HL Deb 12 February 1867 vol 185 cc257-73

in presenting a Petition complaining of the Conduct in 1835 of the Lord Chief Baron, then Mr. Kelly, and praying for Inquiry; of Rigby Wason, of Corwar, in the County of Ayr, Esquire, said: My Lords, I have a Petition to present upon a matter of considerable importance. It is from Mr. Rigby Wason

[*The report of the debate on this Petition has been necessarily restricted to those parts of it which relate immediately to the allegations of the Petition.

The law of Parliament considers any publication of its proceedings to be breach of privilege, and therefore gives no protection to any report, however faithful; Lord Campbell's Act does not extend its very limited protection to cases arising from such reports; and success against proceedings in an action at law is only in degree less disastrous than an adverse result. Everything, therefore, to which exception might be taken has been excluded from the report.

In the Session of 1857 Lord Campbell, adverting to the recent case of "Davidson v. Duncan," said— When I had the honour to propose in this House a Bill which afterwards became law (6 & 7 Vict. c. 96), and which effected a most material improvement in the Law of Libel, I submitted a clause very limited in its nature—for I was afraid

against Sir FitzRoy Kelly, and he prays your Lordships to appoint a Committee to investigate the charges made in this Petition; and if the Committee should find these charges to be proved, then he prays that your Lordships will concur with the other House of Parliament in praying the Crown to remove the Lord Chief Baron from his high post. The allegation of the Petition is that in the year 1835 Mr. Kelly, being then in practice at the Bar, pledged his honour as a gentleman to the truth of a statement for the purpose of deceiving a Committee of the House of Commons. The Petition alleges that the Committee was thereby deceived, and, being an Election Committee, reported that Mr. Kelly, who had been a candidate for the representation of the borough of Ipswich, had not been guilty of bribery, and had not committed any illegal practices. Mr. Rigby Wason, however, alleges that on further inquiry the Committee came to a different opinion, and were convinced that the statement made by Mr. Kelly was unfounded, and thereupon unseated Mr. Kelly on the ground that he had committed bribery by his friends and agents. The Petitioner goes on to state that in 1845 Mr. Kelly was appointed Solicitor General by the Government of Sir Robert Peel; that Sir Robert Peel was in some measure deceived as to the facts relating to this inquiry before the Election Committee; but that he (Mr. Rigby Wason), having

to go very far—providing that any bonâ fide account of the proceedings of either House of Parliament should be privileged, and not subject to an action. I was unable to carry it; there was a majority against me, because it was said, not only that the law gave no such privilege, but that it ought not to be given."

In the same year Lord Campbell obtained the appointment of a Select Committee on the "Privilege of Reports," before which Mr. Dobie, the solicitor of The Times, Mr. Baines of The Leeds Mercury, Mr. Hargrove of The York Herald, and Mr. Hansard, gave evidence. The Committee reported in favour of extending protection to faithful reports of proceedings in Parliament, "the majority being influenced by the evidence of Mr. Hansard, and of the solicitor to The Times newspaper." In the following Session, Lord Campbell introduced a Bill to give effect to the Report of the Committee. The Bill contained the following clause:— No person shall be liable to action, informa-

no personal enmity to Mr. Kelly, did not think it right to go into the case against him. Mr. Kelly was afterwards appointed to the office of Attorney General; and again to the same office under Lord Derby's Government in 1852; and finally attained, under the present Government, the office which he now fills. The Petition concludes with the prayer which I have already detailed. My Lords, I have felt it my duty to present this Petition, relating, as it does, to a public matter of the highest importance. But there are some reasons in the Petition itself which certainly make me feel it not my duty—whatever course other noble Lords may think it right to adopt—to ask your Lordships to assent in this case to the appointment of the Committee which is asked for. In the first place, I cannot agree with the allegation of Mr. Rigby Wason that when Sir FitzRoy Kelly was appointed Solicitor General by Sir Robert Peel it was not a matter of great public importance, or that if Sir Robert Peel had been deceived it was not a question in which Mr. Wason ought to feel any interest. Now, in the first place, a gentleman of the Bar who is appointed Solicitor General is in the direct road to promotion to the office of a Judge, and it would be a great injustice to the public to appoint any man to be Solicitor General who had notoriously been guilty of pledging his honour as a gentleman to the truth of that which he knew to be false and, therefore, if

tion, or indictment for libel, in respect or on account of any faithful report of proceedings at any sitting of either House of Parliament, at which strangers have been permitted to be present."

