§ Order for the attendance of Mr. Goodlake and Mr. Hales, read.
§ MR. CHARLES LEWIS
Sir, I rise in accordance with the usual practice of this House to move that Mr. Goodlake be called in; and I trust that I may look for the indulgence of the House for a very few minutes. With reference to the part which I have taken on this question, and especially to endeavour to justify myself in the eyes of hon. and right hon. Members who were not present on previous occasions when this matter has been discussed, I wish to recall the recollection of the House to the fact that on the 9th April there appeared in The Times and The Daily News a letter signed "Victor M. Herran," which was dated the 7th of April, and was addressed 1115 to the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the Foreign Loans Committee. That letter was, in no respect, verified or identified as having been written by M. Herran; and it was full of libels of the most serious character against a Gentleman who had been examined on oath before the Committee, and who has the distinction of enjoying a seat in this House. It is only fair to the House to say that this Gentleman had been a perfect stranger to me. I had no personal acquaintance with him, and even that ordinary acquaintance which one Member has with another was very restricted indeed; but when I read the letter knowing that the very nature of the inquiry would ensure its publicity, I thought it was most unfair that, in the course of an inquiry affecting great public interests and a large number of people, a letter should be communicated to the public Press which would be read, not only by the individuals who were interested in the question, but also by a far wider range of persons. I felt oppressed by the reflection that libels of the most severe character upon a Member of this House, contained in an unverified document, such as it is, would not only tend very much to injure the position—I will not say the character—of the hon. Member for Gravesend, but would also tend very much to discredit the proceedings of this House, and of the Select Committee in the course of whose proceedings the letter was published. What I ventured to do I did without conference with Her Majesty's Government. It was, perhaps, a mistake; but I felt I should be better justified, in the position I might take as an individual and an independent Member, if I did not in any way mix the Government up in the matter. Accordingly, being advised that the letter was of a peculiar description, and its results were likely to be injurious, not only to the hon. Member for Gravesend, but also to the House and the Committee themselves, I ventured to take the course which I did, of calling the attention of the House to the breach of Privilege which had undoubtedly been committed. But, Sir, having taken that course, and the House having unanimously resolved that a breach of Privilege had been committed, and having subsequently, by considerable and substantial majorities, resolved that the printers of The Times 1116 and The Daily News should attend at the Bar of this House this evening, it seems to me, although I do not, at the present moment, withdraw the Motion which I think it my duty to make, I cannot, at all events, do a better thing under the circumstances than to promise, as no doubt the House will hear the best arguments from the right hon. Gentleman for adopting the Amendment which he has suggested, having, I think, performed my duty by laying this Motion formally before the House, to leave the question in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman to whom it more properly belongs. I will only say this—that while the House will ever, under the guidance of its Leaders, be disposed to protect its privileges, it will always be disposed also to protect the liberty of the Press, and do strict justice to hon. Members who, by chance and accident, have their characters improperly attacked. I now beg leave to leave the matter in the hands of the House by moving, in conclusion, that Mr. Francis Goodlake be called in.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Francis Goodlake, the printer of 'The Times' newspaper, be called in."—(Mr. Charles Lewis.)
§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, I am going to move an Amendment to the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry. The House is aware of the origin of the circumstances under which the matter is brought under their consideration. It appears that a Committee was appointed to consider the manner in which certain loans had been raised by Foreign States in this country, and that Committee, when it met, thought fit—and I have no doubt showed a wise and conscientious discretion in coming to that resolution—to avail themselves of a modern privilege of the Committees of the House of Commons, and take evidence on oath upon the important and delicate affairs they were investigating. It appears that a Member of this House was summoned to give his evidence, of course upon oath. Shortly afterwards a letter arrived by a foreign post, addressed to the Chairman of the Committee, contradicting the evidence given by the Member of this House, and imputing to him conduct most discreditable and infamous. What occurred in the Committee is, of course, what the House 1117 would like accurately to ascertain; and under ordinary circumstances, so far as my knowledge of the practice of Committees of this House can guide me, the course would be this—If under such circumstances the Chairman received a letter by post from the Continent, and addressed to him by a person of whom he had no knowledge, he would hardly think it evidence; if he thought it trivial, he could, on his own responsibility, put it into his waste-paper basket; if he thought it weighty and important, he would order the room to be cleared; and then he would take the opinion of his Colleagues upon the merits of the communication, and, if they followed the course which, generally speaking, would he considered a wise one, they would come to a resolution that the letter should not be published. I cannot pretend to inform the House what was the course taken by the Committee; but apparently it was not the course which I have indicated to the House, and which, so far as my experience would guide me, is the usual course, for the letter appeared in the report of the proceedings of the Committee which had been published for some days without any objection being taken. It was said the other night that this letter, though published in the proceedings of the Committee, formed no part of the evidence before the Committee, because the Committee had come to a resolution to take evidence on oath, and of course this—not anonymous letter, but a letter from a stranger in a foreign country, having arrived by post, was not evidence on oath. I really can-not pretend to presume to offer an opinion on such a point—I will not call it a quibble, because many Gentlemen of the long robe might take a different view of its importance; but the vast majority of the House, who, like myself, must be guided on the subject by such share of common sense as they have, would not, in considering a question like the present, enter into a consideration of so technical a point. "Whatever may be the case, this letter appeared and was published in the proceedings of this Committee. It is not at all wonderful that either the hon. Gentleman whose conduct is impugned, or his Friends, or any Gentleman influenced by a sense of what is due to the House and by what is for the general interest of the House in which he has a share, should have felt, as the hon. and learned 1118 Member for Londonderry did, that something should be done to vindicate the character of the individual Member, and give him that opportunity of vindicating his honour and character which we all desire he should have. Having arrived at that resolution, they would, and they did, naturally avail themselves of a Privilege of the House which cannot be impugned, and which the highest authority has pronounced to be violated in the present instance; and, though it is one that has been fortunately in desuetude, still it is not an obsolete one, and I must remind the House there are many which are seldom had recourse to, which are often referred to in debate and described as obsolete, but which the House has steadily and studiously refrained from abolishing, in order that they may on occasions guard the House and its Members from abuse. That I am sure the House will take into its consideration. Accordingly, last Tuesday the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry brought the question before the House as a breach of Privilege, which it cannot be said it is not. I had occasion to address the House after the hon. and learned Gentleman, and being myself very adverse to having recourse to this Privilege, except it is unavoidable, I indicated to the House, in observations I made with little preparation, as the matter had come suddenly upon us, a course which I thought would save us from the painful one of asserting this ancient Privilege, and that was that some Member of the Committee, or its most important Member, should place the matter clearly before the House, without at all entering into the merits of the case which was before the Committee. That suggestion was received by the House with favour, but it was not productive of success in the quarter to which it was addressed, and we were informed subsequently in the debate by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, that the Chairman of the Committee declined to assist the House in the manner I had suggested because it was a Rule of the House that transactions of a Committee should not be discussed while it was sitting upstairs. That is an excellent rule as a general rule, and I trust it will always be observed. It, however, appeared to me on Tuesday night that it would not have been difficult for the Chairman or any 1119 Member of the Committee, without in any way introducing the matters then before the Committee, to give the House, in a few words, clearly expressed and courteously received, information which might save it from taking the course it was forced to take. It is under these circumstances that the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry proposes his Motion that the printers of these newspapers should be summoned before the House. It was said on Tuesday night by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Liskeard (Mr. Horsman), a high authority in this House, especially on the subject of procedure, though he did not act on his own suggestion, that we should have met this matter by the Previous Question.
