The Earl of Limerick
said, that he did not rise to prolong the discussion upon the previous question before the House, but he felt himself compelled to get up and address their Lordships in order to rescue a single individual Member of that House, one who had long had the honour of sitting in it—from an attempt 1479 to cast a public odium upon his character. The question he was about to address their Lordships upon had nothing to do with a Reform of Parliament, but it had much to do with the privileges of that House, and with the freedom of Debate in both Houses of Parliament; which would be quite a farce if their Lordships were to be called to account every morning by the lords of the Press for what did not meet with their approbation. Was it to be allowed, that a newspaper should publish the Debates, not for the purpose of letting the world know what passed in that House, but of dealing out its abuse and threats against any Member who did not agree with that paper in opinion? For himself, he had only to say, that if any paper used threats against those Members of the Legislature who did not agree in the measure which it advocated, so far as he was concerned, he was determined to resist it. He never rose with greater reluctance or more unpleasant feelings than he then did, and nothing-should have induced him to address their Lordships upon the subject if he did not think that his personal character and honour were involved in the question he was about to bring before the House, for the calumny which had been cast upon him by the Press would continue to produce its effect until he took the mode he was about to adopt in order to answer it. Their Lordships might recollect a discussion that had taken place in that House on Friday last, when a noble Lord opposite (the Earl of Rosebery) had presented a petition, praying for the introduction of a system of Poor-laws into Ireland. It would be remembered that he (Lord Limerick) had addressed their Lordships upon the subject of the petition, and that he had differed from some of their Lordships on that occasion. The discussion in the first instance had not been brought on by him, but he had felt it his duty to address a few observations to their Lordships, not only on account of the nature and object of the petition, but because of the observations that had fallen from the noble Lord who had presented it. What he had said on that occasion was reported in a morning newspaper of the following day, and there appeared in the same paper an article or paragraph which reprobated him in the strongest terms—not, it was true, by name, but it described him so that it was impossible for any person to doubt to whom the writer intended to apply his 1480 attack. He was the last person in the United Kingdom who would wish to fetter the liberties of the public Press. He had always been favourable to the freedom of the Press, persuaded that it was the great promoter and preserver of the liberties of the country. He would repeat, that he was an advocate of the freedom of the press, and for that very reason he was an enemy to as licentiousness. He would ask noble Lords, what could be more mischievous than the license of the Press that sported with private character, that wounded the feelings of individuals by the basest insinuations or the most insidious calumnies? A great statesman of the last century, when speaking of the Press, had applied to it the terms of a "chartered libertine." If that statesman could now return to life, and see the Press in its present state, in what terms would he not describe it? He would describe it as a chartered tyrant—a tyrant that ruled all things—that pressed every thing under its feet. The newspaper to which he alluded was The Times of Saturday last. The article he had to complain of, and for which he should move that the editor of the paper be called to the bar of the House, began by describing him as a "thing," and it proceeded to accuse him of using brutal ridicule and impious scorn. He would put it to their Lordships, whether he should have been allowed to proceed for one moment in addressing that House if his conduct had been such as had been described, or such as to warrant the comments that the writer in the newspaper had passed upon it. It was well known, however, that he had not been interrupted in what he had addressed to their Lordships. The next point he should call the attention of the House to was, the writer in question attacking him as an Irish absentee. The writer said, "Will any man credit that an Irish absentee Lord could say what he is reported to have uttered in the House of Peers last night?" It was a novel doctrine, that because a gentleman refused to reside on one part of his property, and preferred residing on another, he should be accused of betraying the rights of the people, and of being unworthy of any consideration. How many of their Lordships who now heard