§ SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
Mr. Speaker, I rise to ask leave to submit to the House a Motion in the character of privilege. Those who are familiar with the practice of this House are aware that this is the proper time at which a Motion of Privilege should be submitted to the House. The subject-matter of this Motion is, unfortunately, only too familiar to this House, and therefore I shall not find it necessary to trespass at any length upon your attention. It is, indeed, necessary for me to say extremely little about it. The Motion refers to what is known here and throughout the world as the forged letter published in the Times newspaper on April 18, 1887. I must say a word upon the reason why for so long a period the bringing forward of this Motion has been delayed. It was my duty, Sir, to consult you in reference to this Motion; and you, with your usual kindness and courtesy, pointed out to me that it was necessary and proper that some account should be given of why this Motion is brought forward now, and was not brought forward before. I do not desire to go into any of the past controversies with reference to the subject. The matter of delay, as a matter of principle in respect of questions of privilege, is not primâ facie a material one. In the book of authority which we consult on this subject it is said that the House will punish in one Session offences which have been committed in another; it also appears that a breach of privilege committed against one Parliament can be punished by another, and libels against former Parliaments have often been punished. Selden says it is clear a breach of privilege in one Parliament may be punished in another succeeding Parliament. I do not wish to weary the House with the precedents; they will be found collected in the second volume of Hatsell, at page 335, where breaches of privilege have been dealt within different Sessions and even in different Parliaments. The circumstances which have delayed this Motion are familiar to the House, and I will endeavour not to raise any of 44 the ill-feeling which attached to the former controversies. It is quite plain that if a question is raised of this character—a charge or calumny or libel of a character which would be a breach ofprivilege—ifitisdeniedbythe party inculpated, there must be some method of investigating the facts upon either side. Well, we on this of the House desired at the time that the House should have taken this matter into its own hands, and should have investigated the matter itself at the time. I am not going to re-open that argument further than to say I think that everything that has occurred confirms my opinion of the injustice of that omission, and our regret at the departure from the regular and Constitutional methods of dealing with those matters. However, the majority of the House decided otherwise, and it was impossible therefore to arrive at any judicial decision upon this matter until the verdict was given in a Court of Law the other day, about 10 days ago, I think it was on February 4. Of course, if the Commission appointed to inquire into these matters had made, in reference to these letters, an interim report, which it had power to do and might have done, we might then have proceeded upon the withdrawal of the letters, and we could have come to this House and said the matter was res judicata, and therefore it is ripe for you to deal with it. That was not the case. It was not until the decision in the case of" Parnell v. Walter" that we were placed in the position in which we are to-day, to say to the House of Commons, "There is no longer any dispute about the facts; it has been judicially determined in a Court of Law, and therefore there is nothing further in this matter to inquire into." That, Sir, is the ground upon which I have to submit to you that I have given a sufficient account of the delay which has taken place in this matter, and which will relieve it from the difficulties which might otherwise attach to the principle which certainly ought to be observed in privilege—andwhich I know, Sir, from what you have been kind enough to say to me, is a thing to which you attach very high importance—that a question of privilege should be brought on as soon as it possibly can be. What is the position of this matter? On April 18, 1887, was published in the Times what is known as 45 the forged letter. I do not think, Sir, it is necessary I should read to the House that foul and felonious document. It is branded in the memory of every man, I should think, who sits in this House. It will have to be read at the Table, and I need not read it now. But, Sir, it is of the essence of breach of privilege that you should show that the incriminated document affected the action of this House— that it was intended to affect the action of this House. It is not every libel upon a Member of the House of Commons which forms a breach of privilege—it is a libel which, in its intent, in its character, and its consequences, is intended to affect the conduct and pervert the judgment of the House of Commons. Well now, for that purpose, I will read—I will ask the clerk formally at the Table to read—the comment in the leading article of the Times newspaper, with which that letter was introduced. We might have inferred from the character of the letter itself and the time at which it was introduced what were its object and intent. April 18, 1887, was a marked day, a day which will be long remembered, especially in Ireland, for it was the day which was fixed for the Second Reading of the Crimes Act. That was an issue gravely affecting the Members for Ireland, and gravely affecting the character of the House of Commons in its dealings with Ireland. You might have inferred what was the meaning of this publication then without any avowal of it, but the Times newspaper wrote this:—We place before our readers to-day a document the grave importance of which it would be difficult to over-estimate. It is a facsimile of a letter from Mr. Parnell, written a week after the Phœnix Park murders, excusing his public condemnation of the crime, and distinctly condoning, if not approving, the murder of Mr. Burke. It needs no further words to recommend this document to the serious consideration of the public, and especially of Members of the House of Commons. At the close of tonight's sitting, if the arrangements made by the Whips hold good, the division will be taken in the House on the second reading of the Crimes Bill. That the Amendment moved at Mr. Gladstone's instance, and in the interest of his Parnellite allies, will be defeated by a great majority is beyond doubt. There is, however, a preliminary question of great significance to be settled. No graver danger has ever threatened public life in England than 'the demoralization in politics' against which Mr. Goschen, in his speech on Saturday at Edinburgh, adjured all honest men to make a stand.46 When I sit down I shall have to ask the House of Commons—I will say both sides of the House of Commons—to make a stand as honest men against the greatest example, as I think, of demoralization in politics of which modern times has any example. It is not, perhaps, necessary after that quotation to add anything, but, as if to leave no doubt in the matter, the responsible manager of the Times admitted in the witness-box what his object was in publishing that letter. These were some of the questions put to the manager of the Times—Why did you select April 18, 1887, for the publication of the letter?— Because I thought it was a proper occasion to produce it. Why did you think it was a proper occasion to produce it?—I thought it was a suitable time at which to make the public acquainted with the character of the men who were then prominent in public affairs Why did you select April 18 as a suitable time?—There were discussions then going on in Parliament which made that a proper moment Discussions about what?— Discussions going on in Parliament upon Irish affairs which made that a proper time—a suitable time for publishing the letter. Every journalist chooses his own moment. You selected the moment of the second reading of Mr. Balfour's Crimes Bill?—I did.So that we are not left to inference as to what was the intention and object with which this forgery was uttered. It was intended to have a direct and immediate effect on the conduct of Parliament. There is now, therefore, no issue of fact in dispute. The publication is undisputed. The object is not disputed. It is not disputed by the Times newspaper itself that this letter was a forgery. It was forged for the express purpose, and it was procured for the express purpose, of destroying the character of the Member in question; and it was intended to destroy the political party and the political objects with which that Member was connected. In the action of "Parnell against Walter" Mr. Walter has not affected to palliate or to allege anything in mitigation of this publication. He has been called upon, to pay what I think I will call exemplary—I cannot call them vindictive—damages. So far the law has vindicated Mr. Parnell from what I can only call, as I have called it before, this foul and felonious assault. It has visited, as far as the law can go, condign punishment on the utterer of this forgery. It has inflicted a still graver and still more righteous penalty 47 than any pecuniary fine—theperpetual ignominy which attends the memory of that transaction. So far, then, the judicial tribunals have made amends to the Member for Cork. But behind and beyond the offence against the Member himself lies what I conceive to be a far more important issue—the gross, palpable, flagrant outrage which has been attempted, and in a great part accomplished, on the House of Commons. The object of this atrocious calumny is avowed. It was thought, perhaps, that there were some weak-kneed Members of this House who might have a hesitation as to the vote they were going to give upon the Crimes Bill. It was thought that there might be men who might have scruples as to the pledges they had given to their constituents upon the subject of coercion. It was thought necessary to inflame public prejudice, to poison the public mind, to strengthen Members into giving this vote—to supply them with a justification for the vote they were to give or had given. That was the object of this publication. It was for this object, Sir, that this letter was procured, was kept lying by, was treasure dup until a propitious moment came, and then was produced and launched upon the world on the morning of the second reading of this Bill. It would be a waste of time—I should be abusing the patience of the House—if I were to argue at any length that this was a broach of the privileges of this House. Any man who knows anything of Parliamentary law knows very well that a grosser, more palpable, breach of the privileges of this House cannot possibly be conceived. I am not going to weary you by a recital of many musty precedents on this matter. I will just for a moment call your attention to recent action in matters of this kind by leaders of this House whose memories are respected. I would call attention just for one moment to the case in February, 1875, when Mr. Disraeli was leader of the House, and a Member of the House was charged with a breach of privilege by the Irish Members. It was the present Lord Justice Lopes, whose language was complained of. He was charged with having said that the Liberals were allied with a disreputable Irish band whose watchword was Home Rule, but who really meant repeal of the Union. What 48 did Mr. Disraeli say to that? Did he say it was not a breach of the privileges of this House? He said:—I am not here to deny that it is a breach of privilege to speak of any Members of this House in their capacity as such in terms which imply disgrace, or, as the hon. Gentleman has said, obloquy.He called upon the hon. Member responsible to express regret for what he had said, and the call was immediately responded to, and thus the House was relieved from the painful necessity of making it a question of privilege. Nothing can show more clearly that that was a question of privilege in the opinion of Mr. Disraeli, and that nothing but the retractation of the words would suffice. I need only refer to the case of Mr. Plimsoll. It was admitted by everybody that the publication of the placard was a breach of privilege. It was admitted that Mr. Plimsoll made his apology in the matter, and I remember I then urged upon the Government of the day that they should treat it as the case of Mr. Lopes had been treated, and that, it having been apologised for, no further proceedings should be taken. Sir Stafford Northcote, however, thought so strongly of the matter of privilege that, while agreeing that no further steps should be taken, he required that the Journals of the House should record the fact that what had taken place was a breach of privilege. Sir Stafford Northcote, on the 18th of June, 1883, brought a charge of breach of privilege against the late Mr. John Bright in this House, and the words complained of were—That they (the Conservative Party as a whole) were found in alliance with an Irish rebel party, the main portion of whose funds for the purposes of agitation came directly from the avowed enemies of England, and whose oath of allegiance is broken by association with its enemies.I will say no more on the question of precedent except to point out what Hallam says as to the power of the House to vindicate its own character and honour.The majority are bound to respect," says Hallam, "and indeed have respected, the right of every Member, however obnoxious to them, on all questions of privilege, even in a case most unlikely to occur—that of libel. It would be unjust if a patriotic legislator, exposed to calumny for his zeal in the public interest, should necessarily be driven to the troublesome and uncertain process of law when 49 the offence so manifestly affects the real interests of Parliament and of the nation.It is impossible more accurately to express the real principle, and justification of the principle, of privilege than in those words. I do not know whether it will be objected that a case which has been the subject of an action at law ought not to be made also a question of breach of privilege. But obviously that is not the case. The decision of a Court of Law cannot oust the action of this House, just as the action of this House cannot oust an action for damages. The two charges are current and not alternative in respect of jurisdiction. In point of fact, I do not know that any question can here be raised. The language of Lord Ellen-borough is quite clear on that point. He said:—Whether it was consistent with the dignity of such bodies as the House of Commons, and, what was more, with the immediate and effectual exercise of their important functions, that they should wait for the comparatively late result of a prosecution in the ordinary Courts of Law for the vindication of their privileges from wrong and insult…. Therefore, by the necessity of the case, the principles of human reason seemed to require that such bodies, constituted for such purposes and exercising such functions as they did, should possess the powers which the history of the earliest time showed them, in fact, to possess and use.That authority meets any argument that, because there has been an action at law, the authority of this House is to be ousted. It is perfectly obvious that that must be so, because the object of the two proceedings is utterly different. The object of an action at law is to vindicate the character and reputation of the individual, whilst the object of such a Motion as this is to assert the privileges of this House and the dignity of Parliament. There is nobody who will be more disposed than I am to assert that questions of privilege ought not to be lightly raised, and ought not to be lightly authorised. It is necessary, however, in my opinion—and, I believe, in the opinion of everyone who has had any experience of Parliament—that the power should remain and abide in the House of vindicating its dignity and authority, to be exercised upon adequate and necessary occasions. Therefore, if it be true that there is no dispute as to the fact of publication, as to the object of the publication, and as to the fact that 50 that publication constitutes a breach of the privileges of this House, there remains only one single question—and that is, Is this an adequate and necessary occasion for this House to exercise its power? How does the matter stand? This is no case of hasty and inconsiderate action on the part of some obscure libeller. It is avowed to have been a deliberate attempt to influence and to pervert the judgment of Parliament by making an accusation calculated to destroy the character of the leader of the Irish Party, for the purpose of destroying that Party, and with it the hopes of the nation which that Party represents. Does it comport with the dignity and the honour of the House of Commons to pass over such a transaction as this forgery in silence as though it were a matter of indifference to it? Neither is this the hasty action of some inexperienced persons which might be passed over by this House and be forgotten. In the cases to which I have referred where the breach of privilege was not insisted upon, apologies were made in this House by the persons who had committed the offences. In this case no apology has been made by the Times newspaper to the House of Commons. There has doubtless been made what is called an apology, but that was to the hon. Member for Cork. Are we, I ask again, to pass over this thing in silence? It is not a thing done in a corner; it is a thing that is known and that will be remembered in every part of the civilised world It cannot be passed over or forgotten—it will never be forgotten. I should think that it would be quite unworthy of the dignity of this House to have regard, as is sometimes done in the case of newspapers, to the insignificant subordinates in this foul transaction. I am not pointing here to the action of the Houstons, the Pigotts, or the MacDonalds. We know that the defendant who has been condemned in the Courts of Law, who is the principal registered proprietor of the Times, and is responsible for its conduct and its action, is a gentleman of high position, of great political experience, who was for a long period a Member of this House, and who knew very well and who intended very deliberately the consequences of this publication and its effect upon the House of Commons. No, this is not one of those petty personal libels 51 which the House of Commons can afford to dismiss as beneath its notice. In my opinion, this is a case in which the judgment of the world will be formed as to the justice of the House of Commons. I have spoken of the honour and the dignity of the House of Commons, but its honour, its dignity, is based upon its justice. I have said that this is not solely, it is not even mainly, a personal question merely affecting the hon. Member for Cork, although I feel myself, and I cannot help thinking that there are many Gentlemen on both sides of this House who also feel, that not elsewhere but in this place there ought to be some reparation made to him for this libel. But that is not the principal matter. Our political strifes, both in and out of this House are, God knows, bitter enough; but whatever may be our political differences, there is one thing in which all will concur in an assembly of English gentlemen, and that is in the denunciation of the use of poisoned weapons. I think that there is one thing that we may do to-night. We may brand with the stigma of Parliamentary reprobation the art of political forgery. In that denunciation we invite the assistance of all Members of all parties on both sides of the House; we invite the assistance and co-operation of the responsible Ministers of the Crown, not only as Members of this House, but as representing the great interests with which they are charged. I am only sorry that the duty I have taken upon myself in this matter was not undertaken by the natural leader of this House. I am sure that he is as zealous for the honour and dignity of this House as I am, and certainly this is an occasion in which it is necessary that the honour and dignity of this House should be vindicated. Before I sit down I have only one other thing to say. I desire to point out that on the decision of the House to-night upon this question there are dependent issues even larger than those to which I have referred, issues which I may justly term national issues. What is the theory of the Union between England and Ireland? When you took away from Ireland her independent Parliament, and when you invited her representatives to come here and sit among you, as a weak and defenceless minority amongst you, you pledged yourselves to treat them as your equals. Every one remembers the elo- 52 quent sentences in which that pledge was given in the great speech of Mr. Pitt, and it was that her Representatives should be treated as English and Scotch Members were treated. Now, I will ask any candid man whether, supposing there had been pending in this House some critical question vitally affecting Her Majesty's Government, say a Vote of Want of Confidence, and that on the morning when the Division was to take place there had appeared in the Times newspaper a forged letter, attributing to the leader of the Government conduct which, if the charge were true, would have covered him with infamy; say, for instance, there had appeared in the Times a charge against the Chancellor of the Exchequer of malversation of the public funds, can any man in this House honestly say that the House would have been justified in taking no notice of such a matter? If it be the case, as it is, that the reprobation of Parliament would have been expressed upon such a transaction, what measure are you going to deal out on the present occasion to the Irish Members who sit among you? I have spoken of what the professions of those who brought about the Union were; we shall see to-night how you carry out those professions. No doubt, the Irish Members form a weak minority among you; they number only about one-sixth of the whole House; and you, the majority, have the power, if you choose to use it, to overcome and to overbear them. I do not, however, think that that is the course that the House of Commons will take upon this occasion; if they do so it will, indeed, be a commentary upon the spirit by which those who support the Union are dominated. For these reasons I submit to the House that this is a case in which the House of Commons not only has the right, but that there is imposed upon it the duty, of vindicating its own honour in this transaction. Therefore it is that I ask leave to move this Resolution—That the publication in the Times newspaper of April 18, 1887, of a letter falsely alleged to have been written by Mr. Parnell, a Member of this House, and the comments thereon in the said newspaper, is a false and scandalous libel and a breach of the privileges of this House.Complaint being made to the House by the Right honourable Sir William Har 53 court, of the publication in the Times newspaper of April 18th, 1887, of a Letter falsely alleged to have been written by Mr. Parnell, a Member of this House, and of the comments thereupon in the said newspaper,
The said newspaper was delivered in, and the Letter and the comments thereon complained of were read as followeth:—15|5|82.Dear Sir,I am not surprised at your friend's anger, but he and you should know that to denounce the murders was the only course open to us. To do that promptly was plainly our best policy.But you can tell him and all others concerned, that, though I regret the accident of Lord F. Cavendish's death, I cannot refuse to admit that Burke got no more than his deserts.You are at liberty to show him this, and others whom you can trust also, but let not my address be known. He can write to House of Commons.Yours very truly,CHAS. S. PARNBLL.We place before our readers to-day a document the grave importance of which it would be difficult to over-estimate. It is a fac simile of a letter from Mr. Parnell, written a week after the Phԓnix Park murders, excusing his public condemnation of the crime, and distinctly condoning, if not approving, the murder of Mr. Burke. It needs no further "words to recommend this document to the serious consideration of the public, and especially of Members of the House of Commons. At the close of to-night's sitting, if the arrangements made by the whips hold good, the division will be taken in the House on the second reading of the Crimes Bill. That the Amendment moved at Mr. Gladstone's instance, and in the interests of his Parnellite allies, will be defeated by a great majority is beyond doubt. There is, however, a preliminary question of great significance to be settled. No graver danger has ever threatened public life in England than the 'demoralization in politics 'against which Mr. Goschen, in his speech on Saturday at Edinburgh, adjured all honest men to make a stand.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the publication in the Times newspaper of April 18th, 1887, of a Letter falsely alleged to be written by Mr. Parnell, a Member of this House, and the comments thereupon in the said newspaper, is a false and scandalous libel, and a breach of the Privileges of this House."— (Sir William Harcourt.)
§ THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (Sir J. GORST, Chatham)
Mr. Speaker, the right hon. Gentleman has solemnly assured the House that in submitting this Motion he is animated solely by zeal for the honour and dignity of the House of Commons. I accept that statement without the slightest reserve, and 54 if hon. Members who may hereafter address the House are also animated solely by desire for its honour and dignity, I think it is possible that we may carry to a conclusion a debate upon this vexed question without those scenes of heat and irritation which are so detrimental to the honour and dignity of the House The right hon. Gentleman, when he addresses the House, is generally rich in precedents, and I confess I listened to him with an earnest desire to gather from him some precedent for the very unusual course he has invited the House to pursue. But the right hon. Gentleman did not give the House one single precedent for the peculiar course he has chosen to pursue. He most unnecessarily cited one or two precedents to prove that language of this kind constituted a breach of the privileges of the House. I am afraid these exhibitions of the research of the right hon. Gentleman were quite unnecessary. The question we have to debate now is not whether this is a breach of the privileges of the House, but it is whether it 'is for the honour and dignity of the House to put in force now, nearly three years after the offence ["Oh, oh!"] complained of was committed, the very invidious and dangerous procedure by privilege which ought to be most jealously watched and most carefully guarded. I think, notwithstanding the derisive cheers of hon. Members opposite, that this proposition is worthy of some examination on the part of the House, and, notwithstanding these scornful interjections, I will do my best to examine it in the same temperate spirit as that which has characterised the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. The question is what course ought the House to pursue at the present time; and I think I can give the House three distinct reasons, which I think will convince those who are candid enough to weigh and consider them, that it is not for the dignity or the honour of the House to embark on the procedure which the right hon. Gentleman has suggested. The first reason I give—I know it will be received by some hon. Members with derisive cheers—is the reason of time. The right hon. Gentleman has not adduced one single precedent to show that this House has ever, in such cases as the present one, after so long a lapse of time, proceeded with a Motion of Privilege.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I did not read them all; but I referred to a long list of cases in the second volume of Hatsell's Precedents, and in some of them action was taken, not only in distant Sessions, but even in successive Parliaments. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the book he will find a long list of precedents which I referred to in my argument.
§ SIR J. GORST
The right hon. Gentleman must have known that the question of time was a very important one, when he was warned by the Speaker that that was the difficulty he had to surmount, and he should not only have referred to that list, but he ought to have cited one or two examples in support of his position. It is quite true that breaches of privilege in one Parliament have been punished in successive Parliaments, but these have been cases in which there has been no earlier opportunity for the punishment of the breaches of privilege. Will the right hon. Gentleman, or any of his learned friends, cite a single precedent in which Parliament has waited for nearly three years, and then entertained a Motion such as that of the right hon. Gentleman? Let them quote one such precedent on this point, and then I shall be happy to examine it. Let me remind the House of what has happened. The libel which is the subject of the Motion was published on the 18th of April, 1887. It was referred to in debate on the same day by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell). It was then denounced by him as a falsehood and forgery. There is no Parliamentary principle more firmly settled—and I believe the right hon. Gentleman will not contradict it—than that procedure for breach of privilege should be prompt and immediate. If the hon. Member for Cork, or if the right hon. Gentleman himself, in his zeal for the honour and dignity of the House, had thought that this language was a breach of privilege, the 18th of April, 1887, was the proper day upon which notice should have been taken. Three days later, on the 21st of April, there was another breach of privilege committed by the Times newspaper in denouncing a statement made in this House by the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Dillon), as demonstrably and flagrantly false. There was technically about as clear a breach of privilege as possibly could be committed, and it was 56 taken notice of on the 3rd of May by the hon. Baronet the hon. Member for Antrim (Sir C. Lewis). In the debate the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. Fowler) made a speech in which, taking notice of the appearance in the Times of the letter then alleged to be forged, he did not ask for any procedure against the Times, but he said a telegram had been received from Mr. Parnell, consenting to an inquiry, not only into the charges against the party, but also as to the forged letters. In the same debate the right hon. Gentlemanrepeated Mr. Dillon's offer to submit the whole question of the authenticity of the forged letters and the other charges which had been published under the heading of Parnellism and Crime to a Select Committee of the House of Commons,and Mr. Morley, who spoke on behalf of Mr. Gladstone,accepted the extension of the scope of the inquiry definitely, including the letter imputed to the hon. Member for Cork, and any other specific charges which could be extracted from Parnellism and Crime.[Opposition Cheers] Hon. Members cheer that statement, showing that at the outset these charges were denied, and investigation challenged, but not by way of breach of privilege. If it were intended, if it were desired by any Members of the House, that this should be treated as a breach of the privileges of the House, then was the time that that course ought to have been taken; but it is wholly against the whole course of the custom of the House for Members first to suggest inquiry by a Select Committee, and then years after to turn round and endeavour to induce the House to put in force procedure on privilege in relation to this very same offence. On the 6th of July in the same year the hon. Member for Cork made a statement to the House in which he denied the authenticity of the letters, and, referring to the alleged fac simile letter published on the 18th of April, he went on to say that the signature attached to it was one he had not used since 1879. The next day, on the 7th of July, the hon. Baronet the Member for Cumberland (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) asked the Government not to proceed by way of privilege—it was, indeed, then too late— but he asked for a Select Committee to inquire into the charges, and the hon. Member for Cork stated that he himself was about to put the same question the 57 hon. Baronet had put. I have quoted these facts because I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman opposite and his friends if they can give one single precedent in which the House of Commons has, after a Motion has been made for the appointment of a Select Committee, acted, in reference to the very same transaction, by way of this procedure of privilege, especially years afterwards? It seems to me that I have stated the case fairly. It is contrary to the received maxims of the House of Commons that procedure of privilege should take place unless it takes place promptly. In this matter there were abortive and unsuccessful proceedings taken, and then the question was laid aside for three years. The right hon. Gentleman has been invited not only by me, but by Mr. Speaker, to meet this objection, and he has not done so by anything which he has stated in his speech. And unless some argument or precedent should be adduced by some other speaker, I ask the House to say that it is not for the honour and dignity of the House that, after this long lapse of time, it should have recourss to this peculiar Motion. My next reason for saying it is not for the honour and dignity of the House that the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman should be accepted is that this libel has been the subject of legal proceeding's elsewhere, and is, to a certain extent, at the present moment sub judice. It is now nearly 12 months since it was proved before the Commission that this letter was a forgery. The Commission might at once have reported upon that part of the case. That they did not do so is prima facie evidence that the Commission had some good reason for not separating the part of the case constituted by this letter from the other charges and allegations which, were made by the Times. ["Oh!"] One would suppose that after a Royal Commission had been appointed and had sat to hear evidence it would be at least discreet of Members of the House of Commons to await the Report of that Commission. The Commission was appointed by the authority of Parliament, and in this case it would be most consistent with the honour and dignity of Parliament to wait for the Report of that Commission before taking any rash action upon one of the charges and allegations. But if 58 there is an excuse for the Motion of Privilege, surely it ought to have been made when the forgery was exposed. My argument shows that even then it would have been too late. But if there is any force in the argument of the right hon. Gentleman, surely there was the opportunity 12 months ago to make the Motion which has been made tonight; and if the right hon. Gentleman had made the Motion 12 months ago, he would have supported it with just the same arguments. For the facts were just as notorious then as they are now. I know that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby will object to this statement, that 12 months ago no Judgment of the Civil Court had been delivered. But does this House proceed upon the Judgment of a Civil Court? It has never done so, because it is itself superior to all Courts. It proceeds on notorious and well-established facts, and for Parliamentary purposes and procedure in this House the fact of the forgery of this letter was as well established then as it is now. Therefore there is no precedent for adopting the procedure of privilege in a case which has been the subject of inquiry before other tribunals, whether those tribunals have pronounced a decision or, as in this case, have not had time to do so. My third reason for objecting to the right hon. Gentleman's Motion is that this is not a case in which it is for the honour and dignity of the House to proceed by way of privilege. This would have been as strong an objection if the right hon. Gentleman had made his Motion in 1887 as it is to-day. I will refer to the case argued in this House for many days in 1887, in which a libel was uttered about the hon. Member for Mayo, of a precisely similar character in itself, though perhaps not so serious in the gravity of the charge made, but as much a breach of privilege, because it attributed deliberate falsehoods to the hon. Member. That question was debated in this House for many nights; all the leading Members of the House took part in the debate, and the House decided, by a very large majority, that it was not expedient to treat what had been done as a breach of privilege. There were speeches made in that debate to which the attention of hon. Members opposite might be directed with advantage. It was pointed out that if the House were to embark on this pro- 59 cedure in the case of every serious libel which is made upon a Minister or a public man in the age in which we live the time of the House would be taken up with nothing else. The right hon. Gentleman has insisted on the monstrous conduct of the Times in attacking in the manner it did the character of the hon. Member for Cork, with a view to influencing the action of this House in its debates and divisions. Why, there is not a single day passes in which charges of the most atrocious description are not brought against my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and with the object, too, of influencing the debates and action of this House. If you are going to have the proprietors of United Ireland brought to the Bar of the House every time they bring a criminal charge of murder or falsehood against my right hon. Friend, the House will have little else to do but to hear statements at the Bar, and to mete out punishment to the delinquents. Even the Members of the Government to which the right hon. Gentleman opposite belonged were made the object of the foulest and of quite un-nameable charges. I must disagree with the right hon. Gentleman in his definition of the occasions on which the House ought to interfere in these matters. It is not for me to lay down any law on this question. It is not like a matter which is made the subject of discussion in a Court of Law, in which there is appeal to the House of Lords, where general principles and authorities are established. This House has always reserved to itself the right of acting on each particular occasion with regard to the particular circumstances; and the precedents which the right hon. Gentleman abstained from inflicting upon the House would not, I think, have been of much value. Let us consider when the interference of this House ought to be invoked. It cannot be for every libel of a public man. No one denies that it must be a libel with reference to his conduct in this House. But even such libels are not always to be taken in hand by the House. Members of the Government have, like every other subject, the protection of the Criminal and the Civil Law, and every Minister of the Crown, and every private Member of Parliament who considers himself to be injured in his reputation or in his person by anything said in a newspaper, has the 60 same recourse as any other subject to the Criminal Courts for punishment, or to the Civil Courts for damages; and he has exactly the same hope of redress. It is only in the interests of the House, it is only in the vindication of the honour and dignity of the House, that procedure in privilege should ever be taken. It is only when it is likely that unless such procedure is taken the House's own liberty of action might be interfered with, or its own course of conduct improperly influenced, that the House should move. The question is what is the position of the House at the time the Motion is made. Does any person on either side of the House believe that this Motion is necessary for the dignity or independence of the House? These forged letters are an old story. Hon. Members may make political capital out of them. It may be very useful for purposes of party to keep up a case of this kind. It may be very convenient from time to time to interrupt business. Hon. Gentlemen may think it possible to derive advantage from this case, and thereby to cast a slur upon Her Majesty's Government. But is it for the interest of the House to enter upon a discussion of this question of breach of privilege and to have, perhaps, the proprietor of the Times at the Bar of the House? He might ask to be heard by counsel—[Mr. LABOUCHERE: By the Attorney General]—and if he asked I do not think the House would refuse him that advantage. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman I am not making a joke of this Motion. I might have met his speech by party chaff attributing to him all sorts of motives in raising this question. I might have said that it was to gain a small party advantage at the opening of the Session at the cost of Her Majesty's Government. I might have said that it was intended to obstruct the proceedings upon the Queen's Speech. But I have not. I have treated this matter quietly and calmly, and although the right hon. Gentleman may laugh, although those who are so zealous for the honour and dignity of the House may receive what I have said with jeers and derision, I am perfectly frank in what I say. I appeal to Members of the House who are common-sense men of business whether, when we are met for the discharge of important duties, when our time is so valuable, and 61 there is not a moment too much for the legislation and discussion to which we are to be invited, it will conduce to the honour and dignity of the House three years after the offence has been committed to call the proprietor of the Times to the Bar of the House, and to embark upon one of those endless and, I think, derogatory discussions upon the privileges of Parliament which, as far as my experience has gone, have rarely if ever conduced to the dignity and honour of the House. I beg, therefore, to move, as an Amendment to the right hon. Gentleman's Motion,—That this House declines to treat the publication in the Times newspaper of the 18th April, 1887, of a Letter purporting to have been written by Mr. Parnell, and of the comments thereon, as a breach of the Privileges of this House.