§ MR. HORSMAN
I beg pardon. What I said was that I expected some of the opponents of the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry would have moved it. I did not say that I should have done so or that I should support it.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I, too, beg pardon; there was, at all events, a suggestion of the Previous Question. But I do not believe myself in a too liberal use of "the Previous Question." It is a convenient and valuable instrument, no doubt, on occasions; but if by carrying it we should indirectly deprive any Member of a privilege which he believes is necessary to the vindication of his character, we should not be justified in moving the Previous Question. We have now had some time to consider our position. After reflection, I have recurred again to those views and conclusions which I less formally expressed to the House on Tuesday, and I have explained the course which I would recommend the House to take in the Amendment which is on the Table. Admitting fully, as I do, and thinking it to be an admirable rule that no debate should be held in this House upon affairs which are being investigated by any Committee upstairs, I am still of opinion that there is a power in this House—and it is a most valuable and salutary power—which will direct the Committee upstairs to report to this House specially upon any point on which information is required by this House, and of that power I recommend the House now to avail itself. Therefore, I have proposed that— 1120It be referred to the Select Committee to report to the House whether such letter was produced and read before the said Committee and under what circumstances, and whether any copy of the said letter was communicated by or on behalf of the said Committee to the said newspapers or either of them.I may be asked why I did not propose this Amendment on Tuesday. Well, there is an excellent reason why I did not propose it on Tuesday. It did not occur to me. I do not pretend for a moment to be an infallible Leader of this House. The duties I have to perform are difficult and delicate in regulating the Business of the House, and I do not pretend that I could discharge them, unless I was supported by the sympathy and indulgence of both sides of the House. Well, thinking over this question, it occurred to me that a recurrence to this power of the House of referring to a Committee on some specific point on which they desire information would prevent us from the necessity of following up the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry, and would supply this House in a legitimate and unobjectionable manner with the information we desire, and which would, I believe, lead to a general conclusion of this business that will be satisfactory to the House, satisfactory even to the dignity of the Committee, and satisfactory to the hon. Member of the House who believes that by circumstances, which are to him perplexing, he has been assailed in a manner not warranted by our Parliamentary practice. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Amendment.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it being stated in 'The Times' and 'Daily News' newspapers of the 9th instant, referred to in the Order of the House of the 13th instant, that a letter, professing to be written by M. Victor Herran, Honduras Minister in Paris, and addressed to the Right honourable Robert Lowe, Chairman of the Committee on Loans to Foreign States, was read and made part of the proceedings before the Select Committee on Loans to Foreign States on the 8th instant, it be referred to the said Committee to report to the House whether such letter was produced and read before the said Committee and under what circumstances, and whether any copy of the said letter was communicated by or on behalf of the said Committee to the said newspapers, or either of them,"—(Mr. Disraeli,)
§ —instead thereof.1121
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Sir, it is a somewhat singular but irregular Motion that the Leader of the House has submitted to our notice. It is an attempt with which, I take it for granted, we should all sympathize to extricate this House from what I may venture to call the somewhat undignified mess which has been the result of the combined action of the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry and the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government. Now, those distinguished personages do not always act together. We have sometimes seen them in collision; but the result of their combination is more serious and unfortunate for this House even than their antagonism. It was said of two great characters of antiquity that they were two bright stars whose conjunction was more fatal than their opposition, and I think that may be said of the two Members of this House who have brought us into this difficulty—they are the Cæsar and the Pompey of above and below the Ministerial Gangway. But, Sir, the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry told us a short time ago that it is the great merit of the Conservative Party that they act en bloc. Now an example that we have of their so acting occurred on Tuesday last. It, however, can hardly be said that they are acting en bloc to-day, because the hon. and learned Member, having succeeded to his heart's desire in bringing the printers of The Times and The Daily News to the doors of this House, and having proposed a Motion which he succeeded in carrying by the assistance of the First Minister of the Crown the other night, the First Minister now moves an Amendment on the joint Resolution which they carried, and therefore the en bloc system of the Conservative Party may be said to be in abeyance. Well, Sir, I myself am not an admirer of the en bloc system, and I am surprised that the hon. and learned Member, who is never wanting in the resources of the English vocabulary, should have found it necessary to define the fundamental principles of the great historical Party to which he belongs by resorting to a foreign tongue. If I had been in his place and been asked I should have used the good old Saxon English, and called it the block-headed party. A very distinguished authority has said that the reason why a dog wags his tail is because the tail 1122 cannot wag the dog. ["Oh, oh!"] All rules have an exception, and I should be very sorry if I have said anything to give offence to hon. Members opposite. In our school days we have all read the story of an impatient and ambitious young man who thought he would like to conduct the chariot of the sun. It sometimes happens that fond parents indulge their children too much, and I cannot help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman on the Treasury bench has allowed Phaeton to drive the chariot, and that the consequences have been disastrous both to himself and those to whom the fortunes of the chariot of the State were confided. The hon. and learned Member for Londonderry told us in language upon which I cannot improve that he should not think of mixing himself up with Her Majesty's Government. Now, when an hon. Member belonging to a Party which acts en bloc is going to bring forward a Motion of Privilege in this House, I should have thought that he might at least have condescended to "mix himself up" with the Leader of the House in considering as to whether that was the proper course to take upon a question affecting the dignity of the House and the liberty of the Press. However, he obtained possession of the chariot for the day, and he will excuse me for saying that I think he rather made a mess of it. Now, let us see what is the situation we are in. On Tuesday last the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry came forward and made a Motion which he succeeded in carrying unanimously that the publication in The Times and The Daily News of the 9th of April instant of the proceedings and evidence taken before the Select Committee on Foreign Loans of the 8th instant was in each case a breach of Privilege. Now that Motion asserts distinctly, and the House has voted it, that what appeared in The Times and The Daily News is considered as part of the proceedings of the Committee. I have seen it stated, with surprise, elsewhere, that there was confusion, and that people thought it was not part of those proceedings; but the House was asked by the hon. and learned Member, and did vote that these transactions were part of those proceedings. That is absolutely essential to the Motion, because if it were not a part of those proceedings there was no breach of Privilege at all, 1123 and the hon. and learned Member said this in introducing his Motion. He said The Times and The Daily News published—what?—the proceedings of the Committee on the previous day, and it was stated that Mr. Lowe had received a letter from a person in Paris which was read in English by a Member of the Committee. Therefore the hon. and learned Member knew, everybody knew, and the House of Commons knew that this was a letter read before the Committee, and that it was part of its proceedings. The hon. and learned Member for Londonderry proceeded—He had drawn the attention of the House to the fact that the proceedings of the Committee had been printed in The Times and The Daily News, and he would now read to the House that which was the point of the charge—namely, that, under cover of publishing an inchoate and incomplete account of the proceedings of the Committee, that document had been published.Therefore he said, and it was the basis of his case, that the publication was part of the proceedings of the Committee, and therefore he moved that the Papers which I hold in my hand should be read at the Table of the House, and he particularly asked that the beginning should be read—namely, that Mr. Lowe had received a letter in French from M. Herran, Honduras Minister in Paris, which was read to the Committee in English by Mr. Kirkman Hodgson. Therefore, as I said, everybody knew when that appeared on Tuesday that the letter was—professed to be and was—a part of the proceedings of the Committee, and thereupon he made the Motion to which I have referred, in which the House declared that that was a publication of the proceedings of the Committee. It is necessary that he should have done that, because the Resolution of 1837 which he had read was this—That according to the undoubted privilege of this House and for the due protection of the public interest, the evidence taken by any Select Committee of this House, and documents presented"—not only the evidence but the documents presented—"ought not to be published by any Member of such Committee, nor by any other person.Very well, that is the Resolution. He affirms that this letter was read as part of the proceedings of the Committee, and thereupon he asked the House to declare that this was a breach of Privilege, and the Leader of the House acquiesced in 1124 the course of declaring that a publication of part of the proceedings was a breach of