HL Deb 24 July 1845 vol 82 cc1026-33
Earl Bathurst

brought forward the Report of the Select Commit- tee appointed to inquire into the charges brought against the Irish Great Western (Dublin and Galway) Railway Company. The Committee reported that they had met and considered the petitions which had been referred to them, and had heard counsel, and had examined witnesses in support of the allegations in the said petitions; and upon a perusal of the minutes of evidence, and a consideration of the whole case, the Committee were of opinion, that most systematic frauds had been used for the purpose of obtaining the necessary number of signatures to the subscription contract; that no attention appeared to have been paid to a proper distribution of the letters of allotment; that unauthorized names had been inserted in the contract, and false addresses given; and that packets of letters were proved to have been sent down to country postmasters, being applications for shares, with a request that they might be returned to London through the Post Office. It also appeared that a petition was presented to the House of Commons, but it was not prosecuted; a sum of 250l. being paid down to the petitioners, with a promise of a further sum of 500l. on the Bill passing the Standing Orders' Committee. Sufficient evidence was also produced to satisfy the Committee, that the subscription contract was not entered into bonâ fide, and the estimated cost of the undertaking was a false one. The Report concluded by stating, that the result of their inquiry had induced the Committee to express their entire concurrence in the Report of another Select Committee of their Lordships' House, that the decision come to by the House of Commons last Session, reducing the amount of deposit money required, had the effect of facilitating the commission of fraud; and that the Committee had, under these circumstances, not thought it necessary to proceed with the consideration of all the allegations contained in the petition of James Pim, jun., or to inquire into the merits of the Bill, without further instructions from the House.

The Earl of Besborough

said, the Report was a very peculiar one; and he thought it better to give Notice respecting it, that he would move to-morrow (this day) that the Bill should not be further proceeded with.

Report ordered to be considered to-morrow; and Notice of Motion given— That the further consideration of the Bill be postponed for three months.

