HC Deb 15 April 1875 vol 223 cc976-1018

Order for Consideration of Special Report read.


It becomes my duty to ask the House to consider this Report of the Committee, and to suggest the course which, on reflection and due investigation of the circumstances, I think it is for the public interest and the honour of the House they should follow. I will not move that the Petition be read at the Table. If hon. Gentlemen wish it, it may be done; but by taking that course, we should really give that stimulus to improper addresses to this House which is obtained by notoriety. I think I can accurately and impartially convey the contents of this Petition to the House without reproducing all those expressions and that tone of feeling which has arrested the attention of our careful Committee on Petitions. Now, Sir, this Petition has one remarkable characteristic. It is really two Petitions in one—that is to say, there are two prayers. Not that there are really two prayers conjointly at the end, but after a certain statement of facts is made, a prayer to the House is introduced; then follows a new statement of facts, and the Petitioners again address a prayer to the House upon that point. It cannot be said to be wholly unconnected with the previous prayer; but still it is a distinct and independent one. The Petition itself is a Petition which impugns the conduct of the three Judges who presided over the Trial at Bar of the convict Orton. It believes that there was not a fair trial; it gives, under three heads, the feeling, or the reasoning, if by courtesy it may be so called, by which the Petitioners have arrived at that conclusion. They state that the three Judges had prejudged the case—that by the expression of their opinion before the trial they had shown that they were hostile to the Claimant or Defendant. In the second place, they state that, in consequence of conducting the trial with this foregone conclusion, witnesses were brow-beaten, the jury prejudiced, and at times coerced; the Defendant's Counsel insulted, and interfered with, so that he could not do his duty to his client; and, thirdly, they declare that the summing-up was dishonest and corrupt, and they impute in some detail corrupt motives throughout to the Judges in this transaction. This part of the Petition concludes with a prayer that this House would address Her Majesty to remove—these three Judges from the Bench. Well, now, so far as we have proceeded, I do not think this House will have any difficulty as to the course it should adopt. This is not the first Petition in the records of Parliament—of this House—which has been addressed to it, and in which the conduct of the Judges has been inpugned. I felt it my duty to search the Journals of the House in order that the House might have information as to precedents at its command; and I think it more convenient and more likely to lead to an earlier completion of the business if I place this information at once as briefly as I can before the House, that the House shall have at once in its possession all the information which will enable it to arrive at the conclusion which I wish to propose that the House shall adopt. The precedents to which I refer commence in the year 1816. On the 8th of May there was a Petition of Mr. Taaffe, complaining that the President of the Court of Session had been guilty of various acts of malversation in the administration of justice. The Motion that the Petition do lie on the Table was negatived. On the 11th of July, 1817, a Petition was offered to be presented complaining of the conduct of Mr. Justice Day. A Motion was made that the Petition should be brought up, but it was, by leave, withdrawn. On the 22nd of December, 1819, a Petition was presented complaining of the conduct of magistrates, and praying for inquiry, and it was rejected. That instance is memorable, because Mr. Huskisson took part in the debate; and he said— The House could not think of entertaining and retrying a case which had been already disposed of in a Court of Justice."—[1 Hansard, xli. 1447.] On the 23rd of February, 1821, there was a Petition of Mr. Thomas Davison, complaining of the conduct of Mr. Justice Best in fining him while he was on his defence. That was offered to be presented. There was a division on the Motion, and the presentation was negatived. It may be said that these instances occurred in somewhat hard times, when there was not that sympathy with popular rights and popular sentiments which, at present, happily exists in this country; but it was necessary I should place them before the House; and the precedents which I will now quote are of sufficiently modern date. On the 28th of July, 1870, the House was moved— That a Petition having been presented to this House upon the 10th day of June last, from certain inhabitants of the city of Waterford, containing grave charges against Baron Hughes, one of the Judges of the Court of Exchequer in Ireland, in respect of his judicial conduct upon the trial of the late Election Petition in that city, and praying for inquiry, and no action having been taken thereon by any Member of this House, order made on the 10th day of June last that the said Petition do lie on the Table might be read; and, the same being read: Ordered that the said Order be discharged; and it was further ordered that so much of the Appendix to the Report of the Select Committee on Petitions as contained the Petition should be cancelled. On the 3rd of July, 1874, notice having been taken that a Petition of the Rev. James Thwaytes, rector of Caldbeck, in the county of Cumberland, which was presented on the 22nd of June last, contained imputations on the conduct of certain of the Judges, and also statements affecting the social and legal position of individuals, the Order made on the 22nd of June last "That the Petition do lie on the Table" was read, and discharged, and it was Ordered, "That the Petition, as printed in the Appendix to the Seventeenth Report on Public Petitions, be cancelled, and that the Petition be withdrawn." These are precedents which completely apply to the present case. I am bound to say for myself, and for my Colleagues—whose advice I have had the advantage of obtaining—that we are not at all inclined to put a strict interpretation upon the language used in the Petitions which complain of the conduct of Judges of the Realm. We should pass over much violent and coarse language if an accusation were distinct and not vague, and if the Member who presented the Petition gave security for its authenticity by announcing to the House that he intended to proceed upon it. The administration of justice—the just administration of the law, I would rather say—is, I believe, one of the sources of the great content which prevails, and has long prevailed, in this country. It is one of those blessings that every Englishman duly feels, and of which he is proud; and I am of opinion that we should not too severely scrutinize the language of Petitions which refer to the conduct of the Judges of the land, and impute to them an improper and corrupt motive, provided the charges are distinct and not vague, and that the Member who presents these Petitions announces to the House that he intends to take immediate steps to ask the opinion of the House upon the subject. Therefore, so far as this Petition impugns the conduct of the Judges in the particular case concerned, I have nothing further to say, except that if the Gentleman who presented the Petition, who, I believe, is my hon. Friend the Member for the county of Essex (Colonel Makins), announces that he is prepared, having presented that Petition, to ask the opinion of the House upon its contents, I should not, so far as I have gone, oppose the receipt of that Petition. The next point to which I have to call the attention of the House is, in my opinion, of a much more serious character. I refer to the second portion and the second prayer of this Petition. Having concluded their prayer that this House would interfere for the removal of the three Judges, this Petition proceeds to announce that the Petitioners have heard with alarm and surprise that no less a personage than you, Sir, the most eminent Member of this House, had announced that Petitions complaining of unfair trial cannot be received. It is not necessary for me to say that no such opinion was given by you. I am not at all wishing to influence the House in the course I am recommending to them, nor to aggravate the case before us, by showing that it touches so exalted a personage as the right hon. Gentleman who presides over our deliberations, and appealing—as I know I should successfully do—to their conviction that the best feelings and highest interests of this House are involved in maintaining the authority of the Chair. It is certainly not necessary for me to refer at all to this point with the view of ensuring its due influence on our deliberations. Having made the statement that they have heard with astonishment, alarm, and surprise that this expression of opinion has been made by Mr. Speaker, they proceed in a style of invective on the subject, and they end by a prayer that the House of Commons will take measures for the impeachment of Mr. Speaker. I would have the House to observe that in the second part of this Petition there is involved a violation of our most im- port and cherished privilege. It is not a question of Breach of Privilege, like that which we may unfortunately have to discuss to-morrow, and in which we are obliged, on the whole, deeming it for the public advantage, to expedite the course of fair play and justice by referring to the obsolete, yet necessary, machinery; but it involves a Breach of the highest Privilege of the Members of this House—namely, that they should not be called in question by persons out of this House for words which they have used in this House. That, indeed, is the only security we have for free discussion and freedom of debate, and that has always been looked upon as the most precious privilege of Members of the House of Commons. They cannot be impugned; they cannot be proceeded against on account of words which are used in this House. Now here is a distinct and gross violation of that Privilege of the House, for the words of a Member of this House, uttered in it, are impugned and threatened by those out of the House, and that in regard to a Member, the most eminent in position, whom the House of Commons are called upon to visit with the penalties of impeachment in consequence of those words. The House will see in a moment—it is not necessary for me to dwell upon it—that if this privilege of free speech is not most rigidly and sacredly guarded in this House, opportunities may be taken by persons of authority and power—whether they be Monarchs or Mobs—the difference would not be great—to crush the freedom of discussion in this House, upon which the liberties of the people and the welfare of this Realm mainly depend. Therefore, as this Petition contains a gross violation of the Privileges of this House by calling into question words used in this House by a Member, I move that the Order for this Petition lying on the Table be rescinded.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Order that the Petition from Prittlewell and neighbourhood [presented 6th April] do lie upon the Table, he read, and discharged."—(Mr. Disraeli.)