him had estates in different parts of the kingdom, and they must either be absent from one or the other, or be divided and in different places at once. He was sorry 1481 to say, that that part of the south of Ireland in which his property was situated had got from bad to worse. The riotous conduct of the people in the county of Clare had spread into the county of Limerick, and bodies of 600 or 700 men went out in different directions, doing all the mischief they could, and committing every possible outrage. He would tell those who railed against absentees, that it was not so very pleasant as they might imagine for a person to reside amidst a population in such a state of disorder and excitement. It was not very pleasant to live in a country where a man's house must assume all the appearances of a garrison besieged—where the doors must be barricadoed and the windows barred—where a watch must be kept, and a man could not put his foot out at night if he had not an escort of armed policemen, or the protection of a body of troops, and even with this defence he could not be secure from attacks. When a country was in such a state as he had described, some apology might be made for absentees, and men might be allowed to live on other estates than those they possessed in such disturbed districts. He would beg their Lordships' attention whilst he read to them the whole of the paragraph he complained of, in The Times newspaper of Saturday: — "Yet mean, cruel, and atrocious as every civilized mind must consider the doctrine that Ireland has no need of Poor-laws, or some equivalent for them—hateful and abominable as is such a screen for inhumanity—there are men, or things with human pretensions, nay, with lofty privileges, who do not blush to treat the mere proposal of establishing a fund for the relief of the diseased or helpless Irish with brutal ridicule, or almost impious scorn. Will any man credit that an Irish absentee Lord could say what he is reported to have uttered in the House of Peers last night, when Lord Rosebery presented a petition, praying that a compulsory tax on land might be introduced into Ireland towards alleviating her poor? We shall not name him, because the House of Lords is armed with a thing called a bar, and other disagreeable appendages. But there are Members of that House who surprise nobody by declaring their indifference to popular odium, especially when they are at such a distance from Ireland as to ensure the safety of their persons." This was 1482 the paragraph which had appeared in The Times, and that paragraph he treated with the most sovereign contempt. He was well known in Ireland; he had had the misfortune to serve in that country during the Rebellion of 1798, and all such imputations as those now attempted to be cast upon him he could treat, and did treat, with the highest scorn. He apologized for having occupied the attention of the House so long; but he must say, that he hoped he should not be considered to have wasted the precious time of their Lordships, for the case was not merely personal to himself, as it involved the breach of their Lordships' highest and most valuable privileges—the freedom of discussion. He had endeavoured to abstain from all partial and personal statements. He had endeavoured to bring forward the question which concerned the privileges of free Debate, and he trusted that the House would call to the bar the person guilty of writing what he was sure their Lordships could not justify.
The Lord Chancellor
reminded the noble Earl, that the course to be taken in such a case, where a complaint was made of a breach of the privileges of the House, was for the complainant to give in the paper complained of. Their Lordships would then have the paper read by the proper officer of the House, and it was then that the noble Earl might make what motion he might think fit.
§ The Lord Chancellor, put the question, whether it was their Lordships' pleasure that the part of the paper complained of be now read. The question being followed by a cry of "read, read," the part of the article, as quoted above in Lord Limerick's speech, was read by the Clerk of the House.
The Earl of Limerick
said, that there could be no question that the paragraph alluded to him, for he was the only Peer that spoke upon the subject that night, except the noble Lord who presented the petition, and to whose observations the article in The Times did not apply.
§ Several Peers cried "Move, move, move;" and
The Earl of Limerick
then moved, "That the editor of The Times newspaper be ordered to attend at the bar of that House to-morrow."
The Earl of Haddington
said, that before proceeding to move that the editor of the Paper should attend at the bar of the House, it was necessary that their Lordships should determine whether the paragraph in question were a libel or a breach of privilege.
§ The question was then put from the woolsack.
