Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [3rd 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.)
And which Amendment was,
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 Crime 'in The Times of the 2nd of May as a Breach of the Privileges of this House,"—(Mr. Solicitor General,)
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 218; Noes 297: Majority 79,—(Div. List, No. 110.)
That the words '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' be there added.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
The Motion which stood before the House a few minutes ago, asks the House to declare the article published and circulated amongst the Members to be an article which, in the opinion of this House, constituted a Breach of Privilege. The House has decided to omit those words; but it has not yet expressed any opinion as to whether or not the article in question does constitute a Breach of Privilege. Curiously enough, the House is not even asked by the Government to declare any such opinion. It is only asked to abstain from expressing an opinion. The Amendment which has been moved by the hon. and learned Solicitor General is an Amendment which asks the House to decline to treat the publication of the article headed "Parnellism and Crime" as a Breach of the Privileges of this House. It is, to say the least, curious that the Government have not taken upon themselves the responsibility of facing what is the real issue, and that it should seek to evade a declaration upon this grave matter by simply asking the House to decline to express an opinion. I can understand why the House is merely asked to "decline." It is because every precedent which could have been brought before the House would be to the effect that such an article as the one we have before us has always been held to be a 971 Breach of the Privileges of this House whenever the House has been asked to express an opinion upon it. There are cases, which I will deal with presently, in which the House has refrained from expressing any opinion at all. But it is for the Government to say why it is that they now ask the House to "decline." I am in a position of some difficulty, because I find myself obliged, respectfully, to disagree with the First Lord of the Treasury and the Government as to what are the precedents, and I think I shall be borne out by the highest authorities in this House. I also feel some difficulty in finding myself bound to differ from the hon. and learned Solicitor General both as to law and precedent. When I come to examine them I hope the House will not think me impertinent in that remark. The question is one which I have been compelled to consider during the last six years, and I have had exceptional opportunities of studying it afforded to me. I have heard many views on the subject, both accurate and inaccurate. I have been subjected personally to the criticisms of the Lord Chancellor, the late Lord Chancellor and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James), and if I err to-night it will not be from want of reflection in the opinion I am about to express. I have had the additional advantage of hearing some of the doctrines propounded by legal tribunals outside this House which have a right to express an opinion. Now, the first question which I propose to ask the House is—What kind of libels have been repeatedly treated by the House as Breaches of Privilege? The matter is shortly stated, in very much bettor words than I could employ, by the late Sir Erskine May, who says in his book, at page 100—Libels upon Members have been constantly punished, but to constitute a Breach of Privilege they must concern the character or conduct of Members in that capacity.If the article we have to consider does not come within that definition it is utterly impossible that anything could. It is a direct imputation—a grave imputation, if not true—and one of the most scandalous imputations it is possible to conceive against the character and conduct of one Member specially named and of a number of other Members associated with him, as being parties guilty of deliberate falsehood, 972 with intent to deceive this House during its debates. I will only quote one sentence from the article itself. It says—We have examined an elaborate explanation made by one of the most respected of Mr. Parnell's lieutenants from his place in Parliament, and we have shown that it is a tissue of gross and palpable falsehoods.If that stood alone, surely it is a Broach of Privilege. But the article goes on to say—Mr. Dillon either refrained from all serious efforts of recollection and inquiry, and recklessly palmed off upon the House, as ascertained facts within his personal knowledge, a mass of confused, inaccurate, and unexamined memories, or he deliberately told the House a detailed story which he knew to be untrue. In cither case, several of his Colleagues must have known that his statements were unfounded. The Party sat exulting by and endorsed the fabrication.If this be not a Breach of the Privileges of this House, it is utterly impossible to conceive any kind of article which can constitute such a Breach of Privilege. It is perfectly true that the First Lord of the Treasury has committed himself to the statement, that it is not sustained by precedent that such a matter as this constitutes a Breach of Privilege. I have, at various times, had occasion carefully to examine every precedent. Lest I might have failed in my memory I went through the whole of them again last night, having advantage of the brief I used against the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bury when I last had an opportunity of discussing the question for some days with him, and I can find no such precedent. I do not believe, and I say it with all respect to the First Lord of the Treasury, that any such precedent exists. I am sure he has spoken what he believes; but I think he has been deceived by those who have not paid the close attention to precedents that they ought to have done. I am corroborated in this, if corroboration were needful, by the very high authority of the late Leader of the House, who last night expressed himself more distinctly than I should like to do, and with more emphasis than I dare use. The noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) said, that from a technical point of view, no sane or reasonable person would say that in this case there has not been a Breach of Privileges of the House. Of course, the noble Lord is better acquainted with his Col- 973 leagues than I am, and has a better right to express an opinion upon their sanity or reasonableness than I can possibly have. The noble Lord may think there is some meaning in the word "technical." [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCH-HILL (Paddington, S.): Yes.] Then the noble Lord thinks it is possible to charge a man with being a murderer "technically," with being a liar "technically," and that it is possible to charge a number of persons with wilfully endorsing a deliberate falsehood for the purpose of deceiving the House "technically." I do not doubt that the noble Lord is a better judge of technicalities than I am myself. I only understand the ordinary English applicable to a matter of this kind. My experience—an experience which the noble Lord did much to help me to, and for which I shall be ever grateful—does not enable me to understand the introduction of the word "technical" by an English Gentleman into the discussion of a question of this kind. Assuming that it is impossible to deny that this is a Breach of the Privileges of this House, is there sufficient reason for the House to shrink from treating it as such? The First Lord of the Treasury says there is. The reason why he asks the House to decline to say whether or not this is a Breach of Privilege, is because he says the Government have proposed an alternative for an expression of opinion by the House—namely, that there shall be an inquiry into this matter, conducted by the Attorney General, assisted by some Queen's Counsel, which inquiry shall assume the form of a criminal prosecution against the publisher of The Times. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has considered that such a course would give an express advantage to the publisher of The Times and put the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) to a distinct disadvantage. I am glad to see the Attorney General in his place, because he, at any rate, will appreciate the point I am about to submit. If the Amendment of the Solicitor General is carried, it could be given in evidence on the trial of the indictment against the publisher of The Times, to show that for some reason, which may or may not be given, the House has declined to consider this grave and scandalous charge and infamous imputation a Breach of Privilege, and the jury would be influenced by that—influenced 974 to the extent of disagreeing; influenced to the extent of giving the defendant the benefit of the doubt, which every counsel claims for his client in a criminal proceeding. If this were a cunningly invented device for influencing the jury—which I am sure it is not—it could not have been more adroitly contrived. If the Government had used the weight of their authority and of those who will follow them into the Lobby to declare these articles a Breach of Privilege, then their proposal would have been a logical one, and it would have been proper to come to the House for the direction of the Attorney General to prosecute the person who in the opinion of the House has been guilty of a gross Breach of Privilege, by publishing abominable and scandalous charges which are not true, and ought to be punished with a heavier punishment than the House could inflict by a mere fine or sessional imprisonment. It is well known that this newspaper has been industriously engaged for some weeks in circulating a tissue of statements with the view of influencing the passing of a particular Bill rather than the advancement of any matter of truth. If I were to judge matters by what is happening outside the House, I should be inclined to think that the Government do desire to influence the jury; because I find hon. Gentlemen who vote with them, and over whom they have influence, in their addresses to the country, using language which must certainly reach the ears of all who are likely to be jurymen, to excite a prejudice which must tell against the Members of the Irish Party and in favour of the publisher of The Times whenever the matter is submitted to the consideration of a jury. In his speech yesterday, the Solicitor General used some words, which I will trouble the House with for a moment. The hon. and learned Gentleman said—We are bound, when a question of this kind arises, to address ourselves to it with reference strictly to legal considerations.I understood the hon. and learned Gentleman to say that he said that, after consultation with his hon. and learned Colleague the Attorney General—[The SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir Edward Clarke) (Plymouth) assented.] I am right in that. Why, then, did not two such acute men as himself and the Attorney General advise the Government that 975 they were putting The Times in a position of advantage, because, legally, this Resolution could be given in evidence before a jury? [The ATTORNEY GENE-RAL (Sir Richard Webster) (Isle of Wight) dissented.] Surely the hon. and learned Gentleman does not remember the proceedings commenced in the name of the Attorney General against the junior Member for Northampton, in which a whole bundle of Resolutions of the House were admitted in evidence in a Trial at Bar on a criminal information, and pressed, despite the objection of the defendant in that case that they were not admissible in evidence against him. They not only formed part of the proceedings, but in summing up to the jury, the Court sitting at Bar, and not with a single Judge—the Court, composed of three Judges of high eminence—commented upon the fact. I am not aware that there is any possible distinction to be drawn between a Trial at Bar and a trial on criminal information in the High Court of Justice, or the Central Criminal Court on indictment. I challenge the Attorney General to show that there is a shadow of ground for any such distinction. Then, if the Law Officers knew this, a grave responsibility rests upon them. I do not wish to use hard words, for I am assured of the high honour and ability of the hon. and learned Gentlemen; but it looks as if they have neglected that consideration for Party purposes, so that the Government might not be defeated in this crisis—a crisis which they have themselves provoked by the persistent course of circulating these very libels in their own speeches, so that a verdict against The Times would mean a verdict against nearly every individual Member of the Government as well. It would not only be a verdict against The Times, but, to adopt the words of the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington, it would be "technically" to condemn the Government. Another reason given by the Solicitor General for not treating this as a question of Privilege is one in which I find myself utterly in disagreement with the hon. and learned Gentleman, so utterly in disagreement that I must read his words, for fear of misrepresenting him. The Solicitor General said that he had not had time to examine the long range of precedents which 976 had been referred to, but that he had done his best. He then proceeded to say—I have not found, and I do not believe anyone can find, an instance of the House of Commons exercising this power of 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 a misfeasance in a vote given, or which was not an attempt to coerce and intimidate him in his actions in the House of Commons.Well, I would undertake to find at least a dozen. I will, however, only give one, an old and well-known precedent, because I am afraid that I shall exhaust the patience of the House long before I have done with this matter. I am surprised that the Solicitor General should not have found a precedent, because he has mentioned the case of "Burdett v. Abbott," a case which I had the honour to hear quoted by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bury, some half-a-dozen times or so, when I was before a Court. It will be found reported in the 14th volume of East's Reports, in which every precedent bearing upon this question down to the year 1811 has been carefully collected. I do not know whether the hon. and learned Attorney General, or those who hold consultation with the Solicitor General about precedents, went back beyond 1811; but I may say that precedents from thence to 1839, including that of "Burdett v. Abbott," were re-collected in the case of "Stockdale v. Hansard," which will be found in 9 "Adolphus and Ellis." I have those precedents here, and none of them bear out the contention of the hon. and learned Solicitor General. I will give one which annihilates his contention completely. The hon. and learned Solicitor General has dealt with the case of Sir Francis Burdett. I excuse the hon. and learned Gentleman's ignorance, especially from the short time he has had to study the matter, but he might have had the advantage of the assistance of a number of legal Gentlemen who are at present Members of this House. Undoubtedly he would have had more complete information if he had had an opportunity of studying the matter from the same point of view as I have had myself. The hon. and learned Gentleman, I say, referred to the case of Sir Francis Burdett. Now Sir Francis Burdett was 977 voted guilty of a Breach of Privilege as the author of an address to his constituents, and of an article in Cobbett's Register. I do not intend to weary the House by quoting these papers at length. Hon. Members will find them verbatim in the 16th volume of Hansard's 1st series, pages 138 to 173. That libel was declared to be a gross Breach of the Privileges of this House. Sir Francis Burdett was committed to prison for its publication, and Lord Ellenborough, in the Court of Queen's Bench, held that Sir Francis Burdett had been properly found guilty, but neither his address to his constituents, nor the article in Cobbett's Register contained one solitary ingredient of those which the hon. and learned Solicitor General had said is specifically necessary before the House would commit anyone to prison. If we had not had the hon. and learned Solicitor General's assurance that he had consulted his hon. and learned Colleague, and that they had both carefully reflected upon the matter, one might have thought that they had been content with some more modern edition of a work on Privilege, and had not troubled themselves to go into any of these matters at all. What does the hon. and learned Solicitor General say the ingredients are that are necessary before this House declares that there has been a Breach of Privilege? In the first place, there must be a direct accusation of corruption; that is not the case in this instance. Secondly, an accusation of misfeasance in giving a vote; that does not exist here. Thirdly, an attempt to intimidate or coerce the House; that is not here. There never was a more careful—there probably could not be a more learned—paper than that which was issued in the name of Sir Francis Burdett. I do not mean to imply that it was not his own composition; but the noble Lord knows how often he himself has to rely on matters which are searched out for him. It is a careful argument by Sir Francis Burdett against the power of the House to commit to prison Mr. John Gale Jones, who was declared by the House to have been guilty of contempt towards it. There is not a suggestion that the House acted corruptedly; nor is there a suggestion that any Member of the House voted corruptedly. There is no allegation of any unfair grounds or motives—no 978 suggestion of intimidation or coercion. Every one of the ingredients which the hon. and learned Solicitor General specifically named are wanting in this case. If the exigencies of debate permitted, I would undertake to quote precedents by the dozen; but I maintain that one unanswered case is as good as a dozen when the allegations which have been made are so completely disposed of. I do not deny that the House has a perfect right to do what the Government now asks it to do—namely, to decline to deal with the matter, and to decline to express an opinion on it, even though it be a Breach of Privilege. But I would submit respectfully to the House that the class of cases in which the House has so declined is a class of cases to none of which does this belong. The House has sometimes declined when the case has been too trivial to be dealt with as a Breach of Privilege, and it has more than once declined when it has known that the charge has been withdrawn and apologized for. Ferrand's case was referred to by the hon. and learned Solicitor General. In that case, the person accused declined to substantiate his charges, and the House was of opinion that the charges were totally unfounded and calumnious, but that they did not affect in the slightest degree the character of any Member of the House. Do any of those circumstances apply to this case? I do not see how the hon. and learned Solicitor General, in dealing with Ferrand's case, could have felt its applicability, seeing that it was dismissed as a calumnious matter. In this case, there can be no pretence that the charges can be dismissed as trivial; and, secondly, the accuser in this case does not decline to substantiate the charges. As far as I understand, the publisher of The Times says—"I am ready to substantiate my charges, and I want an opportunity of substantiating them." [Cries of "Hear, hear!" from the Ministerial Benches.] "Hear, hear!" hon. Members opposite say. They agree to that; then Ferrand's case does not apply to this case. The hon. and learned Solicitor General has quoted, in the course of his very able speech, cases as precedents for the course the Government propose to take. The hon. and learned Gentleman said—The junior Member for Northampton, in the last Parliament But one, was ordered by 979 the House to be prosecuted, notwithstanding the fact that the. Government had taken his part in the proceedings that led to the prosecution; and it was felt that the hon. Member for Bury, who had been supporting the hon. Member for Northampton in his action, ought not alone to conduct that prosecution; and, accordingly, the present Lord Chancellor, then sitting on the Front Opposition Bench, was associated with him in the conduct of the case, and took a very active and diligent part in the framing of the indictment and in the subsequent proceedings.I think I remember, when I had the pleasure of sitting over there (pointing to the Benches beneath the Gallery) seeing the hon. and learned Solicitor General in his place listening to the debate which then occurred; and he must be aware that it was suggested by Members of his own Party that a prosecution conducted against myself by the right hon. and learned Member for Bury might be a collusive prosecution.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
I thought the noble Lord would. I have refreshed my memory on this matter, and I propose to read to the House the exact words of the noble Lord, which, I think, will justify the statement I have just made. In vol. 284 of Hansard, page 659, the following words occur in the speech of the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington:—There is no doubt that the Attorney General will be instructed by the Government to commence a more or less friendly and collusive action against Mr. Bradlaugh.The noble Lord not only suspected the honour of the right hon. and learned Member for Bury, but he absolutely suggested that even a Court of Law might not be fair. Now, let me say that in the series of conflicts in which I have been engaged, I never allowed myself to make any such suggestion, nor has any-thing ever occurred in my life to justify me in making such a suggestion against any Law Officer of the Crown. But, Sir, not only did the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington say that—and those who are sitting round him cheered the statement—but he absolutely suggested that the Court itself might not be fair. The noble Lord expressly selected, in one speech, the Lord 980 Chief Justice of all England, and said that the political views of that Judge expressed themselves too much in his judgment. I see the noble Lord does not say anything as to that. If he did, I would refer to Hansard, vol. 278, page 479, in which the noble Lord suggested that a Court might be biased on other considerations than the evidence before it. That is in Hansard.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
I myself have not the same knowledge of "technicalities" as the noble Lord possesses; but I certainly should not have permitted myself, even inside or outside of this House, to have made such a suggestion. I am quoting from Hansard, where the noble Lord objects to proceedings against me in a Court of Law, on the ground that even Courts of Law might be biased by "the demonstrations in my favour." [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL dissented.] The noble Lord shakes his head; but again I say it is in Hansard. In order that there might be no doubt on the matter, I obtained the speech of the noble Lord from the Library when I entered the House. But that is not all. So much did the noble Lord feel that our highest Courts of Justice might be corruptly influenced, that he permitted one-third of the Party he then led to rise in its place in this House and challenge the composition of the Court which was to try me on an information by the Attorney General, the verdict carrying with it the collateral consequence of an offence that was a misdemeanour. Upon that issue the noble Lord permitted an appeal to be made to the Government that one Judge should not be allowed to sit on the trial. That appeal was made in the noble Lord's presence without one word of objection from him. On the contrary, immediately afterwards the noble Lord made an appeal to the Government to know whether the Judges who took part in the trial were to include any more ex-Liberal Attorney Generals. [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL nodded.] Just so; but it appeared that in 1884 the noble Lord was of opinion that a Court of Law was not a fair tribunal. [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL dissented.] Perhaps it may not be quite correct to say that the noble Lord was of that opinion. I am always ready to be corrected by the noble Lord. He was 981 not of that opinion. He only said so. It was probably only a technical difference, which I trust the House will excuse my pressing. Now, every prosecution by the Attorney General might have been a collusive proceeding in 1884. What has occurred to prevent it from being-loss possible that it might be a collusive proceeding now? The proceedings in 1884 were only aimed at making one humble individual a bankrupt; but in this case the Court would have to deal with a charge of murder against certain hon. Members, because an accessory before the fact is guilty of murder. Does the noble Lord think that that is a technical distinction? I hope the noble Lord will appreciate the point. An accessory before the fact in a case of murder is guilty of murder himself, and an accessory after the fact is not much less guilty. Will you put these proceedings into the hands of the Attorney General, who, you say, may be influenced by political considerations, having regard to the fact that upon the result of these proceedings the fate of the Government would depend? You have used the Parnell letter; you have used these charges against Mr. Dillon and others in order to win votes at elections and to stimulate the flagging spirits of the Liberal Unionists; and right hon. Gentlemen and noble Lords have thought it right to appeal to those charges as grounds for deciding an issue with which they have had no connection. I regret to have occupied the time of the House so long. I only wish to make one further remark in argument, now that I have disposed of the facts of the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington. The noble Lord, in his speech to the House last night, stated what he considered to be the only difference between Gentlemen sitting upon this side of the House and Gentlemen sitting upon that side. He said—"The sole difference which separates us is as to the form of the inquiry." Now, what are the two forms of inquiry? They are inquiry by law, and inquiry by a Select Committee of this House. The noble Lord, in 1884, was against inquiry by a Court of Law, he is now for it. He was in favour of an inquiry by a Committee of this House—[Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL dissented.] The noble Lord shakes his head. I often sympathize with the noble Lord. I am perfectly sure of his thorough accuracy; but I often 982 think he must forget the matter which has been prepared for him by other hands. Now, the speech to which I wish to refer was only delivered some 16 days ago. I admit that, to the noble Lord, 16 days is a very long time indeed; but during those 16 days something may have happened showing a glimmering of an opening which before seemed closed, and which may have induced him to see matters in a different light. The noble Lord, with that freedom of speech which always characterizes him, and which I can only try painfully to imitate on occasions when I have to reply to him—the noble Lord, speaking at Nottingham, if he is correctly reported, and I am convinced he is, although he may say there is the same blunder which has crept into the reports of Hansard—the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington, speaking at Nottingham about the accusations against the Irish Members, was generous enough to say that he made himself no party to them. That was the act of a loyal man; but he spoilt it later on by advising his audience to buy the pamphlet. It was not enough to say that he would make himself no party to the accusation; but he went on directly afterwards to point out where it is, how it is to be got, and what the facilities are for obtaining it. The noble Lord is reported in The Times to have said—Now, are we to give over the government of Ireland? How can we abstain from suppressing the authority in Ireland of these men who are accused of such crimes and such criminal practices, and who are unable to prove their innocence? I make myself no party to these occusations. All I say is that they are brought. I leave the matter there. I do not know that it will rest there. It may be necessary even for the House of Commons, independently of the Irish Party, to take action and to endeavour on its own independent authority to clear the House of Commons as a body from the charges against a section of the House of Commons which undoubtedly must reach upon the character of the whole House of Commons. But upon that point I say nothing. I have brought it before you, I advise you to buy this pamphlet, and read it and circulate it.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
I hope the hon. Member will pardon me for interrupting him; but the hon. Member is quite mistaken in saying that I was for the Committee and against the Court 16 days ago, and I must point out that almost the entire portion of my speech which was devoted to this matter was taken up with trying to prove 983 that the only course open to the Irish Members was a resort either to an English, Irish, or Scotch Court of Law. I certainly did allude to the possibility of the House of Commons taking some action, but that was only thrown out as a possible ultima ratio.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
The noble Lord need not fear that I shall be offended by his interrupting me. When I have had the same training as the right hon. and learned Member for Bury, I shall probably get used to the noble Lord's regard for technicalities, and the very strong view he takes for himself. I may say at once that it is not the views of the noble Lord which I am dealing with. I do not know what they may be; I am only dealing with the noble Lord's words. I have taken the sentence as reported in The Times. I have taken a complete sentence; I have introduced nothing into it, and if the noble Lord did not mean what he said, it is a pity he said it. I thought I had expressed myself very clearly when I said that a few days ago the noble Lord was in favour of a Select Committee. I did not say that 16 days ago, he was in favour of a Committee as against a Court of Law. What I say is that the noble Lord, as reported in Hansard, was against a Court of Law in 1884, and in favour of a Committee 16 days ago. I read a passage from the speech of the noble Lord in which he expresses a strong opinion that there should be an independent inquiry in a Committee of the House of Commons on its own Motion. I do not know whether, technically, I am right or not; but the noble Lord certainly intimated that in his opinion it might be necessary for the House of Commons to institute an inquiry altogether independent of the views of the Irish Members. Am I to understand from the noble Lord that his words do not mean what they say? If, in the mind of the noble Lord, they have some other meaning, I shall be glad to accept it, and I should then know how to deal with his views as well as with his words. I am afraid that I have trespassed too long on the time of the House. I only desire, speaking now for a large number of earnest Radicals outside this House, who are pained and grieved beyond measure by these shocking measures which are being used as political weapons, and resorted to by every suppor- 984 ter of the Government, to state what the view is which they take of this matter. It is an absurd suggestion that the Attorney General, who, in this House, has voted that the charges constitute a grave and scandalous libel, and although they embody the foulest charges which can be made against a Member of Parliament, should go into a Court of Law and ask English jurymen to declare by their verdict that what he has said by his vote is not true.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