As I am the Member who presented this Petition, the House will, perhaps, allow me to say a few words in explanation. I believe the best course which any Member of this House can adopt when he finds that he has by inadvertence or carelessness committed an error, is frankly to avow it, and throw himself on the indulgence of the House. That, Sir, is my case. The history of this Petition, so far as I am concerned, is very short and simple, and if the House will allow me I will relate it. I received a letter from a constituent living at Prittlewell, a day or two before the Easter Recess, asking me whether I would present a Petition for the release, as he termed it in his letter, of "that unhappy nobleman now languishing in prison." Secondly, I was asked whether I would support the prayer of the Petition; and, lastly, whether I would give the hon. Member for Stoke a patient hearing when he brought his Motion before the House. I replied to those Questions categorically, that I would present the Petition; that I could not support its prayer; and that I would not interrupt the hon. Member for Stoke. On my return to town after Easter I found the Petition; and I am sorry to say, without carefully looking at it, or making myself fully acquainted with the contents or the nature of the language in which it was couched, I presented that Petition. I have nothing more to say. I do not intend to take any course with regard to the Petition; I leave the matter entirely in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman, except that I only wish to say this—that there is no Member of this House who would feel more regret than I do at having inadvertently become the means of conveying through the Forms of this House an unmerited censure upon the Bench and upon you, Sir. There is no Member of this House who has a greater admiration for the diligence and the ability with which Her Majesty's Judges discharge the most sacred duty of administering justice in England. There is no one who has a profounder faith in the impartiality and integrity with which those duties are discharged. And I am sorry to say there is no one who has a profounder—I was going to say, contempt, but I would rather use the word pity, than I have for the victims of that monstrous delusion, of the existence of which this Petition is evidence—I mean the delusion that the person referred to in the Petition has been the victim of a persecuting conspiracy, whether aristocratic or Jesuitical, and that he has not had a fair trial. Thanking the House for having listened to my explanation, I beg to express my regret that I should have presented the Petition.


said, that as Chairman of the Public Petitions Committee his duty in this matter was simply a Ministerial duty, and must be held to have been discharged with the presentation of the Report, which at the request of the Committee he had laid on the Table on Monday last. The matter then passed from their hands to those of the Government and the House. He wished to correct a misapprehension which prevailed as to the functions of the Public Petitions Committee. He was asked why some of the Petitions on the Tichborne Case were not summarily rejected by the Committee. They had, however, no power to reject any Petition which had once been received by the House except on the ground of informality; and therefore it was most desirable that Members undertaking the presentation of doubtful Petitions should, at the time of their presentation, call the attention of the House to the subject-matter, in order that when the Question was put from the Chair that the Petition should lie upon the Table, the House might, if it thought fit, give a negative vote, and thus obviate the necessity and trouble of a proceeding like the present. He would remind the right hon. Gentleman and the House that in the case of the Petition complaining of the conduct of Baron Hughes, to which allusion had been made, the ground there given for discharging the Order was that no action had been taken since the presentation of it. Speaking for himself, he might say that, notwithstanding the strong language of the Petition under discussion, he could not have voted for the discharge of the Order if the hon. Member for South Essex (Colonel Makins) had stated in his place that it was his intention to follow up that Petition by a Motion. The right of Petitioners to approach that House was an ancient and constitutional right, which did not admit of question. But while the House was always prepared to give every facility for the exercise of that right, it had ever shown a disinclination to allow its Forms to be made use of for the purpose of circulating charges and attacks which it was not intended seriously to follow up. It was scarcely necessary for him, on the part either of himself or of his Colleagues, to disclaim the slightest animus in the Tichborne Case. In the discharge of their functions the Committee had but one wish, and that was to discharge their duties in strict accordance with the regulations and practice of Parliament as they understood them, and to mete out to all Petitions that came before them equal justice and courtesy.


I venture, Sir, to differ from the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, though I cannot conceal from myself that the right hon. Gentleman's opinion is shared by a large majority of the House. A Petition which prayed for the release of the prisoner in question has been adopted by a large majority of the inhabitants of Leicester, and has the signature of 15,000 persons. Here I wish to say that in their views I have no sympathy or belief whatever; but the right of Petition is an ancient and sacred right. It is much more than a right; it is a duty which it is eminently for the interest of the House to cherish and encourage as much as we can, and to hinder and relax it as little as possible by the suggestion of technical difficulties. It is important in the interests of good order that the people of this country should feel that the House of Commons is the Great Inquest of the Nation, before whom they can bring complaints and demand inquiry or redress. It is therefore most important that the right of Petition should be preserved and encouraged, and this is the natural result of free discussion. Now, Sir, it is said that this Petition contains gross libels against the Judges, and against many other individuals. I believe it with all my heart. But what then? All charges against public functionaries must contain libels. The question of acting upon these Petitions, or of receiving them, is, I submit, an entirely different thing. If the hon. Member for Stoke (Dr. Kenealy) or the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley) founded a Motion on these Petitions, I should unhesitatingly give my vote against them. But that is no reason why great masses of the people should be cut off from petitioning. I believe that this Petition contains libels; but it is not impossible to conceive that there might be such things—indeed, there have been such things—as corrupt and unjust Judges; and, that being so, to whom did the people come but to this House to protest, and to seek their removal. I believe I am right in saying that for a period of 200 years—from the time of William and Mary—the Judges have not held their offices according to the pleasure of the Crown, but quamdiu se bene gesserint; and therefore to whom are the people of England to come but to this House, to say that they believe injustice has been done and to ask their Representatives to join and assist them in presenting an Address to the Crown? The right hon. Gentleman says he would not have moved that this Petition should not be received had the hon. Member who presented it (Colonel Makins) declared his willingness to bring forward in this House a Motion in accordance with its prayer. I consider that in that the right hon. Gentleman is proposing to do great injustice to the Members of this House as well as to the people who send Petitions here. We have heard of a Petition signed by 15,000 infatuated people at Leicester, but it would be gross injustice to compel the hon. Member for Leicester to bring forward a Motion in accordance with it. The strongest part of the case of the right hon. Gentleman is undoubtedly the unwise, foolish, and even insulting observations upon yourself, Sir. I shall not show any disrespect for you, Sir, because here, in your presence, I do not lavish terms of laudation. I will only say that your position is such as to enable you to pass by such folly without a word. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) made a great deal more of this matter than he need have done, because he admitted that the words used in the Petition, and attributed to the Speaker, were not used by him, and therefore the rudeness towards you, Sir, was but an hypothetical rudeness. Sir, I give an emphatic "No" to the Motion.


Sir, I assure you it is with great reluctance that I address the House upon this question, and I do so, I hope, with a sense of the responsibility due to the position which I assume. Although I have been sitting by the side of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor), my resolve in this matter has been come to without any sort of concert with him. I think we had better look at this matter before it grows to larger dimensions, and before it becomes a question which may very much trouble us, as it has already troubled the constituencies of the country. I am in the same position as the hon. Member for Leicester in this respect, that I am threatened with a Petition to present in the same interest, worded exactly as this is, and founded upon the same delusions. I disclaim any sort of belief in any part of the Petition; but how is the mischief to be cured? What is the mischief that is proceeding? I beg the House to beware of it. It is this—that for nearly a year past the foullest slanders have been allowed to be published, and there has been no hand raised, no Ministerial voice expressed upon this matter; and with the exception of the rejection, Sir, by you, in your capacity of Speaker of this House, of a Petition last year, I do not suppose there has been the slightest notice taken of that which is fermenting in the country. Now, if these slanders are allowed to be stated, what must be the inference in the minds of men who read them daily or weekly? It must be this—first, they are in print, and that to comparatively uneducated minds may give them an authenticity that they would otherwise want; and when they read them, as they do, they must arrive at this conclusion, that if not true, those who disseminate them should be at once prosecuted. But if they are true, is it because you are afraid to prosecute that you do not proceed? Then, if such is not the case, how can you complain of the constituencies believing these statements to be true? If they are true, then I say it is noble and generous of the people to believe them, and they do right to come here to this House and present Petitions, couched although they may be in terms which we might take exception to, but certainly conveying specific charges with which it is for this House to deal. Now, what does this Petition do? It states certain matters which might be inquired into. Where can they be inquired into? Where so fittingly as in this House? A verdict given by a Committee upon these charges would yield comfort to this country. One of the precedents adduced by the Prime Minister was when the House refused to try a criminal over again, and I quite agree with such a precedent as that, but it does not govern this case. In this case it is charged that certain persons in high office exhibited misconduct in the course of a certain trial, and four instances of similar charges have been enumerated. But the question is, are the charges true or not? I submit that this House is the only tribunal which can set this ferment at rest, and it can only do so by referring this question to a Committee. These matters should be inquired into. I have only further to say, Sir, with regard to the reflection upon the office which you hold, I really think that that has been brought into too much prominence. The only thing to be done is to deal with this matter in the manner suggested. Nothing else will give peace, or put a stop to that with which we are threatened—namely, a continuance of that which is generous on the part of those who believe it, but which is in the highest degree evidence of their credulity.


