§ MR. O'DONNELL
Sir, I rise on a question of breach of Privilege. I wish to call the attention of the House to an article which appeared in the London Globe of the 15th instant, entitled Agra-rianism in Ireland. In that article, it is alleged against an hon. Member of this House—meaning myself—that I had made certain statements in this House in which I myself had not a grain of belief, and that I had suggested certain reasons, certain motives, which might have operated towards the palliation of the commission of the frightful murder of the late Lord Leitrim; whereas, to quote the words of the article, the only crimes of the murdered Earl were "that he was a landlord and a Protestant." I would be the very last, Sir, to object to fair newspaper criticism. I have been the object of innumerable reflections on the part of the newspaper Press; but there are, I submit, some limits to criticism—and, when a Member of this House is blamed for not stating that Lord Leitrim was murdered because, he was a landlord, and when it was I stated that he had not a grain of belief in what he said, these are representations regarding the character of Members of this House, and the duties they owe to it, which, I think, the House ought to notice. I will read certain portions of this article to which. I refer. It says—The late Lord Leitrim was weighted with two disabilities, from which it seems a man is 1400 never exonerated by a portion of public opinion n Ireland. He was a landlord, and he was a Protestant. Had he been a less brave and determined man, he might have avoided his terrible end by moving tamely in that line in which alone Ribbonism permits the rights—if they can be called rights—of property to be enjoyed. Had he not been a 'heretic," in spite of his landlordism, he would have been allowed to have been laid decently in his grave, unaccompanied by the cruel jeers and brutal jests of a ruffianly crew, who have often shown before that a Protestant's last resting-place had no sanctity for them. These were simply his two faults or crimes—landlordism and Protestantism. The facts are too clear to be contradicted with any chance of success, and we do not do Mr. O'Donnell's intelligence the injustice to suppose that he followed with one grain of belief the loathsome parable he obtruded on the House.It is unnecessary for me to say further on the point, than that there are many beloved landlords in Ireland, and that Protestantism has never stood in the way of the character of any Irishman being appreciated. The said paper was then delivered in, and the article complained of, read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the said article of 'The Globe' is a breach of the Privileges of this House."—(Mr. O'Donnell.)
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EHCHEQUER
I confess, Sir, that though I listened as well and attentively as I could to the article just read by the Clerk at the Table, I was not able to follow the whole of it; but it appears to me, that it was an article upon the question of Ribbonism and upon the agrarian system in Ireland, and that it had special reference to the recent tragedy, the murder of Lord Leitrim, and that the object and tenour of the article was to attribute the murder to the system to which the writer refers. Undoubtedly, there appeared to be a sentence in the course of the article in which reference was made to the speech of the hon. Member for Dungarvan the other night, and the apparent intention of the writer was to set aside the explanation suggested by the hon. Member as being one which it would hardly be, in the opinion of the writer, consistent with the intelligence of the hon. Member to suppose; he had believed to be the true explanation. I do not understand that the tenour of the article is one that can be I described as a breach of the Privileges of this House, and I believe the proper 1401 course to adopt, attention having been called to this matter by the hon. Member, and the House having heard the article read, would now be—if the House takes the same view as I do—namely, that it was in the nature for the most part of an argument upon the general subject of Ribbonism, and that the sentence so introduced, and which is specially complained of, was one of a casual character—that the House had better adopt the Amendment which I am about to propose, which is—''That the House do now proceed to the Orders of the Day."
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words ''this House do now proceed to the Orders of the day."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
thought the House was bound to act with very great consideration towards the members of the Press with reference to what occurred upon the occasion in question; because it was the pleasure of the House, after the hon. Member for Dungarvan had made serious reflections upon the character of Lord Leitrim—whom he (Mr. Newdegate) knew and respected in that House—to order strangers to withdraw. If any explanation or proof in support of those allegations were adduced by any hon. Member, the representatives of the Press were prevented from hearing it. The House, therefore, by its own action, had prevented the newspapers receiving any explanation or proof of the painful allegations. If, therefore, any newspaper had committed an error, the House ought to condone the offence. He could not, however, see that any offence had been committed.
