HC Deb 11 May 1869 vol 196 cc575-84

Orders for Second Heading, and for Counsel and Witnesses to attend, read.


said, he had to inform the House that, acting under its Orders, he had taken care that evidence should be forthcoming in support of the Preamble of this Bill, and that witnesses were now in waiting in the House; and he had also, acting on the Order of the House, appointed counsel to be heard at the Bar. They were the Solicitor General for Ireland, Mr. Serjeant Ballantine, and Mr. Edward Barry. He had now to move that counsel be called in.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Counsel be now called in."—(Mr. Attorney General for Ireland.)


said, it was his intention to move a direct negative to the Motion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman; but, perhaps, it might simplify matters very much if the House would permit him to read a letter which he had received that day, and which he was authorized to read to the House. That letter was written by the gentleman against whom the Bill was proposed, and it was in these terms—

"London, May 11, 1869.

"My dear Mr. Maguire,

"Taking into consideration the peculiar circumstances of the moment, and the grave interests of Ireland involved in the great measure now before Parliament, I have resolved to place my resignation of the mayorality of the City of Cork in your hands and those of The O'Donoghue; and I do so by this letter.

"In accepting that office, my entire wish and desire was to act for the public good, and to protect, to the best of my power, the humbler classes of the community from what I could not help regarding as an arbitrary administration and violation of the law.

"But, having regard to my personal honour and consistency, I declare, in the most solemn and emphatic manner, that the language attributed to me did not in any way express or represent my real meaning; and, further, I solemnly declare that I would myself be the first person to rush to the protection of human life if I knew it to be endangered. I may also state that I look to the regeneration of my country through constitutional and remedial measures such as that now passing through the House of Commons, and my belief that the battle of my country is to be fought on the floor of that House.

"My only object in thus retiring is to put an end to a serious difficulty which in no way affects myself or my social position; for even if the Bill of Pains and Penalties pass into law, it can be no injury to me in the estimation of those whom I respect, and whose opinions I value. I do this solely for what I consider the interests of my country.

"Yours faithfully,


He only hoped that, after reading that letter, he might be allowed to carry out his intention of moving a negative to the Order, and of explaining, if necessary, the reason why he did so.


said, that perhaps he might be allowed to state that Mr. O'Sullivan had authorized him to say that he intended to write by that evening's post to the Town Clerk in Cork, placing his resignation in the hands of the Town Council; and he would also add that, from his own knowledge of Mr. O'Sullivan's character, anything he said he would do might be relied upon.


