§ MR. HENLEY
reported from the Select Committee on Group 11 of Railway Bills— 1153That the Committee met this day at one o'clock, pursuant to the adjournment of yesterday, and that William Smith O'Brien, esquire, one of the Members of the Committee, did not attend the Committee this day within one hour of the time appointed for the meeting of the Committee.The Order of the House of the day before (April 27) for the attendance of Mr. W. Smith O'Brien on the Committee this day was read.
§ MR. W. S. O'BRIEN
I presume, Sir, your object in calling upon me is to give me an opportunity of offering an explanation of my conduct. I feel extremely obliged to you and to the House for affording me such an opportunity; but, having already stated my views and intentions, fully and finally in the correspondence which passed between me and the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, I do not think it necessary to add anything to the matter contained in those letters, nor am I desirous of withdrawing anything in that correspondence. [Mr. O'BRIEN bowed to the Speaker, and left the House.]
§ MR. ESTCOURT
said, that, in consesquence of the Report which had been presented to the House, it became his duty, as Chairman of the Committee of Selection, to make a few observations on the subject, and to state the grounds upon which he should ask the House to support the Motion he should have to submit to them. He could assure the House that, considering all the circumstances, and the nature of the Motion with which he would have to conclude, this was the most painful duty he had ever had to perform; and he thought the House would consider he was justified in making that statement when he told them that, having held the office of Chairman of the Committee of Selection ever since it was established, this was the first occasion on which he had been called upon to perform such a duty as it now became his lot to discharge. He considered that he should best consult the wishes and convenience of the House by giving them a plain and simple narrative of the events which rendered it necessary for him to address them that night. On the 12th of February last the House adopted certain Resolutions, directing the Committee of Selection to form certain Committees for the purpose of inquiring into the merits of Railway Bills, which, in consequence of the great pressure of that species of business, were to be divided into groups. The House, 1154 in the very difficult circumstances in which they were placed, found it necesary not only to separate those Bills into groups, but also to form a peculiar description of Committees, to whom the several groups should be referred. Each such Committee consisted of five Members appointed by the Committee of Selection; and on those five Members, and those only, was conferred the duty of inquiring respecting the Railway Bills comprised within the group with respect to which they constituted the Committee. The House, though well aware that the duty to be performed by the hon. Members so appointed, would be peculiarly heavy and onerous, deemed it of such importance to the public as to require that the Members constituting those Committees should be compelled, under a Resolution of the House, to give their constant attendance to the inquiry intrusted to them. By another Resolution the Committee of Selection were required to give ample notice to the Gentlemen chosen to constitute the Committees on the groups, of their having been so chosen, and also a notice, of not less than fourteen days, of the week in which it would be necessary for them to be in attendance. On the 27th of March the Committee of Selection proceeded to the performance of their duty, and considered that it would be expedient for them to form what was called panels of such Members as, under the Resolutions of the 12th of February, they might require to be in attendance immediately after the Easter recess. This was done in order that the Committees on Railway Bills might commence sitting at as early a period as possible after the recess, and that at the same time the several Members might have ample notice of their required attendance. Moreover, it was considered by the Committee of Selection that it would be highly convenient that those Members who might probably be called on to serve on those Committees should have notice before the Easter recess, in order that they might so shape their arrangements as to be enabled to give their attendance on the Committees with as little inconvenience to themselves as possible. Among the Members so selected the hon. Member for Limerick county (Mr. W. S. O'Brien) was one; and on the panel being formed the hon. Member received, as well as all the other Members upon it, a notice of the intention of the Committee of Selection to call on him to give his attendance in 1155 the week beginning on Monday, the 27th of April, for the purpose of serving, if required, on a Railway Bill Committee. The hon. Member, as soon as he received that notice, viz., on the 3rd of April, he (Mr. Estcourt) believed, addressed a letter to him, as Chairman of the Committee of Selection, and in that letter the hon. Member enclosed a copy of another letter, which the hon. Member had addressed to him last year, when a similar summons was served on him; the hon. Member's reason for enclosing the copy of that letter to him was that, on referring to it, he might be aware of the motives which induced the hon. Member to decline serving on a Railway Bill Committee. In the hon. Member's letter enclosing a copy of the former one, the hon. Member stated, that "he had not seen any reason, since the letter was written (in June 1845), to change the determination therein expressed." He received that letter on Friday, the 3rd of April, and the first sitting afterwards of the Committee of Selection took place on Monday, the 6th of April. Of course, he could take no step or measure after receiving the letter until he had had an opportunity of submitting its contents to his Colleagues on the Committee of Selection. On the 6th of April, the Committee of Selection met, and he laid before them the letter with the enclosure of the hon. Member, and the Committee of Selection found that the hon. Member objected to serve on any Committees on Private Bills not having reference to Ireland; they also found, on referring to the letter enclosed, reasons for objecting to serve similar to those now repeated by the hon. Member. He could not better put the House in possession of the grounds on which the Committee of Selection came to the determination they adopted, than by reading a short extract from the hon. Member's letter. He apprehended that the House would not imagine that he was unfairly or improperly garbling the contents of the letter by selecting a short extract, because the Report containing the correspondence was printed, and in the hands of hon. Members. He would, therefore, draw the attention of the House to that particular part of the hon. Member's letter which was the foundation on which the Committee of Selection acted upon that occasion. The hon. Member stated in his letter of last year, enclosed in the letter which he received on the 3rd of April, that—So long as I continued to believe that I could 1156 serve Ireland effectually in the House of Commons, I shrank from none of the labours which are connected with the varied functions of that assembly.The hon. Member then went on to say, that—Desiring that none but the representatives of the Irish nation should legislate for Ireland, we have no wish to intermeddle with the affairs of England or Scotland, except in so far as they may be connected with the interests of Ireland, or with the general policy of the Empire.And then followed a passage to which he thought it necessary to draw the particular attention of the House:—In obedience to this principle I have abstained from voting on English and Scotch questions of a local nature; and the same motive now induces me to decline attendance on Committees on any Private Bills except such as relate to Ireland.The Committee of Selection, therefore, had it as the expressed opinion of the hon. Member, that is was not consistent with his duty to serve on any Private Bill Committees which did not refer to Ireland; and if they had immediately closed all communication with the hon. Member at that moment, they would have had no means of coming to a decision excepting that afforded by what he had just read to the House. However, the Committee of Selection instructed him to write to the hon. Member, and to state, that in the reasons given by him for declining to serve, they could not recognise such an excuse as would justify them in exempting him from sharing the onerous duties imposed on Members of the House arising out of the consideration of Railway Bills. In his letter to the hon. Member, he made the following statement:—I availed myself of the first sitting of the Committee of Selection since the receipt of your letter to submit its contents to them, and I am instructed to inform you, that the Committee cannot, in the reason which you allege for not serving, recognise such 'an excuse' as (in accordance with the spirit of the Resolutions agreed to by the House on the 12th of last February) would justify their 'deeming it sufficient' to exempt you from serving.And, he added, by the instruction of the Committee of Selection—As it appears from your letter that at this particular juncture your time and attention are engrossed by a subject before Parliament of primary importance to Ireland, I am further instructed by the Committee of Selection to state, that adhering to their usual practice of consulting, as far as may be consistent with a faithful and impartial discharge of their duty, the convenience of the several Members whom they may find it incumbent on them to select, it will afford them great satisfaction to avail themselves of this timely communication 1157 with you to make an arrangement by which your attendance may be postponed to a later period, should your convenience be thereby consulted. In the event, however, of their receiving no such communication from you, the Committee of Selection will presume that no accommodation would be afforded to you by such a postponement as I have alluded to, and will consider it their duty to abide by the arrangement which will be announced in the Votes of Wednesday.That letter he sent to the hon. Member immediately; and the Committee of Selection having separated, no more meetings were held by them before the recess. On the following day, April 7, he received the following courteous letter from the hon. Member:—I have had the honour of receiving your obliging letter of yesterday's date, in answer to mine of the 3rd instant. I feel exceedingly indebted for the courtesy and consideration evinced by the Committee of Selection in suggesting the arrangement proposed in your letter; but since my objection to serve upon Committees on English and Scotch Private Bills is founded upon the relations at present subsisting between my country and Great Britain, and not upon a regard for my own personal convenience, I must refer to my former communications as announcing my final determination.He had no opportunity of laying this letter before the Committee of Selection until after the Easter recess, when he submitted it to them; and it appeared perfectly clear that the hon. Member had closed all further communication by that letter. Nothing, however, passed until the completion of the arrangements made before Easter by the Committee of Selection, and according to which the name of the hon. Member for the county of Limerick was included in the Committee of Group 11. He believed that he had now completed the narrative of the circumstances as they occurred. One of the Resolutions agreed to by the House on the 12th of February (No. 12) was to the following effect:—Resolved—That each Member of a Committee on a Railway Bill or Bills shall, before he be entitled to attend and vote on such Committee, sign a declaration that his constituents have no local interest, and that he himself has no personal interest for or against any Bill referred to him; and no such Committee shall proceed to business until the whole of the Members thereof shall have signed such declaration.The hon. Member for the county of Limerick did not sign any such declaration; and, accordingly, none was received by the Committee of Selection from the hon. Member. Another of the Resolutions of the 12th of February directed—That if the Committee of Selection shall not 1158 within due time receive from each such Member the aforesaid declaration, or an excuse which they shall deem sufficient, they shall report to the House the name of such defaulting Member.On Friday last the Committee of Selection thought it necessary to present to the House the report from which he had just read some few extracts. Nothing further passed between the hon. Member and the Committee of Selection; but yesterday the Committee on Group 11 was to have met, and he regretted to find that the hon. Member had not taken advantage of the lapse of time which had occurred, to reconsider the determination announced in his letter of April the 7th, and that he had not attended the Committee on that group yesterday. Accordingly, the Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Oxfordshire, reported to the House that the hon. Member for the county of Limerick was absent. Upon that report being made by the hon. Member for Oxfordshire, he felt it his duty to make the Motion that the hon. Member for Limerick county should attend the Committee that day, and that Motion was founded on precedents in the Journals of the House. The next thing that occurred was, that the hon. Member yesterday very candidly put the House in possession of his views and determination; and he need not state what had occurred that day. In consequence, however, of the course pursued by the hon. Member, he was obliged to perform a very painful duty, and to submit a Resolution to the House by which the House might express its opinion with respect to the conduct of the hon. Member, who had not conformed to the Resolutions of the House, by sending such a declaration, duly signed, as was required, and by attending the Committee yesterday, and who had by his absence from the Committee to-day disobeyed the Order of the House. I am very unwilling on any subject (the hon. Member continued) but particularly on a subject of this painful nature, to occupy more than is absolutely necessary the attention of the House; and Gentlemen must be perfectly aware that I am not in the habit of trespassing on their patience. I cannot, however, resist the temptation of taking this opportunity, the only one that has occurred to me, of making a statement with respect to the services rendered by Members of this House on the various Committees for which I have had the honour to select them—whether they be Committees on ordinary 1159 Bills, where their attendance is not compulsory, and from which they might therefore be absent without difficulty, or whether they be those particular Committees to which I have been referring, and which I beg to state are formed only under temporary arrangements to meet a temporary pressure of business, and which are constituted only for this Session, being founded on the Resolutions of the 12th of February last. Whether hon. Gentlemen have been called on to serve on one class of Committees or upon another, I have looked with admiration as well as with gratitude on the way in which they have supported the Committee of Selection by the zealous discharge of their duties, and by their proper attendance on the Committees. I hope hon. Gentlemen are aware, that to us it is a matter of considerable anxiety to intrude as little as possible on their convenience; I must be permitted to repeat that they have displayed most praiseworthy conduct in assuming so readily the duties thus imposed on them, and I am satisfied that the House and the country will feel indebted to them for their services. I cannot sit down without making one more observation. It has been insinuated in one quarter that Gentlemen from the sister kingdom do not perform their duties on these Committees patiently. Now, I beg leave in the most public manner to contradict that insinuation. I have never seen a more cheerful, a more cordial, or a more able discharge of those duties than I have witnessed on the part of hon. Members from Ireland. Therefore I cannot forbear testifying to the zealous discharge of their duties as Members of Committees by the Irish Gentlemen generally, and I consider that in so acting they have behaved with great kindness towards those whose painful duty it has been to select them. Having made these remarks I cannot help adverting to the conduct of the hon. and learned Member for Cork, who most readily undertook the duty on one of these Committees when it was proposed to him. There are others in the House better able, much more clearly than I am, to describe the extraordinary ability with which the hon. and learned. Gentleman discharged his duties. It was on the first Railway Committee which sat this Session; and the manner in which the hon. and learned Gentleman discharged his duties forms a precedent for others to look to; and might be referred to by a great many Committees with the greatest advantage to the public. I need not say, then, that 1160 the conduct of the hon. and learned Gentleman in this particular reflects great honour on him. It is now my painful duty to conclude with the following Motion:—That W. S. O'Brien, Esq., having disobeyed the Order of the House, by refusing to attend the Committee to which the Railway Group No. 11 has been referred, has been guilty of a contempt of this House.