The Lord Chancellor
perfectly agreed with the noble Earl that it was absolutely necessary for the House to protect its rights and privileges against all persons whatever, who, by conduct or speaking, or who, by writing or in printed papers, should make those privileges the subject of attack. At the same time he would deliver one humble observation, — an observation uttered to their Lordships in the way of very earnest and not injudicious and, he trusted, not unacceptable, advice— that the subject of all such conferences as that on the brink of which they now stood, brought their Lordships into very painful dilemmas, and ended in regrets that they had ever been embraced. The whole result of all his experience whilst he had held a seat in another place,—a place in which complaints of a similar description were much more frequent than in their Lordships' House,—was, that without any one exception to a speaker, or to what he might call a private person or private Member of the House, in no case did they ever get into a conference of such a description as that now proposed without afterwards repenting of it. He did not see any occasion to strengthen the privileges of the House in the way now proposed. If there were a clear and undoubted case of offence,—if there were a plain and manifest infringement of the privileges of their Lordships' House—if there were an indisputable outrage—an outrage manifest to the House itself—no man could doubt that it was a fit subject of investigation at their Lordships' bar, and no man could hesitate to say, that it was in their Lordships' power to deal with such an offence as they might think necessary for the defence of their privileges, and the support of their dignity. If, however, the conduct of a noble Lord was made the subject of an attack by the Press or otherwise, he could only observe that in citing the offender to the bar, he got into great difficulties by the rules of proceeding, and by the privileges of the House in their strict letter as they now stood. The privileges of the 1484 House were part of the law of the land, for they were given to the Houses of Parliament for the sake of the subject, and not for the convenience of the Member. The bare publication of the debates of either House was a breach of privilege, and no man could deny, that it was a breach of privilege to make observations upon the discussions of the House, even if such observations were not unfavourable to the noble Lord to whose speech they applied. Even the saying out of that House that a noble Peer, in the course of a discussion, had said so and so, was a breach of privilege; and to advert even in the most decorous language, and in the most respectful terms, to what any noble Lord had uttered in his seat was, past all controversy or contradiction, a decided breach of privilege. In point of fact, it was notorious that the privileges of that House were so extraordinary, that the very excess of the law, prevented its being put into practice. The privileges of Parliament were excessively cumbrous—they were excessively embarrassing in their application and in their operation; and the consequence was, that whenever a Member of either House called a person to the bar for a breach of privilege, he was obliged to he content at best with an ample submission and a complete apology. The printer of a Paper was the only person legally liable in such cases, and as it was impossible to avoid voting such a publication as that just read to be a breach of privilege, the case would be like a hundred others:—after a long debate upon the subject, every man, and most of all he who originated the proceeding, would wish to get rid of the difficulties, and be anxious that the whole affair should end. This was the result of all experience, not only of his own, but of all others with whom he had talked upon the subject. In his own mind this formed the most sound and exigent reason for inducing their Lordships to be extremely slow to interfere in any case except where the dignity of the House rendered interference absolutely unavoidable. He could not be suspected of approving of the paragraph which the noble Earl had read to the House, The expressions were coarse and indecent; but for his part he had no means of knowing to whom they applied, though the noble Earl had attributed them to himself. He was bound in truth and fairness to confess, that he had daily and weekly seen paragraphs and articles in newspapers ten thousand times 1485 worse than that now complained of. Ever since he had come into Parliament, he had seen articles in the Papers ten thousand times worse than this, and yet no Member of the House ever took any notice of them. What person had ever been twenty-five years in Parliament, taking an active part in political discussions, and had not been attacked in a manner that involved a breach of the privileges of the House. He was sure that the noble Duke near him (the Duke of Wellington), as well as himself, about two years ago had been the object of constant attacks, and compared to which, the article now complained of might be considered as the language of panegyric. The present attack was nothing compared to what the noble Duke and himself, as well as many noble Lords who now heard him, had weathered in their political course through the last few years. He had always disregarded these things, both upon principle, and from an experience of the extreme difficulties of meeting them by any parliamentary proceedings at the Bar of the House. He had always made it a rule to live upon his acts, to proceed upon his principles steadily and firmly, and to trust to the country for the defence of his reputation, being convinced that in the end truth would prevail: even if there were very little charity in the world, truth in such cases would always prevail, and prevail with an efficacy proportioned to the time and manner in which she had been suppressed. But he would call the attention of their Lordships to the words of this paragraph—"Will any man credit that an Irish absentee Lord could say what he is reported to have uttered." But where was he reported to have uttered this? To what report did this allude? If the proceeding were persevered in, it would be necessary that their Lordships should have before them not only this newspaper, The Times of Saturday last, but all other newspapers, or how could their Lordships ascertain what had been reported of the noble Earl and of his speech upon that occasion? In the situation in which he stood, he certainly should not think himself justified in dividing the House, if the noble Earl should think fit to press to a division; but he, for one, did not deem it right, that after such an abundant opportunity of clearing himself, and which was not at all necessary, the noble Earl should go to such an extreme. He trusted that the noble Earl would not do wrong in listening to 1486 him (Lord Brougham), and to his other friends, who advised him not to press the subject further. There never was a time when, in a period of political heat—at a period of great conflict,—and of much animosity,—he spoke of the daily Press— for he saw little more, and not much of that,—but there never was a time, when, under such circumstances of excitement, the daily Press was conducted with more ability or with greater purity. There were two modes by which the Press might attack individuals: there was the public attack, an attack against public conduct, guided upon public principles, and directed to a public object; and there was the method of assailing persons by private slander. He would say, and without fear of contradiction, that the daily Press did not deal half so much in personal private slander, as it had done even so recently as when he had first come into public life. It was of the highest utility to keep this great organ of communicating public discussion to the people as pure as possible; and if their Lordships showed a little tenderness to persons who it was evident had wholly moved upon public grounds, they would not be doing a little service to the community.