There are lawyers in this House, perhaps, who are not unfamiliar with the precedents which have been brought forward by the Prime Minister, and I venture to think that any who have examined the precedents bearing on this case, even though they should be, like myself, humble and unlearned Members of this House, must nevertheless have grave doubts as to the applicability of those precedents to this matter. And one cannot but discover that if there are some precedents which are in favour of the rejection of this Petition there are others which go the other way. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) has pointed out that one of the precedents quoted by the Prime Minister has no bearing upon this case, inasmuch as it was a Petition praying for the retrial of a case which had been already decided in the Courts of Law. But there is another precedent which was brought forward by the Prime Minister, which also, I think, has little bearing on this case. He quoted the precedent of a Petition against Justice Best in 1821; and he said that that Petition was rejected after coming to a Party division upon it. But he did not point out that in the same year other Petitions were rejected by this House also upon Party divisions, in which the conduct of Ministers alone was called in question. It is quite clear that in that year, and also in 1819 and 1820, it was by no means uncommon for this House to reject, on Party divisions, Petitions which would be received at the present time. Another precedent was that of 1870, four years ago, when a Petition was presented on the 10th of June against the conduct of Baron Hughes, and the reason stated in the Journals for the rejection of that Petition was, that no Member had made any Motion about it in support of the charges which it contained. We are not at the present moment aware whether it is not the intention of some Member to make a Motion upon the subject which this Petition does contain. When the Prime Minister asks the hon. and gallant Member for Essex (Colonel Makins) whether it is his intention to make a Motion founded upon this Petition, I ask the great Constitutional authorities of this House, whether it is or is not the case that any other Member has just as much right to make a Motion founded on these charges as the hon. Gentleman who presented the Petition? There are one or two precedents which bear strongly in favour of this Petition. On the 23rd of May, 1689, a Petition, alleging the most grossly unfair treatment of a prisoner by the Judges, was received by this House. In 1701 the famous Kentish Petition was presented. It was unconstitutional, because it prayed for war, and was rejected; but a great storm was created about it, and it was afterwards held that it was unwise to reject it, rather than by a Resolution to declare it frivolous and unconstitutional; and in a note appended to the passage in Hansard it is stated that— The same privileges by which the Members in Parliament claim to speak, gives every commoner the right to speak to this House."—[Hansard, Parl. History, 5.] In 1725 a Petition was presented to this House from Lords Oxford and Morpeth alleging gross injustice against a Master in Chancery; and there is also the case of the famous Wilkes Petition, in 1768. Mr. Wilkes was, at the time, a Member of this House, and, having consulted Constitutional authorities on this point, I believe I am justified in saying that it was held that the fact of his being a Member of this House made no difference in his position. The Petition brought a charge of subornation of perjury against Mr. Secretary West, and it was received by the House; and many weeks afterwards, on a Resolution being submitted to the House declaring that Petition to be frivolous, the Resolution was adopted. On the 10th of December, 1779, at the time that Lord North was Chancellor of the Exchequer, a Petition of the freeholders of Middlesex was not rejected, although it preferred a formal charge against Lord North of the most wanton and arbitrary use of his power, to the utter subversion of the free election of Members to the House of Commons. That Petition, also, was received. In 1804 there was a Petition impugning the conduct of Mr. Justice Fox, who was then a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, in Ireland. That Petition charged Mr. Fox with the most gross and wilful violation of the rights of the subject, and in this respect it was entirely on all fours with the allegation of the present Petition against the Lord Chief Justice, and that Petition also was received. I think, therefore, the right course to pursue on this occasion ought to be pointed out to us, not only by the Prime Minister, but by those to whom we are expected to look for guidance upon all Constitutional questions. I cannot but perceive from the tone of the Prime Minister that there is some doubt as to the line which ought to be taken; and I should not have presented myself before the House had the Constitutional authorities informed us what was our duty on this occasion.


As a lawyer, I desire to say a few words on this question. No one in this House more than myself feels that it is of the utmost possible importance that freedom of Petition should remain to the people of this country. I feel that it would be utterly impossible to do anything more calculated to produce mischief hereafter than to throw any doubt upon the right of the subject to petition this House in a matter that concerns the administration of justice in this country. I cannot doubt, therefore, that it is within the province of any subject of Her Majesty to petition this House, that an Address may be presented to the Crown for the removal of any of the Judges who, it is alleged, have acted improperly or corruptly; and I cannot doubt that the Petition in question ought to be received, if the language used in it be not disrespectful to this House, and if the facts stated in it be germane to the prayer of the Petition. That seems to me to be the essence of the case. I can understand its being said that the Petition, containing scan- dalous charges against the Judges, concluded with a prayer to which these charges had no sort of reference, and that, therefore, the Forms of this House were being made a mere vehicle for abuse. But when the allegations in the Petition are germane to the prayer of the Petition, and when the prayer is one which may be legitimately addressed to the House, I do not see how the House can take exception to the Petition; because they may disagree, as I utterly do, with the charges contained in it, or because they may have the deepest and best founded belief that those who are presenting the Petition really are not bringing forward the facts of the case. Nobody can doubt that the charges made in the Petition have the strictest reference to the prayer with which it ends, so far as that prayer relates to the removal of the Judges; and I feel an indignation which it is difficult to repress at hearing the scandalous charges which are scattered broadcast throughout the country against those for whom I have, from almost daily contact and experience, learnt to respect and honour. It is difficult under such circumstances to keep one's judgment calm and restrain one's indignation so as to keep within the legitimate constitutional course. I agree with the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood), that it may be desirable at some time or other to deal with and settle this question once for all. It is a matter which, if fairly discussed in the light of day, need not be afraid of that discussion, and it will be a far better course to have these charges dragged into the day-light than left to simmer as they do now. But I cannot agree that the proper course would be to refer this Petition to a Select Committee. As far as I can see there is one way, and only one legitimate way, by which this question can be set at rest for ever, and that is, by moving an Address to Her Majesty for the removal of the Judges whose conduct is impugned. And then comes the question, what should be done with this Petition? I do not understand that the Prime Minister, in his Motion, has in any way disputed the propositions I have laid down as to the first part of the Petition, neither do I think that they will be contested by the hon. Members for Leicester and Stockport. I understand the Prime Minister to acknowledge, in the fullest way, that there is a right to petition with reference to the removal of the Judges, even though the statements referring to the subject might be offensively worded. I do hope, therefore, that we shall clearly know what we are proceeding upon. The right hon. Gentleman asks the House to discharge the Order for this Petition on different grounds, which I think bear upon the point upon which I have been addressing the House. It is said that this Petition contains charges against a totally different person, to whom the prayer does not apply, and that it is a Breach of the Privilege of this House, that any hon. Member should have scandalous accusations made against him by reason of his conduct or speech as a Member of this House. The right hon. Gentleman who occupies the Chair as the Speaker is not less entitled to protection than other Members are, and surely there is no danger whatever in laying down this proposition—that if a Petition presented to this House infringes against that rule and attacks a Member of this House, that is a Petition which ought not to be received by this House. The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) says that, after all, the charges made against the Speaker are not very grave. Be it so. But then are we to overlook them? By rejecting them we shall not be limiting the right of the people to petition this House, and to state the grounds on which they petition it, however vague the charge which they may convey against the persons attacked. I trust, therefore, that it may be possible for the House to come to a unanimous decision on the question before it.