In his speech in moving the Second Reading, after a full exposition of the law on the publication of reports of proceedings in Parliament, Lord Campbell said— Mr. Hansard, a name well known to their Lordships, after stating that he had not had actions brought, but had been in constant dread of them, gave this evidence: 'Your Lordships are very well aware that my publication is the only publication which professes to record the proceedings of Parliament in extenso, and with very considerate fidelity, but that I am not in any way recognized—that I have no protection whatever more than any other person who should publish in extenso or otherwise any reports of debates in your Lordships' House or of debates in the other House. Now, the consequence of the present state of the Law of Libel is this: that if matter is uttered in debate in either House which would be libellous and would be unprotected if published out of the House, I am obliged to consider whether it would be safe for

there had been ground for charging such an offence against Sir FitzRoy Kelly, it was Mr. Rigby Wason's duty to have brought the matter before Sir Robert Peel. Nobody can believe that Sir Robert Peel would have thought lightly of such a charge, or would have appointed Sir FitzRoy Kelly Solicitor General without any contradiction of the charge so made against him. It appears to me, first, that Sir Robert Peel having appointed Sir FitzRoy Kelly to be Solicitor General was satisfied of his integrity and his fitness for the office, and that he should be advanced in the usual manner. In the next place, it appears to me that Mr. Rigby Wason could hardly have refrained from pressing his charges from any feeling of personal tenderness for Sir FitzRoy Kelly, but rather because he felt that his proofs were insufficient. But I have had further information upon the subject since I came to that decision. Mr. Rigby Wason sent me copies of letters which he had written to the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby), and to Mr. Walpole, the Home Secretary, bringing these charges, and I have also received the answer sent from Sir FitzRoy Kelly to Mr. Walpole, stating that he would send an answer more in detail oil a future day; but, meanwhile, totally denying the truth of these allegations. I have since seen a statement under the hand of Sir FitzRoy Kelly himself, in which he not only denies the truth of these allega-

me to print that matter; and if I am clearly of opinion that it would not be safe for me to do so, inasmuch as the publication is not of such a nature that I could stand the expenses of a prosecution, the result is that I strike the matter out without any attempt at modification or otherwise.

"'That apprehension induces you to suppress that which ought to appear if the report were fully accurate S It is, advisedly and systematically so.'"

Lord Wensleydale opposed the Bill, and moved its rejection; and after an instructive debate, in which the present Lord Chancellor (who at that time also held the Great Seal) spoke strongly against the measure, the Amendment was carried by a majority of 35 to 7, and the Bill was thrown out.

Under such a state of the law, and such being the declared opinion of Parliament on the subject, and considering that the vindication of the Lord Chief Baron's character was the essential part of the discussion, Mr. Hansard holds it within his discretion to restrict his report to that point.]

tions, but enters into explanations for the purpose of showing how totally unfounded they are. In the first place, he states—what Mr. Rigby Wason does not state—that the particular charge in which he is accused of having stated what was false was founded on a statement which Mr. Rigby Wason alleges Sir FitzRoy Kelly to have made, that he was not acquainted personally with a Mr. Pilgrim, and knew nothing whatever of him. Sir FitzRoy Kelly says that he never made such a statement, for it was notorious that he knew Pilgrim, who was clerk in the office of a solicitor at Ipswich. He further says that by accident Mr. Gurney, the shorthand writer, had kept his notes of that speech, and that the notes contained no such statements as those embodied in the allegations. The truth of that charge being thus denied, Sir FitzRoy Kelly proceeds to say that, so far from Sir Robert Peel having any difficulty or doubt about appointing him, he was afterwards appointed under another Government to the same office. The Election Committee which, as I have already stated, reported that Sir FitzRoy Kelly had been guilty of bribery, could not have found that he was personally cognizant of bribery, for they reported that it was committed through his friends and agents. It therefore appears to me that the allegations fall to the ground. It seems to me impossible that since 1835, now nearly thirty-two years ago, Sir FitzRoy Kelly could have been a candidate for Ipswich, afterwards a candidate and Member for Cambridge, and finally Member for Suffolk—having been elected, I believe, six times for that county—without these circumstances being brought to light. It seems to me quite impossible—the speech having been taken in shorthand—that some of his constituents or opponents would not have brought the matter forward during the excitement that usually takes place during a General Election. For these reasons, though I have thought it right to present the Petition, as I have already stated, I do not support its prayer or intend to found any Motion upon it.


having requested that the prayer of the Petition might be read by the Clerk at the table, the Clerk read as follows:— Your Petitioner therefore prays your right honourable House to appoint a Committee to inquire into the distinct Charge which has been made; and that if such Committee find that Sir Fitzroy Kelly has been guilty of that with which he has been charged, then that your right honourable House will join the other House of Parliament in moving an Address to the Queen, praying that Sir Fitzroy Kelly may be relieved from his judicial position.