§ SIR HENEY JAMES
said, he had no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer might have been quite right in one sense in taking the conciliatory course which he had indicated; but if the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman simply to proceed with the Orders of the Day were accepted, it would be thought that he agreed to some extent with the Motion that the article complained of was a breach of 1402 Privilege, and that he wished to avoid coming to a determination upon it. It appeared to him (Sir Henry James) that the article was no breach of Privilege at all, and he desired to point out to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the course which he had followed—however advisable from a conciliatory point of view—might be taken as conveying a quasi-admission that the House regarded the article as a breach of Privilege. He (Sir Henry James) had always understood that a breach of Privilege of that description consisted in a writer having libelled a Member of that House in his capacity as a Member of Parliament, and that the House did not regard criticism, unless it was libellous in relation to the House generally. This article was no libel whatever. The article contained only one reference to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dungarvan, and there was no other portion of that article which the hon. Member for Dungarvan could regard as other than a fair expression of the political views of the writer. The writer says—The facts are too clear to be contradicted with any chance of success, and we do not do Mr. O'Donnell's intelligence the injustice to suppose that he followed with one grain of belief the loathsome parable he obtruded upon the House.''He supposed the hon. Member for Dungarvan complained that the writer of the article said he had obtruded a loathsome parable on the House? [Mr. O'DONNELL: No.] Well, he was glad that the hon. Gentleman did not complain of that expression in the article, because it certainly was a loathsome parable which he had brought forward; and he could not complain of that being written in a newspaper, when he remembered that, in the absence of reporters, a severe criticism was applied in his own presence to what he had said and to the course he had adopted. As the hon. Gentleman did not complain of that portion of the article as a breach of Privilege, what was it that he complained of? Was the House seriously asked to vote upon the question whether it was libellous to say that a man did not believe in a parable? How could that be a libel? Parables were not put forward as a statement of fact, but to convey an idea of something which might or might not be believed. And, yet this was what was complained of by the hon. Member, who was not very sensitive about the memory of 1403 those who had passed away in regard to the language he used, but who now raised the question whether the portion of the article referred to was or was not libellous. Why, if the question came to a place where it would be rigorously regarded what was a libel, it would be found that there was not a Judge in the land who would say that in this article there was the slightest approach to a libel. He thought if any person had cause of complaint, it would be his right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, who was charged with having introduced a manœuvre into legislation, and his right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich, who was somewhat severely attacked. Of course, they would take no notice of the attack, and, without wishing to suggest an extreme course, he trusted the vote would be taken upon the main proposal.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
said, no one could read the article without seeing that the sting in it was directed against his hon. Friend the Member for Dungarvan, who was represented as not believing in the allegation he made the other day by way of a parable against the late Earl of Leitrim. Now, there had been no event in his (Mr. O'Shaugh-nessy's) lifetime, that had happened in Ireland so grave as the murder of that noble Earl. In it was involved issues on which the entire state of Ireland depended, and on which the future of Ireland would turn. The causes which led to that crime deserved to be considered with deliberation, calmness, and gravity, and they ought to investigate without passion the remedies which should be applied—for they would have to be applied—to the evils signalized by that crime, in order to prevent the growth of the passions which had led to it. ["Question.!"] He maintained that was the question, and it was entirely mixed up with the question before the House. If the question raised by the Motion, that this was a breach of Privilege, was discussed, then it would raise those grave and terrible issues, and they could not on such a Motion discuss them with the requisite calmness. Therefore, he would suggest to his hon. Friend that he should give the House an opportunity of discussing the recent lamentable event to which he had referred quietly. This would be better than to raise the issue on a Motion of 1404 that kind. He could only say—and all his Irish Colleagues would say with him—that he did not believe for a moment that any assertion the hon. Member for Dungarvan had made on Friday evening was not believed in by him. He would, therefore, appeal to his hon. Friend, having regard to the grave questions involved, and forgetting his own wounded dignity, to withdraw the Motion, and allow the House to proceed with the Orders of the Day.
§ MR. M'CARTHY DOWNING
thought the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James) had treated the matter rather lightly. Everyone who had read the article must deeply regret that some portion of it was ever written. It stated that it only required a man to be a landlord and a Protestant to hold him up to ill-favour and dislike among the Irish people. ["Hear, hear!"] He was surprised to hear that cheer.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS rose to Order. He desired to know whether it was competent to discuss the whole of the article, or only that portion of it which was alleged by the hon. Member for Dungarvan to have been a breach of Privilege?
§ MR. SPEAKER
The House is engaged upon a discussion of a portion of an article in the newspaper, and it is that particular portion which is alleged to be a breach of Privilege by the hon. Member for Dungarvan. Undoubtedly the discussion ought to be confined to that question.
