§ ADJOURNED DEBATE. [SECOND NIGHT.]
Order read, for resuming the Adjourned Debate on the Question, 3rd of May—
That the publication in the 'Times' newspaper of the 2nd of May, of the article headed 'Parnellism and Crime,' constitutes a breach of the Privileges of this House."—(Sir Charles Lewis.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
You have intimated to me, Sir, that I have no right to address the House, having exhausted that right by speaking on the Main Question yesterday; but, Sir, I think I may throw myself on the indulgence of the House to fulfil the engagement I entered into last evening to state to the House the view the Government take of the course which the House should adopt in the present circumstances. Sir, the Government have given very grave consideration to the Motion made by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Sir Charles Lewis); they have given also very grave consideration to the statement made by hon. Gentlemen opposite below the Gangway. The Government recognize the demand of those hon. Members for an inquiry into the facts or allegations contained in the complaint made by the hon. Member for North Antrim. They had to consider what course it is befitting the House to take to meet those charges and allegations. Sir, after having given very full consideration to the arguments which were advanced yesterday, and to the facts of the case as they are contained in the Paper brought before the House, they have come to the conclusion that the allegation that the publication in The Times newspaper is a matter constituting a Breach of the Privileges of this House is not sustained by precedent, nor is it sustained by the facts of the case as they are disclosed in the complaint itself. Sir, in making that statement I should not presume to do so upon my own responsibility only. It is my duty to ask the opinion and to take the advice of those who are competent to give an opinion upon the law as well as the facts of the case, and I have taken that opinion and I have asked for that advice. But, Sir, it is impossible to be indifferent to the demands made by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. They ask for an inquiry; not only did the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) ask for it in impassioned language last night, 843 but the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) demanded an inquiry. The proposal made is that this publication shall be voted by the House to be a Breach of the Privileges of this House; and, if that Motion is carried, the necessary result is that the printer will be summoned to the Bar of the House, that a Breach of the Privileges of this House will be voted upon and determined before any inquiry into the allegations contained in the article complained of has taken place. This, Sir, I venture to think, is a very serious fact for the House of Commons to consider. We, in the exercise of our own privilege, our own authority, and our own power, are asked to determine that a Breach of Privilege has been committed, before any inquiry is instituted into the circumstances upon which this Breach of Privilege is founded. I admit, Sir, that hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway have perpetually denounced the statements which are made; but there has been, they will admit, no such inquiry as that which they now demand into the facts of the case, into the allegations against which their denials are placed. Hitherto there has only been a denial of those allegations. The proposal, as I understood hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, was that a Committee should be appointed to inquire into these allegations. Now, Sir, during the time I have been in this House the practice of the House has been to divest itself, as far as it is passible to do so, of any judicial duty. It has been felt, and held, Sir, that this House, constituted as it is, is unfit to enter upon the careful discharge of a duty which ordinarily falls upon a Court of Justice—to ascertain facts, to determine whether allegations as between one side and another are correct, and carefully and exhaustively to consider all that can be urged on the other side of a disputed question of great moment and gravity. We have felt it right even with regard to Election Petitions to transfer to a judicial body the decision of questions deeply affecting the honour, character, and reputation of this House and of parties in this House; and we have felt that even in so small a matter as whether a Gentleman should retain a seat or not retain a seat in this House, it is not judicially able to decide a question of that character. Still more do I consider the House, or a Committee of the 844 louse, unfit to consider the questions of very great gravity which must be referred to a Committee, if a Committee of Inquiry is entertained upon the subject involved in this debate. The decision, therefore, that the Government has come to in this matter is that, acknowledging the gravity of the circumstances, acknowledging the claims of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway to have the matter fully and impartially investigated, it is the duty of this House, and it is the duty of the Government, to afford them every possible facility for that investigation in a manner which will conduce at once to the honour of this House and to the determination of the questions which are involved. We, therefore, shall propose to hon. Gentlemen who now demand an inquiry that the Attorney General, coupled with any Queen's Counsel whom they may select, shall be instructed to prosecute the parties—[An hon. MEMBER: A proposal worthy of the Government.]—whose conduct is complained of." It is alleged that false and scandalous libels have been levelled against the hon. Member for East Mayo, and he has denounced these libels in the strongest possible language in this House. We regard the circumstances of sufficient moment, and it is our duty to endeavour to solve the question at the earliest possible moment, and by a method which will command the approval, as we believe it will satisfy the consciences, of the people of the United Kingdom. With the assistance of the hon. Member himself, with the assistance of counsel whom he may himself select in the direction of a prosecutor, as has been done in former cases, such a prosecution may be instituted as will determine the question as between the newspaper and the hon. Member without in the slightest degree involving the dignity or the honour of this House. The question is before us in the shape of a Motion that the article complained of is a Breach of the Privileges of the House. I will once more draw the attention of the House to the fact that we shall be determining upon matters which are alleged seriatim to be capable of proof, as to which I express no opinion whatever, and desire to express no opinion whatever, and as to which I believe this House to be absolutely incapable of forming a judgment. We shall be affirming the proposition that an editor of and a writer in a news- 845 paper, or any proprietor of a newspaper, who may deem it to be his duty to make statements which he alleges he has power to sustain in a Court of Law, is to be brought to the Bar of this House; and, without the previous inquiry necessary to ascertain the truth or falsehood of the allegation, is to be treated as an offender against the Privileges of this House. I think, Sir, therefore, that such a proceeding would be absolutely inconclusive, and would be unworthy of the dignity and of the honour of this House. It would be one which this House would be unwilling to adopt. It is a course which I should be unwilling to invite any of my Colleagues to adopt, if they were subjected to charges as painful and serious as those to which the hon. Member has been subjected. Therefore it is that I hope the House will, on a Motion to be made by one of my hon. or right hon. Friends sitting near me, accept the course which the Government have thought it their duty to indicate.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
Mr. Speaker, we on this side of the House may be shocked and disgusted, but we are not surprised, at the course the right hon. Gentleman has suggested. We did not require the short interval that has elapsed since last night to be certain of the fact that the Government, having spread these charges broadcast over the country, would skulk from the only course in which they can be met. Sir, I am no friend of the Government or of The Times; but I must say, bitterly as I am opposed to them, I think that Christian charity would make one feel some commiseration for the position of humiliation and degradation in which they are placed. What is the proposal of the Government? In the first place, their statement is this—that a charge of falsehood against a Member of this House, with regard to words used in this House, is not a Breach of the Privileges of this House; the charge that an hon. Member makes a statement which is a deliberate falsehood is not a question which, in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman the nominal Leader of the House, affects the honour and dignity of the House. But that is not the only statement which has been made against my hon. Friend. The statement is made that he was in association and in combination with assassins, and that when he denied that statement he was 846 guilty of deliberate falsehood. And the Leader of the House is so conscious of the honour and dignity of the House that he thinks the House is not called upon to declare a Broach of Privilege the charge of false denial of association and intimacy and combination with murderers. I had no high expectation of the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman would fulfil the duties of Leadership in this House—duties which have hitherto been fulfilled by men of a very different type; but I must say that I am more than surprised at the degradation to which he has already brought the House. Now, what is the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman? His proposal is a collusive action at law against The Times newspaper with a co-plaintiff who has been making the same charges as the defendant. Above all others, by whom is that statement made? The right hon. Gentleman, besides being Leader of the House, is a man of business, a prosperous man of business. Business is honourable or dishonourable according to the manner in which it is conducted. But the right hon. Gentleman is a man of business whose chief stock-in-trade is the publication and sale of the very newspaper and of the very libels of which this complaint is made. I have hero a copy of The Times containing some of these libels, and this copy was bought at one of W. H. Smith and Sons' bookstalls, so that the right hon. Gentleman is the vendor of the libels, and is an interested—a deeply interested—party in the case. The man himself who publishes and propagates the criminal libel is the man, forsooth, who is going to take the action for criminal libel. Did anybody ever hear in their lives of any such proposition made, and made with an assumption of fair play and of reason and justice—that two men who should be in the dock together should part company, and that one should go from the dock into the position of plaintiff, and that we should be taken in by a collusive action of this kind? Sir, we reject the proposal. We reject it as a proposal which is unfair, which is unjust, which is unprecedented, which is collusive. Now, Sir, let me say what the position of the Government is with respect to this matter. There is scarcely a Gentleman on these Benches —[Ministerial cries of "Hear, hear!" and laughter]—I say there is scarcely a 847 Gentleman on the Benches opposite who has not made himself a partner and fellow-conspirator of the libellers against whom we now protest.
§ MR. DE LISLE (Leicestershire, Mid)
I rise to a question of Order. [Cries of "Sit down!" and "Order!"] The hon. Member for Mid Cork (Dr. Tanner), standing below the Bar, has said of us sitting on this side of the House, that we are a "damned lot of Cads." ["So you are!" and cries of "Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must direct the Clerk to take those words down. Has the hon. Member for Mid Cork anything to say in reply?
§ DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)
(who had moved from the Bar to the Bench below the Gangway) said: Sir, in the first place, the hon. Member for a Division of Leicestershire has made a mistake, as I never used the word "damned." In the second place, when my hon. Friend said—"There is scarcely a Gentleman on these Benches," Gentlemen on that side laughed and sneered, and I certainly did say that those who laughed in that way were cads; and so they are, and I wish to reiterate the expression in the strongest possible way.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member has said he reiterates the expression. His remarks must not be allowed to pass without notice. I must order him to withdraw, and to apologize to the House for having used that expression.
§ DR. TANNER
Certainly; if you wish me to do so, I will withdraw it. But I must ask you, Sir, to call upon the hon. Member to apologize for what he has done and to withdraw his sneer.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is not to dictate to me what I am to do. I called upon the hon. Member to withdraw and apologize. I understand that he does both—that he withdraws the expression and expresses his regret to the House for having used it.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! the matter has now closed. I must remark that complaints are made to me about expressions used out of my hearing of which I should certainly take notice if I had heard them. I will appeal to hon. 848 Gentlemen on both sides of the House to be careful of giving expression to any observations which are likely to cause pain to any other hon. Member. I call upon Mr. T. P. O'Connor.
§ The following is the entry in the Votes: —
§ Mr. de Lisle, Member for Mid-Leicestershire rose to Order, and stated that Dr. Tanner, Member for Mid-Cork, standing below the Bar, had called the Members sitting near Mr. do Lisle on the right side of the House "a damned set of Cads."
§ Mr. Speaker directed the words to be taken down by the Clerk, and called on the honourable Member for Mid-Cork to resume his place. The words were taken down accordingly.
§ Mr. Speaker called on Dr. Tanner to offer an explanation regarding the words taken down.
§ Dr. Tanner stated that he had not used the word "damned," but, in the course of his explanation, repeated the rest of the words complained of.
§ Mr. Speaker called upon Dr. Tanner to withdraw the words and to apologise to the House for having used them.
§ Whereupon Dr. Tanner withdrew the words and made his apology to the House.
MR. T. P. O'CONNOT
To whom are we asked to trust our fortunes in an action against The Times? We are asked to give our cause into the custody of a body of men scarcely one of whom has not made himself a partner and a sponsor for the libels in The Times? Is it not notorious that for the last three weeks the main burden of the arguments of the Government in support of their policy is the libels of The Times? Is there a single hon. or right hon. Gentleman of any importance on those Benches who has addressed the country during the last three or four weeks who has not made the libels of The Times the burden of his discourse? The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant went down to Ipswich, took the opportunity to advertise The Times, and as far as he dared suggested and insinuated his belief in the libels. It is in this way that the libels in The Times have been advertised, and the slanders of The Times propagated, and those who have advertised and backed up the slanders are now to be the guardians of the honour of those who have been libelled. The noble Lord 849 the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph. Churchill) has acted as the aid and assistant of the Government in refusing the only proper sort of inquiry which ought to be taken against the libels of The Times. Everybody knows that whenever there is an unfair attack to be made against a political opponent the noble Lord is only too ready to seize the opportunity of rushing in and making it. Political vituperation is the capital upon which the noble Lord has traded throughout his whole political life. the noble Lord also has advertised the libels of The Times. Every single opponent of the rights of Ireland in this House has taken up the libels of The Times. It has become a Party issue, a political weapon, and the very men who wield this poisoned dagger against us are now, forsooth, the Gentlemen who are to stand between our accusers and us. The right hon. Gentleman says the House of Commons is not a fit tribunal for this inquiry. I suppose he meant to suggest that another tribunal would be more suitable. Well, Sir, I declare to the right hon. Gentleman that the reason he dreads the tribunal of the House of Commons is because of the certainty of the verdict, and the reason he prefers the other tribunal is because of the uncertainty of the verdict. [Ministerial cries of "No!"] The right hon. Gentleman does not want to play a fair game. He has invited us to the struggle, and when we have accepted the invitation, given with so much braggadocio throughout the country, the reply of the right hon. Gentleman is to invite us to a game in which the dice are loaded and the cards are marked. Why does the right hon. Gentleman want to take this case from the tribunal of the House of Commons and bring it into a Court of Law? It is because he knows that, owing to legal technicalities, to quibbles, and collusive action—for collusive action is certain in this case—owing to legal technicalities, owing to quibbles and cranks, the main and clear issue will be obscured from the public, and especially from the ignorant and prejudiced portion of the public, because it is upon ignorance and prejudice that the right hon. Gentleman relies. We, on the other hand, want to have the case tried in a court of honour by gentlemen. [''Oh, oh!" and a laugh.] In that court of honour we invite you to 850 take part, and if you laugh at my statement that a court of honour, consisting partly of you, would not be a court of gentlemen, I shall not dispute it with you, but shall leave it to yourselves. How would the case stand if it were tried before a Committee of this House? A Committee of this House would confine the case to the real issue. A Committee of this House would not be confused by quibbles, or indulge in dishonest appeals to passion. A Committee of this House would have the facts fair and square before them, and upon those facts they would come to an issue. But now the right hon. Gentleman invites us to a tribunal in which he knows that, however fair the tribunal might endeavour to be, the questions at issue might be twisted and turned by technicalities of the law and the ingenuity of counsel, and in which we, the accused, are to have our accusers as the defenders of our honour. The country now will be able to decide between the Party opposite and us. The challenge given to us has been taken up by us, and the men who gave the challenge with all the courage, before the fight, of Bob Acres, exhibit the prudence of that historic gentleman when the opportunity comes for testing their courage.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
I must appeal to the indulgence of the House on this occasion, like the right hon. Gentleman opposite, in order to say what I think of the course proposed by the First Lord of the Treasury, One thing, I think, cannot be denied, and that is that it is a course entirely inconsistent with the general and traditional proceedings of this House in matters of this character. The right hon. Gentleman stated that the House, in proceedings of this character, concludes the matter by a Motion that a Breach of Privilege has been committed. That is not the fact. The question of Privilege in this House, according to the old traditional practice of the House of Commons—followed, I believe, by every Leader of the House down to the pre-sent moment—has been, I take it, that when some charge against the honour or conduct of a Member of this House is made by speech or writing outside the House, primâ facie that statement is an offence against this House. This House does not inquire of the printer or of the speaker who is standing at the 851 Bar whether the statements complained of are true or not—that has never been done. For instance, let me put this case—supposing a charge of corruption were made against a Member of this House sitting on a Committee, or against a right hon. Gentleman sitting upon that Bench as a Minister of the Crown. What is the traditional course of proceeding which has been followed by the House in such a case? It is to call the author of the charge to the Bar of the House. The House has not to decide whether the charge is unfounded, but whether it is primâ facie an offence against the House to have made such a charge. That is the course which I have witnessed pursued by the Predecessors of the right hon. Gentleman as Leaders of this House. I have seen it done by Mr. Disraeli, sitting in his place on that Bench, and by other Leaders of the House of Commons. I am afraid, however, that to make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman founded on the practice of his Predecessors is not a strong appeal. We appealed upon a former occasion to the practice pursued by Sir Robert Peel; but the right hon. Gentleman said he did not think much of that precedent. Therefore, I do not think it would be of much avail to refer the right hon. Gentleman to the practice pursued by Mr. Disraeli, or by other Leaders of the House who have occupied the position which the right hon. Gentleman now occupies. But the view taken by the House of Commons has always been, that when a charge has been made against the honour of its Members, it is primâ facie a matter for the judgment of this House. I will give an example. A charge of corruption has been made. Is it true to say that the House of Commons is incapable of examining such a charge? Has that been the view of previous Leaders of this House? Where such charges have been made they have called the persons who made the charges to the Bar; they have appointed Committees to inquire into these charges, and have proceeded in the manner which those inquiries justified and the circumstances of the cases required. That has been the traditional practice of the House of Commons; we are going to break that traditional practice. We are going to overthrow the whole claim of the House of Commons to vindicate the cha- 852 racter of its Members; we are going to state, for the first time, that the House of Commons is incapable of inquiring into the conduct of its own Members. Such an allegation has never been made before by any Leader of the House of Commons. It is contrary to the constant practice which of recent years has been pursued. And why is this breach of the traditions of the House to be made? Against