The noble Earl (Earl Russell) was good enough to give me a copy of the Petition which he has presented for the purpose of sending it to my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chief Baron; and I have received from him information which I trust will enable me to answer the Petition fully and satisfactorily. My Lords, I think the noble Earl might have been excused if he had declined to present a Petition of this character; and certainly the course he has taken is one of an unusual description, for he has adopted the unusual course of reading through every part of it, and has, as he proceeded, given a refutation of every charge contained in it; I cannot help thinking, then, that it would have better become the noble Earl if he hail, under the circumstances, declined to take charge of the Petition. I know an impression prevails that if a petition is couched in respectful terms to the House, no Member ought to refuse to present it; but ever since I have had the honour of a seat in your Lordships' House I have ventured to act upon a different principle, and I have exercised a discretion with reference to petitions which have been intrusted to me. I have no doubt that the noble Earl was acting from a different impression as to the duty of a Member of this House; and I am quite sure I do him no less than justice when I say that he was not very well pleased with the task which his sense of duty compelled him to undertake. Now, my Lords, assuming every word of this Petition to be true, we must not forget that the facts upon which these most grave charges against the Lord Chief Baron are founded took place no less than thirty-two years ago, and that during that long period my right hon. and learned Friend has twice held the office of Solicitor General, and once that of Attorney General—and the noble Earl was perfectly right in saying that these offices are generally looked upon as giving a sort of inchoate right to the highest seat upon the judicial bench—my right hon. and learned Friend has also stood election tests; he has represented the county of Suffolk, I think, in three different Parliaments, and your Lordships will very well believe that if there should be any moral stain upon the character of a candidate for Parliamentary honours it is likely to be drawn out in the heat of a contested election. Your Lordships may naturally wonder why Mr. Rigby Wason has kept silence so long, and why he has chosen to speak at last. This he explains, or endeavours to explain, in his Petition. He says that at the time my right hon. and learned Friend was appointed Solicitor General he was applied to by Sir Robert Peel to give information as to the facts respecting the conduct of Mr. Kelly, but he declined to do so on the ground that he had no personal feeling in the matter, and that Mr. Kelly could not inflict greater injury upon the public as Solicitor General than he could as a Barrister in full practice. The noble Earl forestalled me in the answer to this statement when he remarked that there was a very material difference between a barrister in ordinary practice and a person of that description being selected by favour of the Crown and placed at the head of the profession, having thus as it were a passport to the judicial bench. The Petitioner says the reason he has now ceased to be silent upon the subject is— That your Petitioner submits to your right honourable House that the appointment of a Judge should be governed by very different principles from those which might excuse the appointment of Solicitor or Attorney General; and that the precedent held out to the Bar, that wilful and deliberate Falsehood should be no bar to attaining the position of a Judge, must be fraught with the most disastrous consequences not only to the character of the Bar but to Society. I regret, my Lords, that I am obliged to enter into matters of this description; but it is absolutely necessary in order to explain some of the statements of the Petition. In 1837, then, Mr. Kelly was a candidate for the representation of the borough of Ipswich, and one of the results of that candidature was that Mr. Rigby Wason publicly charged him with deliberate falsehood before a Committee of the House of Commons. The laws of honour, as they are called, which prevailed at that time, prevented a man from sitting tamely under an imputation of this description, and compelled him to attempt to vindicate his honour by washing out the affront by the blood of his libeller. Few men were then able to brave the public scorn which attended any attempt to disregard this evil custom, and your Lordships will look probably with some forbearance on the conduct of my right hon. Friend in having demanded what is called "satisfaction" from Mr. Rigby Wason. Mr. Rigby Wason refused the meeting proposed by Mr. Kelly; and on a consequent proceeding of the latter, he applied for a criminal information against my right hon. Friend for endeavouring to provoke him to fight a duel. This information failed, on grounds which I shall presently explain. This being the ground of the feeling of the Petitioner towards Mr. Kelly, I have heard it said by some, "Why not treat such charges as this with profound contempt?" But, unfortunately, a person charged in this House in this way cannot afford to do so, because the public will believe that such charges remained unanswered only because they were unanswerable; therefore, I must ask your Lordships to allow me to go through