HC Deb 15 February 1875 vol 222 cc313-35

rose, pursuant to Notice, to bring before the House a question of Privilege. In doing so, he said, he viewed with the gravest apprehensions the raising of such a question on the part of any hon. Member, lest such a course should tend to limit, not only freedom of discussion, but that freedom of independent criticism upon the conduct of public men, whether inside the House in which they were assembled, or outside it, which was so essential to healthy public opinion in the country. He might cite precedents to show the Privileges of the House had been asserted in a way which would now be considered most arbitrary, not against Members of that' assembly, but against members of "the Fourth Estate"—the Public Press, to which the House of Commons, and, indeed, the cause of liberty throughout the world owed more than to any Legislative Chamber. He hoped hon. Members would, therefore, not think that he had risen on that occasion to take exception in any narrow spirit or on small provocation to a wound on the dignity of the House. For his own part—and he might, he believed, say as much for several of his hon. Friends around him—he felt that it might be and would be often his duty to assert very strongly that very liberty of speech which as a consequence he ought to be the very last to complain of. Nor would it become him to lay hold of an accidental utterance which had escaped in the warmth of the moment, and which the speaker was afforded no opportunity to qualify or withdraw. They were all of them amenable to influences whether before or after dinner which might cause them to say something which in their calmer moments they would regret, and it was no reflection on an honourable man to rise when the opportunity was afforded him and frankly to state that he was sorry to have given offence. Then there would be an end of the matter. In the present instance he would undertake to show the House that he had not risen on any trivial pretext or because of any hasty words for the qualification of which no fair opportunity had been offered. He would not weary hon. Members by going over a long list of precedents for such a Motion as that which he was about to make. He would as briefly as possible refer to a few which might be found within the life-time of many of those whom he addressed. In 1824 Mr. Abercromby raised a question of Privilege in that House, and had complained of no less a personage than the Lord Chancellor of England. The Lord Chancellor had said in his Court that something which had been stated in the House was false; and thereupon the question of Privilege was raised, and the Commons of the Three Kingdoms independently vindicated those Privileges to which they could never be insensible without a forfeiture of their duty to the country. It was, however, explained on the part of Lord Eldon that he had used the phrase complained of as applicable to the comments in the newspapers rather than to statements made in the House of Commons; and accordingly when the question was further pressed the Motion was lost, the Ayes being 102, the Noes 151. The next remarkable case was in 1838, and concerned a countryman of his own—one whose name in that House would, he thought, be received with respect, as in Ireland it was hailed as that of the great national Liberator—he referred to the late Mr. O'Connell. Mr. O'Connell, at a public dinner, used language which even he (Mr. Sullivan) would not hesitate to say ought not to have been used, and which was a breach of the Privileges of that House. In condemning the use of that language he felt that the character and fame of O'Connell were too great to suffer because exception was taken to some of his individual actions. Mr. O'Connell stated in the instance of which he was speaking that there was on the part of the Tory politicians the grossest perjury, and that there had been foul perjury in the Tory Committees of the House of Commons. No one rose in the House on that occasion to shelter O'Connell by inquiring whether there were any "Tory politicians" in the House, as had been recently done when some charge of venality was recently heard against Ultramontane Members; but both sides of the House rose to a broader conception of the dignity of that assembly and did not seek to ignore the fact that then as to-day there were hon. Members present who were proud of being known as "Tory politicians," and who, to their credit, felt that it was due to their position both inside and outside the House, that the words of Mr. O'Connell should not pass unchallenged. After debate, the Motion censuring Mr. O'Connell was carried by 226 to 197. The next case was that of Mr. Ferrand, in 1844, who had said that Sir James Graham had caused a subordinate officer of the Government to make a false Report, and had then used that false Report to crush a Member of the House. There were in that case many arguments relied upon to take it out of the purview of that Assembly. It was contended that the charge made against Sir James Graham of having procured a subordinate to falsify a Report related to his action, not as a Member of the House, but as an official and a public officer, and could not, therefore, be taken by the House into account; while it was argued that the phrase "to crush a Member of the House," whatever that might mean, did apply to Sir James Graham as one of their body; the main debate turned upon that portion of the charge, and after various Motions and proceedings a Motion was carried to the effect that "the imputations were unfounded and calumnious." If it was necessary in 1844 to have been thus studiously careful of imputations reflecting on the personal character and conduct of public men, it was far more so in 1875, in consequence of the great changes which had been made not only in the constitution of the House of Commons, but also in the laws under which its Members were elected. Many hon. Members were old enough to remember the solemn, sorrowful, prophetic warnings which were raised by venerable gentlemen of, he might say, a bygone