I quite agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Herschell) there is no point in the Petition which could quite properly come before this House. I fully agree in all that has been said as to the manner in which it violates all the Rules of the House. If a Petition is laid before the House praying for the removal of the Judges, it ought to set forth distinctly the grounds on which such removal is prayed for, in the same way as in any Petition presented in the Court of Chancery. Now, I had an opportunity of carefully reading this Petition, and after a careful perusal, without any bias whatever, I venture to say that no person can read it without coming to the conclusion that there is no ground on which this House can act. The allegations in the Petition are such as would be rejected in the Court of Chancery as scandalous and irrelevant. The language used is coarse, low, vulgar, scurrilous, and libellous against some of the most eminent persons in this country. I regret that the Petition has been allowed to be presented, and its rejection by the House may at least have some effect in stopping the progress of this wretched business, and dispel delusion. My creed is that of Dean Milman, who said, "I believe in the immortality of humbug;" but the proceedings of this House have had—and I hope always will have—a considerable effect upon public opinion, and we may do something to stop the spread of the delusion, though we cannot entirely put it down.


suggested that they ought to consider what should be the position of the House with regard to the reception of Petitions similar to the present one, but making no reference to the Speaker. He thought such Petitions ought to be received, and that hon. Members presenting them ought not to be required to bring the charges they contained under the special notice of the House. At the same time, it would be unjust to the Judges and undignified on the part of the House to allow these Petitions to remain indefinitely upon the Table. If there was any Member of the House ready to substantiate the charges, let him name an early day and bring his charge; but if, after a Petition had been for some reasonable, and not long, time upon the Table, nobody was found ready to bring its allegations to the test, then it should be the duty of the Prime Minister, as Leader of the House, to move that the charges appeared to be without foundation, and that the Petition be rejected.


The speech which we have just heard confirms me in the belief that the Motion which I am about to submit is a proper one. I venture to propose what may be called a middle course—which is, perhaps, not a course I often take. I have a difficulty in making up my mind upon this subject, for the advice we have received has been so various that, while we well know that doctors differ, we have equal reason to say that lawyers differ. But we have had a want of advice from one quarter, I want to have some advice from my natural Leader. I have seldom this Session seen the front Opposition bench so well filled as it is to-night, but its occupants all sit silent; not a word of advice do we get from them. Yet they are not always silent. My noble Friend the Leader of the Opposition dined out last night with the Fishmongers. I read his speech this morning, and I was very much impressed by the manner in which he expressed his sense of the excellent and admirable qualities of Her Majesty's Government. Now, does he think they are so excellent in the course they take that they are able to carry on the affairs of this House without any assistance at all from the Opposition? I hope he will get up and give us a word or two. We ought to be told what is the policy of the Liberal Party on this question. I do not want and certainly do not mean to discuss this question as a lawyer. It appears to me to have a wider aspect than the legal aspect. We ought, I think, to consider what will be the effect of the proceedings of this House upon public opinion out-of-doors, especially with regard to the monstrous and, I am afraid, spreading delusion about the Tichborne Case. I do not believe for a moment that any Resolution we can pass or any step we can take in this House would effectually quell that delusion, because my creed is the same as that expressed by Dean Milman when he said—" I believe in the immortality of humbug." But the proceedings of this House have, as I think they always will have, a considerable influence upon public opinion, and we may do something to check the delusion, though we cannot entirely put it down. I do not think we are at present taking the right way to do that. I think I could see all through the speech of the Prime Minister that he felt he had put his foot in it. He saw that the proceedings to-night would do nothing to quell the Tichborne demonstrations. Now, if these charges against Judges and other men high in authority which are going about are not true, I say let those people come out and prosecute the libellers. That is the proper thing to do. So far as we are concerned, if they are not true, as I believe they are not, let us treat them with utter and complete contempt. The charges consist partly of attacks on juries. I see before me the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan). He has been in prison—like most of the Irish Members. I do not—and I say it candidly—I do not honour my hon. Friend a bit the less for his having been in prison. I am, on the contrary, glad to see him here. But why was he put in prison? It was because in a time of very great political excitement he wrote an article in his paper condemning the finding of a jury with regard to the Fenians who were subsequently hanged at Manchester. But he did nothing half so strong as has been done by the hon. Member for Stoke and his friends. He alleged no corruption against anybody. He simply said that the jury had acted under a panic. We have got wiser now, and do not imprison people for writing all this rubbish. In those days Sullivan was sent to prison; in these, Kenealy is sent to Parliament. Now, let us treat all this matter with the contempt it deserves. Sir, I only wish to make one more remark by way of justifying the Motion with which I am going to conclude. The strong point in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was that which had reference to the insulting imputation cast by the Petition upon you. I am not going to make a speech in your favour. As the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) has said, that is entirely a work of supererogation. But I do wish to say that a requisition in a Petition to this House that we should impeach you is so utterly outrageous and absurd, that, as sensible men, we ought not to consider it for a moment. Let us go to the Budget, which we are all anxious to hear, and let us dismiss from our minds all this contemptible rubbish, which has been occupying our attention for the last hour and a half. For the purpose of facilitating that step, I beg respectfully to move the Previous Question.


seconded the Motion.

Previous Question proposed, "That that Question be now put."—(Sir Wilfrid Lawson.)


said, he could not vote for the Previous Question, but must vote with the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) for a direct negative. It ought not to be allowed to go forth to the public that the House of Commons would in any way permit the right of Petition to be questioned. Though those who signed this Petition had made a mistake and done wrong in the allusion to the Speaker, yet it could not be denied that a feeling had become very general that there had been corrupt conduct on the part of the Judges. It ought not to be allowed to go forth that when the people complained of unjust conduct on the part of the Judges, the House would not allow it that consideration which it ought to have. He wished to correct a false impression which the Prime Minister's speech—although, of course, unintentionally—might give rise to. The Petition did not pray that the Speaker should be impeached. It was simply a hypothetical statement that if the Speaker had used words which he did not use he ought tobe impeached. The prayer of the Petition, as he understood it, was the legitimate opinion of the people who signed it. Therefore, in defence of the right of Petition, he should vote with the hon. Member for Leicester against the rejection.


Mr. Speaker, my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) has appealed to me in order that he may know what is the opinion of Gentlemen who sit on this bench. I do not know that I can give him any assurance of absolute unanimity here any more than among his friends the doctors or lawyers; but on one subject I am sure I can give him the unanimous opinion of this bench, and that is that this question ought not to be treated in any sense as a Party question. I can assure him that his allegiance as a Party follower will not be tested on this occasion by any appeal to him in that capacity. Sir, I do not suppose that any Member of this House—certainly no Member who sits on this side of the House—would wish in any degree whatever to restrict the undoubted right of Petition. Various precedents and authorities of great weight have been urged in the course of this debate. There are, however, two Resolutions of the House which appear to be so apposite to this question that I will call attention to them. In 1669 two Resolutions were passed by the House. The first declared— That it is an inherent right of every commoner in England to prepare and present Petitions to the House of Commons in case of grievance, and the House of Commons to receive the same. And the second declared— That it is the undoubted right and privilege of the Commons to judge and determine concerning the nature and matter of such Petitions, how far they are fit or unfit to be received. Now, these Resolutions maintained in the widest possible way the right of every subject to Petition, and the equal right of the House of Commons to consider, discuss, and decide how far such a Petition was fit to be received. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has stated, in general terms, the grounds on which he thinks that this Petition is unfit to be received, and I certainly am not going to take any exception to the general conclusion at which he has arrived; but I must say that upon some grounds I regret that the right hon. Gentleman should have thought it inexpedient that the Petition should be read from the Table. I admit the force of the objection that it would probably have been some satisfaction to the persons who prepared this Petition that their libellous charges against the Judges and the Speaker of this House should obtain the notoriety of having been read publicly here and subsequently printed. At the same time, I do think that there is no very great advantage in being so extremely punctilious. I feel that the character of the Judges who administer justice in the Courts of Law, and the character of the right hon. Gentleman who presides over our deliberations, and the character of this House, are such that no harm whatever can have resulted from the widest publication of this Petition and the libels it contains. I think the course suggested to us may be open to the objection that it should go forth to the world to-morrow that the House of Commons refused to entertain a Petition, without having it read at the Table, upon the mere statement of its contents by the Leader of the House. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) was right in his criticism upon one part of the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. As far as my recollection of the Petition goes I do not think that the second part of it concluded with any prayer for the impeachment of the Speaker. On the contrary, it appears to be open to a charge of informality on the ground that it makes an assertion about the right hon. Gentleman without making any prayer. The right hon. Gentleman stated that the Petition is divided into two parts. As to the first, which relates to the Judges, I have had an opportunity of perusing it and forming my own opinion. The Petition contains language of a character which renders it unfit to be received by this House. It does not contain definite charges supported by statements as to facts within the knowledge of the Petitioners, and it appears to me that the charges, such as they are, are couched in very violent terms of an insulting character; therefore, I have formed the opinion that the Petition on this ground is one that ought not to be received. At the same time, I must admit that, in the unfortunate state of feeling of a certain section of the population with regard to what they may believe to have been a failure of justice in the Tichborne trial, I think there is a certain danger in allowing this Petition to be rejected without its being very clearly understood that it is rejected on account of the exception taken to the mode and manner of the statements, and not on account of the statements themselves so far as the alleged misconduct on the part of the Judges goes. I think it should be distinctly understood that Petitions have been already received imputing misconduct, and that no Petition will be refused by this House, although making grave and serious charges against Judges, so long as it is couched in temperate language. The right hon. Gentleman lays down that no Petition even couched in proper and respectful language ought to be received unless the Member who presents it is prepared to take action on it; but I do not understand that any Constitutional authority supports that view. Certainly, some of the precedents he referred to do not apply. He mentioned the case of Baron Hughes, but there the Petition was presented and lay upon the Table for six weeks, and at the expiration of that time it was moved that the Order be discharged, not be-cause the Members present did not vote upon it, but because no Member founded any Motion upon it. That I take to be the proper and usual practice of this House; and if a Petition were presented which contained offensive allusions to the Speaker, that would be quite sufficient ground for rejecting it; but I do not think we need trouble ourselves with a hypothetical case. There can be no doubt whatever that the way in which the Speaker is referred to affords ample grounds for the discharge of the Order. When a Petition is presented which does not contain these expressions of disrespect, and when the charges are framed in a proper and temperate manner, then it seems to me it will be time enough for the House to consider it. We are dealing at present with this Petition, and with this Petition alone. After spending so much time as we have devoted to the consideration of this question, it would be subject of regret if we were to postpone decision upon it; and if I may give advice to the hon. Baronet, I hope he will be induced to withdraw his Motion.