the charges contained in this Petition as briefly as I can. The first charge is— That Sir Fitzroy Kelly, then Mr. Kelly, having been eleven years at the Bar, and being a Queen's Counsel, did, upon the 11th of April, 1835, pledge his Honor as a Gentleman to the truth of that which he knew to be false, for the purpose of deceiving a Committee of the House of Commons. This charge is couched in the most vague and general terms, and therefore only admits of a general denial; but, fortunately, an interpretation has been given to it in the letters to which the noble Earl alluded as having been sent to my noble Friend at the head of the Government, and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. In the letter to my noble Friend Mr. Wason says— Sir Fitzroy Kelly was returned to Parliament in 1834 with Mr. Dundas. A petition was presented by electors of Ipswich, but supported by my colleague and myself, and our senior counsel opened several distinct charges of bribery; among others, one of the most important as affecting agency was committed by Mr. Pilgrim. In reply, Mr. Kelly assured the Committee, upon his honour as a gentleman, that he had never heard of any person of the name of Pilgrim, and actually charged us with having invented the story, which, he said, was almost proved by the very name we had selected. Mr. Wason then goes on to say in his Petition— That such judicial tribunal was deceived by such assertions of Mr. Kelly's, and he received the Fruits of his falsehood by the Committee deciding That no illegal act had been established against Mr. Kelly and his Colleague.' That the Committee then adjourned until the middle of May, when it met, and proceeded with the Scrutiny, which was interrupted by the Petitioners producing distinct evidence proving beyond all doubt that the assertions made by Mr. Kelly were false. That the Committee, therefore, not only rescinded the above Resolution, but resolved that Mr. Kelly and his Colleague were, by their Friends and Agents, guilty of Bribery and Corruption, and that the opposition to the Petition was frivolous and vexatious. I will satisfy your Lordships that this statement was utterly incorrect. In 1834 Mr. Kelly was returned with Mr. Dundas, for Ipswich, and a petition, on the ground of bribery, was presented against their return. One of the charges was that one of the voters had been promised £20 by a man named Pilgrim, and that the money had subsequently been paid by that person. When the case arrived at the point where it was necessary to sum up on behalf of the sitting Members, the counsel were all absent, and my right hon. Friend was obliged to take the duty upon himself. It is untrue that in doing so he denied all knowledge of Mr. Pilgrim. On the contrary, he referred to him as a clerk in the I employ of Messrs. Sewell and Blake, solicitors of Ipswich, with whom he had frequently been in communication, and from whom he had received many briefs. What he contended was, that there was no evidence of agency, and that, consequently, there was no evidence against the sitting Members. The Committee having come to that conclusion then adjourned for a considerable time for a scrutiny. Soon after Pilgrim went over to the enemy's camp and appeared, and not only proved the act of bribery to which I have referred, but also proved his own agency in the matter. Of course, under these circumstances, the Committee had no other course open but to rescind the Resolution at which they had arrived. Now, it may be asked, how do I prove that what my right hon. Friend said was not false, as is asserted by Mr. Wason? Mr. Wason asserts that my right hon. Friend denied all! knowledge of Mr. Pilgrim. It is very hard to prove a negative; but it happens, fortunately, that there were notes taken of my right hon. Friend's speech by a shorthand writer, and from the beginning to the end of that speech, which has been carefully searched through, not only by my right hon. Friend, but by another gentleman, a barrister of reputation, there will he found no passage to sustain this charge. I My right hon. Friend in a letter to Mr. Walpole, and referring to this speech, says: I have carefully looked through it from the beginning to end, and there is not one word to be found in it having the semblance of a declaration on honour, or an assertion, or a suggestion that Mr. Pilgrim was unknown to me, or that no such person existed. Mr. Phillpotts, the barrister to whom I have alluded, writes as follows:— My dear Lord Chief Baron.—Before attend- ing the consultation of the late Solicitor General's chambers, I carefully read your speech of the 11th and 13th of April, 1835, referred to by Mr. Wason in his proposed Petition to the House of Commons, and can confidently say that there is not in that speech any such declaration as Mr. Wason alleges; not any assertion or suggestion that you did not know Mr. Pilgrim; nor a sentence that can be distorted into meaning anything of the kind. In deed, certain passages in the speech appear wholly inconsistent with any such declaration.