said, he was sure the House would give him credit for the assertion that he would not rise to advocate the conduct of his hon. Friend the Member for the county of Limerick, if he thought that his hon. Friend had had the slightest intention of offering disrespect to the Speaker or to that House. It was not intentional contempt on his part, if contempt it were at all; but the course he had pursued had been adopted from a strong view of what he conceived to be his duty to his own country. He asked the House to pause before they passed the proposed Resolution. There were two grounds on which he thought there ought to be more consideration. The first question was, how far the Act of Union with Ireland gave a power to the Members of that House to enforce the process of contempt, if he might use the phrase, and of committal, against the representatives of Ireland? There could be no common law jurisdiction in that House for this purpose, and up till 1800 there could not be a question that there was no jurisdiction at all; for both that House and the Parliament of Great Britain, by a Statute passed in 1783, disclaimed any species of interference with the representation of Ireland. The jurisdiction, then, of that House in this matter could not stand on common law, nor upon the Act of Union, because that gave them no jurisdiction. He wished the House to take this view into consideration. As to the Committee of Selection, he was not disposed, never less so than at the present moment, to say anything derogatory of that Committee. Were he rash enough to say anything of that kind, it would at the same time be unfounded. Up to the 12th of February last there were no stringent measures of this House to compel attendance before Committees on Private Bills. It was voluntary on the part of Members to attend, and in many instances still remained so; and now the question was whether by the law and usage of Parliament they could delegate to a Committee the power of making regulations, the neglect of which should be punishable in like 1161 manner as contempt, by placing the party in custody, when the House had not the jurisdiction by common law to compel the attendance of Members? He took it that the House had no such common law power, because by the 6th of Henry VIII. it was enacted that the Members of that House should attend the House. Now, if a common law jurisdiction had existed on this point, the Statute would have been totally unnecessary. It was true that the penalty established by that Statute was inoperative at present, because that penalty was that the Members who did not attend should lose their wages; but that was the foundation of the power of the House to compel attendance of Members on the House, but not on Committees. In this particular case the House appointed a Committee of Selection, who chose particular Members, and directed them to attend on certain Committees. Consequently, the hon. Member for Limerick county was only guilty of a violation of the secondary and subsidiary jurisdiction of the Committee of Selection. He made these observations to the House in order to induce them to pause before they decided on the question whether there had been contempt committed or not; for he felt that it was not the intention of his hon. Friend to be guilty of any contempt—his letter disclaimed that—and the courtesy of his manner and language was admitted. He had merely acted from a mistaken feeling of his duty.
The ATTORNEY GENERAL
regretted that the House was called upon to take the course proposed by the hon. Member for Oxford University; but he thought it absolutely necessary that it should come to a decision on this point; and he confessed that he saw no other course open for the House to pursue, under the circumstances in which it was placed by the continued determination of the hon. Member for Limerick county, than to adopt the Resolution proposed by the hon. Member for Oxford University. This question had assumed a much more serious character than when it originally arose; because it was now connected with the important considerations just addressed to the House by the hon. and learned Member (Mr. O'Connell); and the House was not now to consider whether it would interfere with an hon. Member who had refused to obey its Orders, but further, whether there were not a portion of its Members who were beyond its control—who had an independent authority distinct from the power of the 1162 House over the other Members—and whether it were not competent to them to refuse obedience to any Orders which compelled their attendance on Committees on any subjects not connected with the local interests of the country to which they belonged? Consider, for a moment, what was the present position of the general question. In February, 1846, it was considered necessary, in consequence of the pressure of business arising out of the number of applications for Railway Bills, that the House should come to a Resolution that the Committees should be formed of five Members, to be chosen by a Committee of Selection, itself established by a Resolution of the House in 1839; and these Resolutions having passed, every Member of the House was supposed virtually to have given his consent to them. The hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. W. S. O'Brien) was as much a party to them, and as much bound by them, as any other Member, English or Scotch; nor did that hon. Gentleman then take any objection, as he might have done, supposing the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member (Mr. O'Connell) to be well founded, that such a Resolution would not attach to the Irish Members, and compel them to attend upon any Railway Bills not connected with Ireland. The hon. Member submitted to those Resolutions, which were passed for the convenience of the House. Now, the hon. Member having been chosen by the Committee of Selection to attend on this group of Private Bills, referred the Committee to his letter of last year, in which he had given the reasons why he should refuse such an attendance; thus virtually incorporating those reasons into his present letter. In the letter of last year, the hon. Member said—Experience and observation at length forced upon my mind the conviction that the British Parliament is incompetent, through want of knowledge, if not through want of inclination, to legislate wisely for Ireland; and that our national interests can be protected and fostered only through the instrumentality of an Irish Legislature.So that the hon. Gentleman, a Member of the Imperial Legislature, anxious as it was to advance the interests of every part of the Empire, declared that that Legislature was incompetent to perform its duty; and that Irish legislation ought to be confined to an Irish Legislature; refusing upon that ground to join with the other Members of the Imperial Parliament in performing his duty as a Member of it. He added—Desiring that none but the Representatives of 1163 the Irish nation should legislate for Ireland, we have no wish to intermeddle with the affairs of England or Scotland, except in so far as they may be connected with the interests of Ireland, or with the general policy of the Empire.Now, if it was competent to the hon. Member to decline to serve upon any Committees except those connected with the interests of Ireland, it must be equally in the power of every hon. Member to refuse to serve upon any Committees not connected with the interests of his own particular part of the Empire; and it would be perfectly impossible that the duties of the House could be performed satisfactorily to the public, or at all, if every hon. Member were to have a right of independent choice as to the particular part of the duties he owed to the country which he would perform. No doubt there was a distinction, as far as the subject-matter went, between Bills relating to public affairs and Bills connected merely with private interests; but the duties of Members of the Legislature were the same, whether in respect of public or private Bills; it was only in respect of their character as legislators that they could have any control whatever over Bills affecting particular and local interests. Then the hon. Member for Limerick, not saying that it was inconvenient to attend on this occasion, and that he would give his services at some future time, distinctly gave the Committee to understand that he would serve on no Committee which was not connected with Irish affairs; and what was the House to do under these circumstances? Suppose he had defied the power of the House altogether, and said he would attend no Committees at all; the House would clearly be compelled to vindicate its authority, and adopt such a resolution as was now proposed. But did not this answer amount to the same thing? It was considered convenient, and to the advantage of the public, and important and necessary, that the hon. Member should be selected for a particular duty; every one would admit that the Committee of Selection, to which the House, by its Resolution, intrusted the power of choosing Members for these services, performed its office carefully and forbearingly towards hon. Members; and the question was, whether the House was or was not to support the act of its Committee, and uphold and vindicate its own authority? What said the hon. and learned Member in answer to the charge, as it must be called, made against the hon. Member for Limerick, of having neglected his duty in this respect, and disobeyed 1164 the Orders of the House, and thereby been guilty of a contempt? Why, that there was no intentional disrespect; and that the hon. Member had not wilfully been guilty of a contemptuous act, because he had a very strong impression with regard to the validity of his objection, and was, therefore, perfectly justified in acting upon it, But could the House believe that the hon. Member was not perfectly aware that he was a Member of the House of Commons—a House representing the whole Empire—aware of the Resolutions of the 12th of February, 1846—aware that he was, to all intents and purposes, a party to them—and aware that it was his duty, as a Member of the House, to obey its Orders? The hon. and learned Gentleman, however, called upon the House to pause and be careful of the steps it took, since it might have no power to interfere in the way proposed—first, because no power of this description was conferred upon it by the Act of Union; and next, because the authority exercised by the Committee of Selection was new, and no Committee had, until now, had such stringent powers conferred upon it. Now, the objection founded upon the Act of Union was rather calculated to excite astonishment, for the Third Article in the Act was—That the said United Kingdom be represented in one and the same Parliament, to be styled the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.Provision being made by another Article for incorporating into this Imperial Parliament a certain number of Irish Members, who were to form part of the House of Commons. Surely nobody, not even the hon. and learned Member, would dispute that immediately on those Members being incorporated into, and becoming a part of the House, they were subject to all the liabilities and obnoxious to the same powers as the Members of the House of Commons before the Union. It was difficult to understand what the hon. and learned Member meant by saying there was no statutable power given to the House to proceed to extremity against a refractory Member; for it was inherent in every body which had public functions to discharge, of the importance of those committed to that Assembly, that they might enforce the attendance of their members when necessary for the performance of those functions; nor need such a power be expressly conferred upon them by the Legislature, or any other authority than, their own; such a body 1165 would be perfectly powerless and helpless with regard to its functions, if, finding it requisite for their due and satisfactory performance, it were to impose certain duties upon some of its members, and they were to be at liberty to refuse altogether to perform the duties so delegated to them. Clearly, therefore, the House wanted no Act of the Legislature to confer upon it this power, which was thus requisite for the discharge of its high and important duties to the public; and the Order of the House upon the subject was binding upon all its Members: if one were at liberty to refuse obedience, each in his turn might do the same, and there would be an entire stop put to all the proceedings of the House, and all its capacity to discharge its duties. It must be admitted that no power of the kind in question was expressly given by the Act of Union; but for this reason there was no necessity for it. But the hon. and learned Member had urged that the Committee of Selection had powers given to it which were perfectly novel ad infinitely more stringent than any previously confided to a Committee. It might be so; but the House in its wisdom thought proper to give it those powers, it being found perfectly impracticable for the House to discharge the burdensome duties cast upon it this Session without delegating a portion of its powers in this way to that Committee; the hon. Member, therefore, had refused obedience to an authority which he with others had consented to establish. The hon. Member must perfectly well know that he was guilty of wilful disobedience to the Orders of the House by refusing to attend this Committee: there was no inadvertence or mistake on his part; in his place in the House, instead of endeavouring to excuse himself, he had referred to his correspondence with the Committee of Selection for the grounds on which he resisted the authority of the House; and how was it possible to say that there was no wilful contempt on his part, or that there could be any excuse for his determined and persevering resistance to the authority of the Committee appointed by the House? It was not agreeable to him (the Attorney General) to be the advocate of any severe measures against any one, much less against an hon. Member of the House; but the House had no course to pursue but to adopt this Resolution. It was impossible that it could submit to allow its authority to be defied in this manner; it must endeavour to vindicate it, although that might 1166 impose on it the necessity of proceeding to extreme measures, as the inevitable consequence of this Motion being adopted. No excuse had been offered—no answer given; but the perseverance of the hon. Member in resisting the authority of the House might be said to have even placed him in a worse position than the correspondence with the Committee. Deeply regretting the necessity for the present step, he felt that the House had no other course to pursue than to agree to the Motion before it.