I did not wish to interrupt the hon. Gentleman while he was addressing the House, but I hope the House will permit me to make a personal explanation. The hon. Gentleman has quoted remarks of mine out of Hansard, which I am alleged to have made in 1884. Now, at that time, my speeches were greatly compressed by Hansard—["Oh, oh!"]—as is invariably the case with private Members of Parliament. I appeal with confidence to hon. Members who have personal experience of the fact that the speeches of private Members are not fully reported, whether a report thus condensed and compressed, as is usual in Hansard, can be taken as a true and faithful representation of what one has really said. Right hon. Members are hardly in a position to judge of that matter, seeing that their speeches are generally reported verbatim. But I must also point out that the quotations that have been made do not in the least apply to my present position in the matter now under the consideration of the House. I never thought, or even dreamt, and I will call the right hon. and learned Gentleman as a witness, of saying that the right hon. and learned Member for Bury, who was Attorney General at the time referred to, could be capable of collusion in an action at law. What I meant to point out was that the course which the Government proposed to take would render them open to the charge of collusion. [Cries of "Oh!" and "Order!"] I am entitled to make a personal explanation. It is very odd that hon. Gentlemen opposite are ready to hear everything that is said against me, but object to receive any explanation, and that their sense of justice—["Cries of "Go on!"] What I wish to point out now is, that the Government of that day, in consequence of the representation of some hon. Mem- 985 bers who sat below the Gangway, associated in the case of a Queen's Counsel belonging to the Party opposed to them, in order to obviate any such accusation as I pointed to as possible. Consequently, the action of the Government of that day, taken, as it was, after representations had been made to them, formed a precedent for the course which the Government of the present day are following.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
May I ask for the indulgence of the House in order that I may say that I quite accept the explanation of the noble Lord, and I can corroborate his statements as to the compression of his speeches; because I once unguardedly used an expression which I heard from his lips, but which I could not find in Hansard when I went to look for it. Therefore I am perfectly sure that he is correct in that remark; the only difficulty I have is to imagine how any process of compression could have put words on record which were never spoken.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
I have no desire to trespass on the time of the House, except for a few minutes. I wish to make a few remarks with reference to a statement made by the hon. and learned Solicitor General yesterday. I can only account for that statement on the ground of the extraordinary brief time—to refer to his brief plea—which he had at his disposal for examining into the Question before the House. A statement more inconsistent with the real facts of the cases to which he referred it would be impossible to conceive. The First Lord of the Treasury stated very positively that in his opinion these words in The Times were not a Breach of Privilege, and the hon. and learned Solicitor General rose to support, in an elaborate argument, the doctrine altogether new to me, in a broadly stated proposition that the words contained in The Times article are not a Breach of Privilege. He cited a speech of mine in support of that view. Now, that speech, so far from making any such allegation, had a precisely contrary effect. I said from the first to the last that the proceedings of Mr. Pilmsoll, to whose case the hon. and learned Gentleman referred, did constitute a Breach of the Privileges of this House. I stated that in the most distinct manner; therefore all that the hon. and learned Solicitor General said 986 upon that point falls to the ground. I can only presume that he had not had time to read the books from which he professed to quote; but as, in this matter, it is important that there should be no misunderstanding, I will read what I did say in answer to the Attorney General of that day (Sir John Holker). I said—For anyone to take any notice whatever of the conduct of a Member of Parliament in the discharge of his duty in the House, or to comment in any terms whatever upon such conduct, or upon his speeches or votes in the House, is a Breach of Privilege.Therefore, to assert that I argued that the words complained of in Mr. Plimsoll's case were not a Breach of Privilege is to assert exactly the opposite of what I really did say. Let me say, in a few words, that the case of Mr. Plimsoll was this. He had used words attributing inhuman conduct to a Member who had blocked a Bill in which we all know he was much interested. The case was brought before the House as a Broach of Privilege, and Mr. Plimsoll apologized for his conduct. I contended, and I was supported by the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington), then the Leader of the Opposition, by the right hon. Gentleman the senior Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), and by the whole Opposition—I contended not that it was a Breach of Privilege, but that, as Mr. Plimsoll had made amends to the House, the matter should not be proceeded with further, and I moved the Previous Question, which was an admission that the case was a Breach of Privilege. Therefore anything more contrary to the representation of the hon. and learned Solicitor General of what I said, I cannot conceive. Now, what was the course taken by the Conservative Government? They held that it was of such supreme importance to maintain the doctrine that animadversion on the conduct of a Member of the House by people outside could not be permitted, that, although Mr. Plimsoll had made amends, they declined to vote for the Previous Question, and declared the case to be a Breach of Privilege. The present Leader of the House has acted in direct opposition to the precedents set by all his Predecessors. He has acted in the teeth of the precedents set by Sir Stafford Northcote in the 987 case of Mr. Plimsoll, and by Mr. Disraeli in the case of Mr. Justice Lopes. To the case of Mr. Lopes, the Solicitor General did not refer, although he might have done so with advantage. What was the case? Mr. Lopes made a speech at a political dinner, in which he said—What was the present position of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons? They were deserted by their Chief; they were allied to a disreputable Irish band whose watchword in the House was Home Rule or the repeal of the Union.Those words were brought before the House as a Breach of Privilege. Did Mr. Diraeli, as Leader of the Conservative Party, say that they were not a Breach of Privilege? No; on the contrary, he said it was the duty of the House to take due notice of such language, and to affirm, in the most distinct manner, that if the words were not apologized for they would be voted a Breach of Privilege, and that action would be taken in accordance with such vote. That was the course taken by Mr. Disraeli with reference to the conduct of one of his own supporters, who is now Mr. Justice Lopes. And what happened? As might have been expected, Mr. Lopes apologized to the House for the language he had used, and therefore the course which was taken on a subsequent occasion was followed; the Previous Question was moved. The Solicitor General says that charges of this kind are not a Breach of Privilege; Sir Stafford Northcote and Mr. Disraeli said that they were, and that it was the bounden duty of the House to take cognizance of them as such, and be proceeded with further in the absence of apology. I therefore repeat my assertion that—probably from hurry—the hon. and learned Gentleman has not had time to read the reports of those cases. [Sir EDWARD CLARKE: Yes; I did read them.] Neither in Mr. Plimsoll's nor in Mr. Lopes' case was there any denial, for one moment, that a Breach of Privilege had been committed, and that, if not apologized for, it ought to be punished. There has hitherto been no Leader of the House of Commons who has taken a different view of these matters, and I have a strong opinion that if this had not been the case of an Irish Member the course pursued by all former 988 Leaders of the House would have been pursued now. Nobody who has looked into the facts of this case ought to dispute for a single moment that, by the law of Parliament, this is a Breach of Privilege. Why was the Previous Question moved in the cases I have referred to? Because an apology had been given and an amend had been made. Has The Times newspaper made an amend or an apology? In both of the previous cases it was pointed out that it was the bounden duty of the House of Commons to assert the Privileges of the House when they were attacked in a manner not half so violent or in so poisonous a manner as in this instance, and yet we have a Conservative Government, in the teeth of all precedents, calling upon the House to declare that this is not a Breach of Privilege. I only rose to state these facts in entire contradiction to the statements which have been made by the hon. and learned Solicitor General.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)
I rise to submit to the House a proposition which, I believe, it is desired to make the principal subject of discussion to-night. I will say with respect to it, in the first instance, that I have confined it in point of scope to the subject-matter of this debate. I have heard that many Members are of opinion that a Committee, if appointed, ought to examine into a broader field and into a larger mass of charges which have been brought against Irish Members. But that is not a matter which I should be justified in placing before the House, at any rate, at the present stage. It does not grow out of the ease produced by the hon. Baronet the Member for North Antrim (Sir Charles Lewis). That was restricted—absolutely restricted—to the case of the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), and, feeling the enormous importance of the issue that is before us, I am desirous that that issue should be clear; and, whatever maybe said at a future stage, in case the House should be content to accept my Amendment, I do not think that, at the present stage, it would have been warrantable in me to entertain the idea of enlarging that Amendment. I must take the liberty of making a few remarks upon the speech of the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph, 989 Churchill) with regard to matters of which, it appears to me, the introduction into his speech was wholly needless and perfectly gratuitous. He laid down the doctrine that it was more my business than the business of the Leader of the House to afford protection to the hon. Member for East Mayo. Of course, the insinuation thereby conveyed was that the Member for East Mayo and I were identical in our political position. [Ministerial cries of "Hear, hear!"] I perfectly understand that; but it would have been better that this insinuation should have been broadly stated. But what I want to point out is that the noble Lord has evidently not the smallest conception of the capacity in which the Leader of the House interferes in cases of this kind. The Leader of the House is the protector of the whole House, and every Member sitting on these Benches and on the Benches below the Gangway has the same right to appeal to him as any Member who sits behind him. I have no such capacity. I have no right to protect anybody further than might accrue to any Gentleman according to the place be might occupy, and the part he has taken in this matter. The hon. and learned Gentleman understands, I am glad to say, the position I laid down. It is impossible to allow the remarks of the noble Lord to pass without protest, and I hope, if he notices the subject again, he will speak in a different manner. The noble Lord also spoke in the same gratuitous way, and introduced—God knows we have enough of disputable matters—introduced other disputable matters without the least necessity. He spoke of the time since I had assumed the Leadership of the repeal of the Union. The noble Lord is perfectly aware that I have never done anything of the sort. He understands that there is the broadest distinction between what I have proposed and the repeal of the Union. He thinks not. He is at liberty to argue the contrary; but he is not at liberty to say that I have made myself the Leader of the repeal of the Union, because that is a gross misstatement. I understand why the noble Lord used the expression. I perfectly understand why the noble Lord does not speak of Home Rule, but of repeal of the Union. The noble Lord knows there is a future before him, and that the noble Lord should 990 call our plan "repeal of the Union" would not be at all wonderful if he did so in future contingencies, when other plans of Home Rule may be found convenient to be proposed; and it may be convenient also to fall back upon a course of previous assertions that he objected to a repeal of the Union, but does not object to any Home Rule which is not repeal of the Union. I apologize to the House for this digression. Now, Sir, yesterday we had before us at least five questions of the greatest importance, perfectly distinct from one another, any one of which might, I apprehend, have been the subject of an important separate debate. The first was whether the article in The Times constituted a Breach of Privilege; the second was whether, even if a Breach of Privilege, it was to be treated as a Breach of Privilege by this House, for that is a totally different matter. The third was, whether it was the duty of the Irish Party to go into a Court of Law. The fourth was, whether a Committee ought to be appointed; and the fifth was, whether there should be a prosecution. Now, Sir, I admit that the most conclusive reasons against the decision of the House have, in my opinion, been given this evening by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh), and my right hon. Friend sitting near me (Sir William Harcourt), why this matter should be regarded and treated as a Breach of Privilege. I admit sorrowfully that the Division which has been taken disposes of that question. It is a most serious and formidable decision at which the House has arrived. I believe it to be without precedent. A charge—an incrimination of the very highest degree and quality which incrimination can possibly reach—has been made against a Member of this House. That Member has appealed to this House to intervene and make itself a party. [Cries of "No!" from the Ministerial Benches.]
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
Yes; by supporting the Motion of the hon. Baronet (Sir Charles Lewis). If the House declares this to be a Breach of Privilege, it thereby intervenes and gives the means by which the matter can be settled. Therefore, I do not understand how it is possible to raise a doubt on this subject. He does so; and under what circum- 991 stances? He does it as a Member of the minority, constantly assailed and denounced indoors and out-of-doors. He does it as a Member of the minority, which, is challenged to do it by a Member of the Party opposite—by a supporter of the Government—by a Gentleman doubtless acting not in communication with the Government, but at the same time a very favoured supporter, who has recently received at their hands such a mark of honour as is the token of their confidence, and such as constitutes a great distinction. It is also, Sir, a, minority which represents a nation. [Cries of "No!"] Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite wait? I am going to explain my meaning, although, the fact seems to me to be indisputable. Has the House of Commons represented England in times past? If it has, by what majority? Has there never been a minority in this House? Is it not the majority which represents the nation? When in the House of Commons have you had such a majority speaking for the nation—so large a majority against so small a minority as is the case in Ireland now? That, it seems to be, is not an arguable matter—it is indisputable; and in the Parliamentary sense, no candid man can for a moment deny that the Party to which I refer represents a nation. [Cries of "No!"] There never has been a majority so large. If they do not represent a nation, then the English nation has never been represented within the walls of this House. It appears to me that the House should really consider its position in this matter, and not too severely try the patience of the Irish people. It is a strong measure—it is a most unfortunate measure—that there should be a going back upon the protection heretofore afforded by this House to its Members, at the very same moment that your sense of duty leads you to think it necessary to inflict upon the Irish people, by a Coercion Bill, and by a permanent Coercion Bill, a brand of perpetual dishonour, and when the impression has gone abroad among men's minds that with large portions of this House there are two measures of justice—one for Irish Members of the Irish Party, and the other for all other Members who do not belong to that Party. Two of the five questions I have referred to are, in my judgment, disposed of. I may greatly regret it, considering the 992 circumstances under which they have been disposed of, and I entreat the House to consider a little before they add to the gravity of the decision at which, unhappily, the House has already arrived. Now, Sir, the three questions that remain are—first, ought the Irish Members to go into a Court of Justice? And after all that has been said I feel it necessary to say some words more upon the subject, and to suggest reasons which appear to me, if the Irish Members think fit to urge them, to entirely deprive us of the right to complain if they decline to carry the matter to a Court of Law. The first of the reasons which they allege against the course is the delay it would entail. Will any Gentleman venture to say at what period sentence would be obtained? I will not enter into details, because those acquainted with legal questions would do so far bettor. From all that I have heard of the proceedings of the Courts of Law, I believe that most serious delay might, and probably would be the result, of going to such a Court. Well, then, with regard to the composition of the Court what are we to say? The noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) last night, with extraordinary rashness, gave a general acquittal of all the Judges of all the Courts of England, and a general eulogy upon the record of 1,000 years. The noble Lord is not apparently aware that, within the present century, very serious questions have been raised with respect to the conduct of eminent Judges in English Courts of Justice. I agree with the noble Lord that we ought not to leave this question entirely in the hands of lawyers, and that other Members ought to take part in it. If we do take part in it, it is in order that we may bring to bear upon these debates the results of our Parliamentary experience and historical knowledge; but to manufacture history which is not true, and will not bear examination, is a course with respect to which I should say, if it is to be pursued, we had better leave the matter altogether in the hands of lawyers. Has the noble Lord ever heard of Lord Ellenborough? Does he know the opinion pronounced upon him by his brother Judge and biographer, Lord Campbell. ["Oh, oh!"] The Solicitor General sneers.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
The Solicitor General laughs at the name of Lord Campbell. Lord Campbell stated that in the case of Lord Dundonald the conduct of Lord Ellen borough was severely censured, not only by the vulgar, but by men of education on both sides, and that he had the greatest misgivings himself as to his own conduct in the affair—so much so, that he says it drew upon the Lord Chief Justice a considerable degree of public obloquy, causing very uneasy reflections in his own mind. I know not how that is, but it shows that various questions of that kind arose in connection with different judgments. Entirely differing with the noble Lord, I believe myself that all Judges now upon the Bench might be trusted perfectly. But there is one Judge now upon the Bench who came down from the Bench to take part in regard to the great Irish Question more violent than has been taken almost by any layman I can remember. And if one of these Gentlemen sitting below the Gangway says it is excusable in him to feel some mistrust in such a case, though I should not feel such mistrust myself, yet I must say that I understand that mistrust. Well, then, we are told that it is absolutely certain that they would get a verdict. Js it, Sir, so certain that a verdict would be got? Is it so certain that when the House declines to treat these allegations as a Breach of Privilege, departing from all its usages, that a verdict would be got? [Ministerial cries of "Oh!"] I will show that by-and-bye. I am about to tell an anecdote concerning myself, which, I think, is to the point with regard to the certainty of getting verdicts against newspapers in cases wherein a public man attempts to restrain the liberty of newspapers to comment on his conduct or his language. Thirty years ago, nearly, I had the honour of serving Her Majesty for a short time as High Commissioner in the Ionian Islands. At that time the people of the Ionian Islands, who had, I think, little or nothing in the way of a practical grievance to complain of, wore, notwithstanding, possessed with an intense sentiment of nationality, and this sentiment of nationality, which had determined them to accept nothing except the union with their own blood and race, was treated by a portion of the 994 Press of this country, and especially by a portion of the Metropolitan Press, with unmeasured and bitter contempt. It was continually said—Who are these miserable Ionians that do-sire to join themselves to an equally miserable set of people in Greece instead of welcoming the glory of being attached to a great Empire?Well, when I was in the Islands, a certain course was taken by the Assembly, and it happened that the same newspaper, The Times newspaper, had an article to this effect—The Ionian Assembly has been committing treason, and the Queen's Commissioner has been helping them to commit treason.I have no avidity for going into a Court of Law. I do not share the views of the hon. and learned Solicitor General on the great felicity of litigants, though I know that most lawyers have those ideas. At the same time, when I saw a plain and clear charge of treason made against myself, I felt that it was a case of unwarrantable licence, and that I must prosecute The Times. I came home immediately after; I took the best advice in my power; I consulted legal friends of great character. I cannot recall now all their names, but one of them was Mr. Wortley, father of my hon. Friend opposite. I consulted also my own professional adviser, Mr. James Freshfield; and anyone who remembers him will recollect that he was almost at the head of the entire Legal Profession. Every one of those gentlemen said to me—"Do not do it." They did not question that it was written down that I had aided the Assembly in committing treason. They said—"Do not do it, for you cannot depend upon getting a verdict." I should have come into Court without any particular prejudice against me further than might be raised on the special case. But I am of opinion that in this case there is in the mind of a portion of the public a gross and cruel prejudice. I am not of opinion that that is the only difficulty in getting a verdict. In my own case, it was not to gross prejudice, or any prejudice at all, that my advisers referred to when they positively protested in such terms that I was unable to persist, and induced me to acquiesce in the publication of this monstrous charge. It was this—that juries have a just and proper prejudice in favour of the liberty of the Press; 995 and that, helped on by counsel, who know perfectly well how to bring in everything irrelevant and everything invidious—in the strict exercise of their duty, and I am not finding fault with them at all—by mixing up together the more or less legimate elements that might operate upon their minds—I say that, if I wore a juryman, it would take very much indeed to make mo give a verdict in restraint of the liberty of the Press. Such being the case, I cannot, for my own part, think that it is very unreasonable if Gentlemen of the Nationalist Party, in the condition in which they stand, are not more forward to go into a Court of Law. I think their apprehensions are reasonable apprehensions. I do not wish to charge perjury or anything of the sort; but it is impossible to efface from the mind of a juryman the belief that he is more or less concerned in the merits and character of the law he is administering, and when a great object like the liberty of the Press is in view, he has an immense and a just reluctance to do anything that can possibly be construed into a disposition to restrain it. Therefore, I cannot think we are entitled in the least degree to complain of hon. Members below the Gangway, or of the hon. Member for East Mayo, when he declines to commit himself to the mercies or the chances of a Court of Law in a case like this. Without any reflection against British jurisprudence in general, the chances of a verdict which my advisers in my case saw were uncertain 25 or 30 years ago would be very much more slender in the present case. Well, Sir, that being the case with regard to the Irish Members, we now come to the two remaining questions. It is said by hon. Members opposite that there are two modes of proceeding, and that the only difference is as to the mode of inquiry. Well, Sir, I am bound to say that one mode of proceeding is open to us according to reason and according Co precedents, and I shall proceed to contend that the precedents adduced by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General are perfectly and entirely valueless for the purposes for which he was urging thorn. In point of fact, he himself omitted from his speech what was necessary as an essential element and broad foundation of his proposition that a prosecution was an allowable course. But the hon. and learned Gen- 996 tleman made assertions with regard to Parliamentary Committees, which I think it only fair to him that I should recite as I take them from the report of his speech. He said there had been no precedents since 1601 for a Committee of this kind. That is the first proposition. [Sir EDWARD CLARKE: On a similar case.] It would be to invent a totally now procedure. The second proposition is that it would be to institute a form of proceeding hitherto unknown in this country. These are the propositions to which the hon. and learned Gentleman committed himself. Well, with regard to a similar case, we all know what similar circumstances came to mean in the Acts relating to railways—namely, that they might make different charges "in similar circumstances." The word "similar" is capable of very various interpretations; but what I wish to contend now is this—not that there was a gentleman named Dillon in some case, not that the same words were used in the same case which I am going to adduce, but because I believe they are the most extraordinary words, and, as far as I know, the most unparalleled ever used against a Member of Parliament. I am going to contend that in similar eases, and in far weaker cases, it has been the established practice of the House of Commons, if they so thought fit, to proceed by Committee. After contending that the course of appointing a Committee is conformable both to reason and precedent, I will also contend, and I think I shall be able to show, that the course of procedure proposed by the hon. and learned Solicitor General is not conformable either to the one or to the other. But I must notice that the appointment of a Committee has a great merit to begin with of being an extremely prompt method of bringing this question to an issue. These things have been done again and again, and in no case has great or inconvenient delay occurred. I contend that a Committee is a perfectly competent tribunal, and not, as the noble Lord said, a ridiculously incompetent tribunal, to determine the question whether a Member of this House has, or has not, been guilty of gross and wilful falsehood in certain statements.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
