. There were various modes of setting it aside. The "Previous Question" might have been moved. For my part, I expected that that would be done. It was not done, and the House unanimously agreed to the Motion that there has been a breach of Privilege. By that decision the House has either gone too far or not far enough. There is no precedent for voting that a breach of Privilege has been committed and not following that up by calling the person who has committed the breach of Privilege to the Bar. Every Member must have known that if the first Motion passed unanimously it was only a matter of course that the second should pass unanimously. ["No!"] I regret very much that these printers should be called to the Bar; but, however much I may regret, it is too late now to object to it, and therefore, having voted for the first Motion, I must vote also for the present Motion.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 204; Noes 153: Majority 51.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That Mr. William King-Hales, the printer of 'The Daily News' newspaper, do attend at the Bar of this House on Friday next, at half-past Four o'clock."—(Mr. Charles Lewis.)


Before we proceed to decide this question I wish to call the attention of the House to the fact that the Prime Minister in addressing the House, as I understood him, distinctly stated that if the information could be obtained in any other way he should not counsel the hon. Member for Londonderry to divide 'the House. He has now received that information from an authority which he must consider undoubted—from a Member of his own Ministry. I should like to know on what grounds he still thinks it necessary to call the printers to the Bar of this House.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 199; Noes 155: Majority 44.