I would only remind the noble Lord of the fact that we are not moving on this Petition without having our attention called to it by the Committee on Petitions, and the reason why my right hon. Friend did not call for it to be read, was that the substance of it was read in the Report of the Committee. But of course it is perfectly competent for any Member to ask that the Petition be read, although my right hon. Friend did not counsel such a course. It is true that the Petition does not contain a prayer that the Speaker be impeached; but its words and its character have exactly that bearing. The Petitioners state, first of all, that they have heard that the Speaker has made use of certain expressions, and that if he did so it was an act of high treason against the Constitution which deserves the most severe reprobation of the people's Representatives in the House of Commons and calls for their immediate action, by impeachment or otherwise, as the House may deem expedient.


said, the right hon. Gentleman had confirmed the opinion held by many Members that the words of the Petition which referred to the Speaker were based on a hypothetical case. He (Mr. Mundella) hoped the House would not reject the Petition merely because of the foolish and absurd hypothesis contained in its last two lines.


felt that this was a very grave question. He had the most perfect confidence in the purity of our Judges, and, as a rule, in the decisions of our juries; but he could not fail to see that statements were circulated which were calculated to bring both the Judges and juries of the land into contempt. Those who were giving currency to those statements had an opportunity now, on the floor of the House, of vindicating their conduct. Statements which could not be defended in that House were unworthy of the consideration of the British public outside. Now was the time, and that was the place when those charges which had been sown broadcast should be defended if they could be, and as the hon. Member for Stoke was now within that House, he called upon him to rise and support his statements. He hoped, however, the House would not press the Motion to a division, as that House was the place for the meanest in the land to come for redress.


The hon. Member for Stoke did not intend to present himself at this period of the debate. He was waiting to hear some of the statesmen of this House take something like a statesmanlike view of the question at issue. He did not intend to enter upon the question of miserable legal technicalities; but he wanted to be guided in his observations to the House by those high authorities to whom this country had long been accustomed to look, and who were not only the guardians of the Constitutional Law of this country, but who were also supposed to be the guardians of the Constitutional liberties of the people. I must say that it is with the greatest possible regret I find that none of the Gentlemen on the front benches beneath me have condescended to favour the House with their opinions on this great question, because a great question it is, and a great question, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, the people of this country are determined to make it. Sir, I know very well the utter disdain of the language which has been addressed to a large number of the people because they are of the humbler classes. ["No, no!"] I should like to know why, then, except that they were of the humbler classes? I have heard no reasons given by those Representatives of the people who have presumed to talk of the millions of our countrymen as acting under a delusion. I know the character of my countrymen well, and I have never been able to see the great universal common sense of the English people converted into delusions, as we are told to-night it has been. Surely it was quite enough that they should have been grossly insulted as fools and fanatics, without these men—who could have no interest in the case whatever, except that of sturdy Englishmen anxious to see justice done, and who assembled in hundreds of thousands in Hyde Park to protest against what they considered the injustice of the great trial—being again branded as an ignorant, deluded, and infatuated multitude. We have heard a great deal of the bad language used on the Tichborne side; but it appears to me that the language used on the other side, both in this House and elsewhere, is quite as bad. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, if he will give me leave to say so, seems to be leading the House, if not into a ditch, at least into a dilemma. He wants this particular Petition to be rejected because the hon. Member for South Essex (Colonel Makins) is not prepared to support a Motion founded upon it; but that might occur with regard to many similar Petitions, and in what position would the House then be placed under such circumstances? One hundred Gentlemen might present such Petitions in the course of the Session. As to the precedents which the right hon. Gentleman quoted, the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke) had shown they were nothing but cobwebs and delusions. I speak under correction, not having had the advantage of looking into the four precedents which the right hon. Gentleman has cited; but I believe there is not a single instance to be found where a prayer for the removal of a Judge on grounds set forth in a Petition has ever been rejected by the House. I think it a very great pity that it seemed expedient to the right hon. Gentleman to discuss a Petition of which the House was actually in ignorance. ["No!"] Some Gentlemen profess to have read portions or the whole of the Petition; but the great majority of the House, as it appears to me, were ignorant of the language and the complaints of this Petition. Why has it not been read at the Table? Does the right hon. Gentleman want to shield any persons mentioned in it? The right hon. Gentleman knows that there are statements in this Petition said to have been made by right hon. and hon. Members of this House. I do not know whether they are present; but, if so, and if the First Lord of the Treasury had that Petition read, they would have had an opportunity of stating on their honour as Gentlemen, in the presence of Parliament, whether they were true or not. It seems to me that the Petition, not having been read, an injustice has been done to the Judges in whose interest he is acting. If I, for my own part, had the honour of being one of those Judges—[Laughter]—perhaps I should rather say if I had the misfortune—I would have challenged, in defence of my own honour, the reading of this Petition, and an examination of the allegations which it contains. It was thought one of the greatest things, said Cæsar, and I agree with him, that Cæsar's wife should not be suspected of dishonour; and I say a British Judge should not allow himself to remain under charges such as alleged against those Judges. I am glad to observe the altered tone of this debate as regards the right of persons petitioning Parliament. It is notorious that in the last Session of Parliament statements were made in this House challenging the right of Petition because the petitioners complained of injustice and unfairness in a trial, and I say those statements deserved impeachment because they were in violation of the law of England and the Constitutional right of every Englishman. There are two statutes which guarantee the right to the removal of Judges for misbehaviour on an Address from the Houses of Parliament. But how is the misbehaviour of Judges to be brought to the knowledge of this House except by Petition? I want to know before whom a complaint of corruption or dishonesty on the part of a Judge can be brought if not before the Grand Inquest of the Nation? Such a position as that maintained by the right hon. Gentleman would not bear examination for a moment. The right hon. Gentleman hardly ventured to grapple with any of the difficulties of the question, which is entering very deeply into the English heart and soul, and if by the result of a division it shall appear that, acting on the advice of the right hon. Gentleman, this House is prepared to refuse to entertain a Petition complaining of the conduct of Judges, it will raise a tempest in this country which it will not easily allay. I will not criticize the language of the noble Marquess who followed suit to a great many other hon. Gentlemen. The noble Marquess seems to have arrived in his own mind at some peculiar knowledge that the allegations of this Petition are false and scandalous. Why are they not proved to be false and scandalous? I hear no reply to that. I hear no cheer—no assenting voice. Is it that both sides of the House have made up their minds that the Judges acted fairly in that trial, and that the Claimant is Orton beyond all possibility of doubt? ["Hear, hear!"] Gentlemen, I do not envy you your judgment. ["Order, order!"] I am committing no disorder. ["Order!" and "Chair!"]


I must remind the hon. Member that it is one of the Rules of this House that every hon. Member should address himself to the Chair.