§ MR. E. B. ROCHE
also regretted that it should be thought necessary to introduce this subject at present; first, because the ultimate result of this course would, perhaps, be to compel those who concurred in the propriety of the course adopted by the hon. Member for Limerick to take measures which might impede the business of the House to a great extent; and he should always regret that anything should arise to interfere with the just and legitimate proceeding of its business. Much more he regretted the adoption of this course, because, if it were persevered in, there would arise in the minds of the people of Ireland, who could not enter into Parliamentary technicalities, a strong impression that in pursuing this—he might almost say, persecution of his hon. Friend, the House was visiting upon him a certain degree of—not enmity, for that was too strong an expression, but, at all events, hostility. It was to be regretted exceedingly that the House should adopt any course which might aggravate the quarrel between the two countries. He felt quite incapable of entering into the argument on the power of the House; no doubt it had the power to do a great deal of mischief; but if it could punish for this refusal to attend a Committee, it ought to pause before making use of that power. With regard to the private business of the House, many hon. Members must agree, that it was not carried on in a manner either convenient or satisfactory to them. Every one who had had the misfortune to sit on a Railway Committee—and he was one—must have this conviction on his mind, that if he really attended to the business of that Committee, sitting from twelve to four o'clock, entering on the varied questions before him, and deciding on matters of great importance, involving the expenditure of large sums of money, it was quite impossible for that Member to come down to the House and give the attention which he ought to do to measures for promoting the 1167 general benefit of the country; therefore, if no other good arose out of this question—if it suggested the propriety of some alteration in the mode of carrying on their private business, it would be of great advantage. As to the case of the hon. Member for Limerick, if they went on with the proceedings against him, what would be the result? The hon. and learned Gentleman who last spoke (the Attorney General) had read a paragraph from the letter of the hon. Member for Limerick, in which he introduced the question that that House was not fit to govern Ireland with anything like advantage to that country. Now, there was no doubt that the majority of the people of Ireland agreed with his hon. Friend, that that House, either through ignorance or a hostile feeling to Ireland, was not fit to make laws for that country. Would the course now proposed to the House alter that impression, or at all mend the matter? He did not wish to enter into any dispute about the power of that House; but he felt strongly, that, if they should exercise the powers they possessed to the extent of imprisoning his hon. Friend the Member for Limerick, they would not only be doing an injustice to him, but a great injustice to the best interests of the people of Ireland. The hon. Member for Limerick had on the Paper a Motion relative to an inquiry into the general condition of Ireland; and there was a Motion by the hon. Member for Cork coming on for giving two additional Members to the county of Cork; these were questions of great importance, on which the hon. Member for Limerick would be prevented from expressing his sentiments, if the House should resolve to place him in custody of the Serjeant-at-Arms. The hon. Member would also be prevented from being present on Friday night, when the question of the Coercion Bill came on for discussion, and thus the important constituency of the county of Limerick would be unrepresented on all these occasions. But, more than all, he was bound to tell them, that if they pursued the proposed course, they would exasperate the minds of the people of Ireland; and he could not too strongly impress upon them whether the necessity of communicating to Ireland a message of peace was not infinitely greater than insisting upon any technical questions which might arise in that House.
§ MR. WARBURTON
said, that if, by his concurrence in the present Motion, he was merely giving expression to his disapproval 1168 of the course pursued by the hon. Member for Limerick, he should have no hesitation whatever in giving it his support. But a Motion calling upon the House to pronounce one of its Members guilty of a contempt towards it, naturally led to another preceding that—namely, of pronouncing a judgment upon the refractory Member. The next Motion consequently must be that the hon. Member for Limerick be committed to the Tower. [Hon. MEMBERS: To the Bar.] Brought to the bar of that House, and then, being placed in the custody of the Serjeant, the next step would be to send him to the Tower. Now, he was not going to dispute the point; but he must say that he did not approve of the course taken in respect to calling into exercise the powers of the House on this occasion. If the House were to be called on to commit to the custody of the Serjeant-at-Arms every Member who refused or neglected to serve on its Select Committees, he did not know how many foolish Members of that House there might not be who would brave the exercise of the powers of Parliament in this respect. The House had occasionally shown great severity towards persons who, not being Members, had offended against its rules. But there great principles were, or were supposed to be, at stake; and he had entirely approved of the course adopted on those occasions. But at present he could not refrain from asking what good would result from the course proposed to be pursued, and what did the House propose to do after the Motion had been agreed to? What would be gained by forcing Members to attend at Select Committees? Suppose the hon. Member for Limerick said, "I can't dispute your authority"—and sat upon a Committee, but during his attendance paid no kind of attention to the business before him. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members might cry "Oh!" but was not it quite possible that such a proceeding might be adopted by him or any other hon. Member forced to act against his will on a Committee? If any hon. Member was so unwilling to serve on a Committee, was it likely that his services would be of any value? The hon. and learned Member for Liskeard told him that all were unwilling to serve; but he must say he saw no good in continuing to force such an office on unwilling Members. What was the reverse of the state of things which he had supposed? Was there any lack of volunteers in the service of the Select Committees? Why, the right hon. 1169 Baronet opposite had at the close of the last Session complimented the House upon the assiduity with which individual Members had discharged the fatiguing duties of attending, day after day, at the Select Committees; and would it now be supposed that the mere circumstance of one or two Members giving such an absurd reply to a summons to attend Committees, as that which had occasioned the present Motion, was to deprive the country in future of the valuable services referred to by the right hon. Baronet? So far from that being likely, he (Mr. Warburton) thought not the slightest difference would be made between the present and the preceding Session. The course he should advise the House to adopt was, that any hon. Member who should give a special reason for his desire or determination to be absent from the Select Committee to which he should be appointed, should be exempted from attending at such Committee; but that it should be an instruction to the said Committee to report the names of such Member to the House. He could not of course foretell what the consequences of such a proceeding would be to the hon. Members for Ireland; but with respect to English Members he considered, that when such a foolish answer as that out of which the present Motion arose, should be made known to their constituents, the result would be, they would not again trouble such persons with the task of representing them in Parliament. He should beg leave to conclude, by moving as an Amendment to the present Motion—To leave out from the word 'esquire' to the end of the question, in order to add the words 'and any other Members of this House, who in the course of the present Session may think proper to signify to the Committee of Selection that they claim, on special grounds, to be exempted from serving on Select Committees on Railway Bills, shall be exempted accordingly; and that it be an Instruction to the Committee of Selection to report to the House the names of all such Members as may so claim to be specially exempted, and the grounds assigned for such exemption.'