Privilege. But that is not all. The right hon. Gentleman has objected that we ought to have had some information from the Chairman of the Committee. Now, Sir, I am informed, and you will correct me if I am wrong, that a Notice was actually put on the Paper by the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry of his intention to ask the Chairman of the Committee a Question with reference to this very matter, and that you, Sir, caused that Question to be removed from the Paper on the ground of its irregularity. Well, the Speaker having declared that the Question ought to be removed from the Paper, the Prime Minister repeats a Question to the same effect, and expects to receive an answer; but the Chairman of the Committee could not answer it. He had received the ruling of the highest authority that it would be improper to answer the Question, and accordingly he did not. But, Sir, that is not the only authority on this matter. Though the mouth of the Chairman of the Committee was sealed, another Member of the Committee, who is also a Member of the Government, thought himself entitled, in consequence of the imputations that had been made, to get up. I allude to one of the most respected Members of the Government—the right hon. Gentleman the Judge Advocate General; and he said that this letter was tendered to the Committee in evidence, and I understood and still understand that, in common with the rest of the evidence, it was taken down by the reporters in the room. Therefore, Sir, the House had full knowledge at the time the Prime Minister supported the Motion that this was a breach of Privilege and that the printers should be called to the Bar, of the very facts which the right hon. Gentleman has stated to-day. Well, but on the very same day that this transaction was happening here, the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry was giving evidence in a room upstairs upon corrupt practices at elections; and the next morning there appeared in the papers—not in The Times, but in The Daily News and in The Standard—his evidence, in which he severely criticized the conduct of the Election Judges. He said that the decisions of the Judges are by no means satisfactory. That is 1125 reported in those papers, and why have we not had a Motion upon the subject? [Mr. CHARLES LEWIS: I beg the hon. and learned Gentleman's pardon. I never said anything of the sort.] Well, then, why does not the hon. and learned Gentleman, or the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar), who seconded the Motion the other day, seek to bring the printer of The Standard to the Bar for publishing a garbled and false report of his evidence? I took down the words myself from the newspaper—"that the decisions of the Election Judges are by no means satisfactory." I do not complain of the hon. and learned Gentleman saying so, or of his entertaining that opinion if he does. If he did not use the words, I am sorry for having mentioned them; but I found them in the newspapers, and the remarkable part of it is, the Chairman of that Committee is also Chairman of the Foreign Loans Committee—my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe). Why does be not, in this case, make a Motion to call the printers of both these papers to the Bar for having published an incorrect and incomplete report of the evidence, as he did in the other? Well, Sir, that being the fact, and with a full knowledge of the case, we have voted that the publication here complained of was a publication of part of the proceedings of the Committee, and the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government comes down and says—" Let us now on Friday inquire whether that was a fact which on Tuesday we unanimously declared was a fact." On Tuesday we declared that the reading of the letter was a part of the proceedings of the Committee, and now the right hon. Gentleman proposes that the House should—I do not like to use so strong a word as stultify itself—but, at all events, commit itself to inquire whether that is true which we unanimously declared to be true on Tuesday last. A more Rhadamanthine proceeding I cannot conceive. Castigatque auditque. We have summoned the printers to the Bar, and now we are going to inquire whether there was any reason for summoning them at all. It is quite clear that if we refer this matter to the Committee, and the right hon. Gentleman gets the answer he wants—namely, that this letter was part of the proceedings of 1126 the Committee, we must summon the printers to the Bar, because we have already declared that if this letter were part of the proceedings, the papers, in having published it, committed a breach of Privilege. I venture to press upon the House this consideration, and that what is proposed to-day is a mere postponement. But then the question is—a more serious one than that—is this a question of the printers at all? Was it ever meant to be a question of the printers at all? Does not this Resolution reveal clearly, and does not the speech of the right hon. Gentleman reveal more clearly still, that this is meant to be an attack upon the Committee on Foreign Loans, and upon its Chairman more especially? We had a faint indication the other day that not the printer, but a very different person, was intended to be affected. Sir, there is an old text about those who have dug a pit falling into it themselves. We heard a great deal not long ago about the necessity of supporting constituted authorities, and that if you want to impeach them you must do it directly and not indirectly. I venture to say that what is true of Her Majesty's Judges is not less true of Committees of this House. If Committees of this House have misconducted themselves, if Chairmen of Committees have acted improperly, they can be called to account by this House. But they ought to be called to account directly upon specific charges, upon intelligible questions. You may censure their conduct, and put an end to the Committee; but in these indirect methods, through printers and by suggestions, a course has been taken that ought not to be adopted, a proceeding, I venture to say, which will not tend to support the authority of Committees, and I venture to think that if Committees are so treated, you will not get Gentlemen to sit upon them. And what is this Committee? It does not wholly consist of my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of London. Upon it sit two of the most respected Members of Her Majesty's Government—the Judge Advocate General and the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and as I remember, too, Her Majesty's Solicitor General. So that they have the advice of one of the Law Officers of the Crown as to their proceedings, and now you are asked, in this indirect method, practically to impeach 1127 their conduct on a matter which specifically affects a legal question. I cannot but think that if so grave a course as that be taken, it ought not to be taken upon an Amendment to the Motion to summon the printers to the Bar. If this is intended as a direct attack upon the Committee; if the Committee has been wrongly conducted; if you think, as a great many people think, that it ought never to have been appointed, why, then, do you not come forward and make a Motion saying so? You can stop its Report now—you can suspend its proceedings; but let it be done, if it ought to be done, in a straightforward and direct manner, and not by a proceeding of this kind. There are many people who think it would have been better if this Committee had never sat; but it is too late now to repudiate their position, even on the part of the Government, who have placed three of their own Members upon it. Therefore, I venture to say that to question the conduct of that Committee without bringing forward some direct charge by Motion is a course which ought not to be taken. Well, Sir, in that case, I venture to think that we ought to dispose of the question of the printers at once, and that we ought not to bring up this Order. If we have made an error in this ease, why, we ought to correct it in a straightforward and manly way. Do not let us go through the farce of pretending that we do not know what we all know perfectly well, or that we want some information upon the subject whether this was or was not a part of the proceedings of the Committee. It was so stated. We have so voted unanimously. It was because we knew and said it was that the printers were summoned to the Bar. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government said he doubted whether the letter was properly admitted. Indeed, he seems to think that it was improperly admitted, and he has practically censured the Committee by the remarks he has made. Now, what took place, according to the reports which are impeached? The hon. Member for Gravesend (Captain Pim) made an attack in his evidence upon an individual abroad. That individual claimed to be, and for all I know is, a foreign Minister. He says that his character was attacked by the hon. Member for Gravesend. He wrote 1128 an answer to that attack, and the Committee, I suppose, from what appears, believed he was entitled to make an answer. He was a person who could not be summoned on account of his diplomatic character, and the Committee took the course with respect to him which they had already taken with respect to another foreigner who was actually in England, Senor Don Carlos Gutierrez. They received from him and his secretary written statements, without exception, as they afterwards received the letter of M. Herran, and that course was taken by a Committee of which Her Majesty's Solicitor General is a Member. That is the case that is brought before the House. I venture to think that what we might do to-day is either to bring those printers to the Bar or to dismiss them, for we heard from the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry a great deal about the liberty of the Press. Well, I will give him an opportunity of separating this question from that of the liberty of the Press. Let him deal, and let the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government deal, with their own Committee. That I can quite understand. But do not let us hang it on the peg of the printers, whom I do not desire to see hung up under the ban of this Resolution to be called up at some future time when we have settled our quarrels with our Committee. Let us get rid of the question of the printers to-day, and for that purpose, when the Motion of the hon. and learned Member has been, as no doubt it will be, negatived, and the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government becomes a substantive Motion, I shall then move in place of it these words—That it being inexpedient to proceed further in the matter of the Order made on Tuesday 13th April that Mr. Francis Goodlake, the printer of 'The Times' newspaper, and Mr. William King Hales, the printer of "The Daily News' newspaper, do attend at the Bar of this House, the said Order be now read, and discharged.