—Believe me, yours sincerely, W. F. PHILLPOTTS.' There is another circumstance which I will mention to your Lordships as bearing out my statement. According to this statement made by Mr. Wason, Sir FitzRoy Kelly had been detected in the most discreditable falsehood it is possible for a man to utter, and this offence had been committed in the face of the Committee and in the presence of the opposing counsel. When the Committee re-assembled my right hon. Friend appeared as before, and summed up the case for the sitting Members as he had previously done. There was no disgust or indignation exhibited on that occasion by any Member of the Committee, nor did the opposing counsel suggest in any way that anything had occurred to render him unworthy of credit or in the slightest degree to disparage his testimony. Now, my Lords, let me pass to the second charge. That second charge is conveyed in the following words:— That your Petitioner humbly submits to your right honourable House that the conduct of which Mr. Kelly was guilty was precisely the same, morally speaking, as wilful and deliberate perjury to benefit himself, as stated by the late Lord Chief Justice Denman, who rebuked Mr. Kelly's Counsel by remarking, in an indignant manner, 'Do not go on this way, Mr. Attorney; this Court knows no distinction between what a man swears and what he says upon his honour as a Gentleman. I am, fortunately, very easily able to explain this matter. At the election of 1837 to which I have already alluded, Mr. Wason stated that my right hon. Friend, before a Committee of the House of Commons, had called God to witness that he had nothing to do with the absconding of Mr. Pilgrim to avoid the Speaker's warrant. The observation of Lord Denman referred to the criminal information which Mr. Wason had filed against my right hon. Friend. In the affidavit Mr. Wason did not state, as he had stated at the hustings, that my right hon. Friend had called God to witness; but merely that he had asserted on his honour that he was no party to the absconding of Pilgrim. The affidavit of my right hon. Friend denies that he employed either of the expressions, though he contended that if he had said either it would have been perfectly true. The Attorney General who was counsel for my right hon. Friend on that occasion, referred to the discrepancy between the assertion of Mr. Wason in the affidavit and on the hustings drawing a distinction between a mere assertion and a statement upon oath. Lord Denman, with an indignation which burst forth whenever he had any idea there was an intention of confounding moral distinctions, said— That whatever a gentleman professes to declare, appealing to his own knowledge on the subject, must be taken to have been as solemnly made as if any obligation or any form of words had been appended to it. But in delivering judgment, Lord Denman expressed his opinion that there was no proof that my right hon. Friend had made use of the expression attributed to him by Mr. Wason—he said that Mr. Wason would not attempt to prove it, and would not pledge his oath to that belief. Under these circumstances, the criminal information fell to the ground. And now, my Lords, I come to the third charge, which is made in the following terms:— That your Petitioner has been informed and believes that the late Sir Robert Peel, ten years afterwards, positively refused to appoint Mr. Kelly as his Solicitor General, upon account of his conduct before the Ipswich Election Committee; and that the Right Hon. Gentleman's legitimate scruples were overcome by a fraud. Now, this charge amounts to this—that on Sir Robert Peel hesitating to appoint my right hon. Friend as his Solicitor General his scruples were removed by his having palmed off upon him the evidence given before the Committee, which was published in the blue book, and which did not, of course, contain my right hon. Friend's speech, in which this remark complained of was said to have occurred. Now, it so happens that I am personally able to contradict this charge. I was Solicitor General on the 28th of June, 1845, when the death of my lamented and very dear friend Sir William Follett, the Attorney General, occurred. The funeral took place on the 4th of July, and immediately after the funeral I attended Sir Robert Peel by appointment at Whitehall. He informed me that I was to be made Attorney General. I said, "Who is to be my Solicitor?" He said "Kelly;" and my right hon. Friend has the notification of his appointment to the Solicitor Generalship on that very day now in his possession. Some little correspondence, of which I was not aware until it was communicated to me by my right hon. Friend, had passed between my right hon. Friend and Sir Robert Peel in the interval elapsing between the death of Sir William Follett and my right hon. Friend's appointment. About that time a question of privilege was under discussion, and my right hon. Friend was not so strong an assertor of the privileges of the House of Commons as Sir Robert Peel, and this occasioned a correspondence; and this was the occasion of the delay—if there was any delay—and not any unfavourable rumours against the character of my right hon. Friend. I will not apologize for trespassing thus much upon your Lordships' attention, because the question is one of the utmost importance. If my right hon. Friend had been guilty of the conduct attributed to him in this Petition he would not attempt to defend himself by saying that there ought to be a limitation to charges of this description; and I should certainly agree in the opinion that a person who is contaminated by such scandalous conduct as has been attributed to my right hon. Friend is utterly unworthy of being raised to the judicial bench. The noble and learned Lord concluded by asserting that he had fully confuted the charges of the Petition against the Lord Chief Baron.