§ MR. J. O'CONNELL
differed from the hon. Member who spoke last, with reference to the epithet he had applied to the conduct of the hon. Member for Limerick. He believed that House and the country would find that the people of Ireland approved of his conduct, and that, instead of thinking it foolish or unwarrantable, they would regard it as in perfect accordance with what was due to the interests of Ireland. He also differed with the hon. Member when 1170 he said that a person who was an unwilling Member of a Committee would not attend to the duties of that Committee. He had been an unwilling Member of a Committee for the last three weeks, and would probably be for three months to come; but though he was an unwilling Member, he had endeavoured to the best of his ability to attend to the business before it. At the same time, he must declare that he did not consider the House had any right to call upon him to serve upon that Committee. He agreed with his Friend the hon. Member for Limerick. He was not in the same difficulty with him now, as he knew that if he had refused to serve he should have been committed to the custody of the Serjeant-at-Arms, and thus been unable to oppose the Coercion Bill, which he regarded as a higher duty to Ireland. His hon. Friend considered the first brunt of the battle as over, and that he might now try the principle of his liability to serve on Railway Committees. He (Mr. J. O'Connell), however, regretted the course he had taken in this matter, as he thought his services to Ireland would have been better rendered in still further opposing the Coercion Bill. It might, perhaps, be presumption in him to give an opinion in opposition to that of the learned Attorney General; but he must say he did not think he had met the arguments of the hon. Member for Cork. There was no special statute to compel the attendance of Irish Members on such Committees. It was not said that there was any extension of the clause bearing on this subject to Irish Members; if it was meant for Ireland a special statute should have been passed; so that he did not think the argument of the hon. Member for Cork had been answered. If that House considered that the Irish Members were bound in this matter by the Act of Union, and insisted on the observance of that Act, then it ought to observe all the other provisions of the Act of Union, and insist on them as strongly as it insisted on this. They could raise this grand objection to any coercion imposed upon them under that Union, that Ireland was not a party to the Union. It was a Treaty in name; in fact forced upon her when she had not the power to express the will of her people. The House, therefore, could not be surprised if they were not disposed to pay attention to its demands, when they considered that the law and the Constitution did not require them to do so. He thought, then, that his Friend the hon. Member for Limerick was right in his resistance 1171 in this instance, though he deplored that, in present circumstances he might be prevented from attending to resist the Coercion Bill; but he thought that, considering this to be a matter of principle with the hon. Gentleman, the House ought to adopt the recommendation of the hon. Member who had moved the Amendment.
§ MR. BROTHERTON
had no intention of saying a single word on the subject, but was induced by what had fallen from the hon. Member for Kilkenny to make one or two remarks. He considered it as an honour and a privilege of every Member to endeavour to do his duty, whether in that House or in Committee; and he thought the less power they had the more they felt the power they possessed. He would rather have men acting on a principle of honour than by coercive laws. He had the fullest confidence that if hon. Members were at liberty either to attend the Committees or not, such was his reliance on their integrity that he believed they would seldom fail in attention to their duties. And he must say, that if a Member chose to shrink from any duty he was called upon to perform, he would rather leave him to his constituents, than attempt to compel him to perform it. But the hon. Gentleman had another object in view. He would be better pleased if they sent him to the Tower than by any other course they could adopt. Now, he did not want to gratify him—he did not wish to make a martyr of him; and he hoped, therefore, that the House would come to the determination to adopt the Amendment of the hon. Member for Kendal.
MR. M. O'CONNELL
denied that there was any shrinking from the discharge of a duty on the part of the hon. Member for Limerick. He might probably have a mistaken notion of his duty, but was incapable of shrinking from what he considered his duty. If he had had any idea of shrinking, there was nothing easier for him than to have set off for Ireland, from which they would not have found it very safe or easy to bring him back.
§ SIR G. GREY
thought no other course was open to the House but to adopt the Resolution of the hon. Member for Oxford. The hon. Member for Cork, in the very temperate observations he had made, admitted that the hon. Member for Limerick had been guilty of contempt, because he disobeyed the orders of a Committee; but it must be evident that the hon. Member was guilty also of contempt towards the 1172 House. The hon. Member did not attend the Committee, and an order was issued that he should attend. The Motion of the hon. Member for Oxford was, that, having disputed the Order of the House issued yesterday, the hon. Member for Limerick was guilty of a contempt of that House; and he did not see how they could abstain from asserting, under such circumstances, their authority. If the House gave an order for a Member to attend a Committee, and if that Member refused, without making a sufficient excuse, they must hold that he was guilty of a contempt of that House; otherwise it would be giving up all the authority it possessed. The question before them was not one of punishment—for in the first instance they were called upon to adopt a Resolution declaring the hon. Member guilty of contempt. It had been stated by the hon. Member for Cork that the hon. Member for Limerick had no wish to show contempt to the House. If that were the case, he might, perhaps, when he knew the decision to which they had come, recede from the position he had taken up; but at present the question was, whether there was any contempt manifested; and he thought there could be no doubt in the mind of any one that the disobedience of the hon. Member for Limerick did amount to a contempt of the House.
§ SIR R. PEEL
I am much surprised that any one should suppose that any party, in coming to a decision on this question, was influenced by feelings of hostility towards the hon. Member for Limerick. I believe that the general sentiment of the House is, on the contrary, one of very great regret that this matter has been brought forward. This, however, is not the first time in which the decision of the House has been necessarily taken on a question of this kind. In the course of this Session the hon. Member for Winchester declined to serve upon a Committee to which he had been appointed; and assigned as his reason for declining to serve on that Private Committee, that he was already serving on two Public Committees, and that he thought his public incompatible with his private duty. He appealed to the House, but his objection was overruled; and be was informed that he was bound to attend to the order of the House. An order was made to that effect, when the hon. Member said, that if such was the opinion of the House, he should at once bow to its decision; and though he might neglect his public duties on the Committees 1173 to which he had previously been appointed, he should attend to his private duty in the Committee of which he had been selected as a Member. Such being the principle which has guided the House on questions of this nature, it seems to me almost impossible to impute our proceedings in the present case to any hostility towards the hon. Member for Limerick. There is another case. In 1830, the hon. and learned Member for Cork refused to attend a Committee of Appeal, to which he had been appointed, and assigned a reason which the House did not admit to be valid. The hon. and learned Gentleman did not on that occasion attribute the proceedings of the House to any hostility towards himself; but, greatly to his honour, bowed to the decision of the House, and performed the duty assigned to him. In the present case, the correspondence which has taken place clearly shows that if there had been any objection on the part of the hon. Member for Limerick, other than an objection on principle to serve on Committees, the Select Committee were desirous of giving it their attention, with the view of excusing the hon. Gentleman from the performance of his duty. The hon. Gentleman was informed that, like other Members of Parliament of the United Kingdom, he would be called on to perform his duty on Committees; and that if any particular time was inconvenient, another period would be chosen. But the hon. Gentleman peremptorily refused to attend at all; and assigned as a reason his determination to attend no Private Committees except such as were connected with the affairs of Ireland. Now, I know of no course which the Committee could take in a case like this except to report to the House; and I know of no course which the House can take, after having made the order of yesterday, except to affirm the resolution which has been proposed. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Kendal, that we should rescind the order of yesterday, and that, instead of making the attendance of Members on Committees compulsory, we should allow every Member to act or not, assigning what reason he thinks proper, is an Amendment hardly worthy of the long standing of the hon. Gentleman in this House. Suppose Members were allowed to assign special reasons. Is not the special reason of the idler, that he is idle, and does not choose to perform his duty? Whatever course, then, may be taken, I hope the House will not give its sanction 1174 to an Amendment of that nature. It is of the greatest importance, in my opinion, that we should on all questions support the legitimate authority of this House, the branch of the Legislature which is connected with the popular part of the Constitution. The question is, have we or have we not the power to require the attendance of Members on public Committees? I do not want to enter into any lengthened discussion of this point; but I apprehend there can be no distinction between service on Committees and service in this House. If you deny our power to compel service on Committees, you may deny our power to compel attendance in this House for the performance of the most important legislative duties. In the present case it appears to me that the refusal to attend is a denial of power which is essential to the authority of the House. The hon. Gentleman opposite says that the Act of Union confers no such power; but I apprehend if the Act of Union does not give you that power, it was not from inadvertence on the part of those who framed that Act, but from a belief that such a pewer was inherent in Parliament, and that we hold it by prescription and the common law of the land. If we are to act on the principle that we have no powers in cases of this kind, except such as are conferred by statute on the Speaker, what must we say of our proceedings with regard to the Members for Scotland between the period of the Union with that country and the Act of Union with Ireland? I apprehend that the Act which united the Scotch and English Parliaments, and that which united the Irish to the Imperial Parliament, proceed upon the same principle. In neither of these Acts is any statutable authority given to the Speaker to compel the attendance of Members. The great men who drew up these Acts refused to take a statutable sanction for that which rested on higher grounds; and, therefore, they did not confer on the Speaker of the United Parliament an authority which the Speakers in the respective Parliaments of Scotland and Ireland did not by statute possess. In more recent times, when you made a great change in the representative system, you took it for granted that such a power as that I have alluded to was inherent in the House of Commons, and that it would continue to exist without being reorganized by statute, notwithstanding the change then made. If you decline to affirm the Resolution proposed, you will, in my opinion, 1175 be taking a course derogatory to the character of the House, and destructive of the functions and privileges essential to performance of your duties. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. O'Connell) says that this power did not inhere in the House of Commons, because it had been bestowed on them by the statute of Henry VIII.; but that was a statute to deprive Members of their wages, and it is possible that, without that statute, Members would have had a right to exact those wages. In fact, this power is derived from the same source that all the powers belonging to the House of Commons are derived from—the power to make laws to bind the people, for instance, and other powers which rest on grounds that will, I trust, never be brought in question. I am very sorry that the House has been forced into this contest. Some Gentlemen may wish to be made martyrs of; but that is not a ground on which to call upon the House to abandon this necessary power. I repeat I am sorry for this contest, but the House is not responsible for bringing it on; the hon. Gentleman had the means of avoiding it, but he has challenged the House to the exercise of this power; and I consider that it is so important, for the due discharge of our functions, that the House should exercise this power, however painful it may be to do so, that I feel myself bound to vote for the Resolution.
§ MR. H. GRATTAN
thought that his hon. Friend had not deserved the remarks which had been made upon him, because he did not wholly set at defiance the Order of the House. He had taken a distinction upon a point of law. His hon. Friend (the Member for Limerick) had fixed opinions on the subject; and he should only hope that if the House should agree to pass this Resolution, for which he (Mr. Grattan) could not vote, they would pause before they took any ulterior steps, which he thought could not be satisfactory to any body.
§ MR. CALEB POWELL
was sure that his hon. Colleague was confident that he had right on his side, and but for his entertaining that conviction, he should not support his hon. Colleague. He must say that he never saw anything more like hostility to his hon. Friend than the tone in which the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General had spoken. He thought his hon. Friend had reason to complain of the tone both of the Attorney General and of the Prime Minister. Neither of them 1176 had attempted to show that there was not a strong distinction between the position of an English Member and an Irish Member in the House. The right hon. Baronet had stated, that upon one occasion an hon. Member, who had refused to serve upon a Private Committee, had given way, but that was not a case in point, because the hon. Gentleman was an English Member, and his hon. Friend the Member for Limerick was an Irish Member. Another hon. Gentleman had put this question in a light which was absurd. He said that the House had power to order a Member to do anything, and that if refused, it would be a contempt. Now, he would put a case: suppose a Member who had been a monopolist for the last twenty years were suddenly converted into a determined free trader, and the Speaker were to issue an order that he should be distinguished in the House by his dress, and sit with his coat turned; he should like to know whether the Speaker would have authority to enforce such an order? He hoped that the Order would not issue, because he thought that if it were enforced, the House would wear a very motley appearance. He thought that unless much stronger arguments for the Resolution were brought forward than those furnished by the law officers of the Crown, the House would in voting for it take a step only reconcilable with the principle of arbitrary power.