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
Sir, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the City of Oxford (Sir William Harcourt), with his usual and elaborate humour, has thought proper to cast considerable obloquy upon my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government and upon those who supported him upon 1129 a recent occasion; but perhaps I may be allowed to say that my right hon. Friend, with the good humour which characterizes him, has acknowledged that the reason why he did not adopt the course he has taken to-day on the former occasion was, because it had not occurred to him to do so. Under these circumstances, therefore, a good deal of the humour of the hon. and learned Gentleman has been altogether thrown away, because my right hon. Friend admits that the course he has now taken is the better one. My right hon. Friend has further stated that he is most reluctant, even in cases of breach of Privilege, to bring up persons to the Bar of this House, who are themselves perfectly innocent, in order that they may be used as a means of our obtaining information with regard to the matter in dispute. The hon. and learned Gentleman has told us that he is very much afraid that we are going to keep these two gentlemen, the printers of the newspapers, in a perpetual state of suspense as to what we intend to do with them. Let me relieve the hon. and learned Gentleman's mind on the subject at once by stating that my right Friend, after communicating with the highest authority in this House, will be prepared, if this Resolution is carried, to follow it up immediately by a Motion that the Order requiring the appearance of these gentlemen at the Bar should be discharged. In taking that step we should be adopting a course which would relieve the Committee from all embarrassment in the matter. What was the state of things on Tuesday last? The reports in the newspapers were brought before us by the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) as containing what professed to be an account of proceedings before the Committee on Foreign Loans, and I presume that they were as much reports of the proceedings of that Committee as were those of the Committee on the Corrupt Practices Act, which the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry has informed us are incorrect. We ought, therefore, to be informed whether the report in question is correct or incorrect, for no one has told us the state of the case. The right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the Committee, I am quite sure, acting upon his views of what he deemed to be the principles and the Rules of the House, refused to 1130 get up and explain the matter, and I quite agree with him that, looking at the matter from a strict and technical point of view, he was merely doing his duty in declining to explain the matter. But, seeing that this letter had appeared in the newspapers as part of the proceedings of the Committee, had the right hon. Gentleman risen in his place and said that, with the leave of the House, he would tell us how the letter had got into the newspapers, no objection would have been made to his doing so, the whole thing would have been over in five minutes, and we should not have been led into all these difficulties and trouble in which we now find ourselves. I quite agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Sir William Harcourt) that we have got into difficulties in this matter, and for this reason—that if we call these gentlemen to the Bar of the House, and examine them, they will probably only refer us to somebody else, and then if we call those to whom they refer us before us they again will refer us to some other persons. Still, however, the course we have taken is the form that has always been adopted by the House, and it is the only way in which we can come eventually at the truth of these transactions. On behalf of myself and of my right hon. Friend I wish to state most distinctly that in bringing forward this Motion there is neither desire nor intention on our part to attack either the Committee or the right hon. Gentleman who presides over it. All we want is that the Committee shall give us some explanation as to how this letter reached the newspapers—whether by inadvertence or by any other means, and if it should turn out that the newspapers are not in fault, we should have no desire to inflict any vengeance upon them, and most certainly not upon their printers. ["Oh, oh!"] The hon. and learned Gentleman says that that statement is absurd; but what object can we have in punishing the newspaper printers for what is practically no concern of theirs? When this question was before us on a former occasion, the hon. and learned Gentleman says an explanation was given of these transactions before we voted a breach of Privilege; but he is mistaken on that point. No Member of the Committee rose before the vote on the point was taken, and the discussion 1131 which took place was upon the Motion by which, in accordance with the ordinary practice on such occasions, the first Resolution was followed up. Assuming that the technical objection taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the Committee to his offering any explanation of the circumstances under which this letter found its way into the newspapers is a good one—and I do not say that technically it is not—the course we have now adopted of enabling the Committee to report upon the matter is certainly free from all technical objection and is strictly in accordance with precedent, for Select Committees can, and often do, present successive Reports of their proceedings. Therefore, it is, in this instance, with the view of relieving the Committee from any embarrassment, and to set ourselves free from all difficulties, that my right hon. Friend has moved his Amendment to the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry. I repeat on behalf of my right hon. Friend and of myself that this Motion is not intended to operate as a Vote of Censure on the Committee and upon its Chairman, but to afford an opportunity of explanation that will bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion.
said, that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had stated to the House, with the candour that always marked his utterances, that he had been caught napping on Tuesday last. To his (Mr. Goldsmid's) mind it was a great pity that the right hon. Gentleman had not continued napping to-day, because the course that he asked the House to adopt that evening was contrary to all precedent, and would be most dangerous in its results. The hon. and learned Member for Londonderry had told the House that he had initiated these proceedings for the purpose of vindicating what he was pleased to call the honour of the hon. Member for Gravesend (Captain Pim); but he (Mr. Goldsmid) should like to know how the hon. Member for Gravesend could for a moment suppose that the course that had been taken by the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry was calculated to effect that object. If the hon. Member was ready to vindicate his honour, why did he not ask the Committee to permit him to be re-examined, in order that he might contradict the statements made by M. 1132 Herran in the letter in question. Calling two printers of newspapers to the Bar of the House could not be said in any way to be a proceeding by which it would be possible to vindicate his honour. He denied that there was any precedent for the House requiring a Committee to report upon its own proceedings, without their having expressed a desire to do so; and, if the Motion were carried, it would, in his opinion, serve as a warning to all Members of the House not to consent to sit upon Committees the independence of whose action was thus interfered with. The whole action appeared to him to have been exceedingly irregular on the part of the hon. and learned Member opposite (Mr. Charles Lewis), who, if he had objected to the proceedings of the Committee being reported, should at once have brought the matter before the House, and not have waited until a letter attacking a Member of the House had been published as part of its proceedings. Numbers of letters which, under the circumstances of the case, necessarily affected the regulation of individuals, had been previously read without any notice being taken, and it was not until the letter of M. Herran was published that these proceedings had been initiated. The object for which "privilege" was established, was to maintain the rights of the people against the Crown, and not to vindicate the honour of any individual Member who might be attacked. In this case, if the hon. Member for Gravesend felt that his honour had been unjustly assailed, he could appeal to the legal tribunals of the country. The hon. and learned Member opposite said that the object which he had in view was not an overt object. He stated that he was well aware how this letter got into the papers; that reporters were by permission of the Committee reporting the evidence, and that among other things they took down this letter which was read to the Committee. Yet it was now proposed to ask whether the letter was or was not read. Surely the proper and consistent course, after what had taken place, would be to call the printers to the Bar and ask them how they obtained the letter. Probably they would say that they received them from the reporters, and then, so far as the printers were concerned, the matter would be at an end. If it should be then thought fit, it would be open to the right 1133 hon. Gentleman to suggest such further proceedings with regard to the Committee as he thought proper. That would be a better course than letting the printers remain outside with the probability of being censured for doing that which he (Mr. Goldsmid) thought that it was right and proper for them to do—namely, report correctly the proceedings of this Committee. The reason why the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry had, in the case which had just been mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Oxford, not been reported correctly was because The Standard only gave a summary of the proceedings; and, therefore, it was far better that the evidence should be reported exactly as it was given. No Member of that House would desire for a moment to check the reporting of their proceedings. The country owed so much to the Press that they could not be justified in any proceedings having that object. He hoped, therefore, that the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman would not be adopted; but that they would carry the original substantive Motion and have the pleasure of seeing the two gentlemen at the Bar of the House. They would after that be able to vindicate the honour of the House much better by attending to its proper business than by going further into this inquiry, which could only lead to futile results.