To leave out from the first word "That "to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House declines to treat the publication in the Times newspaper of the 18th April, 1887, of a Letter purporting to have been written by Mr. Parnell, and of the comments thereon, as a breach of the Privileges of this House."—(Sir John Gorst.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. R. T. REID (Dumfries, etc.)
I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, notwithstanding his ingenious speech, must be in some degree affected by the manner in which that speech has been received even on his own side of the House. Those of us who are accustomed to hear not only the admirable speeches of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but also the loud cheers with which Ministers in general are greeted from that, side of the House, must have felt that something was wanting, and that something wanting— I appeal to every Gentleman sitting on the other side—is this, that hon. Members feel that they have not been treating with fair-play a brother Member of this House. This is essentially a question of fair-play. I think if we are going to strain our proceedings in one direction or another it should be in favour of an Irish Member, and especially at the present time and under the peculiar circumstances that have been existing for the last three or four years. The right hon. Gentleman 62 asks why the right hon. Member for Derby has not brought forward precedents, but he shortly afterwards answered his own objection by saying that musty precedents were of no use. It is undeniable that this is a breach of the privileges of the House, and also that the House has kept in its own hands the mode in which it would deal with such questions, applying the rules of privilege or not according to the special circumstances of each case. This is a breach of privilege, and why is it not to be treated as such? The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of the time as a reason, and time has been used on every single occasion when this question has been brought forward. When the libel was first complained of it was said, "You have not moved that it is false," and there were many who suggested that it was true. When the matter was brought forward again, it was said the House of Commons was not the right tribunal to deal with it, that it was matter for a Special Commission. And now, after an action has been brought, and heavy damages awarded, it is said we are too late. Now this answer is not hastily made, but it is not the real answer. The real reason why this Motion is refused is that on each successive occasion it has been found inconvenient to visit the powerful proprietor of the Times with the consequences that would fall on the shoulders of a weaker offender. It has been said that we ought to wait until the Special Commission has reported. But what greater weight or authority has the Special Commission with respect to these forged letters than the judgment of a Court of Law? The Special Commission is, in my opinion, an unconstitutional body, and has no greater weight in matters of this kind than any three gentlemen of high character to whom such a matter might be referred. I say in this case so far from shrinking from applying the law of privilege there is every reason for applying it. In the first place, it is one of the most cruel forgeries ever invented. Never was a forgery more deliberate, more spiteful, more recklessly published, or more cruelly pressed to the prejudice of any gentleman's honour. It was aggravated by the circumstance that the forgery was undoubtedly aimed, as it was undoubtedly concocted, for the express purpose of 63 influencing the vote of Parliament. It is also aggravated by the circumstance that the Times newspaper is, or was, the most influential organ of public opinion in this country. If ever there is to be any use made of the privilege of Parliament it ought to be on this occasion. I am not in favour of continually using the privilege of Parliament; I think it ought to be very jealously considered before being put in force; but if we are ever to put it in force it should be on an occasion when a Member has bean assailed in the midst of a heated political discussion by weapons every gentleman must think beneath contempt, and for an avowed political purpose, which it may suit the right hon. Gentleman to ignore but which has been recognised by the Times itself. I hope, for the honour of the House, hon. Gentlemen opposite will not allow us to go into the lobby alone. If I were to regard this as merely a question of party interest I should say nothing could please me better than to see hon. Gentlemen opposite persist in refusing fair-play and justice to an Irish Member. But although I do not desire well for hon. Members opposite—politically I mean—and know they could make no greater political mistake, I would not have that mistake made at the expense of the honour and public estimation of this Assembly. I trust for the honour of this House that hon. Members opposite will not hesitate to give a vote as they would give it had this been an attack by a Radical newspaper on the character of a Minister, and will support the Motion of my right hon. Friend.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)
Sir, it has just been made known to us by the course taken on the Treasury Bench when my hon. and learned Friend sat down that the Government have said all that they have to say. Their case is completely before us, and we are called upon to act on the statement which they have made. The right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State gave three reasons for the Amendment which he proposed on behalf of the Government. I will take first the last of those reasons. He said—" Do not interfere, because public men are continually the objects of painful and shameful charges; and if you interfere when charges of that 64 kind are made you will have nothing to do but to pursue a course of such interference." But surely, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman must have been conscious at the time of the utter weakness of the ground on which he stood. No doubt charges of all kinds are made. One, a Minister is an enemy to liberty; another, a Member of the Opposition is an enemy to order; men are engaged in a conspiracy to break up the Empire; men are breaking faith with the people, denying their pledges, doing in public life that which in private life it would not be honourable to do—these things are said and these charges are bandied backwards and forwards. But when these charges are made they are in almost every case constructive charges, the whole force of which depends upon the interpretation of acts and language. They are not charges founded upon definite facts—facts so definite that they might at any time be made the subject of trial in a Court of Justice, for no issue more positive or more clear could be raised. Then the right hon. Gentleman says we ought not to have every breach of privilege made the subject of discussion in this House. Certainly not. The great majority of the House, I may say the House unanimously, has always been desirous to find a reasonable road, if it could be found, out of the necessity of taking notice of these breaches of privilege. The House has been too glad when the person accused of committing them, if he happened to be a Member of this House, has been ready to purge his offence by apology. Has this offence been purged by apology? I admit that something called an apology was spoken by the Attorney General, but there are apologies which are a gross aggravation of the offence. The Attorney General is a man of honour and distinction, and therefore I can only express my wonder that he should have consented to be made the vehicle of such an apology as was offered. But notwithstanding that we desire to avoid these discussions, yet privilege is a reality, and the defence of privilege in reasonable method and in cases of sufficient gravity is an absolutely necessary part of the defensive armour of this House. But, then, what says the right hon. Gentleman in his two other arguments? One of them is that this Motion 65 is made too soon, and the other is that the Motion is made too late. If (he said) the Motion should be made at all, which he did not admit, it ought to be made after the Commission had reported. With regard to its being made too soon, I think I need not detain the House one moment in argument. The real argument of the right hon. Gentleman, if it can be made good, is that this Motion is made too late. Was the right hon. Gentleman satisfied with the reception of his own argument on his own side of the House? The right hon. Gentleman when he rose was received with the cheers of his friends. Those cheers were justified by the known ability of the right hon. Gentleman; but they were the first and last cheers that accompanied the delivery of his speech. [Cries of"No!"] I think I am saying what is literally true. The right hon. Gentleman opposite may have an opportunity of advancing his own argument and of seeing what cheers he can evoke. I affirm that there were no cheers during any portion of the argument or at the conclusion of the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to mark the satisfaction of his friends. It was not his fault; he made the best argument he could. Now, let us see what this argument is worth. He admits that precedents exist for punishing in one Parliament offences committed during the existence of another Parliament; but, he says, not in cases where the other Parliament had the opportunity of inflicting the punishment. My affirmation is this—that there has been no moment since the time when this offence was committed that we were in a condition justifiably to submit a Motion to this House. Let me proceed to prove that. The right hon. Gentleman has not distinctly indicated when he thinks it should have been done, and I will undertake to show that there was no period when we were in a position to do it. These letters were published; they were immediately denied by the hon. Member for Cork, and declared to be forged letters. On every other occasion that I have known in this House the word of a Member of Parliament, speaking in his place, has been accepted by the House as absolute and final truth. On this occasion, I grieve to say, there was a total departure from that salutary principle. The denial of the hon. 66 Member for Cork was denied, and a no less important Member of this House than my noble Friend the Member for Rossendale said—I may not be giving the correct words, but I quote their absolute purport, and can undertake to produce them—" It is true we have got on the one side the denial of the hon. Member for Cork, but we have got on the other side the assertion of the Times." It was not possible to move that an act was a breach of privilege of this House, with respect to which the matter charged was charged out of this House, while the denial of the charge by the Member in this House was not accepted. Obviously, then, there arose a case in which inquiry was necessary. Usually, when the fact charged is denied by the person concerned, what naturally follows is that the House proceeds on the denial as, at least, the primâ facie evidence in the case, but allows, of course, to the party to be brought to the Bar the opportunity of making good his accusation. Here the House refused undoubtedly to take that step. The denial of Mr. Parnell for the first time was not accepted by a large number of Members of the House. What was our course? We lost no time, but said it was evident there must be a process of inquiry. The National and Constitutional process is by a Parliamentary Committee. In order that there might be no pretext for refusing to refer the case to that tribunal, the hon. Member most wisely consented to admit along with the question of the forged letters the other wide, vague, and general subject of the imputations against the political tone and speeches of Irish Members at large. The House refused to accept that mode of inquiry by a Parliamentary Committee, and chose to substitute the method of a Commission. The Commission sat for a period approaching 200 days. For some months it has been occupied in preparing its Report. There has not been a day when we have been in a condition to say we have got the evidence on which we can ask the House to proceed. The right hon. Gentleman says it was admitted before the Commission that the letters were forged letters. The Commission gave no finding to that effect. It is impossible for us to refer to anything but the finding of the Commission. Proceedings within its walls were not legitimate matter to be made the basis of a Motion 67 in this House. We have now taken absolutely the first and only opportunity when we have an absolute judicial finding that the letters were forged, and when we are in a position to show that that cruel, as well as unusual, refusal to admit the denial of the hon. Member for Cork was totally without justification in fact— we ask now, on the first day and in the first hour when the House meets on the very first occasion after the judicial finding, which alone can constitute the basis of our action—we ask the House to vote that this is a breach of privilege. The right hon. Gentleman says that three years have elapsed since the offence. Yes; nearly three years which he and his friends have contrived shall elapse. The right hon. Gentleman dropped a word about our having made all the capital we could out of the forged letters. I should have thought that the very last phrase which the right hon. Gentleman would think proper to introduce into this debate would be the "making of capital" out of the forged letters. His capital was made on April 18, 1887. In the Division on that day the capital was realised and stored. It is true, as my right hon. Friend stated, that there were and must have been Gentlemen on that side of the House who knew that they had promised their constituents to vote against coercion, and whom it was difficult to bring up to the scratch unless with a special justification. Never was there a more timely attempt at such a justification; never was there one more absolutely sufficient, for, without doubt, it is impossible to exaggerate either the guilt or the tremendous consequences of the act in the case of the letters being, as they were asserted to be, genuine productions. My answer to this point as to the three years is that the makers of the delay are Her Majesty's Government. Had they consented to inquire by Committee, as we proposed, instead of years we should have had only weeks to wait; we should have been in a condition then and there and at once to bring the matter to an issue, and the right hon. Gentleman would not have been able to set up this flimsy and fictitious defence, which is all that even his ingenuity has been able to devise. To me this case is indeed of the utmost gravity. I cannot conceive one in which the aggravations could be greater. In the first place, the hon. Member is 68 attacked by a charge which, unless it can be confuted, must result in his absolute political death. In the second place, the nation with which he is connected regards its fortunes as identified with his. By whom was the hon. Member for Cork denominated as the "uncrowned King of Ireland?" I rather think that that phrase came from one not agreeing with him in politics, but acknowledging, as his high intelligence enabled him to acknowledge, the great fact of the solidity and eminence of the position of the hon. Member in Ireland. So far, then, as the hon. Member's position is concerned, it was a mortal blow. He was smitten under the fifth rib, if he was smitten at all. With him it was a question of life and death. This House has often and often consented to interfere even on the ground of the interest of a Member who has been made the subject of an unjust assault. But, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out, it is not a question of the hon. Member for Cork alone. On the contrary, his interest is small in comparison with other interests that are here involved. He is attacked in a manner that utterly disables him from public duty, and through him his country is affected. That country is one towards which you yourselves will admit that you have been pursuing a peculiar course. You have placed it under exceptional disabilities of law, you have regulated your policy in regard to it systematically and persistently by principles and rules protested against by five-sixths or six-sevenths of the Representatives of that country. All these are reasons why you should give, and specially give, to the hon. Member for Cork, at least as a measure not of indulgence, but of justice, that consideration which you have uniformly and ordinarily given to Members seriously aggrieved. But here the House is in question. The action of the House was aimed at on April 18, 1887. There is no man in this House who can stand up and say that the action of the House was not affected as well as aimed at. It was impossible that it should not be affected as well as aimed at by a statement of so extraordinary a character. Is it possible to conceive that there ever could arise a case calling for the notice of the House if the House should decline to interfere in circumstances such as these, when 69 positively there has been no opportunity when it was possible to make a Motion of this character until to-night, when the question as it affects the hon. Member is a question of life and death, when the offence is one which was deliberately intended to act not on the general conduct, but on a specific judgment of the House, and when we have every reason to believe that it must have acted and did so act? No, Sir, the question is a serious one. The whole question is not one to be brought before us to-night. I do not wish to enter into that most painful and almost loathsome discussion of the character of this proceeding. But I must point out one circumstance, that this falsehood came within one degree of absolute and wilful falsehood. Those responsible for the Times have told us that they did not seek to ascertain the origin of these letters. They confined themselves to that comparatively frivolous and slippery and uncertain question of experts in handwriting. They used no rational or probable means to ascertain whether the letters were forged or genuine. It was under these circumstances that, actuated I do not deny by motives which to them seemed public and patriotic, they constructed this engine for the purpose of driving the House of Commons to a particular conclusion. In my opinion it is not necessary to go further. I think the whole pith of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, so far as there was any pith in it at all, depends upon this fiction, that we are three years after the time. I think I have shewn that these three years have been interposed not by us, for by our Motion for a Committee we endeavoured to bring the matter to the sharpest issue. The delay has been interposed by the action of the Government itself, and they have no right to take advantage of their own wrong for the purpose of denying justice. There is here a great debt which is unpaid, a great debt to the hon. Member for Cork, a great debt to the Irish nation, and a greater debt still to the honour and dignity of this House—a great debt also to the people of this country, who have the right to expect that this House will maintain its honour and its dignity, and that the majority will not suffer its power as a majority to be used for the purpose of contravening against a 70 minority principles which have ever been held sacred irrespective of party and politics. The nation has the deepest interest in this matter. We and you stand at its Bar, and it will not hesitate to pronounce its judgment.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, East)
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has told the House that, in his opinion, the arguments of my right hon. Friend the Under Secretary for India are flimsy and fictitious. On which side are the flimsiness and the fiction I hope to be able to show by a very short survey of the history which the right hon. Gentleman has been pleased to give the House of this transaction. The right hon. Gentleman actually asks the House to believe that this is the first opportunity for three years on which it has been possible to raise this question. In support of that amazing statement he seems to suggest that every step was spontaneously taken by hon. Gentlemen opposite with a view to bringing this matter before the attention of the House from the very moment that the calumnies were first uttered. That is not the case. It is true that the hon. Member for Cork came down on the day the letter appeared in the Times and contradicted it. It is not true that he asked for a Committee, as the right hon. Gentleman would have us believe. The letter appeared on the 18th of April; the Committee was not asked for until the first week in May. Well, does it take three weeks to consider whether you will ask for a Committee or not? And when it was asked for, on the 6th of May, was it asked for either on the initiative of the hon. Member for Cork or on the initiative of the right hon. Gentleman opposite? [Mr. GLADSTONE: Yes.] The right hon. Gentleman is, I believe, mistaken. The first intimation that this House received of the views of right hon. Gentlemen was not on any specific or substantive Motion brought forward by him, but merely as an Amendment to the motion of my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General. And that Committee not asked for spontaneously, not asked for when the forgeries first appeared in the Times, had in its inception no connection with the forged letters, but was asked for with regard to some accusations made against the hon.