Sir, I beg pardon if I addressed the House by the name of gentlemen. I understand that is the breach of Order I have committed, and will take care not to do it again. I was remarking that I did not envy hon. Members the judgment they have arrived at in that most wonderful and mysterious case. They probably imagine that they have better grounds of forming an opinion, and pronouncing that opinion here, than I have, and declaring every allegation in this Petition to be false because they do not happen to coincide with it. Sir, as far as I have had an opportunity of forming an opinion on that complicated case, full of doubts and mysteries, I have formed a very different conclusion from that which prevails in the minds of hon. Members. I was referring just now to the noble Marquess. He read the two Resolutions passed in the House in the year 1669; but, not being a very sound Constitutional lawyer, he omitted to notice that the second of these Resolutions had nothing to do with pretending to impose restrictions on the language of petitions: it simply guarded the House against the claim set up by the House of Lords to criticize the conduct of petitioners who presented Petitions here, and it had nothing whatever to do with the question of limiting the language of Petitions. I do not profess to be a very profound student in Constitutional Law or in the Usages of this House; but I have always understood it to be in accordance with Constitutional Law and the Usages of this House that Parlia- ment requires all Petitions presented to it to be couched in language respectful to itself; and that is the only limit imposed. I may be wrong; and, if so, I shall be glad to be corrected by any high Constitutional authority in the House, but I believe what I have said to be both law and usage. I have really heard no language cited by the right hon. Gentleman, or by the noble Marquess—and that is another reason why the course he has adopted of not having the Petition read is extremely inconvenient—I have heard no language cited from the Petition which comes properly under the designation of slander. If a man is complaining of corrupt, bad, dishonest conduct, he must use words to convey the idea of corruptness, badness, and dishonesty. With some mealy-mouthed individuals, no doubt, language of that kind is slander; but that is not the true interpretation, because slander implies falsehood. Slander can never be supposed to be involved in truth; and if the right hon. Gentleman or the noble Marquess say there are any falsehoods in these Petitions, they ought to call on the House to investigate those falsehoods and trace them to their source; but they have made no such proposition. I do not know that I have anything further to say. If any such Petition as that should be forwarded to me—I never yet had one—I shall be perfectly prepared to present it to this House, to have it read at that Table, and to demand an inquiry into the conduct of the persons it impugns. The House would reject it, of course—that I can easily see from the temper prevailing on both sides; but let the House settle that with the country outside. I shall have performed my duty when I have done what I have said, and shall have liberated my conscience. If the House grants an inquiry, it will have an opportunity of learning for itself whether the accusations against the three Judges are true or false. In justice to those Judges, they ought to have an opportunity of showing whether the accusations against them are true or false; but if this House says—" We will have no inquiry, because we have made up our minds beforehand," I can only say, with the greatest possible deference to this House, that such a course is not calculated to elevate it very highly in the opinion of the English people.


On this occasion we are discussing a rather complicated question. Some hon. Members are discussing one-half of it, and others the other half. Some naturally address themselves to the position taken by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government. I do not complain of that, for I think it arose out of the form and wording of the Petition. One question is about the freedom—I will not say permitted but existing—with regard to petitioning this House, and the other is to the language of the Petition with regard to the Speaker. Now, it is obvious from the discussion, beginning with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, and from what has fallen from every hon. Member who spoke, that everybody in this House is in favour of the unlimited right of Petition, of such right of Petition as the people of England have ever demanded. As far as I can judge, the speeches of he hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor), and the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Hop-wood) tend to the same thing. Whatever may be the result of this debate, there is no man in England, in the United Kingdom, or in the world who can charge this House with wishing to limit the right of Petition. But if we think it necessary to support the right of Petition, this House is acting just as much in the interest of petitioners and of the nation itself, when it insists on maintaining its own rights and the rights of the eminent Gentleman who fills the Chair. There can be no manner of doubt why the House, if it feels itself at liberty to discharge the Order, should do so. If it be discharged, what harm is it to the petitioners? They are not barred from approaching the House again in favour of any propositions which they have to submit, or any charges which they have to make, or any demands that the House should make any inquiry which they think for the public service. Therefore, if this Petition for the time be discharged the same petitioners may come to the House again leaving out that portion of the Petition which the House unanimously condemns, although by its vote it may not unanimously condemn it. I will undertake to say there is no hon. Member of this House, not even the hon. Member for Stoke himself—[Dr. KENEALY: Hear, hear!]—who would, in the presence of this House, or in the presence of any body of his countrymen, declare that it was for the interest of the people of England that any petitioner, by making gross and groundless insinuations, should bring a charge against the President and Speaker of the House of Commons. Then the House is agreed, I think, upon two things—that it will support the right of Petition; that it will support its own rights; and that it will support the rights of the Gentleman who presides over its deliberations; and I think all this can be done consistently with following the course which the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government has proposed. Now, when my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir Charles Forster), the Chairman of the Committee on Public Petitions, spoke to me about this matter some days ago, I took the trouble to read the Petition over very carefully, and I gave my opinion then, as I have given it from that moment to this without change, that as far as the complaints of the Petition with respect to the late trial and the Judges were concerned, I thought there were no serious grounds which would justify me in voting for its rejection. But I said that the statements with regard to the Speaker of this House were of so important, so serious, and so gross a character, that if it were proposed by the head of the Government to reject the Petition on that ground I should find it extremely difficult to resist. Therefore, I am quite ready to vote for discharging the Order, limiting myself to the ground of the base and baseless insinuations with regard to the Speaker. On that ground I can vote with a clear conscience for discharging the Order. I should like to say a word on the case which the right hon. Gentleman brought before us of a Petition presented five years ago, complaining of the conduct of an Irish Judge. I asked the right hon. Gentleman what was the date when the Order was discharged, and he said it was about seven weeks after it was presented. Now, if this Petition had no reference to the Speaker of the House I should not be able, because the Petition attacked the Judges, to agree to discharge the Order within 1.0 days of the time when the Petition was presented; because 10 days is scarcely sufficient time to ascertain whether any person holding the views of the Petitioners would bring the subject before the House. It seems to me that we are not only guardians of the character of the Bench, but the guardians of that large interest which the people have in possessing and believing that they possess an incorrupt administration of the law. Now, Sir, the hon. Member for Stoke has just spoken, and I listened as attentively as I could to all he said—perhaps he may have been confused in one or two of his last sentences—but he does not appear to me to have taken the position which the House had a right to expect on this occasion. I do not object to anything he said, or to anything that he has said since he came into this House. All I say is, he has not been here often enough, and has not proceeded with the proposition which he undertook to submit to the House on the second night after he entered it. At that very early period he gave Notice that he would bring the case of a recent remarkable trial in which he was engaged as counsel, before the House, and that he would move a Resolution. I believe there is a Notice of that kind on the Paper now—Dr. Kenealy—The Queen v. Castro— To call attention to the Government Prosecution of the Queen v. Castro, and the conduct of the Trial at Bar and the incidents connected therewith, and also to certain incidents of the said trial which have occurred subsequently thereto; and to move a Resolution. Now, judging from the publication with which the hon. Member for Stoke is connected, and judging from what we hear everywhere, and from speeches made by him and by his friends, the House is forced to the conclusion that one great object of that Resolution would be to impugn the conduct of the Judges. This Petition impugns the conduct of the Judges. The hon. Member, I think I may assume, is the Member of the House who, above all others, is called upon, if anybody is called upon, and should be willing, if anybody is willing, to move a Resolution in support of the prayer of the Petition. I came down here on the night when the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley) asked some questions in regard to Judges and juries—I came down to the House specially early that I might see if the hon. Member for Stoke was in his place; and I intended on that occasion to ask him distinctly when he proposed to fix a day for the Motion of which he had given Notice. I say the hon. Gentleman has no right to come down to the House and give a Notice of this character, to remove it to some other day, then to some other day, and after that to let it remain on the Paper without any day being fixed, and then to leave London to visit towns and other parts of the country, and there to make his statement of the question—I will not say to inflame the minds of the people of this country, I will not say to make charges which are false—I will say rather to make statements which he believes it his duty to make. It is not right to make such statements, I will not say to defame, but to charge eminent Judges, and to create in the mind of the people a belief that men upon their trial before the Judges and a jury of this country cannot hope for fair, open, and complete justice. I say he has no right to do that, and leave a Notice of that kind on the Paper week after week and month after month; and I think the House ought to insist that a question of this nature, upon which so much hangs—a question as to the judgment of the House upon the character of eminent Judges—that this question ought not to be left undecided. The House ought to take some steps by which it shall either be adjudged or got rid of for ever. I think the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald) made a manly declaration. He made an appeal to the hon. Member for Stoke which he cannot disregard. That hon. Gentleman knows that I am not one of those who, in private or public, defame him, or object to his sitting in this House, or show by what I shall say contempt for the constituency which has sent him here. I respect the great constituency which has sent him here. That constituency acted, perhaps, in great ignorance, but, I believe, thoroughly upon generous and honourable principles. But the hon. Member for Stoke, being the Representative of that constituency in this House, ought to feel that he is the one above all other—and this is the place above all others—in which he should bring to the adjudication of the House the serious charges he is constantly making against the Judges. He will have a fair hearing. I can sit from 5 till 12, if necessary, to hear the whole case. I have read some hundreds of columns of it during the time when he was so much before the country in connection with it; and if I have read so many hundreds of columns of print I can listen, and listen with attention, and probably with interest to the speech which he will make. But I protest against this question being left over. If the hon. Member had given Notice that he was about to bring a Vote of Censure against a Member of the Government, the First Minister would say—" This cannot be allowed to remain week after week. It must be decided. The Government enjoys the confidence of the House, or it does not." But it seems to me even more important if you have three of the most eminent Judges of the land, and heap upon them charges of the most grave character. I say that the man who makes those charges, and who hesitates to come forward and, to the best of his power, to substantiate them, at any rate will have no right to say anything against the Judges, for however evil may be their character, I suspect his will not bear examination. I conclude by saying—and I say it with no unfriendliness to the hon. Member for Stoke—I think I have a fair right to appeal to him to answer my question, and to state to the House whether it is his intention immediately, or on the first convenient day—and I hope the House will be ready to make any way for him—to bring this matter before the House, so that it may be fairly discussed, for I am, at least, as anxious as he is that justice should be done, and that the great mass of the people of this country, whether they take his view or the view of the majority of this House, should have another opportunity of correcting their opinion, and of coming, it may be, to a just decision upon a question which has excited so many of them. Upon the ground that we are to vote for the discharge of this Order, because of the attack that it has made upon the Privileges of the House, and the insinuations against the character and the conduct of the President and Speaker of the House, and upon that ground only, I shall give my vote with the right hon. Gentleman.