whom is this breach of the traditions of the House to be made? Why, it is against the Irish Members. You have selected them as the first example in which to refuse the protection of the Parliament of the United Kingdom—the protection that has been granted by every other Parliament, and by every other Leader of the House to every Member of the English House of Commons, I do not say it is your intention to refuse this protection in the present instance—I have no right to speculate as to what your intention is, but I can say that it is the natural consequence of your acts, and of the spirit in which you proceed, that people will come to the conclusion that your object is to treat the Representatives of Ireland in a different manner from that in which you would treat Representatives of England or of Scotland who had been placed in a similar position. If the result of your conduct should be to make it impossible for Members from Ireland to discharge the duty which is imposed upon them in this House, because they do not receive the fair and ordinary and traditional treatment that has been given to every other Member of the House of Commons, that would be the natural and legitimate conclusion from the course you are now pursuing. I should have thought that, in the existing circumstances, you would have been most careful, if there was to be a departure for any reason from the ancient and traditional usage of the Parliament of England, that you should not have selected an Irish Member, in order to make him the object of that new course of procedure. Well, now, what is the course of proceeding that is proposed? As I say, those Members are entitled by prescriptive right and by the traditions of Parliament to an inquiry by Parliament into charges affecting their honour. That has been the practice of the House of Commons; that has been the usage of the great 853 Leaders of the House of Commons. They have never refused such a claim when it has been made by the humblest amongst the Members of this House, and yet that is the claim which you refuse to-day. Well, I say, what is it you propose to substitute in its place? You propose to substitute in its place a prosecution by the Attorney General. I wonder that you did not order the Member for North Antrim (Sir Charles Lewis) to undertake the case. This proposal of the Government is the natural sequel to the transaction of yesterday. We had a proposal to vindicate the character of a Member— a proposal in counterfeit —from the hon. Member for North Antrim. I think hon. Members and people out-of-doors will be able to form their own judgment as to the true character of that proposal. Well, that proceeding is followed by the present proposal— that a prosecution should be conducted by the Attorney General. That seems to be a very natural corollary to the proposal of yesterday. The two transactions seem to be one and the same, conceived in the same spirit, and proposed with the same object—exactly on a par, I think, with each other. How can you expect that parties concerned can have any confidence in such a course? If the matter went before a Committee of the House of Commons, the Government would command a majority of that Committee. Well, that would be no disadvantage to you in the objects you are prosecuting. At all events, then the proceedings would have been under the control and within the knowledge of this House. The evidence would not have been in the hands of what I cannot but call a hostile party. What is the principle on which prosecutions by the Attorney General are conducted? Does any man conduct a prosecution—does any man, does any responsible Government, instruct an Attorney General to conduct a prosecution when he does not, when they do not, believe in the guilt of the parties prosecuted? I say that any Government that instructs the Attorney General to prosecute any person where there is not primâ facie belief and conviction of the guilt of the party, does a most unconstitutional and improper act. To instruct the Attorney General to prosecute a prisoner when you are satisfied of your belief in his innocence is not a prosecution, but a persecution; 854 therefore, before you institute proceedings, you must have formed an opinion —which opinion you declined to form on the primâ facie case of Privilege—that the party indicted has done something wrong. You say that, without examination into the matter, you cannot tell whether what has been done is wrong or not; therefore, you will not conduct the ordinary proceeding, but you will conduct an extraordinary proceeding, and order a prosecution upon a matter upon which you have no opinion as to whether the party prosecuted has done anything wrong or not. The one proceeding is absolutely inconsistent with the ground upon which you have rested your refusal to do the other. A prosecution involves in itself, or ought to involve on the part of the Government, the recognition of a principle upon which all such prosecutions have hitherto been conducted—namely, that the Government is satisfied that there is good reason to believe that the person prosecuted is guilty. But if you are satisfied of that, what is your objection to examining the prisoner at the Bar of the House? The two proposals are absolutely inconsistent. Here you have a prosecution proposed to be initiated on behalf of a Government, every one of whoso Members, I think, have intimated that, so far from believing that the parties to be prosecuted have done anything that is wrong, believe that they have done perfectly right—that they have brought charges which, if not absolutely proved, are probably well founded. That is the situation; that is the state of mind of the Government which is to be charged with this prosecution which is to vindicate the hon. Member for East Mayo. All I can say is, that if you think that this would be esteemed and considered by anybody a fair trial, I do not agree in that view. I believe that the question, urged as it was yesterday by the hon. Member for North Antrim, followed as it has been by the proposal now made, to put the case of the hon. Member for East Mayo into what cannot be regarded as other than hostile hands, will be considered an extremely poor substitute for that justice which has hitherto been granted to Members of the House of Commons by English Parliaments from generation to generation. Some right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House may take what course they 855 like upon this matter; but all I can say for myself is, that I must protest against this proposed breach of the traditions of Parliament. I do not say that there have been, no cases in which prosecutions have been instituted; but there have been no cases in which prosecutions have been instituted under circumstances such as these. There have been no cases of prosecution by a Government which, on the face of it, has expressed sympathy with the parties to be prosecuted. No instances that the Attorney General can produce of prosecutions ordered will stand on any analogical ground with this at all; and, therefore, the Attorney General will in vain refer to proceedings of that character. The recent practice of the House of Commons—the practice for a great many years has been totally different— has been to give to its own Members the protection of a fair and impartial inquiry by its own body. That is what the hon. Member for East Mayo has de-manded—I think justly demanded—and that is what the Government has refused.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir EDWARD CLARKE) (Plymouth)
Mr. Speaker, I rise to move as an Amendment to the Motion now before the House—That this House declines to treat the publication of the article headed 'Parnellism and Crime' in The Times of the 2nd of May as a Breach of the Privileges of the House.I shall endeavour, Sir, to support that Amendment by some reasons which I hope, whether they commend themselves to the acceptance of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite or not, will, at all events, be acknowledged to deserve the consideration of the House. I am sure it will be understood that I speak upon this matter at this time with a feeling of very deep personal responsibility. My hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General and I, holding the positions which we now occupy, are responsible for our advice on matters of law, including the Rules and Practice of Parliament, to the Government as Members of which we have the honour to serve. ["No, no!"] Yes; to that Government as Members of which we have the honour to serve. We are bound—I say for myself, and I am sure also that I can say for my hon. and learned Friend—when a question, of this kind arises to address 856 ourselves to it with reference strictly to legal considerations. I say for myself, and I am sure I can say for my hon. and learned Friend, that in the opinion which we intimated last evening, early in the evening, to the Leader of the House, and in the opinion which, after very careful consideration, we definitely gave to the Government some hours later, we have been utterly careless of Party or political results. [Laughter.] I think that when I make that assertion in the House the majority of the House, at all events, will give me credit for making it honestly. Now, Sir, there is only one observation I should like to make at this moment on the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed us. I will deal presently with the question of the character of the prosecution which it is suggested might be instituted, and with the difficulties that exist in the way of the management and conduct of such prosecution. But at the present moment I want to refer to a sentence in which the right hon. Gentleman said that this proposal resembles the "transaction" of yesterday, and that the country and the House will understand the nature of the proceedings. Well, Sir, I quite agree, and I hope the country and the House will thoroughly understand the nature of these proceedings. But I do not think the right hon. Gentleman ought to have used the word "transaction," which is a word which has been used habitually for the purpose of pointing to some contract or arrangement which was absolutely repudiated by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House yesterday in terms which were accepted at once by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I think he might have refrained from using a word which carries with it the imputation which that word implies.
§ SIR EDWAED CLARKE
I am very glad it was not intended to use the word "transaction" in the sense I have referred to, for everyone will know that no arrangement was made. But with regard to the country and the House understanding the real meaning of the Motion of yesterday, I think we most of us understood it and deeply regretted that such a Motion should have been made. There was not a syllable of applause or cheering from these Benches 857 when the Motion was made by the hon. Baronet. So far as I know, it was made by the hon. Baronet without the consent—for consent was not asked—of any of the other Members on this side of the House; and he will excuse me if I say frankly now before the House, as I said the moment I heard the Motion, that I deeply regret that it should have been made. [Ironical cheers from the Irish Members.] Yes; I deeply regretted that such a Motion had been made, because I did not think it was in accordance with Parliamentary precedent, nor with a fair exercise of the rights of Parliament with regard to matters of this kind, that a Motion should be made which in form was an attack upon the editor or the writer in The Times, but which in substance appeared to be an attack in the House, not on The Times newspaper, but on the hon. Member for East Mayo. I thought then, rightly or wrongly, that upon that ground the Motion was objectionable, and on that ground I regretted it; but with regard to the political or Party aspects of the matter, we have entirely neglected, so far as our opinion is concerned, what the results may be. I am quite sensible of the weight of the observations which have been presented to the House by hon. Members below the Gangway opposite. I am quite sensible of the use they will make, and that they are entitled to make, of this incident. I am quite sensible of that fact. [Laughter.] Hon. Members are surprised that I should be, but I am sensible of that fact, although that had nothing whatever to do with the responsibility of the Law Officers of the Crown when yesterday evening, on this Motion being made, they were asked to express an opinion upon it. Yesterday, speaking for the Government, I expressed grave doubt as to whether what had taken place was, according to the custom and practice of the House, a Breach of Privilege of the House upon which we ought to exercise that exceptional power of bringing to the Bar of the House, and sending to imprisonment, those who offend against our Privileges. I am glad that we had an adjournment, although the adjournment yesterday was strongly protested against. I am glad we had an adjournment, because it has given me an opportunity of going through, as far as time permitted me, every reference and precedent I could 858 lay my hands on with regard to this matter. I have carefully searched the precedents of the House of Commons, and if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby is right in what he has just said, that there has been a long and constant and unbroken line of precedents in favour of the appointment of a Committee to consider the truth of a matter of this kind, all I can say is—
§ SIR EDWARD CLARKE
Well, then, the recent practice. I thought, however, that the right hon. Gentleman gave a larger scope to his statement: but I would rather be tiresome than incorrect. But if there is a recent practice to that effect, and of course a recent practice by which we ought to be bound, and from which our present action may be denounced, and fairly denounced, as an unwarrantable departure, all I can say is that I have been extremely unfortunate in not finding any record of that practice. My belief that no such practice exists is strengthened by the fact that the right hon. Gentleman, after making that statement to the House, did not condescend to support it in any way by precedents. But before I address myself to the serious question here involved, I would ask the indulgence of the House whilst I refer to the last debate that took place in this House on a question of Privilege. It was in the month of February, in the year 1880, when Sir Charles Russell—not the Sir Charles Russell we all know and respect so well, but the Sir Charles Russell who used to sit for Westminster—complained before this House that in a placard published and signed by Mr. Plimsoll, he had been denounced as guilty of inhuman and degrading conduct in blocking a Bill in this House. Sir, the Motion was made that this placard should be considered a Breach of Privilege on Tuesday evening, the 17th of February, and with the full concurrence of the Members of the Liberal Party, who were then led in this House by the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington), that debate was adjourned from Tuesday to Friday in order that the House might have time to consider the matter. [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT here made some interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman had better not disagree 859 with me, because I have the book before me, and I am going to quote some of his own words. Sir, that debate was adjourned from Tuesday, the 17th of February, to Friday, the 20th of February. On Friday, the 20th, the most valuable speech made in the course of the debate was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, who had in the interval prepared himself to discuss the question; and he alluded to a complaint made by the hon. Member for West Norfolk that the consideration of the question before the House had been delayed by the adjournment. The right hon. Gentleman defended that delay, and quoted a precedent in favour of it. He said—He would next call the attention of the House to another case of very great importance, which occurred in 1814, when a charge of a most odious character was brought by Mr. Ferrand against Sir James Graham—a charge which was unquestionably and undeniably false—that of using his influence, with other Members of the House, to obtain from an Election Committee a false and fraudulent Report. It was impossible to make an accusation more odious or unfounded; and he should like to observe, in reply to the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck), who complained that the consideration of the question before the House had been delayed, that that was precisely the course which had been advocated by Sir Robert Peel in 1844. Sir Robert Peel then said that the case was one which ought not to be disposed of in a hurry, ridiculous as the charge was, and unanimous though the feeling of the House might be that it was without foundation. A decision, Sir Robert Peel,"—["Hear, hear!"] I am glad we are all in accord about it now—who was in favour of the public discussion of the conduct of Members of Parliament, and even of Cabinet Ministers, contended could not be arrived at on the question without establishing an important precedent; and, therefore, it was desirable, before coming to any such decision, to look back at the records which were within the House. Considering the great Constitutional question involved, Sir Robert Peel went on to urge "the necessity of perfectly free discussion, and the risk that a feeling of indignation might prompt the House to adopt some sudden course which it might afterwards regret. Hon. Members, in their individual capacity, ought to have the means of seeing what had, in similar circumstances, been done in past times, and be afforded an opportunity of deliberating as to what ought to be done in the present. That, he thought, was a sufficient answer to what had fallen from the hon. Member for West Norfolk,"—(3 Hansard,  1116–7.)Well, the adjournment that was here decided upon was precisely what we asked for yesterday, and what the House granted.
§ SIR EDWARD CLARKE
I have tried to do what the right hon. Gentleman did with great success and with great effect upon the House in 1880—namely, to look back to the precedents. I find that on February 17 Sir Charles Russell had moved that the words constituted a Breach of the Privileges of the House. On February 20 (Friday) Mr. Plimsoll apologized for the use of the words, and thereupon the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir Stafford Northcote) proposed a Resolution which declared the words to be a Breach of the Privileges of the House. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: Hear, hear!] There is still danger. The Resolution proceeded to say that the words were a Breach of the Privileges of the House; but, considering that the accusation had been withdrawn, the House did not think it necessary to take further steps in the matter. But the right hon. Gentleman in his speech resisted the declaration that it was a Breach of the Privileges of the House, and he quoted three precedents to support him in a protest he made against the House passing a Resolution which declared them to be a Breach of Privilege. I say the right hon. Gentleman quoted three precedents. He referred to the question in 1844, when Mr. Ferrand made the charge against Sir James Graham. He said—But did the House of Commons, he would ask, in 1841, decide that a Breach of Privilege had been committed? No; although the charge brought against Sir James Graham had neither been proved nor withdrawn, Sir Robert Peel would not allow so dangerous a precedent to be set; but he made a Motion to the effect that Sir James Graham and the other Members named, having denied in their places the truth of the allegations made against them, and Mr. Ferrand having declined to substantiate his charges, the House was of opinion that those charges were wholly unfounded and calumnious, and did not affect in the slightest degree the honour or the characters of the Members in question. There was in all that not a word about Privilege, for Sir Robert Peel was alive to the danger of passing such a Resolution as that which the Chancellor of the Exchequer now proposed. He would not permit the House of Commons to set so mischievous an example, and put such a restraint on the public discussion of the conduct of Members of Parliament. There was also another case—the Abercromby case—to which he might refer, which occurred in 1824, when Lord Eldon denounced in the Court of Chancery a Member of the House as having been guilty of falsehood. The matter was brought before the House as a question of Privilege and was debated at great length. Some very 861 eminent persons were in favour of pronouncing the language of Lord Eldon a Breach of Privilege; but Mr. Canning and Mr. Peel were opposed to that course, and a majority of the House supported the view which they took.Now, I ask the House to notice this, and I beg that I may be understood— though it will be a great honour to me— as adopting the language of the right hon. Gentleman and incorporating it in my speech—Those were the three great precedents on the subject; and it was clear from them that, in recent times, the House of Commons had not shown itself willing to invoke the shield of Privilege for the purpose of defending its Members from public criticism. If he were to quote ancient precedents, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had very wisely declined to entertain, a rule would, no doubt, be found to the effect that there could be no criticism upon any act of a Member of Parliament in reference to his Parliamentary conduct; and if they chose to act upon the principle of Privilege as laid down in Parliamentary precedent, to speak of a man's vote, even to publish his speech or his vote, or to criticize his vote, was a Breach of Privilege. That was the only principle, if a rigorous course was to be adopted, on which the House could stand. All the rest was a question of degree. It was a question of adjectives, and as regarded the adjectives of the hon. Member for Derby"—there seems to have been a former Member for Derby who used that argument—they were withdrawn, and they had no place in the Resolution of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. What they were asked to affirm was, that criticizing and condemning the conduct of an hon. Member of that House was a Breach of Privilege. That was how he understood the Resolution."—(Ibid. 1117–8.)That was how the House understood the Resolution, and how the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale understood it, and all the Liberal Members who were then in the House went into the Lobby to the number of 116—I think it was—against that Resolution. Though I do not follow it at length this most valuable speech, which I respectfully commend to the perusal and attention of the House, I should like to refer to one more passage.
MR. ILLING WORTH (Bradford)
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give us the numbers on the other side?
