HC Deb 09 June 1852 vol 122 cc367-73

[The ATTORNEY GENERAL was' proceeding to address the Committee, but was interrupted by the disorderly and offensive conduct of the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. F. O'Connor), and who, on being remonstrated with by the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Beckett Denison), thrust his half-closed hand into the hon. Member's face.]


rose and said: Mr. Bernal, really, Sir, when the hon. and learned Attorney General, the first Law Officer of the Crown, rises to speak in this House, and when an hon. Member is called to order, and replies by thrusting his hand into the face of the hon. Member who so calls him to order—when that is the case, Sir, I think it demands the interference of the House. I take this opportunity to state that I have experienced great inconvenience, and have also observed other hon. Gentlemen suffer as much inconvenience from this behaviour; and I must say that, in my opinion, we have endured this annoyance With great goodwill for a very long time. But, Sir, there is a point beyond which it would he unworthy of us and of this House to submit. I regret being the individual who is obliged to make these observations; but in doing so I believe I Speak the feeling and opinions of hon. Gentlemen in general.


As I have been appealed to as Chairman, I beg to state what I conceive to he the extent of the duty of the Chairman of this House. On representation being made to me, I hold it to be my duty to report the nature of such representation to the highest authority in this House—namely, the right 'hon. Gentleman the Speaker. If any hon. Gentleman considers I should report the conduct of any hon. Member, I shall he prepared to do so accordingly.


Mr. Bernal, after what had taken place last night I think the House had reason to expect that the interruption which then occurred would not take place again. I understand that an hon. Member has stated to you that he has been treated in a manner disrespectful to himself and unworthy of this House, and I do not think it right, under the circumstances, unless an apology is made by the hon. Member I think' that either an apology ought to be made, or that you should be instructed to report what has taken place to Mr. Speaker.


I rise, in confirmation of what has been said by my right hon. Colleague, to state that accidentally I observed what was the exact conduct of the hon. Member; and, after observing that conduct, I have no hesitation in saying; however painful it may be, that it is indispensably necessary, not only to the dignity of our proceedings, but to the conduct of public business, that this painful matter should not be passed over. I have, therefore, no hesitation in recommonding that we should suspend for a short time our proceedings, in order to report to the highest authority in this House what has been the conduct of the hon. Member in question.

Mr. Feargus O'Connor, Member for Nottingham, having interrupted the proceeedings of the Committee by disorderly and offensive conduct towards the Member for the West Riding of the County of York;

Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report the same to the House," put, and agreed to.

Mr. Speaker resumed the Chair; and Mr. Bernal reported, that the business of the Committee having been interrupted by the disorderly conduct of Mr. Feargus O'Connor, he had been directed to report the same to the House.


I move that the hon. Member (Mr. F. O'Connor) be ordered to attend in his place.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Feargus O'Connor do attend in his place forthwith."


would ask whether it was of any use to proceed in this way against a Gentleman who, it sufficiently appeared, was labouring under an affliction of a very severe nature? The House had better refer the case to two medical men.


We all witnessed the conduct of the hon. Member for Nottingham last night, and I think we cannot hesitate to come to the conclusion that the hon. Member is master of his own actions, sufficiently so at least to warrant the House in interfering to restrain him. One of the grossest indignities that I ever witnessed was committed last night upon an hon. Member for whom we all entertain the highest respect, and it behaves the House to prevent a repetition of such conduct. If I thought that the hon. Member was not a free agent, and that he had not command of himself, as I have no doubt from what passed last night that he has, I should not consent to the hon. Gentleman being required to attend in his place, the consequence of which we are all aware of; but inasmuch as I am perfectly satisfied that the hon. Member is able to understand what gentlemanly and forbearing conduct in this House is, as on being called to account last night he instantly made an apology for his misconduct, I think it would not be consistent with the dignity of this House if it passes over what has occurred, and allows the hon. Member to retire without that observation being taken of his conduct as may prevent a repetition of such proceedings, and may enable the business of the House to be proceeded with in a proper manner.


I think, Sir, I was partly responsible for the proceedings of the hon. Member. I was sitting here (on the front Opposition bench), and after conversing with the hon. Member, who talked an extraordinary quantity of nonsense, he gave me a blow in my side. I said to him, "If you repeat this you will get yourself into a scrape, and will get yourself shut up;" upon which he laughed and turned round to the hon. Member on his right (Mr. B. Denison), and struck him in the face. It is a painful and difficult question—whether, if a man would do such an act after the warning he had just received, he can be a free agent. I should say that he is not. To call upon the hon. Member to make another apology after what took place last night, really appears to me to be a waste of time. 'Then again, supposing the hon. Member should say that he will not appear in his place in obedience to our summons, what are we to do in that case? I am of opinion that it is necessary for the House to take decisive measures at once, not only for our own sakes, but also for that of the hon. Member himself.


Mr. Speaker, I concur with the hon. Member who has just addressed the House in thinking that it would be a perfect farce to request the presence of the hon. Member for Nottingham, and inform him that he must make an appology. The apology would be made, and before quitting the spot where it was made, the hon. Member would be certain to commit another outrage. This being the case, it would be mere trifling to order him to appear in his place. Then comes the question, what course ought we, under these circumstances, to pursue? I will venture humbly to suggest it. We all of us, or, at least, many of us, witnessed the insult which the hon. Member for Nothingham offered to another hon. Member of this House, by putting his fist in his face. To commit such an act in this assembly is a grave contempt, and it is competent to us to commit the perpetrator of it to the custody of the Serjeant-at-Arms. Whether the power of commitment will cease to have effect at the end of the Session, is a matter with which, perhaps, we need not embarrass ourselves at the present moment. It appears to me that by adopting this course we should vindicate the dignity of the House, and for the remainder of the Session remove the hon. Member from these walls, within which he is so constantly obstructing business. If, therefore, I should be in order in doing so, I would move that Mr. Feargus O'Connor be committed for contempt to the custody of the Serjeant-at-Arms.