§ MR. REPTON
said, that some years ago a question of Privilege arose which excited considerable public attention at the time. A Select Committee, of which he (Mr. Repton) was a Member, was appointed to ascertain what would be the best means of communication between London and Paris. In connection with the proceedings of that Committee, a paragraph appeared in The Times stating that some of its Members who had a personal interest in the success of a French railway—the Great Northern of France—were actuated by pecuniary motives. That paragraph being obnoxious to the Committee, its Chairman consulted the then Speaker, now Lord Eversley, as to what ought to be done in regard to it, and the Speaker strongly advised that the manager of the newspaper should be called before the Committee. That was done, Mr. Mowbray Morris appeared, and nothing could have been more frank and candid than his statement. He was asked—"From 1134 whom did you receive this libellous paragraph?" and his answer was—"From The Globe of the preceding evening." The Chairman then went again to the Speaker, and the result was, that the manager of The Globe was summoned. In the most simple and natural manner that gentleman told the Committee, in answer to a similar question to the one put to Mr. Mowbray Morris—"A communication was put into our letter-box and we inserted it in our paper. If it has given pain to any member of the Committee I am very sorry for it." Under the circumstances, the Committee thought it the most dignified course to say nothing more about it. He had a notion that if the House summoned Mr. Goodlake and the printer of The Daily News to the Bar they would get very little more satisfaction. It would be an awkward position to be placed in, and he hoped they would succeed in avoiding it; and for that reason, it would be best to adopt the course proposed by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government.
MR. OSBORNE MORGAN
said, he was far from wishing to blame the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry for the course he had taken in this matter, as he had no doubt acted from plausible motives. He believed himself that the unfortunate predicament in which they found themselves was the almost necessary result of embarking upon such an inquiry as that which the Foreign Loans Committee had been appointed to carry out. When the Committee was proposed he entertained the gravest doubts as to the propriety of appointing it. Notwithstanding its great merits as a deliberative Assembly, he had every day become more and more convinced that the House of Commons was utterly unfit to undertake a judicial inquiry. And this was a judicial inquiry. ["Question!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, he must remind the hon. and learned Member that he could not enter upon the merits of the inquiry before the Select Committee. That question was not at present under the consideration of the House.
MR. OSBORNE MORGAN
said, he was not going to do so; he had simply referred to the original Resolution for the purpose of pointing out that it was the real cause of the present difficulty. The House of Commons had done what 1135 it had not done for 200 years—it had usurped the functions of a Court of Justice. In the course of the proceedings of the Committee a letter containing a gross libel upon a Member of the House was addressed to the Chairman. How would that letter have been treated if it had been addressed to a Judge or Vice Chancellor conducting a judicial inquiry? He had had the curiosity to ask a Judge the question that morning, and the answer he got was—"If I could not have committed the writer for contempt of Court, I should simply have thrown the letter into the fire, or if I had referred to it, it would only have been to express my strong disapproval of the writer's conduct in sending it to me." He looked upon the admission of that letter as a most improper proceeding. Well, copies of it got into two newspapers. Either the letter was or was not a part of the proceedings of the Committee; if not, the publication of it was in no way privileged, and the hon. Member for Graves-end had his remedy in an action at law, just as much as he would have had if the letter had been addressed to the Editor of The Times or the Editor of The Daily News. But if, on the other hand, the letter was really a part of the proceedings of the Committee, as they all believed it was, where was the offence in publishing it? He was perfectly well aware that, according to the Standing Order, technically, it was a breach of Privilege to publish the proceedings of the Committee. It was similarly a breach of Privilege to publish the evidence of the hon. Member for Graves-end, to which the letter was a reply, and it would be a breach of Privilege to publish the speeches delivered in the course of the present debate. But publicity was the life and soul of their being as an Assembly, and the consequence was the Standing Order was one which was "more honoured in the breach than the observance." Moreover, they could not permit the public to be present at their proceedings and refuse that permission to reporters, and, this being so, it was surely desirable to have correct reports of what passed? The report which had been complained of appeared to be a correct and not a garbled report, and he wanted, therefore, to know what offence had been committed by the newspapers. If no offence had been committed, what was the object of the present 1136 Motion? There might, of course, be some ulterior object. Perhaps, as had been suggested by the hon. and learned Member for the City of Oxford, the disguised object of the Motion was to attack the Committee, and in particular the Chairman of the Committee. He did not say that such an attack was not within the power of the House; but he ventured to submit that it would be an exercise of power which would set a very dangerous precedent. A Committee was appointed, great powers were delegated to it, and in the middle of its proceedings a check was suddenly to be put upon its action. That was a course unworthy of this House, unworthy of any Government; and he, for one, would certainly oppose the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, he greatly regretted that the debate had taken what was called a Party turn. During the many years he had sat in that House he had always disclaimed Party ties and obligations, and had always claimed the right to give, to the best of his ability, an independent vote. This right he claimed equally upon the present occasion, and if hon. Gentlemen opposite had put forward arguments which proved the correctness of their views, he would not have hesitated to give them his support; but it seemed to him the House somewhat misunderstood its position. The House had got into a difficulty by the step it took on a previous occasion. It had been admitted by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government that the course then adopted was not the best which was open to them, and he accordingly proposed what he deemed to be a better plan. It seemed to him (Mr. Bentinck) that the course suggested by the right hon. Gentleman was the right one. The object of all this debate had been to find out whether the Privileges of the House had been violated, and if they had, by whom the wrong had been done. A proper and practicable means of attaining this object had now been proposed by the right hon. Gentlemen. No doubt a mistake had been committed in resolving that the printers of the two newspapers should be called to the Bar, but it was a mistake for which a majority of the House was responsible. With great deference to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the City of Oxford, he ventured 1137 to think that the course recommended to them by the right hon. Gentleman was that which ought to be adopted in order to extricate themselves from the difficult position in which they were placed, and he hoped the Committee would at once proceed to put the House in possession of the information which it asked for. They ought to have from the Committee an official statement as to the line they had taken in the matter, and as to the grounds on which they justified the policy they had adopted, and then it would be for the House to decide what they thought proper to do under the circumstances. In voting for the Motion, he wished it to be understood that he was by no means attacking, or suggesting any impropriety of conduct on the part of the Committee, who, he believed, had acted to the best of their judgment under the circumstances. He, however, should support the Motion, as he considered that was the only mode of extrication. At the same time, he wished the Committee to continue their investigation, in the belief that the result of their labours would be valuable.