71 Member for Mayo, and it was only by accident, as it were, that the forged letters were introduced into the matter. And in the face of these facts hon. and right hon. Gentlemen would have us believe that they exhausted every Parliamentary resource to get this question investigated as one of privilege before a Parliamentary Committee. So much for the history of what occurred before the Special Commission began its investigations. How does the right hon. Gentleman deal with that period of history which succeeded the time when the whole country was seized of the fact that the letters were forged and that Pigott was a forger? He tells us that as this was a matter that had happened within the Special Commission, the House of Commons could not take any account of it, and they were obliged to wait, forsooth, all these ten months until another tribunal decided upon it. The right hon. Gentleman has been ill-coached up in the details of this matter. Let us grant his proposition— namely, that this House could not consider what happened before the Commission on this particular subject. But something happened outside the Commission. The Times paid 40s. into Court, thereby admitting in the most public, specific, and recognised manner that the letters were forgeries, and that they were guilty of libel against the hon. Member for Cork. The right hon. Gentleman knew that ten months ago. Why did he wait till the first day of a new Session in order to vindicate the honour of the House and do something for the benefit of the hon. Member for Cork? I must make one passing allusion to an assumption which I think has most illegitimately and unfairly run through the whole of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the debate. We are here discussing the wickedness of calumnious charges, and I, for my own part, am ready to use words of any strength you like in condemnation of the infamous procedure by which those forged letters were produced. But, Sir, to imply that the Times knowingly used as a political weapon letters which they had good grounds for thinking; were forged is, after all, as outrageous calumny as any I have heard alluded to in this debate. I acquit the right hon. Gentleman who last spoke, but I do not acquit the Member for Derby of having 72 allowed that imputation to colour the whole tenour of his speech, which was obviously in this particular not intended for the House of Commons but for the country. Both the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down and the Member for Derby have made a great point of the fact that these accusations were made by the Times with the view of influencing debate. Now, Sir, I have already expressed, as well as I can, my strong sense of the iniquitous procedure by which these letters were forged and produced. [An hon. MEMBER: And used.] I put that part of the case aside, as I have a right to do, in considering this argument, and I point out to the House that half the leading articles in every newspaper ever written has been intended to influence on current questions the votes of hon. Members of this House. I admit that the particular course the Times took was unjustifiable. But supposing the Times had written an article not containing a forged letter but one repeating the statements made about the hon. Member for Cork, about his allies, and about the Land League by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby him self, and had said these are the opinions deliberately formed and expressed in public and with a due sense of their responsibility by Members of the Government who had ample access to information, who we cannot suppose were misled by party feelings, and who, with all deliberation and with a full consciousness of the responsibility resting upon them, gave to their countrymen a view of the action of the hon. Member for Cork and his allies, not different from that contained in Parnellism and Crime. I think an article of that kind would have been more effective than the forged letters. And I am sure it would have been as open to the charge of being a breach of the privileges of this House, on the ground that it was intended to influence the votes of this House, as the particular article written by the Times, and undoubtedly written by the Times for that specific purpose. I daresay the general view we are to take of the action in past years of the Irish Parliamentary Party will come up again before this House for discussion. I gathered from what the right hon. Gentleman opposite said that that will be so, and hon. Gentlemen opposite have not hesitated to say that when the Report of the Commission comes 73 out it will be made the subject of prolonged debate. I reserve until I see that Report any comments of any kind upon that broad question, but I must traverse the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, that while this is a specific accusation against a Member of Parliament, and therefore a breach of the privileges of this House of a kind which requires the action of this House, the other kind of charges to which the Under Secretary for India alluded are of the vague and general character which the right hon. Gentleman would lead us to suppose. If the right hon. Gentleman followed the course of Press criticism in Ireland and England for the last eight years, he would know that in the matter of bringing specific charges against individual Members of Parliament the Times ranks not first, nor second, nor third, and that there would not be the slightest difficulty in multiplying examples of specific charges brought against Members of this House, and therefore to the full as open to the criticism which the right hon. Gentleman has levelled against this charge as are the forged letters which were published by the Times. Well, Sir, I do not wish to rake in the dirt of these forgotten controversies, but I recollect a speech delivered by Lord Spencer in the year 1885, I think, and I will read an extract from it, very short, but not uninteresting. He said—During the three years that we held office in Ireland we were subjected to much vindictive attack in the Press and by Members who spoke at meetings in Ireland. We were accused of all kinds of crimes and misdemeanours—crimes so great, particularly those that were imputed to me, that nothing short—let hon. Gentlemen mark these words—Of public arraignment ought to have followed the charges. We were charged with crime and with shielding crime of which we hardly dared to speak—chargts which were made by the ungenerous action of our opponents.It is these opponents—the very men— who made these specific charges of which Lord Spencer said that if they were true should have been followed by arraignment—charges not vague but as precise and as specific as any that have been made against the hon. Member for Cork, who now appeal to the House in the character of calumniated victims. That 74 part of the Irish Press and of the English Press for which Members below the gangway are responsible—and from responsibility for which they cannot absolve themselves—has committed more crimes of the kind attributed to the Times—
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
They have committed more sins of the kind attributed to the Times, and more deserving the action of this House which the right hon. Gentleman now invokes than the Times itself. But, Sir, what we have to consider is not merely the character, or principally the character, of the attack made upon Members of this House. We have to consider the dignity of our procedure, and if, every time a specific accusation of the kind I refer to were made by the editor of an Irish or an English newspaper, we were to bring him to the bar of this House to cross-examine him, and to have a Committee upon him, every work of utility in which this House is or may be engaged would undoubtedly come to an end. It is on that broad, practical ground—not, in my mind at all events, principally with reference to the particular character of this case, but rather from my general view of the policy which should guide this House in its use of the ancient and often misused and necessarily cumbrous procedure of privilege—it is because I feel certain that this House in extending the use of that procedure as an instrument for dealing with libellous attacks—would be doing much to destroy its utility, its value and its dignity— that I shall vote for the Amendment which my right hon. Friend has proposed for the acceptance of the House.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
I have always thought that the Under Secretary of State for India and the Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant were the two best debaters that sat upon that bench. We have had these two best debaters of the Government giving arguments in favour of the course the Government intend to pursue, and I think the House, and still more the country, will be considerably surprised at the small, petty, and paltry nature of the arguments they have used. We have heard a great deal about this not being the proper time to bring such a 75 Motion forward, but it should be remembered that both the Under Secretary for India and the Chief Secretary said that no matter what time it had been brought forward the Government would not have accepted it. What is the use then of telling us we have chosen the wrong time? But, Sir, I would like to call the attention of hon. Gentlemen opposite to their attitude when these letters were published. Do they remember how scornfully they received the denials of the Member for Cork? Do they mean to say that if the hon. Member for Cork had brought forward a Motion such as this they would not have said, "We do not believe him; it is only oath against oath, word against word; on the one side we have the statement of the Times, on the other the statement of the hon. Gentleman, and we absolutely refuse without some preliminary examination to consent to such a Resolution"? It is therefore, I think, somewhat, well I was going to say mean, but we do nothing mean in this House—itis, however, something of the sort, when right hon. Gentlemen come forward and refuse the proposal of my right hon. Friend on arguments such as have been advanced by the Government. The Chief Secretary has accused the right hon. Member for Derby of having implied or insinuated that the Times knew at the time these letters were published that they were forged. I say that the Times ought to have known it; that they were criminally credulous, and as for the specious defence now put forward that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, Lord Spencer and the Member for Derby have been guilty of as gross a contempt, of as gross attacks upon the Irish Leader, as the Times was in this case, we ought to look a little into what these libels really were. There are libels the circumstances of which aggravate them, while there are libels in which there are extenuating circumstances. Were there any extenuating circumstances in this case? Was there any reasonable evidence in the possession of the Times which tended to show that the forged letters had really been written by the Member for Cork? There was absolutely none. We know now, through the Commission, what happened. We know that those letters came from Mr. Houston, a most doubtful and 76 questionable person, and that he had obtained them from a man admittedly one of the greatest scoundrels that ever lived—onePigott. We know that the Times had made not the slightest investigation into the matter. Did they ask, "Who is Houston?" Not a bit of it. Those letters were first submitted to the Pall Mall Gazette, but they very properly refused them. They were then submitted to the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington). He also refused them. With regard to Pigott, from whom those letters were admittedly obtained, Houston was provided with money by the Conservatives and Unionists in Ireland for the purpose of enabling him to get up something against my Friend the hon. Member for Cork; and in getting hold of those letter she was very much in the position of a man who receives a watch from a suspicious-looking person in the street who tells him that it really is his own property, and who tries to sell it to some receiver of stolen goods. Who was the receiver of stolen goods? Why, the Times. The Times ought to have made inquiry; and, considering the course they really took, I look upon them in the same light as I should regard a receiver of stolen goods who had bought a valuable watch worth 100 guineas from some beggar who affirmed that he had inherited it from his father. I desire to show the House that this libel was really aggravated by the Times. They insisted that they had absolute evidence to prove it; and, after all, what was their evidence? Why, they had the word of the man Pigott against that of my hon. Friend. Had the Times come forward at first and said, "We have only the word of Pigott—a tainted man, a man lost to all claim to position in his own country—we only have his word against that of the hon. Member for Cork," the case would have been different. But what was really the plan adopted by the Times? It was a most nefarious plan, as is very evident when we look at the facts. Mr. Mac Donald was to have been put in the box. He was to have said, "I have received these letters from a most important and respectable person, as could be shown if I were to state who it was." Then the experts were to be brought to prove the handwriting. But, by a happy accident, the hand writing was shown to be a 77 forgery. Thy plan adopted by the Times would have succeeded had it not been that an accident revealed the fact that Mr. Houston was in possession of the letters, and that, not only was it possible to subpœna him, but it was ascertained that letters of a precisely similar character had been written by Pigott to Mr. Egan in America. It was this happy accident which led to the exposure of what I do not hesitate to call a vile and base conspiracy on the part of the Times. Well, what happened? Mr. Pigott did not want to go into the box. He thought it might lead to serious consequences, and the Times thought so too. We all know what is generally the case when a witness does not want to go into the box; it usually means that he does not like to perjure himself. What did the Times do? There sits the Counsel to the Times, and I dare him to deny it. It was conveyed to Pigott that if he would only go into the box and tell the truth, as they called it, they would provide for him afterwards. Then came the disastrous cross-examination of Pigott, and after that disastrous cross-examination Pigott confessed. A very remarkable thing then occurred. The day after his confession Pigott withdrew a portion of that confession, and moreover sent a telegram to his servant in Ireland telling the servant to destroy certain papers, among which he stated were the letters of Houston to himself. We have never yet got at the bottom of that matter, but I will tell the House what occurred. Pigott sent over certain notes to his family in Ireland—bank notes which were an addition to the money which enabled him to go to Spain. The police took it into their heads that I had given Pigott those notes. The police made investigations; and what does the House think happened? They discovered that those notes had been given to Pigott, and had come direct from the Times within ten days of his flying from this country. We should like a little explanation with regard to that matter. The numbers of the notes were obtained, and they were traced to the Times—I cannot say whether in Houston's name or that of Mr. Soames —but they were traced to the Times. We have it in evidence that Mr. Soames distinctly stated he had not given any money to Pigott—hardly sufficient to pay 78 his hotel bill during the time he was here as a witness. Coupling this with what we know from Pigott, and the telegram he sent from Madrid wanting to be provided for, I believe the Times was directly or indirectly concerned in getting Pigott out of the country; that this money was directly or indirectly conveyed to Pigott to put him in funds so that he might leave the country; and that there was some promise by implication made to Pigott that when he did go out he should be provided for at Madrid or elsewhere. Well, at last the Times was obliged to give in. What took place? Was it an ample, was it a full or a generous apology that was made by the Times, or rather by the learned Gentleman opposite, who was acting as Counsel for the Times? No, Sir, it was not. I can fully understand the difficulty in which the hon. and learned Gentleman was placed, and I am not blaming him. He was the mere mouthpiece of his client; but I say it was one of the most paltry, the meanest, and most contemptible apologies ever put forward. Sir, we are told that the Times really has done nothing very wrong—that there is no very great difference between this libel and any other libel. Well, I will give you an instance of a libel that occurred the other day: A gentleman of the name of Parke published a libel which was certainly an atrocious one. He justified the libel by saying that he did it on certain evidence. That evidence was tainted evidence, very much like that of Pigott, and Parke was sent to prison for a year. Hon. Members will hardly say that the Times' libel on my hon. Friend was not of fully as atrocious and ruinous a character as that of Parke against Lord Euston. Well, if a Court of Justice says a man is liable to a year's imprisonment for doing what Parke did, surely we have a right to say that what Mr. Walter did was at least a breach of privilege. The reasons why the Government do not like to accept the Motion of my right hon. Friend are clear, and I would recommend them to give themselves the trouble of putting forward some other reason. The real fact of the matter is that they are the allies and confederates of the Times. The charges made by the Times were adopted by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on every political plat form through- 79 out the country, and they know that they themselves are almost as guilty in this matter as the Times. That, Sir, is, in my opinion, a very reasonable reason why the Government should make use of their mechanical majority to vote down the Motion of my right hon. Friend. Sir, there was a cry that the First Lord of the Treasury should come forward in this debate. I do not share in that request. I respect friendship, and should as soon have expected Jonathan to come forward and attack his friend David as to see the right hon. Gentleman get up and move a Resolution directed against his old friend Mr. Walter. But while I respect friendship, and am able perfectly to understand the silence of the right hon. Gentleman, I do think he ought to remember that he is the leader of this House—" our guide, philosopher, and friend "—and at some time during this debate he ought, in that character, to get up, and putting aside for the moment the question of friendship, explain on what legitimate grounds—sweeping away all the cobwebs invented by the Chief Secretary for Ireland and the Under Secretary for India—he can refuse to do what I am perfectly certain the Government and hon. Members opposite would have done again and again if necessary, and the situations had been reversed, and libels such as the Times libel been directed against some hon. Members opposite. What is the use of appealing to a Division on this question? We shall go to a Division at some time or other, but I have long ceased to trouble myself as to whether we get 20 or 30 more or less in a Division in this House. I consider that this House has lost its mandate from the nation. It is to the country that we wish to appeal, and it is because we are anxious that the country should understand this matter that we have brought it forward in this House. The country will understand, as the Irish Secretary knows, that at the present moment if anybody hisses him in Ireland that person is clapped into prison. If any little boy dares to whistle when a policeman is by, into gaol he goes, and we are told that this is dealing out strict justice to Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman is never tired of boasting how he regards justice and how he administers it in Ireland. We have some difficulty in meeting these declamatory laudations Mr. Labouchere 80 of himself on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. Doubts have been suggested as to whether there is not some exaggeration on our part when we deal with the question of Irish justice, but after this debate I trust no one will be found to say that we have exaggerated matters in Ireland. The people will see from what happens in this House how justice is really administered; they will see how Her Majesty's Government refuse to accept any precedent. They will learn how the Government argue when we have proved that there has been a contempt of this House, and that all our rights and privileges are regarded by the Government as absurdities which ought to be swept away. I am glad of this debate, and I am sorry for the action of the right hon. Gentleman opposite That action does not at all surprise me, and I think the country will take notice of the degradation we are dragged through in this House by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, as well as the absolutely abject subserviency with which the followers of those right hon. Gentlemen vote for any species of injustice they may happen to command.