generation, when the House of Commons broke down the bulwarks of aristocratic representation, and abolished the property qualification of its Members. Worse still, vote by ballot was adopted; and then many old gentlemen shook the dust of the House off their feet, and went out declaring that there was an end to the Constitution; that we were beginning to "Americanize" our institutions; the result would be deplorable; and that in the House of Commons the business of the country would be conducted in language which would not be tolerated in polite society. Working men's candidates had, in fact, been returned, and it would be well for the House soon to ascertain how far the prophecies as to the use of rough and unbecoming language were about to be realized, and whether the deterioration in the personnel of that Assembly was to be found among the working men's representatives or among those gentlemen who pretended to be the especial guardians of the dignity of the House. During the Recess hon. Members had, as usual, addressed their constituents, forming what was called "Parliament out of Session;" and we in Ireland noticed that at more than one of these gatherings the tone of speech adopted was one which seemed to be studiously insulting and provocative to the Irish Gentlemen who sat in that House. Irishmen were not always too slow to take offence; but if it had been but of one speech they had to complain, the thing might have ended there. Of political criticism they did not complain. It was not desirable, indeed, that hon. Gentlemen should be too strait-laced when they came to discuss a public policy which they probably in their hearts believed to be inimical to the stability of the Empire. They had a perfect right, within the ordinary limits of decorum, to denounce that policy. But the Irish Members regarded it as quite another thing, and a thing they would not submit to, to have their personal conduct and personal reputation sullied. The first of the utterances to which he had referred, was made in North Lincolnshire. And if the Intelligent Foreigner was about, he would have an excellent opportunity of studying the style of language adopted by an hon. Baronet (Sir John Astley), and, indeed, not severely condemned, but only laughed at by some of the country Gentlemen in the House. What the hon. Baronet was reported to have said was this— The House of Commons was not altogether a place to be coveted or desired, and he doubted whether any gentleman who was used to the country would care to be shut up there hour after hour, day and night. There were, besides, a lot of Irish chaps in the House who sometimes made him very angry. He thought there were about 60 of these fellows in the House, and he believed about 40 of them were the most confounded rascals he ever saw. He did not find fault with anybody because he might hold opinions different from his, but he entirely lost his patience when those 'coveys' came into the House. "Coveys!" what did that mean? Whether he (Mr. Sullivan) was deficient in dictionary terms or not, he felt bound to confess that he should need a glossary of some kind if this kind of language was to be extensively adopted by hon. Gentlemen, The hon. Baronet proceeded— He entirely lost his patience when those coveys came into the House, and took up the whole of an afternoon, and carried on far into the night, when some pressing Motion was coming on, talking about their little rotten Ireland, whether the whisky was to be Irish or Scotch, or whether the potatoes should be kidneys or something else. Well, as to the whisky, the hon. Baronet had probably a good right to speak on the subject. He (Mr. Sullivan) had no intention of making personal reflections. All he would say was, that if the Irish Members did distress the English landed Gentlemen with their debates about whisky, it was because the whole of them, with the exception of ten, came into that House backed by the unanimous appeal of the clergy of all denominations in Ireland not to force the drinking of whisky on Sunday upon the Irish people—an appeal which was crushed by a large majority. The hon. Baronet wont on to say— Such discussions were one of the things which drove him clean out of the House, and tended to make a man more careless than he should be. These 40 Irish rascals to whom he had referred took up more time than all the rest of the Members, and used much stronger language: but, fortunately, they were divided among themselves. A complaint about strong language came well from the hon. Baronet, whoso own language was such that he (Mr. Sullivan) begged to apologize to the "working men's representatives" for supposing it possible that it could have come from them. The working men's candidates had spoken both inside and outside the House since they were clothed with the high office and dignity of popular Representatives, and he asserted for them with confidence that, working men's Representatives as they were, they had proved themselves English Gentlemen, for whom neither the constituencies who elected them, nor the country which gave them birth, had need to blush. They had proved themselves, in a special manner, indeed, representatives of the intelligence, worth, and integrity of the working men of Britain. When the remarkable speech he had quoted reached Ireland, there was some strong fooling manifested, and it was at once determined that notice should be taken of it in the proper way. Some of the Irish Members were for taking a course a little more belligerent than the others desired, and said—"If we don't stop this Gentleman at once, you will have a crop of others following in his wake, with perhaps as much willingness to wound as he, but with a little more skill in framing their language than the hon. Baronet the Member for North Lincolnshire." What was foreseen took place. Pleased and encouraged by the immunity which the hon. Baronet had enjoyed, other speakers at subsequent banquets followed in his wake, and endeavoured to deepen and render more painful the wound which he had inflicted. At Oxford the junior Member for the