§ SIR EDWARD CLARKE
Certainly; but I did not conceive that it was relevant—182 voted in favour of it. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen will do me justice in this matter. I do not misapprehend the question as to whether that binds us in this case or not; I am only for a moment referring to it in order to 862 get the valuable authority of the right hon. Gentleman opposite for some propositions in this matter. He went on to say—The question was, whether the House was to declare that printed placards—nothing was said about the character of the language in them, which might be the most respectable—reflecting upon the conduct of an hon. Member of that House, constituted a Breach of the Privileges of Parliament. It seemed to him that, in passing such a Resolution as that before them, the House would be striking a fatal blow at liberty of speech. If, for instance, an hon. Member wore to make a speech denouncing; another hon. Member for obstruction, was the Member so denounced to come forward and to appeal, under the protection of the Chancellor's Resolution, to the protection of the House? It was too late in the day for the House of Commons to employ the engine of Privilege to smother public criticism upon the conduct of hon. Members. He did not say the Chancellor of the Exchequer had such an intention; but that would be the effect of his Resolution. If a Member of the House used language offensive to another Member, there were other ways of obtaining a withdrawal of, and redress for, the language. If he refused to withdraw that language, as in the case of Mr. Ferrand, then the Member whoso conduct was impugned might be vindicated by the unanimous opinion of the Members of that House. But when they drew this old and rusty sword of Privilege for purposes of this character, then he believed that the House would be embarking in a course which would land it in immense embarrassment, and in which he saw no end of difficulty. There would be nothing to prevent its enforcing the new doctrine of Privilege against every newspaper and every election placard."—(Ibid. 1119–20.)I am sure the House will not think that I require to make an apology for having quoted this speech. But now let me turn to the question that the Law Officers advising the Government had to consider, and upon which, having advised the Government, they are prepared very respectfully to advise the House. The fact is, that what the right hon. Gentleman called the doctrine of Privilege is a doctrine that the House of Commons is a Court, that it is like other Courts of Justice, and that it has the same power of compelling regularity, order, and decency in its proceedings as other Courts of Justice have, and that it has the power, which other Courts of Justice have, of taking up and dealing with accusations made against hon. Members of this House when they are acting in the service of the House. We will suppose that a Chairman of a Committee of this House, a Committee to which the House had delegated some of its judicial functions, was charged with corruption 863 in his Office. There is no doubt whatever that that would be a contempt of the House, and would be a Breach of the Privileges of the House. If an attack be made upon the Speaker of the House, who represents the highest authority here, then the House has not been in the habit of leaving it to the Speaker by personal action to vindicate himself of the charge; but the House had resented, sometimes punished by its own action, and sometimes—and I think more often—referred the question to the tribunals where alone a question of this kind can properly be discussed. I am sure that hon. Gentlemen will make allowance for the shortness of time which has elapsed since the last Sitting of the House in which to go through the long range of precedents affecting matters of Privilege. I have done my best. I have not found, and I do not believe anyone can find, an instance of the House of Commons exercising its direct punishment by committal to prison of a person for an accusation made by him against a Member of the House of Commons, which was not directly an accusation of corruption or of misfeasance in a vote given in the House of Commons, or was not an attempt to coerce or intimidate him in his action in the House of Commons. I ask the House, and I ask the hon. Member for East Mayo, to look frankly at the case we have got here. There is no accusation here against an hon. Member of the House for corruption, or that any act that he has done as a Member of the House has been in any way tainted. What happened was this. An accusation of personal misconduct, if I may be allowed to use that general phrase— accusations of personal misconduct, not in the House, but outside the House, were made against the hon. Member for East Mayo; and in the course of debate in this House the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) quoted from statements which had been made in regard to the hon. Member for East Mayo, and upon being asked to substantiate the statements he had quoted, the noble Marquess said he had taken the statements from The Times newspaper, and he did not put his own authority at the back of them. Thereupon the hon. Member for East Mayo denounced The Times in unmeasured language, and I will not say 864 that that language was not entirely justified by the feeling which possessed the hon. Member at the time. He denounced The Times for having told a falsehood about him. Upon this, The Times says that the falsehood is not with The Times, but with the hon. Member for East Mayo. That is what the House has now got to deal with, and if it should be found that through carelessness—
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
As the hon. and learned Gentleman has appealed to me across the floor of the House, I think it right to say that while I do not intend—indeed, it would not be proper of me to enter into the debate—I think it right, in justice to myself, to state that I consider the hon. and learned Gentleman's statement to be extremely inaccurate.
§ SIR EDWARD CLARKE
I am very sorry it should be so. I was endeavouring, at all events, to state fairly what had taken place, and I really think that if the hon. Member for East Mayo would follow me step by step he would admit there is no inaccuracy. Let me just put the case again. The statements which had appeared in The Times with regard to the hon. Member for East Mayo were statements not as to something he had done in the House, but statements in which it was alleged that, at a particular time, some years ago, he was in communication—in habitual and common connection, I think the words were—with several persons whose character it was suggested the hon. Member must have known was bad. That was the accusation made. Then, in this House, the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) quoted some statements on the subject in debate; and the hon. Member for East Mayo got up, I think, the next day, and made a most positive denial of the statements. Thereupon followed this article in The Times. If I have been at all inaccurate I am extremely sorry; I hope there is no inaccuracy. But now I do want to ask the House to consider —and this is what I was going on to say—that it may be by accident—I do not think it has been through carelessness—that I have overlooked some precedent which might be found in the Books, and which might justify the taking of immediate action by the House of Commons in the sense of punishment by im- 865 prisonment—[Cries of "No!"]—of a person who has made a libellous statement. I beg your pardon; it is a question of punishment. If the House of Commons decides that this matter is a Breach of Privilege, the person guilty of that Breach of Privilege would be brought to the Bar of the House of Commons, and, unless an apology or retractation was made, or satisfaction given to the House, that person would be ordered into custody. [Cries of "No!"] Well, all I can say is that that is the only power that the House of Commons has exercised beyond the power of reprimand, and there is no case whatever in which any other power has been exercised by the House of Commons for a very long time past except that of ordering persons into custody. [An hon. MEMBER: A Select Committee.] A Select Committee? When, yesterday afternoon, I said a word about a Committee, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) quite justifiably said—"Oh, that is an ulterior stop." It is an ulterior step, and I will come to it. I hope the House will not think my speech has been inordinately long if it is lengthened by observations of this kind. Now, I venture to say that I believe that no case is to be found in the records of Parliament in which the House of Commons has committed a man to custody as being guilty of a Broach of Privilege for such a statement or such an act as is now alleged, and, if I have missed one, I can only say I feel surprised and sorry to hear it. Now, just let me say this. The foundation of the jurisdiction of this House, in regard to Privilege, is that it shall be upon an interference with the House itself, or with the conduct and action of a Member of the House. Of course hon. Gentlemen know that this question of the right of the House of Commons to commit for contempt has been brought under judicial decision, and in the case of "Burdett v. Abbot," the matter was largely discussed, and judgment was given by Lord Ellenborough and other Judges in that case. It was held that the House of Commons was entitled to commit for Breach of Privilege because it was a Court, and it was further held that the House of Commons was entitled to judge of its own Privileges, and that, if it judged of its own Privileges and com- 866 mitted a person for Breach of Privilege, no Court existing in this country could inquire whether that jurisdiction had been properly exercised or not. And I submit to hon. Gentlemen opposite, who, though they may be deeply interested in the political issue which is connected with this matter, are yet, I hope, far more deeply interested in the position the House of Commons and the attitude the House of Commons should take in regard to the question of Privilege—I submit to them that this is an occasion on which they can well remember and can give great weight to the words of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir William Harcourt) which I have already read. I will not trouble the House by reading extracts from law books, and I hope the House will do me the justice to acknowledge that I do not very often address it in a tone as if I were arguing a legal question unless the necessity of the case compels me to do so. But all the early precedents put the matter upon this ground, that it must be for contempt of the House or interference with a Member of the House, as a Member of the House; there has been no such interference hero. There is an allegation that an hon. Gentlemen in this House was guilty of falsehood, no corruption is alleged, nor is anything alleged which has been in past cases considered to be a Breach of Privilege by the House of Commons which justifies the exercise of its own authority. Now, there are some cases in which the House of Commons has taken another course. In the case of Sir Francis Burdett, a Committee was appointed to consider the Privileges of the House of Commons and the course which ought to be taken in regard to them. That Committee sat in the year 1810, and presented a Report which will be found in the first volume of Hatsell's Precedents. In their Report the Committee, speaking of commitment for libel, say it—Tends to excite public misapprehension and disaffection, endangers the freedom of debates and proceedings in Parliament, and requires most prompt interposition and restraint. The effect of immediate punishment and example is required to prevent the evils necessarily arising from this offence, which evil would be much less effectually guarded against by the more dilatory proceedings of the ordinary Courts of Law. Nevertheless, upon some occasions the House of Commons has proceeded against persons committing such an offence by direct pro- 867 secution or by addressing His Majesty to direct them, as appears by the precedents collected in the appendices.Now, in the appendices there is a list of the oases in which the House of Commons has dealt with the question of libel upon its Members. These eases run down to about the year 1800. Turning to Appendix B, I find that since 1697, there have been 12 cases in which the House of Commons has dealt with libels upon the House of Commons or any of its Members, by ordering a prosecution in a Court of Law, [Sir CHARLES RUSSELL: By address.] It is the same thing, it is an address for a prosecution. These cases come down to the year 1810, and I am unable to find examples at all since 1810 in regard to the action of the House of Commons in matters of this kind. There are very few cases of newspaper libel upon Members of the House of Commons. There appear to have been three in the year 1821, which will be found in the 112th Volume of the Commons Journal, and it is interesting to notice what became of these three eases. The first was the case of The Morning Chronicle, which was brought before this House in the month of February, 1821, for a Breach of Privilege. It was alleged that a false statement had been made as to the way in which Members gave their votes. A Motion was made that Lambert, the printer, should attend at the Bar. An adjournment was moved and defeated; the Previous Question was moved, and then the Previous Question and the Motion were both withdrawn and the House took no step in the matter whatever. On the 8th of May, in the same year, the publication John Bull was charged with having published a false and scandalous libel on a Member of the House and in Breach of the Privileges of the House, and the assertion was that a Member of the House, under a threat made by the son of a person whom he had attacked, had made a speech in apology, and made it intentionally in so low a tone that it could not be heard. In that case proceedings wore taken. The printer attended at the Bar, and eventually Henry Fox Cooper—looking to the date, 1821, and that name, I think it is probable there was a great deal of popular feeling in the House—who with the printer were committed to Newgate; but I find no record of what was done with 868 them afterwards. On the 10th of May, in the same year, The Times was attacked, and a Motion was made that an article in The Times was a Breach of the Privileges of the House as a misrepresentation of what passed in the House during the speech of a Member of the House. A Motion was made that the printer, Bell, should attend at the Bar of the House, and in that case, as in the case of The Morning Chronicle, the House took no action. Well, now, Sir, I have given the House my judgment, and so far as I can the result of my examination of the precedents. But let me point out to the House another matter—
§ MR. SPEAKER
If the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General does not give way the hon. Member cannot intervene.
§ SIR EDWARD CLARKE
I hope it will not be thought discourteous in me if I do not give way, but if I answer interpolated questions it interferes with the current of the attention of the House. Well, now, it has been suggested that a Committee is the ordinary and proper course or the usual course of dealing with questions of Privilege. Upon that point I should like to quote an authority which hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway on that side of the House will at once recognize. The case took place in 1879 in regard to the Committee upon the High level Bridge—the case of Grissell and Ward. Some statements had been made to a Committee of this House as to the conduct of certain persons who were interested in the proceedings of that Committee, and containing the suggestion of possible corruption against some Members of the Committee. The Committee came to the House and asked that an inquiry should be made. There was no inquiry after the persons were brought to the Bar of the House, the inquiry took place before the persons were brought to the Bar of the House, before the House had decided whether it would order them to attend at the Bar of the House. That is as different as possible from this case; but in the course of the debate objection was taken to the appointment of a Committee, and the objection was taken by the hon. Member—I do not know what constituency he then represented, so I may be pardoned 869 calling him by name—Mr. Parnell. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) was then a Member of the House, and he took objection to the appointment of a Committee, and he said—There are just two precedents for referring a question of Privilege to a Committee, and only two precedents, as far as I can discover, and they are not precedents which govern the present case. On the 18th of February, 1575, a Committee was appointed to examine the matter touching the case of Hall's servant. That matter was treated as a question of Privilege. Also, on the 3rd of December, 1601, a complaint was made to the House of an information having been exhibited by the Earl of Huntingdon in the Star Chamber against Mr. Belgrave, a Member. The matter was referred to a Committee of Privileges, who reported upon the 17th of December. But we have no precedent at all for the Report of a Select Committee which complains to the House of a Broach of Privilege against itself of a most offensive character— there is no precedent whatever for sending such a Report to a Select Committee. On the contrary, all the precedents go in the direction of showing that these matters have always been considered by the House at once, and decided upon as a matter of Privilege."—(3 Hansard, 1883–4.)I believe the hon. Member was perfectly right in his statement that since the year 1601 there has been no precedent for appointing a Committee on a question of this kind. Now let me go to a further point. The Committee which it is proposed now to appoint is entirely new and unsupported by any precedent given in the book that we regard as authoritative. In that book, which I remember Mr. Disraeli telling me to study very carefully and deliberately, Sir Erskine May's, and in which there is that sentence with which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) fortified his argument yesterday in suggesting that a Committee of the House should be appointed, there are only two references to instances in which the appointment of a Committee took place—one being a case in regard to an Election Petition, and the other the case of "Grissell and Ward," which I have shown to be one of an entirely different character from this. And, I believe. Members of the House will search in vain in the records of Parliamentary Procedure from the oldest time to find the case of a Committee appointed to inquire, as between an hon. Member in this House and his accuser outside the House, whether the hon. Member or his accuser had been guilty of telling a false- 870 hood or not. Let me tell the House why Parliament would have been very unwise in adopting such a course. The suggestion appears now to be to bring someone to the Bar of the House on the ground that the action of that person constitutes a Breach of the Privilege of the House. The question is, whether an hon. Member of the House has told a falsehood. [An hon. MEMBER: In the House.] In the House, certainly; but in reference to his personal conduct, unconnected with his position as Member of the House; and the question is, whether that matter should be referred to a Committee of the House. The suggestion appears to be that, having brought a person to the Bar of the House, that a Committee of the House should be appointed which should act in a judicial capacity, and enter upon a question which, above all others, if it is to be decided at all, ought to be decided by the calmest and most impartial tribunal which it is possible to have. If I wanted demonstration of the monstrous character of this proposal, I should find it in the language which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) just now used. the right hon. Gentleman positively pointed to this side of the House, and said— "Every one of you have expressed your opinion tacitly, or in words, that this charge is true;" and he went on to say—"You will be able to name the majority of the Committee." Why, Sir, I am not challenging the fact; but what does that statement come to? It comes to this—that at the very outset of the proceedings, while the House is considering how best to have a fair and impartial arbitrament in a matter of the gravest importance, the Committee which it is suggested should sit upon that matter is denounced beforehand—[Cries of dissent and cheers]—by the right hon. Gentleman who supports it, on the ground that it will be nominated by those who will be pledged to one conclusion. Sir, I would appeal to all Members of this House who are desirous of dealing justly and calmly with a serious question, whether what has occurred in this House to-day, and the cheers we have heard from different parts of the House are not a demonstration that the appointment of a Committee by this House would be a means absolutely insufficient for dealing with 871 this question? Just see what would happen. This Committee would be sitting; it would not have all the opportunities and all the powers possessed by a Court of Law. ["Yes!"] Those Gentlemen who say "Yes" are not very familiar with Courts of Law. There would be no control over a Committee of the House of Commons—a Committee composed of ardent partizans. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: The Government would have a majority.] The Government would have a majority! Does not the hon. Gentleman see that by interposing that observation he is strengthening the argument I am using? [Mr. T. M. HEALY: We are not afraid.] We know now, by the declarations which have come from both the Front Bench opposite and below the Gangway, that if that Committee were to arrive at a decision hostile to the hon. Member for East Mayo, it would at once be denounced as a packed Committee. Just let me suggest to the House what I am sure every hon. Member will feel to be a real and practical view with regard to this matter. Assume that a Committee is appointed; assume that after a long struggle as to what was relevant and what irrelevant, the Committee had taken all the evidence and was going to consider its judgment—does anyone doubt that that Committee would come to the House with two Reports, that there would not be a Report of the majority and a Report of the minority? It is obvious that that is the conclusion at which we must arrive, from the very fact that the suggestion has been made from below the Gangway that Members there do not trust Members on this side of the House.
§ SIR EDWARD CLARKE
I think no one who has heard the speeches delivered can doubt that at the end of the investigation such would be the case.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
I rise to Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman is attributing to us a statement which all my hon. Friends, together with myself, utterly repudiate. I understand it is customary in debate to accept the repudiation of hon. Members.
§ SIR EDWARD CLARKE
If that is really the sentiment of the hon. Member below the Gangway, and I do not doubt that it is, it is rather a pity that 872 the observations I have referred to have been made.
§ MR. SPEAKER
It is irregular for the hon. Member for North Longford to interrupt the speech of the Solicitor General. Order, order!
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
A deliberate charge has been made against us, that we stated that we would not trust a Select Committee formed by hon. Gentlemen opposite. That statement is made on the Solicitor General's responsibility. I say we are entitled to know who it was that said this thing.
§ SIR EDWARD CLARKE
I think it was the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton), who, I think, called out just now the words ''You have a majority."
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
I claim the right of explanation. I did not use those words; if I had, they would not have affected my position. I said yesterday distinctly that, although the Government would have a majority on the Select Committee, yet I would regard that tribunal with confidence.
§ SIR EDWARD CLARKE
I wish to recall to the recollection of the House to further observations that have been made below the Gangway. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) has made a speech in which, with very strong language, he has assailed the Government, and denounced the Government, for its action in this matter of taking action against The Times, and he has suggested that nobody can trust to a prosecution conducted by the Government. I am very glad to know that this speech is beyond the reach of interference now; because it has already been sent to the printers, and hon. Members who did not hear it can refer to it for themselves. If hon. Members will refer to it, they will find that it is a denunciation of the Government for making a dishonest proposal with regard to the prosecution of a writer in The Times, or the printer, and a suggestion that nobody could trust to a prosecution conducted under the circumstances.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
The hon. and learned Gentleman has made use of a form of expression with regard to me which I cannot allow anybody to make 873 use of unchallenged in this House. After listening to our statement, which was made in good faith, he said that he was glad that the speech of my Colleague had gone to the printers. That is as much as to say I have told a lie. I call for his explanation or withdrawal.
§ Sir EDWARD CLARKE having risen, there were repeated cries of "Withdraw! "
§ MR. DILLON
Sir, I rise again to Order. I wish to ask whether you heard the statement I have alluded to, and whether you rule that an hon. Member is entitled in that way to insinuate that another hon. Member is not to be trusted on his word?