§ After a little confusion occasioned by this sudden interruption,
§ Lord Eldon
proceeded. He maintained, that no man living could deny that the publication which had been read to the House was a libel, and the noble Earl (Limerick) was the only person in that! House to whom such a paragraph could apply. The paragraph not only attacked him on public grounds, but it charged him with inhumanity to the poor. This was a libel beyond all question, and it was for their Lordships to say, as the case had come before them, whether they would pass it over or not. He regretted to hear it asserted by so high an authority of that House, that when a complaint of a breach of privilege was made by a Member, the House was so weak that it would have to regret if it interfered. This declaration would amount to an absolute fiat to all publications whatever. If the noble Lord pressed his motion to a division, it would 1487 be impossible for him to do otherwise than vote for it.
The Earl of Haddington
perfectly concurred with what had fallen from the noble and learned Lord who had just sat down. It was unquestionably a matter of discretion with the noble Earl whether he would bring forward the question or not, and he was not in the least surprised at his having brought it forward as he had done, for in so doing, he had performed what was not only beneficial to himself but useful to the privileges of their Lordships' House. What had fallen from the noble Lord on the Woolsack was however well worthy of their Lordships' consideration. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had told the House that for many years he had been the object of the attacks of the public Press, and that he had thought it right to pass them over unresented and unnoticed. In the very preeminent situation in which he stood he no doubt had done wisely, and had exercised a sound discretion. If, however, the noble and learned Lord had brought forward the case of an attack on himself, which involved the privileges of that House (for many personal attacks did not affect the privileges of Parliament), it still would have been equally possible for him not to have taken up the subject, and in not bringing the offender forward, the noble and learned Lord would in all probability have acted judiciously and wisely. But it was obvious that a good deal of difference existed between the noble and learned Lord, who was always before the public, and a private person who in either House of Parliament might take a part in the debate, and afterwards find that a newspaper had made his speech and his opinions the subject of such scurrilous and infamous attacks. The noble Earl had been held up to public odium for having delivered opinions which were designated as detestable. The noble Earl was held up to public hate, not by name or title, but, nevertheless, he was so designated that it was impossible for any rational man to doubt to whom the language was meant to apply. This was a real and strong infringement of the liberties and privileges of their Lordships, and since the noble Earl had brought it forward, it was utterly impossible for their Lordships to pass the case over, unless they were content to abandon their established rights and most essential privileges of debate. The noble 1488 and learned Lord on the Woolsack had said, that there never had been any period of equal excitement, in which the daily Press was so pure, and so free from private slander and from private malevolence. This was the praise that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had thought proper to bestow upon the public Press in its present condition. He would take the liberty of telling the noble and learned Lord, that the present being a period of great political excitement—a period when the passions of men were roused, and the strongest opinions were in violent collision—there were attacks made against individuals by the Press every day. It was notorious that the most virulent and vindictive attacks were daily made by the newspapers against those public characters that took a part against Reform, or who displeased the editors or writers of the Journals. It had become, in his opinion, necessary to show that there must be some limit, not to the liberty, but to the license of the Press. He had seen with the utmost indignation, — he would not say attacks, because they were so covered with artful language, which practised and experienced writers knew how to use, that they could not be called attacks, but he had seen insinuations by which there had been held up to public odium, the highest and most illustrious female in the country—a person whose sex whose indubitable virtues, and whose royal situation ought to have protected her from insinuations of such a nature. Perhaps he ought to apologise for having mentioned the subject, as it had no immediate or direct reference to the matter before the House. He trusted, that since his noble friend had brought the subject forward, he would persevere in his motion.
declared, that the noble Earl's proceeding was most proper, and if he persevered in it he should have his most cordial support.