Having listened to the letter which has been read by my hon. Friend the Member for Cork—of the contents and purport of which I was previously unaware—a fact which I mention only in case that in any minute particular I should have failed to gather its sense aright,—having listened also to the statement of the hon. Member who last addressed us, I think that, without reference to any particular terms or expressions in that letter, my duty is to state that, as I understand the matter—and, of course, I invite correction from either of the hon. Members in case I am inaccurate—Mr. O'Sullivan, the Mayor of Cork, has absolutely, although not technically, resigned. That I understand to be the case. [Mr. MAGUIRE and The O'DONOGHUE: Hear, hear!] As far as regards certain matters of form connected with his resignation, these, as I clearly gather, are still in the future. But we have a distinct guarantee in the character of my two hon. Friends that the resignation will be carried into effect, and I am bound to say that had we received a clear and authentic intimation to that effect from Mr. O'Sullivan himself, even unsupported by those unquestionable guarantees, we could not have regarded it with the slightest distrust. The situation in which the matter at present stands is this—We have now Before us the unconditional resignation of the Mayor of Cork and as regards everything except the fulfilment of certain formalities. I think I should be speaking the truth if I were to say that Mr. O'Sullivan is Mayor of Cork no longer. Sir, if that be so—if I am correct in that assumption—I have to state that in the view of Her Majesty's Government it would not be desirable to prosecute the measure which we have introduced into the House—and which we are prepared to vindicate and, if necessary, to carry forward—against a gentleman who, by his own voluntary and unsolicited act, has divested himself of the office he held. I am perfectly aware that the letter which has been read by the hon. Member contains no pledge on the part of Mr. O'Sullivan with reference to any future contingencies. The terms of that letter and the engagements contracted by it would, if I understand it aright, be actually fulfilled by the act of resignation, and anything that might subsequently happen in the City of Cork would be a matter lying entirely outside that engagement. As what we have had in view has been the vindication of the authority of the law and of order, and not the mere punishment of an individual or the desire to bring the power of Parliament into conflict with the fortunes and character of an individual, on the one hand, as I have said, the Government do not think it right under the circumstances to carry forward this Bill against Mr. O'Sullivan; but, on the other hand, it would be necessary for them to keep within their own discretion the power of asking the House to proceed with the Bill, were it needful, against the future Mayor of Cork. The question arising upon the vacancy made by the resignation of Mr. O'Sullivan must, I apprehend, be decided within a very short time; but as to when that time may be neither myself nor my right hon. and learned Friend near me (the Attorney General for Ireland) have been exactly informed. Tinder these circumstances, as undoubtedly the re-election of Mr. O'Sullivan would place us, in the opinion of the Government, in precisely the same position in which we now stand. I think that the most becoming course, injustice to Mr. O'Sullivan, injustice to the dignity of this House, and as regards the duty of the Government, is that I should move that all further proceedings upon this Bill should be postponed for such a time as, according to the best estimate I can form, will probably be sufficient to dispose of the matter of the reelection. My hon. Friend the Member for Cork will observe that I make no complaint whatever of the engagement entered into, on the ground that it docs not contemplate any future contingency. I do not think that is a matter on which I am bound to give any opinion, far less to express any blame, beyond this—that my hon. Friend will, I hope, distinctly understand the object the Government have in view. I do not know, Sir, whether I ought to move that the debate be adjourned, or that the proceedings be adjourned; but, perhaps, you will kindly inform me what the form of the Motion should be; but my intention is to move that the proceedings should be adjourned for four weeks from this day, within which period, as far as I can obtain information, the matter of the reelection will be settled; and I do this with the full hope that this day four weeks we may find ourselves in a condition to drop the Bill and these proceedings altogether—proceedings most painful, I can assure the House, to Her Majesty's Government; most painful to my right hon. and learned Friend near me as the chief Law Officer of the Crown in Ireland; most painful I believe, to Gentlemen on both sides of this House; but proceedings from which we could not shrink without violating the highest of all our duties—namely, the duty to maintain the peace and order of the country, the authority of the law, and the purity and efficacy of the administration of justice. Sir, I beg to move that the Motion be now withdrawn.