§ MR. SPEAKER
I did not hear that the hon. and learned Gentleman said anything of the sort. I understand the hon. and learned Gentleman to say that the words uttered were now in print, and could be, therefore, verified beyond dispute.
§ SIR EDWARD CLARKE
I hope I may be allowed to say that I am extremely sorry if, for one moment, I have been led into expressions which suggested any improper reflection upon, or hurt the feelings, of the hon. Member opposite. But I meant no more than this—that if, owing to the flush and excitement of debate, with Members coming in and going out, some hon. Members had not heard the speech of the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool, I was glad that the speech had gone to the printers, because it could be referred to in print to justify the interpretation I put upon it. I cannot recite the whole of that speech at this moment; but, putting an interpretation upon it, I suggest that if hon. Members have an opportunity of reading it, it will justify what I say. I trust hon. Members will believe that I had no intention or desire of reflecting upon them in the way which they seem to suppose. Sir, I have pointed out to the House that the procedure by Committee, as I submit, would be absolutely contrary to the whole course of Parliamentary precedent; that it would be to invent a new procedure altogether—and I have pointed out that the proceedings of a Committee on this subject and the result would hardly be satisfactory. I should like now to say a few words as to the question of prosecution, and as to the suggestion of the Leader 874 of the House. What we find in Hansard is this—that there have been 12 cases during a certain number of years in which the House of Commons has ordered a prosecution. Of course, directly that question of prosecution arose, we knew perfectly well that hon. Members below the Gangway opposite would not be satisfied with a prosecution conducted exclusively by the present Attorney General and Solicitor General; and, if they will allow me to say so, they are perfectly justified in taking that objection, if a prosecution is to take place, I agree that they ought to be represented in that prosecution by persons in whom they have entire confidence, not only in the sense of believing that those persons are thoroughly acquainted with the law, and will try to do their duty in the case, but also in the sense of believing that they have some sympathy with them in the action they are taking. Hon. Members below the Gangway may be sure that there is not the slightest desire on the part of the Attorney General or myself to interpose ourselves as the instruments of the prosecution in this matter. There was a little while ago a case in which a similar, but not so great a difficulty arose. It was, I think, in the last Parliament that the junior Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) was ordered by the House to to be prosecuted, not with standing the Resolution of the Government, and notwithstanding that it was felt that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James), who had been supporting the hon. Member for Northampton in his action, ought not alone to conduct that prosecution, and the consequence was that the present Lord Chancellor, then sitting on the Front Opposition Bench, was associated with the Attorney General in the conduct of that case, and, as I know, took a very active and diligent part in the framing of that indictment and in the subsequent proceedings. Hon. Members below the Gangway will, perhaps, allow me to say that I do not think that this proposal for a prosecution by the House, or under the order of the House, is one that can fairly or properly be entertained, except on the Motion of the the hon. Member for East Mayo. But if he, or any Friend of his, with regard to these circumstances, which are exceptionally grave, moves that the House 875 should order that a prosecution be instituted, although I think that in accordance with the Rules and precedents of the House it would be right that the Attorney General should be nominally associated with the prosecution, the House may be quite certain that the whole conduct of that prosecution would be left to such persons as they might nominate; and I am not speaking merely of the counsel who would appear in Court, but also with regard to the solicitors who would make preparations for the trial. If hon. Members ask the House of Commons that the proceedings may be of this nature, the Government will interpose no objection; and that was the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. I hope the House will forgive me for having trespassed so long upon its attention. Even if I strain its indulgence, I wish to say two or three words upon the general subject. The question of the Privilege of the House of Commons and the right of the House of Commons to exercise its own power for the punishment of persons who have assailed Members of Parliament is an extremely serious one. In 1880 the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington), who then led the Liberal Party, said the whole course of the House of Commons in recent times had been in the direction of relaxing, and not of straining the Rules of Privilege. We live in times when a question of this kind is extremely serious; and I hope that, disentangling it from the immediate excitement and passion of the day, we may be able to consider calmly what the position is which the House of Commons is called upon to take up. If an hon. Member were to say that an attack had been made upon him in such a manner or in such circumstances that it could not be met in the ordinary way in which an attack would be met by a gentleman who was not a Member of this House, there might be some ground for the appeal made by hon. Members opposite. But that has never been said by hon. Members below the Gangway—[Cries of "Yes!"]—no appeal has been made to the House— [Cries of "Yes!"]—no spontaneous appeal—[laughter]—the interruptions of hon. Members again bring me into conflict with them. In this case the accusation which is made is made by a responsible person, by a person who can 876 be dealt with in the ordinary Courts of Law. [Laughter.] Certainly he can. All the Courts of Law are open to the hon. Member, and all the machinery of the law is at the disposal of the hon. Member, and I venture to say that, after what has taken place, if one of these hon. Members below the Gangway opposite would go into a Court of Law to complain of and seek redress for an attack of this kind, it would be the defendant and not the plaintiff who would have to fear the prejudice and sentiment of a jury. [An hon. MEMBER: It is false, and you know it is.] But the House of Commons is asked to extend its practice with reference to this matter, to extend it in a dangerous direction, to institute a form or proceeding hitherto unknown in its history, and to do this when a prompt and far more effectual remedy can be obtained in those Courts of Law which are open to all the subjects of the Queen. It is my sincere hope that the House of Commons will never stretch, the Law of Privilege one inch beyond its established limit. Its extension may have been necessary in other times and circumstances; but, situated as we are, I fear that such an extension would be a dangerous one, and I feel that it would not be justified by the circumstances which the House has now before it.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House declines to treat the publication of the article headed 'Parnellism and Grime' in The Times of the 2nd of May as a Breach of the Privileges of this House."—(Sir Edward Clarke.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR.ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)
Sir, in the very long and learned speech to which we have just listened from the Solicitor General, I think an attempt has been made, not to vindicate the rights and privileges of this House which have always been claimed as a protection of its members against slander, but rather to transfer the jurisdiction of the House to a tribunal which, as the matter stands at present, can by no means be satisfactory. To my judgment, the feeling in the country which has been evoked by the charges originally made in The Times, and so industriously circulated by a very large proportion of the Con- 877 servative Party among its most prominent and more obscure Members, is such that the House of Commons is the only tribunal to which can be submitted the calm and temperate consideration of the great question which has been under discussion yesterday and to-day.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH
said: I was urging that this question has proceeded so far, and that public opinion in the country has been inflamed to such an extent that if justice is to be found in any tribunal whatever it must be sought in that of the House of Commons. The Solicitor General gave us to understand that even in this House the state of Party feeling was such, and that such was the intensity of feeling on this side of the House, that justice could not be looked for from a Committee composed of Members on both sides selected by the Party opposite. But the hon. Member for East Mayo, who is most prominently affected by this charge, has declared from his place in this House— and he has been joined by other hon. Members—that he would be perfectly satisfied with a tribunal of the House of Commons. If that be so, the objection of the hon. and learned Gentleman practically falls to the ground. The Solicitor General points out that an ordinary tribunal of the country—a common jury or a special jury empanelled in London, would be a tribunal to which this case with some hope of justice might be sent; but even supposing that on any London jury 11 men take the view that this is an unfounded charge against my hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo—and that there was one dissentient juryman—I want to know where would be the justice of exposing an hon. Member to the enormous and crushing expenditure that would be incurred; what would be the satisfaction of his knowing that there were 11 jurymen in his favour and one dissentient? I believe there is so much sense of dignity and fairness among the Members of this House, that if it is necessary that a Committee of the House should be appointed, a Committee would be found who would deal with the case as impartially, and far more so, perhaps, than any other tribunal to which it could be submitted. It is not denied that Parliament must, 878 in certain circumstances, interfere to protect its Members, however humble, from gross and scandalous charges. The Solicitor General has urged that where a Committee has been ordered there was some individual charge of corruption against a Member of this House. Now, I hold that the charge under which the hon. Member for East Mayo and some of his Colleagues are lying is infinitely graver than any charge of individual corruption. Last night, if I read correctly, the report of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, who referred to the charges which appeared in The Times a short time ago, he said that if those charges remained unrebutted the hon. Member for Mayo would be unfit for association with Members of this House. I feel that there is such a weight and seriousness in the imputation under which the hon. Member suffers at the present moment, that I believe the House will not refuse to appoint a Committee to investigate the matter. We have happily an increasing number of Members in this House who have found their way there not by the length of their purses, but by the estimation in which they are held by their constituencies; and supposing The Times, or any other paper, happens to fix a colossal slander on some of these working-class Members, I want to know what redress there is for Members of the House not having the advantage of deep purses in struggling against charges which may be utterly false, if the House abandons its traditional right of protecting its Members under such circumstances. I think the House will not hesitate to throw its protection over one of its Members, however humble he may be, if it should see that the necessities of the case demand it. There has in this case undoubtedly been a very serious Breach of Privilege committed; the most serious charges have been made; they are persisted in, and they are adopted by the whole Conservative Party. If that is so, I think the House will agree in supporting the claim made by the hon. Member for East Mayo, and insist that the printer of The Times shall be produced at the Bar of this House. With regard to the independence of a London jury, let me ask whether The Times newspaper and those who seek to screen themselves behind it would like this trial to take place in 879 Ireland. Suppose the venue were changed from London to Cork, would The Times think that substantial justice were done to it in that case? Sir, I think The Times would have just ground of complaint against such a course being taken. But the hon. Member for East Mayo would have just such a feeling of insecurity in his case being before a London jury at the present moment. We have lately had charges brought against the Corporation of the City of London; they have been investigated by a Committee of the House, and there has never been a breath or hint given to imply that the Committee appointed was not in any way competent to deal with that matter. With regard to this view, if it be taken in the present case, I believe that the House itself would name a Committee whose Members would abandon all feeling and prejudice, and enter upon the inquiry with but one desire—namely, to reach the truth. I do not pretend to go into the merits of the charges brought against the hon. Member for East Mayo and his Colleagues. The preliminary question in which we are engaged is as to whether the House of Commons shall take into its own hands the appointment of a tribunal in order that the impartial investigation which this case demands may be secured for the hon. Member for East Mayo. So far as the statement of the Solicitor General is concerned, that we are all on one side or the other of this question, I do not see how we should escape from that if we were to transfer the case to another tribunal in the country. With regard to the proposal that the assistance of the Attorney General and Solicitor General should be given to my hon. Friend in the conduct of the case, I must say that the suggestion is surrounded by the gravest suspicion, and I do not hesitate to say that if this House refuses the appointment of a Committee, my hon. Friend should trust to time to do him that justice which the House denies him. Therefore, Sir, I shall give my vote against the Amendment of the Solicitor General, and I trust this discussion will proceed so far that there will remain no doubt as to whether a Breach of Privilege has been committed, and as to whether the House will declare itself totally unfitted for the grave duty of inquiry into the matter.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
I do not think that the Leader of the House is bound to take his opinion from the legal point of view, affecting, as it does, the character of a Member of the House of Commons. In discussing a question of this kind, we are entitled to consider it as laymen and not as lawyers. The Solicitor General (Sir Edward Clarke) stated that there is no precedent for the proposal now made. Now, I think that even some of the cases he quoted showed there was a very considerable precedent for the proposal now made—namely, that this attack upon the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) is a Breach of the Privileges of this House. But if there be no precedent, it seems to me that this attack is of such a nature that it is high time we created a precedent; because, Mr. Speaker, if this attack, which is now made on a Member of this House, is not a Breach of the Privileges of this House, it seems to me that none of us have any possible protection in our action as Members of this House, or for any statements which we make from our places in this House. What is the accusation which we believe is a Breach of Privilege? It is simply this. My hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo denied certain statements which the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) had made in this House, and what we complain of is that The Times asserts that my hon. Friend falsely denied the statements that were made. If a newspaper, especially a newspaper of the reputation of The Times, is entitled to attack an hon. Member, and to say he has made wilful and false statements in the exercise of his duty as a Member of this House, if that is not a Breach of Privilege, it is not possible that a Breach of Privilege can be committed. The Solicitor General, in order to prove his point, quoted at considerable length passages from a speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt); but it appears to me that the words which the right hon. Gentleman used towards the end of his speech completely knocked away the ground from under the Solicitor General. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby said that the whole question of Breach of Privilege is a question of ''degree." That, surely, is the point before us this afternoon; 881 and we believe that the limit has been passed—though it is a very grave matter to consider a question of Privilege, and to bring a printer or editor up to the Bar we believe that the limit on this occasion has been passed, and that we are entitled to consider this a Breach of Privilege. The Government themselves and the Solicitor General himself, in the Amendment he has moved, do not deny that this is a Breach of Privilege; but they prefer to look another way, and to pretend that they do not see it. The Solicitor General tried in his speech to prove that better and more substantial justice would be done by means of a criminal prosecution, conducted by the Attorney General on the part of the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Mayo, than would be done if the matter were referred to a Select Committee impartially chosen from Members out of the different Parties in this House. But I think we ought to remember that the question we want to decide is not so much whether the editor or printer of The Times shall receive punishment as to clear the character of the hon. Members below the Gangway, and especially that of my hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo from the aspersions that have been made. No doubt, if, while doing that, they could also have the satisfaction of imprisoning and fining the editor of The Times there would be an additional advantage. But that is not the point before the House of Commons. The House of Commons does not very much care whether the editor of The Times is punished or not. What it does desire to find out is whether hon. Members in this House have or have not been guilty of the charges made against them. Now, the Solicitor General says that if you refer the matter to a Select Committee, the Select Committee will inevitably disagree on the points submitted to thorn. But if a Select Committee of this House disagreed on such a question as this, surely a jury is all the more likely to disagree, and, Mr. Speaker, there is all the difference in the world in regard to the position of my hon. Friends below the Gangway between the disagreement of a jury and that of a Select Committee. If the matter is referred to a jury, one obstinate or prejudiced man can prevent a verdict being given, and the world at 882 large would never know how many of the jury were for a conviction and how many against it. Even by disagreement a jury could blast the reputation of the hon. Member for East Mayo and his Colleagues; whereas, in a Select Committee, we can weigh brains as well as count noses, and if there is a division of opinion in a Select Committee, we shall have, as the Solicitor General says, a majority Report and a minority Report, and we Members of the House and the public at large will be able to see how far the evidence has proved the case of The Times, or how far hon. Members below the Gangway stand acquitted. Therefore, I assert that there is no comparison at all in a matter of this kind between the justice of a criminal prosecution and a reference to a Select Committee. There is just this other matter, that the Attorney General is to conduct the prosecution. Now, in a Select Committee each side would be able to choose their own unprejudiced counsel; but if my hon. Friend (Mr. Dillon) goes into a Criminal Court with the Attorney General as his counsel he will go into Court with one hand tied behind him. No Member of the House would for a moment say that the Attorney General would not do his duty in the matter to his fullest ability; but, after all, the Attorney General is but human. He is a Member of a Conservative Government, he is a Colleague of those who have been denouncing hon. Members below the Gangway up-hill and down-dale, and it is quite impossible that after what he has said, he can go into Court really believing that hon. Members below the Gangway are innocent of the charge made against them. It seems to me, therefore, that if we decide on a criminal prosecution in this matter, and if we direct the Attorney General to go into Court to conduct the prosecution, that whoever may be the Queen's Counsel associated with him, the hon. Member for East Mayo will not have the ghost of a chance of obtaining a fair verdict. We ought to remember, also, that we are now in the middle of passing a Criminal Law Amendment Bill for Ireland, and that, judging from the letters of the Private Secretary to the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith), this Bill is directed solely and wholly against the National League. Is it 883 likely, therefore, that ray hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo, one of the most prominent members of the National League, is going to direct the Attorney General to conduct his prosecution, and to place in the hon. and learned Gentleman's hands, as he necessarily must, all the documents belonging to the National League? Of course not. Owing to the action of the hon. Baronet the Member for North Antrim (Sir Charles Lewis), who, having got his Baronetcy, does not particularly care whether the Government like him or not, the Government have been landed in a position of considerable difficulty. Their friends have digged a pit, and the Government, instead of the Irish Members, have fallen into it, and they must get out of it the best way they can. I think the country will judge to-morrow whether the Government do desire to have this question cleared up in the only possible way.