§ MR. DODSON
said, that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War had recommended them to vote for the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, because, he said, it was one of two ways to dispose of the matter—namely, that they might either have those printers up at the Bar, or extract from the Committee the circumstances under which they had acted. He (Mr. Dodson) ventured to point out to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War that there was a third way by which they might arrive at the truth, and that was by waiting patiently until the Committee had finished its business, and reported in the ordinary course. They were told the character of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gravesend (Captain Pim) had been impugned and involved in this question; but it appeared to him (Mr. Dodson) that they had altogether lost sight of the position of the hon. Member for Gravesend. How would the position of the hon. Member be affected by calling the reporters or publishers to the bar of the House? In what way would that proceeding remove or alter the aspersions that had been cast upon him? If the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire 1138 were carried, and the Committee called upon to give the information concerning the appearance of this letter in The Times and The Daily News, how-would the position of the hon. Member for Gravesend be bettered? The fact was, if the hon. Member felt himself injured, he had two very plain courses open to him. The letter in question appeared in the newspapers. The hon. Member might therefore have addressed a letter to the editors which would have been published in the same sheets; or he might have asked to appear again before the Committee, and contradict the statements which had been made. A great deal had been made by some speakers of the fact that the letter had proceeded from an unauthenticated source, and had not been fortified on oath; but the hon. Member for Gravesend might appear on his oath, and his position was therefore infinitely stronger than that of the writer of an unauthenticated letter. It had been admitted that the House got itself into a false position, by the fact that it somewhat rashly and hastily allowed itself to be seduced the other night into calling the printers of those newspapers to the Bar; and now how was it proposed that the House should extricate itself from that difficulty? Why, by a course which was in a manner a reflection upon one of the Committees of the House. [Mr. BENTINCK dissented.] The hon. Member for West Norfolk shook his head; but the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry that evening said—and he (Mr. Dodson) had taken down his words—that the appearance of that letter was a discredit to the Committee, and if they were to carry that Motion calling upon the Committee immediately to report as to their proceedings in regard to the matter, they would be endorsing the statement of the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire spoke in the same sense, and further criticized pretty severely the conduct of the Chairman of the Committee; but he was not going to enter into that part of the subject, for it appeared to him that no Member of the Committee objected to the course taken by the Chairman. It had been explained that the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the Committee could not, without violating the Rules of the 1139 House, state to the House what had passed before the Committee, but a Member of the Government, who was also a Member of the Committee, had conveyed to them pretty plainly how it all came about. He contended that by the course now proposed, the position of the hon. Member for Gravesend would in no way be improved, and he cautioned the House against involving itself in another unpleasant position by appearing to reflect upon the conduct of one of its Committees. He trusted therefore that the House would support the proposal of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for the City of Oxford, and that they would at once get rid of this difficulty by carrying the proposal that the Order for the attendance of the publishers at the Bar of the House be discharged, and that this question be put an end to. This Session they had been having nothing but questions of Privilege or quasi- Privilege. He thought the multiplication of those questions was not calculated to raise the dignity of the House, nor the honour in which it was held by the country; and that if they proceeded, night after night, with discussions of this character they would be in great danger of losing their prestige in the country, and not be far from taking that short but fatal step which separated the sublime from the ridiculous.
THE CHANCBLLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I think that if the House had before been in want of any reason for supporting the Motion of my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government, reason sufficient would have been supplied to it by the speech which we have just listened to, and especially if we couple with it the speech we heard a few minutes ago from the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Denbighshire (Mr. Osborne Morgan). I am particularly anxious to call the attention of the House to the effect of these two speeches taken together, because it was my lot to be the organ of the Government in conveying to the House the assent of the Government to the original Motion for the appointment of the Committee which is now under discussion. When I conveyed to the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James) that assent, it was felt that its appointment was a step for which there was no precise precedent, It was felt that the House was committing to them 1140 an inquiry of great delicacy, and one which it was a matter of some hesitation whether it was right and safe to hand over to a Committee. We have been told now to-day by the hon. and learned Member for Denbighshire, that if the proceedings which are carried on before that Committee had been carried on before another tribunal, the letter about which so much has been said would not have been admitted, and therefore, from the talk which goes on, from the publication to which attention has been drawn, and from the comments made, we may ask with some anxiety, how is this Committee carrying on its business, and is it carrying it on in a manner satisfactory to the House and in accordance with the general feeling with which it was appointed? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester (Mr. Dodson) says that in calling on the Committee to give a Report with regard to a matter to which its attention has been drawn, you are casting some reflection, and implying some blame on that Committee. We are doing nothing of the sort. We are doing precisely the opposite. When we hear that certain things are said as to the mode in which the business before the Committee is conducted, we want to know whether there is any foundation for the charges made, and we take the respectful course of asking the Committee itself to report to us what is the mode in which they have proceeded. I cannot conceive anything less disrespectful or anything more respectful to a Committee than that, when our attention is called to a matter which involves a breach of Privilege, we should refer to the Committee itself to tell us what it is that has been going on. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester says—" Oh! but what need for this? You know all that goes on. It is in the newspapers." But we do not know whether the proceedings are reported correctly in the newspapers or not. A case has occurred this evening which shows that reports in the newspapers are not to be depended on as thoroughly accurate. We consider, therefore, that the proper, the legitimate, and the respectful course is to refer to the Committee itself to report to us what its proceedings have been. I do not doubt for a moment that when the report is made we shall see that the proceedings of the Committee are thoroughly correct, 1141 and such as we can approve. There is no other way of acting without leaving the matter in an unsatisfactory position. Our attention has been called to the fact that a certain letter which, if addressed to the newspapers directly, would expose them if they published it to an action at law, was read at the Committee, and afterwards found its way into certain newspapers. What we want to know is whether that letter was read at the Committee; whether, if read, it was taken down by the reporters from the mouth of the person who read it, or whether it was imparted by the Committee to the reporters. In short, we want to know whether, if so imparted, it was the act of the Committee, or whether it was done with or without consideration by any Member of the Committee. That is the matter before us, and I venture to think that we are taking the course not only most respectful to the Committee, but most convenient to the House.
