HC Deb 23 February 1880 vol 250 cc1214-26

said, he was so convinced of the force of the overpowering arguments brought by the Government on Friday night on the subject of libels, and the defamation of Members, that he was induced to bring forward a series of the most gross and scandalous libels on the Irish Members, a series as bad as any that had ever appeared, and that was saying a good deal. It was unnecessary for him to go over the precedents, but when he had gone over the extracts, he believed it would be difficult to avoid supporting the Motion he would propose. He had to call the attention of the House to a series of the most atrocious libels—though for the most part he and his Irish Colleagues could well afford to treat them with the most supreme indifference, but for the action of the Government and the conclusive evidence it afforded of a deliberate plot which was being prepared for the purpose of damaging the Irish cause and Irish Members in the eyes of the nation. InThe Worldof February 18th, there was an article entitled "Our Brilliant Brethren," which was the designation applied to the Irish people by Lord Beaconsfield at a banquet at a time when severe distress existed in Ireland. The first part of the article had reference to a recent black-balling of a very amiable and distinguished Member of the Home Rule Party at a political club which was popularly supposed to be conducted on Liberal principles. The chief part of the article, however, was an attack on himself, the Member for Dungarvan, who was then addressing the House, and in it he was held up to scorn and contumely as a sort of social and political monster, and the tasteful editor came to the conclusion as the climax of his vituperation that "Mr. O'Donnell has even an undignified presence and unprepossessing features." That was, doubtless, a severe reproach to be thus singled out in an Assembly which had such a reputation for the unblemished beauty of all its Members. He would, however, not weary the House with his own woes on the subject. They must remember thatThe Worldwas a paper that exercised great influence upon what was called Society, and he thought there was much in the article that deserved the attention of the House. The article went on— The Irish Members constitute the 'ragged regiment' of the House of Commons. As such they naturally excite English suspicion and dislike. But want of dignity and of social consideration is only one of their faults, and is far from being their worst. Whatever offends against the traditions and prejudice of Englishmen will be found amongst them. The term 'political adventurer' continues to be one of reproach, and the noisiest and most conspicuous of the Representatives of Ireland are political adventurers of the most repulsive type. They are playing a mercenary and mischievous game in a singularly unscrupulous manner. They have none of the courage which redeems conspiracy from turpitude, none of the wit or genius which raises agitators above the rank of offending against the public peace. For months past they have been deliberately attempting to foment a civil war in Ireland, a war in which the real sufferers would he the distressed population, for ends suggested by their own mean ambition. If they had failed to promote schemes of disturbance on any large scale, it is because Irish people have shown a greater amount of common sense than could have been expected. If their schemes are in any measure successful, Ireland and not England will be the victim. All this these men know perfectly well. They knew that their only chance of maintaining their influence with their compatriots, who are their victims, is by exhibiting an unlimited capacity for noise and obstruction at Westminster. If their real objects had boon patriotic or philanthropic, they would have hastened to assist and not to thwart the progress of the Irish Relief Bill through the House of Commons. Their purpose is to waste time in order that men may know that they hold the Imperial Parliament at their mercy. Charges of such a grave character were distinctly Breaches of the Privileges of that House. If any Party or any hon. Members had been guilty of such offences as were there indicated, it was the business of the House to deal with them. Were the Irish Members, whom no one ventured to charge with one single act of illegality, to be held up to the indignation of England by language of that description? Irish Members were charged with "playing a mercenary and mischievous game in a singularly unscrupulous manner." Would any hon. Member deny that that was a libel of the most atrocious description. "They had none of the courage which reedems conspiracy from turpitude." That charged them with turpitude; while the general body of the Irish Members were charged with being "offenders against the public peace," and with thwarting the progress of the Irish Relief Bill. If there was a grain of truth in these charges, what could be said of the unpatriotic, the wretched and utterly contemptible policy of any Party or Government which would refrain from dealing with mercenary and unscrupulous agitators bent on thwarting the passage of the Irish Relief Bills from motives of the meanest ambition? If no Party or no Government dared to bring such charges against Members of the House, were the Privileges of the House to be engrossed by journals of importance and influence in the country? It was, above all, for the Ministerial Party and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to show cause why that foul and atrocious libel should