§ MR. HUME
rose in consequence of an expression from an hon. Member near him (Mr. C. Powell) which, upon consideration, he thought he could not maintain, as he seemed to draw a distinction between Irish and English Members. He recollected occasions when he had contended that the Irish Members were entitled to all the privileges which the English and Scotch Members enjoyed. If, then, they were to have all the privileges of English Members, were they to refuse to do the duties imposed upon Members of the House of Commons? He had considered them to be placed upon the same footing with every other Member of the House, and, therefore, that they were to be obedient to all the rules and orders made by that body. He should ask what difference there was between Members who came into the House under the Reform Bill and others? Was there any law passed to give them privileges equal to those possessed by other Members of the House? He apprehended that by becoming Members of the House they became entitled to all its privileges, and liable to all its 1177 penalties. He deeply deplored the step which the hon. Member for Limerick had taken, because he was anxious to avoid any possible difference with Ireland at the present moment. He approved, therefore, highly of the speech of the hon. Member for Kilkenny, who, while admitting that he entertained the same opinion as the hon. Member for Limerick upon this question, yet fairly said that whatever weight it might have in his mind, at the present moment more important duties to his country induced him to waive it. He agreed with the right hon. Baronet in thinking that there was no other course before the House than to agree to the Resolution. They might as well put an end to all the proceedings of the House, if any Member might do as he pleased. If the hon. Member for Limerick had any excuse to offer, he should have been very ready to accept even an inadequate excuse, in order to avoid a collision that was now inevitable. But as the collision had taken place, and as they must show no partiality, and make no difference between English, Scotch, and Irish Members, unless they acted in such a manner as to demonstrate that a Member could not be allowed to violate the regulations of the House with impunity, there was no prospect of maintaining any order in future. If the hon. Member for Limerick had a friend to advise him, he might perhaps yet submit himself to the authority of the House. As to the threat which had been made respecting the Irish people, he did not believe that the Irish people would support the hon. Member for Limerick. "Of what use," the Irish people would say to their Members, "will you be to us, if you do not ask for equal rights with the people of England?" But if the Irish Members did not do their duty as Members of that House, how could they stand up in it and ask for equal rights for their fellow countrymen? If the Irish people were left to their own sober judgment, he was sure that they would not approve of the conduct of the hon. Member for Limerick. He approved of the Resolution, upon the ground that, as matters stood, the House had no alternative but to adopt it.
§ MR. EWART
asked whether it were competent to an hon. Member to move, after this vote, "That the hon. Member had been guilty of a contempt," had passed, that it was such an offence as ought to be visited by reprehension, and not by committal to the custody of the Serjeant-at-Arms? 1178 He wished to hear how this was before he gave his vote.
§ SIR T. WILDE
thought that some of the opinions which had been expressed by hon. Members on his side of the House might account for the conduct of the hon. Member for Limerick, consistently with his assertion that he intended no disrespect to the House. Nevertheless, he (Sir T. Wilde) mnst say he thought it difficult to contend that an act of disobedience to the express order of the House was not a contempt of the House. But the hon. Member contended that he had a higher duty to perform than attending on a Select Committee of the House. It might be that the hon. Member's mind was under this delusion; but he (Sir T. Wilde) deeply regretted that such a delusion should have had the authority of the hon. and learned Member for Cork—he hoped that the hon. and learned Gentleman would forgive him for saying so—but a position more inconsistent with Parliamentary law, and with common law, he must say, with great respect for the hon. and learned Gentleman's authority, for which on almost all occasions he felt the highest respect, he had never heard. That position was pregnant, he was convinced, with great mischief; for if it were said that the House, in enforcing obedience to its own order in this case, were assuming a power it was not entitled to, it might give a character which it was most desirable should not be given to such measures as it might at any time be necessary to adopt for effecting the due discharge of their functions as a House of Commons. He should not have risen except that he wished to express his opinion that the doctrine of his hon. and learned Friend was pregnant with danger. The law of Parliament, he should have supposed, must be well understood. Parliament possessed all the powers necessary to enable it to discharge its duties. The right hon. Baronet had correctly stated that the Act of Union with Scotland only added certain Members to that House and the House of Peers. It was, however, never contended that the powers given by the Union with Scotland did not include all powers, without which Parliament could not exercise its functions. Could it be said that Scotch Members were not sent to the House to be as efficient, and as fully clothed with power and privilege as were English Members? Could it be said that when from time to time new Members were added to the House, that there was any difference in the authority 1179 of these Members, any difference in the authority of the House, or the authority of Parliament? No, there was none. All that the Act of Union had done, so far as regarded this question, was to cause the return of certain Members from Ireland, to make them Members of the Imperial Parliament. The character of that Parliament was not in any way altered from what it had been from the most ancient times; it continued to possess all the dignity, all the power, all the privileges which had ever belonged to it. What did his learned Friend (Mr. O'Connell) mean when he talked of such and such an Act not being according to the common law? The common law of what—of Parliament or of the land? The Parliamentary law they had often had occasion to consider. It was a peculiar law, a law by itself; its distinction from common law was admitted: therefore when his hon. and learned Friend said they had no right by common law to enforce attendance, he agreed with him. But they had that right by the law of the land, under the name of Parliamentary law—a law as old as necessary, as fully recognized as the common law. His hon. and learned Friend, therefore, he believed, must have been urged rather by the desire—a very natural one—of relieving a Friend of his, than of consulting and bringing into play his own knowledge as a profound lawyer, which beyond all doubt he was. But he had attempted to relieve his Friend upon grounds attended with great public inconvenience; and this House, when challenged as to whether it had authority to deal with its own individual Members, could not hesitate in putting down the doctrine that it did not possess this authority, by most promptly and decidedly exercising it. Therefore he hoped that the House could have no hesitation in believing that it possessed, as the House of Commons of the Imperial Parliament, a common authority over every Member within its walls. What was that authority? It was what he had stated. The House had a right to call upon every Member to discharge his Parliamentary duties in such a manner, and for such a purpose, as it in its wisdom might deem necessary. Suppose the necessity were represented to the House of suspending the Habeas Corpus Act, what would be the course pursued? It would be to nominate a Secret Committee to examine the information submitted to it, and then to report to the House. The House then had power to send its Members 1180 to this Committee to make an inquiry essential perhaps to the safety of the country. He repeated that this power rested with the House. Where was the power to serve the country if the jurisdiction in this matter of the House were denied? How many questions relating to the Crown, the administration of justice, the conduct of Ministers, were there, on all of which it was desirable to have a Secret Committee? And yet it was said they had no power to send their Members to such a Committee. He told them that they had a power to command the services of any Member as they should think essential. When the principle of Parliamentary privilege was understood, all that had been suggested by the hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. Caleb Powell) as to absurd regulations was quite beside the question. Parliament might abuse its powers as courts of law might abuse their powers. They could not, when it was necessary to give power, prevent its abuse; but were this House to seek to abuse its power by making any such absurd regulations as those suggested, then it would soon be taught repentance, and shown the line of its duty by the public voice. It was now doubted whether they could send one of their Members to attend a Committee. Pray was it doubted whether they could send the public to attend a Committee; whether they could compel the public to give evidence? But how had they the power of sending witnesses, if witnesses had the power of refusing to go? Had they more power over the public out of the House than over their own Members within the House? They came here pledged to do justice to the public. Who were to decide how that justice was to be done? The power to decide must be the will of the House—a power which every one must be bound to obey. He took it then that the power of ordering a Member to attend a Committee was clear. But that, after all, was not the question. The question was not whether or no the neglecting to attend a Committee was contempt of the House. That need not at this moment be urged. They were invited to consider the disobedience to the Order of yesterday, and whether that disobedience did not constitute a contempt of the authority of the House. It was true that what gave occasion to that Order was the appointment of a Select Committee. But the House had confirmed the power of its Committee. The acts of the one were the acts of the other. What, then, was their situation? He was sure 1181 that there was but one feeling on this question—that of deep regret at being called on to decide in a matter of this description—a regret made still deeper by the consideration that the case had reference to an Irish Member. Not that there should be any difference in respect to Irish Members from English or Scotch Members; but there were circumstances connected with Ireland which rendered this occurrence a matter of additional regret, inasmuch as it might be mistaken and misrepresented; and he was sure that if any hon. Member could suggest a course consistent with the character of the House, and which should at the same time render coercive measures unnecessary, he, for his part, would honour him, and the House would feel deeply obliged to him. He, however, had spent some hours in considering if any such course could be pointed out, and he confessed that he had not been able to see his way to one. Then the position in which they stood was by no means diminished in its evils by the suggestion of a doubt as to the authority of the House with regard to its Committees over Irish Members; and unfortunately that suggestion had come from the hon. and learned Member for Cork. He trusted that his hon. and learned Friend would give the House the benefit of his sober judgment; that he would give Ireland the benefit of that highly cultivated knowledge he possessed; that he would see reason to give the House his real genuine opinion that the power of Parliament over Irish Members was as complete and as undoubted as the interests of Ireland undoubtedly required that it should be. The House claimed that Irish Members should do their duty in Parliament. They came to discharge the same duties—they had a right to the same privileges as English Members; but as the duties were identical, so must be the submission to the jurisdiction of the House, for which those duties were performed. Imperfect indeed would be that Act of Union which would create a House with a mixed jurisdiction—a different degree of power over its different constituent Members. The House then was placed in this position:—An Order had been made that an hon. Member should attend a certain Committee. That hon. Member, in refusing to obey that