That was not my point. I did not say that. I said that a Committee would be 997 hopelessly incompetent to investigate all the charges which have been brought against hon. Members by The Times newspaper.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I am very glad, and I thank the noble Lord for his explanation, for he has not said that a Committee would be hopelessly incompetent to deal with a case of this kind. If we were to say so, we should be pronouncing a very severe verdict on what I call the established practice and Procedure of the House of Commons. But what is there in the nature of the case to prevent Gentlemen practised in business, men of long experience in this House, men some of them lawyers with all the knowledge derived from the science of the law, others of them having a wide and varied experience, and all of them acting under the public eye, each of them liable to have his conduct and his vote freely discussed and considered; what is there in the nature of the case, what is there in the character of the body charged with the legislative responsibilities of the greatest deliberative assembly in the world, what is there in the character of a few competent gentleman judiciously selected by this body to prevent them from being able to discharge duties which 12 common jurors or 12 special jurors will be perfectly competent to perform? I venture to think that, on the contrary, such a Committee is the body most competent to deal with such an assumption. It would be a different matter if we were proposing that proceedings should be taken with a penal or vindictive view. There, I admit, you might take exception, and probably if the Committee in the course of its inquiries came upon matter which made the Committee believe that a penal character ought to be given to the proceedings, the Committee would refer the matter to the House; and the House would consider whether penal proceedings ought or ought not to take place. But for the examination of a question that is not penal, I contend that a Committee is a most proper and competent tribunal. Lot us see now whether the broad doctrines of the hon. and learned Solicitor General can be sustained. I contend that there is not a syllable of them which can be sustained. I hope my proposition is broad enough; and I 998 hope that he will show by an examination of such partial precedents as I have been able to look into, that as to the substance of the matter my doctrines falls beyond the reason and justice of the case. The hon. and learned Gentleman was very much indisposed to allow the similarity of the case of Mr. Grissell to be urged, pointing out that the inquiry was held prior to the calling of the parties to the Bar of the House. That circumstance seemed, in his mind, to determine the whole matter as to similarity. That is not a question of substance at all. The matter was examined by a Committee, and the House took notice of that examination and proceeded to act upon it as far as it thought fit, but as the hon. and learned Gentleman contends that in point of form and order, it was different from this, I will not proceed further with that case. I take the case of Mr. Butt in 1884. I say that that case proves that not only this Committee ought to be granted, but that upon far weaker and far narrower grounds this House has declined to reject the appeal of its Members for protection by the House. And I challenge the examination of what I say, word for word, by the Law Officers of the Crown, who, by the way, have been so kind as to assume in this case on behalf of the Government the responsibility in a way which I certainly never experienced. I say that this is not a similar, it is a much stronger case, and that it would be almost an abuse of words to say that it is similar. I bog that the hon. and learned Gentleman will examine this proposition in regard to the case of Mr. Butt. I say that everything that was done in the case of Mr. Butt is an argument, and an argument applying with ten times more force, for conceding that the case of the hon. Member for East Mayo is one that you should take notice of and proceed upon. What was the allegation made in the case of Mr. Butt? It was that there was a party of Gentlemen in this House—I do not know that it is worth while to quote the exact words—but a party of Gentlemen who were extremely hungry for place, salary, and pension. That was the whole breadth of the allegation. [Sir RICHARD WEBSTER: Corruption.] The hon. and learned Gentleman says corruption. Well I will not dispute that if the hon. and learned Gentleman says it is so. It was an 999 allegation that there was a greediness for a place, salary, and pension. I must say that the hon. and learned Solicitor General has established in his own mind a scale of offences, and a scale which appears to me to be totally irrational. According to him to accuse a man of giving a wrong vote is a matter to be taken notice of. To accuse a man of bribery or corruption, is a Breach of Privilege that must be taken notice of; but to accuse a man of deliberate and wilful lying is a minor matter, and I ask the House to take notice of that. Now, I say that instead of being a minor matter, the charge of wilful and deliberate falsehood in the discharge of your duty in this House, is the highest, the gravest, the blackest charge that can be brought. I cannot distinguish, Sir, between the speeches of a man and the actions of man in this House. In this House speech is action. The work of this House is done by speech, and to offend in the point of truth in the performance of duty in debate, by wilful and deliberate falsehood is the highest of all offences that can be committed. Why is corruption a grave offence? Because it may lead you to act falsely here. But this is a case where you do act falsely in the performance of your duty, whore, in reasoning with the House and professing to assist it in its work, you deliberately tell it what you know to be falsehoods, and attempt to mislead the House. I say this, because in Mr. Butt's case it is intimated that it was said the Members attacked were open to corruption. But what said Lord John Russell in that case? I do not think the hon. and learned Solicitor General will say that to charge men with being greedy of place is worse than to charge them with being guilty of wilful and deliberate falsehood. To say a Member is greedy of place may imply that he is in a condition in which he is liable to be corrupted. Well, Lord John Russell, as Leader of this House, at once accedes to the proposal for inquiry. He does not raise a doubt upon it; no doubt is raised upon it in any quarter of the House, and yet it was comparatively a very slender basis on which to found proceedings. And it proved to be a slender basis, for when the House had so far given satisfaction to the wish of Mr. Butt, a Committee was appointed without a dissentient voice, not for a penal, but for a protec- 1000 tive purpose, and Mr. Butt finally desisted from further pursuing the matter, being satisfied with the end he had attained. But later on Mr. Butt was personally the object of a charge which amounted to corruption. That was in 1858. The case was brought before the House on petition, and the petition charged Mr. Butt with the receipt of money for conducting the case of Ali Moorad Khan. What was the course then taken by the House? Mr. Roebuck brought forward the matter; a Committee was proposed, and was at once appointed, consisting of seven Members, to investigate the charge. The noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) found a difficulty about advocate Members of the House sitting on a Committee in the present ease. That I believe is also an established practice of the House, and two advocate Members were appointed to sit on the Committee of 1858 to which I am referring. But observe that the allegation there went much beyond the allegation of 1854. It was an allegation in a petition of personal corruption. There was no vindictive proceeding. It was a simple question of protecting the House assailed in the character of one of its Members, and a Committee was at once appointed by the House for the purpose of examining into the allegation. The hon. and learned Solicitor General has not taken any notice of that case. I contend that that is a weaker case than the present one, for I say that the charge of falsehood, wilful and deliberate falsehood in debate is a higher charge even than that of pecuniary corruption. There is another case—a case which is of some interest to me, because I was myself so far concerned in it that I was a Member of the Committee that was appointed, and that was the case of Mr. Whittle Harvey, which was very briefly mentioned by my hon. and learned Friend the late Attorney General (Sir Charles Russell). That case happened in the year 1834. Mr. O'Connell made a Motion to the effect that there should be an inquiry into the practice of the Inns of Court, in regard to applications for admission to those Inns. Mr. Whittle Harvey had been rejected by the Inn to which he sought admission. Objection was taken to the terms of the Motion by Sir James Scarlett, Lord Althorp, and others. It 1001 was amended by consent into a Motion for inquiry into the circumstances of the rejection of Mr. Whittle Harvey by the Benchers. Now, I call the particular attention of the House to that case, and to the manner in which it was received. The Motion in the form in which I have quoted it—the amended form that is for an inquiry by a Committee—was adopted unanimously by the House. No objection was taken to it, and Lord Althorp used words which I wish I had heard fall from the right hon. Gentleman the present Leader of the House. He said—With respect to the Amendment, after what has passed in the House, and feeling, as he must, that if the hon. Member for Colchester claimed an inquiry at their hands, it was but justice to grant him the required investigation, he, for one, would not raise the least objection to it."—(3 Hansard,  934.)The hon. Member, by the Vote he has given has claimed inquiry at your hands. I will come presently to the question whether you are now offering an inquiry. I contend that you are not. I shall come to that by-and-bye. He claims inquiry, and the hon. and learned Gentleman will say he is granted an inquiry. But what was the object of that Committee? The object of that Committee, if I remember aright, was to examine whether the verdict of the jury given 20 years before, directly affected the moral character of Mr. Harvey—whether it was a verdict worthy of credence, or a verdict given in error. What must be the feeling of the House of Commons with regard to the right of Members to demand its protection, if a man like Lord Althorp, in the presence of Sir James Scarlett, without a word of objection from him, was ready to grant a Committee for such a purpose as that, "because," as Lord Althorp said, "it was claimed by the hon. Member, and was but justice to him? "That is what I mean by saying that certainly the circumstances are not in each particular alike, but infinitely stronger, and that every step taken by the House of Commons on every former occasion constitutes an argument, a fortiori, of a resistless kind for acceding to the wish of the hon. Member. It may be said that that was a bad precedent, established by the House on that occasion. I cannot enter into the question, but the more a proceeding is open to objection on ac- 1002 count of hopeless difficulties connected with inquiry, the stronger is the argument fortified by the cases in respect of Parliamentary principle which establishes that the House has placed itself traditionally under a moral obligation to accede to demands of this kind. Well, now we are told there is no difference between us about inquiry. The only difference is about the kind of inquiry. Lot me say a few words about the proposal of the Government. The proposal of the Government is this—that when an incrimination of the very highest order, and I defy the hon. and learned Solicitor General to deny that the charge of wilful falsehood is an incrimination of the very highest order, has been made against one of its Members, and he demands an inquiry you refuse him—apparently you, the legal advisers of the Government, or at all events the hon. and learned Gentlemen the Attorney General and Solicitor General—who are acting by voluntary action, for which I think their Colleagues must feel very much obliged, you refuse the Committee; but you offer that if the hon. Member for East Mayo will accept it the public purse shall be brought into play against a private undertaking in order to examine whether the charges made against the hon. Member are libellous or not. And that this is to be done—the public purse is to be opened and a private undertaking is to be assailed. You may tell us that The Times is rich and powerful, but the precedent you are making will not depend upon wealth and power. You are going thus to open the public purse and to put the Attorney General and his myrmidons in motion. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Do not suppose that I am not going to say anything unfair in that respect, and the expression is an unhappy one; because besides these myrmidons there will be a great number of independent counsel with their myrmidons. But this is all to be done, and to be done—mark my words—for the first time in history. [Sir RICHARD WEBSTER: Ten precedents.] Well, I know your 10 precedents and they are not worth 10 brass farthings. They are worth a great deal less than 10 brass farthings because they are perfeetly irrelevant, or if they are relevant they are relevant against you and show that this proceeding ought not to be entertained. For my part, I do not care what 1003 it is that the hon. Member for East Mayo may be offered or accepts. I do not care whether he accepts your proposal. I, for my part, will oppose it as an utterly unwarrantable and unprecedented proceeding. My affirmation would be this—and I think I can make it good—there never has been such a proceeding without a declaration by the House of a positive or presumable offence. The House has never set in motion the Attorney General without making itself a party in the case. I challenge contradiction from the hon. and learned Solicitor General. The hon. and learned Gentleman unhappily omitted all reference to this point. He said, I will give you 10 cases anterior to the year 1810. I believe so far as my researches go they are anterior to 1795; that is not very important. There were 10 cases in which prosecutions were ordered. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give me one single ease in which there was a prosecution without a previous condemnation by the House of the thing for which there was to be a prosecution? If that is so what is the value of the precedents you give? Every one of these 10 precedents condemns the hon. and learned Gentleman, and goes to show that he must—if he appeals to precedent—interpose the prior judgment and the prior declaration of the House. My contention is this, and although I speak with reserve as my opportunities of inquiry are limited, and I do not presume to dogmatize—but, so far as I have ever known, and so far as I can learn, the House in these matters has two modes of Procedure. Its course has always been marked by a high sentiment of honour—by that high sentiment of Parliamentary honour which proves to us, or has proved to us until the present occasion, that the age of chivalry is not altogether dead, for this House has ever had a chivalrous sympathy with its own Members in cases relating to their own characters, and has felt that their characters were parts of its own possession and character. It has two methods of proceeding, one of them penal and the other protective. Do not let these be confounded. It is only by confusing the issues that you can hope to establish anything like a case, and by adducing precedents which are altogether against you. When the proceeding is penal the House takes one of two courses. 1004 It either proceeds by exercising its own powers, or it proceeds by putting the law in motion directly or through the Attorney General for the punpose of a prosecution. That is one course. The other course is when the proceeding is protective. Now, when it is protective, I believe that I am justified in saying that the usual course has been the appointment of a Committee. You may tell me there was in 1844 the case of Mr. Walter Ferrand, but then in that case there was no defence. There was no case. The whole thing was given up. What did the House do? It passed a most severe condemnation in protection of the character of its own Member, and yet I am not sure that the charges even then unfortunately made by Mr. Ferrand, a gentleman who was considered to be intemperate in the language which he used in this House, although through a long life he enjoyed the highest respectability and the affection of his friends—I am not sure that oven those charges, rash and extravagant as they were, came up to the extraordinary height of the accusations made against the hon. Member for East Mayo. The House passed a Resolution to protect him, and I have given already five other cases, one of them objected to by the hon. and learned Solicitor General, in which, for the protection of the characters of Members, Committees were appointed without difference of opinion. That I believe to be a true statement of the general basis of the proceedings of the House in these matters, and therefore I affirm there is a total want of the slightest approach to a precedent for that which the Government are now proposing. I will at once abandon my ground if the hon. and learned Gentleman can produce a case and a prosecution ordered by the House without a previous condemnation by the House. Let him give me a contradiction in one word across the Table, and I will at once yield the point. He has had more time now, and his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General has been doing his best, and no more competent persons could apply themselves to the task. According to my mind, and my accusation is established by the invincible silence of the opposite Bench, there has been no case where the House has used the public purse to promote the purpose of private litigation without 1005 making itself a party in the case by pronouncing a preliminary judgment upon the matter which is to be considered. In a case of this kind, in my opinion, when you prove what has been the former practice of the House, you have gone a great way towards proving your whole case, because the practice of the House is these matters has been deeply considered from time to time by the most competent of its Members, and there has grown up a system, the result of reflection and experience; and it is reflection and experience that in this case we appeal to when we speak of the precedents before us. But I do not speak of the precedents before us alone. It appears to me that the reason of the case is so strong that I cannot conceive how it can be resisted. Perhaps it would be well, as to some of these cases which I have taken out at random, that I should show what the proceedings were, whether in cases of libel against the House or against its Members. In Volume 43, page 215, of the Journals of the House, there is the case of Sir Elijah Impey respecting a certain pamphlet or certain writings which contained a scandalous libel of this House and its Members, and thereupon they made an address for a prosecution. In page 232 of the same volume of the Journals there is the case of Warren Hastings. A pamphlet was published containing passages highly disrespectful to the House, and upon that the House proceeded to make an address for a prosecution. In the 44th volume of the Journals, page 463, again in the case of Warren Hastings, and where the newspaper in question was The World, the House voted—That the pamphlet contains matter of a scandalous and libellous nature reflecting on the Proceedings of the House.Thereupon a prosecution was ordered. I am not aware, Sir, and I think it is pretty plain, that the hon. and learned Solicitor General is not at variance in this essential particular. Will he tell me it is not an essential particular; will he tell me that this House would adopt a wise course or a warrantable course in ordering prosecutions at random in matters in regard to which it has no information? In the first place, as respects the course of action. Has the hon. and learned Gentlemen reflected upon the use which the counsel defending the hon. Member for East Mayo would be 1006 justified in making of the proceedings the hon. and learned Gentleman now proposes? That counsel would show that in every case it had been the practice of the House to make itself a party by pronouncing its own judgment, and only then instituting or requiring a prosecution. He would show that in this case the House has forborne to pronounce an opinion. He would say—"Gentlemen of the jury, the House has not forborne without a reason for forbearing, and I leave it to you to consider what that reason is." But, Sir, in principle is it tolerable that the House should pursue such a course? I protest against such a use of public authority, and such a use of public money, and such a departure from the fixed traditions of the House. In what capacity do you go into Court? You are going to have a public prosecution of The Times newspaper. Who is the prosecutor? The House of Commons is the prosecutor, and the House of Commons as prosecutor says nothing upon the merits of the case. Is that a tolerable state of things; is it just towards the party incriminated; have you a right to put him on his trial unless you believe there is a case for a trial; is it just to the character of the House itself? Either, Sir, you believe in the justice of the prosecution that you have ordered to be instituted, and if you believe in it, well, so far you are pre-judging the case—that is unavoidable; or you do not believe in it. If you go into Court pretending to ask from that Court sentence that a libel has been committed, and while you pretend to ask it, you carefully avoid pronouncing that opinion which your Predecessors always have pronounced. What is it but collusion of the grossest character, unworthy of those who, I think in error, though I have no doubt with upright intention, advise it; unworthy of those who seem disposed to receive the advice, and who, in my opinion, seem condemned to the adverse judgment of both the public and posterity? I confess that it is with surprise I see Her Majesty's Government taking the present course. I think it will not be complained of me that I have not been sufficiently plain in my proposition. I do not wish to mislead the House; I do not wish unnecessarily to occupy the time of the House. I have dwelt very greatly upon the question of 1007 precedents as applicable to my own proposition; I have dealt more upon it as applicable to the proposition of the Government. In order that I may not waste time, I have asked whether I am wrong in my statement of the facts. I have every reason to believe, from my own examination, and much more I think from the silence of the Law Officers of the Crown, that I am not wrong in my statement of the facts. Well, under these circumstances, I can only say I hope and I believe that I have not said what is offensive in respect to the Government. I have endeavoured to make a fair and straightforward appeal to them. I think they are pursuing a most dangerous course in other matters in respect to Ireland, and likewise in this matter. It may be allowed that in other matters affecting Ireland they are covered to a wonderful degree by the unhappy action of hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House, who are giving them their support. But this is a case in which they will not receive quite the same shelter from that concurrence and co-operation; and I do hope, Sir, that while there is yet time, they will reconsider the views which they have adopted, and that upon grounds of reason, and upon grounds of precedent, they will grant the Motion which I now proceed to move; and that they will not exclude from their view the grave international controversy which is now raised, and the pressure they are putting upon the Irish nation by their proposals for placing Irishmen permanently upon a footing of inequality and inferiority to their fellow-subjects, under the pretext of a Legislative Union; and that in this matter, at least, they will take care to give them justice, and full justice—aye, even if it were necessary, indulgent justice, where their honour and character are concerned.
Amendment proposed, to the proposed Amendment,
To leave out all the words after the word "House," in order to add the words "is of opinion that an inquiry should be made, by a Select Committee, into the charge of wilful falsehood, in a speech delivered in this House, brought in an article published in the 'Times' newspaper, of the 2nd May, against John Dillon, esquire, Member for East Mayo."—(Mr. W. E. Gladstone.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the proposed Amendment."1008
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir RICHARD WEBSTER) (Isle of Wight)
Mr. Speaker, I am unwilling that there should be delay of any kind between the powerful speech we have just heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), and whatever reply I, with my less experience, may be able to make to him. I quite admit that the statement of the right hon. Gentleman has been perfectly straightforward, and that he has put the issues in the clearest possible way. I will endeavour, though I cannot hope, of course, to interest the House so much, to answer his speech as fairly as I possibly can. Sir, whatever may have been the criticisms upon our conduct, which have been addressed to us by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General (Sir Edward Clarke) and I feel the great responsibility of our position, and we do not shrink from supporting the opinion which we were bold enough to express requesting a little more time for consideration. We do not hesitate to support our opinion by argument. We have but one advantage over the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, and that is that both of us are very considerably younger than he. I have no other advantage whatever in addressing this House; but it is a great satisfaction to me, and I am sure it is a great satisfaction to my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, and I say it advisedly, to find that with the greatest ability that can be brought to bear upon this question, the ability of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney (Sir Charles Russell), and tonight of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), we still are able to stand up and maintain that our position in this House—that our opinion in this House with regard to the course which should be adopted—is practically unquestioned by those on the other side of the House. [Laughter.] I maintain that our position has not been assailed—not been successfully assailed. Now, what I want to do is to address to the House the reasons which we have for our opinion. I do not wish to say there 1009 is no doubt about the proposition; but I wish to support the position taken up by the hon. and learned Solicitor General and those who have spoken on this side of the House by fair argument, I trust couched in moderate and respectful language, to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, and to show that our position has not been successfully assailed. Now, I in no way quarrel with the five propositions with regard to this matter which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian has laid down. I agree with him with the first two propositions as to Breach of Privilege, and I wish to examine as closely as I can the statements he made upon the other three. He will remember—and the House will remember—that towards the close of his speech he referred to what I may call the discussion prior to the moving of his own Amendment, and pointed out the reasons why the Irish Members should not go into Court. I will, before I sit down, venture to deal with one or two of his arguments, and with one or two which were raised by hon. Gentlemen opposite before he spoke. Now, as to the right hon. Gentleman's last three propositions, I must say that some of the right hon. Gentleman's observations as to whether the Irish Members ought to go into Court struck me as being such that he could scarcely hope they would for a moment really engage the serious attention of this House. Why, Sir, he spoke about the delay which would occur if the Irish Members were to go into a Court of Law. I will deal with that question before I sit down. Now, Sir, upon the question of delay of trial let me point out that this charge against the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) is not the first charge of the kind that has been levelled against the Irish Members. It is the repetition, or rather the application to him—I am speaking now of general charges, not of the particular one referred to by the hon. Baronet the Member for North Antrim (Sir Charles Lewis)—it is but a repetition of more grave charges, even more serious charges made against the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) and other Members of the Party who sit below the Gangway opposite. When was the first publication of these slanders? and I will so call them, for they are slanders if they are not true and are not justified. 1010 These allegations are gross slanders if they are not true, and not one single word shall fall from me to express a contrary opinion. When were these slanders first issued to the public? This House remembers that the articles on "Parnellism and Crime" began to be issued on the 7th of March in this year, very nearly two months ago. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian has said that by the vote given to-night the hon. Member for East Mayo has appealed to the House to intervene in his behalf. Sir, I must say, after the utterances of the hon. Member for East Mayo in the speech he made in reply to the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington), who quoted some statements made in The Times, it does seem to me somewhat strange to interpret the vote of tonight into an appeal to the House to take action in his behalf in respect to this charge. If it were necessary that this action should be taken, if it were necessary some grave action should be taken to enable hon. Members below the Gangway rightly and properly to perform their duties to the House, how is it that not one single step in that direction has been made by any hon. Member below the Gangway either in or outside of tin's House? But, Sir, I will deal specifically with the reasons given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. I must say that, knowing what I do of the opinion of the legal profession, and of the opinion of the literary world in regard to the criticisms of Lord Campbell—I refer not to his position as a Judge, but as a biographer—I am perfectly astonished at the position assumed by the right hon. Gentleman; Lord Campbell has since passed away; but it is notorious that it has been said of him that his criticisms and biographies upon his Predecessors were not just. It is strange that Lord Campbell should be the only authority with regard to the English Judicial Bench that the right hon. Gentleman should have laid before the House. I have to make my observations in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. I do not complain of that, because I cannot expect him to stay in the House to listen to me, though I have noticed that more than once we have been obliged to reply to him in his absence. Still I cannot help asking the 1011 House and the country to observe that this is the only criticism on the Judicial Bench the right hon. Gentleman has been able, notwithstanding the assistance of those around him, to extract from the records of history or otherwise with respect to the conduct of Judges. I cannot see what was the force of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks with regard to the English Judicial Bench, unless he intended to suggest, nay, more, to insinuate, that there would not be a fair trial. I am aware that it is perfectly true that the right hon. Gentleman did say that in making the quotation from Lord Campbell he did not suggest that any of the Judges on the Bench at the present time would not do his duty; but still the whole tenour of his remarks upon this part of the case was that he approved of the course adopted by the hon. Member for East Mayo, because he thought there were reasons why he could not fully trust the English Judicial Bench. All I can say is this—and I do not speak only because I have worked in the despised Profession of the Law for a great many years, or because I have been brought in contact with every one of Her Majesty's Judges—that their public life, their fearless conduct, their determination to express their opinions, even against popular feeling, has shown that they are men who are determined to do their duty. I maintain that it is a sad thing that a Gentleman in the position of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian should intimate that there is any one of Her Majesty's subjects, either English, Scotch or Irish, who would not get, not only justice, but protection against any popular feeling if his case were tried before any one of Her Majesty's Judges. Sir, the second reason given by the right hon. Gentleman is amusing. It appears we have elicited a fact most interesting in the history of the right hon. Gentleman. I think he said that in the year 1859 he consulted Mr. James Freshfield, a member of a legal firm of great eminence—the right hon. Gentleman said, with perfect justice, Mr. James Freshfield was one of the most distinguished members of his branch of the Legal Profession—respecting a charge of libel upon him. The right hon. Gentleman did not tell us more about the libel except that he was accused of treason. Now, if the real sting of the libel was that the right hon. Gentleman 1012 had been guilty of treason and treasonable practices towards Her Majesty the Queen, I do not believe that there is any Solicitor of standing who would have advised him not to go into court.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
As the hon. and learned Gentleman has thought it worth while to allude to the matter, may I state what, to the best of my recollection, occurred. I spoke from memory; but I wish to state as precisely as I can that which occurred, and to repeat what I stated a few moments ago which I think was quite accurate. The charge was primarily against the Ionian Assembly, upon which it was the custom of the time to pour unmeasured contempt. In the article it was said—It is as usual, committing treason, and Her Majesty's Commission is assisting and sharing in the treason.The advice given to me—I wish I could recollect all those who gave it, but I have mentioned two persons—was given to me in the most positive and absolute manner.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
I do not question in the least what the right hon. Gentleman says, but I think that his explanation only bears out my observation. I know that in a matter of this kind I ought to be very careful what words I use. I am weighing my words, and I say that if the charge made against the right hon. Gentleman really amounted to treason, I do not believe that Mr. James Freshfield or any other eminent legal gentleman would have hesitated to tell him to go into Court. It seems to me perfectly clear from his statement, most candidly made to us, that a charge was made against the Ionian Government, or whatever the body was, that it was suggested that the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner had been party to whatever had been done; but that the real construction to be put upon the article was that it it did not amount to one of treason, but simply to a criticism upon the right hon. Gentleman's conduct as a public man, which, as has been pointed out by many eminent Judges, public men are obliged to undergo. But does the right hon. Gentleman mean the House to understand that the charge, such as is related to us after a lapse of 30 years, approaches in the smallest degree the charges which have been made against hon. Members below the Gangway.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
Sir, I should have hesitated, even though I am, according to the right hon. Gentleman, fond of introducing irrelevant matter, I should have hesitated to say "not so bad."
