LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
My Lords, seeing the noble Earl the Secretary for Foreign Affairs in his place, I wish to ask a Question on a matter affecting the Privileges of your Lordships' House. I beg to call attention to the following paragraph which appeared in The Times of this morning. It is as follows:—THE SUPPLEMENTAL ARTICLE.—The publication of this celebrated document seems to have given rise to as much misunderstanding as the document itself. Lord Granville has been frequently importuned to lay it upon the table of the House of Lords, but has consistently declined to produce it. It was quoted by Mr. Gladstone last night, and Mr. Bouverie thereupon claimed, as a matter of right, that it should be produced. In the course of the evening a single copy of it was accordingly laid on the table. But this very document, so anxiously sought for and so tardily produced, was actually sent by the Foreign Office to, we believe, all the morning papers on Friday, May 17, together with the correspondence between Lord Granville and Mr. Fish, and was published in The Times, at least, on Saturday, May 18.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
I have not the rest of the paragraph with me, but it states that even the publication on the 18th was not the first publication of the Article, because The Times had received it from their Philadelphia correspondent on the 16th instant. The noble Earl, in his statement last evening, adverted in strong language to the publication of the papers, which he explained had been obtained in a surreptitious manner. I wish to know from him whether he thinks it the duty of the Foreign Office to communicate to the Press Papers of importance, though he refuses to lay them on the Table of your Lordships' House?
§ EARL GRANVILLE
I am not quite sure that I understand the noble Lord, What breach of privilege is there involved in this case? I believe myself there is none. Last night I personally presented the Supplementary Article, saying that I do so at the repeated request of the noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Cairns): I at the same time presented other Papers which I thought it would be useful to the public service to lay on the Table. I will now give an explanation with reference to the communication of this Article to the Press. There is nothing more common than for our public Departments to communicate official documents to the Press; but in this case the Supplemental Article was not communicated until a copy of it had already been telegraphed from America and published in The Times. The publication of the Article in the English newspapers—it having been, as I yesterday stated—surreptitiously obtained by an American paper—gave me a discretion—your Lordships will remember that my great objection to producing it was that it had not been presented by the American Government to the Senate—but as there were one or two errors in the wording of the Article as it appeared in The Times, I thought it well to let the public have the text of the document in a completely correct form, and consequently an exact copy was sent to the Press. Certainly I can see no breach of privilege in that—but I leave it to the House to judge. There is another point to which I should like to call attention for a moment. Last evening the noble and learned Lord (Lord West-bury) distrusting an opinion given by the Law Officers of the Crown upon a case which he naturally supposed had been drawn up by interested persons, declared that he did not want to see the Opinion—he wanted to see the Case submitted to the Law Officers. I have since informed him privately that though it is not a usual course to adopt I had no objection in this instance to produce the Case. I may now say the Case consisted entirely of that part of The Times report of the noble and learned Lord's speech in which he advised me to take the opinion of our legal advisers. The report in The Times of the points on which the noble and learned Lord recommended me to obtain legal advice appeared to me to be so entirely correct that I 1095 adopted it in the Case to be submitted to the Law Officers. Indeed, those who knew the clearness of the noble and learned Lord's enunciation would know the reporter was not likely to be mistaken.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
I shall be very glad to give the noble and learned Lord the extract from The Times report or I will have it copied for him.
§ LORD WESTBURY
Am I to understand that there was no question put in consultation, but that what was submitted for the opinion of the Law Officers was simply a speech made by Lord Westbury? Is that so? If it be, it is a melancholy proof of the inanity of the proceedings of the Government. With very great respect I bow before the oracle; but it appears to me that the oracle has been consulted in such a manner that it could give none but an oracular response—that is, a response that can be interpreted in any way according to the wish of the person who consults it.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
I only vouched for what I believe to be the correctness of The Times report. Does the noble and learned Lord disavow it, or has he changed his opinion? The noble and learned Lord seems to hold very lightly the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown—judging, perhaps, by his own experience; but I must be permitted to continue to consult them when it appears to me that there is occasion to do so. The noble and learned Lord has completely changed his ground—yesterday he would have nothing but the Case—but as that does not answer his purpose he now falls back upon the Opinion. He talks of the inanity of the Government, but if he has not changed his opinion he cannot complain of the course I took in submitting the Case as he stated it.