§ MR. ADDISON (Ashton-under-Lyne)
A very few minutes ago I had not intended to take any part in this discussion, and if I do so now it is only to offer a word or two on the most interesting and able and amusing speech we have heard from the hon. Gentleman the senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere). He, as usual, was extremely witty, and he brought up a great many questions which had very little to do with the point before the House. He carefully avoided the only question before us—the point so clearly raised by my right hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for India (Sir J. Gorst). My right hon. Friend gave three reasons why this matter is not one for the interference of the House, first in regard to time, then in regard to the effect of passing the Motion upon the House itself, and thirdly, having regard to the subject matter with which we are dealing. All this, involves the one question to which the hon. Member refused altogether to direct his mind, namely, what really is privilege and what are the principles upon which we ought to entertain the question. Without going into precedents I submit that there are precedents 81 which show that this matter of privilege has frequently been abused. The House, however, has exercised its power in this matter, mostly with the object of dealing with a present interference with the procedure of the House and with the conduct of business, and, therefore, ah attack upon its dignity and freedom. In the old times we know it was invoked to prevent Members being forcibly attacked and waylaid and prevented from performing their duty; and so clearly was it understood that questions of privilege arose only upon present matters, that questions of the kind could be raised at any moment by a Member coming in and interrupting the business by a cry of "Privilege." But nothing can be found to show that privilege was intended to punish offences of any kind whether against Members of Parliament, or any body of Members of Parliament, or even whether they were in the form of criticisms and attack, in that sense of the word, upon the House itself. I admit that some of the instances to be found in the musty records that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) has alluded to cannot be brought within these broad and sound principles; but that is because the proceedings of this House, like the proceeding's of every other body in the world, have at different times been liable to be abused, and foolishly abused. "If," says the honourable Member for Northampton, "attacks of this kind on personal conduct and the characters of Members of this House are not to be prevented, privilege had better be abolished." But I have been taught exactly the other way of looking at it, and I say that if attacks on personal conduct, or oven on the characters of Members of this House, are to be made questions of privilege, privilege had better be abolished, for it becomes most useless and pernicious. In all the long records of privilege in the House, you will hardly find a single case in which the assertion of privilege has led to any good result or any useful employment of the time of the House. As to its employment for dealings with personal attacks, we are all of us subject to personal attacks; we can all of us defend ourselves not only in the Courts, which are open to us in every way, but in the Press and on the platforms of the country, and in a great 82 many other ways. I cannot help agreeing with what a learned Judge—Mr. Baron Martin—once said when I was a very young practitioner at the Bar, namely, that no honest man was ever any worse for being called a knave. The hon. Member for Northampton takes us away from the consideration of the great question of privilege by a long account of the personal matter between the Times newspaper and the hon. Member for Cork, and seems to think the personal injury the Times has done the hon. Member is in itself a matter of privilege. I cannot see that there is any principle in that contention. But as a matter of fact the real object of the hon. Member seemed to be rather to make a strong speech against the Times than to support the view that this was a matter of privilege. Some of the observations of the hon. Member were obviously overstated, because he seemed to desire to show that the Times had entered into a wicked conspiracy to injure the hon. Member for Cork by putting forward letters which they knew to be false. If the hon. Member believes, that the managers of the Times knew that the letters were forged, and yet put them forward with the view of damaging the hon. Member for Cork, then the lion. Member for Northampton must be at least as credulous as the Times, for in the case supposed the Times must have known that the forgery would be found out sooner or later, and that instead of doing them good it would do them infinite harm. At least there must have been an honest belief in the minds of those conducting that newspaper that they had a case which they could prove. That disposes of a great part of the speech of the hon. Member. Then the hon. Member says that the Times, in order to induce the perpetrator of the forgery to bring the case home to the hon. Member for Cork, told that individual that they would make provision for him afterwards. But that, to my mind, instead of being a point against the bona fides of the Times, shows that they believed in the honesty of their informant, and were determined—as he professed to stand in fear of certain people—to protect him against them. The contention of this side of the House is that privilege is not intended to protect us from personal attacks, but to protect us in the discharge of our duties, so that we may be able to 83 perform them freely and without fear. To show that that is so the Chief Secretary quoted from the violent attacks which are being daily made upon him. The obvious inference was that in the opinion of this House they do not amount to anything criminal. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) evidently does not enjoy that argument, as be evades it by employing an illustration that has nothing to do with it. He says that lately there was a libeller—Mr. Parkes—who in a disgraceful way libelled Lord Euston, and he says that libeller has got 12 months' imprisonment, and richly deserved it. Does the hon. Member mean to say it is the business of this House to send a man to 12 months' imprisonment because he has libelled Members of this House? If not, one hardly sees the point of his allusion to Mr. Parkes. If he thinks the Times libel was as bad as that upon Lord Euston, the answer is that a similar punishment might have been inflicted at the Old Bailey if that had been proved. If the writers of the libel had been indicted for criminal libel they would have gone to the Old Bailey and got their punishment just as Mr. Parkes did. Then the hon. Member charges us on this side of the House with being allies and confederates of the Times. [Opposition cheers.] Hon. Members cheer that. Now, I indignantly deny it. I think I am in a position in which I may fairly deny it, because from the very first I took care to guard myself against making any such accusation, and many of my hon. Friends have taken the same course. We have pointed out that the evidence was not known, and have nearly always said that although this charge was made we should be very glad if the hon. Member were able in time to vindicate himself from it. Never in any speech or any conversation of any kind have we attempted to say that there was any body of evidence to contradict the statement so solemnly made in this House by the hon. Member. Nor was I one of those who thought it was the duty of a person to bring an action for libel in any case. That would put us all at the mercy of any person who chose to libel us. I say, then, that hon. Members have no right to say that we were the allies of the Times. It was the action of 84 Gentlemen opposite that brought about the inquiry. My right hon. Leader (Mr. W. H. Smith) said it was not a matter for the House at all, but for the Law Courts, and most of us approved of the statement. Members opposite, however, said they desired to have a tribunal, and the constitution of a tribunal was forced on my right hon. Friend from all parts of the House, and was certainly not his own policy. Members opposite say that my right hon. Friend was influenced by friendship for Mr. Walter, the proprietor of the Times. I have no doubt Mr. Walter has the advantage of the friendship of a great many Members of this House, and that he deserves it. My right hon. Friend desired, however, that the case should be fought out elsewhere, and, on the part of the Government, he offered to supply funds and counsel, and to give every possible assistance to the hon. Member for Cork if he desired to take proceedings. How could he have better shown his independence and impartiality? When we come to look back upon what took place, we cannot help seeing that there was sound judgment in the conduct then of my right hon. Leader as there is in his conduct on other questions. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) retorted upon my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary the old accusation of an Irish Judge. If, he said, a toy whistled in the street in Ireland he was put into prison there. I daresay he sometimes is, but it is not for whistling, but for at the same time throwing a stone. The hon. Gentleman says that a person is sent to prison for using some opprobrious epithet with regard to the Chief Secretary, but why does not the hon. Gentleman also say that the person who used that epithet was engaged with a crowd in attacking the police? It may be said that in England a man is sent to prison for drinking a glass of beer. So he is if he does it within prohibited hours. It may also be said that a man is sent to prison merely for playing with three cards. So he is when he cheats on a racecourse. A person may be sent to prison for whistling when a policeman turns the corner of a street, if by so doing he gives a signal to his associates who are committing a burglary. But one hardly likes to test seriously a speech which was clearly not made for the purpose of con- 85 vincing this House. The hon. Member for Northampton refuses to discuss the question of privilege seriously. What, in effect, he says is, "I intend to attack the Chief Secretary, and to address a rousing speech to the country, to be reported in the newspapers." Those persons who have educated themselves in the hon. Member's tactics by reading the debates of the last two Sessions will know how to judge, and I think they will say the Government have taken a wise, a prudent, and a moderate course, and a course especially intended to preserve the liberties of the people of this country, because liberty and the privilege of the Press could not exist if such doctrines as to the power of this House as those suggested by the hon. Member were allowed to prevail. Had such doctrines been propounded from this side of the House, the hon. Member would have been the first to suggest that they were antiquated, high-handed and insolent doctrines, and would have denounced in the strongest terms this attempt to stretch the arbitrary power of this House as inconsistent with all modern ideas.
§ MR. T. HARRINGTON (Dublin, Harbour Division)
The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Addison) opened his observations by stating that shortly before he rose he had no intention of interfering in this debate, and I think those who listened to his speech will agree with that statement, and will be disposed to think that his speech was not prepared for this occasion but for the next time he met his constituents. The hon. and learned Gentleman opened up a field which to us is a very inviting one, and one into which on another occasion we should be very anxious to follow him; but the Motion now before the House is of a somewhat more serious character than he endeavoured to make it, and we cannot afford to have it lightly cast aside. In the latter portion of his observations he has offered a defence for his own conduct in the past, but I fail to find any justification for the vote he intends to give to-night. He stated that he and his friends throughout the country did not 86 join in the accusation against Mr. Parnell, but upon what ground? Because he had no evidence. If the hon. and learned Gentleman were dealing with an English and not with an Irish Member, he would have taken the denial of the Member, on the floor of the House, and would not have cautiously waited for evidence with which to fortify himself. That is the point of view from which you treat all Irish questions, and you assume an air of righteousness and sanctity because you do not condemn us until the evidence is satisfactory. We are dealing now with a question of privilege, and as the illustrious leader of the Liberal Party pointed out, that question of privilege would never have arisen were it not an Irish Member who was attacked. You say the Times did not deliberately enter into a conspiracy to hunt down the leader of the Irish people and to ruin the cause of which he is the representative. We do not care whether the Times entered into that conspiracy deliberately or not, but we do say that the Times was led by the same false instincts as the hon. and learned Member when he deals with an Irish Member; and the same prejudices which will be at the bottom of the hon. and learned Gentleman's vote this evening are at the bottom of the Amendment, and were at the bottom of the action of the Times. Why not face the question honestly? You say that to bring forward a breach of privilege is an inconvenient course. It is: but you know that upon no occasion has privilege been invoked more justifiably than upon the occasion of the fraud and the forgery of the Times newspaper. I defy the hon. and learned Member to maintain the argument which he endeavoured to pass off here, namely, that the raising of questions of privilege was reserved only for the protection of the freedom of the House. The precedents are all the other way. It was for the protection of the individual Member in his capacity as Member, and in the discharge of his duties to the 87 House, that the raising of privilege was allowed. I defy hon. Members opposite to say that they have ever treated this matter from an impartial point of view. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Addison) tells us he would have been very glad if Mr. Parnell had been found guilty [Mr. ADDISON: No, no!]—I beg pardon, innocent.
§ MR. ADDISON
I never said I did not accept most fully the word of the hon. Member (Mr. Parnell). On the contrary, I have said that after the statement of the hon. Member it would be better if there was an end of the matter.
§ MR. T. HARRINGTON
If that was the belief of the hon. and learned Gentleman and of others of his Party, where did they give expression to it? Tonight the Under Secretary for India (Sir J. Gorst) said that 12 months ago the fact of the letters having been forged was as patent as it is to-day. Aye, but it is not 12 months since Lord Salisbury said—"I will not pin myself to the statement that the letters are forgeries." After an action for libel had been entered and 40s. lodged in Court by the Times, the leader of your Party was not ashamed to stand up and say—"I will not pin myself to the statement that the letters are forgeries." Which of you had the independence to stand up in the country and say—"I differ from the statement of the Prime Minister." A great deal has been said as to the time at which this question of privilege should have been raised. I do not know where the Chief Secretary for Ireland got his legal training, but somebody seems to have instructed him that when 40s. was lodged in Court to meet the damages sustained by Mr. Parnell we were perfectly free to ignore the remainder of the proceedings and to ask the House to exercise its right of privilege. That was a shabby argument for the right hon. Gentleman to use; 88 but I am amazed that intelligent men who sit on the Government Benches can say they are treating Irishmen with fair-play. Even now you have not the courage, the honesty and the candour to characterise the letters as forged letters. You act in the same miserable, grudging spirit in which the Attorney General acted when he stood up in the Commission Court and said—"I can proceed no further with the letters, but have to withdraw them." There was nothing generous, nothing candid; no expression of regret for the position in which he was, for the great assistance he had given to the Times in bolstering up its infamous charges; no expression of regret on his own part or on the part of the Government, or on the part of the Times which gave him his foe. The same grudging spirit is displayed in the present Amendment, and I assert that the man who votes for the Amendment is a man who in his heart is sorry that Mr. Parnell has been vindicated. Let it go forth to the country that every effort has been made by the Government to bolster up the case of the Times, that the Government has lent its first Law Officer to the Times, that the Government, by an Amendment proposed by one of the responsible officers of the Crown, declines to declare the letters purporting to be written by Mr. Parnell forged letters. "Forged letters" is a term they will not even now accept, but they still adhere to the policy of Lord Salisbury when he said he would not pin himself to the statement that the letters were forgeries. You cannot get the Irish people to believe that you deal out equal justice to Englishmen and Irishmen. You cannot get a majority of honest Englishmen to believe it. They know that behind your Amendment to-night, as behind your conduct of the last two years, there lies political action, political motives, and they know that whatever you do for Ireland you do it in the most grudging spirit.