I think, Sir, you will allow me to say—[" Order, order!"]


If the hon. Member desires to make an explanation I have no doubt that this House will hear him; but he is not entitled to make a second speech on the question before the House.


I wish to ask a question. I rise to Order—["Order!"]


I wish to make an explanation. It is quite true, as the right hon. Gentleman has stated to the House, that on the second night I entered it I gave Notice of my intention to bring forward the question of the "Queen v. Castro," and move a Resolution. At that time I had every reason to believe that I should be supported by floods of Petitions to this House; but I very soon learned that, although Petitions had been sent to hon. Members, they were informed on the authority of high functionaries here that it would be illegal and irregular to present them. ["Name, name!"] I therefore, in the full exercise of my right of discretion, postponed that Motion until I should be supported by numbers of Petitions. I beg leave to inform the right hon. Gentleman that until I see myself properly supported by Petitions sent into this House I shall not bring forward the Motion. If hon. Members want to have the matter brought before the House, let them not refuse to present the Petitions from their constituents of which I have spoken.


Some hon. Gentlemen and the Member for Stoke have argued this question to-night as if there were some Government measure before the House, and as if the Government had shown a want of policy or discretion in calling on the House to decide the question; but I should hope the vast majority of Gentlemen in the House are perfectly aware that in calling on the House to come to a decision on this Motion I am only acting in conformity with the regulations of the House. It is in consequence of a Report prepared and submitted to the House by one of the most influential permanent Committees of the House—the Committee on Public Petitions—that I have been obliged to call upon the House to consider that Report and to state to the House what I believe the right course and the right view for them to adopt. I should not have ventured to take that course on my own responsibility. I took occasion to request the assistance and advice of my Colleagues on a point of this nature, and we arrived, after due consideration and investigation, at a conclusion which I may state in few words. It was our opinion that had the Petition been confined to impugning the conduct of the Judges, though we might regret that a Petition should be expressed in such language, still, considering that it was signed by a considerable number of persons, who, we doubt not, sincerely believed they had formed a correct opinion, it was not for the public interest that such a Petition should be rejected; and I, therefore, should not have hesitated, had this Petition been one which simply impugned the conduct of the Judges, feeling how important it is that the right of Petition should always be respected in this House, and that on no subject more important than the administration of justice can Petitions be presented, to recommend, and we should have recommended, the House, however much we might have regretted the language in which the Petition was couched, to have accepted the Petition; but, on examining that Petition, we found other matter than that which is alluded to in the Report of the Committee on Petitions; and we believed that matter to be not only most offensive to the House, but matter which, if it passed unnoticed, would be of an injurious character, for it violated, in our opinion, the most precious Privilege of the House in making an attack upon the character of one whom we respect above all others. It also invaded that liberty of speech which is the privilege of individual Members, and the most valuable privilege of the House, and which we have guarded by our Ordersand by our traditionary and constant respect from being challenged and assailed by those out of this House, so that the privilege of freedom of discussion may be protected. Upon that ground, and that ground alone, I recommend the House to agree that the Order for this Petition to lie on the Table should be discharged. I must say, notwithstanding the jesting philosophy of the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson), who, in idiomatic phrase, informed the House of the position in which I had placed myself to-night, that I think the consequence of this discussion has been to justify the course I have pursued, and there is a universal concurrence that the advice I have given to the House is the correct one. I hope, therefore, the hon. Baronet will make some compensation for his too hasty criticism on my course by withdrawing the awkward Motion that he has made, and not prevent us still further from listening to a discussion more interesting, I believe, to the English people than even the Trial at Bar. A division may then take place; but I hope, on reflection, that the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke) may be inclined not to break the unanimity which we all so much desire. We need again have no discussion on this issue respecting the precedents with regard to the conduct of former Judges to which we have referred. I did not bring them forward to confirm the opinion which I had myself formed of the advice which I intended to give to the House. It was my duty to give the House as much information as I could upon the points connected with the Report of the Committee on Petitions. I do not lay any stress upon them; but I believe they perfectly apply to the portion of the Petition which was under the review of the Committee. I think the hon. Baronet and the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) will also agree that it is expedient, after expression has been given to so general a feeling in the House, which did not surprise me, that it is not to the honour or interest of the House of Commons to offer obstacles to the right of Petition because Petitions do impugn the conduct of Judges; and, however much we may disapprove of the language in which Petitions are expressed, the matter is of too grave a character for us to allow our conduct in any way to excuse the fostering of that suspicion by which the public mind may be possessed if we refuse investigation or inquiry into any subject, save upon such a ground as that on which I am now asking the decision of the House. The violation of our Privilege in the language used is aggravated when we remember to whom it is applied; and, discarding, as I am sure every candid man will, the trivial defence offered by the fanciful hypothesis upon which the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) chose to rest his argument, I hope the House will agree with me in the Motion I have made. If you sanction for a moment on such a ground the circulation of any calumnies which may be invented of any individual, and then say afterwards that they were only hypothetical, that nothing was meant against him if he really was not a robber and a murderer, but being a robber and murderer he is to be denounced to public indignation and punishment, I think we will soon find that all the Orders that we have constructed, and all the Privileges we have hitherto maintained to sustain our freedom of discussion, and to guard our free Parliamentary life, will soon be found to be endangered. I therefore appeal with confidence to the House—and I hope an unanimous House—to support me in the Motion that I have made.