Order, was not acting under any misapprehension of the nature of the Order; he had not refused at a moment when he had not fully considered what his duty to the House was, what his duty to Ireland was; but he had done so 1182 deliberately and for reasons in which no other Irish Member had joined him. Were the other Irish Members guilty of greater treason towards Ireland than the hon. Member for Limerick? Did they do any injustice to Ireland in attending Committees of that House? But could any Irish Member justify the hon. Gentleman in withholding from Ireland the benefit of his attendance? What, he would ask, must be the nature of the hon. Gentleman's love to Ireland, of his sense of duty towards Ireland, when he makes the excuse of conscientiously refusing to obey the Orders of the House the pretext for placing himself in a situation in which he could not possibly do his duty towards Ireland? Could the hon. Member do a greater wrong to Ireland than imagine that he was not doing injustice to Ireland by not attending to duties which the hon. and learned Member for Cork had no objection to attend to? Had the hon. Member for Limerick a warmer love for his country than the hon. and learned Member for Cork? Was he a more competent judge than that hon. and learned Gentleman of what would serve Ireland? No. The hon. Member might bid for popularity against the hon. and learned Member for Cork by seeking to become a martyr. Not that he believed the hon. Member to be pursuing that course; no, he believed that he was too honourable a man for anything of the kind, But everybody was satisfied that it must be a morbid love of popularity, a most morbid desire for notoriety, which could induce him to withdraw his services from Ireland, because he would not perform a duty devolved upon him by Parliament, which the hon. Member for Cork did not think it was inconsistent with his duty to Ireland to perform. The case stood, therefore, thus—their authority was utterly denied by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Limerick. The question was—what, under the circumstances, should be the course of the House? It would be easy enough to make a precedent, which they might afterwards have cause to regret. It was easy by shrinking from a disagreeable duty, when it presented itself, to adopt a course which might form a precedent in future times, the effect of which it was impossible to foresee. In the first place it was of the highest consequence to preserve inviolate the authority and dignity of the House. Then what were they to do? Would it answer the purpose were it to go to the public that they were, as proposed by the 1183 Motion of the hon. Member for Kendal, to excuse for the future every Member of the House from doing his duty, if he desired it, and to trust to the voluntary discharge of that duty for the performance of all the functions of Parliament? Could the House then shrink from assorting its authority in a case in which it was distinctly denied and opposed? It might be said, these Committees related to Private Bills only; but was there any ground for making a distinction between private and public Bills? Were those Bills wholly for private, or were they as well for the public advantage? Undoutedly they interfered with private rights to some extent; but in some way or other the public interest was always involved in them; and hon. Members, when they were attending to such Bills, were as much attending to their public duties, as when they were attending the consideration of what were called public Bills. It was their duty, as Members of the House of Commons, to give their attention to the framing of every law, and to take care that it should conduce to the public advantage. There was then, in point of fact, no difference, so far as the duty of Parliament was concerned, between one law and another; and every Member refusing to attend a Committee on any measure, public or private, when required to do so, was guilty of disobeying the Speaker's order. What then were they to do in the present case? Could they pass over the matter, and say nothing further about it. The hon. Member had disobeyed the Order of that House, directly and knowingly: would any hon. Gentleman show him a single instance in which the House had passed over such a contempt of its authority? If, then, it never had been done, and if there were no reasons why it ought to be done now, what course could they take? He did not shrink from the difficulties which would arise from coercive measures. He did not—in considering whether he ought to vote ay or no—he did not shrink from contemplating what would necessarily follow from an affirmative decision; and he thought that every man who intended to vote for the Resolution would do right so to consider the matter. But had they any resource? was their authority to be defeated by one of their own Members? They would change the character of the House from the moment they abandoned that high position which they had ever held. They possessed authority for public 1184 purposes: it was a trust which they were bound to preserve. With the greatest regret, therefore, he felt himself bound to concur in the motion. He respected the hon. Member for Limerick—he regretted deeply the circumstance under discussion; but he felt that he owed it to his sense of public duty first of all to protest most solemnly in the name of the Parliament, in the name of the law, against any such doctrine as that which maintained that when the House added to its Members it required additional Parliamentary authority to invest them with all the duties and all the responsibilities of Members. The law cast upon them when they became Members of Parliament all that belonged to the character and the constitution of Parliament. He trusted, therefore, that the House would perform its duty, and maintain its character, not merely for its own sake, but because it was bound by its duty to the public so to do. They could not with safety or with honour shrink from the course which he called upon them to adopt—a course which, beset as it was by difficulties and inconveniences, he saw no other choice for them than to pursue.
§ MR. J. COLLETT
wished to know, now that the attendance of Members on Private Bill Committees was compulsory, and that the House by a recent arrangement met on Wednesday in the day time, if the lesser duty of the former, would merge into the more important duty of the latter; or, would a Member who attended in his place in the House on Wednesdays, be held guilty of contempt of its Orders for being absent from the Railway Committee on that day?
The ATTORNEY GENERAL
When his opinion was asked upon any question regularly before the House, he always felt it his duty to give it; but as it was no part of his duty to answer questions upon matters not regularly before them, the hon. Member must excuse him if he declined to give any opinion upon the point he had raised.
§ MR. DISRAELI
The learned Gentleman who has just addressed us with so much ability, has impressed on us the absolute necessity of acceding to the Motion before the House—a Motion which he regrets, and the consequences of which, he also tells us may be exceedingly painful and inconvenient to the hon. Member concerned. The hon. and learned Gentleman told us also, there was no difference between English and Irish Members—that 1185 there was a perfect equality between us—that is a doctrine which I hope will be considered when the income tax is again proposed in this House. At this moment a suggestion occurs to my mind by which, if carried out, we may gain a little time before we come to a conclusion on the case now before the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport treated the case in a technical manner; he dealt with it as a technical case. It is admitted on both sides that, technically, the Notice was not served upon the hon. Member for Limerick. That is an important consideration, though it might be considered he was aware of it by his presence; but, although present, he might misconceive what was taking place. I must say, though I do not rise to sanction the conduct of any individual who opposes the legitimate authority of the House, still, it may be of consequence—acting as we are under the peculiar circumstances of the present case, that we should see our way clearly before we come to any decision; that that decision may not be afterwards impugned by any alleged informality. I am, therefore, of opinion, so far as regards the hon. Member for Limerick, that it would be well to give him the opportunity to reconsider his present position—his present situation—because it is admitted he has not received formal notice. That is an important point. If the case of any other person were brought before the House, and under similar circumstances, without any formal notice, I am of opinion the House would adjourn the discussion. I have heard a great many Gentlemen say, that to carry on the business of the country—at least so far as the private business was concerned—it would be impossible to do so except a compulsory attendance was enforced. But you have carried on the business of the country without this compulsory principle; and you have done so until within the last twelve months. The compulsory principle is a new principle, and you are called on to consider the circumstances under which that principle was introduced. You have had already your Committees for the conducting of private business, and you had a full supply of Members for that purpose, without enforcing the principle of compulsory attendance. But what gave rise to the compulsory attendance? It originated because you had a great pressure of public business, and looking at those peculiar circumstances which have now changed, you 1186 thought that for a number of years to come you would experience the same pressure, and therefore you thought it necessary to take steps to ensure the attendance of Members. The right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government declared that he himself was ready to serve on Railway Committees. Under that excitement you violated the constitution of the House with regard to the Members of Private Committees—you sanctioned an immense revolution when you sanctioned a law which enforces a compulsory attendance. But is there now a great pressure of business? Is it expected that in this year you will have an immense amount of railway business? By no means. When circumstances are so changed, and when you have so entirely miscalculated those circumstances, is it politic to come forward in what may appear a vindictive spirit, and to enforce in that spirit a compulsory attendance? I would, then, advise the postponement of this Motion until to-morrow, that we may give the hon. Member an opportunity to decide as to his future course, because he declares he has received no notice; and the next bulletin which may relate to railways, upon which he may be summoned to attend, may vanish into thin air. Give, then, the hon. Member time to think, and you may thus extricate yourselves from a difficulty, and you may not be called on to enforce a rule which is of novel introduction, and which was introduced under circumstances that no longer exist. It is my opinion that if it can be shown that the railway business still continues to be a great source of pressure in the House, I do not think that any hon. Member would so far forget his duty to the public as to refuse attendance; but as you may be in a month's time prepared to rescind a rule which is invidious and disagreeable, will you enforce it now, at a time when circumstances and events have shown that the compulsory principle is not at all necessary? Will you, when the daily and rapid decline of those circumstances is apparent, introduce a Motion to visit one of the Members of the House with a punishment which everybody must regret? I hope, therefore, the House will take these circumstances into its serious consideration. If the Orders of the House be disobeyed, it is your duty to enforce obedience; but still my opinion is in favour of the propriety of giving a little more time to the hon. Member for Limerick, that he may reconsider his position; and by giving him time we 1187 also may have the opportunity of reconsidering all those circumstances which are connected with his case. Are we prepared to support this compulsory principle by which we shall enforce the attendance of Members on Committees? I hope not, more especially as the circumstances which had justified that principle are rapidly disappearing. The railway business at one time was supposed to last for seven years; but that anticipated pressure has disappeared, and, having disappeared, it is now open to the House to consider the expediency of enforcing the principle of compulsory attendance; a consideration which, if calmly and dispassionately entered into, might put an end to an occurrence which we all deplore.