not be declared a Breach of the Privileges of that House. He had a large number of similar Breaches of Privilege, and though he might make separate Motions on them he would not do so. He would next take another paper, which, he believed, exactly represented the foreign and domestic policy in all respects of the Government—namely,The Morning Advertiser.In an article in that paper on February 6th, the most moderate and reasonable Amendment of the Leader of the Homo Rule Party to the Address was characterized as Obstruction. The Irish Members were said to be a "despicable set of Irish rebels," and the Liberal Party were charged with being, more or less, accessory to their tactics. In another part of the article it said— The Liberal Opposition having had its innings, gave place to the Home Rulers, who at once showed fight, and gave earnest of what they moan to be during the Session. Lord Hartington spoke in strong, and it might be said gratuitous, denunciation of obstruction last night; but, as he subsequently expressed his sympathy with the men who were obstructing, we may take it he was only exercising that 'juggling fiend,' the Liberal oracle, which has been paltering with us in a double sense concerning, for instance, the party intrigue at Liverpool. The lesson practically taught to the people in this journalistic country was that the Home Rulers were a disreputable set of Irish rebels, and that the Liberal Party were, more or less, at their disposition. After referring to the obstruction from the Liberal Benches, the Liberal Party were then charged with the crime of conniving at obstruction. In its issue of February 13, the same paper continued its attacks, and in the same vein. It observed— It is a pity that the Home Rule Leader has no more than a nominal influence with his following. If the distress in Ireland be anything like so serious as these Gentlemen represent, they are guilty of a crime in impeding the safeguard proposed by the Government for the prevention of famine and the succour of distress. It will not do by-and-bye to say the Government took action too late, when we see the Irish Members wasting the first week of the Session in objections and comments which were superfluous after the opening discussion. In all these animadversions against the Home Rulers there was not a single reference to the fact that the Belief of Distress (Ireland) Bill, as brought in by the Government, was a thoroughly disfranchising Bill, and that it was only the threat of the very utmost obstruction that induced the Government on Friday night to introduce into the Bill a saving clause relieving from disfranchisement the recipients of relief. Then, again, in its impression of February 20,The Morning Advertiserrepeated the charge that the Irish Members were guilty of the inhuman conduct of impeding the progress of the Relief Bill.The Morning Advertiserof last Saturday again made a deliberate charge of wilful obstruction against certain Irish Members of the House, stating that it was doubtful whether upon any occasion since obstruction was invented it had displayed itself in a more vexatious and offensive form, alleging its object to be to defeat the Motion and Amendment of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) and the hon. Member for Mid-Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) respectively. That was a perfectly wanton, silly, and most libellous imputation, for nothing could be further from the ideas of the Home Rule Members, both Motion and Amendment being regarded by them with an interesting and amusing benevolence as far removed as possible from any sentiment of hostility. Then the Conservative organ continued its libels by tracing a connection between the obstructive tactics of the Home Rule Members and the action of the Liberal Party in fulfilment, as it alleged, of an understanding that the Home Rule "criminals" should be the secret and, as far as possible, the avowed support of the Liberal rivals of Her Majesty's Government. In taking notice of these libels in this supporter of the Ministerial Party, he did not think the House ought to shut its eyes to the fact thatThe Morning Advertiserwas the official organ of the greatest body of Conservative agents in the United Kingdom. All these libels of Home Rule Members, all these charges imputing criminal complicity to the Liberal Party, were disseminated through 100,000 tap-rooms throughout Great Britain, and formed the mental pabulum which excited thousands and tens of thousands of voters. When Members of the Government went down to Liverpool and elsewhere, and denounced the Liberal Party for their criminal intrigues with obstructive Home Rulers, they found the ground prepared for them by the poisonous and malignant falsehoods spread through the country by organs likeThe Morning Advertiser.These libels formed portions of a vast system of deliberate misrepresentation, and had been devised in order to carry through a false, abominable, and foul electioneering intrigue to discredit the Liberal Party at the next Election. Then, again, they had a series of articles inThe Daily Telegraph,a paper which was not more remarkable for the steadiness of its circulation than for the versatility of its opinions, being as devoted a supporter of the present Government as it was of the former Government while it existed, and which were false and villainous, and misrepresented the Home Rule Party in every particular. No matter what they did, or how constitutional might be their action, motives were attributed to them, which clearly constituted