It is perfectly competent to the House to take the course suggested by the hon. Member for Whitehaven. It is usual, when a charge of misconduct is made against an hon. Member, to hear any explanation which that Member may offer. On that account I suggested that the hon. Member for Nottingham should be ordered to attend in his place; but if the House should be of opinion that the offence which the hon. Member has committed is flagrant and culpable, and admitting of no apology, it will be competent first, without directing him to attend in his place, to order him to be committed to the custody of the Serjeant-at-Arms.


I rise Sir, to suggest a middle course, which, I understand, has been adopted in some cases, namely, to sequester the hon. Member from his seat in Parliament. By adopting this course we should enable the hon. Member's friends to take charge of him, and prevent his doing mischief, while, at the same time, it would be a less severe measure than that suggested by the hon. Member for Whitehaven.


Sir, I have closely observed the Conduct of the unfortunate Gentleman who is the subject of discussion, and I entirely disagree from the hon. and learned Attorney General in the conclusion at which he has arrived respecting him. I Can be no party to any proceeding which would treat the hon. Member for Nottingham as a free agent, in the ordinary sense of the words. I am free to admit, that when you, Sir, last night called on the hon. Member to Make an apology for his conduct, he immediately did so; but we see that the apology has been followed by a repetition of the offencce. If art order for the hon. Member's commitment would have the effect of placing him under the care of medical attendants and the protection of his friends, I would not hesitate to assent to it; but; if otherwise, it would be abhorrent from my feelings, believing as I do that the hon. Member labours Under an aberration of intellect, to consent to his being committed for Contempt. I think that while providing for Our own protection and the maintenance of the dignity of the House, we should Use Our power with due regard to humanity.


Sir, it is impossible to determine accurately what is the state of the hon. Member's mind; but, having noticed him for some time, I am clearly of Opinion that he knows enough of the Consequences of his actions to be answerable for what he does. But, be the hon. Member's mind in the state in which the hon. Member who Spoke last supposes it to be; will any one tell me that if a man in that state of mind Were to act in a Court of Justice as the hon. Member for Nottingham acts here; the Judge presiding over the Court would hot immediately take measures for preventing the Court from being outraged? He would do so to maintain the dignity of the Court, for the protection of suitors; and for the protection of the individual Himself. This is the way in which I feel We ought to act. It is consistent with justice to put by a man who, in the opinion of some, is unable to take care of himself; and, at all events, we are bound to take care of ourselves. It is my opinion that the hon. Member for Nottingham is in a state of mind in which he might do much mischief. From what I have seen of the hon. Mem- ber's conduct towards the Chair, I feel that we are bound to protect you, Sir, against his eccentricity, whimsicality, and outrage.


I think, Sir, the right hon. and learned Gentleman's last Observation is an answer to his first. If he thinks that you; Sir, or any other Member of this House, is in danger from the hon. Member for Nottingham, he Surely cannot believe the hon. Member to be in a state which would render him responsible for his acts. If a person in a state of mind resembling that of the hon. Member for Nottingham should be unfortunate enough to commit a crime, not a jury in the metropolis would hesitate to acquit him on the ground of insanity. The hon. Member has acted in a Court of Justice as he has acted in this House; but the result which the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks inevitable did not follow. It was stated in the newspapers recently that the hon. Member visited the Law Courts one after another, exhibiting in each marks of eccentricity. No one wishes to prevent proper charge being taken of the hon. Member; but I would have this done in a way which would not reflect on the common Sense and humanity of the House.


I am sure Sir, the House will in this Case, as in every other, act humanely as well as justly I have throughout this Session witnessed the hon. Member for Nottingham conduct himself so disrespectfully towards the Chair, and so disorderly towards the House; that in my opinion the time has come when we are bound to take notice of the matter. It must be observed that, from the circumstance of the hon. Member's having been allowed during the Session to sit and Vote in this House, we have hitherto been justified in treating him as a person who knows what he is about. Under these circumstances I think it my duty, without further debate, to move that Mr. Feargus O'Connor be committed to the custody of the Serjeant-at-Arms, for disorderly conduct and contempt of this House.


I have no hesitation in saying that I feel it my painful duty to second the Motion, I this day witnessed the conduct of the hon. Member for Nottingham towards my hon. Friend the hen. Member for the West Riding (Mr. B. Denison), and previously I witnessed his conduct In the lobby to a right hon. Friend of mine, hot how present; and his conduct on both those occasions, added to what we have all observed during the Session, has left no doubt on my own mind that the hon. Member ought not to be deemed master of his own actions. For the safety of the hon. Member himself, as well as for our own, and from regard to the propriety of our proceedings, I feel that we have no other course open to us than that of adopting the Motion, which I now second.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Ordered, Nemine ContradicenteThat Mr. Feargus O'Connor, for his disorderly conduct and contempt of this House, be taken into the custody of the Serjeant at Arms attending this House; and that Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant accordingly.