§ SIB CHARLES RUSSELL (Hackney, S)
I hope I shall not ask in vain for the indulgence of the House for a short time while I address myself to some of the topics dealt with in the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General (Sir Edward Clarke). I say, in all sincerity, that the speech of my hon. and learned Friend was an exceedingly able speech; but I must beg leave to add to that observation that by far the greater part of the topics with which he dealt, those to which he devoted the greatest amount of his ingenuity and of his earnestness, were not the topics which are directly germane to the point before us; and, further, while the Solicitor General broadly asserted that this was no case of Breach of Privilege at all, he has had at the end of his speech a Resolution put into his hand which does not so assert, but merely that the House declines to treat it as a Breach of Privilege. Let me remind the House of the position in which the matter stands. The hon. Baronet the Member for North Antrim brought to the attention of the House a publication which, in his jndgment, was a Breach of the Privileges of the House, and, having done so, he proposed the Motion that the House should declare that such publication was a Breach of the Privileges of the House. I hope hon. Members will not forget what, I think, has been so often forgotten in the course of the debate upon this matter, that this is not a 884 question of an individual Member, nor an offence against an individual Member merely, but it is an offence against the House perpetrated in the shape of a libel, or an alleged libel, upon one of its Members. You recollect the course that was followed yesterday—the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House moved, as it was thought at first, under a misapprehension of the views of the hon. Member for East Mayo, that the debate should be adjourned; but finally, when his misconception was removed, he persisted in the Motion for Adjournment. To-day the right hon. Gentleman announced that the Government, having meanwhile considered the matter, and acting upon the advice of their Legal Advisers, have come to the conclusion that this is not a question of Breach of the Privileges of the House at all, and now we have the Resolution that the publication in question is not one which properly can be treated by the House as an invasion of its Privileges. The House will, therefore, observe that the Motion which is now moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, at the instance of the Government, is not a Motion to pass to the other Business of the House, but it is a Motion which, if carried—and I beg the earnest attention of hon. Members upon that side of the House as upon this—it is a Motion which, if carried, will be understood by the country to express the opinion of this House that an imputation—than which it is difficult to conceive any grosser—that an imputation conveyed against an hon. Member, not only in relation to his character as a Member of this House, but in relation to his actual conduct in this House, is not a matter to be treated by this House as a question of Privilege. The consequences of this Resolution of the Government, if carried, certainly seem to me to be serious. Now, on what ground is this course sought to be pursued? Let me say, in passing, that I agree with what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Childers) last night, when he pointed out that the precedents of late years justified as an initial step in proceedings of this kind the summoning of the supposed offender to the Bar of this House. That has been the course followed in recent years; but the course the Government take is not based upon 885 any objection to the particular course which has been pursued here, and I am bound to say that they have met the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for North Antrim (Sir Charles Lewis) point blank by asking this House to decline to treat the article in question as a Breach of the Privileges of this House. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith) did not, the House will have observed, express any opinion of his own as to whether this was or was not a Breach of the Privileges of this House. He sheltered himself, or fortified himself—I am not using the phrase in any invidious sense—behind the opinion of those who are responsible for legal advice to the Government. I am exceedingly sorry to find myself in conflict with the legal opinion, upon a matter of this kind, of my hon. and learned Friends whom I greatly respect on the other side of the House; but I must say, with deliberation, and I think I shall be supported by legal Gentlemen on this side of the House, who, I hope, will make their opinions heard in this House, when I say that there is no justification in any text-book, or in the works of any writer on Constitutional Law, that I am aware of, for the distinction which the Solicitor General sought to draw between the different kinds of imputations of misconduct upon hon. Members, some of which would and some would not be Breaches of Privilege, and I hope the Attorney General, who probably will take part in this debate later on, will be able to throw some light on the subject. I maintain the criteria are two and only two. They are, is the charge sufficiently serious to deserve notice from the House, and does it refer to an hon. Member in his character and conduct as a Member? Now, what is this publication? What is the charge against the hon. Member for East Mayo? It is, that in his place in this House, and for the purpose of misleading and deceiving this House, he was guilty of a deliberate falsehood; and my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General admitted so much, but proceeded to argue that there are no precedents which show any proceedings on the part of this House treating imputations upon its Members in their character and conduct as Members of this House as Breaches of Privilege, except in cases 886 of corruption, misfeasance, or coercion, or intimidation. What does my hon. and learned Friend mean by misfeasance? Does my hon. and learned Friend gravely ask the House to say that a charge of corruption against an hon. Member is a more serious matter than a charge of deliberate falsehood? After all, bad as the offence of corruption is, and warped as the hon. Member's mind affected by it would be in the discharge of his duty, it cannot equal a deliberate falsehood put forward for the purpose of deceiving this House, which is in itself a dereliction of duty and a very grave offence against all decency and all propriety. Now I think that precedents show a list of serious cases where there was not an allegation of corruption, where there was not misfeasance, whatever that means in this particular connection, in which the House has taken steps in the matter. First of all, I will call attention to the fact that in the Appendix to Hatsell's Precedents, which was published in the beginning of the present century, and beginning with cases as far back as the time of Elizabeth, there is a very large enumeration of cases of reflections, aspersions, libels, and so on, upon the House, and upon individual Members in relation to their conduct in the House. In none of those cases do I find the slightest trace of a distinction drawn such as my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General refers to. But I will cite a case which seems to me to be very much to the point on this matter. It is the case of Mr. Gray Bennett against the John Bull newspaper, which is to be found recorded. My hon. and learned Friend referred to the case, but did not draw attention to the point I desire to refer to. The case is recorded in the 76th Journal of the House, and it occurred in 1821. It was a case in which Mr. Gray Bennett, in a speech in this House, was supposed to have made an injurious reflection upon the Lord President of the Council. The newspaper referred to this fact, and, referring to the further fact that Mr. Gray Bennett had apologized for the aspersion he had made, went on to say that he only made the apology because a stalwart and courageous son of the President of the Council had waited upon him and delivered a challenge to him, and that when he expressed the apology in the House he 887 expressed it in so low a voice that it did not reach, a considerable portion of the Representatives of the Press, and so did not get the publication it deserved. I want to know was that corruption, was that misfeasance, under what head does that come? Well, I find that in that case the printer and publisher was summoned before the House, the article was treated as a Breach of the Privileges of the House, and the Motion was made that the printer and publisher should be sent to the Tower. There was a Division as to whether he should be sent to the Tower or to Newgate, and it was ultimately decided that he should be sent to Newgate. I am not sure whether there was not another person brought up and sent to prison, because of the prevaricating way he answered the questions addressed to him; but that is no matter. Is that not a case in which it can neither be alleged that there was corruption nor misfeasance on the part of the publisher? Yet so jealous was the House at this time of the reputation of its Members that instant proceedings were taken, and the offending publisher was sent to and detained for some time in prison. Another case I desire to refer to, that of Mr. Clive. This case, which will be in the recollection of some hon. Members of the House, arose in 1858. Mr. Clive had been a Member of a Private Bill Committee, and the charge against him was that he had been guilty of partiality, and it was suggested he might also have had corrupt motives. This debate is instructive for another reason, and it is this. The right hon. Gentleman the Loader of the House said it was most unfair, by the proceeding of the hon. Baronet the Member for North Antrim (Sir Charles Lewis) to stigmatize The Times newspaper before The Times newspaper had had an opportunity of being heard. ["Hear, hear!"] I notice that some hon. Member assents to that argument at the present moment. I beg to point out to the Leader of the House, and to the hon. Gentlemen who take that view, that no such thing is involved in the proper mode of proceeding in this case, that the House will not proceed to condemn The Times newspaper, or be committed to any particular course, until The Times newspaper, if called on to appear, has taken its course, and either confessed or apologized, or stated 888 that it stands by its article, and is prepared to substantiate it. That was the course which was followed in the case I have mentioned—I mean the case of Mr. Clive. It came before the House, and the offending publisher and some others implicated were called before the House. The publisher was not prepared to withdraw the aspersions made in the article, and declined to give the names of those who had furnished him with the information contained in the article. Upon that the House came to the conclusion that the article was a scandalous libel, that the proprietor had been guilty of a Breach of Privilege of the House, and he was ordered into custody and sent to prison. The discussion which took place on the appearance of the offending parties at the Bar, shows that, if proveable justification were alleged, the matter would be referred for inquiry to a Committee. There is another case to which I should like to call attention. It has an important bearing upon the question, which is wider in its import, I take leave to say, than the Leader of the House seems to suppose. It is considered by the Leader of the House, and by my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, that this is simply a question of whether notice is to be taken of the matter with a view to the punishment or otherwise of The Times. That is not the only ground on which the House has acted, and will act, in defence of the character of its Members. If there were no question of The Times in the case, and no idea of calling The Times to account at the Bar of this House, still it would be within the competence of this House, and within the right and proper discharge of the duty of the Leader of this House, apart altogether from any question of charge against a particular publisher, to see that some means were taken by this House so that the charge should be inquired into, and, if necessary, by a Committee of this House. Now I will refer, by way of illustration, to a precedent supported by what will be admitted by all Members of this House to be very high authority—I mean Lord John Russell. It was a case in which an imputation had been made against a number of Irish Members—against the whole Irish Party in the House at that time—of corruption. That imputation had been circulated in The Times—it was 889 not circulated, perhaps, inside the House, but elsewhere — and it had also got voice through statements of some Members of the House. On the 7th of February, 1851, Mr. Butt rose for the purpose of calling the attention of the House to something which he thought they would consider concerned the character, not only of some Members, a large section of the House, but of the House itself. He proceeded to complain that the article was a Breach of our Privileges, and moved that it be read by the Clerk at the Table, and that afterwards it be referred to a Committee of Privileges to inquire into the charges in question, and to report thereon. Now, this is the part of the article in The Times which was road to the House—We have satisfied the theory of the Constitution. …. But we have not succeeded in obtaining a body of Representatives which an Irishman would look upon with satisfaction, or an Englishman without dismay. In the name of Constitutional Government, we may be permitted to ask, what does a section of Irish Members represent beyond the embodied wish of some hundreds of needy men to obtain place, salary, power?The present Irish Party are free, as far as I know, from that imputation. The Clerk at the Table, having read the article, and the House having declared it to be a Breach of the Privileges of the House, Mr. Butt moved that a Committee of Privileges be appointed to inquire and report upon the allegation contained in the article According to the right hon. Gentleman's (Mr. W. H. Smith's) theory, that course was unfair to The Times; it was prejudicing The Times before it was heard. I think the words he used were—" Stigmatizing most unfairly the conduct of The Times newspaper." I say that this is an aspect of the case which has not been dealt with by my hon. and learned Friend, and has not been presented to the mind of the House as it ought to be—namely, that wholly apart from the question of taking any step to vindicate the Privileges of this House against any particular offender against them, there is a wider and more important ground for taking action. I maintain that when, from any quarter, a serious charge against the honour and character of any of its Members has been made, and publicly brought, as in this case, to the notice of the House by an hon. Mem- 890 ber, and in no friendly spirit, it is the duty of the House, and the primary duty of the Leader of the House, to see that the House shall take action to elucidate the matter. It cannot—it ought not to pass it by. What did Lord John Russell say on that occasion? He said—The House cannot feel the slightest doubt or hesitation in the propriety of assenting to the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Youghal. It is due to the honour of Parliament, to the character of the Government, and to the character of those Irish Members who have been included in that sweeping denunciation to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has called our attention. …. If such offers were made, I trust the Committee will ascertain from whom they proceeded, and to whom they were addressed—in short, that they will inquire into all the particulars and details connected with the transaction."—(3 Hansard,  327–8.)Well, now, I think I have shown that there are precedents for action by this House, apart from the particular specification of causes to which my hon. and learned Friend referred. I say that there is not a single precedent to support the Solicitor General's contention, and there is not, I again say, a trace of authority that I am aware of, in any Constitutional writer for drawing a distinction as to the character of the imputations, provided the imputations themselves are grave and are made in reference to the conduct in Parliament of Members of this House. The distinction must, therefore, be taken to be an unreal and an unsound one. My hon. and learned Friend referred to some other cases, and why he referred to them I do not really know. Take the Ferrand case. It is perfectly true that no ultimate proceedings were taken in that case Why? Because the charge was not persisted in, and there was an express Motion carried in this House relieving the Member concerned from the imputation. In the case of "Grissell and Ward," the Solicitor General pointed out that there was a Committee before there was a Resolution. I am not at this moment concerned in arguing in the least which should come first; what I am arguing is that, whether you are going to proceed against The Times or not, this, upon the face of it, is a grievous imputation on a Member of this House in his character of a Member of this House, and in relation to his conduct in this House, and that this 891 itself constitutes a Breach of the Privileges of this House. Do hon. Gentlemen recollect one remarkable case, which has not been yet referred to, the case of Mr. Whittle Harvey; because it shows how jealous is the House of Commons, in ordinary circumstances, whore English or Scotch Members are concerned, of the honour of its Members. There was actually referred to a Committee of this House, among other things, the decision of the question whether the verdict of a jury, some 20 years before, was a right and proper verdict. Now, let me point out and meet the grounds upon which the suggestion of further inquiry by Parliament is resisted. It seems to me that my hon. and learned Friend, and those who take the same line with him, are jumping before they come to the stile. The question is not now whether a Committee shall be appointed to inquire, but whether, aye or no, this House is to pass by tills publication, and say to the world that it is not such an imputation upon a Member of this House as to constitute such a Breach of the Privileges of the House as to demand the notice of the House. But more. My hon. and learned Friend says a Committee of this House is an unfit tribunal. I am bound to examine my hon. and learned Friend's argument on that point. My hon. and learned Friend said that Parliament was not fit properly to perform judicial functions. But it does perform various judicial functions, and, through its Committees, it has for years performed them, and a Committee has been the machine by which charges against Members—as these shown — have been dealt with. My hon. and learned Friend went on to say that it would be no satisfaction to hon. Members below the Gangway to have a Committee appointed according to the Rules of the House; because hon. Members on that side, who have a majority, and who will have a majority in the Committee, have practically acquiesced in those charges. I think my hon. and learned Friend does injustice to the Members below the Gangway and to his own Friends on that side of the House. I think most unjust, most unfair things have been said in public by hon. Members on the other side of the House on the subject of the charges against hon. Members below the Gangway; but I, 892 for one, decline to believe that if the responsibility was to be thrown on them of being judges in this matter, hon. Members on that side of the House, sobered by a sense of responsibility, would not be able to overcome even their intense prejudices. Hon. Members below the Gangway have declared—and I should be surprised if they had not— that they believe, however strong and virulent your prejudices may be, when you have the sense of responsibility as a judge put upon you, each one of you will be able to rise superior to your prejudices and to look at and try the matter honestly and fairly. What is the alternative? The alternative suggested is a trial by criminal prosecution. I ask my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, who will follow me—I am sure he will desire to be quite candid in the matter—whether he thinks that a criminal prosecution for a political libel is a likely course by which to vindicate the character of an aspersed man? Does not my hon. and learned Friend know that the Judges—the highest on the Bench—although they recognize that, according to the existing law, a libel may be treated as a violation of the Criminal Law, have again and again declared against the institution of criminal proceedings in relation to libels upon particular individuals? In other words, a man who institutes criminal proceedings for libel, in 99 cases out of 100, goes into Court handicapped. If this be true of any libel, how much stronger the argument against the institution of criminal proceedings for a political libel. Moreover, the person accused, who might be able to throw an important light upon the question in dispute, would have his mouth closed. Now, I want to draw the attention of the House to a point which has not been noticed as yet during the progress of this discussion. It has been suggested by the Leader of the House, and by the hon. A and learned Gentleman opposite, that the Government are willing to institute a criminal prosecution of The Times newspaper for libel upon their own responsibility, provided the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) desires they should do so.
§ SIR EDWARD CLARKE
What I said was that the Government will consent to a Motion that the House should institute a prosecution.
§ SIR CHARLES RUSSELL
That practically amounts to the same thing; it gives it even greater solemnity. But what business has this House, what business has the Attorney General or the Government to have anything to do with the prosecution of The Times unless this touches a matter of Privilege? I want the Attorney General to tell us what justification there would be for either the House or the Government to take any part in the prosecution, unless the article which is complained of touches closely the matter of Privilege. "Your own suggestion of an alternative course, shows clearly you have no faith in the argument of the Solicitor General that this is not a Breach of Privilege. I think there are some other reasons which can be urged against this course. I do not speak of the delay. I do not speak about the prejudice which will exist, but I will remind my hon. and learned Friend that while I have as strong an opinion as any man of the honesty and the integrity of English jurymen, we cannot conceal from ourselves that there are politicians to be found in English juries, just as there are politicians with strong views among the Members of this House appointed upon Committees. In justification of the view I take upon this question, I should like to read to the House one passage from a very grave Constitutional writer. Mr. Hallam, speaking of the House, says—The majority are bound to respect and indeed have respected, the right of every Member, however obnoxious to them, on all questions of Privilege, even in a case most unlikely to occur—that of libel. It would be unjust if a patriotic legislator, exposed to calumny for his zeal in the public interest, should necessarily be driven to the troublesome and uncertain process of law when the offence so manifestly affects the real interests of Parliament and of the nation.That is not the argument of an excited politician. Now, Sir, these are some of the reasons why I submit that the House ought not to consent to the Amendment which has been proposed by the Solicitor General. I speak with strong feeling in this matter. If this House, by affirming the Amendment the Government propose, say that this is not a Breach of the Privileges of this House, or is not to be declared to be such, I want to know what accusation in the future will be said to be a Breach of Privilege? Is this House going to give 894 up practically the defence of the honour of its Members, by a mode which, although perhaps liable to some abuse in times of political excitement, has, on the whole, had a useful and salutary effect? We must not overlook the fact that the newspapers of to-day dictate to this House how it shall conduct its Business. They dictate to hon. Members what they shall say and what they shall not say. They even lay down hard and fast lines as to when a debate is to begin, and when it shall terminate. They even presume to advise the Leader of the House when he should invoke that new instrument of Government, the closure, which is now at his disposal. All that the House can afford to disregard, but it cannot treat with contempt, it cannot afford to treat with contempt, an accusation of this kind deliberately made, deliberately persisted in, and brought pointedly before the attention of the House, and in a hostile sense by an hon. Member. I am not going to discuss the question of the prudence or otherwise of the action of the hon. Member for North Antrim (Sir Charles Lewis). I have no doubt that those amongst whom he sits, and those on the Front Government Bench, heartily wish he had been somewhere else than in his place yesterday. But the matter is now before the House; and it has been so pointedly brought to the attention of the Government, that they must deal with it; and if they deal with it in the way this Amendment proposes it should be dealt with, I say a fatal blow will be dealt against that power of protection which this House has in past times been able to invoke for the defence of the character of the House itself, and for the defence of the character of its Members. But, above all, there is one consideration which is present to my mind, and which ought to be present to the mind of hon. Members on the other side of the House; it is the position in which hon. Members below the Gangway stand. They are a minority in this House. Their conduct has been gravely impugned; there has been no opportunity, so far as this House is concerned, of having this matter looked into until it was brought to the attention of the House by the hon. Member (Sir Charles Lewis) in the form of a Motion such as that before us on this occasion. It is due to hon. Members below the 895 Gangway, it is due to you who have spoken so bitterly of hon. Members below the Gangway, you who have so little charity in your hearts in considering their conduct and their position—it is due to them and to yourselves, as a matter of fair play, that an opportunity should be given for inquiry. Is there one hon. Member opposite who will say that if a similar charge had been made against—let me say the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford (Mr. Chaplin), whom I see opposite, or any other hon. Member sitting on that side of the House—they would not have felt bound to give that hon. Member an opportunity of meeting, as the precedents of the House entitle him, the charge before a Committee of this House?