§ MR. SALT (Stafford)
I shall only trouble the House with one or two words, because all I wish to do is to express the grounds on which I shall vote. I shall not make any remarks upon the observations of the hon. Member (Mr. T. Harrington), except that I do not think they are quite worthy of a Member of the House who I presume is attempting to discuss a very difficult question in a calm, and not in a party, spirit. I feel that the argument that this is not the time to bring forward this question because a considerable period has elapsed since the libel complained of was first issued is not quite applicable to the present case. I think it is most unfortunate that any letters professing to have been written by a Member of the House, but which are not genuine—[Opposition cheers.]—well, I am only saying what any simple-minded man would say—I say that no such letter should ever have been published unless the authenticity of it was absolutely certain. The knowledge that that letter was not authentic has not been positively and fully proved till a very recent time; and therefore I am bound to say that until a very recent time the opportunity for a Motion like the right hon. Gentleman's did not arise. But I am about to give my vote upon very much broader grounds than that. Obviously the origin and intention of this privilege of Parliament was for the simple and only purpose of securing that Members should be able to do their duty to the House freely and fairly. We meet here to do the business of the country, and we are engaged, or we ought to be engaged, at this moment in discussing the Speech of Her Most Gracious Majesty, and the question then arises in my mind whether such a breach of privilege has boon committed as will prevent this House or any of its Members from the discharge of Parliamentary duties? I take it such an offence has not been committed, and that, therefore, there is not 90 a question of privilege that it is desirable for the House to raise at the present time. The question of privilege dates from ancient times—times very different from the present; and Members do not require, and I do not think they ought to require, the same protection as was required many generations ago. We have before us the Motion of the right hon. Member for Derby and the Amendment proposed by the Government. I object to the Motion as an unnecessary interference with the transaction of the ordinary business of the House; and the question of the privilege of any particular Member is not of such importance as to make it necessary to stop the business of the House. Under the circumstances then I shall vote for the Amendment, though I wish it had been couched in different terms. I do not like, so far as I can judge from hearing the terms read from the Chair, the form of the Amendment, because it seems to me to point to the suggestion that this House declines to consider a question of privilege altogether, without giving any reason in reference to the particular circumstances. Now the circumstances in this case are extremely peculiar, and I believe absolutely without precedent. The hon. Member for Cork has had an opportunity of vindicating himself in another place, and I am very glad that he has vindicated himself triumphantly. There is, therefore, no special grievance on his part; and what we have to consider is the question of the business of the House and our duty to the country. On these grounds I am opposed to the Motion of the right hon. Member for Derby; and, though I regret the terms in which the Amendment has been moved, I feel bound to vote for it, for I have no other course to pursue.
§ MR. WADDY (Lincolnshire, Brigg)
I will not follow the line of argument, very much in the nature of tu quoque, that has been adopted, but I think we are gradually—I do not know whether it is the intention of the Government, and I do not suggest that it is—but for some time past we have been drifting into a very narrow groove, when I think we ought to keep to broad grounds. This question has been treated by several 91 speakers on the other side as a matter of procedure, and not as a matter of principle, and it has been said that the great object of privilege is to preserve the dignity of the procedure of this House. Now I deny that entirely. The procedure of this House is a very valuable thing, but certainly the privilege of Members stands on a very different footing to the mere dignity of the procedure of this House. It strikes mo—as I venture to think it will everybody who considers the question—that this concerns not so much the dignity and business of this House. It is an attack of the most ferocious character upon the honour of a leading Member of this House, and I do not think the House ought to be satisfied because the matter has been brought before the Common Law or other tribunals of this country. The House has to defend its own character and honour, which have been tainted and besmirched by the attack made upon the hon. Member for Cork. I do not want to use hard words, and would rather treat this matter in the manner of the hon. Member who has just spoken, but when I am told in a narrow spirit that we should not now deal with this matter, because so much time has elapsed, as if there were a statute of limitations barring action in a matter of this kind, as though it were a paltry case of debt, I cannot forget, although so much mildness has been displayed on the other side to-night, how the hon. Member for Cork has been taunted over and over again with not being anxious to commit himself to the mercies of, a special jury of Middlesex or London. These abominable and iniquitous forgeries have been made use of for political purposes, for they constitute a attack of a terrible nature upon the character of a man of enormous power and influence, and the leader of a political party. It is admitted by the Amendment that a breach of privilege of an infamous is and iniquitous character has been committed, but—lame 92 and impotent conclusion—you decline to treat it as a breach of privilege. Why? If this had been an attack upon a leading Member of the Treasury Bench, I venture to say that the full power of the House would be brought to bear on the offender. The House can defend its dignity in one way only—namely, by calling the offender to its Bar, where alone it can deal with this outrage upon it.
§ MR. J. M. MACLEAN (Oldham)
It might almost be supposed that this Motion has been brought forward in order to enable all the lawyers in the House who have not been engaged in the Parnell Commission to ventilate their views with regard to it. There is a noticeable omission in the speeches that have been made from both sides of the House to-night. We have heard a good deal about the honour and dignity of the House of Commons; but there is one thing which is quits as dear and precious to the people of England as even the honour and dignity of this House, and that is the liberty of the English Press. The right hon. Member for Derby appears to think it a high crime and misdemeanour for a newspaper to attempt to influence the House or to refer to the character of public men. But with what purpose do hundreds of newspapers exist, and with what object do we read them night and morning, except that we may be influenced in our judgment of the character of public men and upon events of the day? If the Times had made any shameful or ignoble attack upon the character of the hon. Member for Cork, it would have been right for the House to have interfered in the case of such a grave breach of privilege, but there was nothing petty or ignoble, nothing spiteful or malicious in the attack the Times made. That newspaper has always shown a magnanimous disdain for those assaults on private character that form the daily fare of some Radical newspapers. The Times simply brought an accusation against the 93 hon. Member for Cork in his public capacity, that be had condoned a most serious, a most grave, and a most abominable offence, namely, the Phœnix Park murders, and when a newspaper believes that such a charge against the character of a public man is well founded, it is perfectly justified in bringing it forward in an open and an honourable manner. The Times may have been in error, nobody denies that it has been; it has paid severely for its faults; it has had to pay heavy damages, but that is no reason why those men who paid it the most obsequious court in the days of its prosperity should now show a vindictive joy in trampling on it in the days of its humiliation. The Times has suffered adequate and sufficient punishment for the offence that it has committed in publishing this letter, believing it to be genuine, solely and entirely in the public interest. If the Times believed that letter to be genuine, in my opinion it was bound to publish it, in order to show by what means the leaders of the Irish Party were carrying on their warfare against the English Government. Has there been nothing in the career of the leaders of the Irish Party which would lead the Times to believe that the letter was likely to be a genuine one? Many hon. Members in this House before the publication of the letter had formed an opinion of the leaders of the Irish Party which was based upon the speeches which the right hon. Member for Derby uttered when he was the Home Secretary of a Liberal Government. Do hon. Members forget how the light hon. Gentleman thundered in those days against John Devoy, and spoke as though the Irish Party and the hon. Member for Cork were identified with the dynamite party on the other side of the Atlantic? The right hon. Gentleman having uttered such speeches in past years ought to be the last to blame those who have merely continued to hold the opinions he has been so careful to inculcate upon the British people. It is quite true that the hon. Member for Cork has triumphantly vindicated his character as far as these forged letters are concerned, and I for one, speaking as 94 a member of the Conservative Party, wish to express my regret for having doubted the word of the lion. Member when he asserted that the letter was a forgery. That, however, is not the question we have to deal with this evening. The House has to consider whether it will give out to the newspaper Press of this country that whenever a newspaper honestly commits an error of judgment in, as it believes, the public interest, its proprietors are to be brought up at the Bar of the House. The letter in question has been published in perfect good faith, and throughout the whole matter the Times has acted most honourably, as has been admitted the other day in Scotland by the right hon. Member for the Bridge-ton Division of Glasgow, while ample justice has been done for any error that it has been guilty of. In these circumstances it is not for this House, on the plea of vindicating its honour and its dignity, to strike a blow at the independence of the public Press of England.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
The Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby asks us to declare that a certain publication read at the table by our Clerk is a breach of the privileges of this House, and the answer to that from the Treasury Bench is a most extraordinary one. I can understand that the Government might have thought it right to give the House their concurrence in this declaration that it is a breach of privilege, but adding to that some reasons why in their opinion the House ought to take no action on this undoubted breach of privilege. It might have been they could have justified themselves by these reasons, but what is their line of argument now? They admit that a breach of privilege has been committed, but they urge the House to decline to say anything about it—to express no opinion upon it. The objection on the ground of the lapse of time since the libel was published has already been sufficiently answered by the hon. Member opposite, and the fact that the Times has agreed to pay heavy damages is a new feature involving admission by the person charged with the breach. It is no 95 answer to a Motion of this kind to I say that the individual aggrieved has received compensation in a Court of Law, because that does not purge the offence of the individual towards this House. The libel has been published avowedly with the intention of inducing the House to pass one of the most infamous among modern measures. I deny that the House only interferes in cases of breaches of privilege which affect their present deliberation, for they have frequently punished such offences when they merely affected the past. The hon. Member for Oldham claims freedom for the Press of this country to bring charges against the leaders of a political party of having been accessory to murder, without making any inquiry into the truth of the charge; or, if it did make any inquiry, knowing that the proofs in support of the charge came from a tainted source. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland has put forward the still more extraordinary defence that the Times is not worse than United Ireland in the matter of the publication of libels. If United Ireland does publish libels, let that paper be punished for its offences. Looking at the number of journalists sent to gaol, it cannot be pretended that generosity or mercy has hindered action. The allegation that the publication of this letter does not constitute a breach of privilege cannot stand for a moment. The claim that the House should not express an opinion upon this subject is a cowardly claim. I hope that, in face of the evidence we have before us, there may be some hon. Members on the other side of the House who will take the line that a former Conservative leader of this House took in not hesitating to declare a matter a breach of privilege which was in fact so. The question of punishment has not to be considered now: that must be discussed when the Resolution has been carried. But there is not the shadow of a pretence for saying that this case does not come within the scope of precedents which are laid down in the Journals of this House. Here the only excuse put forward is that three years have elapsed since the letters were published, and that, at any rate, the matter might have been dealt with last year, simply as the right hon. Gentleman the 96 Chief Secretary points out, because ten months since the proprietors of the Times paid a sum of 40s. into Court, and thus admitted their liability. Surely this is a very extraordinary argument. When a person makes a charge against a man of being accessory to murder, and pays 40s. into Court, such action means that there are circumstances which he was ready to bring before the Court in order to show that if technically wrong he was morally justified in making such a charge. If it does mean that, then the payment of 40s. into Court was simply adding insult to injury. If, on the other hand, the action of the Times in paying the 40s. into Court meant this, then at once it would have been answered, had a question been raised in the House, that we had no right to raise such a question until the case of the Times had been heard. The payment of 40s. into Court was not a recognition that this was a cowardly libel and one of the worst that could possibly have been printed against any man. It was an allegation that the Times had been perhaps entrapped, perhaps induced, perhaps misled, into publishing something which, although not true in that particular form, would be found to be true if the Times had an opportunity of submitting to the Court their reasons for the publication. Therefore, the payment of 40s. into Court is merely for a technical purpose, and has no relation to the position or conduct of the person injured. It is monstrous for the Chief Secretary to pretend to-night that the payment of 40s. into Court ten months ago would have warranted this Motion being made at that time. What the Times has since done in paying exemplary damages to the person libelled, in no way clears it from the charge of breach of privilege.
§ MR. AMBROSE (Middlesex, Harrow)
It has been said that this is a cowardly Amendment, but I propose to vote for it, and I will tell the House why. There surely is some confusion with reference to this matter. An hon. Member behind me has referred to the fact that it was lamentable that such a letter should have been published in the 97 Times. I agree entirely with the view of the hon. Member in regard to its being a lamentable circumstance. There is, as I have said, a private wrong in the case of the hon. Member for Cork, and if he called upon the House to do justice to him in that respect he would be entitled to it. But we are not called upon to do that. The hon. Member for Cork, from the first day, had an opportunity of appealing to the Courts of Law. He was wise in not doing so, because the machinery of the Courts would, in my opinion, have been unequal to the task placed upon it, and there would probably have been a miscarriage of justice. Thanks to whom—shall I say Her Majesty's Government—well, thanks to this House, because we are all responsible for the course which was taken—another tribunal was established with stronger powers, greater and more searching powers, and the result has been, so far as the letters are concerned, that the hon. Gentleman has come out of the difficulty successfully, and to the satisfaction of his friends. Aye, I will tell hon. Gentlemen opposite that nobody rejoices more than I do at the result. I have never upon any platform said anything different to what I am saying now. From the first I said that my only desire was that truth should be ascertained. I rejoice that if seems to be a fact that the letters were forged. The Parnell Commission has found that out. The private wrong has been dealt with, and has been redressed. I do not mean to say that any tribunal could ever give full satisfaction to a person wronged by a transaction of this nature; and I quite accept the view that no damages and no judgment could do full justice to the hon. Member. But now we are asked to deal with the question of privilege, and we are now-dealing in fact with the dignity and privileges of this House. But how does the private wrong of the hon. Member 98 affect the question of a breach of privilege? Privilege is only invoked when the dignity of this House or its freedom of action is interfered with, and I certainly think that the House would stultify itself—having allowed the proper time to pass, and having subsequently appointed a Commission whose labours have resulted so favourably to the hon. Member in the elucidation of the facts—if it were to say that a breach of privilege has been committed. To take such a step would indeed cause the House to look ridiculous, and it is to prevent that calamity that I intend to vote for the Amendment.
§ MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
The Amendment and the speeches in support of it are a most unworthy attempt to escape, by quibbling, the obvious duty which lies before the House. The hon. Member who last spoke has told us that the hon. Member for Cork was right in not appealing to the Law Courts at the date of the publication of the forged letters, although right hon. Gentlemen opposite declared it to be his duty at that time. We remember that most exciting Wednesday day afternoon, when the hon. Member for Cork got up, and in most indignant language denied the authorship of the letters, and the hon. Member for Mayo the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool, and other hon. Members, got up and supported the hon. Member in imploring the House, for the sake of its own dignity and honour, to give that satisfaction which would have been refused to no other body of men, and to grant a Select Committee to inquire into the matter. The Government refused it; yet now all we get is a candid expression of regret for acts in which indeed they were moral participators. The right hon. Baronet who to-day moved the Amendment, objected to the Motion because it was too late, and also because it was too early, on the ground that the Commission had not reported. The real truth is that no time could be the right one for those who never had the intention to give the hon. Member an oppor- 99 tunity for the vindication, of his character. The Amendment is dictated by political expediency of the least reputable character. We are told that there is no precedent for carrying this Motion. I suppose there is no precedent in which a great organ of public opinion has, for political purposes, and with the object of crushing a political opponent, used the dastardly weapons of forgery and calumny; and, if that is so, how could it be possible to find a precedent on all fours with this case? If there is no precedent, the House is bound by every sense of duty and honour to make one. It will be a foul aspersion on British fair-play if the majority of the House, impelled by political considerations, refuse the demand now made upon them by a great party, on facts which cannot be gainsaid; a demand made, be it remembered, in the name of fair play, and in the interests of the honour and dignity of the House.