§ MR. M'CARTHY DOWNING
said, he should be sorry to infringe the Rules of the House; but the whole of the article having been read, he thought he was entitled to refer to it. There were in Ireland Protestant landlords who were as much respected and beloved as if they were Roman Catholics.
§ MR. DILLWYN
said, he should like to know precisely what the Order was with regard to the article, and the mode in which they should deal with it or a portion of it.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, the only question before the House was the complaint of the hon. Member for Dungarvan, and any debate on the conduct of Irish landlords would be clearly out of Order.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, he complained that he was accused of making certain statements in the House without having a ground for believing in them 1405 That was the breach of Privilege, and it was aggravated when it was suggested that he ought to have given as the true reason for the murder of the Earl of Leitrim that he was a landlord and a Protestant.
§ MR. PARNELL rose to support the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Dungarvan. The hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James) said the imputation that a Member did not believe in the statements he made was not a libel. In that opinion, he (Mr. Parnell) did not agree.
§ SIR HENRY JAMES rose to Order. He expressly guarded himself against saying any such thing. What he said was, that it was not a breach of Privilege to say that the hon. Member did not believe in the parable he narrated— a very different thing.
§ MR. PARNELL
said, that was a legal quibble, worthy of the hon. and learned Member from whom it proceeded. ["Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must inform the hon. Member that an expression of that kind is unwarrantable, and should be withdrawn.
§ MR. PARNELL
said, if the expression was out of Order, he would withdraw it, and suggest for it another, which he hoped would be in Order. The opinion just given by the hon. and learned Gentleman was more worthy of the ingenuity of a petty sessions' attorney than of a lawyer of the ability of the hon. and learned Gentleman. The hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) put forward certain statements; but, because he put them in the form of a parable, they were to be treated as untrue—as if some of the most important truths of religion had not been taught in the form of parables. The article in question was not only a misrepresentation of his hon. Friend the Member for Dungarvan, but it was a libel upon, and a misrepresentation of, the Irish nation—and that was an aggravation of the offence committed against an individual Member of Parliament; and the plea put forward, that the Press was excluded from the House on the occasion of the recent debate, instead of being an extenuation, was an aggravation of the libel. He did not desire to criticize the conduct of the hon. and learned Member, or his 40 or 50 Followers, who voted for the suppression 1406 of the publication of the truth on Friday night; but, in reply to what had been said by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, he (Mr. Parnell) pointed out that the Press published accounts of the proceedings that night. After the House had decided that strangers should withdraw, every paper in the country, with the exception of one, and that one The Times, published an account of the secret sitting. The argument of the hon. Member (Mr. Newdegate) was, therefore, illogical. Although he (Mr. Parnell) voted against the exclusion of the Press, he thought the decision of the House to sit in secret was not respected by the publication of partial accounts of the proceedings. He was one of those Members who was not ashamed to have his words sent abroad to the country.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I have to point out to the hon. Member that he is wandering from the subject before the House.
§ MR. PARNELL
I was merely going to point out, Sir, in reply to the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), that the construction which that hon. Member placed upon the action of the Press was not logical.
§ MR. PELL
I rise, Sir, to Order. I think it is hardly treating you or the House with respect, when you have called the hon. Member to Order, for him immediately to rise again and distinctly repeat the remark which you had ruled out of Order. The hon. Member proceeded to make some further observations, when——
§ MR. SULLIVAN rose to Order, remarking that the hon. Member who had last risen to Order was making a speech.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member for South Leicestershire is in possession of the House, and is entitled to proceed without interruption.
§ MR. PELL
, resuming, urged that the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell) had committed an aggravated breach of Order by referring, in what seemed to him (Mr. Pell) to be an adroit way, to the observation which he had made, and was about to make, and thereby repeating the very observation on which the Speaker had called him to Order.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
wished, on the point of Order, to protest against the repeated interruptions to which the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell) 1407 was subjected. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Pell) was particularly unfortunate in his point of Order. His hon. Friend was only making an apology to the Chair for the breach of Order into which he had been led by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate).