a Breach of Privilege. The influence of the newspaper ought legitimately to enter into the consideration of the House in calculating the gravity of the offences which it habitually committed against the Privileges of Parliament. On February 9, immediately after the introduction of the constitutional Amendment of the Home Rule Party to the Address, and before there was any reasonable excuse for talking about obstruction, or for holding up himself (Mr. O'Donnell) as a bogey to frighten Conservative children,The Daily Telegraphcommenced to direct its libels against the Irish Party in the House, the whole aim of its false and villainous misrepresentations being to make it appear to the constituencies that Liberal candidates ought to be rejected because they were the criminal accomplices of the Home Rulers. The moderate action of the most moderate Members on that side of the House was denounced as a deliberate waste of time, and pursued simply for the purpose of hampering legislation. This was stated, again, for the evident purpose of prejudicing, not only the Home Rulers, but the Liberal Party in the eyes of the country. A constant fire of libels had been kept up by theThe Daily Telegraphfrom day to day, and would be kept up from month to month, unless Parliament stepped in and arrested the infamous abuse. That journal had also stated the utter falsehood that the part the Home Rule Members took in the debate on the question of Privilege was intended to baulk the Motion of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire on the subject of Obstruction. Well, the Motion of the hon. Member seemed to him (Mr. O'Donnell) to be the most admirable piece of obstructive machinery that could possibly be introduced; and, therefore, it was not likely that it would have been opposed for the reason suggested, although he should have opposed it for the sake of the honour and dignity of the House. It would have introduced a sort of round game into the House, in which every Member would have been able to take notice of everybody else; and he ventured to say that, after a fortnight's Parliamentary romping, it would have been found that the performances did not conduce to the dignity of the House. On the other hand, he approved of the Resolutions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and, if altered in one or two particulars, would do all he could to assist in carrying them out; but at present it stood that Irish Members on that side of the House could not do or say anything—could not even concern themselves with their own business—without being accused of committing high crimes against Parliament. Again,The Pall Mall Gazette,a paper professing to be written by gentlemen for gentlemen, had, in one of its articles, grossly libelled a section of the House, and had thus also abused its Privileges. That paper openly stated that the Home Rulers had hit upon a plan which enabled them to make representative institutions almost ridiculous, and that their conduct both in and out of Parliament had shown that their one object had been to render all government under existing conditions impossible. There was a plot and a conspiracy, not only against Home Rulers, but against the Liberal Party, and the venom was penetrating into a thousand veins—into the whole system of the body politic. He also desired to refer to what had appeared inThe Liverpool Courier.The correspondent of that journal, who, no doubt, merely acted up to the general directions which he received from the management of the paper, referring to the debate raised by the Leader of the House last Friday night, said— Everyone expected that the Marquess of Hartington would rise to second the Resolution upon which everyone expected that the debate would begin. That was the debate on the Resolutions of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire.The Courierproceeded— Not so, however; Sir "William Harcourt was to the fore. Here was a case in which faction would make itself prominent. No one laughed at these things more than he, regarded from a personal standpoint. The sentiments with which he looked upon them did not rise even to contempt; but they were vile and vicious Breaches of Parliamentary Privilege. They were part of a deliberate plot to falsify the proceedings of Parliament to the country and to deceive the nation. They were deliberate attacks upon that which was the centre and the safeguard of representation and government in this country. It was to be hoped that after a few exposures of this kind the country would understand what such allegations really meant; but it was not to be forgotten what the effect of such misrepresentations must be throughout Ireland. The House must not forget what the effect of such vile and vicious attacks must be in regard to the Irish Representatives. Indiscriminately—without distinction—the most moderate of the Irish Members were charged with the most atrocious and odious designs. Sometimes they were taken in a lump lot and described as a despicable set of Irish rebels; at other times individual Members, while performing their duty in a most constitutional manner, were held up to the reprobation of Englishmen. He hoped the House would acquit him of having said a single unnecessary word. He had confined himself to a few of the specimens and examples of the violations of Privilege which these newspapers had committed, and with these remarks he would bring the papers up to the Table of the House, and move that the articles which he had cited from them were Breaches of the Privileges of the House.