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)
I do not know whether I should be saying anything repugnant to the general sentiment of the House of Commons if I ventured to express an imagination which has occurred to my mind, that the House would regret if this most interesting and most important discussion fell too much into the hands of lawyers. The right hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Charles Russell) has made a most able speech to the House, and has criticized with great minuteness and great research the variety of cases which has been dealt with, with equal minuteness, equal research, and equal, if not greater ability, by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General (Sir Edward Clarke). But I do not think the matters which are before the House can be entirely decided by legal analysis, and I will venture, if it is not inconvenient to the House, to offer a few observations which occur to me, as one who has for some years followed the proceedings of this House, and who has, on more than one occasion, assisted in discussions of this character. I will own there was one feature in the close of the remarks of the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Charles Russell) which struck me with surprise, as illustrating the extraordinary change which the present state of politics seem to have brought upon the minds of Members, and that was that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, in his character of a great Liberal lawyer—I might almost say, judging from the tone of his remarks, a great Radical lawyer—should 896 assail with much animosity the liberty of the Press. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the Press presumes to comment in such and such manner upon matters which occur in our daily life here. I make no further remark on that subject.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
The hon. and learned Gentleman does not contest the fact that he used the word "presume." I only thought it was very remarkable that a great Liberal and Radical lawyer should speak of the presumption of the Press. And then in the very sentence with which the hon. and learned Gentleman concluded his speech—I shall be sorry if I do not represent him rightly—he spoke as if the Party on this side of the House were deliberately refusing an inquiry into matters which are not occupying the House. I do not think that was either a legal or judicial statement. We are refusing no inquiry. The difference which separates us from hon. Gentlemen opposite is this—that we differ as to the form of the inquiry. There is nothing unreasonable in that. We, on these Benches, entertain the opinion that an inquiry purely judicial would best elicit the truth as to this grave matter. Hon. Gentlemen opposite prefer that there should be another form of inquiry. But I will return to that matter before I conclude my remarks. I would like to bring the House, if possible, from all the complicated arguments of the two legal Gentleman who have addressed us to the real nature of the Motion before us. The hon. Baronet the Member for North Antrim (Sir Charles Lewis) has moved that certain matters constitute a Breach of the Privileges of the House, and the Solicitor General has moved that these matters do not constitute a Breach of the Privileges of the House. Perhaps I should be mis-describing the Solicitor General's Motion if I used those words. His Motion is different, for it is—That this House declines to treat the publication of the article headed 'Parnellism and Crime' in The Times of the 2nd of May, as a Breach of the Privileges of this House.I say with much frankness and candour that, from a technical point of view, no sane or reasonable person would entertain the slightest doubt that in this case there has been a Breach of the Privilege 897 of the House of Commons. There is no doubt about that; but there have often been serious theoretical Breaches of the Privileges of the House of Commons which the House has declined to treat as Breaches of Privilege, and no one can better inform the House on that matter than the present Leader of the Opposition. I do not know where you can lay down any hard-and-fast line for the conduct of the House under circumstances of this kind. But I should think that something like this would not be far from the truth—that where the House has seen other remedies for this particular evil than to exert its authority it does not exert it. Where it has seen other remedies more perfect, more rapid — ["Oh, oh!"]—well, I am only trying to state the position of affairs—more justifiable, and more satisfactory than the action of its own authority, it has preferred those remedies. I could illustrate that to the House even in my own short political experience. If you take the case, in 1844, of Mr. Ferrand, who made imputations against a. Committee of the House of Commons, or if you take the case of Mr. Grissell, who also endeavoured to corrupt a Committee— ["No, no!"]—yes; that was the allegation—he represented that he was able to corrupt a Committee of the House—if you take these cases the House will see that there was, literally, no other remedy open to the House except that it should act on its own authority. There was nothing a Court of Law could take notice of; and, similarly, Mr. O'Connell, when he was summoned before the House for stating that Committees of the House of Commons wore in the habit of deciding Election Petitions corruptly, made no allusion to individuals. He made a general statement; and, obviously, the House was obliged to act for itself, for there was no other remedy open to it. But this case is quite different. Here certain Members of the House of Commons are undoubtedly aggrieved, and through those Members the House of Commons as a body is aggrieved. But the Members so aggrieved have a far more perfect remedy than that of putting the authority of this House into action—namely, that of resorting to the ordinary tribunals of the country, and proving the falsity of the libels which have aggrieved them, and by using all the authority of those tribunals 898 to bring upon the offenders the most severe penalties. Well, I do not think I have given an incorrect history of this question of Privilege nor of the methods of treating them adopted by the House, nor do I think I have spoken in a manner at all opposed to common sense. But a variety of other considerations arise which may have somewhat of a Party character, but which we cannot altogether put out of view. Hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite have manifested extraordinary excitement over the action of the hon. Baronet the Member for North Antrim, and they have declared that they welcome and grasp at the particular form of Parliamentary investigation suggested by the hon. Baronet, and they have charged all those who do not agree with them with a desire to evade the investigation of the matters that are at issue. But I ask hon. Members opposite, would this matter have been brought before the House of Commons at all if it had not been for the action of the hon. Member for North Antrim? ["Yes!"] I have no information upon that point. It is certain that if the hon. Baronet the Member for North Antrim had not brought the question before us yesterday, it would not have been brought before us.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
The hon. Member could not have endeavoured to bring The Times article of Slay 2 before the House. I understand the circumstance he wished to call attention to occurred some time ago.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
Exactly; I am not speaking of the forged letter; I am speaking of the present matter. I want to know if we can have any assurance from hon. Gentlemen opposite that this matter would have been brought before the House but for the action of the hon. Member for North Antrim? Hon. Members have spoken in terms of severe comment of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool has spoken of my right hon. Friend in terms which, I believe, are repudiated by everybody outside his own immediate circle of friends. Many of us may have 899 legitimately differed from my right hon. Friend in political matters, and may not have agreed with the counsels he has given the House; but until the hon. Member spoke this afternoon there has never yet been the smallest difference of opinion that the whole career of the right hon. Gentleman has been an honour to the House of Commons.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
I rise to make a personal explanation. I think the noble Lord, if he undertakes to repeat the charges I made, ought to repeat them correctly, and ought not to attribute to me charges I did not make. My statement was this. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House offered to institute a prosecution against The Times through the Attorney General, and my answer to that was that the right hon. Gentleman, in his character outside the House, was particeps eriminis with The Times in propagating the very libels we complain of.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
I utterly decline to accept any contradiction from the hon. Member. I heard the hon. Member's speech, and I am perfectly sensible, as was everybody else who heard him on this side of the House, of the insinuations which the hon. Member conveyed when he referred to the Leader of the House, and I am glad to have the opportunity of expressing what I believe to be the feeling of the entire House that those insinuations are unjustifiable. But what are we to expect when the hon. Member proceeded to compare the Courts of Justice in this country to marked cards and loaded dice—when he thinks it legitimate to speak in that way of Courts of Justice which have an unstained record of more than 1,000 years? When we have such statements made—when we have our Courts of Justice compared to people who cheat and gamble—when we hear accusations of that kind from below the Gangway opposite, I think the First Lord of the Treasury can afford to pass by the hon. Member's remarks. I come now to the remarks—the very legitimate remarks—made by the hon. and learned Gentleman who last addressed the House. He said it was the duty of the Leader of the House to afford protection to every Member of the House—to get the House into a groove which would afford protection to every Member. How could 900 the Leader of the House be in the least aware, from the conduct of hon. Gentlemen opposite, that it was their desire that this matter should be brought before the House? What indication have they given of any desire that public notice should be taken of this matter? When the charge is brought against the Leader of the House that he has not dealt with this case, I may retort and say that surely the protection of hon. Members below the Gangway opposite is a matter that more concerns the Leader of the Opposition. He it is who is concerned with the honour of his followers. It concerns, and seriously concerns, the Leader of the Opposition in more ways than one, for it was the direct opinion and hope of the country that when he assumed the Leadership of the movement for the repeal of the Union, that that movement would at once assume—
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
The right hon. Gentleman is splitting hairs when he denies that he assumed the Leadership of the movement for the repeal of the Union. [Cries of "No, no!" and "Withdraw!"] That movement is invariably designated as a movement for the repeal of the Union. What I say is this—that where there is any indication of an injury being sustained by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, if the duty of protecting them falls upon anyone, it does not fall upon the First Lord of the Treasury, but on the Leader of the Opposition. I say that he and the whole of his Party are much more concerned than we are, or than the House of Commons is, in relieving hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite—who form so large a part of the right hon. Gentleman's following—from imputations which, if they are true, are likely to deprive them of all political credit. Now, Sir, the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down was extremely anxious that we should measure ourselves as the House of Commons against The Times newspaper—that we should have the printer up at the Bar of the House, and appoint a Select Committee to inquire into the conduct of the prisoner, and that if certain things are proved that he should be punished. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman really 901 think that would be a safe or a judicious course for the House to take? I can quite understand that there may have been days when the Privileges of the House, which have proved so formidable against Monarchical and arbitrary power, might have been thought useful against the growing power of the Press; but I cannot conceive that, in the present day, anyone can argue seriously, with any hope of success, that the House of Commons can measure itself against the Press. The Press of England is far more powerful than the House of Commons, and there is only one power I know of that is greater than the Press, and that is the power of the Courts of Law. [Laughter.] I see that the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey), who is, I believe, himself not unconnected with the Press, joins with those who laugh. The Courts are extremely powerful, and can punish, and even suppress, newspapers.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
There is no law in Ireland I know of at the present moment, and there is none proposed to be made, that can do that. There is no law, with the exception of the law which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) passed, which can suppress newspapers. There is no law that I know of which is going to be enacted to this end.
§ MR. STOREY
Will the noble Lord do me the justice of permitting me to say that that was a law which I opposed?
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
What I was pointing out was this—that there was no law in Ireland, except the one which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian passed, which gave the power to suppress newspapers, and there is no law before the House proposed to be enacted which gives the power. I was asking hon. Members opposite what are the powers of the House of Commons against The Times? I say absolutely they are nil. You might possibly, if you wish, commit the printer of The Times— [Cries of "The publisher!"]—the publisher and the printer of The Times to the Clock Tower or Newgate; but the moment the House is prorogued they are liberated. You cannot inflict any fine. I think for more 902 than 100 years the House has renounced all attempts to inflict fines. You have absolutely no power against the Press of England, Ireland, or Scotland. You are absolutely powerless; and yet the hon. and learned Gentleman the ex-Attorney General invites us, in contradistinction to the course proposed by the Government, to embark in a contest with the Press of the country, in which we must inevitably got the worst of it. Not only should we get the worst of it, but it is a course which will not elicit what we want to arrive at—namely, the truth of these matters. Now, Sir, let us consider the idea which is greatly favoured by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and in regard to which they consider they are very much aggrieved because we will not adopt it. Hon. Gentlemen opposite consider the proper mode of meeting this matter is to summon the printer of The Times to the Bar of the House, and then appoint a Select Committee. I do not altogether agree with the view of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General (Sir Edward Clarke) that it was necessary immediately to send the printer of The Times to prison. He would, in the first place, be heard at the Bar; and then he would be told to attend again on a certain day, and meanwhile the investigation would take place. But hon. Gentlemen advocate the appointment of a Select Committee for the purpose of investigating all these matters, and pronouncing who is guilty of having made false statements for the purpose of influencing public opinion. May I ask the House to examine this matter a little more closely. Take, for instance, the composition of the Committee. How do you propose to constitute it? It is said that the Government would have a majority on the Committee. Hon. Gentlemen are very generous now in their appreciation of the noble and chivalrous motives which actuate the Government; but suppose the Government majority took a view opposed to that of the other section of the Committee, I imagine there is no imputation of baseness and corruption which would not be brought against the Government. But I want to go further. You admit that the Government have a majority; will the Members of the Irish Party be on that Committee? [Cries of "Yes!"] Then, in the whole history of jury-packing, they have never brought 903 forward an instance which gave me a more vivid idea of controlling the tribunal beforehand than by placing upon that Committee Representatives of the Irish Nationalist Party.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
I understand the hon. Member for East Mayo, who very often shows an acute perception of what is justice and what is a common-sense view, is against placing on the Committee any Member of the Irish Party?
§ MR. DILLON
I do not think that is a fair way of proceeding. That question has not arisen, and the opinion has not been expressed from these Benches. I am ready at the proper time to express my opinion; but to put an expression of opinion into the mouths of hon. Members is certainly a very curious proceeding.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
"The question has not arisen." That is exactly the point. You may not wish to look at the question which will arise; but I ask the question because it is of vital importance that it should be determined. It is a matter which the hon. Member for East Mayo, who leads the Irish Party for the moment in the absence of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), says he has not considered, and is at the present moment unable to give an opinion upon.
§ MR. DILLON
I speak on a point of Order. Sir, I have not the least desire to interrupt the noble Lord. He stated that I had not made up my mind on the point. I said nothing of the sort; I said I had not expressed my opinion on the matter, but that I was ready to do so.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
I will no longer incur the displeasure of the hon. Member—after the unfavourable interruptions of hon. Gentlemen I will do nothing further to call forth their displeasure; but it is clear that the composition of the Committee is a matter of first-class importance, and the matter of first-class importance in that composition is the representation of the Irish 904 Party. If the Irish Nationalist Members are on the Committee, it is instantly exposed to the suspicion that there are Members on it who have made up their minds beforehand; and if they are not, then its decision is valueless in the eyes of the Irish Party. But that is not enough in criticism of the proposal of hon. Gentlemen opposite as against the Government proposal. There is another question. What are the powers of the Committee to be? We all know what the powers of the Law Courts are. If this matter is investigated in a Court of Law, there will be examination and cross-examination of witnesses; the evidence will be sifted by approved rules—rules well-known and understood, which cannot be transgressed, and which have been made in the interest of justice. But what are the powers of a Committee of the House of Commons? Now, imagine a Committee of the House of Commons endeavouring to investigate the truth of these allegations. On every question where a difference of opinion arose as to whether certain matters ought to be inquired into or not, the room would be cleared, and a Party Division would take place—a distinctly Party Division. Suppose, as was suggested, that the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Maurice Healy) was asked certain questions involving a certain line of examination, the room would be cleared, the Committee would vote, and if the Government had a majority the Committee would decide that the hon. Member for Cork should be asked the questions. What view would be taken of such a line by the Nationalist Party? But another question arises—would the Committees have before it counsel? Now, I know of no case until the other day where a Select Committee of the House of Commons, appointed to investigate matters of this kind, had the aggrieved parties and the plaintiffs parties represented by counsel to cross-examine witnesses and address the Committee. Is there any precedent? Obviously, if The Times and those who support it cannot be represented by counsel, and cannot call witnesses, the investigation would be a perfect farce. But if, on the other hand, they could call witnesses and cross-examine, will hon. Gentlemen contend that the Committee is as fit to control counsel and sift evidence as the Judges of the Courts are? Put it as 905 you like, you must arrive at the conclusion that the Committee is hopelessly incompetent to investigate such matters as these. I am aware that a very curious precedent was set by the House the other day—set, I think, by the House very lightly—in a case affecting the Corporation of the City of London. I was astonished when I saw what was done. There it was agreed, apparently without much discussion or the production of precedents, that the Corporation should be represented practically by counsel, and that the other side should be represented by persons who were as good as counsel. But what I want to know is this—I invite an expression of opinion on the point, either from the Front Benches opposite or from hon. Members below the Gangway—do hon. Gentlemen opposite contemplate that in an investigation by a Committee counsel should appear, and that the investigation should be as similar as possible as that in the Courts of Law? That is a point of great importance. I maintain that if there is to be such an investigation, then hon. Members had far better go before a Court of Law, because it would be a far superior form of investigation to that of a Committee of the House of Commons; and if they do not, and if it is said that counsel shall not be heard for The Times, then I say that the inquiry is a farce. I have stated—I think, not at too great length—two practical objections connected with the composition of the Committee and the powers of the Committee, which I feel confident, on examination, will be fatal to the inquiry. I must point out that there is nothing in the least inconsistent in this suggestion of the Government—that there should be a prosecution by the Attorney General—with the Motion before the House. If the House should come to the conclusion—not altogether an irrational one—that it will not treat this question as a question of Breach of Privilege, because it would involve the House in a conflict with the Press, which would lead to the result of the spectacle of the powers of the House of Commons being weaker than those of the Press—it places hon. Gentlemen opposite in the position, and leaves it with them in their discretion, and in the name of the House of Commons, to take proceedings. [Laughter.] That is a 906 very important matter. What is the object of the Government after all, laugh at it as you like? The Government offer this. They say that if hon. Gentlemen choose to make a Motion to the effect that a prosecution should be instituted by the Crown—formally in the name of the Crown, but in reality by hon. Members' own functionaries—against the authors of the libel, that Motion will come on as a matter of Privilege, will take precedence of all other Business, and, as far as the Government are concerned, will be immediately agreed to. What is that but offering to hon. Gentlemen as fair and as impartial a tribunal for the investigation of those libels as the British Constitution can furnish? The Courts of Law have not worked badly for English justice in the past. The Court did not work badly for English justice, or for Irish justice, in the case of Mr. Brenon against Mr. Ridgway. The Government offer to the Irish Nationalist Party, who are the aggrieved persons, at the cost of the country, the employment of any counsel they may like to name, and of any firm of solicitors they have confidence in, and to bring into this country, free of expense, any witnesses whom they think it necessary to produce; and they say that in that way they believe the truth will be arrived at, and if The Times is proved to have libelled grossly and outrageously the character of hon. Gentlemen opposite, then not only will The Times and those who are responsible for it have to suffer the severest penalties which the Criminal Law of this country can impose, but also the character of hon. Gentlemen opposite will have been cleared in a manner in which the House of Commons itself is powerless to clear it, and justice, which, after all, ought to be and is, I believe, the very essence of the British Parliament and of the British character, will have been aimed at and will have been done.