§ MR. CHILDERS
Sir, I think the speech of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer should persuade every Member of the House to vote against the Motion of the First Lord of the Treasury. I venture to say a few words on this occasion as one who during the 15 Sessions I have been in the House, have had the good fortune or the ill fortune to be the Chairman of a good many Committees. Now, what follows if the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman is carried? It depends upon the success or failure of the Motion whether a Gentleman may accept with satisfaction the office of Chairman, or whether he must shrink from accepting it. ["No, no!"] Though I do not pretend to be an authority on Parliamentary practice, of this I am sure—that if there be one rule which is certain above all others, it is, that when a Committee is appointed, the House does not interfere with its proceedings except on a Report from that Committee. With respect to the internal conduct of a Committee, that is left to the Chairman, with the consent of the majority, and it is absolutely unknown that the House should interfere, not upon the Motion of the Chairman or of any Member of the Committee, but on a Motion of a Member of the House, who only draws his information from the newspapers. If this were only an ordinary case, the person 1142 so interfering would be transgressing a well-known principle established for many years. But what has the Chancellor of the Exchequer said? He has told the House that this Committee is dealing with questions of great delicacy and difficulty. He has told us that it was he who, on the part of the Government, recommended the House to appoint the Committee. But my right hon. Friend might have added that, until his speech was over, we were in doubt whether the Government would consent to the Committee or not. In fact, we listened to my right hon. Friend's speech wondering whether he would find out, from certain sources of information consulted in the meantime, whether the Committee might safely be consented to or not. My right hon. Friend has said that it was a Committee appointed to inquire into matters of great delicacy. But surely that, of all possible reasons, was the strongest why we should not interfere with its action. My right hon. Friend, however, says that, because the Committee was charged to report upon matters of great delicacy, we are entitled to see how it is carrying on its business. That reminds me of the story often told about children who, when they have sown seeds in their garden, are in the habit of digging them up to see how they are growing. If ever there was a case when it would be unwise to interfere, it is that of a Committee entrusted with the charge of inquiring into matters of the greatest delicacy and difficulty. But let us now go back to the origin of the muddle and mess into which the House has got. What happened during the last few day? In the first place, the hon. Member for Londonderry handed a Notice to the Clerk at the Table of a Question that he intended to ask. He was told that it was informal, and then the hon. Member, without consulting the head of the Government, who is responsible for matters of this kind, proposed that we should take a certain course in punishment of a breach of Privilege. The hon. Member made a speech of some length on Tuesday last, and when he had finished some seconds passed before anybody rose to second his Motion. It was only after considerable delay that an hon. Member at this side very unexpectedly did so. No one rose to answer; we were not assisted by the Leader of the House; then an hon. Member spoke 1143 a few sentences, which were received with dead silence; and, no one else rising, the Question was put. Nobody said "Aye" but the hon. Member for Londonderry and the Seconder; a very large number on both sides said "No," and I am sure a great many Members on both sides believed that the Motion was rejected. But the Seconder insisted on a division, and then we became aware that the right hon. Gentleman, who would not advise the House, who would not say a word, most unexpectedly instructed a particular person to say that he was going to vote with the "Ayes." That was the first after-thought of the right hon. Gentleman, and that was the way in which we had got into the muddle. The right hon. Gentleman said, a little while ago, that it did not occur to him at the moment that the present course ought to be taken; but it has since occurred to him to put the present Motion on the Paper, and he proposes that a certain reference should be made to the Committee. Hon. Members come down assuming that all that is proposed is this reference to the Committee; but, since the right hon. Gentleman has decided that, something else has happened and it has occurred to him that the Motion should be followed by the discharge of the Order for the attendance of the two publishers. That is the second after-thought. If that is so, may I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman to have a third after-thought, and to adopt the proposal of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the City of Oxford? He must have seen from the course of the debate, and from the speeches made on his own side, that we are engaging in another difficulty, and that he will require a fourth afterthought in a few days. The Committee consists equally of Members on both sides of the House; it contains three Members of his own Government, and not one Member of the Committee voted with the right hon. Gentleman the other evening. He is taking a course of antagonism towards the Committee, and surely it would be much more dignified to drop the Motion and this affair altogether, and to go on with the other business
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, the question was how the House could best escape from the difficulty in which it 1144 was placed. It seemed to him totally impossible, that the House should withdraw from the proceedings which it took a few days ago on this question. If it did, he felt with the Prime Minister that they were in danger of having those printers appear at the Bar, and, in language however courteous, convicting the House of not having defined what should and what should not be published in the shape of proceedings of one of their Committees, and thus being covered by the Privilege of the House. It appeared to him that the difficulty arose from the practice of the proceedings of the Committee being reported from day to day, and that the House had adopted no means whereby its Privilege might be secured against abuse being used for the purposes of libel and slander. This was brought home to the House by the charge directed against one of its own Members; but, surely, the House should protect not only one of its own Members, but should take precautions against its Privilege being used as a shield for libel and slander under cover of reporting the proceedings of Committees. This was, in his opinion, part of a very great question. Hitherto the House had trusted to the newspaper Press for the reports of its debates; but having now adopted a system of secret voting, and several other practices which had been prevalent abroad, they would have to follow the example of the Legislatures of France, the United States, Austria, and other countries in other respects, and especially in appointing an authority to supervise the publication of not only the proceedings of their Committees, but the reports of their debates. He doubted very much whether the Chairmen of Committees were competent to revise the reports of the proceedings which were issued to the public, and he believed that some authority—either the clerks of Committees, or some one else—ought to be directed to see that nothing libellous, slanderous, or discreditable, was published under cover of being part of the proceedings of the Committee. He thought they were quite right in asking some explanation from the Committee how it happened that this discreditable letter had been published.
§ MR. HORSMAN
thought the further they proceeded in this discussion the more the difficulty appeared hopelessly inextricable. He could not see how 1145 those who voted with the majority the other evening could vote for either the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman or the Amendment. They were both at variance and inconsistent with the second vote the other evening. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had referred to the original appointment of this Committee, and to what then took place in debate. He said the House had entrusted to the Committee a very delicate inquiry. He might also have stated that it was an almost unprecedented inquiry; for he had not only implied it in the course of his speech, but asserted it more than once. The Government came down at 5 o'clock, intending to oppose the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James); but they found the feeling of the House too strong, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer put a new head and a new tail to the speech which he had evidently prepared to oppose the Motion, and then spoke in favour of the Motion; but he saved himself by taking two divisions. He stated the difficulties of the case, and he made one condition to limit the inquiry—that the hon. and learned Member for Taunton should put himself in communication with the Government, and they should take the lead in the nomination of the Committee. Three Members of the Government were named, with the Solicitor General, to watch the Committee generally, and make themselves responsible for their proceedings. The Committee decided it should be an open Committee, and new difficulties arose. A letter was read, it was heard by the reporters, and published with the rest of the proceedings. That was the state of the case, and he could not help thinking that the Chairman of the Committee had been treated rather unfairly. The Chairman of that Committee regulated its proceedings just as the Speaker regulated the proceedings of that House; but the one was no more responsible for those proceedings than the other for the course of their debates. In this case, the letter which was read contained a request that it should be sent to The Times and The Daily News, and as no Member of the Government asked how it was to be dealt with, the letter in the usual course of the proceedings got into those papers. The House knew all that it wanted to know, but having voted that a breach of Privilege had been committed, 1146 the question was, by whom? Was the Committee really responsible for that breach of Privilege? That seemed to be suggested by their sending back this inquiry to the Committee. There was an implied censure on the Committee. They asked the Committee to report that they were themselves responsible for the breach of Privilege. That was a very extraordinary proceeding. It was perfectly unprecedented to interfere with the proceedings of a Committee before they reported. He should be very glad to see his way out of the difficulty which did not involve him in inconsistency; but he must either vote for the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman, which he could not help thinking implied censure on the Committee, or he must vote for the discharge of the Order, contrary to the vote he gave the other evening. He thought the fairest, the most just, and the most generous course was to vote for rescinding the Order.
§ MR. BULWER
said, he thought it very extraordinary if a Committee of which several hon. and learned Gentlemen, Her Majesty's Counsel, were Members, and who had determined to take evidence only on oath, had allowed an unauthenticated letter to be treated as evidence; and he did not believe that they had done so. But if not given in evidence, how came it to be published as part of their proceedings? That it ought not to have been published was perfectly clear, and if published by the authority of the Committee, it could only have been through inadvertence, which he had no doubt could very easily be explained. But as the matter stood, without explanation, the Committee and the House were in a difficulty. Three modes had been pointed out for getting rid of the difficulty. He ventured to suggest another—that the Chairman of the Committee or any other prominent Member of it should tell the House exactly the circumstances connected with the publication of that letter, and express their regret that a letter containing scandalous libels on a Member of that House had through inadvertence got into the newspapers, and the whole thing would drop.