§ MR. C. BULLER
I am not going to answer the speech of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury, who will excuse me for saying that his plea for my hon. Friend the Member for Limerick is more creditable to his generous devotion to a new political ally than to his usual acumen and ingenuity. It appears to me, indeed, that the course we should adopt is a very simple one. Having passed an Order in the presence of my hon. Friend, he declares he will pay no attention to it. I think my hon. Friend set up no such justification of his conduct as that set up for him by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury, namely, that he had no notice of the Order. My hon. Friend has distinctly stated that he will not obey it. Besides, what can be more direct notice than the Vote of last night—"Ordered that Mr. W. S. O'Brien do attend the said Committee"? That Vote was passed in the presence of my hon. Friend. Well, then, he has clearly committed such a contempt, that the House will be bound, if it have any regard for its own character or privileges, to enforce its Order. And I understand, too, the Order, signed by Mr. Ley, was actually served on Mr. O'Brien by the Serjeant-at-Arms, so that the plea of non-notice falls completely to the ground. I am sure every Member will be disposed to act in such a case as this with temper and moderation, and not press severely on any Member guilty of mere inadvertence. So far, I entirely coincide with the hon. Member for Shrewsbury. Some Gentleman has expressed alarm as to the consequences of this vote. I am willing to admit that it should not be followed up with precipitation. It is quite clear we must come to the conclusion that a contempt has been committed. Then, what is the 1188 course to be pursued? There has been nothing in the deportment of my hon. Friend to call for animadversion. He has been guilty of no indecorum to the House or to the Committee. Acting under a misapprehension of his duties, he has deliberately chosen to refuse to do what he believed the House had no right to order. Has he any ground for alleging misapprehension? In all courts of law or equity, if an order of the court were disobeyed, it would always be taken as a fair plea for indulgence, that the party acted under the advice of counsel, and was thereby misled. It is quite clear, with all deference to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cork, that the hon. Member for Limerick had been misled by his advice; and, that not taking that, which, after all, was the best exponent of my hon. and learned Friend's views on this matter—his own exemplary conduct—but taking that which all men of sense avoid, a gratuitous legal opinion, he was led into the error of seriously believing that the powers of the House over Irish and English Members were somewhat different. This point was urged by my hon. and learned Friend. The House did not seem to think there was much in it, and I agree with the House. At the same time, it must be borne in mind, that my hon. and learned Friend's opinion is one of great weight; and I happen to know, from conversations I have had out of this House with gentlemen from Ireland, that the impression was general that there was some technical flaw in the Act of Union, and that, consequently, the Irish Members were not subject to the same authority as the English. It is an odd notion, of which they must be disabused—inconveniently disabused, if they persevere in it. At the same time, as it appears that my hon. Friend acted bonâ fide on an erroneous opinion, I think he should have an opportunity of reconsidering that opinion after the House has given its decision. I shall concur in the Vote that a clear act of contempt has been committed; but after that, I think, it would be the part of wisdom and moderation that time should be given to the hon. Member for Limerick for further consideration, that he may have an opportunity of doing what no man of spirit and sense would ever hesitate to do—bow to the unanimous decision of the House.
§ MR. O'CONNELL
The hon. and learned Gentleman has mistaken the point as to notice. What my hon. Friend complained 1189 of, was, that the Order was made yesterday, without any previous notice having been given of the Motion on which it was made. The hon. Member for Limerick complains of discourtesy towards him in that respect. The first intimation he had of the Motion yesterday, was a service of the Order of the House. It is quite true he was in the House, but it is equally true that he conceived the Motion then made to have been a very different one; and he himself stated that he laboured under a mistake with respect to it.
§ SIR R. INGLIS
had so often differed from majorities of that House as to privilege, that he was somewhat surprised to find that in this case he concurred with what appeared to be the prevailing opinion. He had always endeavoured to uphold the authority of the House over its own Members, while he contended they had none over others, except those powers granted by statute. In giving a cordial support to the Motion, he did not say he was performing a painful duty, because he was satisfied the duty was clear and perfectly defensible. He believed, they would sacrifice their very existence as a legislative body if they did not enforce the rules they made for their own government, and enforce them summarily, as proposed by the present Motion; for he agreed with the hon. Member for Worcester, that the vote declaring the hon. Member guilty of contempt must be followed by its legitimate consequence, direct punishment. And, though it might be possible to interpose some delay between one Resolution and the other, he, for one, was not prepared to grant any such delay, because it had not been granted by the absurd advocates of privilege to any other individual who was guilty of a violation of their rules; and he thought they should be very cautious before they granted to any Member of their own body an accommodation which was refused to weaker parties. The case of non-notice was completely answered by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liskeard. But if there had been no direct notice, as all men, even those who could not read, were bound to know the law, so Members were bound to know all that appeared on the Votes. As to the rule of the 12th of February, let that be in all its branches reconsidered, if need be; but if an order of the House had passed as to a turnpike trust, it was the order which must be considered, and not the subject to which it referred. The disobedience 1190 of the hon. Member for Limerick was just as great, whether it referred to a Railway Committee or any other matter. Under these circumstances he should consider it his absolute duty to give his support to the Motion; and he should equally support another Motion for punishment, unless he heard some stronger arguments against it than any that had yet been advanced, believing that to say a Member was guilty of contempt was a mere brutum, fulmen, unless the House were prepared to follow up its vote by the course which, without a single exception, had been adopted with regard to persons out of the House.
§ MR. FITZGERALD
, although he had been apprized of the original intention of his hon. Friend the Member for Limerick, yet thought that he would have given the matter more intermediate attention, and would not have brought it to issue in this way. His personal friendship for the hon. Member, however, and his entire coincidence of opinion with him on the great question which agitated the minds of the people of Ireland, would, however, render it impossible for him to treat otherwise than with great attention and consideration anything that his hon. Friend might do either in that House or elsewhere. He must say he had not heard anything in the course of this debate to induce him to vote for the Motion; and when the hon. Member for Montrose laid it down that all Members of that House were bound to perform all their duties as Members, he appeared to have forgotten that the hon. Member for Limerick and many other Irish Members had been elected on the principle of their not at all attending in that House, and that their coming here was a voluntary act, because they thought that by so doing they could best oppose the Coercion Bill. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury had remarked as a difference between the English and the Irish Members that the latter did not pay the income tax. He forgot, however, that so many of them resided in England, and therefore paid it. Those who remained would no doubt be very soon called on also by the Legislature; but, perhaps, the amount collected would not pay the expense of collection. He thought that his hon. Friend the Member for Limerick was quite right in taking every opportunity he could to bring not only Irish questions, but also the situation of Irish Members under the notice of that House; and he was quite 1191 sure that in doing so he was not actuated by any desire to make himself a martyr, or to make himself more remarkable and popular in Ireland, for to do that would be impossible.
§ The House divided on the Question that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question:—Ayes 139; Noes 15: Majority 124.
|List of the AYES.|
|Acland, Sir T. A.||Ferguson, Col.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Fitzroy, hon. H.|
|Aldam, W.||Flower, Sir J.|
|Antrobus, E.||Forman, T. S.|
|Arbuthnott, hon. H.||Forster, M.|
|Armstrong, Sir A.||Gisborne, T.|
|Arundel and Surrey, Earl of||Godson, R.|
|Bailey, J. jun.||Goulburn, rt. hon. H.|
|Baillie, Col.||Graham, rt. hon. Sir J.|
|Baillie, H. J.||Granger, T. C.|
|Baine, W.||Greene, T.|
|Baldwin, B.||Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.|
|Bannerman, A.||Grimsditch, T.|
|Barclay, D.||Hamilton, W. J.|
|Baring, rt. hon. F. T.||Hamilton, Lord C.|
|Baring, rt. hon. W. B.||Harcourt, G. G.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Hawes, B.|
|Beckett, W.||Hay, Sir A. L.|
|Blackburne, J. I.||Henley, J. W.|
|Blake, M. J.||Herbert, rt. hon. S.|
|Borthwick, P.||Hervey, Lord A.|
|Bowles, Adm.||Hodgson, R.|
|Bowring, Dr.||Hope, Sir J.|
|Brooke, Lord||Hope, G. W.|
|Browne, hon. W.||Hotham, Lord|
|Bruce, Lord E.||Howard, hon. C. W. G.|
|Bruges, W. H.||Hudson, G.|
|Buckley, E.||Hume, J.|
|Buller, C.||Inglis, Sir R. H.|
|Buller, E.||Jones, Capt.|
|Cardwell, E.||Kelly, Sir F.|
|Carew, W. H. P.||Lockhart, W.|
|Carnegie, hon. Capt.||Mackenzie, T.|
|Christie, W. D.||Maclean, D.|
|Clerk, rt. hon. Sir G.||M'Neill, D.|
|Colebrooke, Sir T. E.||Mahon, Visct.|
|Collett, W. R.||Mangles, R. D.|
|Compton, H. C.||Marshall, W.|
|Conolly, Col.||Marsland, H.|
|Corry, rt. hon. H.||Molesworth, Sir W.|
|Cowper, hon. W. F.||Morpeth, Visct.|
|Craig, W. G.||Neville, R.|
|Cripps, W.||Ord, W.|
|Davies, D. A. S.||Packe, C. W.|
|Denison, E. B.||Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.|
|Douglas, Sir H.||Philips, M.|
|Douglas, Sir C. E.||Plumptre, J. P.|
|Duckworth, Sir J. T. B.||Plumridge, Capt.|
|Duncan, G.||Polhill, F.|
|Duncombe, hon. A.||Powell, Col.|
|Duncombe, hon. O.||Rawdon, Col.|
|Dundas, D.||Round, J.|
|Easthope, Sir J.||Sandon, Visct.|
|Eastnor, Visct.||Scott, hon. F.|
|Escott, B.||Seymour, Sir H. B.|
|Estcourt, T. G. B.||Sheridan, R. B.|
|Evans, W.||Smythe, hon. G.|
|Ewart, W.||Somerset, Lord G.|
|Feilden, W.||Sotheron, T. H. S.|
|Spooner, R.||Vyse, R. H. R. H.|
|Staunton, Sir G. T.||Walker, R.|
|Stuart, Lord J.||Ward, H. G.|
|Strutt, E.||Wellesley, Lord C.|
|Sutton, hon. H. M.||Wilde, Sir T.|
|Tancred, H. W.||Williams, W.|
|Thesiger, Sir F.||Winnington, Sir T. E.|
|Thornely, T.||Wood, Col.|
|Trelawny, J. S.|
|Trench, Sir F. W.||TELLERS.|
|Trotter, J.||Young, J.|
|Troubridge, Sir E. T.||Baring, H.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Bridgeman, H.||O'Connell, D.|
|Browne, R. D.||O'Connell, M.|
|Collett, J.||O'Connell, J.|
|Fitzgerald, R. A.||Powell, C.|
|Grattan, H.||Roche, E. B.|
|Kelly, J.||Somers, J. P.|
|O'Brien, J.||Warburton, H.|
|O'Brien, T.||Brotherton, J.|
§ The House again divided on the main Question:—Ayes 133; Noes 13: Majority 120.
§ MR. ESTCOURT
moved—That William Smith O'Brien, esquire, having been guilty of a contempt of this House, be for his said offence committed to the custody of the Serjeant-at-Arms attending this House, during the pleasure of the House, and that Mr. Speaker do issue his warrant accordingly.
