HC Deb 14 July 1856 vol 143 cc736-40

Sir, I wish to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Napier). The House is aware that the Master of the Rolls in Ireland made, from the judicial bench, a charge impugning the official conduct of the Attorney General for that country, and publicly stated that he had reduced his charge to writing and transmitted it to a Member of this House, who had undertaken that the charge should be openly and completely brought forward in Parliament. The House will also recollect that on Friday night the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Napier), holding that document in his hand, used the following words in his statement to the House:— A Member of this House stands charged with being concerned in a gigantic fraud—he has escaped from justice; and it is essential that we should inquire by whose default that escape has arisen. I hope the Government will afford the earliest opportunity for the inquiry to take place. The public demands it—it must be conceded—the case must be thoroughly sifted—the honour of this house is concerned in it. The question I wish to put to the right hon. Gentleman is whether he is now prepared—by "now" I mean any day soon to arrive—to bring forward in his place in this House, and in such a shape as can be the conveniently met, this charge against the Attorney General for Ireland? The right hon. Gentleman says that the honour of this House is concerned in this question. He had received a written statement from the Master of the Rolls; he had accepted a commission to bring the subject before the House; he endorsed the statement placed in his hands with his own weighty authority; and I now appeal to him to answer this question—whether he is prepared at the earliest possible opportunity—to-morrow, if that day is open to him—to bring forward the charge which he has so received and endorsed? I think I may also appeal to the House—and I have never known an appeal made to their candour and generosity in vain when the honour of a Member was concerned—to back me in the request that the charge may be brought forward in such a shape that I may be able to meet it, and that this House may be in a position to give its decision on the subject.


The right hon. Gentleman has referred to a passage in my speech the other night, in which I said that I thought it concerned the honour of this House that an inquiry should take place with reference to the escape of James Sadleir. I thought so then, and I think so still. But will the House allow me very briefly to explain my connection with this question?—because I think an attempt has been made, both in and out of the House, to place me in the position of an accuser.


I rise to order. I wish to know whether the right hon. Gentleman is in order in entering into this statement when there is no question before the House and no other hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity of answering him?


if the statement of the right hon. Gentleman would lead to debate he would not be in order; but I understood that the right hon. Gentleman was proceeding to make a statement with relation to himself personally.


I was about to explain in what manner I became connected with this case. Hearing a statement made by the Attorney General for Ireland that the Master of the Rolls in Ireland had disregarded his oath as a Privy Councillor. [Interruption.] Several other hon. Members heard that statement.


Such observations as the right hon. Gentleman has just made must lead to a debate. I also heard the speech of my right hon. Friend the Attorney General, and, as far as my memory goes, he made no such statement as the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned. I think, therefore, it is very irregular, after the rule laid down by the Speaker, that the right hon. Gentleman should proceed with his statement, which must necessarily lead to a debate.


I really thought that the assertion of one hon. Member of this House was as good as the assertion of another. I stated what I had myself heard, and other hon. Members who were present also heard the observations of the right hon. Gentleman.


The right hon. Member for the University of Dublin is now proceeding to discuss the practice and orders of the House. I take leave to differ from him in opinion. The practice of this House is, that what a Member states with respect to anything that he has himself said is accepted as what he said; but, according to Parliamentary courtesy, it is not competent for an hon. Member to repeat an assertion after the denial, under such circumstances, of another hon. Gentleman.


I have no intention of impeaching the accuracy of any one. One person may hear and another may not. I think I had a right to act upon my assumption of what I had heard; and on Saturday I wrote to the Master of the Rolls informing him of the statement I had heard made in this House on the previous night, and asking him what were the real facts of the case. I knew nothing about the matter, but as the Master of the Rolls was a constituent of mine, as well as a long respected friend, I thought it right to communicate with him. I received his answer a day or two afterwards. It was not the long document to which I referred on Friday, but one that I received some days before. On the Motion for going into Committee on the Appropriation Bill on Thursday, I stated that I would enter into the question with regard to the oath of a Privy Councillor; but upon you, Sir, telling me I could not do so, I said that I would bring the subject before the House on the motion for adjournment on Friday. On Friday I received the document to which reference had been made, and I brought it down to the House. An appeal was made to the hon. Member for Antrim, and also to me, with regard to the postponement of questions relating to this matter, and while I was considering what course I should pursue I was called upon to proceed with my Motion. I only referred to the statement sent to me by the Master of the Rolls, in so far as I considered that it bore upon the charge that he had violated his oath as a Privy Councillor. With regard to the rest of the case, what I then said, and what I still say is, that I think this matter ought not to be made the subject of angry political debate in this House. It is requisite, however, that we should be acquainted with all the material circumstances under which James Sadleir has escaped from justice; and what I thought the unfair course was this—


The right hon. Member is now exceeding the bounds of order.


I was endeavouring to explain this point. When I brought forward the subject it was suggested that I should prepare a Resolution embodying a charge against the Attorney General; but I could not do that, because I was not in possession of the statement or defence of the right hon. Gentleman. I was most willing that an inquiry should be instituted into the circumstances; and I think such an inquiry would be most satisfactorily conducted by a Committee appointed by the Committee of Selection, who might investigate the matter thoroughly. I had no commission from the Master of the Rolls to make any charge against the Attorney General for Ireland, and, so far as the Attorney General was concerned, I could not make a charge until I knew his case. The right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Grey) said, I think, that if no hon. Member would embody his suspicions in a Resolution the Government would take measures to have the subject brought fully before the House. I shall be ready to take any course which the House may think it would be right to follow, holding as I do the opinion that this is a matter which it is our duty to investigate.


As the right hon. Gentleman has declined to bring this matter in a substantive shape before the House, I shall adopt the only course that is open to a Member whose character is impeached, and therefore, without letting one day pass over, I shall to-morrow evening, on some formal Motion, make a statement to the House on the subject. And I have only to hope that hon. Gentlemen who have Motions on the paper for to-morrow, seeing this is a matter involving the personal honour of a Member of the House, will have the goodness to give way.