§ MR. RATHBONE
said, he would remind the House and the hon. and learned Gentleman that that was precisely the step already taken by a Member 1147 of Her Majesty's Government, the Judge Advocate General, who said that notwithstanding the Rules which regulated the proceedings of Committees, he should state what really took place, and he did so state. ["No, no!" and "Divide!"] He repeated that the hon. Gentleman had stated what took place at the Committee. ["No, no!"] He (Mr. Rathbone) should give his vote against the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, and for this reason, that he did not wish to be a party to what appeared to him to be a solemn and untruthful farce
§ MR. CHARLES LEWIS
I hope, Sir, the House will allow me to say a few words after the very peculiar terms in which I have been referred to by the hon. and learned Member for the City of Oxford. The hon. and learned Gentleman has proved himself a perfect master in twisting the remarks of other persons. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that I did not mix myself up with the Government. The observation which I really made was, that I would not mix the Government up in my action. Then the hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the evidence I gave before another Committee, as if for the purpose of twisting that also into a meaning different from what I ever intended. I will not retort upon him, as I might, by referring to the elegant expressions he has used in reference to the Party of which I am a Member. His idea was old, but the phraseology was new, and what was new was not good. In lieu of of telling us that we were a stupid Party, be thought proper, when addressing us in the elegant language for which he is often remarkable, to say that we were the "blockheaded Party." We are not in the habit of resenting such expressions coming from such a quarter. We know that is part of the stock language, stock imputation, and stock proprieties of the hon. and learned Gentleman. Will he allow me to remind him, by way of retort, that it has been said during the last few months that the Party to which I suppose he belongs is a no-headed Party. We hear that repeated frequently from those benches opposite. Let me suggest an alteration of the title. I think, from what we notice of the conduct of the hon. and learned Gentleman himself, and one or two right hon. Gentlemen on that bench, we may better 1148 describe it as a many-headed Party. We know that some who watch with interest the proceedings of the hon. and learned Gentleman think that what he desires is to bring it back to being a single-headed Party, and the noble Marquess at the head of the Opposition might address him in these well-known words—I stay too long by thee; I weary thee.Dost thou so hunger for my empty chairThat thou wilt needs invest thee with mine honoursBefore thy hour be ripe?Will the hon. and learned Gentleman allow me to continue the quotation, if I assure him that I mean nothing personal when I say—Oh, foolish youth!Thou seekest the greatness that will o'erwhelm thee.Stay but a little.And the noble Marquess, without any vindictive feeling, might go on to say—Thy life did manifest thou lov'dst me not,And thou wilt have me die assur'd of it.Thou hid'st a thousand daggers in thy thoughtsWhich thou hast whetted on thy stony heart,To stab at half an hour of my life.What! can'st thou not forbear me for half an hour?Sir, I do not pretend to be a master of that wonderful chaff and badinage in which the hon. and learned Gentleman is so great a proficient; but as he so often levels his shafts against me, let me have the liberty of telling him that, although he has left his seat here, he left part of his mantle behind him. I am sorry he did not take the whole, but still we have seen upon the front Opposition bench that divided allegiance and marvellous independence of spirit of which he might have shorn this bench, but which he left for me to copy as an example. But, Sir, the independence I have represented here has been independence of principle. I have never gone down to my constituents to rejoice over the misfortunes of my Party. In conclusion, and while asking the leave of the House to withdraw the Motion which I formally made, I would earnestly entreat of the hon. and learned Gentleman for the future that, instead of taking a person so unworthy of his ridicule and his shafts as 1149 myself, he will endeavour to measure his sword with some one more worthy and more able to meet him.
§ MR. SPEAKER
A Motion and an Amendment being before the House, I must remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that the Motion cannot be withdrawn unless the Amendment be withdrawn also.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.
That the words 'it being stated in 'The Times' and 'Daily News' newspapers of the 9th instant, referred to in the Order of the House of the 13th instant, that a letter, professing to be written by M. Victor Herran, Honduras Minister in Paris, and addressed to the Right honourable Robert Lowe, Chairman of the Committee on Loans to Foreign States, was read and made part of the proceedings before the Select Committee on Loans to Foreign States on the 8th instant, it be referred to the said Committee to report to the House whether such letter was produced and read before the said Committee and under what circumstances, and whether any copy of the said letter was communicated by or on behalf of the said Committee to the said newspapers or either of them,' be there added.
Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment,
To leave out from the word "being" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "inexpedient to proceed further in the matter of the Order made on Tuesday 13th April that Mr. Francis Goodlake, the printer of 'The Times' newspaper, and Mr. William King Hales, the printer of 'The Daily News' newspaper, do attend at the Bar of this House, the said Order be now read, and discharged,"—(Sir William Harcourt,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the said proposed Amendment."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 231; Noes 166: Majority 65.
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
Ordered, That, it being stated in "The Times" and "Daily News" newspapers of the 9th instant, referred to in the Order of the House of the 12th instant, that a letter, professing to be written by M. Victor Herran, Honduras Minister in Paris, and addressed to the Eight honourable Robert Lowe, Chairman of the Committee on Loans to Foreign States, was read and made part of the proceedings before the Select Committee on Loans to Foreign States on the 8th instant, it
be referred to the said Committee to report to the House whether such letter was produced and read before the said Committee and under what circumstances, and whether any copy of the said letter was communicated by or on behalf of the said Committee to the said newspapers or either of them.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I now move, Sir, that the Order for the attendance of Mr. Francis Goodlake, the printer of The Times, and Mr. W. R. Hales, printer of The Daily News, to attend at the Bar of the House be read and discharged.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
thought that the House ought to have some explanation on this matter. The House had resolved to ask a question of the Select Committee; but it now appeared that the answer was so unimportant, that the House were called upon to determine on the course to be adopted before they got the answer. It appeared to him that every step they took involved some additional absurdity. His right hon. Friend the Member for Chester (Mr. Dodson) feared that the House would lose its prestige in the country, but he (Sir William Harcourt) thought they were becoming the laughing-stock of the nation by going on in this way. It was always an unpleasant operation to eat your words; but the House of Commons was now asked by the Prime Minister unanimously to revoke what it had unanimously voted on Tuesday. This appeared to be a greater absurdity than any which they had already committed.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Mr. Speaker, I believe there is no passion which more influences the human breast than envy. When we remember that the hon. and learned Gentleman had announced that it was his intention to propose the very Motion I have now made, I think that we can sympathize with and pardon the excessive expressions in which he has conveyed his sentiments. The hon. and learned Gentleman is filled with the great desire—to use his own words—of "hanging these printers up." He says nothing can be more inconsistent than the course we are about to take. He says you have determined to refer to the Committee for information, and you will want the printers when you get that information. The hon. and learned Gentleman assumes that the Report of the Committee will be condemnatory of themselves, and will call upon the 1151 House to avenge its outraged principles. I will take a calmer and more charitable view. I would give the Committee the opportunity—standing high as they all do in the estimation of this House—of rising still higher in general esteem. I believe the communication they make will be satisfactory to all the interests and persons concerned. All that we shall then remember of this debate will be that the time has not been wasted—particularly when we see what is on the Paper this evening—which has given an opportunity to the hon. and learned Gentleman and his Friends to develop those Constitutional principles and pour out that Constitutional learning which the House so highly appreciates, and the possession of which tends so much to maintain—I will use the expression of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Dodson)—the prestige of the House of Commons.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for the City of Oxford did, Sir, express a wish to discharge these printers from their attendance; but he took that course, because he thought it never was necessary to require their attendance at all, and that the further progress we made in this matter the deeper we got into the mud. In total ignorance of what the Report of the Committee may be, the right hon. Gentleman moves that the printers should be discharged from their attendance, notwithstanding that the Report may show that a very serious breach of Privilege has been committed. We do not know whether the letter the publication of which is complained of was read in the Committee at all; we do not know that the newspapers did not acquire possession of the letter by some totally illegitimate means; but, still, although the House has declared that the printers have been guilty of a breach of Privilege, and although the right hon. Gentleman wishes to obtain further information as to the way in which that breach of Privilege was committed, he thinks it necessary to ask the House to discharge the printers from further attendance. I am sure that the Motion will not be disputed from this side of the House, although I cannot altogether concur in it for the reasons I have stated.