The Lord Chancellor
would not protract a discussion that had already gone to such a length. All that he had done was to address his counsel to the noble Earl, but it must be in the recollection of every person who heard him, that at the same time that he had expressed his opinion, or had given his advice, he had added, that if the noble Earl thought proper, after what he (the Lord Chancellor) had said, to persist in his Motion, he (the Lord Chancellor) considered that in his situation he had no choice, and he should not think of oppos- 1489 ing the noble Earl's Motion, or of dividing the House. He regretted that the Motion had been made, but now that it was made, he did trust that it would be carried without one single dissentient voice. He heartily wished that more prudence had been observed, and that the House had not been dragged into the case; but since the noble Earl had dragged the House into such a proceeding, all that was left to him (the Lord Chancellor) was, to hope that their Lordships would adopt a prudent moderate, and temperate course. The attacks on an illustrious female that had been alluded to gave him the most unfeigned pain. He was not aware of them, and had never heard of them before. He should feel that he was wanting in his duty, both to his Sovereign and to the public, if he refrained from expressing his censure of such attacks, knowing, as he did, that they were totally unworthy of credit.
said, that no person in public or in private life could be of a more exalted character than the illustrious female who had been so calumniated by the public Press.
The Marquis of Londonderry
said, that in the very Paper that had contained the attack now before their Lordships, had appeared an attack upon the illustrious person alluded to. The case, therefore, that had been brought before the House was a very aggravated one; and it was the more necessary to visit it with the displeasure of their Lordships. He thought if the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had done his duty he would have ordered the Attorney General to prosecute the Paper in question for the libel on the illustrious Lady. He should like to know why he had not. It was not only however on these occasions that such attacks had appeared in the Paper in question, for repeatedly upon former occasions there had been similar attacks, and four or five weeks ago he had observed libellous passages in that Newspaper; and since that, there had been a repetition of the course which the writer well knew must be offensive. He gave thanks to the noble Earl who had brought forward the Motion, and had called the attention of their Lordships to the publication. He was not of opinion that it would have been better to have avoided the subject. He could not agree with the noble Lord on the Woolsack, that the question should not have 1490 been mentioned. He thought quite otherwise. Noble Lords, in the libel before them, had been called "things," and he would put it to their Lordships to say whether it was pleasant for any Lord to be called a "thing," in a public Newspaper. This was not all, for not only had their Lordships been called "things," but they were designated as "things with human pretensions." No person could hesitate to say, that the calling of a Peer of that House "a thing," and "a thing with human pretensions," was a libel and a breach of privilege. What? because a noble Lord made a speech upon a public question of great interest, was he to be called "a thing with human pretensions?" This was an outrage from which the public would relieve the Parliament of this country. He would defy any man to read the paragraph and not to direct it to the noble Earl (Limerick.) When he heard the noble Lord on the Woolsack deliver himself on the case, he was so surprised at what he said, that he could hardly help thinking that the noble Lord was himself the writer of the article in The Times. He hoped in his conscience that such an apology would be exacted from the person to be brought to the Bar of the House, as would occasion the Press of the country to know that it was not to attack the sacred personages of the monarchy, and that the Parliament of England was not to be brought forward in such an indecent and abominable manner as to call a Peer a "thing with human pretensions."