§ MR. LOCKWOOD (York)
I wish for an opportunity of making some observations in answer to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who was put up, on behalf of the Government, to answer the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby. The first and, indeed, the only answer that has been given to Her Majesty's Opposition on this Motion is that we are out of time. So far as the proposer of this Motion is concerned, he established distinctly that there had been a gross breach of privilege of this House committed; and he also showed who was responsible for the delay which has taken place in the bringing of this matter to the notice of this House. Why, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman said, in the first place, that we were out of time inasmuch as some three years had elapsed since the libel was published in the Times. That libel was met in this House by the hon. Member for Cork with an indignant denial, and he asked for the Constitutional method of investigating the matter by a Select Committee of the House. That privilege was denied to him by Her Majesty's Government and its supporters, 100 and he was taunted with not resorting to the Courts of Law in order to vindicate his character. Then another tribunal was chosen for him, and the majority of the House forced the Special Commission upon him. When the constitution of the Commission was under discussion, we were constantly told that its first duty would be to inquire into the question of the letters; and those of us who were legally connected with, it went into Court expecting that the first matter to be brought before it would be whether the letters were genuine. The hon. and learned Member for Hackney, whose absence I regret, day after day called upon his opponents to bring the main question to an issue. We made the appeal in vain. Months elapsed before an opportunity was afforded, and then the falsity of the letters was speedily of the letters was speedily established. The Commission was then asked to make a pronouncement on this matter, but it declined to do so, and up to the close of the civil action the other day there was no pronouncement upon the guilt or innocence of those who had formulated and circulated these forgeries, which would enable the supporters of the hon. Member for Cork to say that the case did not stand alone upon his denial. But now his denial does not stand alone; it is supported by the finding of a Court of Justice. Much has been said about precedents for this Motion, but it is not incumbent upon us to show a precedent in favour of it. It being admitted that there has been a gross breach of privilege, the onus and responsibility rests upon the Government of showing that there is a precedent for refusing the relief which the Motion would afford. The hon. Member for Cork might very well rest content so far as he is personally concerned. He has denied in this House the authenticity of the letters, and that denial was accepted by many hon. Members. But I regret that it was rejected by some. Now that denial is backed up by the finding of a Court of Justice; and, in addition, we have the Times pleading guilty to a most outrageous libel. Surely, Sir, this is the proper time for 101 the hon. Member for Cork to claim to have the privileges of this House exercised in his favour. This is the first occasion on which the privilege of the House could be appealed to against those who have assailed its honour and dignity, which it is always jealous to protect. It is absurd to pretend that the publication of the libel was not an attempt to influence a Division in this House. We who were Members at that time know perfectly well the sensation caused by the publication of the letters, and how the minds of many men were influenced by them, seeing they purported to be an incitement to murder by a Member of this House. There is no precedent for the situation in which the hon. Member for Cork has been placed, and the House can only uphold its honour by declaring that there has been a breach of privilege.
§ MR. E. HARRINGTON (Kerry, W.)
I do not think that any Irish Member rising to speak on the subject should be received, as I have been, with an ironical laugh, and as the most solemn denial of the hon. Member for Cork, on a matter affecting his life and honour, was received some three years since. These, unfortunately, and the weapons with which we are met by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Whatever you may think of us as political foes, however much you may traduce us in England, Ave. on our side, are ready to take the consequences of our own acts: and we are not ashamed to acknowledge when we are guilty of error. Gentlemen are very chary of their words to-night. Members on that side have made use of the forced letters and facsimile charges, and have sent the letters in facsimile all over the country at the various elections; and, as almost every man of them expressed belief in those charges, it has been interesting to watch the efforts to pick out some colourless time-serving lawyer here and there, either to say that he had not the backbone to assert those charges at the time, or that he had a convenient memory to forget them now. This is how the Government meets those charges this 102 evening. It has been stated in plain language by the right lion. Gentleman the Member for Derby that in his opinion, and he has verified his statement by quoting precedents in this House, there has been a breach of the privileges of this House. Your only answer to this is that, because that breach has been committed against an Irish Member, and the leader of the Irish Party, yon will therefore take no notice. I see an hon. and gallant Gentleman listening tome, who, on the morning of the 18th April, with a delighted countenance, said to me: "Have you seen the Times this morning? It is very interesting for Mr. Parnell." That hon. Gentleman sits silent to-night; he will vote, yet he has not the courage nor the manliness to say now: "I disbelieve those charges, and I am sorry I ever believed in them." This is the honour of English gentlemen; this is the bravery displayed abroad among savages, and, which is so beautifully illustrated here. What opinion can we have of the honour of Gentlemen opposite. Is there any charge which they have believed of us that we might not, by their actions here to-night, be justified in believing of them? But I think we may say that they cannot point to any parallel in our news papers in Ireland for what, has been done by the Times. Some reference has been made to United Ireland. I take it as typifying the Nationalist papers of Ireland. But it should not be forgotten that the Irish papers attack the powerful heads of Governments, and that they stand by what they have done, and suffer for it by taking the consequences. But what of the letters in the Times? They were published on the day of the Second Reading of the Crimes Bill, which was avowedly for the purpose of trampling on the wishes of the people of Ireland, whose Representatives were in a minority in this House, and those letters were published in the interests of the Government of the day; they were published, as I believe, by the Times in collusion with Members of the Government of the day. ["Oh!"] They say "Oh," Will any 103 Member of the Government stand up tonight—if he would it might obviate a great deal of friction in this debate—and say that when the time comes the Government will grant full and fair inquiry into the history, origin, and source of these libellous charges? This Government is already known to the English people, and I think it will be known to them in history, as a Government that is willing to formulate and advance charges against its political opponents, and, when those opponents have vindicated their honour, will not afterwards do them simple justice by sealing that vindication with the vote of the House of Commons. It is interesting to note that we have not heard the voice in this debate of the right hon. Gentleman who has been rather inaptly called the natural leader of the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman has a personal interest in this matter; perhaps it might be considered out of taste to say that he had a monetary interest in the circulation of those libellous charges—["Oh, oh!"]. How delicate are the honour and conscience of hon. Members opposite. Yet these gross and libellous and murderous charges may be made against my hon. Friend, while it is thought sacrilege to make this reflection on the First Lord of the Treasury. That is an indication of how the characters of Englishmen and Irishmen are looked upon. Still, Irishmen consider themselves as true and trustworthy as hon. Members opposite, and are willing to stand side by side with them to be judged. I say that the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the House has a right to tell us of that old friendship between himself and Mr. Walter. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for England ought to speak in this debate. He also had a monetary interest in this matter. Many appeals have been made to him to admit as wrong the charges he had propagated, and it is not too late for him to make the acknowledgment. I remember in connection with this very case that he accused two Members in open court by implication and by name of having tampered with witnesses, and when it was proved that they had done no such thing, he had not the manliness to withdraw the charge. Where is the right hon. Gentleman the Member 104 for West Birmingham in this debate, who said "the charges may or may not be true, but I will suspend my judgment on the matter?" He may suspend his judgment, and he may suspend himself politically for all the country cares. But at the time he led us to understand that if these letters were proved to be forgeries he, as an Englishman, would feel it his duty to express his regret and his condolence with the hon. Member for Cork. Where is the honour of English gentlemen gone? Have we, who are accused of being obscure and criminal rapscallions from Ireland, to preach honour to you English gentlemen? We have heard advanced this evening, on behalf of the Press, an extraordinary doctrine, at which I fancy the pressmen of the world will be astonished, when they see it to-morrow—the doctrine that a man might for example be charged in a letter, proved to be a forgery, with condoning murder, and that nothing was to be done to the paper that published it. At the time the hon. Member, whose word you never had reason to doubt, pledged his honour that he had nothing to do with these charges, he was received with a shout of savage derision. Was he after that to go before a jury composed possibly of a more ignorant class of men—if not more ignorant, at any rate more prejudiced. There was the evidence of the experts and others on which they were prepared to go, and in which the Attorney General believed almost up to the last, because he would not certainly have been guilty of taking his fee up to the last moment if he had not believed in the genuineness of the evidence. The Times believed, no doubt, that it was a matter of money and time to put down the Irish leader and the Irish people. It will yet be proved that it had at its back the powerful aid of Members of this House, monetarily and otherwise. The Times knew that it had at its service the State documents of Ireland, the Secret Service information of Scotland Yard, and the services of the Irish Police and the Resident Magistrates; and so intimate was the connection that Shannon, who sent Pigott away to Madrid, and who was employed by the Times, was the brother of a Resident Magistrate in Ireland, who in his turn had been Secretary to Colonel 105 Turner. That is how justice is administered in Ireland, while Irish Members, who were accused of complicity with the hon. Member for Cork, were actually put into prison during the time the charges were being investigated. And this is what you call showing fair-play. I think it is obvious after what has been said from these benches, that we ought to hear something from the leader of the House, and that there should be some candid disavowal of belief in the genuineness of these letters, from the Attorney General. As for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, though, we did expect that he would think it his duty to speak, we may say that really so far as his voice goes in the matter, we are little concerned whether or not he expresses his opinion or belief.
§ SIR H. DAVEY (Stockton)
In the course of this debate the House has heard from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oldham a remarkable and peculiar doctrine as to the liberty of the Press; but I will ask the House to consider what is the occasion we are discussing, and what is the Motion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt). His Motion declares that these libels are a breach of the privileges of this House. Well, how is that met? No hon. Member, least of all those on the Treasury Bench, has ventured to get up and controvert or deny, or in any way traverse the proposition contained in that Motion. We have had it said that the Resolution is a merely declaratory one, declaring that these are malicious libels, and no one has questioned that they are false and scandalous libels, or that they were expressly published for the purpose of influencing the opinion of the House in an important Division upon a matter of great importance to the Irish Members, and yet the Government come forward and say, "We admit all this, and yet we ask the House to pass an Amendment declining to treat the libels as a breach of privilege." That seems to me to be an attitude in which they are really stultifying themselves. If we were to pass this Amendment of the Government it would be impossible for this House at any future time ever to take notice of a similar libel as a breach of privilege. I 106 say that we shall be false to the traditions we have inherited from the great men who were formerly leaders of this House if we take that course, for because it does not suit Her Majesty's Government to take notice of these libels as a breach of privilege we are asked to pass an Amendment that may be a precedent for all time and which I venture to say will overrule all previous precedents and make it impossible for the House on any future occasions to treat such a case as a breach of its privileges. The Under Secretary of State for India has asked, "Where are your precedents?" and in the next sentence he abused us for proceeding on musty precedents. I ask right hon. Gentlemen opposite was there ever such a case as this before? Are not the circumstances wholly unprecedented? Was ever a case known in which a libel like this, brought forward with the avowed object of influencing the decision of the House on an important Division, was so treated by the Government? Can anybody quote a precedent for the House having refused an injured Member his demand for a Select Committee which is the proper tribunal in such, a case? Was there over a precedent for the House forcing upon a person like that of the hon. Member for Cork, a tribunal for which he did not ask and which he did not want. There is another thing. Sir, which I conceive to be absolutely unprecedented, and that is that the leader of this House should not get up in his place when a question of privilege is brought forward and endeavour to assert what were the undoubted rights and privileges of this House. We have been accustomed to look to the leader of this House as representing us on occasions like this, and as one whose duty it is perfectly irrespective of party, quite irrespective of the part of the House in which the aggrieved person may sit, to come forward as the champion of our rights, our privileges, and independence. But to-night we have been favoured with no speech whatever from the leader of the House. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will address the House, but I say that in a case where there has been such a charge of breach of the privileges of the House, it is absolutely unprecedented that the rights, privileges, and independence of the House should be left 107 to the charge of a private Member, without any guidance from the leader of the House. From the very first moment, although the truth of those libels received a distinct denial from the hon. Member for Cork, there has not been a single occasion in the history of the whole transaction when the House or the Members of the Government have shown the slightest willingness to give the Parliamentary Committee that was asked for, and which undoubtedly was the proper tribunal for the investigation of those charges. Of course, if in the early part of the business the hon. Member for Cork, or any one on these benches, had moved the House to action in the matter, he would have been told clearly and properly that, until the untruth of the statement published by the Times had been proved, there was no case for the consideration of the House, because it is not one of those libels which are a breach of privilege whether true or not. The whole point of the case which is now raised rests upon the untruth of the letter, and the forgery which took place; and until it was established that the letter was a forgery, there was no occasion on which we could properly have brought it forward as a breach of privilege. But the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, has told us we might have summoned the printer of the Times to the Bar of the House when Mr. Walter paid the sum of 40s. into Court. I think the right hon. Gentleman was very badly advised in that statement, because, as the matter has already been put before the House, the payment of 40s. meant nothing more than this—"We admit the libel, but your character is so worthless that, upon that ground, as well as for other reasons, although we have committed a technical libel, yon are not entitled to substantial damages." The payment of 40s. left open the question of what damages might have been claimed, and I ask what would have been said if we had moved in the matter in this House while that question was pending? Why we should have been told that a debate on the subject in this House was calculated to prejudice a fair trial of the issue then before the Court. I deny, therefore, that there has been a single moment in which a Motion such as that of my right hon. Friend could have been made with any hope of success 108 until judgment was actually given against the defendant. I think the contention that we are too late in coming forward at this moment has thus been completely disposed of, and the contention that we are too early answers, really and truly, itself. Well, let me ask what other reason is there for the extraordinary course the Government are asking us to take? The only other reason assigned is that the libel is not of such a character that the House ought to take notice of it. If this libel be not one which affects the honour and character of this House why, let me ask, did the House grant the tribunal which has investigated at so much length the circumstances arising out of the publication of the forged letter? It was solely on the ground, not that it was a personal question affecting the character and conduct of the hon. Member for Cork, but one which affected the honour and character of the House itself, that a special tribunal was created for the purposes of that investigation. I have failed to hear in the whole course of this debate a single ground for asking the House to refuse to declare the libel complained of to be a breach of privilege. Still another reason has been suggested by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who said he could not assent to any proposition implying that the Times had knowingly issued the forged letter. For my part I can only judge of the motives of that publication by the conduct of the Times and their own admission and I most distinctly deny that the Times are in a position to allege good faith in the way they have made that allegation. I do not wish for a moment to be understood to say that they did not believe that the letters were not genuine, but I say they believed it on wholly insufficient grounds—on grounds wholly insufficient to have satisfied a person of the slightest intelligence. Moreover we have the statement given in evidence by Mr. MacDonald himself, that he believed in the letter because it was just the sort of letter he would have expected the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) to write. He was satisfied of the authenticity of the letter without having asked the question which would be the first question anybody else would under the circumstances have asked, namely, what were; the circumstances under which it had 109 come into the possession of the person who offered it. Without being satisfied as to the source of such a letter, no man of the slightest common sense would for a moment have had anything to do with it. Therefore, while I do not say that the Times did not believe the letter to be genuine, I say you cannot acquit the Times, on the materials you have before you, of being reckless and indifferent as to whether the letter was genuine or not. I wish to impress on the House the extraordinarily unprecedented character of the course we are invited by the Government to take; and I cannot sit down without repeating that it is a course which is calculated to stultify the House, and one for which no justification whatever has been given by right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench.