It will be in the recollection of the House that when this subject arose, before I ventured to point out that the proceedings which were contemplated by the Government against the Mayor of Cork, in the event of his contumacy, were, objected to on the ground of this being exceptional legislation, absolutely personal, and also ex-post facto, I then urged upon the House that the proper remedy lies in an alteration of the general law. I did not utter that opinion lightly, and I hope the House will forgive me for having ventured such a suggestion when I state to them that, in 1861, this question arose in this House, when the Municipal Corporations Act was under discussion. I divided the House on that subject. Previous to 1861 the law of England was not assimilated to the law of Ireland with respect to the position of mayors; but in that year the Government brought in a Bill, and, contrary to a recent decision of the Court of Queen's Bench, and contrary to the express declaration of Lord John Russell in introducing the original Corporations Act, they passed a clause in this House giving the mayor precedence as a magistrate, and a right to the chairmanship of the bench of magistrates, thereby constituting him, not only a magistrate by Act of Parliament, which the original Act constituted him, but also constituting him chairman of the magistrates by Act of Parliament, having precedence and to become the organ of the municipal bench of magistrates, in every borough where there was not a stipendiary magistrate or a Recorder, and whenever that functionary might be absent. I directed the attentention of the House at that time to this very great innovation on the principle of the original Municipal Corporations Act. The Government were, however, pleased to think that I was actuated by local feelings which had arisen in the case of the borough of Birmingham. Although I had then recently joined with the Members for Birmingham in carrying the Corporations Act for that very town, the House put me in a minority, although I took two divisions on this point. The Bill went to the House of Lords, where the matter was taken up by my noble Friend (Lord Chelmsford), supported by Lord Wensleydale, and that clause to which I objected in this House was, after full consideration, carried by a majority of 1 vote. Now, it is in this very particular that the difficulty has arisen with respect to the Mayor of Cork. Had he stood in the same position as other justices of the peace, he might have been displaced by the Lord Chancellor; but, being a magistrate and chairman of the bench appointed under an Act of Parliament, this House is placed in the position of attempting an exceptional Act in the case of an individual, the Mayor of the City of Cork. I do not wish to detain the House by citing the various authorities which I submitted to the House in 1861. Suffice it that they had the approval of a majority of the Law Lords in the other House of Parliament, although the clause in the English Act passed by a majority of 1. I would urge on the attention of the Government that, after this grave case has arisen, if they introduce any future Bill on the subject, they should reconsider the decision to which the House came in 1861, because I am most fully convinced, after examining the division lists, that if it had not been at the end of July, that objectionable provision, which was contrary to the decision of the Court of Queen's Bench, and contrary to the principle of the original Act, would never had stood on the statute book. It is based upon an evil precedent in the law of Ireland.


I do not quite understand the course proposed; to be taken by my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government. The Bill introduced by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland is one not only to remove Mr. O'Sullivan from the office of Mayor of Cork, but to render him ineligible to fill the office of magistrate now or at any future time. I wish to know whether my right hon. Friend intends to rest satisfied with the assurance of the Mayor of Cork that he will not stand for a reelection to that office at the next election of mayor, or whether he will take an assurance which will prevent Mr. O'Sullivan from filling the office of magistrate at any future time as provided in the Bill?


My statement was meant to convey to the House that our proceeding was intended to be one wholly against the Mayor of Cork, and against Mr. O'Sullivan as Mayor of Cork. I ought, perhaps, to have stated—though I think it was implied—that Mr. O'Sullivan, bonâ fide, ceasing to be Mayor of Cork, and on his failure to be re-elected or his declining to be re-elected to that office, in our judgment the contingency would arise when it Mould be wise to drop altogether everything in this penal proceeding. The Mayor of Cork having placed himself in the position of a private citizen, we should forbear to ask the House to pass a measure, brought in as a proceeding against him not in his private capacity, but as a representative of public authority, and an administrator of justice in the City of Cork.


wished for a moment to direct the attention of the House to a general question which had arisen out of the discussion. Circumstances not unfrequently added great weight to argument, and he wished to ask whether the time had not arrived when a careful and calm inquiry should be instituted into the circumstances under which the House abandoned the privilege of taking evidence upon oath? He wanted to know what the circumstances were, and whether—taught by the experience of the last few days—["Order, Order!"]


I beg to inform the hon. Member that this is a subject that cannot properly be debated now.


Perhaps the House will allow me to say that I think the Government have taken a most prudent and proper course. They brought forward a measure of an extreme nature, in its character almost unexampled in the annals of Parliament—for I believe the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli) was right in saying that there has been no instance, even in the worst times of Parliamentary oppression, of a Bill of this kind being introduced for the use of mere words—they brought forward this measure, no doubt with extreme reluctance, but as being the only mode with which they could cope—considering the condition of things in Ireland—with a very great evil. They brought forward this measure on their responsibility; but I am afraid, if it had been prosecuted further, we should have embarked on a most difficult course, beset with troubles and shoals and quick-sands of every kind. It seems to me that the course now taken by the Mayor of Cork, though it has been somewhat late, is that which his sense of public duty has dictated to him, and through that action we probably shall escape from those difficulties. I think, therefore, that the course of adjourning the further proceedings on this Bill is a proper one, and trust that we shall hoar no more of it. I have no idea, as I apprehend he has none, that Mr. O'Sullivan will ever again be elected mayor. [Mr. MAGUIRE: Hear, hear!] We shall now escape placing a precedent upon our Journals, which in difficult and troublous times, might have a most evil influence.