The Earl of Limerick
said, that he should not have troubled their Lordships further on this occasion, but for one word which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had used in reference to the Motion which he (the Earl of Limerick) had felt it his duty now to bring forward. The noble and learned Lord had spoken of their Lordships having been "dragged into this proceeding." He wished to "drag" no one into this proceeding. He considered himself as the guardian of his own honour, he was determined to protect his honour, and he conceived it his duty to bring before the House that which he looked upon as an insult on their Lordships. The noble and learned Lord had referred to the first part of the paragraph as the worst; now he (the Earl of Limerick) as an Irishman, would refer to the concluding sentence of it, in which it was meant to be conveyed that he had hazarded in that House an 1491 opinion which he would be afraid to express elsewhere. He, as an Irishman, disdained ever to deny any thing that he had said, and he should be always ready to express in one place what he had said in another. He should, without any further observations on this occasion, press his Motion,
The Lord Chancellor
said, that he had not used the word "drag" in reference to the conduct of the noble Earl on this occasion. What he meant was, that such was the nature of their Lordships' privileges, that when once the motion of the noble Lord was brought forward, the House must take it up as a matter of privilege; and he had instanced the reports of the proceedings in that House as a Breach of Privilege, to demonstrate the severe nature of them if they should be strictly acted upon. That was the sense, and in no other sense, in which he spoke, when he talked of their Lordships being necessarily dragged into a proceeding on this matter, when once it was brought under their notice. He should only add, in reference to what had fallen from the noble Marquis (Londonderry), that he never heard a more extraordinary charge than that which had been preferred against him by that noble Lord. The noble Marquis had asked him why he did not order the Attorney General to prosecute the libels which he stated had appeared in the public prints against an illustrious personage. The noble Lord's charge was a curious illustration of the non sequitur principle. He (the Lord Chancellor) having said, that he had never heard, up to that moment of such attacks, up started the noble Marquis, and asked him why he had not ordered the Attorney General to prosecute them? Now, he must repeat, that, having been out of town, he had never before heard of those attacks to which the noble Marquis appeared to allude.
The Marquis of Londonderry
said, that if the noble and learned Lord had not heard of those attacks before, he had heard of them now, and he trusted that the noble Lord would act upon that information.
said, that having been present at the discussion on Friday, to which the paragraph complained of had reference, he felt it but an act of justice to the noble Earl (Limerick) to say, that nothing which fell from him on that occa- 1492 sion at all justified the attack made upon him in that paragraph. Though he was opposed in opinion to the noble Lord on the subject to which the discussion of that evening related, and though he thought that some description of Poor-laws was necessary in Ireland, he could not refrain from stating, that the noble Lord said nothing then to call down such an attack upon him. He hoped that this matter would afford to their Lordships a solemn warning on the subject of newspaper attacks. It was an evidence of the direction in which the waters flowed. They had seen what had happened in France—they had seen what the newspaper press had done in France, and they should take warning from that. After what they had seen, and after what had been done in France, he thought his Majesty's Government were bound to prosecute the calumnious attacks which proceeded from the public Press in this country.
said, that there were also other attacks proceeding from another quarter, which seriously deserved the attention of the Government. He wished to ask the noble Earl (Grey) whether representations had not been made to him of what had taken place at the Rotunda, and whether his attention had not been directed to publications proceeding from that place, containing the most scandalous attacks upon several of the most illustrious characters in the country, and whether he had not been called upon to put down the proceedings there by the intervention of a police force? Would the noble Earl state whether he had not received the papers containing the attacks to which he alluded?
§ Earl Grey
said, that certainly the meetings at the Rotunda, and the accounts of the proceedings there, had been mentioned to him. He reprobated such proceedings quite as much as the noble Lord did. The matter had not escaped the consideration of his Majesty's Ministers, but whether any measures would be adopted on the subject, he did not think himself called upon to state.
wished to know, whether, in the papers which had been laid before the noble Earl, there was one containing an attack upon the Archbishop of Canterbury? He meant to speak out; he never would flinch from his opinion, and he thought it his duty to call the attention, 1493 of his Majesty's Government to this subject.
wished to know, for he had a public duty to perform which he would discharge, whether these publications had been referred to his Majesty's Attorney General?
§ The question, "That the Printer of The Times be ordered to attend at the Bar of this House to-morrow," was then put, and carried.