§ MR. PARNELL
said, that was what he was endeavouring to do, and the only reason why he was out of Order was that he was answering the remarks of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire based on the exclusion of the Press. He merely desired to say that, so far from the hon. Member's argument having established his position, it had quite the contrary effect. The hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James) gave his advice with a great deal of that self-confidence which he often exhibited in assuming the Leadership of the front Opposition bench. He had told the House that the only breach of Privilege which could be committed by the Press, was for it to libel a Member in his capacity as such; but he would refer the hon. and learned Gentleman to Sir Erskine May's work, wherein it was laid down that it was a breach of Privilege to wilfully misrepresent the proceedings of Members of the House. There were also many other ways in which a breach of Privilege could be committed, and he would recommend the hon. and learned Gentleman to study the question before he ventured again, with so much self-confidence, to give an opinion upon it. They all knew what a lawyer's opinion was worth when it was not paid for. He protested against English newspapers attacking Irish Members in a way they would never think of attacking English or Scotch Members. Perhaps, the Irish Members might not expect much consideration from The Times, Daily News, or Telegraph; still, when Privilege had been so grossly violated as in the present case, they had a right to have it settled whether the House would or would not protect Irish Members in the discharge of their duties. For himself, he did not care whether the House protected Irish Members or not; but he thought the question ought to be put from the Chair, to let the country know whether Irish Members were to, look to the House for protection. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had moved what was tantas- 1408 mount to the Previous Question, and the right hon. Gentleman did not like to meet the Motion of the hon. Member for Dungarvan with a direct negative; because he saw that that would be in effect an assertion by the House of Commons that English newspapers might libel Irish Members without fear of any consequences. ["Oh, oh!"] The Chancellor of the Exchequer did not like to put the House in the position of saying that this was not a libel, for, perhaps, the English newspapers might at some future time attack the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He knew what the feelings of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this subject were. He had repeatedly shown his bias with regard to his dealings with Irish Members, and he had put the machinery of that House in force against Irish Members. [Cries of "Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member for Meath is out of Order. I must again ask him to confine himself strictly to the question before the House.
§ MR. PARNELL
I think, that in speaking to the Amendment of the Motion of my hon. Friend, if I am not at liberty to do that, I do not know what I am at liberty to do. If I am not to criticize the conduct of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, what am I to do? I am really afraid to do or say anything. My hon. Friend the Member for Dungarvan has moved that the article in The Globe is a breach of Privilege. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has met that by moving that the House proceed to the transaction of its Business, in order to get rid of the matter. I have been told that it is an English and straightforward course to meet a Motion of this kind with a direct negative, and I now invite the Chancellor of the Exchequer to allow the Motion to go to the House, to say whether the thing is a libel, or, if it is a libel, whether the House will protect Irish Members in this House.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHE-QUER
said, he had no right to speak again; but, as there appeared to be some misunderstanding, by way of explanation, he might say that he had moved the Amendment with this view—he did not think it was at all necessary for the House, under the circumstances brought forward by the hon. Member for Dungarvan, to go into any discussion as to whether these words were to be considered 1409 a breach of Privilege, or whether the case was one on which it would be well to pronounce any opinion. Considering the general character of the article, he did not think it was one on which the House should be called upon to decide such a question as that raised as against the editor or publisher of the paper, or the writer of the article. He thought the proper course was—whether the words used had or had not a certain meaning—the House should not entertain the question, but pass to the Order of the Day.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
agreed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the best course for the House to take was to pass to the next Business. He must, however, protest against the remarks of the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell), that, in passing such an Amendment, the House would be refusing to protect Irish Members. Nothing was further from the feeling of the House or the Government than that the Irish Members should not be protected in the expression of their opinions; but the question was, whether they would be able to carry on their deliberations with anything like self-respect or dignity if every article in a newspaper, which might be unpleasant to a particular Member, was to be taken notice of and discussed as if it were a breach of Privilege. They certainly wasted a great deal of time, sometimes; but he did not think, even with that circumstance in view, it was necessary to have a debate on the meaning, propriety, or justice of remarks in The Globe, or any other newspaper. In the course of their public duty they were all liable to such observations. He had frequently seen observations, quite as strong as those which had been read, upon himself and other hon. Members; but they had never thought it necessary to bring them before the House. He had very little doubt that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James) was right in his definition of a libel, and that the article in question was not a libel; but he felt it was not necessary further to discuss the question. It seemed to him, that it would be setting a better precedent for the future, if the House were to meet the Motion before it with a Resolution to take no notice of the matter to which it referred. He, therefore, hoped the 1410 Amendment of the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be adopted by the House.