pointed out to the hon. Member that, in such cases, it was usual to hand in in writing the names of the papers whose articles it was intended to impugn, specifying the articles complained of.


said, he would comply with the requirement at once. The reason why he had not done so before was that he did not wish to make his Motion unnecessarily cumbrous.

The hon. Member, having re-written his Amendment and handed it to the Chair,


The House is aware that, according to the ordinary practice of the House, when complaints are made of the character of articles in newspapers, the newspapers containing such articles are brought up to the Table and the passages complained of are read by the Clerk of the House. In the present case, the hon. Member for Dungarvan has brought up a series of newspapers containing the articles which are cited in his Resolution. They are four articles inThe Morning Advertiser,four articles inThe Daily Telegraph,one article inThe Pall Mall Gazette,and one article inThe World.Now, I feel that if I were to call on the Clerk at the Table to read all these articles so complained of I should be trifling with the House. I shall, therefore, take leave to depart from the ordinary course. I feel it my duty to put to the House the Motion which the hon. Member for Dungarvan has placed in my hands, and it will be for the House to take such course as it may think proper with regard to that Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the article entitled 'Our Brilliant Brethren' in the 'World' of the 18th instant, and the articles in the 'Morning Advertiser' of the 6th, 13th, 20th, and 21st instant, the 'Daily Telegraph' of the 9th, 12th, 13th, and 23rd instant, and the 'Pall Mall Gazette' of the 21st instant, read to this House, contain breaches of the Privileges of this House."—(Mr. O'Donnell.)


thought the Speaker had exercised a wise discretion in departing from the usual practice of calling upon the Clerk at the Table to read the newspaper articles complained of. Indeed, he thought the House would feel that its time would be very much wasted by these articles being read over a second time. Hon. Members were in some difficulty, however, from hearing the articles read once only, as they hardly had an opportunity of really knowing what were the particular charges supposed to be contained in such articles. They seemed to him to be very like a great many other articles which had appeared at different times in newspapers all over the Kingdom. No doubt, if it were the object of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. O'Donnell) to make a complaint of every newspaper in which articles appeared which were displeasing to or which reflected upon his conduct or that of other hon. Members, there would be abundance of material for a very protracted Session. It did not appear to him that the articles contained anything to an extraordinary degree more offensive than the sort of criticism on all Parties which was constantly seen in the newspaper Press. He had often seen articles directed against Her Majesty's Government which contained very disagreeable matter, which might undoubtedly be brought forward in that House, and which they all agreed were technically Breaches of Privilege. Still, he did not apprehend that the House would now begin a course of taking notice of every Breach of Privilege of that character which occurred. Of course, they understood the meaning of all this. It had reference not only to these particular articles, but to the proceedings of Friday last; and it was intended to be a kind of reflection on the course which Her Majesty's Government and he, as Leader of the House, pursued on that occasion. But he did not see the slighest analogy between the two cases, and he did not intend to be driven into arguing them. With regard to these particular complaints, he thought it would be a waste of time for the House to go into any general discussion on the subject; and, therefore, he would content himself with moving, as an Amendment to the hon. Gentleman's Resolution—"That this House do now proceed to the Orders of the Day."


