HC Deb 30 April 1846 vol 85 cc1290-5

said, that before he proceeded to move the Order of the Day for resuming the adjourned debate respecting the refusal of the hon. Member for Limerick to serve on a Railway Committee, he might be allowed to express his earnest hope that that hon. Gentleman had authorized some Friend to make a communication to the House on his behalf.

The Order of the Day for resuming the Adjourned Debate was then read, and the Question again put— That W. S. 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.


It will be in the recollection of the House, that towards the conclusion of the debate on Tuesday, it was my duty to come down from my hon. Friend the Member for Limerick (Mr. W. S. O'Brien), and on his behalf to convey a certain intimation to the House. The right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir R. Peel), acting, I must admit, in a most fair and amicable spirit, thought well not to receive that intimation, but to give my hon. Friend forty-eight hours for consideration, during which he might determine what course he would pursue. Now, Sir, my hon. Friend complains—and, as far as I am concerned, I think his complaint is just—that he has not had an opportunity of explaining fairly and distinctly to the House the position in which he is placed, and the reasons which have induced him to adopt a certain line of conduet. I do not state what course my hon. Friend will pursue to-night. I have only to ask the House, either by Motion, or in any other manner consistent with its forms, that my hon. Friend may be allowed to attend in his place or at the bar, to explain to the House the reasons which have led him to take the course he has hitherto pursued, and which influence him in adopting the course of action he intends to follow. It is true I may be asking the House to take a course not in consonance with its ordinary rules and regulations; but I am sure, when I appeal to the House on behalf of an hon. Gentleman who stands in the painful position of being sustained by scarcely any individual in this assembly, and of adopting a course of action which is not supported even by those who usually act with him on all public questions, that the House will be disposed to give a favourable consideration to the request I now have to make. Although that request may not be in strict consonance with the customs and regulations of the House, yet, I trust that the House, in a spirit of justice and fairness, and influenced by a desire to afford fair play to all parties, will indulgently and kindly grant my hon. Friend permission to appear before them. I have simply to move, "That Mr. W. S. O'Brien be heard in his place."


said: I apprehend, if the Motion of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. E. B. Roche) is not contrary to the rules and customs of the House, there can be no objection to acceding to it. I, for one, should be most happy to assent to it, though I am anxious to maintain the rules and orders of the House. I think, when a request is made in the manner in which this has been preferred by the hon. Member for Cork, we ought to comply with it, provided we can do so without any material infringement of our rules.


I apprehend that if you intend to proceed in conformity with the rules of the House, it will be utterly and entirely impossible to grant the request of the hon. Member for Cork.


My hon. Friend the Member for Limerick was dissatisfied with the manner in which I put his case to the House. He does not think I argued the merits as I ought to have argued them, and he conceives that at the present moment he is really unheard.


I think I have proved my desire to relax the strict rules of the House in this case, so far as any relaxation can be properly and consistently al lowed. As far as my private feelings are concerned, I am desirous that those rules should be relaxed. But, in the position I occupy, I owe a duty to the House; and I think it is of the utmost importance that we should consider how far it is consistent with the established precedents and customs of this House, and the principles upon which those precedents are founded—which are much more important than a mere pedantic observance of precedents—to assent to the Motion of the hon. Member for Cork. I must remind that hon. Gentleman that an opportunity was afforded to the hon. Member for Limerick of stating why he had declined to obey the Orders of the House; for I distinctly recollect that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. S. O'Brien) rose and said, that although such an opportunity was afforded him, he did not desire to avail himself of it, because his reasons were already upon record in the printed Correspondence on the Table of the House; and to the reasons alleged in that correspondence, he must refer for an explanation of the grounds on which he had acted. But this does not rest upon my own recollection. I find this entry in the Votes and Proceedings of the House:— Mr. Smith O'Brien, being in his place, and having been called upon by Mr. Speaker, stated that he had no further explanation to offer to the House, and that he held to his determination as expressed in his Correspondence with the chairman of the Committee of Selection, and then he withdrew. I apprehend that the hon. Member having declined to obey the Order of the House, is in that position which is technically termed "contempt." I should wish to appeal, Sir, to your authority, whether or not there are any precedents for acceding to the Motion of the hon. Member for Cork? By assenting to that Motion we may establish an important precedent for governing the proceedings of this branch of the Legislature; and it is therefore of the utmost importance that we should be careful how we depart from our established rules. If, Sir, you will have the goodness to state what is your impression as to the rules of the House, and if there be any precedents for the course proposed by the hon. Member for Cork, I should, for my own part, be happy to permit the extension of those precedents to this case. If, however, there should be no such precedents, the painful duty will be imposed upon me of supporting the established usages of the House, in opposition to the proposal of the hon. Member for Cork.


In answer to the appeal of the right hon. Baronet, I must state—and I do so with very great regret—that I cannot call to my memory any precedent that would justify the House, under present circumstances, in allowing the hon. Member for Limerick to be heard in his place. The hon. Member for Limerick had an opportunity of being heard after the Report of the Committee was presented to the House, and the Order for his attendance had been read. The hon. Gentleman did not avail himself of that opportunity, and the House then resolved that he had been guilty of contempt. The House having come to that conclusion, I cannot call to my memory any case which would justify them in permitting the hon. Member for Limerick to appear in his place before they determine his punishment.


Of course, Sir, I bow with deference to your decision. It appears that my hon. Friend cannot be heard in his place in this House; but is there any reason or precedent why my hon. Friend should not be heard at the bar of the House?


There is no precedent for any Member of the House being called to the bar, unless he appears there almost, I may say, as a criminal. I am not aware of any precedent for such a proceeding.


I have been requested to make a statement to the House on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Limerick. That statement has been handed to me in writing, and is in these words:— I was in ignorance of the nature of the Resolution which the Chairman of the Committee of Selection intended to propose to the House when I declined to avail myself of the permission allowed me to address the House. My hon. Friend was ignorant, at the time, of the nature of the Resolution which the Chairman of the Committee intended to submit to the House, and, therefore, he did not address them. The House will consider that circumstance, and they will, I am sure, be ready to extend their indulgence to my hon. Friend. I can assure them that he is not now acting on new opinions, but on opinions which he has held for several years. Whether he is right or wrong, he says he is supported by legal authorities; and he wishes it to be distinctly understood that he intimated his desire to serve on Committee on an Irish Bill. It would, I think, have been an easy matter for the Chairman of the Committee of Selection to have arranged for placing my hon. Friend on an Irish Committee; but this was not done.


asked if the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. E. B. Roche) withdrew his Amendment.


Of course, as it is contrary to the rules of the House.

Amendment withdrawn, and MR. SPEAKER again read the original Motion.


said, he wished to suggest a course by which the House might avoid the extremity to which they were about to proceed. It was clear, that if the hon. Member for Limerick remained in a state of contempt, he would be precluded from taking any part in the debates in that House. Now, he (Mr. M. Milnes) apprehended that the effect of adjourning this debate to this day six months would be to enable the hon. Member for Limerick to take part in the deliberations and proceedings of that House. He would, therefore, move as an Amendment, that the debate be adjourned to this day six months.


said, the hon. Gentleman must, in the first instance, move that the debate be adjourned before he could propose the adjournment to any particular time.


said, that if the House did not think his suggestion deserved consideration he would not press it. He merely wished to throw out the suggestion as a means by which the House might relieve themselves from their present painful position. He would withdraw the Amendment.


put the Question on the original Motion, which was carried.