asked the Law Officers of the Crown, whether the law was the same in Ireland as in England, under which the mayor of any borough, after ceasing to be mayor, remained a magistrate for twelve months after-wards?


In Ireland that is not so.


said, until his hon. Colleague read the letter which he had placed before the House he was totally unaware of the course, which the Mayor of Cork had taken; but he must say that from his personal knowledge of him—and he appreciated the motives of public duty which had actuated him in placing his resignation in the hands of the hon. Gentleman—he must express his opinion that he was actuated by sincere motives, and that what he had done he believed had been for the public good. He congratulated the House on the result which had been arrived at.


I am sure the House joins with me in the feeling of satisfaction that it is unnecessary to prosecute this Bill any further, although I believe both sides would have supported it if the Government had found it necessary to carry it forward. The difficulty in which the matter has been placed has arisen from this—that there is no method known to the Constitution by which the mayors of any towns can be removed from office. It was felt by many that it would be more desirable to make a change in the general law than to legislate specialty against the Mayor of Cork. It was also felt that it would be tampering1 with the independence of our great towns to make the law more stringent; and that it was not desirable to give the Government more authority over the local magistrates of a borough than they now possessed, in consequence of the error of one of them. There are two ways of dealing with the administrators of the law known to our Constitution. One is, in the case of ordinary magistrates, to give the Lord Chancellor power to remove them, and the other is, in the case of our Judges, who are irremoveable by the Executive Government, to remove them from office, when necessary, by an Address to the Crown from the two Houses of Parliament. If it should be thought desirable, as I believe it is, not to interfere with the self-government and independence of our municipalities, I would suggest whether, in any general measure introduced upon this subject, it would not be better to provide that municipal officers, when found unworthy to be entrusted with the administration of justice, should be removeable upon an Address from Parliament, and not by the action of the Government. They are popularly-elected magistrates, and I think the task of removing them might be safely entrusted to their representatives in Parliament.


I wish to say a few words in reply to a question which has been put by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury. I have to state that I am sure that this is a bonâ fide resignation, and that Mr. O'Sullivan has no intention whatever of presenting himself again to solicit the office of mayor; and I do not believe there is any intention on the part of the municipal body in Cork to place him in that position.


I believe the House need have no apprehension whatever that Mr. O'Sullivan will ever again be elected Major of Cork after the course he has taken this day.


We have now demonstrated that there is a power quite sufficient to put down anything opposed to Her Majesty the Queen, and which represents vast interests which now lie dormant, but could at any time be awakened to mighty efforts. But, powerful as we are, and representing, as we do, the force of the people of England, yet there is a power stronger than Parliament—and that power is not merely justice, but mercy, which is a far greater power than even justice in this country. This is a time of transition, thanks to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, who has awakened a power in the public mind which cannot be driven back again. That power is one that will best be sustained during the transition period through which we are passing, and while a certain amount of excitement is natural, by our showing ourselves forbearing, patient and merciful, it will make this United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland omnipotent.

THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. SULLIVAN) moved that the Order for the attendance of Counsel and Witnesses be discharged.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for attendance of Counsel and Witnesses this day discharged.

MR. GLADSTONE moved that the Bill be read a second time on that day four weeks.


Who is going to pay the expenses that have already been incurred in this case?


The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has the means of paying.


I think that is very hard on the country.

Motion agreed to.

Second Reading deferredtill Tuesday 8th June.