§ MR. DILLON
I have listened with attention to the speech of the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill), or rather, I should say, I have listened to only a portion of it, not the whole, which was characterized, as usual, with the very greatest ability and subtlety. I do not propose to follow that speech into all its details, because I think it is one which ought to be considered carefully and 907 answered by others at a further stage of this debate, and because to do so would compel me to speak at much greater length than I propose to do with other matter before me. I will content myself by alluding to two matters which were touched upon in the speech of the noble Lord. He alluded, as I fully expected he would, to the case of Mr. Brenon against Mr. Ridgway as an example of how confidently we might look to an English Court of Law and an English jury as a fair tribunal; but he omitted to state to the House that counsel for Mr. Brenon very properly pointed out to the jury that Mr. Brenon had been publicly expelled from our organization in Ireland; that he was a bitter and persistent enemy of ours; and that there was read in the Court, for the purpose of influencing the mind of the jury, an atrocious lampoon written by Mr. Brenon upon the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), and, of course, these matters were taken into consideration. Mr. Brenon's character, before he obtained that verdict, was cleared to the mind of the jury of the stain that he was in any way connected with or bound up with the Nationalist cause in Ireland, and it was shown that, on the contrary, purged from all connection with our work, he was one of our bitterest and lowest enemies. So much for the argument of Brenon and his verdict. the other point alluded to by the noble Lord was, that it would be impossible to constitute out of this House a Committee which would judge fairly and honourably in this matter. Now, Sir, that is a contention to which I utterly demur. I will not follow the noble Lord in all the turnings and twinings of his argument; but I say that I utterly decline to accept the proposition that it would not be perfectly easy to constitute out of this House such a Committee as would be accepted by us and all sections of the House as an impartial Committee. At all events, will the noble Lord not consider this point—that we who are parties chiefly interested, we who are in difficult circumstances, and a small minority in this House, and until recently a miserable minority in this country, we at least have some right to be consulted as to the tribunal before which we seek to lay our case? Every argument used by the noble Lord and by the hon. and learned Solicitor 908 General (Sir Ed ward Clarke) goes to show —what? Not that the Committee would be prejudiced in our favour, but unfair in a sense unfavourable to us, and yet we are willing to go before it. I now come to the speech delivered by the hon. and learned Solicitor General at the opening of the debate. He, in speaking on behalf of the Government, made the statement that no hon. Member of this House had appealed to the House, and stated that he had been assailed under peculiar circumstances, and that the redress open to every ordinary citizen was not open to him. Now, I contend that that accurately describes the condition of the case. That was precisely the statement I made—that I and my hon. Friends around me had been assailed; that the case was not an ordinary case; and that we considered the ordinary remedies open to the citizens of this country were not open to us; and it is for this reason, and precisely for this reason, that we have made our appeal that the case should be heard, if it is heard at all, before a Committee of this House. What are the circumstances of the case? "We have been assailed now with what I may fairly describe as a conspiracy for malignant persistency, unparalleled in this country since the days of Titus Oates, and just as in the days of the Popish Plot the Catholics of England had no redress from the ordinary tribunals of the country, so has the Press of this country lashed the popular mind into such a fury against us and the cause which we represent, that I have no hesitation in saying that we are not on an even footing with the ordinary citizen, and that, owing to the action of our assailants and the Press of the same way of thinking in politics, it would not be just or fair to ask us to face these assailants in a Court of Justice in England. Why, consider what has happened in this country for the last six years. For six years we have struggled in this House in defence of a cause which has been almost universally unpopular in this country. For six years the voice of every leading politician in England has been raised over and over again in denunciation of us and our movement. For six years all the leading newspapers in England, with very few exceptions, have held us up to public odium in this country, denouncing our motives, and in every way inflaming the public mind against 909 us. During that period of six years I myself have twice been imprisoned—twice I have stood my trial for criminal conspiracy, and three times have I been arrested by the police. Undoubtedly, all these facts would be used to prejudice the mind of the public in England against us; and although I am not ashamed of these facts, can any honest man stand up in this House and say that in the minds of a law-abiding people like the English, who have not known the difficulties and the troubles of our country, these facts that I have been three times arrested by the police and have been twice imprisoned would not be used to prejudice the mind of the jury against me and to make out that I was a criminal? And that is not all; for at this very moment the Leaders of two great political Parties are engaged day by day, and week by week, in denouncing us from public platforms in every portion of England as criminals, and worse than criminals; and are we to be told that under those circumstances our case is on all fours with that of the ordinary private citizen who seeks redress? I say that a more untruthful and monstrous proposition was never put forward. It is because Gentlemen opposite and the Government know that they have so inflamed the passions of a large section of the people of England against us that our position would be cruelly unfair in a Court of English Law in endavouring to defend ourselves. It is for that reason they refuse us the mode of redress which we ask for and seek to drag us into a position in which we would be taken at a disadvantage. And when we come to the position of the defendant, what would be our standing in the case? We, who are strangers, not among our own people, are asked to take action against the mightiest and wealthiest newspaper in London. Who would be sitting on the jury to try the issue? The readers of The Times. The men who day by day for all these years have read as regularly as the sun has risen the articles written to prove that we were all associates of murderers and assassins; and are we to be told that here, in London, among a population which has been prejudiced against us and inflamed by this very paper that we are called upon to prosecute, we would stand on an equal ground with The Times and be sure of a fair and impartial verdict? The reasons why I personally— 910 and I speak now entirely for myself— decline, and shall decline, to enter into any legal proceedings against The Times are these. Nothing on earth will induce me to do it. [Ministerial laughter.] I say to the men who laugh that it is a cowardly thing to taunt me for saying so. They have sought—trusting to the strength of their position in fighting a battle which, to me and those who sit around me, is a battle far dearer than life—to place us in a position where we have not a chance. They seek to fight us with our hands tied. Sir, the reason why I decline, and shall decline, to take any legal proceedings against The Times are these—first of all, because I am convinced that there is not a shadow of a chance of a verdict; secondly, because I believe that, in the view of all the circumstances to which I have alluded, the real issues would be obscured and hidden from the public by the most irrelevant matter, and by the speeches and denunciations of counsel; and, thirdly, because, believing as I do that the real issues to be determined are very few and exceedingly small, I desire to bring this matter to the most speedy decision possible, and I believe that for a case of this nature a Committee of Gentlemen in this House is a much more competent and suitable tribunal than any Court of Law in this country. I feel convinced that the motives of the Government in adopting the course they now propose is, that they have convinced themselves that The Times newspaper has no case on which it would dare go before the Committee of this House, and, like the cowardly calumniator that it is, it slinks away from the opportunity that has been freely offered it of substantiating its charges if it can do so. Sir, we have heard of a lowly animal dwelling in the sea whose mode of defence is this—that when it sees an enemy approaching it emits clouds of dirt, and makes the water muddy, so that its enemy cannot see where it is. Now that The Times has the opportunity offered of coming before a Committee of English gentlemen here—and, as far as I am personally concerned, I am willing to leave my case—I speak for myself alone—to a Committee on which no Irishman will sit—The Times shrink, like that lowly animal, into its hole, having received full warning that we shall not attempt to pursue it into that hole, 911 knowing as we do perfectly well it would emit such a cloud of dust and dirt that the public would lose sight of the real issues. Now, I have pointed out already that really the only substantial objection to a Committee that has been urged by the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington and the hon. and learned Solicitor General is that such a Committee might be held to be prejudiced against us, and it has also been said that when the Committee had decided we should turn round and denounce it. I think I am in the recollection of the House that that is really the only substantial point. It is said, forsooth, that if the Committee decided against us we should turn on thorn and denounce them as partizans! I should like to leave it to the judgment of any impartial person, whether Conservative or Liberal, what would be our position before the country, if, after a Committee of the House had decided by a largo majority against us on this issue, we took refuge in denouncing them as partizans? Do the noble Lord and the hon. and learned Solicitor General wish to put forward this proposition—that their estimate of English gentlemen has sunk so low as to believe that in an issue of this nature, affecting the honour—I may almost say the political existence—of men who sit with them in this House, they think they would vote on strictly Party lines? Do they mean that the Conservatives would all vote against us, and the Liberals would all vote for us? Though I am strongly opposed to Conservatives, I take no such view. There may be men on those Benches who would take such a shocking and dishonourable course as to shut their eyes to the plainest evidence that could be laid before them; but my confidence is such that I am prepared, without the slightest hesitation or the least fear, to go before a Committee constituted of English Liberals, English Unionists, and English Conservatives, and I do not expect that the Division would be on strictly Party lines. Surely, as I have said already, we who are in a small minority; we whose political existence is threatened by this ferocious persecution; we, who are the attacked and the admittedly weaker Party, have a right, or it used to be always considered so in matters of this character, to a voice in the selection of the tribunal. Does The Times take up the position 912 along with the Government that it is not possible to find a Committee of this House to investigate this matter? I do not believe that any Member of the Government has yet really taken up that position. Now, I would ask the House to listen to a declaration of vast importance, to which the noble Lord did not refer. He took upon himself to speak for the Press of England. He took the Press of England under his wing; but he said nothing about The Standard newspaper, for which he has no great affection. The Standard newspaper is not a paper devoted to the Irish Nationalists. It is more entitled than he is to speak for the Press of England, and what does The Standard say? It says to-day that as beyond all question we have "appealed to Cæsar," we have a right to be heard by this House. If the noble Lord wants the opinion of the Press of England, I give him the opinion of the greatest and most influential of the daily Conservative Press of England. There is the opinion of that great paper. It does not appeal to the House not to interfere with the Press. On the contrary, it says that after the debate of yesterday, there can be no doubt we are entitled to demand at the hands of the House the Committee we press for. I stated yesterday that I did not intend to make any long statement in reply to The Times article till the issue has been decided whether it is a Breach of Privilege or not. I mean to adhere to that statement. If the House had decided to bring forward the printer of The Times, I should be perfectly prepared to meet the charge in detail in any shape or way the House might desire. But I can see no object to be gained by replying to that statement of The Times now by getting up time after time and replying to the last statement of The Times, wasting the time of the House, and arriving at no definite conclusion. If I spent an hour in replying to-day, there would be three columns in The Times tomorrow proving what I said was false, and then the House, if willing, might set itself the task of listening to the hon. Baronet the Member for North Antrim (Sir Charles Lewis) one day, and to me the next, until even the House of Commons would get weary of The Times. I do not, therefore, intend to go at any length into the reply to these charges. I will only say one or two 913 sentences on the matter. In looking over the article everyone must observe that there are two classes into which the charges made may be divided. There is the class of positive assertion and of innuendo and insinuation, and I say that a more monstrous and infamous system of calumny cannot be pursued by a public journal than the system of insinuation and innuendo. Anyone reading through this article will see that there is hardly a single direct assertion of any consequence whatever on which an action could be founded; but the article is studded with carefully and skilfully constructed insinuations, conveying to the mind of the British public impressions which are not directly stated at all; and the argument throughout is constructed in that fashion. I say that the man who sits down and deliberately writes for the purpose of destroying a public man's character, not by direct and honest and straight assertion of facts, which can be proved or disproved, but by a series of insinuations out of which he can wriggle when he is brought to book, is little better than a murderer and an assassin himself. Such sentences as this occur over and over again. I will not take up the time of the House by reading more than one—We shall prove that Sheridan did plot murder while he was an acknowledged Land League agent, and that he ostentatiously recanted the abjuration which he is said to have made, and publicly proclaimed himself a relapsed dynamiter"—the insinuation being that before I employed Sheridan as an agent he had been a dynamiter. What else does that sentence mean if not that? Anyone who knows Irish history knows that long before the breaking up of that association dynamite was never heard of in Irish politics. The insinuation throughout the first two paragraphs is that I knew him to be a murderer, an assassin, a dynamiter before I employed him. And when you go through the thing you find there is not even an attempt to prove one of these allegations. That is the character of the whole document. If you pick out of that document all the direct assertions they are absolutely worthless. But it bristles with innuendos without an attempt to substantiate them; but which the British public, who do not study Irish history, and have no 914 time or inclination for the details of this matter, will swallow. The public will swallow the poison thus put in their mouths. This thing has been going on for months and years, and for months and years The Times has denounced the cause in which we believe, and also the people of Ireland, with a malignity unparalleled, as I believe, in the history of journalism. There is no common case, for here we have one of the wealthiest and most powerful journals of the world, trusting in its great position, in its wealth, and in its great influence, which has pursued and is pursuing with an unsparing hate a small Irish Party, and the cause for which we struggle. And why? Because we have committed the unpardonable sin in the eyes of the English Times, the sin which The Times never forgives—because we have dared to stand up against wealth and authority on behalf of an oppressed and trampled people. For that reason, and for no other, a decree has been registered in Printing House Square that we, the Irish Party, must be exterminated and hunted to our political death. For that reason, and for no other, they are determined to get us into such a position that they can bring to bear upon us the full force of the influences which they command. For that reason they are determined to destroy us, because they hope and believe that in our ruin would be involved the ruin of the cause of Irish freedom and Irish nationality, and of the suffering people whom we represent in this House.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
The noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) commenced his speech by making some comments on the remarkable changes of mind which he said had taken place on the part of some Members of this House. But, perhaps, he himself has shown the most remarkable changes of mind of which an instance is to be found either inside or outside the House of Commons, and I would draw attention to the fact that even on the very question which is now before the House the noble Lord has changed his mind within the last fortnight. Speaking, a few days ago, at Nottingham, he retailed these atrocious calumnies from The Times, though, following the example of the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington), he would not 915 himself, indeed, take the responsibility of endorsing them. He said—I make myself no party to these accusations. All I say is, that they are brought. I leave the matter there, hut I do not know that it will rest there. It may—And, now, this is the sentence to which I wish to draw the particular attention of the House—It may even be necessary for the House of Commons independently of the action of the Irish Party, to take action, and to endeavour of its own independent authority to clear the House of Commons, as a body, from the charges made against a section of the House, which undoubtedly re-act upon the whole House of Commons.Now, that was spoken at Nottingham not ten days ago. It brought down the house. It was delivered amidst the loud cheers of a large packed audience of Tories in Nottingham. Everybody there expected, I venture to say, that the noble Lord himself would, some day or other, move for the precise Committee which is now demanded in this House; and, certainly, nobody who was at that meeting, I will further venture to say, would ever have expected, that when the Motion was made by some other Member, the noble Lord would be one of the most prominent in objecting to it. He was very courageous at Nottingham; but now his courage has oozed out at his fingers' ends. Now, when we accept the challenge which the House of Commons has offered, he stands up as one of the most conspicuous opponents of the course he recommended not ten days ago. What conclusion are we to draw from that? If he does not now seize hold of the opportunity which we offer him, and which he indicated himself in the speech from which I have quoted—I hope I shall not be un-Parliamentary in saying so—but in face of the extract I have read from his speech, I can have no hesitation in saying that, in my opinion, he was trying to humbug the people of Nottingham and the people of England. What is the course of the Government to-day? It is very remarkable. My hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) referred to this suggested prosecution as a collusive action. Sir, I think there was more ground for that remark than has yet been manifested to the House, when I call the attention of the House to the fact that the course now suggested by the Government is the 916 very plan suggested this morning by The Times. The criminal has got behind the ear of the Judge, and the Judge has disgraced himself by listening to his suggestions. We are invited to trust to a public prosecution, in preference to an investigation by a Committee, and we are treated to long and elaborate disquisitions on legal points and precedents as if they were the all-important matters in the case. Legal subtleties and principles and precedents reaching back for centuries are trotted out in this House as if the mention of them settled the whole case. We are invited to go upon narrow limits and small lines and mere technicalities, when a question of honour is involved, and when it has been recognized, again and again, that the House of Commons is the best judge of all to recognize such questions as those and to decide them. It seems to me that there is no comparison whatever between a Committee of this House and a Court of Law for dealing with a matter like this. What we want to do is to get to the bottom of this question. What we want to do is to get out every fact, to enable everybody who has anything to say upon this question to have his say. That cannot be done in a Court of Law, where everybody would be tied down by legal rules of evidence. What we want to get in would not be allowed to get in there; and, on the other hand, counsel would be allowed to make various statements, both of fact and comment, which would not be allowed in a Committee upstairs. But in a Committee upstairs everybody who has any evidence to give of any sort whatever would be listened to. No rules of evidence would stand in the way of the reception of that evidence, and nobody would be entitled to say, after it was all over, that the whole case was not presented to the Committee. The fact has been greatly insisted on that a prosecution is offered to us. But we could have instituted one ourselves. I do not see, therefore, the value of the concession of the Government. Do hon. Members mean to say that we cannot institute a prosecution ourselves? Why, I thought the challenges of the Tory Press and of the Tory Party, for the last few weeks, distinctly challenged us to go into a Court of Law of our own motion; and now, forsooth, they offer us a prosecution when we decline one, and pretend 917 that they are thereby offering us something which we could not otherwise have. They offer to conduct it for us, too, at the public expense. All I can say as to the question of payment is, that I think the acceptance of Government money in England or Ireland is not a part of the programme of the Irish Party. If we go into a Court of Law we will pay our own expenses, and not touch Government money in England, which no Member of the National Party would dare to touch in Ireland. What is the position of the Government now? I hope the people of England will appreciate that position. They are challenged now, by a series of statements which cannot be misrepresented, to go before a Committee, practically of their own selection; they are challenged to go before a Committee on which their Party will have a majority; and if they do not accept that challenge, the people of England will come to the conclusion that they cannot even trust Members of their own Party to decide upon this case. I am not surprised that they will not. All the evidence of the last few weeks, and the speeches of various Members of the Government, point clearly to the fact that they, at all events, whatever may be said of their Party, want to create the impression that they, at least, believe in the truth of the accusations made against hon. Members on this side of the House. The hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Brodrick) has distinctly expressed his belief in the genuineness of the forged letter. I think the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) has also expressed his belief in the truth of these charges; and, if I am not misinformed, that very impartial Gentleman who spoke on behalf of the Government a little while ago (Sir Edward Clarke), and who offered us a perfectly impartial trial in a Court of Law, himself expressed at Taunton last week, again and again, the basest insinuations against the Irish Party. I call upon the hon. and learned Solicitor General to repudiate that assertion, if it be untrue. My challenge is, that again and again in the course of the Taunton Election he made insinuations, if not express declarations, to the effect that the serious charges in The Times were well founded.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir EDWARD CLARKE) (Plymouth)
I do not 918 know that it is convenient to rise and interrupt a Member; but after this direct challenge I maybe permitted to say that when I was speaking at Taunton I expressed a strong opinion with regard to the abstinence of those against whom the charges had been made from bringing them to public test and solution; but I did not go beyond that.