in seconding the Amendment, said, he understood it to be exactly analogous to that of the Previous Question which his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) moved a short time ago in a somewhat similar case, and which was agreed to by the House. He must congratulate the Government on having at length on that, the third occasion, learnt the right way of proceeding in cases of this kind. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said he did not see the slightest analogy between the cases brought forward this evening and that of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) which was discussed on Friday. While willing to admit that they were not exactly the same case, he could not agree that there was no analogy whatever between them. He thought, however, the right hon. Gentleman exercised a wise discretion in not discussing the matter further, and it was his intention to follow the right hon. Gentleman's example. The House discussed the question on Friday at great length, and he did not want to re-open it. The Government ought, however, to have known from their former experience that proceedings of that character invariably and inevitably led to a great waste of the time of the House by the adoption of recriminatory proceedings. He was glad the right hon. Gentleman had met the Motion in the way he had done; for he did not think it would have been possible for the House to negative the Motion. Certain passages in the articles which had been read were undoubtedly serious Breaches of Privilege; and the Government, with the majority it had to support it, ought to be very careful how it proceeded in cases of Breach of Privilege which were directed against one section of the House, and how it disregarded cases directed against any other section. Although, undoubtedly, very grave Breaches of Privilege were brought under the notice of the House by the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell), the House, he thought, did well in general to decline to exercise its undoubted power, and to resolve not to take any further step. They were justly jealous of their own Privileges, but equally jealous, he hoped, of the freedom of the Press and freedom of discussion. They had been already led astray by what he considered one unfortunate blunder, and he hoped they would not be led further astray, and go into these general questions of Breach of Privilege. He agreed with some observations which had fallen from the hon. Member, to the effect that an attempt was being made throughout the country at the present time to identify the Party which sat on that side of the House with certain proceedings which hon. Members representing Irish constituencies thought it their duty to enter upon. When the proper time arrived he should be ready to take an opportunity of repudiating accusations of that sort which had been made. He was well aware that they were made, and he had a reasonable suspicion of their object; but the present was not an occasion for taking up the time of the House by answering attacks made in the newspapers. He thought their conduct in the House and in the country would constitute a better reply than any speech he could make to imputations of that sort; and with perfect confidence he left the character of his hon. Friends who sat on that side of the House to the judgment of the country.

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.)


denied the proposition maintained by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that there was no analogy between the cases of Breaches of Privileges which had been discussed on Friday and to-day. The analogy, he thought, was clear, and he was convinced that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had any love of impartiality he would have voted for his hon. Friend's (the Member for Dungarvan's) Motion. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that nothing written or spoken in favour of the Tory Party could be anything other than thoroughly innocent; and that the converse of the proposition must indubitably be true. This was a view to which he (Mr. Biggar), for one, could not assent.


said, he hoped that his hon. Friend the Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) would not press his Motion, and that he would accept the Amendment of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He (Mr. Shaw) thought it was a pity to take any notice of the articles referred to. For his part, he had read a good many of them which had been brought under his notice that evening; but he always regarded such articles with great indifference as long as he knew they were undeserved. He assumed that they were either inspired, or the outcome of a political intrigue. In any case, he had confidence in his cause, and believed that the misrepresentation of the English papers would do good instead of harm to it. Nothing could be more damaging to the morals of the English people than the articles published in the English journals for some time past. He would not like to say they had been got up for electioneering purposes; but he thought the English people, who were lovers of fair play, would say that this mode of assailing political opponents was contemptible in the extreme. If it had any effect in Ireland, it would rather secure the seats of the Home Rule Members than otherwise.


said, that the views expressed in the newspapers with regard to the conduct of a certain section of the Irish Members represented the general opinion of the English people. He must, however, say that the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Shaw) was not in any way identified in that opinion with other hon. Members whose conduct had been so condemned. He hoped that the Motion, if pressed to a division, would be negatived, inas- much as it embodied a desire on the part of a certain section of the House to escape from the consequences of their acts, and also to waste the time of Parliament.


said, the discussion which had taken place met the object he had in view in bringing the question forward; and he should not, therefore, ask the House to divide on the question which he had brought forward, but would accept the suggestion of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Shaw).

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, andnegatived.


Main Question, as amended, put.

Resolved,That this House do now proceed to the Orders of the Day.