§ COLONEL RAWDON
said, he should have been wanting in his duty to himself, and guilty of criminal weakness, if on account of any personal motives he had shrunk from supporting by his vote what he believed to be fit and right. But after the vote he had that evening given with so much pain to himself, he could not refrain from bearing testimony thus publicly to the great merits which did, he believed, attach to the hon. Member for Limerick. He was convinced there was not an hon. Member of that House actuated by more pure, disinterested, or patriotic motives than that hon. Gentleman. But he looked upon his duty in a different light from that in which he (Colonel Rawdon) regarded it. He hoped the House might be induced to pause before they proceeded to carry the measure suggested in the Motion before them into immediate execution. The opinions expressed by the friends of the hon. Member might have some weight with him, and if twenty-four hours' time were allowed him to consider the whole circumstances of the case, he might be possibly induced, in accordance with the feelings of the House, almost unanimously, to reflect on the course he had taken, and to retrace his steps. His conduct contrasted most disadvantageously, as far as the interests 1193 of his country was concerned, with that of the hon. Member for Cork and the hon. Member for Kilkenny, who had not thought it their duty to pursue the course taken by the hon. Member for Limerick, In conclusion, he hoped that the House, having asserted its dignity, would give the hon. Member some time to reflect on his conduct, and on the wishes of his friends, before they agreed to the Motion before them.
§ MR. J. O'CONNELL
rose to protest against having any compliment paid to him, or having comparisons drawn respecting his conduct, at the expense of his hon. Friend the Member for Limerick. It should be recollected that if he served on a Railway Committee, it was at the commencement of the Session, when, if he had not, it was evident he could not have taken any part in opposition to the Coercion Bill. His hon. Friend at the present time had not the same reasons for answering the call of the House that he (Mr. J. O'Connell) had at the beginning of the year. The House would do well, now that it had passed a vote of condemnation by so large a majority, to pause before it resorted to the extreme measure of committal. Again, he called on them to reflect that if his hon. Friend were mistaken, he was actuated by the very strongest convictions of his duty. He had not hitherto shrunk from anything which he thought it was his duty to perform; and no man could be more unflinching in the execution of it. If his hon. Friend were mistaken, his sincerity at least ought to be respected. A pause of a week or a few days might give them some means of getting out of their difficulty. The House might certainly push matters to extremity; but if they did, their act would be looked upon as an indication of hostility to Ireland. ["No, no!"] Hon. Gentlemen who cried "No, no!" were ignorant of the real feelings of the Irish people; but he, who knew what those feelings were, could assure them that the people of Ireland most fully approved of the hon. Member's intentions and conduct. In saying so he did not mean to suggest any apprehensions of danger, or hold out any threat to the House; but he thought it a matter which was worthy the consideration of a Parliament representing not England and Scotland alone, but Ireland also. Understanding that a Motion would be made in reference to the present question, he would not occupy the time of the House by any further observations on the subject.
§ VISCOUNT MORPETH
said that having joined very reluctantly in the vote to which the House had just come, and being further prepared to join the vote of the hon. Member for the University of Oxford, unless circumstances should meantime occur by which he could consistently avoid that course, he should, before they went to a division, rather put it to that hon. Member, if it would not tend to make the House stand more straightly in the eyes of all, if some little time were given in order to ascertain whether the hon. Member for Limerick himself would not now be prepared to bow to the clearly proved and decided opinion of the House? It had been stated in the course of the debate that the hon. Gentleman himself did not entertain any very precise notion that in the course of conduct he was pursuing he was acting in contempt of the Orders of the House. Now that the House had expressed their opinion, it would be well for them to pause in order to see whether that expression of opinion had not had a corresponding effect on the sentiments of the hon. Member. Most cordially did he wish that it might be the case. In the course of the previous discussion an hon. Member alluded to the number of Notices connected with the interests of Ireland which the hon. Member had on the Papers of that House. With respect to the fate of those Notices, the hon. Member for Limerick must recollect that the steps he had taken was his own act. Let him not forget that he had not acted in this respect as the hon. Member for Cork had acted. That hon. Member, in no less a degree, and for no shorter period of time, had been occupied on subjects connected with the welfare of the Irish people, either in opposition or in support of them; but he had not thought it inconsistent with his sense of devotion to the Irish people, or with his attachment to the cause of Repeal, to take his part, in common with all the other Members, in the despatch of the private, local, and internal business of the three countries. The hon. Member for Limerick surely would not forget that the English and the Scotch Members had not omitted to take their parts in despatching Irish business; that unusual accommodation had been afforded to the decision of Irish railways; and that both Houses of Parliament had departed from the usual course, in order to secure immediate attention to Railway Bills for that country. He hoped the hon. Member would, on consideration, give way to the 1195 opinion which the House had so clearly announced. But he thought the House would stand more highly with the people of this country, and—what he valued more in a question of this kind—with the Irish people, if they allowed some time to elapse, in order to show that the general sense of Parliament had been expressed in vain. But if the hon. Member for Limerick should not think proper to alter his previous determination in the meantime, he should certainly agree with those who thought they must follow up the vote to which they had come. Under all the circumstances, he begged to suggest to the hon. Member for Oxford whether it might not be better to withdraw his Motion, and, in place of it, to propose that the hon. Member for Limerick should be ordered to attend in his place, in order that the Speaker might communicate to him the Resolution to which the House had come.
§ MR. ESTCOURT
, in reply to the suggestion of the noble Lord, observed that he could only say he had been entirely governed by precedent in the course he had pursued. He knew of no precedent which could authorize him to withdraw his Motion, nor did he apprehend that any such precedent existed. In the course he had taken, he considered himself merely acting as the organ of the Committee of which he was the chairman, and in that capacity bound by the precedents afforded by the conduct of his predecessors, from which he believed it would be highly unbecoming to depart.
§ MR. WARD
Surely the House never wanted a precedent for the calm consideration of the subject. The object of the noble Lord was merely to postpone the Motion before the House, not to withdraw it. It was by an inadvertency the word was used. It was utterly impossible, if the House proceeded to extremities at once, that the hon. Member could have any opportunity of making concession. It was only the duty of the House to assert its authority; but having done so, it ought to pause before it carried so harsh a sentence into effect. He had great pleasure in sitting seventeen days last year on an Irish Railroad Committee; but he certainly should not have done so if he had not thought the duty was reciprocal, and that Scotch and Irish Members sat on English Committees. If the House wished the public to respect it, it must first respect itself. However, under the present circumstances, he would suggest the postponement 1196 of the Motion to Thursday next.
§ MR. O'CONNELL
suggested that the Motion should be complied with, and the discussion postponed till Thursday. He spoke solely for himself; he had no communication whatever with the hon. Member for Limerick, one who in everything could decide for himself; the Motion being-suspended till Thursday, only two days, could not tarnish the dignity of the House; he hoped that time would be given for a complete and distinct consideration of the subject.
§ SIR R. PEEL
The House has decided by a large majority—by 133 to 13, that a contempt of the authority of the House has been committed; that manifests on the part of the House, without reference to party distinctions, a very decided opinion on the subject, and I think it also manifests a decided determination to enforce its authority. At the same time, I do not myself think that authority will be prejudiced by giving forty-eight hours' notice of its intention to do so, I think we had better avoid saying what the alternative will be. I think we had better avoid throwing any difficulty in the way of the hon. Member doing that which I believe will be suggested by the advice of his Friends, by his own good sense, and his own unwillingness to go through the parade of making himself appear a martyr, against the general opinion and feeling of the House. My own opinion is, we had much better avoid placing any impediment in the way of the hon. Gentleman's calmly considering the matter. And I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir T. Wilde), whose opinion I so highly value on this question, and who is entitled to the gratitude of the House for the manner in which he has fought its battles of privilege, will concur with me in thinking that we shall not in the slightest degree endanger the authority of the House, which, in common with mo, he upholds, not for the dignity of the House itself, but for the maintenance of the essential rights of the people, by using some forbearance, and affording some time to the hon. Member for consideration. Under present circumstances, the wisest course we can adopt is perhaps to adjourn the debate till Thursday next. I believe the course we are taking, in order to insure the maintenance of our own authority, is rather a novel one; and I am sure that a result not too hastily arrived at will be the most satisfactory.
§ SIR T. WILDE
believed the course proposed to be a novel one; but he did not think that constituted an objection to its being pursued. He did not see that it could place them in any situation of difficulty out of doors; if any novelty in the proceeding could raise any new question elsewhere, that might form an objection to taking it. Considering the conduct of the hon. Member, the character he universally bore, and the evidence he had given that he was acting with sincerity and from correct motives, though perhaps from mistaken judgment, he (Sir T. Wilde) hoped he would not refuse to consider the consequences of his own proceedings. As far as he was concerned, he should be the last person to oppose the adjournment of the question for a short time.
§ MR. E. B. ROCHE
had just had a communication from the hon. Member for Limerick, which applied strongly to the present question. His hon. Friend thought it quite unnecessary there should be any further delay interposed between the decision of the House and the enforcing of that decision. He assured hon. Gentlemen that he was not performing an agreeable duty; it was a task he discharged with the greatest reluctance; and nothing but a strong feeling of respect for his hon. Friend the Member for Limerick had induced him to undertake it. He was aware that the House had shown great anxiety that his hon. Friend should yield and adopt a reasonable course; and nothing but a strong feeling of friendship for the hon. Member could have induced him to get up in his place and put this unpleasant conclusion to the discussion. But his hon. Friend's opinion of the rectitude of the course he had adopted was so decided—he was so convinced of the expediency of bringing the matter to a settlement, and that this sort of discussion should be put an end to as soon as possible—that his hon. Friend had empowered him to make known to the House that his resolution and his opinion on the question remained the same. He thought it due to the House that it should be informed of it.
§ SIR R. PEEL
I doubt whether the House had not better take its own course; it will not be precluded by what the hon. Gentleman has stated from taking that course. As it is our judgment that we can afford the delay without establishing an inconvenient precedent, I think the debate had better be adjourned, and after the House has stated the course it is willing to 1198 pursue, it may be taken for granted there will be a general desire to permit us to resume the debate. Giving the hon. Gentleman full credit for fair and honourable motives, still the House cannot receive the statement as a reason for departing from its own course.
§ Debate adjourned till Thursday.
§ A short time afterwards, MR. POULETT SCROPE
having began to address the House on his Motion relative to Waste Lands, the Speaker noticed Mr. Smith O'Brien, who had returned to the House, and said,
§ The SPEAKER
Seeing that the hon. Member for Limerick has returned to his seat, I should state that it is an unusual course to do so; it would be advisable that the hon. Member should retire till the adjourned debate fixed for Thursday next shall have terminated.
§ MR. S. O'BRIEN
I need not say I bow with the utmost deference to your decision, Sir, and your authority; at the same time, I should not have felt justified in withdrawing myself voluntarily, inasmuch as I have several Notices on the Paper for this evening, which I should have felt it my duty to have brought forward. [The hon. Member then bowed to the Chair and quitted the House.]