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
Clearly it was not nearly half as bad. I was just saying that I am, according to the right hon. Gentleman, one of the persons fond of introducing irrelevant matter. I notice this because I want to prepare the House for the three reasons of the right hon. Gentleman why the Irish Party should not go into Court. The right hon. Gentleman's third reason was that lawyers are always in the habit of introducing irrelevant matters of prejudice or otherwise, which irrelevant matters are intended to divert the attention of the juries and Judges to such an extent that they are unable to do justice to a case of libel brought before them. The observations of the right hon. Gentleman upon this point wore cheered; but I do not think there are many lawyers in the House who would like to attach their names to a written, opinion endorsing such a statement as that. Mr. Speaker, I recognize to the full the gravity of the charges—not this particular charge under discussion; but the charges which have been made against the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Mayo, and the other Members of the Party with whom he associates—and it is because these charges, if unfounded, are scandalous; it is because, if these charges are founded upon doubtful testimony, it is monstrous and outrageous to suggest that the Irish Party dare not go to law, because they will not get justice in the tribunal. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian admits that the charges against a Party are worse by far than a charge made against an individual. The more clear that is made the better. Now, the second proposition of the right hon. Gentleman was supported in a way which makes it more easy for me to deal with it, because I am able to rely, not upon any language of my own, but upon the strong judgment, to a great extent, of this House. I repeat what the hon. and learned Solicitor General said yesterday. 1014 Whatever may be the criticisms of this House upon the opinion of my hon. and learned Friend, I may be allowed to say that I feel that this House is very much indebted to the hon. and learned Solicitor General for the reasons he laid before the House. Now, Sir, in the course of his speech, which I listened to with the greatest admiration, my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General said to propose a Committee in a case in which there had been a libellous attack made upon an hon. Member of the House, which libellous attack the libeller was prepared to justify, is without precedent. After a careful examination of the subject by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, after a careful examination of it by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, I re-assert our position, and I say, without the slightest fear of contradiction, that the publication being admitted, the authorship of the publication being admitted, the application of the article to the hon. Member for East Mayo, to the hon. Member for Cork, and others, not being denied, this House never has granted—and I go further—this House never ought to grant a Committee upstairs. I need hardly tell the House that, at a moment's notice, I had to express an opinion on this matter. I did so with diffidence and hesitation. I felt unable to assume the confidence which was, undoubtly, felt by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby in the positive opinion he expressed. Perhaps I was wrong; but it did occur to me that my position required me to give opinions which I could justify. Whatever may be said by hon. Members below the Gangway as to Law Officers of the Crown giving legal opinions to please the Government, or from Party motives, I challenge hon. Members of the House to say that of me. I may make mistakes—I do not claim infallibility, and it is possible that I may be mistaken—but if I should stoop to give this House a legal opinion from Party motives I should be unworthy to occupy this place for a single instant. I think that the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) as to opinions given for Party purposes is one that I need not devote much attention to. I listened with great attention to the powerful and interesting speech of the hon. 1015 and learned Member for South Hackney (Sir Charles Russell). He, too, had spent the best part of his time in seeking for precedents, and trying if he could find out something. We were naturally afraid that we might have overlooked some material case, and that he might have found out something that we had failed to discover. It was a relief to me when I found that he sat down, not only not contesting our position, but supporting it, and frankly admitting—for he is always frank—that he had no instance in point. He said that, as he had no precedents at hand, the House ought to make a precedent. I shall have occasion to notice one case of extreme importance brought forward by the hon. and learned Member for South Hackney in the course of my answer to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. I want to dispose of the cases which have been mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, though not exactly in the order he followed. I will take his last case first. The right hon. Gentleman attached immense importance to the case of Whittle Harvey. I invite the attention of the House to the statement of that case as reported in the Third Series of Hansard, Vol. 23, and I submit to any hon. Gentleman, whether lawyer or layman, that the case of Whittle Harvey has not the slightest application to the case now before the House. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Childers) is going to answer me, and I hope, when he does, he will deal with the substance of my argument on this point. What are the facts? In the Whittle Harvey case a Petition—I think two Petitions—were presented to the House by 500 members of the constituency which Whittle Harvey represented—it was Colchester, I think—asking that an inquiry might be directed by the House as to the mode of admitting persons to practise at the Bar. That is to say, the jurisdiction of the House was invoked in a matter of great public interest. That Petition was supported by hon. Members, and accordingly the House, considering that the way in which persons were called to the Bar was of sufficient public importance to warrant an inquiry, directed that a Committee should be appointed for the purpose of inquiring into the matter. It had nothing in the world to do with the House as a House of Commons; but 1016 Whittle Harvey happened to be a person whose application to be called to the Bar had been rejected by the Members or Benchers of his Inn, and accordingly an inquiry was entered upon as to the circumstances of the refusal. The consequence was that an investigation was held extending over some months. Now, I ask the House what this case of compliance with a Petition presented to the House in the ordinary course of Business has to do with a case of libel? I should weary the House if I were to give instances in which inquiries were directed on the mere Motion of hon. Members in cases where they have got up Petitions. But I must say that whatever may have been the course pursued by the House with regard to inquiry in a particular instance, there is no analogy whatever between the case now before the House and the case of an inquiry into that which was a matter of public interest with relation to a Member of the House on a Petition presented by his constituents. I will give right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite all the information at my disposal on the case to which I have referred; because, if any answer can be given to the distinction I have pointed out to that case and the case at present under consideration, it would only be right that they should have the opportunity of giving it. I pass now to the case of Grissel and Ward, in 1879—though it was not really relied on by the right hon. Gentleman. In that case there was an allegation of corruption, or of a power to corrupt, in relation to a Member of a Private Bill Committee upstairs, and the inquiry was not for the purpose of considering whether a Breach of Privilege had been committed, but of ascertaining the facts. A Committee was appointed to inform itself, and to inform the House, whether there was or was not any truth in the charge made against a Member of a Select Committee upstairs as a Member in the service of this House. I appeal to the House, at least to those hon. Members who are good enough to listen to me at this unusual hour (8.40 P.M.), whether there is any analogy between that and the one case before the House? Another case was cited by the hon. and learned Member for South Hackney, which is certainly well worthy of the consideration of the House. It is a direct authority, as showing that at times when the course now suggested 1017 might have been pursued by the House, it was not pursued. A charge was made against Mr. Clive of corruption, as Member of a Select Committee upstairs. It was made by Washington Wilkes. That was undoubtedly a case in which a charge was made against an hon. Member of the House, in the service of the House, in his capacity as Chairman of a Railway Bill Committee. When the printer was called to the Bar, he declined to withdraw the charge, except to the extent of publishing the denial of Mr. Clive; and he asserted the truth of the charge. There was an express occasion on which, if it had been the practice of the House to inquire into the truth of charges against Members of the House by Select Committees, that course would have been suggested. But it was not suggested by anybody that there should be a Select Committee to inquire into the truth of the libel. On the contrary, the House, regarding it as a Breach of Privilege, by virtue of its powers, without inquiring into the truth of the charge, without dealing with the question of justification or otherwise, even though the man protested the truth of the libel, he was sent off to prison. [Opposition cheers.] Hon. Gentlemen cheer. Will they be so good as to remember that the suggestion for a Committee was originally made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, after reading a passage from Sir Erskine May, which he has not quoted again to-night? That case has no reference whatever to the case we are discussing, in which it is suggested that the function of the Committee should be brought into play, after the printer has been called to the Bar of the House, for the purpose of establishing the truth or falsehood of the libel. There is not a shadow of foundation in precedent for the exercise of any such authority, for the point which I desire to make is that on the very occasion when, as the right hon. Gentleman suggests, the appointment of a Committee to inquire would have been the proper course, no Committee was suggested, nor was anything of the kind done.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
The hon. Member has not done me the courtesy to listen to my remarks. The printer was asked if he would withdraw the charges, but he said he would not, and that he was prepared to prove the truth of the charges. He would not give up the name of his informant, but that does not weaken the strength of my argument. No inquiry was asked for; there was none suggested by any one. Now, I have dealt with the Whittle Harvey case, the Grissel and Ward case, and the Clive case. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for having quoted Mr. Butt's case in 1854, because I do not wish for any stronger argument in my favour. The allegation made in that case—which may be found in Hansard, Vol. 130—was that a section of Irish Members represented nothing beyond the embodied wish of some hundreds of needy men to obtain place, salary, and position. In effect the charge was one of open corruption. The hon. and learned Solicitor General did not suggest, nor do I for a moment suggest, that if a charge of corruption is made a Select Committee should not be appointed. No one has ever suggested that. My hon. and learned Friend has stated in language as clear as could be used that that was a case in which a Committee would be appointed, and he drew the clearest distinction between such a case, and that we are now considering. But what happened? Does the appointment of that Committee offer any inducement to adopt the same course? I wonder how many hon. Members have taken the pains to examine the Report of that Committee, and see what testimony the experience of that Committee gives us to the desirability of pursuing the same course when persons wish to clear themselves of charges of crime. I will deal first with the question of the delay which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian says must necessarily be involved by the Government proposal. The right hon. Gentleman adverted to the promptitude and expedition with which the matter could be disposed of before a Select Committee of this House. But in Mr. Butt's case the Select Com- 1019 mittee, which was appointed on the 7th of February, did not make its report until the 19th of June, a period of more than four months. But that is not all. Was the Report of that Committee satisfactory? The Committee reported that they had been obliged so to extend their inquiries us to investigate matters of "idle gossip and of groundless scandals"; and they added that in their opinion—No investigation by a Committee with the powers which has been entrusted to them could be satisfactory,Am I wrong, therefore, in saying that I am glad the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian cited Mr. Butt's case? Am I wrong in pointing out that if he wished us to act in this matter as he has proposed, and as he deems would be prudent he should at least have informed us as to the success of the operation in former cases. Moreover, prior to the Report of the Committee there were 18 or 19 divisions, upon most of which there was a difference of opinion among the Members of the Committee, some of whom were Gentlemen of great experience. The difference of opinion was displayed in a most remarkable manner, and the consequence was that scarcely any result was arrived at. Therefore, not only was the inquiry conducted by that Committee unsatisfactory, but the Committee themselves were obliged to confess their inability to conduct such an inquiry in an efficient manner. Hon. Members may flatter themselves that for certain purposes a Committee would be most desirable. I would say one word about that. Still, dealing with the question of delay, I want to know what is going to happen if this Committee is appointed? In that ease, even if the Committee were to sit two or three days a week, it would be impossible for them to make their Report before the expiration of three or four months. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian has dwelt upon the time that the matter would take to try in a Court of Law, but all that I can say is this, that as the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington—and several others who spoke on this side of the House have pointed out—if a prosecution were directed by this House on the Motion of an hon. Member the trial of the case would be expedited, as means would be taken to enable it to be 1020 tried promptly, and it might be brought to a satisfactory conclusion one way or the other within a quarter of the time it would take a Select Committee to come to a conclusion. I have only one more precedent to cite. It is a curious one, and it is one which I think the House will be glad to have before it. I have said that during the whole course of the time to which reference has chiefly been made—that is to say, during the last 50 or 60 years—there has been no instance in which an allegation made by a newspaper regarding a Member, except in the cases where the charges have been made against Members of improper conduct in their service to the House—Members of Committee or Members in some other official capacity—has been referred to a Select Committee of this House. I want to know why the House should not be informed as to what occurred in the case of Mr. O'Donnell. This point was raised in the case of Mr. O'Donnell, which occurred in 1878, and the Report of which is to be found in the 239th Vol. of Hansard. The charge was made in The Globe newspaper on the 16th of April, 1878, in relation to the murder of the Earl of Leitrim, that Mr. O'Donnell had made certain statements in the House in which he had not a grain of belief, and that he had suggested certain reasons, certain motives, which might have operated towards the palliation of the commission of that murder. It is said that nothing worse can be attributed to an hon. Member in his place in this House than falsehood. Well, I am not saying that that is not a grave charge; but I say that looking back to the way the House has dealt with those cases it never has looked upon the charge of falsehood in speech as one of these matters calling for its interference. I am not going to quote all the opinions of those Gentlemen who took part in the discussion to which I refer, but I commend those speeches to the attention of the House. I will read some of the observations of Sir Stafford Northcote on this case in 1878. The Motion having been made "That the said article of The Globe is a Breach of the Privileges of this House," Sir Stafford Northcote, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer said—I confess, Sir, that though I listened as well and attentively as I could to the article just read by the Clerk at the Table. I was not able to 1021 follow the whole of it; but it appears to me that it was an article upon the question of Ribbonism, and upon the agrarian system in Ireland, and that it had special reference to the recent tragedy, the murder of Lord Leitrim, and that the object and tenour of the article was to attribute the murder to the system to which the writer refers. Undoubtedly, there appeared to be a sentence in the course of the article in which reference was made to the speech of the hon. Member for Dungarvan the other night, and the apparent intention of the writer was to set aside the explanation suggested by the hon. Member as being one which it would hardly be, in the opinion of the writer, inconsistent with the intelligence of the hon. Member to suppose he had believed to be the true explanation. I do not understand that the tenour of the article is one that can be described as a Breach of the Privileges of this House, and I believe the proper course to adopt, attention having been called to this matter by the hon. Member, and the House having heard the article read, would now be—if the House takes the same view as I do—namely, that it was in the nature, for the most part, of art argument upon the general subject of Ribbonism, and that the sentence so introduced, and which is specially complained of, was one of a casual character—that the House had better adopt the Amendment which I am about to propose, which is—'That the House do now proceed to the Orders of the Day.'"—(3 Hansard,  1400–1.)
§ MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)
Read the opinion of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James).
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
I have often endeavoured to be in two places at once; but I have never tried to make two speeches at once. Will the right hon. Gentleman have a little patience. Sir Henry James, speaking on the same occason, said—He had no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer might have been quite right in one sense in taking the conciliatory course which he had indicated; but if the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, simply to proceed with the Orders of the Day, were accepted, it would be thought that he agreed, to some extent, with the Motion that the article complained of was a Breach of Privilege, and that he wished to avoid coming to a determination upon it. It appeared to him (Sir Henry James) that the article was no Breach of Privilege at all, and he desired to point out to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the course which he had followed—however advisable from a conciliatory point of view—might be taken as conveying a quasi admission that the House regarded the article as a Breach of Privilege. He (Sir Henry James) had always understood that a Breach of Privilege of that description consisted in a writer having libelled a Member of that House in his capacity as a Member of Parliament, and that the House did not regard criticism, unless it was libellous in relation to the House generally."—(Ibid. 1401–2.)I say that that is the test that has been 1022 laid down over and over again that, in matters of libel published outside, a Breach of Privilege is not supposed to be committed unless the libel is against the House generally, against a Member in his official capacity, or against some considerable section of the House. I again submit—and upon this point I challenge contradiction—that there is not, from the beginning to the end of these precedents, extending over the last 50 or 60 years, one single case in which a libel upon a private Member of this House, otherwise than in respect of his service in this House, has been treated by this House as a question of Breach of Privilege. Of course, I do not mean to say that if you go back 100 or 150 years you may not find precedents of that kind in plenty. The noble Lord the Member for South Paddington is taunted with having called this a technical Breach of Privilege; and, no doubt, in the days of the Long Parliament it was held to be a Breach of Privilege to publish the way in which a Member of the House had voted, and most arbitrary and wicked practices were resorted to to stop the publication of the proceedings of the House. If we are to hold that imputations of deliberate falsehood on the part of hon. Members constitute a Breach of the Privileges of this House, I do not think that we need go very far back to find newspapers which have committed such Breaches of Privileges every week during the past few years. I pass now from the question of Privilege. I have pointed out that neither the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, nor anyone else has been able to show a precedent for a Committee of Inquiry. I have pointed out that the cases they refer to were cases in which Committees could rightly and properly have been granted on other grounds. There have been Committees of the House, and investigations ordered by the House, in order to ascertain what the facts were; but neither directly nor indirectly, when a man has stood at the Bar to justify a libel, or prove the truth of an allegation, have the circumstances been inquired into by a Select Committee. I now pass to that which is, perhaps, the gravest and most serious point in this discussion, and that is the one which is raised by the offer which Her Ma- 1023 jesty's Government have made to pursue a certain course if they are directed to do so by the Order of this House on request being made by any of those Members who are desirous of having their character cleared from these charges. In dealing with this branch of the subject, I must express my regret that the right hon. Member for Derby is not in his place, and the hope that he will read what I am about to say; and, if it be possible for him to do so, to answer at some time or other my observations. I am not speaking now, as it was suggested rather significantly I had done the other night, "under the influence of temper." I am not in the habit of allowing temper at any time to interfere with what I have to say; I say I feel, and I feel deeply, what has been said by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool, by the right hon. Member for Derby, and, lastly, but of course more weighty than all, by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian. What was said by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian a few minutes ago? He said that it was collusion of the grossest character. He said that for Her Majesty's Government to suggest there should be a prosecution carried on in the way proposed would be collusion of the grossest character, such as would be a disgrace to Her Majesty's Government. [Opposition Cheers.] Those sentiments are cheered! I will examine in a few moments whether there is one single grain of justice in those imputations. Sir, I will quote from The Times report of the speech of the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool—and I know the report is correct. He said—What is the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman? It is a collusive action at law against The Times with a co-plaintiff who has been making the same charges as the defendant.And he goes on to say—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, then he asks us to come to a game in which the dice are loaded;and the hon. Member replied to that invitation, that no honourable man would be a party to a proposition such as that which was made. [Cheers.] I hope that those who hear me, and those who may read what I am saying, will judge between the one side and the 1024 other and will note those cheers. Sir, Her Majesty's Government have made this proposition, because this is not a casein which we think the House ought to interfere as a Breach of Privilege. We think it would be unwise, having regard to the course of events which has lately taken place, for the House to regard this libel upon a private Member—as a Member distinguished from a Member in the service of the House—as a matter which the House ought to interfere with as a matter of privilege; but in order that it may be shown that we do regard the position of hon. Members below the Gangway opposite—that we do wish to give them an opportunity of having the best investigation possible, we have intimated that, if any hon. Member moves for it, the Government will not resist a prosecution on behalf of the House, and in the name of the Attorney General, in order that justice may be done and the truth ascertained. What is the reply? The reply is "This is collusive. You wish the Attorney General, who sympathizes with the slanders, to be the prosecutor." Sir, I will not pause to refer to my own utterances. Nobody can say I have said anything with regard to the justice or the truth of those affairs. All I can say, is that if the man who made those statements is not in a position to prove them, he is not worthy to be an editor a single minute longer. I should be the last man to judge a Member on the allegation of a newspaper editor. But we have this to consider. It is suggested that Her Majesty's Government intended to take the course proposed, in order that there might not be a conviction; that is the suggestion, and it is perfectly amazing that that suggestion should be made by an hon. Gentleman supported by the hon. Members below the Gangway opposite. I do not wonder that in their position they feel bound to make such imputations, though I think they might have made them in a loss drastic way. But I cannot understand an hon. Gentleman saying, that because the name of the Attorney General is used it is a collusive trial. Did the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hackney, whose successor I am, and who filled the post of Attorney General with greater ability and power than I am able to do—did he support that statement? To his honour, 1025 he said not one word in support of it. Let me just tell the House what are the functions of the Attorney General. I allow or direct proceedings in my own name, of a great many of which, in the course of the year, I have not the slightest knowledge whatever. Private solicitors and counsel are engaged, and I know nothing whatever of the matter. It is well known that though the name of the Attorney General is used in suits of all kinds, criminal as well as others, he has nothing to do with them personally. The most absurd and complete misrepresentation of our position is made, when it is suggested that Her Majesty's Government wish their Attorney General or their Solicitor General to take part in the prosecution, and that I should allow my name to be used. I hear an hon. Member say—"The use of your name is 'loaded dice!'"
§ MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
I merely made a sotto voce remark. All that I meant was, that if the hon. and learned Member's name was to be used in the way suggested, that would give an unfair advantage to the Crown, and, in my opinion, might be likened to the use of loaded dice.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
I think the hon. Member is himself a member of the Bar. Yet the hon. Member stands up in this House and says that because the Attorney General of England allows his name to be used in order that there should be a party on the record capable of instituting a prosecution, this is giving a false colour and importing "loaded dice" into the proceedings. I will appeal to any member of the Bar of Ireland, and to every hon. Member of this House—even the greatest Radical—whether that is not a scandalous imputation? Sir, the position is simply this—that if this House were to order a prosecution, because of that my name must be used, but the solicitor would be the solicitor instructed by the hon. Gentleman who might wish to prosecute, and the counsel would be of his own choosing—it might be the hon. and learned Member for South Hackney (Sir Charles Russell). Does he play wish "loaded dice?" Would hon. Members venture to suggest that a prosecution conducted by that hon. and learned Member who sympathizes with them on political matters would not be properly conducted? Are there 1026 no members of the English Bar who are sufficiently skilful and sufficiently honourable to be able to conduct this case? Sir, I leave that gross slander upon the Profession of which I am, for the moment, the unworthy representative, and the grosser slander upon the action of Her Majesty's Government, to recoil upon the heads of those who make them. Sir, I have waited, and waited in vain, in the hope that the right hon. Member for Derby might favour me with his presence, if but for three minutes. I am going to point out that not only has the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian made a suggestion which we indignantly repudiate, but that the right hon. Member for Derby has done worse. In this House yesterday he said, among other things, that if I allowed a prosecution which I did not believe in, I should be guilty of gross misconduct and do an un-Constitutional act. But, Sir, all that the Attorney General has to be satisfied of in directing or sanctioning a prosecution for libel is that a libel has been published, and nothing else; and that a libel has been published in the present instance is beyond controversy. It is a positive fact that the only thing which need be put before him to get his sanction for a prosecution is The Times article; and does anyone suggest that I should not allow my name to be used in an action when I saw a libel had been committed against a Member of the House? Therefore, the suggestion that I must be satisfied as to the truth or falsehood of the accusation is utterly be end the point. The right hon. Member for Derby made this accusation, but did not stop to hear the speech of the Solicitor General—he left about the middle of it. He went to Southampton; and last night he made a speech, and I will give an extract from it. I cannot say whether it is true; but if the right hon. Gentleman denies the accuracy of what I read, I will withdraw it. I quote from a local paper, whoso reports are usually very accurate. I wish the right hon. Gentleman would cross that little silver streak, and make that speech in a constituency not very far from Southampton. [Cries of "Order!" and "That is a threat!"]
§ MR. EDWARD HARRINGTON (Kerry, W.)
I should like to ask whether the hon. and learned Gentleman is in Order, when speaking of the right 1027 hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby as delivering a speech, in saying he wishes he had crossed a silver streak to repeat it—meaning to hold out a threat?
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
The right hon. Member for Derby is reported to have said—They offered that the honour of Mr. Dillon and his Colleagues should he taken charge of by the Attorney General and Her Majesty's Government"—this, when my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General had stated that they might employ any counsel they chose—Had Mr. Dillon and his Friends accepted that offer, there is little doubt that Mr. Dillon, in the arms of Sir Richard Webster, would fare very much as Little Red Riding Hood did when she was confided to the charge of her grandmother.And this is the language of the right hon. Gentleman! This is the language of the Gentleman who has been Solicitor General—who was almost leader of the Bar! I say that this address, by a man fresh from the House of Commons, to a public audience, insisting that Her Majesty's Government only wanted to get up a bogus prosecution for the purpose of enabling The Times to prove the truth of the libel under colour of a prosecution which should be collusive—I say it is a scandalous accusation against the Government.
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON (Dundee)
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman excuse me for interrupting him? I hoard the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury yesterday, and I distinctly understood him—[Cries of "Order!"] Are we now to understand that the right hon. Gentleman's proposal is that the name of the Attorney General should be used only nominally, and not, as we understood yesterday, that he should conduct the prosecution with two other counsel?
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
I am very much surprised at the statement of the hon. and learned Member, who is also a member of the Bar. Did he, or did he not, listen to the speech of the hon. and learned Solicitor General? The hon. and learned Solicitor General yesterday, in this House, within 20 1028 minutes after the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby had spoken, said that, so far as I was concerned, I should have nothing to do with the prosecution, but that my name would simply be used formally, as counsel. In addition to that, the Treasury Solicitors will have nothing in the world to do with it; and any solicitor hon. Members below the Gangway choose to employ can conduct the case for them. If this kind of statement is to be made by members of my own Profession, let them have the honesty to read the speeches in The Times. The speech of the hon. and learned Solicitor General is in black and white in The Times of to-day, and I say there is not one single Member of this House who listened to the hon. and learned Solicitor General who could have thought for a moment that Her Majesty's Government wished actively to interfere with this prosecution we simply want to show that money shall be no obstacle; that the Irish Members shall have perfectly fair play, and that if it is a case in which action ought to be taken, it shall be taken in such a way as to do the fullest justice to all parties. Sir, I must apologize for trespassing so long upon the time of the House; but there is one aspect of this case which must not be forgotten. Hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway seem to set but slight store on the chance of getting a verdict; but do they remember that the principal witnesses in the prosecution will be themselves? Do they remember that the hon. Member for East Mayo, and other Members of the Party to which he belongs, can go into the witness-box, and make their statements upon oath, and subject themselves to cross-examination? Do they attach no value to the publicity of evidence—evidence given, not by order of Parliament, but as a matter of right? Everything that hon. Members say in the witness-box will come out before the public—
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
These interruptions, at any rate, show that this power, which will be open to hon. Members below the Gangway who wish these charges to be disproved—namely, the power of going into the witness-box and subjecting themselves to cross-examination—is a power to which they do not seem to attach much value. If a 1029 public man is aspersed, if a libellous charge is brought against hon. Members, they should be anxious to go into the box to refute it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian told us that when, 30 years ago, a charge, though only a doubtful charge, of treason was brought against him, he was burning with desire to go into the box and clear himself. I wish to know why that burning desire does not rest in the breasts of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway? It is idle, Sir, to suggest that justice cannot be done in this country. Has this country fallen so low that scandalous libels are to be committed, and that Judges and jurors are to have their minds so warped that justice cannot be obtained? If that is the case, why do you allow your Courts to exist at all? Why do you allow lawyers and a legal system so corrupt and so liable to mislead you to continue any longer? Why do you allow these lawyers to remain at large? That kind of argument, Sir, will do very well for those who desire to adopt the suggestion that Her Majesty's Government is not honest and straightforward, but it will not do with the country. Now, Sir, I have dealt with the three propositions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. I have also immediately dealt with the question of precedents, and with the question of how far the Committee could go; and I appeal to the majority of the House—I appeal to that majority which the right hon. Gentleman said does represent the United Kingdom—I appeal to that majority to say, Aye or No, which is the honourable and satisfactory course. We do not consider that this is a case—the House has expressed its opinion that this is not a case—in which the old weapon of Privilege should be invoked in order to punish some writer who may have libelled or who may have slandered some Member of this House, not being a servant of the House, there being full remedies open to that Member in the Courts of Law. It has been pointed out over and over again that the main argument in favour of Breach of Privilege is because there is no other remedy. It has been pointed out that Broach of Privilege is directly analogous to contempt of the Courts of Law, and that it is necessary to punish it in order that the proceedings of the House may go on 1030 without lot or hindrance. These libels have rested over the heads of hon. Members below the Gangway for many weeks—I might almost say for many months. These hon. Members have not moved hand or foot to deal with them, and if they are so exceedingly anxious to clear themselves let them think better over it and commence this prosecution. At any rate, the House will not be misled in this matter. The Motion was made by the hon. Baronet the Member for North Antrim, as we have distinctly stated, and as it is now admitted by right hon. Gentlemen opposite, without the concurrence or wish of, and certainly without consultation with, Her Majesty's Government. That Motion, however, has been made. It has raised an important question. On the one side there is the absolute necessity of not allowing the freedom of the Press to be interfered with, while on the other hand there is, of course, the necessity that the dignity of this House should not be interfered with, and that the power of hon. Members to do their duty shall not be impaired; but can anybody have the slightest doubt that if these are matters to be inquired into at all, the Courts of Law are the proper tribunals in which they ought to be dealt with, where there is a calm and judicial atmosphere, and where there are men who have for years been accustomed to deal with questions of this kind? And I appeal, also, on behalf of British juries, and maintain that if these charges are shown to be scandalous and invented, the Courts of Justice and Her Majesty's Judges will deal out with no stinting hands the punishment that ought to be awarded to the authors of these libels.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
Owing to an unfortunate whisper of mine I am afraid that the hon. and learned Attorney General (Sir Richard Webster) derived the impression that I was making a personal attack upon him. Now, I wish at the very outset of my remarks to assure him that I had not the slightest intention of referring to him in the matter. I think that will at once be obvious, and I am only sorry that the hon. and learned Gentleman should have put the construction he did upon two words which I used. I have too much respect for the hon. and learned Attorney General to suggest that he could be capable of conduct which he repudiated repeatedly in the course of 1031 his remarks with such emphasis. But when I say that I think I am justified by the spirit of the remarks which were made not only by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), but by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor). The substance and the gist of the allegation on this side of the House was this—hon. Members on this side object to the proposal of the Government and to proceedings which they suggest would be open to the interpretation of being a collusive action, and which might, metaphorically speaking, be open to the remark that they were playing with loaded dice. It is perfectly obvious, I think, that no personal charge is contained in the remarks which have come from this side of the House; and I repeat that I have not the slightest intention to attribute dishonest conduct to the hon. and learned Attorney General personally. But I must consider for one moment what is the position of the Government in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) yesterday afternoon used these words—We therefore propose to hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway 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 whose conduct is complained of.Now, I submit, in the absence of any further explanation, that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord has distinctly justified us in maintaining as we do that the object of this proposal on the part of the Government was that the Law Officers of the Crown should take an active part in the prosecution which the Government wishes to institute. We are told by the hon. and learned Attorney General that that is not so, and that, so far from his having anything to do with the matter as counsel in the case, his name is to be used simply in a formal manner, just as it is used in hundreds of cases referred to in which, as Law Officer of the Crown, he is made a party to proceedings of which he knows nothing and of which he has never heard. I say that makes the case very much worse, and still more justifies us in saying that the unfair conduct on the part of the Government resembles a game played with loaded dice; because if the Government 1032 do not intend to take part in this prosecution of theirs—if their Law Officer of the Crown is simply to be added in a formal manner as a party to this prosecution—what reason can possibly be suggested for such an unprecedented proposal as that, except that they wish to throw all the weight of the Crown influence on the side of the Government for the purpose of implying and conveying to the minds of those who might have to decide the case that the whole of the influence of the Crown and its Law Officers was to be, and would be, on the side of those whom they were pretending to assist in this prosecution, while in reality it would be on the side of The Times, which would be made the criminal party? The Government have identified themselves so thoroughly by many observations which have fallen from its Members and by the repeated accusations of their supporters on both sides of the House; they have so made these odious charges their own that we may be pardoned for believing that the interposition of the Law Officers of the Crown as such can only have one object—namely, to convey to the minds of the jury, who would be infallibly brought to this conclusion—that it was a prosecution in which the Government was not on the side of the party they were supposed to be assisting, but of the party which had championed their cause day after day, week after week, and month after month, by disseminating these odious calumnies, forgeries, and slanders through the length and breadth of the land. I think the proposal that the Attorney General should take up this position only makes the matter worse. I should like to make one or two observations upon the case set out by the hon. and learned Attorney General, and some remarks relative to the method in which this matter has been brought before the House. It is quite clear, from what has transpired to-night, and from the arguments which have fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian and others, as well as from the argument of the hon. and learned Attorney General, that there is a conflict of precedents in this case; and if that be so, I submit that it would be better to follow that which has been the traditional policy and custom of the House rather than to depart by a hair's breadth from that custom and introduce proceed- 1033 ings which, at any rate, must be regarded as novel in the extreme, if they are not wholly indefensible. The hon. and learned Attorney General went on to argue that the matter affected only one Member of the House; that it does not affect a section of the House or the House itself. I hope I am not misrepresenting the hon. and learned Attorney General, who, I regret, is not in his place; but, if I understand his argument, it amounted to this—that if these libels affected not an individual Member, but a number of Members, then there would be a Breach of Privilege—not otherwise. I maintain, in opposition to this argument, that the libels placed before the House in the articles which appeared in The Times do not apply to the hon. Member alone, but to the whole body of his associates. The three first lines of this article are by themselves perfectly sufficient to bear out that contention—Mr. Dillon, M.P., has attempted upon two several occasions within the last few days to excuse his own connection and that of his brother Members of Parliament with P. J. Sheridan, Invincible, dynamiter, and assassin. We propose to test his statements as a sample of Parnellite testimony.No words can be used in a more general sense as indicating the whole body of the Nationalists—We shall show that nearly all Mr. Dillon's material allegations are demonstrably and flagrantly false, and that Mr. Dillon might readily have informed himself of their falsehood had he chosen so to do.That is one passage; there is another passage at the bottom of page 12, in which we read—We have treated certain episodes in this scoundrel's career in, perhaps, tedious detail, to demonstrate once for all the incredible falsehood and effrontery of Parnellite apologists.That, Sir, may apply not only to Members from Ireland, but also to Members from England, because there are plenty of us on this side of the House who certainly might, without any stretch of the imagination, be termed Parnellite apologists; and it appears to me that there might be based on the statement an argument that this is a libel affecting directly other than hon. Members from Ireland, in fact, hon. Members from Great Britain as well—We have examined an elaborate explanation made by one of the most respected of Mr. Parnell's lieutenants from his place in Parliament, 1034 and we have shown that it is a tissue of gross and palpable falsehoods. Whether Mr. Dillon was or was not conscious that the statements he was making were untrue is a point of little public moment. But it is right and necessary that the world should know that 'the Bayard of the League' has given an entirely fictitious account of a series of important transactions in which he himself and several of his leading Colleagues in the House were principal actors. We are reduced to this alternative—Mr. Dillon either refrained from all serious efforts of recollection and inquiry, and recklessly palmed off upon the House, as ascertained facts within his personal knowledge, a mass of confused, inaccurate, and unexamined memories, or he deliberately told the House a detailed story which he knew to be untrue. In either case, several of his Colleagues must have known that his statements were unfounded. The Party sat exulting by, and endorsed the fabrication.Now, the few words I last road amply justify us in asserting that the honour of the whole Party from Ireland is at stake, and that it is idle to talk about this not being a Breach of Privilege because it affects, forsooth, only one individual. Then on the following page we read—So far as we are concerned, it is perfectly immaterial whether he does or does not take the obvious and only method by which the accusation can be disposed of. Within the House of Commons his denial is conventionally accepted, because debate could not go on were the House, as a whole, to adopt the methods and manners of Mr. Parnell's Party, who give the lie direct to any speaker with whom they disagree.There you have a charge of direct and wilful falsehood against every Member of the Party who represent our Irish fellow-citizens. Again, there is, towards the end of the second letter, on page 14, this passage—Mr. Dillon has stood in public estimation somewhat apart from the rank and file of his Party. His honesty has been vouched for, if we mistake not, by some prominent Members of the Opposition who have not ventured, in the case of his Colleagues, upon quite such thorough-going advocacy. The public can now judge what amount of confidence can be reposed in Mr. Dillon's assertions, and from that they can infer how much importance attaches to the asseverations of Gentlemen who have not attained to the dignity of the 'Bayard of the League.'From that we are asked to infer that the chivalrous "Bayard of the League," the hon Member for East Mayo, is, as The Times terms him, a liar, and his Colleagues, being below him in the scale of gentlemanly conduct, are liars to whom a great many unmentionable epithets might be applied. I will go one step further, and venture to argue 1035 that the charges which are at issue in this case are not merely contained in the one charge of direct and wilful falsehood on the part of the hon. Member for East Mayo. These charges against the whole of the Irish Party affect us directly; and if they affect us directly as Members representing other parts of the Empire than Ireland, I say that this shows more than ever that this is a case of Privilege, and ought to be treated by this House as such. We have this accusation brought against Members representing Ireland—namely, that they knowingly associated with murderers and assassins, and I argue that that charge against these hon. Members directly affects every one of us who, knowing that they are, as The Times asserts, the associates of assassins, choose to sit here and associate ourselves with them. It seems to me that if we are to follow the new code of aristocratic morality laid down by the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington); and if, as English Gentlemen, we are to adopt the course, which, I hope, we Commoners will not be in a hurry to imitate from these Noblemen—if we are to assume, as a principle in our jurisprudence and code of honour in this country, that every ruffian who chooses to bring an impudent charge against an innocent man is to be treated as having proved that charge, and the maligned one is to be treated as a criminal until the charge has been disproved, there are but two alternatives open to us. We must either expel all the Gentlemen representing Ireland whose conduct is thus so contaminating to ourselves—we must ask them to dissociate themselves from us, or we must, by some forcible means, dissociate ourselves from them—or else we must treat this matter as a question of Privilege, and we, every one of us, must be prepared to take it up and do our best to ascertain, by the means recommended by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), whether there is any foundation for these charges or not. That, Sir, appears to me a logical conclusion from the attitude taken up by our opponents. They say that these hon. Gentlemen are abominable altogether, because they have associated, at one time or another, with those whom they knew, or ought to have known, 1036 had their hands red with blood. How is it, in that case, that we ourselves are not tarred with the same brush; how is it that, night after night, Tories, Radicals, and Liberal Unionists come and sit alongside of those hon. Gentlemen, and yet refuse the only mean3 which is open to us, as a House of Commons, of either disproving these charges or getting rid of the contaminating society of these hon. Gentlemen? I understood the argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General to be that there never was a case in which, where the libeller denied his guilt, or, in other words, maintained the truth of the libel, there was an inquiry. Is not the conclusion from that argument this—that if there is no dispute, there can be no necessity for an inquiry? The hon. and learned Attorney General quoted, with great triumph, Olive's case—a case in which the printer was sent to prison, and in which, he said, no Committee of Inquiry, such as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian proposes in this case, was appointed. But why was the printer sent to prison? Why was there no inquiry in that case? Because the printer came to the Bar of the House, in obedience to the summons, and persisted in his charge. I have not been able to go into all the precedents which have been quoted. I have no myrmidons at my command who can wade through dusty tomes and law books. I have not the assistance which the hon. and learned Attorney General is able to command; and I merely take account of the actual statement of fact which he himself made to the House a short time ago. That statement clearly shows that there was no inquiry in Olive's case, because there was no dispute whatever. The printer came to the Bar of the House, was guilty of what may be called brazene faced effrontery, which I should not b-surprised if the editor of The Times displayed under similar circumstances, persisted in repeating the charge, and refused to make obeisance to the House, and to apologize for the fault of which he was accused. The next argument used by the hon. and learned Attorney General with which I shall deal was that a question of Privilege can only arise if it affects a Member of Parliament in the service of the House. I want to ask the hon. and learned Attorney General 1037 how he makes out that this charge against the hon. Member for East Mayo and his Colleagues does not affect them in the discharge of their service as Members of this House? The hon. and learned Attorney General seemed to think that a great deal depended upon the question whether a Member who is libelled is sitting on a Select Committee upstairs, or whether he is merely speaking as a Member on the floor of this House. I maintain that if any distinction is to be drawn at all, it is a far greater Breach of Privilege to reflect upon a Member of this House when, as the chosen spokesman of his constituents, he is delivering a message which he believes in his conscience he is bound to deliver on the floor of this House, than when he is simply engaged in the transactions of a Private Bill Committee—when he is simply asked to determine some petty question connected with the building of gasworks or the construction of a railway. Such service, important as it is, is far and away less dignified and important than the duties of Members on the floor of this House. Now, if that is so, I want to know how anyone can maintain for a moment that a libel of any kind made against an hon. Member when sitting as a Member of a Select Committee is not a tenfold greater Breach of Privilege directed against him when sitting, or speaking, or voting in this House? But, Sir, I will not labour that point, but proceed to make a passing remark upon an argument about which a great deal has been said—as to the reasons why Members from Ireland should distrust the possible result of a trial, if they instituted a trial, against The Times newspaper. I do not wish to say much upon this point, because it has been already amply dealt with by hon. Members, and especially by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian; but some of us on this side of the House have seen enough of trials—and especially of political trials—to be assured that the proverbial uncertainty of the law is doubly uncertain when there is any possibility of political bias creeping into the minds of those who have to decide the issues. I am not preferring a charge against either Judges or jury; but I say that, after the sedulous propagation of these forgeries and libels against hon. Members from Ireland, it 1038 would be almost a miracle if you could find 12 men, either special or petty jurors, in this country who would not be, to some extent, tinged with political bias, unconsciously it might be, but still sufficiently so to make a miscarriage of justice more than an uncertainty. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General was very severe upon the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian for having, as he thought, aspersed the character of the Judges. Well, I am a humble Member of the Learned Profession to which the hon. and learned Attorney General belongs; but I have not attained to the same eminent position he has done, and therefore I may be a little more careless than he of the aspersions, or the supposed aspersions, on the heads of the Profession, or the Judges of this country, amongst whom, I have no doubt, the hon. and learned Attorney General hopes one of these days to be numbered. But I have only to say upon this point that the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian scarcely bore the construction of aspersion upon the Judges of this country which the hon. and learned Attorney General sought to make out. What did the right hon. Gentleman say? He did not make reckless or indefinite charges against the Judges. I was sitting here when he spoke, and I remember that he distinctly said this—"Supposing one particular Judge—a Judge who has identified himself in the most violent manner with the Party opposed to hon. Members from Ireland—were to try the case?" Of course, we all knew that the right hon. Gentleman was referring to Sir Fitzjames Stephen. We all know what took place in Ireland some few years ago, when Chief Justice May identified himself in the same violent and prejudiced manner, against the Nationalist Party. We all know that, owing to his violent language, and to the attitude he had taken up, Chief Justice May either was not allowed to, or did not venture to, conduct certain trials. I should hope it would be the same in this country, but we have no guarantee that it would be. We know how our arrangements are made with reference to the trial of causes, and I do not see that there is any guarantee whatever that Sir Fitzjames Stephen, whom hon. Members from Ireland have, owing to 1039 his declarations, very good reason to distrust, would not be appointed the Judge to try what might be to them a question of life and liberty, if not of death. Now, one other remark I should like to make with reference to the question of a trial. A great deal was made by the hon. and learned Attorney General as to the question of delay. He took that up as one of his first arguments, and argued strongly against the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, and tried to prove, from one of the cases in which a Select Committee had been appointed, that the delay would be far greater in the case of a Select Committee reporting to this House than it would be in the case of a trial in our Courts of Law. I can only say the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General must be exceptionally fortunate in the despatch of his professional business if he feels warranted in making this statement, because the case which he cited to show the inordinate delay on the part of a Select Committee only occupied, at most, a few months—I think four or five months. In the case he cited the Select Committee was appointed early in February, and had reported in the beginning of June. Now, we know perfectly well that when you once bring a case in the Courts of Law it goes on year after year. Fortunately, the delays in our Courts are not as great as formerly. But what happened in the case of "Brenon v. Ridgway," tried only the other day, Ridgway being, as we all know, the representative of The Times itself? In that case the trial did not come on for eight months. Mr. Brenon had to wait all these months before he could get his case before the Law Courts. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General tell me it would be possible for him to exercise his authority in pressing forward a case of this kind, so as to have it advanced before its proper order in the cause list? If that is the object for which the assistance of the Crown's Law Officers is to be invoked in this proposed prosecution, it does not reflect credit on their position, because anything more unfair to the general body of suitors in this country than that the hon. and learned Attorney General should seek to advance before its proper time a prosecution proposed in order that grave personal charges 1040 against hon. Members from Ireland should be inquired into it is difficult to conceive. If an action were instituted to-day against The Times, there is every probability that we should have to wait, especially in the face of the coming Long Vacation, until next year, and probably later, before it could be brought before the Court?, and then possibly the verdict might be of a most unsatisfactory character. The whole of the hon. and learned Attorney General's impassioned appeal at the end of his oration was intended to make the country believe that hon. Members from Ireland are not anxious to have this matter settled; and he taunts them with not having moved before in this matter. The memory of the hon. and learned Gentleman must be very short. I was here in this House on an early day this Session when the hon. Baronet the Member for the Cockermouth Division of Cumberland (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) brought this matter before the House. It was not the precise words of this article he complained of, but it was a most abominable libel upon hon. Members from Ireland. He brought the matter forward as a question of Privilege. And then it will be within the recollection of the House that the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) has on two occasions brought this matter, in one form or another, before the House. To say, again, that hon. Members of the Nationalist Party object to be sworn and examined—and that is the only reason that has been assigned why they do not institute a prosecution against The Times—is monstrous. When the Attorney General was referring to one case as a precedent, some hon. Members upon those Benches drew his attention to the fact that to-day witnesses are allowed to be sworn before Select Committees, and hon. Members from Ireland have expressed a very urgent and anxious desire that they should have an opportunity of bringing this matter before a Select Committee of this House. It is perfectly well understood by hon. Members opposite—they have admitted it themselves—that witnesses can be examined upon oath by Select Committees; and yet the Attorney General wants us and the country to believe that it is because the Irish Members are afraid of meeting these charges on their oaths 1041 that they dare not attack The Times newspaper in the Law Courts of this country. The whole argument advanced against my hon. Friends falls completely to the ground. Now, Sir, what were the concluding remarks of the Attorney General? He spoke of the antiquated weapon of Privilege, an expression of that kind which I venture to think is somewhat derogatory to the House so far as its traditions and Rules are concerned in the matter of Privilege—such an expression might have been expected from some spirits on this side of the House who are usually supposed to be rather revolutionary in their tendencies; but to hoar a Law Officer of the Crown, a Law Officer of the Tory Party, a man who certainly, from his position, would be expected to have the greatest reverence for precedent, and who, owing to the Conservative instincts which, I am sure, possess him most thoroughly, ought to have an infinitely stronger love for all that is old and respected and conventional in the proceedings of this House—to hear this Gentleman speak of the antiquated weapon of Privilege fills me with amazement. Greatly as I am in favour of getting rid of all obnoxious and useless fictions which have no sense and no spirit of utility in them, I am not disposed, as the Attorney General is, judging from what he says, to throw away this antiquated weapon of Privilege. I believe that if you do get rid of Privilege, you will deprive the House of Commons in the future of one of its most important, one of its most valued, and one of its most cherished rights and powers. To say that when we take up a question which affects the honour and dignity, not only of one Member but of many Members of this House, we take up an antiquated weapon which should no longer be used, is to say that which ought not to be allowed to go unchallenged. I desire now for one moment to take up the challenge which the hon. Baronet (Sir Charles Lewis), who introduced this matter, threw out to us. I do so because I really feel some commiseration for the Government in the miserable plight in which they find themselves placed. When I recollect that the same hon. Baronet played the Tory Government of Mr. Disraeli, in the year 1875, the same trick, which one would have thought could only be the effort of some malicious opponent, I really think that the 1042 Government deserve to be pitied for having such a candid friend at their elbow to be constantly leading them into difficulties. The hon. Gentleman appears in this matter to have made but a poor requital to those who have made him the latest ornament of the British Baronetage—["Oh!"]—well, is he not an ornament?—in bringing this matter before the House, and leading to the waste of a whole week of the time which the Government declare to be most essential to the carrying out of their policy. Probably, Sir, the best way in which hon. Members opposite can make a return for the obligation under which they are to the hon. Baronet will be to transplant him to another sphere of action altogether. I am sure that we on this side of the House ought to endeavour to requite him in some way, for certainly we have had much more to be thankful to him for his efforts, his chivalrous efforts, on behalf of his political opponents in this matter, than those on that side of the House. Well, what was the challenge which the hon. Baronet made? He said—"Those who sit opposite to me and know my character will not think that I am going to run away from the Motion which I have placed before the House." I certainly do know something of the character of the hon. Baronet, and all I can say is that, knowing what I do of his character, I should not be surprised at anything he did in the way of running away from his guns. My estimation of the hon. Baronet, based, I am sorry to say, on a longish experience of him, was amply justified and corroborated by the fact that almost immediately after he had made that declaration he did run away from his guns. I think that it is only proper when an hon. Member in the position of the hon. Baronet gets up and, under the cover of championing the cause of others, makes a deliberate attack upon the honesty and honour of several Members on this side of the House, it should be clearly understood what manner of man it is who makes the attack; and I want to place before the House this fact—that but a few days ago, on the 30th of last month, I think, this same hon. Baronet was charged publicly in the Press with action which I will forbear to characterize, but which the House will, perhaps, permit me to describe by reading from an affidavit published in the newspapers 1043 and a copy of which I hold in my hand. The defendant in this case says—I brought actions both in England and the United States against the said C. E. Lewis and others, in which I charged that over 50,000,000 dollars of bonds of the New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio Railroad Company were illegally issued, of which only a small proportion of the proceeds were applied to the purposes of said Railway Company—such bonds for 50,000,000 dollars being issued in preference to the share capital of that Company of which I am the owner of 20,000,000 dollars, and thus crushing the value of the same. The said shares, and all other shares in said Company, to the amount of 45,000,000 dollars, being illegally registered on the said Railway Company's books in the name and as the property of the said Lewis and his colleagues, thus giving them absolute control of said railway, and preventing me and other shareholders from exercising legal control over affairs of said Company.That is a distinct charge, and I think I may say a very strong charge, against the honour of a Member of this House. It is, at least, as strong a charge, made on oath, as the charge made in The Times, which is not made on oath—as these forgeries and libels which are published against the Irish Members. Here we have a charge, not only made on the sworn evidence of the person who made that affidavit, but we have the utterances on the same subject of a former Member of this House—namely, Lord Bury. he made references to these same matters in a public speech at a public meeting, in 1886. These charges against the hon. Baronet have never been answered yet. He comes down to this House, and taunts the House, or, rather, hon. Members on this side of it, with not taking action to clear their characters from charges of a most serious kind by the anonymous writers in The Times. What did Lord Bury say on the occasion to which I have referred? Quoting a passage from the Report on this Railway Company—the Atlantic and Great Western Railway Company—made by Sir James Allport, he said—The nominal capital has been increased since 1871 from 60,000,000 to 124,500,000 dollars, or possibly to 132,500,000 dollars; and here, speaking to an assembly of proprietors of this railroad, I come to a point which, I think, has been insufficiently considered. Sir James Allport and Mr. Swarbrick say of this increase of 64,500,000 dollars, or possibly 72,500,000 dollars,' We have only been able to trace 8,500,000 dollars that can by any possibility have added to the value of the property.'1044 It is charged against the hon. Baronet—and this is the gravamen of the charge against the hon. Baronet, and what he has to meet—that in his position as trustee connected with this line of railway he fraudulently registered the share capital in his own name; that he issued $40,000,000 of first mortgage bonds; that in that way he swamped the original shareholders; and that of the whole amount of money invested only £500,000 sterling was spent on the railway. As we are to-night dealing with quotations from The Times, it may be interesting to know what The Times had to say upon this subject. It said, on May 13, 1886—Their trustees appear to have gone mad with delight in squandering the resources of the proprietors. Not one penny which had been obtained by these had over reached the Company.I say these are grave charges. I go into these matters because I know something about them. I was plaintiff in a Chancery suit, which was rendered necessary through the adroitness and legal skill of the hon. Baronet; and one of the objects of that suit, of which I was, unfortunately, so long a plaintiff, was to prevent this same hon. Baronet from putting into his pocket some £40,000 belonging to his cestuis que trust. When, therefore, the hon. Baronet taunts hon. Members on this side of the House—
§ MR. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith)
Is the hon. Member, Sir, speaking to the subject before the House?
§ MR. SPEAKER
The charges the hon. Member is now bringing against another hon. Member of this House have nothing whatever to do with the Question before the House. They are not relevant to the subject of the debate.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
Of course, I bow to your ruling, Sir. I stated at the commencement of my remarks on this subject that I was taking up the challenge of the hon. Baronet, which was to the effect that those who knew his character would not think that he would do so and-so, or that he was going to do so-and-so. I thought that when he deliberately challenged us as to his character, we had a right to consider what his character really was. As, however, you rule, Sir, that further reference to these matters is out of Order, I shall not, of course, presume to pursue the 1045 subject further. I can only say this—that I have deliberately stated on many occasions, and I repeat it now, that if ever a Tory Government were to offer to place the hon. Member for North Antrim in a position of trust in the Government of this country, I should at once place a Notice of Motion on the Order Book of this House to the effect that it would be improper to place this hon. Member in any such position.
§ MR. GEDGE (Stockport)
It seems to me that in the discussion of the matters before the House we have, to a certain extent, lost sight of the main issue. We have two proposals before us—one is that the House should pass an opinion on the question whether The Times article is or is not a Breach of Privilege on the part of the editor or printer of that newspaper, and the other is whether the House will or will not appoint a Select Committee to examine into the charge brought by the editor of The Times against the hon. Member for East Mayo. I think we are apt to forget that the real charge brought by The Times newspaper is not whether or no he spoke what is not true either knowingly or recklessly, or whether that speech of his, which was a denial of certain charges brought against him by that newspaper, was a false or true denial. The important point is not whether The Times called the denial false, or whether to say so is a Breach of Privilege; but it is whether the charges brought against the hon. Member wore true or not true, and the question is how can the truth of those charges be best ascertained. Prom that point of view, it seems to me to be our best course is to vote for the Resolution of the Solicitor General. Now, as to the main point before us, this Resolution states that it is inexpedient for us to treat this matter as a Breach of Privilege. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) has tried to be severely sarcastic upon the present Law Officers of the Crown, because they seemed to assume to themselves that upon them lay the burden of advising the Government upon matters of this kind, and the right hon. Gentleman gave us to understand that when he was Solicitor General nothing of the kind occurred. Sir, I was familiar with the right hon. Gentleman's career as a member of the Bar up to the time of his 1046 becoming Solicitor General, and I am not at all surprised that when he became Solicitor General the Government of the day were not in the habit of consulting him upon such matters. They only followed the example of solicitors, members of my own profession, because I can assure the House that up to the time when the right hon. Gentleman became Solicitor General his name did not appear in a single report of a case in the Law Courts. I can quite understand, therefore, that the Government did not trouble to take the right hon. Gentleman's advice on matters of law. [Cries of "Question!" and "Order!"] I am not aware that I have said anything against Order. I am testing the value of the right hon. Member's sneer at the Solicitor General. With regard to the question of Privilege, the point seems to me to be this—has the hon. Member for East Mayo been, by the charge brought against him, in any way debarred from acting his proper part as a Member of this House? Has he been prevented from doing his duty as a Member of Parliament, and has he been prevented from speaking freely? Sir, I think not. It seems to me that there has been a duel between the hon. Member and The Times, in which hard language has been used on both sides. That newspaper brought very grave charges, indeed, against the hon. Member and his political associates, and adduced much evidence in support of those charges. They were scattered broadcast through the land for several weeks and the hon. Member took no notice of them; but when these charges were repeated in this House, on the authority of that newspaper, by the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) the hon. Member for East Mayo in the strongest language gave the lie direct to the newspaper. The Times repeated the accusation, qualifying the charge of untruth with the alternative that the hon. Member might have spoken recklessly and not wilfully, and The Times challenged the hon. Member to enable it to prove its case in the Law Courts by bringing an action against the paper. Well, under these circumstances, is it for the hon. Member to say—"I am a Member of Parliament, and you are only a newspaper; you are not to retort on me, because I occupy a higher position than you; if you place your word against mine, I shall take advantage of my 1047 position and come down upon you as a matter of Privilege?" It seems to me that such an attitude on the part of the hon. Member does not show an excess of courage. It appears to me to bear some resemblance to the line of conduct pursued by the woman who, having scratched a man's eyes out, bitterly complained of his turning round upon her and using his fists, and shrieked out, ''What a shame to strike a woman!" For myself, I do not see why anyone should interfere between the two—they should fight it out together. Let us consider what the effect of calling the conduct of The Times a Breach of Privilege would be? Would it assist the hon. Member in establishing the truth of his denial? Not at all. It is not even a step towards the ulterior stop of appointing a Select Committee, because the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) proposes to appoint this Committee of Inquiry though the House shall not have declared the conduct of The Times newspaper to be a Breach of the Privileges of the House. So that the result of treating this as a matter of Privilege will be this—you would bring the printer or the publisher of The Times to the Bar of the House. If he were for one moment to attempt to justify the libel, and say to the House—"It is true I brought certain accusations and certain grave charges against the hon. Member for East Mayo, but my allegations were true; "if he did that, I believe that the House would hold that it was only an aggravation of his original offence, and would not listen to his plea. The House would have up the printer and the publisher, who are technically liable for a technical Breach of Privilege and imprison them, while the real culprits, the editors and the writers in The Times, would go on repeating the offence to the end of the chapter. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman would gain nothing by having this matter treated as a Broach of Privilege. No stop would have been taken in vindication of his character. But then it is said that such a course would be a stop towards the ulterior settlement of this question. But such a stop I maintain can be taken without proceedings of the kind. What is the proposal? That we shall inquire into a charge of wilful falsehood—it is limited to that point only. The charge has 1048 regard to one particular allegation—namely, that the hon. Member for East Mayo had continued the employment of a man or men when he knew them to be guilty of very abominable Crimea. But if the hon. Member were to bring an action against The Times newspaper for these libels, then he would not be limited, as he would be before a Select Committee, to the investigation of that one matter. He might bring into Court all the many charges which have been brought against himself and his Colleagues for a long time past, and if The Times failed to substantiate them all it would have to pay the penalty. Therefore, his position before a Court of Law, I maintain, would be infinitely better than that he now seeks were he successful in obtaining it. I listened yesterday to the speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo with great attention. I felt that if he was an innocent man, the heart of every innocent man ought to go out to him in warm sympathy, and that even if the allegations made against him were true, yet taking into consideration the circumstances of his position, the earnestness of his advocacy of the cause he represents, the difficulties he has had to encounter, and the materials which he has had to work with, we ought all to feel for him if he has been betrayed into some act of indiscretion. I felt this that he had a reputation once, and if he has lost that reputation through excess of sympathy with that cause we ought all to feel for him. I therefore, as I say, listened very attentively to the speech he made in order that I might make up my mind as to the right view of the position in which he stands. His speech was not an impromptu speech, but was premeditated. Though he said he did not intend to reply to the charges which had been brought against him, or to enter into the debate, when some time after he took part in the debate I noticed that he made his speech from copious notes; therefore the hon. Member's decision was careful and deliberate. He gave us three reasons why he declined to go—and never would go—to a Court of Law to vindicate his character. His first reason was this—"There is not a shadow of a chance of my obtaining a verdict, for the jury will have read The Times and will be prejudiced against me." His second reason was—"The real issues will be obscured and hidden from the pub- 1049 lie by the introduction of irrelevant matter, and by the denunciations of counsel;" and his third reason for declining to go into Court and demanding a Committee of Inquiry was—"I desire a speedy decision." Well, Sir, I hope to show in the course of a few moments, if I am allowed the indulgence of the House, that each one of these reasons as used in support of his objection to taking his case before a Court of Law applies with tenfold more force against carrying that case before a Select Committee of the House. Take his first point, that there would not be the shadow of a chance of his obtaining a verdict from a jury who were readers of The Times, and would be prejudiced against him. I ask whether Members of a Select Committee of this House would not consist of men who habitually read The Times? I would ask whether it is not likely that a great many special jurymen confine themselves to penny papers, including The Standard, which has been referred to as taking the side of the hon. Gentleman? I would say that many men of the jury class are what we call arm-chair politicians, who trouble themselves very little indeed about politics until politics are forced on their attention. I would say that in the case of a trial before a Court of Law a dozen men would be selected all of whom would desire to give a verdict according to their oaths; but how would it be with us? They are non-combatants; we are in the thick of the fight. We are all politicians and Party men; we are fighting the battles of politics and Party every day—there is not one of us who does not hold a strong opinion on matters of politics. Therefore, to take a jury from our body—à fortiori are we not more likely to be prejudiced—I do not say we should be; but are we not more likely to be prejudiced than the ordinary jury selected in the usual way in a Court of Law? Then with regard to the hon. Member's second point, which is that the real issues will be obscured and hidden from the public by the introduction of irrelevant matter into the case, and by the denunciatory speeches of counsel, let us just look at the difference on this point between the two tribunals. In the one case the hon. Gentleman would go before a jury presided over by one Judge, or possibly in a great case of this kind by three—gentlemen of the highest legal 1050 and judicial training and experience—and would not these three Judges take care to keep out irrelevant matter? Would they not very soon put a stop to all gratuitous denunciations in the speeches of counsel—would they not at once recall these gentlemen to the issues before the Court if they caught them wandering from the point? There would be direct issues to lay before the Judges, and the jury and all would combine to keep counsel and witnesses closely to these issues. The Judge would control counsel, would exclude extraneous matter and those denunciations which the hon. Member seems to fear; he would tell the jury that they had but one issue to try according to their oaths on the evidence before them, and in that way would the verdict be given. The evidence given would be legal evidence—no hearsay evidence. The hon. Member for the County of Dublin desires that everyone who could throw a light on this matter should have a hearing. Probably that course would be allowed before a Select Committee, and a pretty time the investigation would take. Before a Select Committee you would have no presiding Judge. You would have a large body of gentlemen taking strong views upon political questions, and when it became necessary to settle a point of Order or Procedure, it would be necessary to have the room cleared in order that the matter might be decided by a vote—perhaps a Party vote. There would be little chance of excluding irrelevant matter. In a Court of Law the burden of proof would lie on the defendant, and as the fact of the publication of the libel would be proved, it would rest with the defendant to show justification. That would be very much in favour of the plaintiff, as also would the fact that in a Court of Justice you would be confined to strict legal evidence. The Times newspaper would have to prove up to the hilt all the charges it has made, or there would be a verdict against it. All this I maintain is in favour of the hon. Gentleman. The third reason why the hon. Gentleman desires the case to be investigated by a Select Committee, rather than a Court of Law, is that he is anxious to have a speedy decision. He thinks he would be more likely to get a speedy decision from a Select Committee than from a Court of 1051 Law. Well, Sir, there are two parts of a trial in which delay may occur. Delay takes place in preparing a case for trial and getting up evidence, and it also takes place in the conduct of a trial. I would contrast the two proceedings on these points. Before a trial in Court a Commission can be issued to America or elsewhere to examine witnesses; but no such Commission can issue from this House. If you go to a Court of Law you can have persons summoned to give evidence, interrogatories can be administered, and various applications can be made and questions put. I am speaking now of proceedings before a Civil Court. There can be no doubt as to the question of rapidity being in favour of proceedings before the Court of Law. As I say, you can get evidence by Commission or otherwise before a Court of Law, but you cannot do that before a Committee of Inquiry. Then the Committee would sit intermittently. You would adjourn from time to time for the purpose of obtaining evidence. You would adjourn for the convenience of Members, and possibly for the convenience of witnesses, and all this can only be done by debate and division; but when you come to the actual trial itself, and your evidence is all got together, the Court of Law would sit de die in diem every day until the case was settled. That would not, however, be the ease with an inquiry before a Select Committee. It would probably sit three or four hours a day two or three times a week, and we know perfectly well, from the nature of the inquiry that would have to be made, that these sittings would continue for weeks and months. And then, in the end, the verdict of a jury must be given on oath and be unanimous. It is subject to appeal if anything has gone wrong in the conduct of the case; but the verdict of a Committee of Inquiry would be by a majority, and even beforehand every possible verdict which could be given has been stigmatized as a Party verdict. As the hon. Member for Poplar said—"Brains will be counted as well as noses." Such a verdict will convince nobody, or certainly not those who sympathize with the hon. Member; it will be, like the last chapter of Rasselas, "a conclusion in which nothing is concluded." For all these reasons, I think it would be much better that this case 1052 should be taken before a Court of Law, and not be inquired into by a Committee of this House, which must be extremely unfit to undertake a trial of this sort. Then there is another point to consider. If you get a verdict against The Times in a Court of Law, The Times would meet with condign punishment, and a tremendous blow will be struck in favour of the hon. Member and his Party; but if a Committee of this House find a verdict one way or the other the defeated party would go scot free and simply abuse the tribunal and point to the Report of the minority as justifying all that had been done. Then it is pleaded—and I think some weight should be given to the plea—that the hon. Gentleman is challenged, and that, being challenged, he ought to have the choice of weapons. No doubt, you ought to follow that course in a duel, or in a proceeding which affects only the character of the two persons interested; but that is not the case here. In civil actions the plaintiff selects the tribunal, and I never hoard, in criminal matters, that the choice of the Court was given to the accused. I do not wonder at the hon. Gentleman opposite deciding in favour of a Committee, because it must be obvious to everyone that if he loses he can impugn the verdict as worthless; but, if he wins, his triumph will indeed be magnificent, because he can say—"I have obtained a verdict from a body, the majority of which is composed of my opponents." He can gain everything in the one way, while he can lose nothing in the other. But the hon. Member for East Mayo is not the only person to be considered in this case, nor are he and The Times newspaper the only parties interested. There is the country, which, through its Representatives, wishes to know the truth. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) laid down a very strong proposition just now—namely, that this House had never, in any similar case, allowed a prosecution of this kind to take place without there first being a Resolution upon the Minutes condemning the article under consideration. Earlier in the debate it was urged that the fact of our not passing a Resolution stating that this is a Breach of Privilege, or of our passing a Resolution declining to treat it as a question of Privilege, will be 1053 brought before the jury if the case is taken into a Court of Law, and will have the effect of prejudicing their minds. It is said that, under these circumstances, a jury could not be trusted to find a verdict in favour of the hon. Member for East Mayo. I should have thought that it would have been much more likely to prejudice the jury if a Resolution were brought before them showing that the House had already judged the question and condemned the newspaper. Then, indeed, you might look in vain for a fair trial for the defendant newspaper. But what right had the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian to suppose that in this case the House would depart from its former precedents and not pass a right and proper Resolution? Why, it is evident that when the hon. Member for East Mayo or any of his Friends bring forward a Resolution the Attorney General and Solicitor General, and the Government generally, will ask that that Resolution should be couched in right and proper terms. The Resolution must say that it has been brought to the notice of the House that The Times newspaper has published an article reflecting upon the veracity of a Member of this House, and that, therefore, the House will direct a prosecution by the Attorney General. All the virtuous indignation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian has thus been thrown away. Hon. Members of this House, as representing the country—which is, after all, the most important party in this matter—are bound to see, not that this man is charged or that that man is charged, or that the other man is defended, or that our privileges are protected, but that the truth is elicited in this matter. This country has a right to expect that its Legislative Assembly shall not convert itself into a judicial tribunal; and to require that we shall do all in our power to take care that this great question of fact, which affects not only unimportant Members of this House, but also some most conspicuous Members amongst us, and the conduct of a great Party struggle of almost unparalleled importance, shall be determined, not by a Select Committee, which will be reasonably suspected of partizanship, but by that High Court of Justice to which every subject is amenable, than which there is no more upright tribunal in the world. The country has a right 1054 to demand that this great question shall not become the play of Party, as it is only too likely to be if referred for consideration to a Select Committee of this House. For these reasons, I shall oppose the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman opposite.
§ MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)
Sir, in French history there was a critical day which went by the name of the "Day of Dupes." I wonder by what name this debate will be known in our history; possibly that of a "Debate of Shams." The first sham was the proposal of the hon. Baronet (Sir Charles Lewis) to adopt a Resolution with which he could have no sympathy, and this is met by the Government by an offer which they know perfectly well will not be accepted for a moment. The Attorney General was very indignant at this sham offer being called illusory, and appeared to take it as a personal reflection on him. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir Richard Webster): Collusive.] Well, illusory and collusive; but I can say for those sitting near me that by any such expression it was never intended to impute anything dishonourable or improper to the hon. and learned Gentleman. We called the action of the House collusive if it should direct a prosecution of The Times, when it was perfectly well known that there was no wish on the part of the House that any such prosecution should take place. If the word I have used has been supposed to convey any personal reflection on the Attorney General I withdraw it at once. I wish to direct the few remarks which I desire to make to the main question, whether it is proper that the House should direct Mr. Attorney General to take proceedings against The Times newspaper, or whether it should, by means of a Committee, make inquiry into the facts that have been alleged as to the conduct of this House of one of its Members. That, Sir, is the plain position. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) stated and re-stated, and applied, I think, all the earlier part of his speech to, the argument that the House of Commons has never ordered a prosecution without a previous Resolution alleging and condemning the offence for which the prosecution was to be instituted. My right hon. Friend urged that in very strong and clear language, and brought con- 1055 clusive proof of it before the House. I noticed when my right hon. Friend was speaking that there was much agitation among Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House. There was a collection of books brought in from the Library; there were communications between the First Lord of the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Law Officers of the Crown; there was a reference again to certain other books which were brought into the House during the right hon. Gentleman's speech; and when my right hon. Friend made that challenge in unmistakable terms, we had a right to expect that the Attorney General, in his reply, would deal with this statement and argument. But not one single word fell from the Attorney General in reply to that argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, which was the cardinal argument in his speech. I lay special emphasis on this, because there are many in the House now who wore not present during my right hon. Friend's speech, or during the speech of the Attorney General. My right hon. Friend said, I repeat, that the House never ordered a prosecution without a previous Resolution alleging and blaming the offence for which the prosecution was to be instituted; and he then argued that if the House were now to order a prosecution, as suggested, it would be going against the precedents of the last 300 years. Clearly, then, some good reason should be given if the House was now asked to take such a course. Now, I say that it was the duty of the Attorney General to moot that argument; he might have met it by a negative, or in some way parried it; it was the main argument of my right hon. Friend, but not a word fell from him in reply. Therefore, we must take the proposition of my right hon. Friend to be established, and that the course which he advises to be taken now is absolutely the right course, because neither in respect to great things or to small, to libels or to Breaches of Privilege, the House has ever ordered a prosecution to take place without first alleging what the offence is. The Attorney General, on the other hand, says that the House has never appointed a Select Committee in a case of libel upon the House, or upon a body of the Members or upon an individual Member, 1056 where the libeller was ready to justify. That is an extraordinary doctrine, altogether opposed to the facts of Parliamentary history. The House has appointed Select Committees on charges against Members over and over again, and justification has been frequently attempted; but what the Attorney General might have said is that the House has frequently exercised its discretion either to appoint a Committee, or proceed on the evidence actually before them at the time; and where the evidence has been plain, the House has acted on the assumption that a Breach of Privilege has taken place, and punished the individual, allowing the record to stand on the Journals of the House, or, at the last moment, accepting an apology. The argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman, therefore, falls to the ground. But I should like to meet one or two other objections which have been taken to inquiry into this case by a Select Committee, taken by the Attorney General, the Solicitor General, and the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill). One of those objections is that any Committee must be composed of ardent partizans; and that, therefore, you could not have from a Committee so constituted a judicial verdict. I deny that altogether. My humble opinion is, that although we in this House, like anyone else, have our prejudices on political subjects, the moment we are appointed as Members of a Select Committee, to inquire into any questions referred to us, we do our utmost to throw aside those prejudices. That is the history of a long series of Committees, some on purely political questions. It may be said that when the question has been one about the seat of a Member, before these matters were transferred to a judicial inquiry on the spot in some cases Party feeling has been evinced; but in the great majority of eases that has not been so, and that was not the reason for transferring the trial to a local Court. I remember in my own time more than one case in which a Member was unseated when the great majority of the Committee were of his political opinions; and it is of common notoriety that, where serious personal questions have been involved, the Committees of this House have been thoroughly impartial, or if there have been 1057 one or two Members disposed to be carried away by personal feelings the great majority of the Committee have been impartial. The next argument put forward by the Attorney General was this—that a Committee of this House dealing with a question of this kind would be dilatory and uncertain in its proceedings. Of its uncertainty the hon. and learned Gentleman gave a hypothetical instance; but of its dilatoriness he gave a precise instance, which is within my recollection. The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of Mr. Grissell's case, and he said that occupied a long time.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir RICHARD WEBSTER) (Isle of Wight)
Oh, no; the case which I mentioned when the Committee was appointed in February, and reported in June, was Mr. Butt's case, not Mr. Grissell's case.
§ MR. CHILDERS
I beg pardon. The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of the two cases in the same breath, and I thought that he referred to the case of Mr. Grissell. In that case, the offence appears to have been committed at the end of June, or on the 1st of July, and the whole matter was concluded on the 16th of July. But, except the single instance of Mr. Butt's case, I do not remember any Committee having acted in a case of this kind otherwise than promptly. The rule with Committees of this kind is that they sit from day to day, and it must have been a most exceptional instance if it has been thought necessary to make a long postponement. That is the well-established rule for the last 30 years. In at least 20 cases to which I have referred of Committees of this kind dealing with personal questions the sitting has been from day to day, and the decision has been arrived at with out the least delay. The one case given by the Attorney General of dilatoriness may, therefore, be opposed by 20 cases in which no delay has taken place. But then the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) brought a most strange charge against the action of these Committees, for he said that the machinery for examining and cross-examining witnesses was wanting, and that the appointment the other day in a particular Committee of two Gentlemen of special experience to take evidence—one on one side and one on the other—was anomalous, novel, 1058 and, in fact, a very dangerous innovation. Now, the noble Lord probably has not had time to refer to the well-known practice of the House in days past; but I have done so, and I find that it has been the regular practice of the House, on the occasions when Committees have been appointed on personal questions, to appoint two Members, either directly or through the Committee of selection—one on one side and one on the other—whose functions were to examine witnesses, without the power of voting. The case of Mr. Stonor, which is exactly in point, is notorious; and in that case Mr. Moore and another Member were appointed to examine witnesses—one on one side and one on the other—without the right of voting. Again, there is the ease of Mr. Butt, who was accused of improper conduct with reference to services rendered in Parliament to an Indian Prince. That case was referred to a Committee, on which two Members of the House were appointed to examine witnesses only. Then, in the ease of the Leeds Bankruptcy Court inquiry, in 1865, the Lord Advocate and Mr. Bovill were appointed extra Members of the Committee, to examine witnesses without the right of voting; and again, in the case of the School Inspector's Reports in 1864 which led to the resignation of Mr. Lowe, the then Lord Advocate and the present Lord Salisbury were appointed special Members of the Committee without the power of voting—simply to examine witnesses. The noble Lord, therefore, is entirely mistaken in thinking that this Committee, were it appointed, could not have two Members of the Legal Profession sitting on it for the purpose of examining witnesses. Even where the House has not thought fit to appoint additional Members there are numerous cases where counsel have been allowed to be employed for the purpose of examining witnesses in personal inquiries without being Members of the Committee. I was myself concerned in a case which occurred in 1859. I presented a Petition alleging conduct inconsistent with honour on the part of a Member, admitting that I had been guilty of a Breach of Privilege; and my Petition was referred to a Select Committee, and in aid of that Committee two lawyers—one on one side and one on the other—were appointed to examine witnesses. I think 1059 no one else asked questions except the Chairman, and the Committee in due time arrived at the decision which, I am happy to say, was in my favour. Therefore, the practice of Committees of this kind has, undoubtedly, been to appoint two Members belonging generally to the Legal Profession expressly for the purpose of examining witnesses, without the power of voting, or to allow Counsel to be heard. This objection, therefore, falls to the ground. There is, how-over, one case precisely in point which I think has not been mentioned. It is that of a Member charged with Breach of Privilege in the form of slander of other Members who would undoubtedly have been convicted, either by a Select Committee or directly by the House, but in all probability by a Select Committee, if he had not taken the proper steps in the matter and cleared himself. That is the case of Mr. Lopes, who in 1875 was complained of for having in the country spoken of certain Irish Members as a "disreputable Irish band in alliance with the Liberal Party." Those words, although spoken so far back as in December, were brought before the House when it mot in February. A Motion was made that the words were a Breach of Privilege, and the Leader of the House and of the Party to which Mr. Lopes belonged said that, unless the hon. Member apologized, it would be their duty to act towards him as one guilty of a Breach of Privilege. The words of Mr. Lopes would have been the subject of inquiry by a Select Committee; but he rose immediately and, admitting that he used the words, fully apologized for having used them; and the Leader of the House said that he was of opinion that justice had been done. All the precedents, then, are against the doctrine of the Attorney General. I put it to the House, in connection with the argument of the Attorney General, that there has been no case in which it has been made clear that a Breach of Privilege has been committed in the form of language used by the Press, or words spoken against a Member of this House, or a body of Members, in which the House has not itself taken action, and there is not a single case in which the House has, without a previous decision, remitted a matter for trial by a Court of Law. Therefore, if we are going to act 1060 from precedent, I do not think there can be any doubt that this new doctrine set up by the Attorney General ought to be disregarded, and that the old doctrine which the House has always followed ought to be acted upon in the present case. It seems to me, however, that this is far too important a subject to be argued simply on precedent of rule and custom. I think we ought to look at the practical question before us. Now, what is the position of this question? An hon. Member of this House, whom, I think I may say, we all respect, has been accused in the columns of a very influential newspaper of having lied in this House. He has been accused of wilful falsehood in a speech delivered in this House in answer to a Member of this House. Charges had been brought against him, which charges he analyzed, and it is on the answer he gave to those charges, and for that answer, that he has been accused of wilful falsehood. Let us ask what we ourselves should feel if such language had been applied to our friends or ourselves? Should we not urge that, the charge having been made with reference to a speech made in this House, the investigation of its propriety should be carried on among ourselves—in foro domestico—and should we not shrink from the suggestion to send a brother Member against whom such an accusation is made to a tribunal outside the House? I could understand if the hon. Member for East Mayo had said—"I have lost confidence in the fairness of the House," if he were under the belief that a Select Committee would be a partial and prejudiced tribunal—that it might be a question whether or not we should abandon our established practice. But the hon. Member for East Mayo, being a Member of a body equal to one-eighth of the House, powerful in its position as representing the Irish people, and yet in the aggregate not strong as compared with the whole House, comes to us and says—"I am perfectly satisfied that there should be an inquiry by a Committee of the House; I am satisfied that if the House will appoint that Committee, the moment it is appointed Members would be prepared to put aside all Party feeling and to do me justice. Whatever may be the personal feelings of Members, I am convinced that those feelings will disappear when they occupy the judicial position of Members of a 1061 Select Committee." Well, Sir, I say, that being so, and the appeal being that of the hon. Member himself, that we ourselves should judge him in this important matter, I say that the country will never understand why we should reject the hon. Member's appeal, and insist on sending him to the judgment of a tribunal which the hon. Member feels would be under a heavy prejudice against him, the members of which—I am not speaking of the Judge, of course, but of the jury—would be under the influence of the enormous prejudice which at this time exists in London against the hon. Member and his Friends, and with regard to whom I think I may justly say he cannot be assured of securing an impartial verdict. [Cries of "No!"] An hon. Member says "No!" but if that hon. Member were in this position himself, and had been exposed during the last two years to the attacks which the great majority of the people of London have directed against the hon. Member for East Mayo, I think he would very much prefer the judgment of a Committee of this House to the judgment of a London jury. Therefore, both on the grounds of custom and precedent, on the ground of the Rules which we have laid down for ourselves during the last 300 years, but still more on the grounds of fairness to the hon. Member for East Mayo and his Friends, we should, however specious may be the arguments of the Attorney General, absolutely, of course, without prejudice, give the hon. Member for East Mayo the tribunal for which he asks. I say that, if we wish to do what is fair, we should adopt the Amendment of my right hon. Friend, and appoint a Select Committee, leaving it to the Committee of Selection to choose grave and impartial persons fairly representing all Parties in the House, from which I feel confident that a conclusive and fair judgment would come.
§ MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
Mr. Speaker, at an earlier period of the evening the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) was subjected to elaborate onslaughts from the hon. Gentleman the junior Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) on the one hand, and from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) on the other hand. The right hon. 1062 Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian commenced his speech this afternoon by repudiating the statement of the noble Lord that the right hon. Gentleman had constituted himself the Leader of the Party for the repeal of the Union; but shortly afterwards he closed his observations by complaining that grave international questions had been raised between Ireland and England by the course Her Majesty's Government had pursued. I want to ask this question. How is it possible that there could be international questions between Ireland and England, unless the noble Lord was justified in his supposition that there must be in the policy of the right hon. Gentleman something he contemplates in the nature of a repeal of the Union? Sir, the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) attacked with great bitterness and careful elaboration former statements of the noble Lord. I am not concerned to dwell at any length on that attack to-night. I know no human being either inside this House or beyond its walls who is more perfectly able to defend himself than the noble Lord, and he will have ample opportunities of replying to the hon. Member for Northampton. I do not desire to dwell upon that subject tonight, further than to say this—that when the noble Lord rose and stated how utterly untrustworthy were the speeches contained in Hansard made by private and independent Members, as reliable evidence of what they have absolutely stated in this House, I can only say that, from my own personal experience on many occasions on that subject, I am able to endorse everything that fell from the noble Lord. Now, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian has somewhat narrowed the issues which are raised by this discussion. He began by pointing out that in the first instance five points of grave importance have been raised by the Amendment of my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General (Sir Edward Clarke). Now, it seems to me that after the decision this evening there are only two practical questions before the House, and they are—whether the inquiry which it seems all sections of the House are agreed ought to be made should be prosecuted by a Committee of this House, or whether there should be a prosecution in a Court of Law. The right hon. 1063 Gentleman has suggested that the inquiry should be conducted by a Select Committee. Her Majesty's Government, on the other hand, have offered, if hon. Members desire it, to give them every facility and assistance for a prosecution in a Court of Law. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out many objections to a prosecution in a Court of Law. First of all, he said it was likely to lead to very considerable delay, and he argued that the proceedings by a Committee must necessarily and naturally be much move speedily disposed of than they would be in a Court of Law. I wish to make this observation, that earlier in the Session charges were made against certain hon. Members of this House, and those charges were referred to the deliberation of a Select Committee. They wore made on the 18th of March last. We are now approaching the middle of May, and I am not aware that any Report whatever has been made by this Committee, nor do I understand there is any immediate prospect of that Report being presented. I am referring to the Committee which sat on the charges made against the Corporation of London. Well, then, the right hon. Gentleman expressed great doubts as to whether a fair verdict could be obtained in a Court of Law; and those doubts, so far as I can gather from his speech, were shared, in no small degree, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Childers), who has just sat down. But how did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian support them? I must say I thought his case was a rather weak one, when he was absolutely obliged to go back 30 years to the case of the Ionian Islands as the only illustration he could adduce at the present time in support of the argument he made to-night. Now, while the right hon. Gentleman was doubtful as to the possibility of obtaining a verdict in a Court of Law, or as to the merits of a prosecution undertaken in that way, he was perfectly clear that there were no objections which could be advanced to an inquiry by a Committee. "There is only one mode," he said, "according to reason and according to precedent by which this inquiry ought to be conducted." "The Committee," he said, "would be the most perfectly competent tribunal;" and then he asked this question— 1064What is there in the nature of this case to make a Committee unable to discharge a duty which you say any common jury or special jury is perfectly competent to discharge?Well, I will give the right hon. Gentleman, in a moment, one or two objections which occur to me. I am not going now into the question of precedent. I do not profess that I am sufficiently versed in precedent on this question to entitle me to express an opinion; but I rather agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Childers) that we ought not to be absolutely guided by precedent on this question. Now, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Childers) said the principal argument adduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian against the institution of a prosecution is, that no prosecution has ever been ordered by this House unless the House has previously expressed an opinion upon it. I understand that was the main contention of the right hon. Gentleman. I do not know how that may be; but oven admitting, for the sake of argument, he is right, what I want to point out to the House and the right hon. Gentleman is that the case which is now before us is absolutely in itself without any precedent whatever. Why, Sir, there is no case of Breach of Privilege on record that I am aware of in regard to which the Parliamentary and political interest of every single section of Members of this House was vitally and deeply concerned. But that is the case on the present occasion. There is no question or doubt about that. I want the House to consider how that circumstance affects the proposals which have been made for a Committee. For the purposes of an inquiry of this nature there are, in my humble opinion, two conditions which are absolutely essential. In the first place, the tribunal must be thoroughly impartial, so far as it is possible to obtain impartiality. In the second place, if the tribunal is to be a Committee of this House, it ought to be fairly representative of every section of Members in the House. I propose to show that in this case it is absolutely impossible that either one of these conditions can be fulfilled. For all practical purposes there are at the present time four different Parties in this House. There is the Party which supports the Government; there is the 1065 Party which supports the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. W. E. Gladstone); there is the Party which follows the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington); there is the Party of Irish Members who follow the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell); and what I say is that the political and Party interests of each and all of these four different sections are deeply—in some cases I might almost say vitally—concerned in the decision of the question now before us. Take the case of the Government. (Suppose for a moment that these charges should be substantiated. What would be the effect upon Her Majesty's Government? Why, of course, it would enormously facilitate the passing of the Bill which is now before the House. [Opposition cheers.] Those cheers are the best illustration I could possibly receive of the justice and force of my argument. The substantiation of these charges would enormously facilitate the passing of the Bill, which the Government have said over and over again is vital to their interests. Well, the same argument applies, of course, but in a minor degree, to the Party which follows my noble Friend the Member for Rossendale. What is the position of hon. Gentlemen who sit below the Gangway opposite? They are the parties who are actually incriminated by these charges, and, of course, it is more vital to them—it is more important to them than to any other section of this House—that the verdict of any Committee should be in their favour. But if that is the position of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, how does it affect the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian and his Friends? Why, just suppose for a moment what would be the effect upon the Party who follow hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Front Bench opposite if, unhappily, such charges as those should be proved to be true, if it should be shown that the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends had accepted the alliance, and are relying on the support of men who were proved to have associated, for their own political purposes, either with murderers or men who had conspired to murder. Why, Sir, it would be the destruction, the absolute destruction, of their political reputation, and, unless I much mistake the temper of the English people at the pre- 1066 sent time, it would mean their absolute political extinction for the future. Sir, I have as much respect for the impartiality of the House of Commons, and for the honour and integrity of its Members, as any person who has the honour of a seat in this Assembly; but I know that human nature is human nature after all, and with such tremendous issues at stake as these, I ask the House of Commons—Is it possible to suppose that any Members belonging to either of the four sections could be placed on any Committee to decide these issues, who, however insensibly it might occur, could help being biased, to some extent, by their political passions and their political feelings? Is it possible that any Committee you could select could be as impartial as they ought to be, or as all of us should desire? I have offered to the House some reasons which justify me in saying that the first of the two conditions which I have laid down cannot be fulfilled, and is not likely to be fulfilled in the present case. But what was the second condition? It was that every section of Members in the House must be fairly represented upon this Committee. There we are met at once with the difficulty which was pointed out by the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) last night, and that difficulty consists in this—that if hon. Gentlemen opposite, or any of their Friends representing them, were placed upon that Committee, you would, in consequence of the terms of the articles which are the subject of this debate, be actually putting the accused on the tribunal which is to decide whether they are innocent or whether they are guilty. Hon. Gentlemen opposite tell us now that they would be perfectly satisfied to leave the decision to a Committee on which they were not represented; and, if I recollect aright, the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) was exceedingly indignant last night with my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, because he ventured to question the hon. Gentleman's views on that point. The hon. Gentleman was very wrath with the hon. and learned Solicitor General, because he said that happily a speech made earlier in. the evening by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) had 1067 been sent to the Press, and his impression of that speech could be verified on a subsequent occasion. I have taken the trouble to read the report of the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool, and I am bound to say it bears out to the letter the impression it made on the hon. and learned Solicitor General and me, and corresponds with the notes I took of the speech when it was delivered. I want to call the attention of the House to this—that we are constantly told by hon. Gentlemen opposite that they are burning with a desire to submit their case to a Committee of this House, and that they will be perfectly satisfied with a Committee on which they are not represented. I do not wish to question their sincerity, but I cannot help making this observation—that it does seem to me, if that is really their desire, most passing strange that in spite of the letter of the hon. Baronet the Member for North Antrim (Sir Charles Lewis), who made this Motion, and his direct invitation to the hon. Member for East Mayo to take proceedings himself, the hon. Gentleman actually declined to take any initiative in the matter.