said, he could have wished that this Motion had not been made, and he asked his hon. Friend the Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) to withdraw it—and for this, among other reasons, that he should be sorry to see the House of Commons brought into unnecessary collision with the public Press. He thought that the widest possible scope should be given to the free discussion of their conduct; and, for his own part, he had been the object of animadversions much more severe than those passed upon the hon. Member for Dungarvan. It was a perilous thing for public men to rise in an Assembly like that and invoke a penalty so severe as the machinery of Privilege against a newspaper. The Motion covered the whole article, and the portion of it which was most distasteful to him (Mr. Sullivan), and, but for which his hon. Friend, he was certain, would not have noticed it, was not that which was personal to his hon. Friend, but that which was a foul and truculent libel on the Irish people. With reference to the conduct and character of Irish landlords——
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must remind the hon. and learned Member that the conduct of Irish landlords is not the question before the House.
said, he had not said a word about the conduct or character of Irish landlords; but that Motion would not have been made, if it had not been linked with a charge which was most revolting to Irish Members. He was very sorry to see such an article in a paper which was usually characterized by moderation and fair play. The hon. Member for Dungarvan, like himself, had something to do with journalism, and he had no doubt that, in criticizing Members of Parliament, they had said something quite as severe as the language used in the article in question. He appealed, therefore, to the hon. Member, that, while it was very useful to preserve the dignity of Parliament and the liberty of debate, there was also something to be said in favour of preserving the liberty of the Press. For these reasons, he hoped that his hon. Friend would withdraw his Motion, for he (Mr. Sullivan) could not support it.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
pointed out, that the effect of the adoption of the Amendment of the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be to prevent the House from recording its opinion with respect to the words complained of by the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell). That would leave the Chancellor of the Exchequer at any future time at liberty to invoke the terror of a breach of Privilege, and prevent the House stigmatizing the words quoted in The Globe newspaper as they ought to be stigmatized. That, he thought, was a course which it was scarcely respectful to the House to ask it to pursue. He, however, concurred with the hon. and learned Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan), in thinking that the hon. Member for Dungarvan would have acted more wisely if he had treated the article in The Globe with silent contempt. Nobody who was acquainted with the new-born journalism of the Metropolis, recently called into corrupt existence, could fail to perceive that there was evinced in it a perfect disease of personality. His attention had been called to the comments of those newspapers in reference to his own public action, and he had been invited to notice them, but he had always refrained from doing so. He, in reply, had simply said, that if a Member of Parliament could not defend himself on the floor of that House, there was no hope of his being able to perform his public duty. He felt, moreover, that he was an Irishman, and that he could not condescend to wipe his brogues on them. The common sense of the community would suppress these libels. As to the writer of the article in The Globe, he did not hesitate, though not directly, to indicate that the hon. Member for Dungarvan had made charges in that House which he did not believe, and that was only done to cater to the passions of those who considered that the Motion of the hon. Member for Dungarvan was untimely. He was not at all satisfied with the way in which the question had been met by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as Leader of the House of Commons. It was unfortunate, for it prevented the House of Commons from recording its strong censure of the language used.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
wished, in answer to the insinuation conveyed in the re- 1412 marks which had fallen from the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James), to observe that the hon. and learned Gentleman, and the right hon. Gentleman with whom he acted, had shown again and again in that House, in the discussions on the Eastern Question, that when duty called upon them they did not shrink from performing the most disagreeable offices and making the most loathsome statements. As to the Motion which he had deemed it to be his duty to make, he could only say that he had been actuated in making it by no sense of deep or keen personal resentment; neither had he brought it forward in defence of the character of the Irish nation. He felt that it was a technical point, and that other occasions might arise of dealing with some of the calumnies which had been uttered. He wished to raise the technical point, whether it was not a breach of Privilege to say that when a Member made statements, and asked the belief of the House to those statements, he did not himself believe a word of the statement he was making. He maintained, that when such a statement was made in the public Press, it amounted to a breach of Privilege. That question he desired entirely to dissociate from any personal considerations. It applied to himself at present—it might apply to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on another occasion. He could not congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on his success as the Leader of the House, and as the natural protector of its Privileges, by avoiding the main issue. He asked whether it was permissible, especially under recent circumstances, where there had been no opportunity of anything like a fair report appearing, for a public journal to charge a Member of that House with making statements which he knew to be unfounded? It was a purely technical question, on which he felt bound to ask the judgment of the House.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put.
§ Resolved, That this House do now proceed to the Orders of the Day.