Lord Brougham

I have now to state to your Lordships — having lately brought before you a case in connexion with the privileges of this House—that I have seen a statement, giving an explanation on the part of the newspaper in question, which certainly greatly confirms me in my opinion, that your Lordships ought not to proceed against the editor or printer of that newspaper; and my noble Friend, the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Wicklow), will forgive me for saying, that there was a misunderstanding with respect to my having ever intimated the propriety of that course. He and I agree on the question of privilege on the whole; and he would also agree with me on the propriety of rather leaving me, as the aggrieved party, to proceed at law by criminal information, if I might so choose. It is quite clear that I might do so, the paper having undoubtedly published a libel: and even if that which the paper stated to have passed in the House of Commons had passed there, that would be no justification whatever for the publication. Therefore, both my noble Friend and myself would have declined calling the parties to the bar of this House, for the purpose of punishing them for a breach of privilege. But I have to add, that it now appears a statement has been made by the same party, in the same paper, and in another paper also, against which it would have been my duty likewise to proceed, if I had proceeded against any paper, namely, the Morning Chronicle, for it has published the same speech, or pretended speech, verbatim, in the same words. I should, therefore, have proceeded against both papers, or against neither. But I have since seen a speech, or statement, in both these papers, purporting to be made by the same individual Member of the other House of Parliament who was represented to have made the unjustifiable speech—a speech which no person endeavours even to extenuate. That Member is made to say, in the same paper—and I have no doubt with his entire concurrence and consent, and I am therefore bound to believe it—that what he said, or rather, I should say, what he is represented to have said, was under an entire misapprehension of the facts; that he was not present in the Select Committee of your Lordships' House, as, of course, he could not be and that he was misled by the reports which had reached him, and by not knowing that the questions put to the witnesses were the questions suggested by the petitioner. But the question of which he so much complained was a perfectly justifiable question, and it imputed no kind of impropriety to him, but merely referred to his having been canvassed for on some other occasion, for some other situation or appointment. It also appears in this statement, that, in alluding to the suppression of evidence, he did not refer to Mr. Parkes at all, but to some other persons; though that, too, must have been under a total mistake, as no evidence had been suppressed, every word given in evidence having been reported and printed, except what had been stated by Mr. Parkes, and which was not evidence at all. The same individual is stated to say—and I believe correctly to say—that he was exceedingly sorry he had given any pain to any individual, alluding to me; but I am sure the only pain the words gave me, was the pain of being obliged to talk before your Lordships of a subject connected with myself; for never could there be anything so absurd as the charges made. As it would appear that he had been under a total misapprehension of the matter, and exceedingly sorry that any pain should have been given to me, I am quite sure, such being the case, that I may anticipate the decision to which your Lordships are likely to come; and I would, therefore, wish to suggest, whether it would not be better not to discuss farther the question as to whether this be a breach of privilege or not, but rather to proceed no farther with it. My opinion is, that you ought never to proceed with questions of privilege of this nature; but that even such of your Lordships as differ from me as to the length to which I would carry this principle, will, I believe, under the circumstances of the case, and allowing for the great irritation of the party, concur in the course which I now recommend, of not proceeding farther in it, leaving it, of course, still open to me to prosecute the parties by a criminal information if I please—that is, the parties who published this libellous attack; because it is no protection to them to say that the words were spoken in Parliament, even if they had been spoken there, which I do not say was the case. The Member in question is stated to have said, that having seen a statement in a newspaper, of his having made a speech somewhere, he admitted the correctness of the report, because he had himself taken a note of what he had said—which note he must have taken after the speech was made; because it was added that he had stood up to speak wholly unprepared with what he was to say—and that he had afterwards compared this note with what had been published in the newspapers. He found his own note and the newspaper account fully to tally. No doubt he did. I am quite sure they tallied. Unless there happened to be an error in the press, they were sure to tally. And I will tell also of another tally. The Times and the Morning Chronicle have been compared in this matter; and they, too, have tallied precisely in words. There is, therefore, I think, no doubt of how the speech got into the newspapers. Now, one word more. I must say that I take for granted that this statement, as the newspapers represented it, was not at all the statement made elsewhere. I am bound to conceive that such "privilege" authorities as the House of Commons—holding, as they appear to do, the doctrine of privilege so highly—could never have allowed anything of that kind to have been uttered in their presence, if they had heard it. But still less can I imagine that that House could have allowed hours to have passed away next day, after having read, as of course they must, what had been printed in the newspapers, as having been said in their presence; and, therefore, I cannot, for the life of me, believe for one moment that the newspaper account—pretending to be an account of what passed in the other House last night—is true; that nobody had got up to complain of what was printed as having been spoken in their presence, and which was admitted to be the grossest libel—until rather latish in the day, when the party himself stood up, and made his statement. I take it for granted, the House of Commons, on seeing what had been published, would, for its own protection, and out of common courtesy to your Lordships, have at once taken notice of it. I cannot conceive the House of Commons to have acted otherwise; and I cannot believe that it acted in the way in which it was this morning represented to have acted, One word more, and I close my speech. One of the papers which published the libel, and which is now liable to prosecution for having done so—the Morning Chronicle—is pleased to say this morning, by way, I suppose, of making their conduct appear better, that though I rendered a great service to the public, with the help of your Lordships—for some little credit is really attributed to your Lordships—in throwing out the Dublin and Galway Railway Bill, which they suppose I have done, yet that I was greatly to be reprobated for the manner in which I did it; for that, being a judge in the case, I had prejudged it, before I acted upon the Committee that reported against it, and threw it out. It is a gross slander—a gross breach of privilege—to make such an assertion. I do not apply against the newspaper for saying so. I leave it in your Lordships' hands to decide whether you will choose to enforce your Lordships' privileges consistently in every case, to use it now and then, by way of relaxation. Now, I was not a Member of the Committee on this Bill; I could not, therefore, have prejudged the Bill. I had nothing whatever to do with it. I never gave an opinion one way or another upon it; and, for all these slanderers knew, I may have been in favour of it. It is not only not true that I got the Bill thrown out; but the Report was not even made, and the Bill is actually not yet thrown out. So much for the slander, that I had prejudged the Bill, and had got it thrown out of your Lordships' House; and so much for the value of contemporary history. I hope I may be allowed to say one word on these railway jobs. Every hour I live convinces me more and more, that Parliament will have a duty imposed upon it next Session to clear and protect itself, and to protect the public against these railway schemes. Members of Parliament ought to know—in this House they do know—but all Members of Parliament ought to know, that if a man is interested, directly or indirectly, in any railway, or in any other Private Bill, he is the last man in Parliament who ought to vote upon it, either in the Committee, or in the House. My Orders, as they are called—or the Orders that I succeeded in inducing your Lordships to adopt in 1837, respecting the Committee of Five—had introduced the greatest practical reform and improvement in this department; and it was one of these Orders which has had the greatest practical use, viz., that no Peer shall have anything to do with any Bill, either in Committee or in the House, with which he has any connexion whatever. I hope the same rule is adopted elsewhere; and I am sure it is only a rule which common justice would suggest, that men ought not to be judges and parties at the same time.

The Earl of Wicklow

said, now that the question had been most happily set at rest, he felt obliged to make a remark with respect to the construction that had been put upon what had fallen from him on the last evening when the subject had been before the House. His object in suggesting that the editor and printer of the newspaper be called to the bar, was not for so unjust and unconstitutional a proceeding as to call the printer or reporter to the bar, and ask them about the accuracy of the report, with a view to punish them for a breach of privilege, when they had been made to criminate themselves; but his intention was to give his noble Friend an opportunity of changing the whole proceedings from a question of privilege into one for the decision of a court of criminal jurisprudence; and if the question had not been settled in a satisfactory manner that evening, he would have persisted in moving that these parties be called up for the purpose of getting such evidence from them as would have enabled his noble Friend to clear his own character elsewhere. He begged to add, with respect to the responsibility of editors and reporters, that he considered it would be the grossest injustice and the most unprovoked cruelty, if, after allowing these parties to take and publish accurate reports of speeches made in Parliament, they should afterwards hold them amenable for a breach of privilege for doing so. He begged to assure the noble Duke (the Duke of Wellington), that in requiring the parties connected with the newspaper to be brought up, it was with no intention of requiring them to criminate themselves.

Lord Monteagle

said, he could not but think it was necessary to come to some new arrangement with regard to railway deposits. There was also a practice of examining witnesses before they were sworn, and swearing them on the following day in the lump to all they had been examined about the day before. He thought this system was very objectionable; but it was nevertheless a course of proceeding which prevailed to a great extent in the Committees of that House.

The Duke of Wellington

thought it was a subject which deserved consideration, and it should be represented in the proper quarter.

The Earl of Devon

was of opinion that the Committees should have the power of administering the oath.

Lord Campbell

suggested that such an act might also empower the House of Commons to administer an oath, and might abolish the absurd rule which prevented so many Bills from originating in the Upper House.