§ MR. DILLON
I explained fully at the time the reason why I did so. I said I have always abstained, and always will abstain, from invoking the protection of the House against newspapers; but that when a challenge was given by another Member I was prepared to accept it.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I hope the explanation of the hon. Member is wholly satisfactory to himself. But, Sir, in support of what I was saying as to the willingness of hon. Gentlemen opposite now to leave the decision of this matter to a Committee on which they are not represented, I desire to call attention to one sentence in the speech delivered by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool last night. The hon. Gentleman said—Every single opponent of the Irish Party"—that means, I suppose, all the hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House—"has taken up the libels of The Times. They have become a party, a political weapon, and the very men who wield this poisoned dagger are now, forsooth, the Gentlemen who stand between our accusers and us!That is the complaint which was made last night. What is the charge which is made against the Government to-day? 1068 Why, that the very men who wield this poisoned dagger, forsooth, are not to be constituted their judges on this occasion! Sir, we desire to judge no man. For myself, I can say this—that as a Member of the House of Commons I am bound to assume that any other Member of the House of Commons—and in this case I do assume it—is innocent until he is proved to be guilty. But I cannot shut my eyes to the extreme gravity of the situation in which both hon. Gentlemen opposite, and the House of Commons as a whole, are placed; and if I am asked, as I was asked last night pointedly by the hon. and learned Gentleman the late Attorney General (Sir Charles Russell), what course I, for instance, would have taken if similar charges had been made against me in this House, this is my reply—wherever the truth could be most closely sifted, wherever the inquiry could be most searching and the investigation most complete, wherever justice was most certain—[Mr. DILLON: A great chance we should have in the City of London.]—wherever the absence of Party and political passion is most assured, and most certainly at the present time that would not be in the House of Commons, there I would demand, nay, more, I would insist on being hoard in my defence, and on being heard without delay. And that is the course, if I may presume to say so, which hon. Members below the Gangway opposite, if they are innocent, as I assume them to be, and if they are not afraid of meeting inquiry, would do well, and would do wisely, even at the eleventh hour, in my humble opinion, to adopt.
§ MR. E. T. REID (&c.) Dumfries,
I heard with satisfaction from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) the statement that he would assume the innocence of hon. Members from Ireland until their guilt had been proved. I wish the same language and the same spirit had been exhibited, not only by hon. Gentlemen sitting opposite, but by some hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House, who have not hesitated, in my judgment, most cruelly to prejudice the issue in any proceedings that may be taken in this matter. I do not intend to speak very long to-night, and I do not intend to dwell upon the precedents, because I think they have been thoroughly dealt with, and because I am 1069 aware that there is not likely to be a concurrence of opinion in regard to precedents. Quot homines, tot sentenliœ. But this is not a case of precedent at all. We have to determine whether or not hon. Gentlemen who have been maligned with a degree of savageness and pertinacity almost unexampled in the political warfare of the last half century are to be afforded an opportunity in this House, the first Assembly of English Gentlemen, of clearing their character from the stain cast upon it. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General (Sir Richard Webster) showed in his speech great sensitiveness in regard to imputations that he conceived had been made against him as to the exercise of his official duty. I did not understand that such imputations were made. I do not believe that the Attorney General would be guilty of any dishonourable conduct; but I thought that the style—the manner—of some taunts he levelled against hon. Gentlemen coming from Ireland scarcely accorded with the sensitiveness he himself exhibited when he imagined imputations were made against himself. Now, the purpose for which I wish to say a few words to-night is to state why I believe that Irish Gentlemen are perfectly warranted in declining to accept the criminal prosecution suggested. The occasion of the proceeding, to begin with, is not an ordinary occasion. It is not a question between The Times newspaper and hon. Gentlemen. It is a question which has been discussed for many weeks and months, one may say for years, involving charges which have been taken up by Gentlemen like the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Harrington) and diligently advertised by them, charges which have been repeated on many platforms within the past two or three weeks, charges involving issues of the gravest possible national importance; for although I do not think they ought to bear upon it, they undoubtedly do bear upon the great political question that is vexing the country at this moment. Under these circumstances, the object of the inquiry ought to be to ascertain the strict truth—not merely as it affects The Times newspaper—but to let us, who sit in this House, know whether the men who sit beside us are to be stamped with infamy as asso- 1070 ciates with cruel murderers, or are the victims of calumnies, and as such entitled to the sympathy and support of all honest men. When that is the nature of the question which has to be determined there are some essential conditions to a full and fair inquiry. One of them is, that the burden of proof ought to be thrown upon the shoulders of those who make the accusations. Another is, that all the sources of information should be opened and revealed for the inspection of the Court which has to determine this important matter. It is another condition that if, short of complicity with guilt, there has been a want of judgment, a carelessness in estimating the character of other men or in the selection of associates in common work, the exact measure of the fault, if fault there be, ought to be ascertained and decided in open day. And, beyond all that, it is necessary there ought to be no delay in coming to a conclusion, be-cause delay of justice in such a case as this is equivalent to a denial of justice. I think we ought also to bear in mind that the accused in this case are also accusers. They say there has been a deliberate conspiracy to ruin them for political purposes; they say there is an attempt to vilify their character in order to plunder the liberties of their country, and they demand to know who are the real movers behind these scenes of iniquity. For this purpose it is essential that the editor of The Times with his informants, with his assistants, in the making and publishing of these charges, should be brought before the tribunal in order that we may learn how these remarkable revelations had their origin, why it is they were not sooner divulged, and why they have been divulged at so opportune a moment? I do not think the House would dispute the truth of these general propositions, and I propose, shortly, to apply them; and I desire to say that in my humble judgment these essential conditions would not be fulfilled by a criminal trial in which these gentlemen should be prosecutors. The burden of proof, to begin with, would be shifted from the defendants—from The Times, on to the shoulders of those who have been slandered. ["No!"] I say the burden of proof unquestionably would be cast on the shoulders of those who have been slandered. The Judge would undoubtedly direct the jury, if he knew 1071 anything at all about law, that if they had any doubt—[Laughter.] I assume the Judge would know about the law, and I was not, perhaps, very rightly referring to the doubts expressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite and suggesting that perhaps all of them are not so well acquainted with the matter as the Judges would be. It is quite certain that not only would the burden of proof be on the prosecution, but that the natural presumption arising from human compassion for men placed in a dock on a criminal charge would be doubly felt in the case of the representatives of a great public organ, which for many years has been held in high esteem in this country; and if hesitation from that ground arose, who can question that the jury, saturated with the prejudice which has been instilled into them by all the newspapers nearly of the country, would gladly seize the occasion to relieve themselves from the burden of finding a verdict of guilty on a criminal charge. Yet a verdict of acquittal in those circumstances would be equivalent to a verdict of condemnation of Gentlemen who are sitting hero in this House. Again, Sir, in a criminal prosecution all the sources of information would not be truly and honestly available. On the day of the trial the prosecution would be wholly ignorant of the materials the defence would have under their control. Some document, whether forged or otherwise, might be sprung upon them at the last moment, which at the time they could not, without having recourse to investigation and inquiry in remote countries, be able either to expose or explain. Or some witness of infamous character might be brought forward for the purpose of testifying to some falsehood, and it would require long search in remote corners of the earth to find out and trace the infamy of his character, or to show how untrustworthy and unreliable he was. Under those circumstances, who could doubt that the jury might well believe—for an adjournment under these circumstances could not take place—who would doubt that the jury might well find a verdict in favour of persons charged in a criminal case, and that that verdict would be treated, and naturally treated, as a verdict of condemnation against these Gentlemen? But, further than that, I can understand why the apologists of The Times desire this form 1072 of inquiry. The defendants themselves—the editor, the printer, the writers—would not go into the witness-box, and would not be liable to cross-examination. It would be impossible to ascertain where these remarkable stories had their origin. The whole object of the defendants' counsel would be to avert a conviction. The defendants would not be endeavouring to take part in an impartial inquiry. It would be impossible to call them as witnesses—those in the dock would be able to say they could not present themselves as witnesses; and the result is that the matter which these gentlemen, who in their turn are accusers, most earnestly desire to find out, and which I desire to find out, would not and could not possibly be ascertained by this method of inquiry. If The Times wants to avoid having the sources of its information investigated, there is no method of avoiding it better than going into the dock, where they will not be exposed to that kind of inquiry. Again, if it appeared even that some gentlemen had accepted with too little inquiry the aid of men of bad character, of whom they had themselves no suspicion, it might well be that the jury would find a verdict in favour of the defendants; not because of the guilt of the prosecutors, but because the defendants acted in good faith. That, also, would be construed by the public as a condemnation of the conduct of hon. Gentlemen. But, it is said—"Why should not some action be brought?" Anyone who knows what an action in such a case would mean will not require to ask that question. An action with all the preliminary proceedings, an action with Commissions to all parts of the world—to America and elsewhere—extending over a period of at least 12 or 18 months, would result in this, that the trial could not take place for 18 months or two years, and in the mean time those Gentlemen, who are as much entitled to the consideration of this House, if it be a House of the first Gentlemen in Europe—these Gentlemen, who are as much entitled to the consideration of the House as any body of Members who have to work among us, who sit among us, and who have to go through the painful duties which they have to encounter in their labours—these Gentlemen in the mean time would rest under the stigma—the unremoved imputation—of crime from which they cannot have 1073 an opportunity of purging themselves. Under these circumstances it seems to me that there are strong reasons why many of us in friendly council, if we were asked by any other friend, would recommend that such proceedings should not be chosen, if any reasonable alternative existed. It is not a fair trial; but, far beyond that, it is not a proper method of investigation of that which we wish to see investigated. It would burke that part of the inquiry in which hon. Gentlemen are accusers, and would be an unsatisfactory trial of that part in which they are accused. As regards a Committee of this House, I am surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chaplin) say—I was surprised to hear it from the right hon. Gentleman—that he doubted—appeared to doubt—that in this House of Commons you could find 12 or 13 men of honour who would put aside all interest and Party affection, and truly try a question so deeply affecting Members of this House. I, Sir, have a very different opinion of the House of Commons, and I can say this for the right hon. Gentleman, differing from him as I do—that if I was in like case with these hon. Gentlemen, I would gladly leave to the decision of the right hon. Gentleman himself and 12 others such as him the responsibility of dealing with the matter. He has not done justice to himself. He has not done justice to Gentlemen who are sitting behind him; and I am very sorry indeed that he, perhaps in a rhetorical flight or an unguarded moment, should have led to the opinion that he thinks so low of the House of Commons that there are not 12 or 14 honest men to be found in it.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
The hon. and learned Member will allow me to explain. I ad-hero most strictly to every word I said; and I assure him it was not in an unguarded moment that the words fell from me. What I desired to convoy to the House was this—and I thought I had conveyed it—that this being such a tremendous issue as regards the Party interest of every section of Members in this House, it would be next to impossible that an inquiry could be conducted by Members of this House without their being insensibly biased in their judgment.
§ MR. R. T. REID
I think the right hon. Gentleman has merely re-stated in 1074 other words, and better words than mine, what I have stated I thought he had said. But I will pass from the subject. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman is obdurate in his opinion of the House, and I can only say that I am able to take a higher estimate of the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends than he seems to take himself. This Committee would, at all events, be prompt. It would begin, or it might begin, its labours in the course of a week. It would be composed of such elements that it is impossible for hon. Gentlemen opposite to complain as far as they are concerned. The hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) says he is content that it should consist of English and Scottish Members alone, and that it should consist of a majority of Members from the other side of the House. How is it possible, if the purpose is to enable the Members who are charged to confront their accusers—how is it possible to deny that the matter should be sent to a tribunal so constituted? The tribunal would have the power of cross-examination, the power of sifting to the bottom the whole of the truth or untruth of these charges; and, more than that, the Committee would have the power of investigating what were the sources of authority on which The Times newspaper made these charges—who were the persons behind it—who are the men who have fabricated and forged—as I believe they have forged—these documents, and palmed them off on The Times. In that way there would be satisfaction given to both sides; whereas the method that is proposed by the Government appears to me to give satisfaction to neither. Sir, it is not merely that these are reasons, in my humble opinion, sufficient to lead the House to grant this inquiry, and to appoint this Committee; but these are also some of the opinions and some of the objections entertained by the hon. Gentleman themselves to the proposal of the Government. They object to the tribunal which the Government propose. They come forward, being accused of such offences as no man I suppose within living memory in this House has ever been accused of; and they say, and I say, that if there is a spark of honour, a spark of chivalry in this House, it is due to them, strangers, almost friendless in this country, to give them the 1075 inquiry they ask for. [Laughter.] I observe the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Colonel Saunderson) laughs at my description of hon. Members below the Gangway on this side as strangers and almost friendless. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is not a stranger; but the hon. and gallant Gentleman in this House, I am sorry to say, seems to take more interest in finding fault with his own countrymen, and attacking his own countrymen, than in anything else, and that in a way that I should be sorry to see any countryman of mine do. I suppose we may pretty well know what part the Unionist Liberals are going to take in this Division. The Unionist Liberals seem to me to worship with blind devotion the fetish called the ''Union of the Unionist Party," and I am afraid that under that flag they are going to ally themselves with Gentlemen who have like themselves—and not worse I admit—denounced other Members outside and inside this House; they are going to exhibit to the country at large this spectacle—that having repeated these charges in this House, and repeated them outside this House, when the men charged ask for an inquiry by impartial persons—for that you will not dispute so far as the composition of the Committee is concerned—they have not the courage to face those whom they have accused. What will be said in the country of this debate and its result? To my mind the result is a foregone conclusion. It is not much use in giving argument to Liberal Unionists. I am afraid it is a foregone conclusion; but what will be said about it in the country? [Ministerial cheers.] Yes; I will tell you what will be said in the country. It will be said that for a considerable time Conservatives and Liberal Unionists went about the country denouncing on public platforms brother Members as guilty of crimes which ought to be punished by the halter or the scaffold. It will be said that they did not mean to bring this matter to the test of an inquiry, but that a bungling Member of their Party brought the matter to the front without reckoning on the consequences; and that, after dilatory suggestions, the Government endeavoured to evade the consequences. It will be said that they have been lacking in that spirit of English fair play which has hitherto been 1076 recognized and practised; that they have put forward subtle arguments, and left to their Attorney General and Solicitor General to find out technical defences where there were not any honest answers. I have stated what I believe will be said and deeply felt in the country. I do not believe the right hon. Gentleman who is Leader of the House deserves the censures which have been passed upon him from this side of the House. I believe the right hon. Gentleman wishes to do right; but I am sorry to say that I think he has been overruled by others. I wish the right hon. Gentleman, whom we respect, would put his own honest mind to this matter, and would ask what would his feeling be in a case of this kind if any man accused him of much less than these men are attacked for. If any man attacked him, and he wanted to have a Committee of Inquiry, and if he found that hon. Gentlemen of different political opinions were opposing him and finding arguments against him, I am afraid he would feel a little bitter too; and, under those circumstances, he ought to make some allowance for the feelings of hon. Gentlemen and what they have said in regard to himself. I would only say this in conclusion—that I would far rather forego that enormous Party advantage which we Liberals shall reap from this transaction—I would far rather forego that than I would do what I believe to be really dangerous to the true interests of the United Kingdom and of Ireland—namely, to encourage and give ground for the opinion in Ireland—aye, and it will spread to England and Scotland too—that in this House of Commons there is one method of justice for Englishmen and Scotchmen, and another and a different one for Irishmen.
§ MR. PAULTON (Durham, Bishop Auckland)
I will not, Sir, at this time of the night (12.20) detain the House for more than a very few minutes; but I wish just to put forward one point that I do not think has yet been touched upon. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) stated—and I was very glad to hear him say it—that all Parties were agreed that some inquiry should be made into this matter. On that statement I maintain the right hon. Gentleman should vote for the 1077 Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, for this reason—that the Irish Members have declared that they will not resort to an action in a Court of Law. I say nothing as to the wisdom or unwisdom of the course which they have decided to pursue. That is not my argument. It does not concern the point I wish to make; but I will incidentally venture to remark that I think they are as much justified, in their position, in doubting the fairness of the judgment which they might receive at the hands of a Court of Law, as hon. Gentlemen opposite are justified in asserting that a Committee of this House would not give a fair and impartial inquiry. That being so, my point is that the Irish Members, having decided that they will not resort, for reasons which may or may not be good, to an action in a Court of Law, if hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House wish that an inquiry should be held, they must vote for this Motion, or they will have no inquiry at all. It appears to me, Sir, that this is a test as to whether hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House wish for any inquiry or not. I should be very sorry to say anything which should wound the feelings of hon. Members on the other side; but I must confess that their conduct in this matter does give some ground, at any rate, for suspicion that their object in the action they have taken is not the desire which I think all Members of this House should hold—namely, to vindicate the character of hon. Members in this House. It appears to me, Sir—I hope I may be wrong, and I should wish to be corrected by the voices of hon. Members if I am wrong—but it does not appear to me that they would be altogether pleased if the result of this investigation should prove that these charges are, as I believe them to be, wholly and entirely false and unjustifiable. I am not very much surprised that this debate has turned so much upon legal points. My hon. and learned Friend who has just spoken said that, in his opinion—and he is a good judge—the question before us ought not to be decided merely on legal points; but I am not surprised, Sir, that the Party opposite have sought to escape by what I may call a legal quibble from the difficulty in which they have been placed by the extreme action of 1078 the hon. Baronet (Sir Charles Lewis). Hard things have been said on both sides of the House of the hon. Baronet; but I will venture to say this of him—that I think he has, at any rate, some claim to patriotism, for although I know nothing of his motives—I may not have a high opinion of them; but it is net necessary for me to express it—of his conduct I may certainly say it would appear to be somewhat of a patriotic kind, for he has sacrificed his Party to what I will venture to say will be for the benefit of his country. And, Sir, besides the legal points upon which this debate has to a great extent turned, the main contention of hon. Members opposite has been that we must be very chary of incurring the danger of stretching what I may call the doctrine of Privilege. I venture to think that the danger in this case is not that we should strain the doctrine of Privilege, but that we should unduly restrict it. I most fully concur in the words which have fallen from my hon. and learned Friend who preceded mo in this debate, that in the interests of fair play it is astonishing to us who sit on this side of the House, as English Gentlemen, that hon. Members opposite—that any Party in this House—should have dreamt of hesitating for one single instant as to what their action would be in this matter. I am not going to detain the House by repeating arguments which have been already used, but I certainly wish to emphasize one point—namely, that if hon. Members do wish an inquiry at all they must vote for this Motion, and I most sincerely hope and trust that they will show that their desire has been throughout this matter—and I am bound to say that so far we have had but little ground for thinking so—to maintain the honour and the dignity of this Assembly, in whose Members we all have an equal interest and an equal concern.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Captain Price.)
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
Before this debate is adjourned I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government a question with reference to procedure tonight. I observe the first Order after 1079 this is the Criminal Law Amendment (Ireland) Bill—Committee. I presume that at this hour of the night (12.25) it is not intended to go on with a Bill of that character. If it were intended I should think it would he most unusual and most unfortunate; and, furthermore, I wish to have it distinctly understand that, as far as we are concerned, nothing that we have done in this business has in any way tended to delay the bringing forward of this measure. I believe, as far as I understand, the Government cannot blame us for the delay that has taken place, and, of course, they do not do so. Then I observe the next Order on the Paper is the Duke of Connaught's Leave Bill. I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government is it intended to bring on that measure to-night, because I think, before we agree to this Motion, we should receive an understanding exactly what the course of the Government is with regard to the Amendments on the Paper. I do hope the Duke of Connaught will be able to come home to Her Majesty's Jubilee, because it is a most important thing that the whole family should be present at that time; and, for my part, I should be extremely sorry that his military duty should detain the illustrious Duke. I should like to say that it is important on a measure of this kind that we should have a distinct understanding in advance from Her Majesty's Government; and, therefore, I appeal to the Government to say, before we agree to this Motion, what it is they exactly desire to do. [Laughter.] I do not know what the Lord Advocate is laughing at. I hope he is not laughing at my allusions to the illustrious Duke of Connaught. I must say, Sir, that I do think when Members of the Government, on an occasion so important as the present, meet with jeers—
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The Question before the House is the adjournment of the debate. The hon. and learned Gentleman is now discussing other matters on a Motion for the adjournment of the debate.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
I apologize to you, Sir, and to the House for having ventured to go from the straight line of debate, and I will simply confine myself to asking Her Majesty's Government whether they intend on an evidence of this kind, when all our minds 1080 are greatly exercised with the important matter which has been before us, asking the House to debate the Crimes Bill in Committee, or the Duke of Connaught's Leave Bill, each of which forms a large subject of inquiry in itself? I think the hour of half-past 12 is hardly the time when Bills of this kind should be brought on. There is an important Truck Bill on the Paper, and others in addition to that—the Merchant Shipping Bill, for instance—each of which—at any rate, as far as the Truck Bill is concerned—should be brought on. I hope we shall have an answer from the Government.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
I regret that my hon. and gallant Friend has moved the adjournment at so early an hour; but, as he has done so, the Government will not oppose his Motion. I do not think that the importance of the debate will be much emphasized by its further continuance, when it has already lasted the greater part of three days. The hon. and learned Member opposite (Mr. T. M. Healy) asked me what Business we propose to take this evening. We are indebted to him for the fact that we cannot proceed with any opposed Business, as it is now after half past 12. Probably, if the Motion for Adjournment had been made at an earlier hour in the evening, the hon. and learned Gentleman would not have found it necessary to take part in the discussion. I suppose he is not aware of the fact that a communication was made to the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh), earlier in the evening, to the effect that it was the intention of the Government to afford every facility in their power for the further progress of the Truck Bill. That Bill will be the only measure of any importance that will be proceeded with this evening.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman if the Government propose to give any assistance in furthering the Merchant Shipping Act (1854) Amendment (No. 2) Bill?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate further adjourned till To-morrow.