§ MR. CLANCY
The whole drift of the remarks of the hon. and learned Gentleman were adverse to the Irish Party on the question, and he and his Party circulated a fac simile of the forged letter. I am astonished at the attitude now taken up by him, and I will venture to say that if he went down to Taunton next week, and stated to the people there that he had publicly repudiated here what he stated there a week ago, he would not get so favourable a reception; and if the Election wore to take place over again, probably his protégé who was last week returned for Taunton would not get so many votes as he then did. The position of the Government is this. There is a fair challenge which we have made again and again, both in this House and out of it, to go before a Committee of this House. The Government decline now to accept it, and the conclusion which we come to, and, I believe, the conclusion which the people of England will come to, is that so little do they believe in their own case, and so little do they believe in the case of The Times, that they cannot trust even the Members of the Conservative Party to decide it.
§ MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)
This is the first time I have ever known it asserted that the person who gave the challenge was the person who had the choice of the weapons. I have always understood that, according to the code of honour, it is the person who receives the challenge who has the choice of weapons. Now, Sir, the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) has made one admission, and I call the attention of the House to that admission. He has admitted that this publication in The Times is a Breach of Privilege. If it is a Breach of Privilege, it is within the jurisdiction of this House to punish that Breach of Privilege; and there exist, therefore, two concurrent and independent remedies for this alleged wrong. The Government say—"We will not give you 919 that remedy to which, as Members of this House, you are entitled; and we refer you to that remedy which you can obtain for yourselves without any assistance from us." Now, Sir, every Member of this House is liable to libel, both in his public and in his private capacity; and, so far as a libel is made upon a Member in his private capacity, it is not reasonable or just that the power of this House should be invoked for his protection. But when the libel arises out of his public capacity—when the libel arises out of his conduct in this House—it is not just nor right that he should be deprived of the ancient and Constitutional remedy which is provided for a question of Privilege. Now, Sir, I admit that in the days that are gone by, this House has interfered in cases of Privilege in which it would not be wise for it to interfere now; but, in answer to the challenge of the hon. and learned Solicitor General, let me bring to the attention of the House one single case which shows the views that were entertained of the jurisdiction of this House—its unquestionable jurisdiction—which will throw some light upon the question now before the House as to whether this is a Breach of Privilege. These authorities, ancient though they be, are binding and conclusive. Now, Sir, I find that in one case in which this House was concerned—and a case of mere verbal slander, not of libel or of written statement—it was said in a coffee-house that Sir Peter Rich, a Member of this House, was ''the first Popish Knight King James had made," and that he was "a rogue and rascal." These were words of a slightly defamatory character, and they were not spoken in relation to any business before the House of Commons; but, nevertheless, this House held a Committee of Inquiry to examine into the matter; and the House, being satisfied that these words had been used, committed the gentleman who had used them to prison under the usual jurisdiction of the House. There are numerous other cases from that time down to the present. Let me refer for one moment to a case which was brought before the House in 1880—the case of Mr. Plimsoll. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General (Sir Edward Clarke) quoted from that debate some observations which were made by the right hon. Gentleman the 920 Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), and he will forgive me for saying that he did not quote those expressions with exact fulness, because he did not bring to the notice of the House what was the real point to which the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby were directed. There was no question ever raised that Mr. Plimsoll was guilty of a Breach of Privilege, because he had published a placard in which the conduct of an hon. Member of this House was referred to as "degrading and inhuman." These were offensive epithets, and only offensive epithets—they were not nearly so bad as the words in The Times—and it being admitted on all sides that the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) had been guilty of a Breach of the Privileges of this House, the only question that was before the House was what notice the House would take of it. A Motion was made in this House that it should be declared a Breach of Privilege, and it was contended by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) that, although it was a Breach of Privilege, the House should not take further notice of the case. And why? Because the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) had apologized for the words he had used. Having apologized for the words he had used, there existed no reason for bringing the penal jurisdiction of the House into operation. But, in that case, some of the friends of Her Majesty's Government took a very different view from the view which they take now. It is quite true that the person offended was a Conservative and an English Member; but I trust the day will never come when less justice will be done to a Radical Member or to an Irish Member than to a Conservative Member or an English Member; and by a largo majority it was declared that, in the opinion of this House, the conduct of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll), in publishing printed placards denouncing the part taken by two Members of this House was a Breach of Privilege; but the House, having regard to the withdrawal by the hon. Member of the expressions used, was of opinion that no further action on its part was necessary. In that debate the Conservative Party took a very different view of the question of Privilege from that which we have heard them express to-day in this 921 House. The then Attorney General (Sir John Holker), taking a strong view of the question of Privilege as it affected the question before the House, said there could be no doubt as to what the law of Parliament was upon the subject, for it was laid down with the greatest clearness in the work of Sir Erskine May, which was the great authority upon Parliamentary law. He went on to show that the law as there laid down was that to print or publish any books or libels reflecting on the proceedings of the House, or on any Member for his services in the House, was a high violation of the rights and Privileges of the House of Commons, and then the hon. and learned Gentleman quoted the Resolution of 1699, declaring that to publish the names of Members, or reflect upon them, or misrepresent their proceedings in Parliament was a Breach of Privilege, and that to print or publish any books or libels was a high violation of the rights and Privileges of Parliament. Sir John Holker went on to say that that was a very distinct enunciation from the Parliament of that day, and it was the law to which he gave his adhesion. Reference was made in that debate to another ease, where a very highly respected Judge, now Lord Justice Lopes, was made the subject of a Motion for Breach of Privilege in the House of Commons; and all that the then Mr. Lopes had said with respect to the Irish Members was that they were "a disreputable Irish band." The only objectionable word that he used was the word "disreputable," and I am sure the House will agree with me in saying that that was a very mild and a very harmless expression compared with the torrent of precise and abusive epithets which The Times has thought fit to employ. Therefore, if it was a Breach of Privilege to use the word "disreputable," then, à fortiori, it is a Breach of Privilege for The Times to employ the language it has used. What did Mr. Disraeli say with reference to that Breach of Privilege? He said—I am not here to deny that it is a Breach of Privilege to speak of any Members of this House in their capacity as such in terms which imply disgrace, or, as the hon. Gentleman raid, calumny."—(3 Hansard,  330.)What happened in that case? Why, Mr. Lopes apologized, and withdrew the 922 language he had used; and, consequently, nothing further was done in the matter. But there never was any doubt that words of that character were an invasion of the rights of the House and a Breach of Privilege. Now, Sir, there was another case to which I may refer for a moment—a case which occurred on the 16th of April, 1878—when Mr. O'Donnell, then a Member of this House, brought forward, as a matter of Privilege, some remarks made against him by a paper called The Globe, and the words which he brought up were these—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 which he obtruded upon the House."—(3 Hansard.  1400.)In that case, the right hon. and learned Member for Bury (Sir Henry James) contended that The Globe had not gone beyond the limits of fair criticism, and justified his denial of the remedy of Privilege expressly on this ground—that the words did not constitute a libel. If the words had constituted a libel, then, in his opinion, they were a Breach of the Privileges of the House; but he stated that they were words which no Judge would for one moment hold to be of the nature of a libel, and, therefore, they would not amount to a Breach of Privilege. Therefore, by implication, if they had amounted to a libel, they would have been a Breach of Privilege. What I should like to know is this. It being an undoubted fact that The Times has been guilty of a Breach of the Privileges of this House according to all the cases, I should like to know why the hon. Member who suffers from the conduct of The Times is not to have his remedy in this House? It is said he has another remedy. Well, that is true. In almost every case of Broach of Privilege that has ever occurred there is a concurrent jurisdiction in the case, and I may refer to one or two words used by Lord Ellenborough in his judgment in the leading case upon the subject, in which he shows that the nature of that remedy in Parliament is that it is a concurrent remedy, and not, as was suggested by the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill), an exclusive or separate remedy. Dealing with the question of 923 relief outside the House, Lord Ellenborough asked—Whether it was consistent with the dignity of such Bodies as the House of Commons, and, what was more, with the immediate and effectual exercise of their important functions, that they should wait for the comparatively late result of a prosecution in the ordinary Courts of Law for the vindication of their Privileges from wrong and insult? Therefore," he said, "by the necessity of the case, the principles of human reason seemed to require that such Bodies, constituted for such purposes, and exercising such functions as they did, should possess the powers which the history of the earliest times showed them, in fact, to possess and use.Now, Sir, this being a clear case of Breach of Privilege, if Parliament is not to interfere to uphold its rights on behalf of the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), it is very difficult to see in what case it could interfere at a future time; and the ground upon which Lord Ellenborough specially based his judgment—the delay and dilatoriness of the proceedings of a Court of Justice—is a ground which will always continue to exist. Now, Sir, I was surprised, above all things, to hear the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington say that a Committee of this House was not a tribunal which could be trusted in a matter of personal honour. If a Committee of this House cannot be trusted, how are you going to trust a jury? I think it was once stated by a right hon. Gentleman who is a Member of this House that if you were to take the first 658 men who passed through Temple Bar you would have as good a House of Commons as you obtain by the process of selection which now exists; but I never hoard anybody say that if you take the first batch of men from a jury list you would have a better House of Parliament than you have now. It is the greatest possible reflection upon Members of this House to say that they are not capable of forming a jury. The noble Lord has a great admiration for Courts of Law. It may be that persons who are not, by their connection, brought closely into intimate relations with the administration of the Law Courts are very often great lawyers; but I utterly deny that any verdict of a jury can have, or ought to have, the weight of a decision of a Committee of this House fairly appointed. There is this advantage in having a Committee—that this question would be brought to an immediate test; but how long it would 924 be before the Courts of Law would decide it no one can tell. Months, I believe, would elapse before the final decision was given. There would have to be a Commission to examine witnesses in America, and I have no doubt The Times would be successful in keeping the trial over for a very considerable period. There is another remark which I feel bound to make, although it may be very distasteful to many hon. Members. I can only look at the position of the Irish Members from the position which I must imagine Scotch Members might have been in under similar circumstances if it happened that there was a Scotch Party analogous to the Irish Party, and that that Party, unfortunately, was brought into collision with the Tory majority in an English House of Commons, and that Scotch Members were treated with the libels and the ribaldry which were common about 160 years ago. Hon. Members who are acquainted with the history of that time must know that precisely the same kind of remarks, and libels of the same kind as the insults now levelled at Irishmen, were formerly levelled at Scotchmen, and I dare say that the compliments were returned with interest. But, Sir, if such a case were to arise, and if the Leader of the Scotch Party were insulted and libelled by an English newspaper, I confess that, for my part, I should be very unwilling indeed, and would be no party to allowing the question of the honour of the Leader of the Scotch Party to be tried before an English jury. I think it was Lord Russell who said, in relation to one of our contracts with the United States, that every nation is the guardian of its own honour. The Irish nation is the guardian of the honour of Irishmen; and it seems to me that they are under an obligation, and that it would be a very questionable proceeding if they were to allow themselves, by any gibes or insults, to be drawn out of the straight path in pursuing their political welfare. I would like to mention another reason before I sit down. These insults and these libels are published with a clear and distinct purpose. The libels are not even sincere. The man who wrote in The Times that the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) had uttered a gross falsehood knew, when he wrote those words, that he did not believe them. It is impossible to 925 read that article without seeing that these allegations are insincere—that it is simply a case of the rhetorical piling up of agony—a simple throwing of mud in the face of hon. Gentlemen in the hope of drawing them into litigation, and drawing a red herring across the scent, and so drawing away the attention of the public from the great question before the House. The hon. Member is not really attacked. The whole thing is a mere instrument used hypocritically for the purpose of taking away the freedom and independence of the Irish people. Sir, we understand it all. We know perfectly well that the hon. Member for East Mayo is incapable of telling a lie. I should say it is very likely I might even say the same thing of the writer in The Times. But we know what it all means. It is simply an application of the old and stale story, "No case— abuse plaintiff's attorney." I tell hon. Members and I tell The Times that it may lie, but it cannot deceive—the artifice is too obvious; and, therefore, I trust that whatever may be said or done hon. Members here will not allow themselves to be drawn and inveigled into a needless and useless and miserable litigation.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)
said: Sir, I will not stand for more than a single moment between the hon. Member and the House; but I think it would, perhaps, be for the convenience of the House if I were to state what, in the very complex assemblage of questions that we have now before us, and with a view to a clear issue, it is my intention to propose in case this question goes to a Division, and in case the Motion of the hon. and learned Solicitor General be carried, which would displace the present words of the Main Question in order to substitute other words, when the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General becomes the Main Question I shall propose the following Amendment:—To leave out all the words after the word 'House,' in order to add the following words— 'is of opinion that an inquiry should be made by a Select Committee into the charge of wilful falsehood in a speech made in this House, 926 brought in an article published in The Times newspaper of the 2nd of May, against John Dillon, Esquire, Member for East Mayo.I will not say a word more, but simply give that Notice.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should put that Amendment at once.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I think I should be involved in the confusion of which I complain if I were to adopt that course. I confess I am a little surprised at the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir EDWARD CLARKE) (Plymouth)
Might I ask the indulgence of the House to explain? The right hon. Gentleman has just given Notice that, in the event of my Amendment becoming a substantive Motion, he proposes to move the Amendment which he has just read out. The question that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House suggested was whether it would not be possible now to substitute the Motion I have made for the original Motion, in order that we may address ourselves to-morrow to the discussion of the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I have no power to do that, but I will so far as this—so far as rests with me I will certainly endeavour to promote a decision as early as possible to-morrow upon the question now before the House, in order that we may approach the Amendment of which I have just given Notice.
§ MR. A. E. GATHORNE-HARDY (Sussex, East Grinstead)
Sir, I do not rise to prolong this debate, and in the few remarks I have to make I shall not reach the time for closing the debate. My object in rising is simply to reply to the plain and simple challenge which has been thrown out by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Charles Russell) who was Attorney General in the late Government. The hon. and learned Gentleman threw out a distinct challenge to Gentlemen who sit on this side of the House. He asked us to state whether, if this accusation were made against the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) or against some other Member of our Party, we would not have acted 927 in a different manner from the way in which we have acted on this question. Well, Sir, all I can say is that if that accusation was correctly levelled at us, any Committee formed, or partially formed, on our side of the House would be a most unfit tribunal to decide this question; but, for myself, I may say that I would most unquestionably have treated the matter in precisely the same manner as I propose to treat the question upon the present occasion. It is my deliberate opinion that this House would be unwise in stretching the question of Privilege, and I believe we should do well if we should establish a direct precedent that where there is at the present moment another remedy for the question raised as Privilege it should be decided by the ordinary tribunals, and in the ordinary way. I simply answer the appeal and the challenge put before us by stating that unquestionably I should have acted with regard to any Gentleman in any quarter of the House in the same way that I am acting now. The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the Committees which have previously sat for the purpose of deciding what may be called judicial questions, and he dealt specialty with the question of electoral corruption and of seats in this House, which the House has deliberately transferred from its own Members to a judicial tribunal. Now, Mr. Speaker, I venture to ask hon. Gentlemen in every quarter of the House whether they would desire to go back to the old practice—whether the change which has been made in that practice has not been of the greatest advantage? I venture to say that no change has ever been more beneficial, or has acted more fairly, than the transfer to the Judges of the realm of the jurisdiction over seats in this House. There is much more that I would like to say; but, as I said when I began, I do not mean to speak up to the period when our debates conclude, and having replied to the challenge which has been thrown out I am satisfied to resume my seat, having, I hope, answered the question which I believe to have been thrown out in good faith, and which I think demanded an answer from some independent source.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Bradlaugh,)—put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.