I must request, Sir, that this Petition be read. The right hon. Gentleman, although he thought fit to close this debate by speaking, did not state correctly that part of the Petition which he considered to be the most important, and upon which it was almost entirely that he made his appeal. As I have a Notice on the Paper for to-morrow night I should not have presumed to address the House on this occasion, but for the remarkable omission to which I have referred. The hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) stated distinctly that we have been misled by the right hon. Gentleman in saying that you, Sir, were insulted, and that your conduct had been impeached. Why, this House to impeach you! This House to impeach itself! As it came from the lips of the right hon. Gentleman the thing sounded ridiculous and absurd. I say again that the hon. Member for Sheffield did charge the right hon. Gentleman with having stated deliberately that the Petition contained as its most obnoxious portion that which it does not contain. There is another point. ["Oh, oh!"] The right hon. Gentleman did not allow me to address the House before he replied. He himself, if any man in this House, is responsible to this House and the country for what is obnoxious in that Petition. ["Divide!"] I will explain if the House will patiently listen. Why these very charges against the Judges were brought forward by me before the Committee, of which the right hon. Gentleman was a Member, and I had a Petition in my hand from my constituents, signed by more than half of the electors, charging these Judges with distinct partiality and substantial corruption, but the right hon. Gentleman said, " We will not inquire into that, we will not go further," although he it was who appointed the Committee. Then, Sir, how could these Petitioners from Prittlewell, in Essex, and all over the country, amounting to hundreds of thousands, suppose they were offending against the Privileges of this House in appealing to the House to investigate charges against Judges which have been brought in terms quite as strong in other Petitions. During last Session I was rebuffed and snubbed and treated with obloquy in language which, as the hon. Member for Stoke has asserted, was equal to any that has been used in the Petitions in favour of this unfortunate convict. I brought a distinct charge against the Judges, and they knew it well. And what was the result? ["Divide!"] Let the House consider that they are not justified in shouting down the question, and saying that it was a delusion because they have prejudged the question. They, in spite of my protest, and the protest of others, found the money for the prosecution of this man, and you exonerate the Attorney General from responsibility in doing that which no Attorney General ever did before. When I ventured to bring this question before the House I was interrupted and shouted down continually until I was almost exhausted. And what was the result? The whips on both sides of the House laid their heads together, and counted out the House. I distinctly challenged those proceedings not only in the country, but in this House, in the name of my constituents. But the House took no notice of the matter, though I presented many Petitions upon the subject. Now comes this Petition, one of a vast number signed, I am told, by hundreds of thousands throughout the country, but which we are not allowed to present simply because it complains of the conduct of the Judges. Surely this must give strength and additional grounds for such complaints as were extended to the conduct of the Speaker in rejecting these Petitions unless by some means or other inquiry is conceded. That is all pthe etitioners want, and all that I now urge upon the Government. I ask, on behalf of the petitioners, that the Petition shall not be rejected. I say they were fully justified in supposing that their charges would not be suppressed, especially when they declared that they were prepared to support those charges either at the Bar of the House or any other tribunal that might be appointed. Under any circumstances, before the Petition is rejected I think we ought to take time for further consideration, and in order that that may be given I hope the hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) will press his Amendment of the Previous Question, for which I shall vote. Meantime, before a vote is taken, I think the least that can be asked is that the House should know what the Petition is which they are called upon to reject, and I therefore move that it be read by the Clerk at the Table.


Is it the pleasure of the House that the Petition be read?


Sir, I think it would be better that the Petition should be read. Earlier in the evening I gave reasons why I thought it would not be desirable to read the Petition, and we have also had before us the Report of the Public Petitions Committee, calling our attention to the language of the Petition. I believe, however, that it is in the power of any hon. Gentleman to have it read, and as an hon. Member has moved that it be now read, I shall support the Motion.

Petition read.


, amid cries of "Divide!" said, he had only a few words to say, which the House would, he hoped, deem to be not altogether out of place. The Select Committee on Public Petitions had thought it their duty to bring to the notice of the House an objectionable Petition, which commented in an unbecoming manner on the Speaker, and on the proceedings of that House. Now, it was well-known that there was at the present moment a regularly organized machinery, directed by a Member of that House, whose object and business it was to get up and promote the signing of these objectionable Petitions. An important part of this machinery consisted of a newspaper, edited by the Member for Stoke-upon-Trent, and so long as that paper was allowed free licence to tell week after week the most abominable and palpable lies in its leading articles, he did not see how hon. Members could lay much blame upon the poor people who, by thousands and thousands, read those articles, and somewhat naturally believed them to be true, because they were left uncontradicted. He had in his hand an article of this description, which he would back against almost anything written. It was from The Englishman newspaper— The Ministry, Parliament, and the Press are living in the most serene Fools' Paradise, and apparently are no more aware of what is going on in the actual world than if they were the Seven Sleepers. Hardly a day passes that some dirty dog of a Member, who would be a fitter tenant of a pig-sty than of a seat in the House of Commons, does not get up, and in a drunken, after-dinner speech, without any provocation, assail Dr. Kenealy in the most loathsome language of scurrilous abuse. Some have the fatuity to write of him to their constituents in terms of reproach and insult, and in this they manifest their low and mongrel nature, which inclines them to bark though they dare not bite; for we need hardly say not one of these 'curs of low degree' would dare to face Dr. Kenealy from the House of Commons' benches. But at their drunken dinner tables, surrounded by persons who are as drunk, or ignorant, or foolish as themselves, or in their counting-houses, where they concoct the frauds by which ships are lost and sailors are drowned and insurance offices pillaged, and creditors are defrauded, they are as valiant as ancient Pistol; and when the hour comes, as threatened by their papers, when Dr. Kenealy is to be hissed and hunted down, we have no doubt that they will play their parts in that ignoble species of attack with the most absolute perfection. Amen! So be it. If the Speaker allows the House of Commons to be disgraced and degraded, as it will be before the world should this take place, it will be no affair of ours. He would not have brought that extract before the House if it had not been that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) called upon the Member for Stoke to bring on his Motion without delay. The Member for Stoke replied that he should wait until the House had a number of such Petitions as the present before it. Now, he wished to point out to the House that the Member for Stoke was going about trading upon the ignorance of those poor people, and telling them palpable lies. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham said that the Member for Stoke was returned by the generous and honourable convictions—


If I caught the observation of the hon. and gallant Member correctly, he said of the hon. Member for Stoke that he went about the country telling palpable lies. I must remind the hon. and gallant Member that such remarks are not Parliamentary.


said, he was afraid he had confounded what he had intended to say with the article in the paper for which the Member for Stoke was responsible as editor. He intended to have said that that paper put forth those falsehoods, and he withdrew the words imputing the language to the Member for Stoke directly. He was at a loss to suggest any mode by which the editor or the printer of this paper could be called to account for his unprincipled conduct; but if any Member would suggest a way he should be happy to co-operate with him in bringing the law to bear upon the offender. He thought forbearance for insults might be carried too far, both by private individuals and by private bodies, and that a public contradiction of such lies as those he had read rested as a duty on some Member of the House.


said, that when he came up to the House he had not made up his mind as to the way in which he should vote, though he thought it most probable he should vote for the reception of the Petition. But without in the slightest degree wishing to infringe the freedom of petitioning or denying the undoubted right of the people to petition, he intended, having heard the debate, to vote for the proposition of the Government. He thought that if a division could be avoided, a certain amount of painful feeling in the country might also be avoided; and on that ground he would appeal to the hon. Member for Carlisle to withdraw his Motion. Something had been said in palliation of that part of the Petition which referred to the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair of the House. It had been said that the charge was only made by implication. The fact that the charge was only made by implication made it only the more cowardly. He believed that the hon. Member for Stoke would soon find that, although he might have a certain following now and receive cheers at public meetings, there was nothing that the English people liked so much as a man to have the courage of his opinions. Sooner or later he would find that those who crowded round him now would be the first to denounce his conduct if, feeling half what he had said he felt about three of the Judges of the land and other distinguished people, he lost a single day—nay, a single hour—in bringing forward those charges in the best of all tribunals, where they could be supported or refuted—the House of Commons.


observed, that if he withdrew his Amendment he would not thereby save the House the trouble of dividing, as his hon. Friend the Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) was determined to divide the House.


It is for the House, and not for me, to judge and determine whether the Petition now under the consideration of the House should lie upon the Table, and thus become one of the permanent records of the House. The House has always maintained the undoubted Constitutional right of the people to complain of grievances, and to pray for their redress; but that right may be abused, and the question for the consideration of the House now is whether the petitioners in the present case have or have not abused the right of petitioning which they undoubtedly possess. With respect to the Petition, so far as it relates to myself, with the permission of the House, I decline to take any notice of it, because I am wholly indifferent to such attacks so long as I enjoy the confidence and approval of this House.

Previous Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 391; Noes 11: Majority 380.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Order that the Petition from Prittlewell and neighbourhood [presented 6th April] do lie upon the Table, read, and discharged.

Biggar, J. G. O'Sullivan, W. H.
Dilke, Sir C. W. Potter, T. B.
Dillwyn, L. L. Ronayne, J. P.
Hopwood, C. H. Whalley, G. H.
Kenealy, Dr. TELLERS.
Macdonald, A. Lawaon, Sir W.
Mundella, A. J. Taylor, P. A.

I beg to give Notice that to-morrow I propose to ask the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent if he will name a day when he intends to proceed with his Motion?


I beg to give Notice that on Tuesday I will ask the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent whether he is prepared to give the names of those Members of Parliament to whom Petitions have been sent, and which Petitions have not been presented?