My Lords, I am unwilling to occupy your Lordships' time further; but I feel myself bound to make an appeal to the noble Earl to withdraw the Petition. The noble Earl must be aware what is the constitutional mode of proceeding against a Judge who is considered unfit to occupy his seat on the judicial bench. In the first place, it is necessary that there should be a direct inquiry into the charges at the Bar of your Lordships' House and at the Bar of the other House; that Committees should be appointed by each to further inquire into the matter; and that there should be an agreement between both Houses to present an Address to the Crown praying that the Judge should be removed from the judgment seat. It is impossible that there can be a question of deeper interest to the entire country than such an inquiry. One great element in the happiness and the glory of this country is the upright character of the Judges who administer justice. Does the noble Earl believe for a moment that if the Petition is permitted to lie upon the table of the House, answered as it can only be at present by the denial of its truth, it is possible for the Lord Chief Baron of England to sit for another hour upon the judgment seat of the Exchequer? Can he remain there until the proper steps have been taken to investigate the truth or falsehood of the charges which have been brought against him? How can he sit to administer justice with charges of this sort hanging over him—charges which, if true, would render him utterly unfit to sit in the society of gentlemen? What would become of justice when so administered? It is very difficult in ordinary cases to make a defeated suitor believe that the judgment against him is just, even where the character, honour, and integrity of the Judge is untainted; but what would be the effect upon such a man's mind when the character of the Judge pronouncing the judgment has been brought before your Lordships' House, on allegations such as those contained in the Petition presented by the noble Earl? The noble Earl has more than once been Prime Minister in this country, and no person is better versed than himself in the steps that he is bound to take should he insist upon the Petition laying upon the table of the House. I utterly deny that it is possible for him to lay that document upon the table, and then to withdraw from further interference in the matter, and leave the whole responsibility upon your Lordships. I trust that if the noble Earl is impressed, as he says he is—and therefore I am bound to believe that to be the case—with the truth of the Lord Chief Baron's denial of the charges brought against him, he will handsomely withdraw the Petition, and will not suffer it to remain on the table of the House. It cannot remain there without further steps being taken; and if it be not withdrawn it is utterly impossible that the Lord Chief Baron, with such terrible imputations upon his character, can continue to discharge his duties as the chief of the Court of Exchequer. Upon the charge itself I shall not dwell five minutes. In the first place, what does it amount to? It appears that there was a contested election, and unhappily the principal counsel of the then Mr. Kelly, being unable to attend on his behalf before the Committee of the House, the right hon. Gentleman was induced at the last moment to address the Committee on his own behalf—a most unwise step undoubtedly—and in that double capacity of both Member whose seat was being contested, and of counsel, he is said to have made a statement which was false to his knowledge. It is admitted that if the right hon. Gentleman made the statement, he must have made it knowing it to be false, because he had been for years perfectly acquainted with the person in question. Is there any evidence in support of the charge that he denied on that occasion all knowledge of this person? Not the slightest evidence exists which I can in any way substantiate the statement I contained in the Petition. The. note taken by our own shorthand writer in Committees does not contain a single syllable in support of the charge. Who, then, is the only other witness? Why, the Petitioner himself—a person in hostility to the right hon. Gentleman upon the particular question before the Committee. But he makes other statements in his Petition. He states that when Sir Robert Peel wished to make the right hon. Gentleman Solicitor General, he hesitated to do so on account of the right hon. Gentleman's bad character in reference to this very question, but that he was induced to give him the appointment in consequence of the entreaties of Lord Lowther, now the Earl of Lonsdale. The Earl of Lonsdale has been spoken to upon the subject, and he utterly denies that any such communication passed between himself and Sir Robert Peel on this subject, or that he had any part whatever in the advancement of the right hon. Gentleman. Can your Lordships believe that a gentleman of position at the Bar and a Member of the other House of Parliament would so far forget his honour and his feeling as a gentleman as to pledge himself to a fact that he knew to be false? This attack was first made in 1835, and from that moment down to the present the right hon. Gentleman has been continually before the public, he has stood several contested elections, and has been returned six times consecutively Member for his county without a single word in reference to this matter being breathed against him. My Lords, I call on the noble Earl opposite to consider what a bad precedent has been made in this case; for where is the man whose character would be safe if, on the ground of some speech or conversation two or three and thirty years ago, such a charge is to be brought against him, the object of which is to remove him with ignominy from the high office he may have attained? Solemnly and seriously, I ask the noble Earl before the world to consider the terrible consequences of the step he has been induced to take. I ask him whether, in justice to my right hon. and learned Friend, he does not consider it his duty to withdraw this Petition?