§ The SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir E. CLARKE, Plymouth)
I should like to offer a few observations to the House on some of the topics which have been touched upon, in this debate, and especially on one or two which were referred to by my hon. and learned Friend who has just sat down. My hon. and learned Friend's memory does not seem very clear as to the Parliamentary occurrences of only a few years back, for his chief objection to the form of the Amendment is that it is unprecedented. The fact is that the proposition offered to the House this evening is in the exact words of that which on the 6th of May, 1887, was accepted by a large majority of the House when a claim of breach of privilege was made on the ground that there had been an article in a newspaper imputing deliberate falsehood to a Member in a speech delivered in the House itself. My hon. and learned Friend says that the present Amendment would be of most mischievous consequence and example, and that in similar cases the House would debar itself from dealing with them as breaches of privilege. I hope that it would, for I do not think such matters as were brought before the house in May, 1877, or the article now under discussion, are matters which the House can usefully deal with by way of privilege. Two years and a half ago I showed that in the whole course of recent precedents—and I cited 12 cases down to the year 1810—the House had not dealt with libels 110 of this kind by treating them as matters of privilege, but had instituted proceedings which were conducted in the ordinary way in the Courts of Law. Early in the evening my right hon. Friend the Under Secretary for India challenged the correctness of the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby with regard to the custom of Parliament to deal with an offence which had been committed in another Parliament or in another Session. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the second volume of Hatsell's Precedents, and sad that a list of cases would be found there which Parliament had so dealt with. But that was a list of cases where the examination of complaints made in one Session was continued in a subsequent Session because it could not be completed in the previous Session. I repeat what my right hon. Friend the Under Secretary for India said, namely, that there is no precedent to be found in the whole annals of Parliament where, three years after an offence against its privileges had been committed, and after an appeal to the judicial tribunals of the country, the power of Parliament was invoked as a matter of privilege. The object this House has in view in dealing with privilege is simply to protect the regularity and freedom of its own proceedings, and there is no sort of parallel between that case and the one now before the House, The warning which I desire to offer to the House upon the subject was offered to the House 10 years ago by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby in one of the very cases to which he referred in his speech this evening'. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the case of the present Lord Justice Lopes in 1875, to the case of Sir Charles Russell, the Member for Westminster, who made a complaint against Mr. Plimsoll, in 1880, and to the case of Mr. John Bright, against whom a complaint was made, in 1883. In 1880, when the complaint was made against Mr. Plimsoll, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby took a leading part in the debate. A proposal made by Sir Stafford North cote that the placard complained of should be declared to be a breach of privilege was resisted, and by whom, and upon what ground? By the right hon. Gentleman 111 the Member for Derby, who declared that such a resolution would be "striking a fatal blow at liberty of speech." This placard charged a Member of this House with inhuman conduct in blocking a certain Bill, yet the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, in words far more wise than those he has spoken tonight, urged the House not to put on record a Resolution that it regarded such a placard as a breach of privilege. The hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. J. M. Maclean) has spoken to-night of the liberty of the Press, and I certainly think he was justified in protesting against some of the language that has to-night been applied to the conductors of the Times. I speak as one absolutely disinterested, but I think it is right to say that, though the forging of these letters was a foul and wicked thing, there is not the smallest justification for applying those epithets to the conductors of the Times. The fact that such epithets have been used show that hon. Gentlemen are not sufficiently cautious in the language they use towards those whom they criticise. It would of course be idle to suggest that the Press should be free from the control of this House if it attacks the privileges of this House, but I do submit to the House that to enter upon proceedings such as these now suggested, after the delay that has taken place, would be foreign to the traditions of the House, would be straining the doctrine of privilege beyond its true limits, and would be establishing a, dangerous precedent. I do not wish to enter into any controversy as to the details of the lapse of time, but I do challenge the statement that there was no time at which this matter could have been brought forward as a breach of privilege before to-night. There is a gap in the history of this matter. It is not accurate to say that the hon. Member for Cork came to the House and complained of a breach of privilege or asked for a Committee. The Committee was asked for in regard to other matters. It was only incidentally in the course of debate that a telegram was read from the hon. Member for Cork, stating that he would be willing that this matter of the letter should be included in the reference. That Committee was refused: but what happened then? The hon. 112 Member was left to his legal rights, and what did he do? He did nothing: he did not take any step in the matter for 12 months. I am not cavilling at the hon. Gentleman's conduct. I do not desire to say a single word which would derogate from the fulness of the acknowledgment that he has absolutely cleared himself. [Cheers and laughter from the, Home Rule Members.] I notice that when any Member on this side of the House expresses any feeling of this kind he is invariably greeted with jeers. I may add that I am prepared to give a distinct contradiction to the statement that has been made that when the hon. Member for Cork made his speech in this House on the evening of the 18th of April, with regard to the publication in the Times, that speech was received with jeers. I was in the House myself, and I have a distinct recollection that that was not the case. But I desire to make this suggestion to the House. If this Resolution were carried, and this House declared that there had been a gross and scandalous libel, that Resolution would necessarily have to be followed by some action. The mere protective action of the House to order a person to the Clock Tower would be entirely inadequate and out of harmony with a long series of precedents with regard to cases of gross and scandalous libel. The House would be called upon to order a prosecution. Would the House be willing to order such a prosecution now? If the House were to order such a prosecution now it would be doing now exactly what the Government offered to do on the 4th of May, 1887, when I, following the speech made by the leader of the House, made this offer on the part of Her Majesty's Government. [Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR: The Times' counsel.] No, that was not so; for in the clearest terms the offer was made that while provision should be made out of the Public Funds for the conduct of that prosecution, the choice of counsel to conduct the prosecution in Court, and of solicitors to instruct counsel, should be at the absolute choice of the hon. Member for Cork himself. If we were now to adopt this Resolution, and to take that which, according to the traditions, and the comparatively late practice of Parliament, would be the natural step and sequence to it, and order a prosecu- 113 tion, we should be doing that which was offered and refused two years and a half ago; we should be taking that step in respect to a litigant against whom the hon. Member has chosen his remedy, has enforced it, and obtained it; we should be taking against him a step which under the circumstances, I think, would not only be justified by no precedent, for there is nothing approaching it in the books, but would be substantially inconsistent with those principles of justice which say that a man shall not be punished twice for the same offence. I submit that the House may with perfect regard for its dignity and honour accept the Resolution offered to it by my right hon. Friend—a Resolution which I again remind it simply applies to this case a conclusion which the majority of the House came to two years and a half ago.
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
Mr. Speaker, the main drift of the argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman appears to me to be that the House ought not to accept the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) because the period occupied in the inquiry directed by the House into the authenticity of the letter in question has been a long one. The hon. and learned Gentleman does not venture to say that because there has been this inquiry, and because there has been some delay, therefore the House cannot treat this as a question of privilege, because he knows very well that the pages of Hansard contain many precedents in which the House has paused before proceeding to exact a penalty for a breach of its privileges; has done what it did in this case, has held or directed an inquiry into the truth or the falsehood of the accusations in question, and, after having ascertained their falsehood, has proceeded to exact the penalty which attaches to the offence. But the hon. and learned Gentleman points out to us that over and over again the House has held inquiry by its Committee into questions of alleged breach of privilege before it has proceeded to act, and, these Committees having reported, the House has punished the breach of privilege. This is what we asked from the beginning. We asked that this question might be settled quickly and speedily by the Report of a Committee of this House. Supposing on the day of the publication of this 114 letter we had been so unreasonable as to bring it forward as a question of privilege and punishment, we should have been told by everybody on that (the Treasury) bench that we must first demonstrate the truth of our accusation against the Times—that we must first show that this letter was the forgery that we claimed it to be. That would have been a very reasonable contention for the Government to have made, and we should most justly have been put out of court in our appeal to the House of Commons to exercise its jurisdiction. We asked then that there should be an inquiry into the genuineness of this letter before a Select Committee of the House. Why did not you grant it? The hon. and learned Gentleman says that the request was not made by me. It was made after communication with me by my hon. Friend the Member for Mayo (Mr. Dillon). We asked that a Committee should be appointed to inquire into the genuineness of the letter, and then we agreed to extend the scope of the inquiry into the charges and allegations, although it is, in the report in Hansard, put in the converse way. That inquiry was refused by the Government, who said that a Court of Law was open to me, and that I ought to go before a jury like anybody else. I had not made up my mind at that time that I would not go to a Court. I had never made up my mind that I would not go to a Court of Law, but I considered that it was absolutely necessary, in order to show that that letter was the forgery which I knew it to be, that I should know from whom the Times got it; and I recognised that it would be impossible for me to compel the Times to give up the name of this person in an ordinary Court of Justice, and that we should be left just as badly off as we were before. Before going to a jury, I took steps to ascertain who the forger of the letter was, and I think I was justified in the result, for when, in the case of "O'Donnell and Walter," the question as to the person from whom the Times got that letter was raised, the Attorney General, acting as counsel for the Times, stated that under no circumstances would the Times give up the name of the person from whom they got the letter. That is the answer I should have had if I 115 had gone before a jury in the first instance. I should have been left with the opinions of all the trained experts of this country against me—of Mr. Inglis, whose opinion up to this time had never been shaken; of Mr. Birch, of the British Museum, the celebrated decipherer of ancient manuscripts. I should have been left with these authorities against me, and with only my own word to convince the jury of the truth of my statement that this letter, advanced under the great authority of the Times, was not genuine. Well, Sir, I think the result has proved that I was wise. I could not compel the Times to furnish me with the only information which would have enabled me to conclusively prove—as I was perfectly confident of being able to prove within 48 hours after obtaining that information—that the letters were the forgeries which I always declared them to be; and I asked for a Select Committee because I knew that a Select Committee would have the power to compel the Times to do that which they could not be compelled to do in an ordinary Court of Law. We were not given that Select Committee, so let not the hon. and learned Gentleman blame us for the delay that has arisen. If you had chosen to give us the Committee which "we asked for on the 6th of May—18 days after this letter was published—you would have had the demonstration of the forgery of that letter within 48 hours after the Committee had commenced its investigations. You chose a different course. For 12 months you refused us that Committee. You referred me to my illusory rights before an ordinary jury, which was to be denied by the counsel for the Times the only information which would enable me to disprove the genuineness of these letters. It was not until the proceedings in "O'Donnell and Walter," more than 12 months afterwards, that you agreed to constitute a special tribunal for the purpose of investigating this question, and many other questions besides—a tribunal sufficient for the purpose undoubtedly. But you arranged the terms of reference in such a fashion that many months must elapse and thousands of pounds must be spent before it was possible for us to come to the truth of these forgeries. When we did come to the question of the forgeries, Richard Pigott 116 was only in the box for something like two days before we conclusively proved to the judgment, not only of the Court, but of the whole civilised world, that these letters were not genuine, and that he was the forger. Now, why was not that done at first? Why was it not done on the 8th of May? You who talk to us of the delay in this matter as being a bar to the entertainment of this Motion, can you answer that? We asked for a committee which would have shown it. The reason you refused us that committee was because you wanted to use this question of the forged letters as a political engine. You did not care whether they were forged or not. You saw that it was impossible for me under the circumstances, or for anybody under the circumstances, to prove that they were forgeries, and it was a very good question for you to win bye-elections with—[Mr. JOHNSTON: Partick, for instance]—to send your stump orators over the country to make capital out of them against me. It was also a suitable engine to enable you to obtain an inquiry into a much wider field and into very different matters—an inquiry which you never would have got by itself and apart from these infamous productions—an inquiry which these letters were forged for the purpose of obtaining. The Attorney General smiles. To my mind neither the Attorney General nor the Government to which he belongs will be held blameless at the time when this question is ultimately disposed of. The Attorney General offered himself as counsel for the Times without any investigation into the genuineness of these letters, without having taken the most ordinary precautions to ascertain that his case was a good one. He acted as counsel for the Times in the case of "O'Donnell v. Walter." He staked his great position at the bar, and his still more important position as the first Law Officer of the Crown, on the fact that the Lord Frederick Cavendish letter was a genuine letter. He made himself the tool of the Times for disseminating, by means of the so-called judicial proceedings in that case, still further and more atrocious libels, for which the Times could not have been punished had it not happened most incautiously to have commented on them in its leader next day, and 117 which the managers of the Times, and probably, the Attorney General, supposed they were disseminating from the safe position of a Court of Justice. He did this without using the most elementary precautions to ascertain the truth of his assertions. I warned the learned Gentleman after he had published these libels, after he had used his high position to protect the publication of these libels and to obtain a credence for them which they never would otherwise have had—I warned him in this House, after the conclusion of the case of "O'Donnell and Walter," that he ought to have looked into the origin of the letters before he published them. I asked him publicly in this House whether he had inquired into their origin, whether he knew of whom the Times had got them, and the learned Gentleman was dumb. The proceedings subsequently before the Special Commission showed that not only the Attorney General, but the managers of the Times, had not up to that period, and I think not until the beginning of the subsequent October, taken the trouble even to ascertain from whom the young man Houston had got these letters. Such recklessness would be incredible if it were not a mournful and sorrowful fact. I should be sorry, as I said when the Special Commission Bill was passing through this House—leader as I am of a Party which is in a minority, and which, as an Irish Party, must always be in a minority here—I should be sorry to treat my most powerful opponents with the depth of incredible meanness and cowardice with which I have been treated in this matter. You now add to this. I do not know why it is, unless you are bound by some secret ties and obligations. But the learned Gentleman who moved this Amendment has put on the records of the House, and has asked you to affirm, an Amendment which is a further insult. You still leave the public and the world to suppose, by proposing this Amendment, that in the opinion of the majority of the House there is still a doubt as to whether this letter is genuine or not. He you believe it to be forged? I If you do, why have you not the simple courage and manliness to say so at once? You talk of "the letter" and impute it to me as if, instead of being the year 1890, it was 118 the month of April, 1877, as if, instead of being at the end of the vindication which has taken all this time, anxiety, trouble, and money, we were at the beginning of it—as if the matter was still sub judice. If yon think that is a course of conduct worthy of yourselves, I shall leave you to consider so: I am sorry for you, but I shall give you the opportunity of, at all events, removing this most extraordinary omission from your resolution by moving to amend the Amendment by inserting the word "forged" before the word "letter."
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH, Strand, Westminster)
I will say one word only in reference to the speech which has just fallen from the hon. Gentleman. He has attributed to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House a desire to attribute to him the authorship of the letter which is acknowledged to be a forgery. I think if the hon. Gentleman had followed the observations of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary he would have realised how completely he joined with hon. Gentlemen opposite in expressing his detestation of the forgery and the forged letter, and the means by which, and the circumstances under which, the forgery had been published. I wish, on behalf of myself, my right hon. Friends on this Bench, and all those who sit on this side of the House, to express our detestation of the act which has been committed, and our pleasure and satisfaction that the hon. Gentleman has been relieved absolutely and completely from the imputation under which, for a time, he laboured. The hon. Gentleman has asked that the word "forged" should be added to the Amendment. I have not the slightest objection. I wish to give him every satisfaction which we can legitimately give him under the circumstances. At the same time, I must express a belief that, in the interests of the honour and dignity of this House, and in the interests of all who are concerned in maintaining the authority of the House, it is better that we should accept the proposal made by the Government instead of that made by the right hon. Gentleman 119 opposite. I propose, Sir, to add the word "forged" before the word "letter."
§ MR. SPEAKER
That would more properly be done when the Amendment came to be the substantive Resolution before the House.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 212; Noes 260.—(Div. List, No. 1.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ Amendment amended, by inserting the word "forged" before the word "letter."—(Mr. W William Henry Smith.)
That the words 'this House declines to treat the publication in the Times newspaper of the 18th April, 1887, of a forged letter purporting to have been written by Mr. Parnell and of the comments thereon, as a 'breach of the Privileges of this House' be there added,
—put, and agreed to.
Resolved, That this House declines to treat the publication in the Times newspaper of the 18th April 1887, of a forged letter purporting to have been written by Mr. Parnell, and of the comments thereon, as a breach of the Privileges of this House.