I hope your Lordships will permit me to refer again to the course I thought it my duty to take with regard to this Petition. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has given his opinion that it would be better if on occasions of this kind no petition should be presented. Now, I quite agree with the noble and learned Lord that in a matter of private concern, without any public object apparent, it would not be right to present a petition of this kind to your Lordships; but this is the case of a petition signed by a subject of Her Majesty, asking Her Majesty for a remedy which is pointed out by the Constitution—namely, that a certain charge being made and proved, your Lordships should address the Crown to remove the Judge. I own it appeared to me that if petitions of that sort were refused by every Member of your Lordships' House, far more injury would be done than could result from their presentation and discussion, and that every kind of publicity would be given to the charges by publication in the newspapers without the opportunity of refutation. In the first place, there would be the appearance of shutting the doors of this House against the petitions of the Queen's subjects; in the next place, the charges would be repeated in the newspapers and pamphlets, and without the same opportunity to the party charged of answering them. My Lords, I did what I considered to be my duty; I took a copy of the Petition to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. I stated that I looked to him as head of the law, and I asked him to have the goodness to communicate to the Lord Chief Baron the contents of the Petition. I did this, that when the Petition was presented there might be a full opportunity of an answer to the charges which it contained. That opportunity the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has fully and properly availed himself of. He has given a complete answer to all the charges made. It appears to me a matter of the greatest public importance that the character of our Judges should remain, as I am happy to think they have hitherto been, unstained and pure in the eyes of the public; and I do confess that it appears to me, my Lords, better that before an assembly such as your Lordships, such charges should be heard and refuted, than that they should be suppressed, and that every Peer should refuse to listen to a petitioner, and that a person aggrieved should not have the opportunity of saying that he was not even allowed a hearing in the House of Lords. That was the view I took of this matter; and I own I still think on an occasion of this kind, where great constitutional questions are concerned, that publicity and debate, either in this or the other House of Parliament, does tend to the public welfare. With regard to the request which the noble and learned Lord who last addressed your Lordships (Lord St. Leonards) has made, I am not versed in the proceedings of your Lordships' House with respect to petitions of this kind, whether they should be allowed to lie on the table or be withdrawn. I am free to declare, for my part, that I am ready to withdraw the Petition. I would refer the matter to the noble Earl the First Lord of the Treasury, who is well versed in the proceedings of the House. If he declares that it is in conformity with the usual course of proceeding to withdraw the Petition, I am quite ready to take that course. I am fully satisfied that the character of the eminent Judge, so far as it is impugned in the Petition, remains unstained; and that the subjects of Her Majesty may have full confidence in the administration of justice by that very eminent man, not only from his knowledge of the law and great learning, but also his high personal character.


My Lords, as the noble Earl has referred to me, I will say without the slightest hesitation that if I had been led inadvertently to present such a petition, I certainly should feel it my duty to withdraw it after the discussion which has taken place and for this reason, that if you present a petition and move that it lie on the table, you express an opinion as to the merits of the case. But after the discussion which has taken place, after the crushing refutation of every single point, and the complete and entire vindication of the right hon. and learned person who was attacked, I do think the House of Lords is bound to go a little further than expressing no opinion about it. After the debate and refutation we shall only be doing our duty and supporting our own dignity and character by refusing to allow this Petition to lie on the table. I will not question the taste and judgment of the noble Earl in bringing it forward; but, having brought it forward, and having heard it refuted entirely to his own satisfaction, I think that his plain and obvious course is to withdraw the Petition.


I beg, my Lords, to withdraw the Petition.


The proper course will be to put the Question to the House—That the Petition do lie on the table? The Not-Contents have it.