City declared that the Irish Members were "pledged to dismember an Empire of which they were not fit to be the subjects." Another hon. Member—the hon. and learned Member for Frome (Mr. Lopes)—took an opportunity to insult the Irish Members with a dexterous and delicate manipulation which was only possible to a man trained in the subtleties of legal argument. The hon. and learned Member said— What was the present position of the Liberal Party? In the House of Commons they were deserted by their Chief, who, by his fitful appearance in the House, disappointed their hopes. They were allied to a disreputable Irish band, whose watchword in the House was Home Rule and Repeal of the Union. The hon. and learned Member went on to say that in the face of all these facts the Liberal Party ought to remain quiet, and lick their wounds in silence. There were many hon. Gentlemen in the House who were strongly opposed to every political opinion he (Mr. Sullivan) held; but he would, nevertheless, appeal to those hon. Members to say whether Irish Members could, under repeated insults like these, refrain from appealing to one tribunal or another. He at once excepted the hon. Baronet the Member for North Lincolnshire from being called upon in any sense to account to the House for the speech which he made; because, although his speech was the most violent of those to which exception was taken, he had the moral courage and the candour to make an apology when called upon to do so. If the fact of the apology, and the circumstances under which it was made, had reached so obscure a place as Frome, the hon. and learned Member for that borough would probably have thought twice before he made the speech from which a passage had been quoted. The circumstances were these:—A military friend of the hon. Member for Wexford (Mr. O'Clery), who felt himself aggrieved by the speech of the hon. Baronet, waited upon him with a polite inquiry as to the condition of his health, and particularly of his trigger finger. The solicitous anxiety of the Irish military gentleman was well understood by the hon. Baronet, who at once wrote a letter saying, in effect—"I know what you want; tell your friend the Member for Wexford that I withdraw unreservedly the language which, unhappily, I used." They did not all belong to the military fraternity, and it was not every Irish Member who was practised in the mode of interrogation adopted in the case of the hon. Baronet. They, therefore, offered to the hon. and learned Member for Frome (Mr. Lopes) a mode of retracting his insult which ought to have been more acceptable to him, as it was certainly more in accordance with the respect they desired to pay the House. He was sorry that on Friday last the hon. and learned Member did not frankly avail himself of the opportunity which was afforded to him—for there was no desire on the part of the Members insulted to bring the hon. Member to his knees, or to put him in any unhandsome difficulty. Instead of doing this, he made several excuses for the speech by saying, in the first place, that it was delivered "after dinner." This was the euphemistic way in which he described his state of mind. It was high time that his hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) pushed forward his Bill, if excuses of this kind were to pass current among Members of the foremost Assembly of Gentlemen in the world. Such an excuse would not avail William Nokes, a collier, if he were charged with an offence before a magistrate, and it ought not to avail a gentleman of high station who, among other titles, possessed that of one of Her Majesty's Counsel learned in the Law. The excuse was a paltry one, and altogether lacking in the candour, boldness, and manliness which should distinguish a Gentleman entitled to a seat in that House. In the second place, the hon. and learned Member said he meant no offence by the words he used. A member of the Illinois Legislature on one occasion pulled the nose of a brother legislator, and promptly explained that he meant no offence; but the explanation, like that of the hon. and learned Member for Frome, was not, and could not, be accepted. In the third place, the hon. and learned Member said his sole intention was to reprehend a policy which could only lead to a dismemberment of the Empire. This might have been the meaning of the hon. and learned Member; but he could only congratulate him on the accuracy of his statement at the expense of his understanding, for the grammatical construction of his speech flatly contradicted it. His words did not refer to any line of political conduct, but to personal reputability. He said nothing about public policy; but he did say that the Liberal Party were allied to a disreputable Irish band. In the last place, the hon. and learned Gentleman referred the Gentlemen he had affronted to the pages of a Dictionary. It was not the custom in his country for a man, when affronted, to go home and consult a Dictionary. The times had mended, even with regard to the authority they used to consult in former days; and he had, therefore, adopted the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member, and referred to the Dictionary of Dr. Johnson—although he contended that the House could alone fix the standard of language to be used by its Members in relation to each other. He had consulted the 9th edition of Johnson's Dictionary, published in four volumes, and failed to find the word "disreputable" in it. There was the word "disrepute," and this was stated to mean "ill-character, dishonour, want of reputation." Then there was the word "disreputation," which was said to mean "disgrace, dishonour, loss of reputation, ignominy." [An hon. MEMBER interposed a remark.] The word "disreputable" might be Todd, but it certainly was not Johnson. Just a word as to the whole of the charge brought by the hon. and learned Member for Frome. He asked what was the condition of the Liberal Party?—and he could not be blamed for exulting in the contrast now presented between the Ministerial and the Opposition sides of the House. He (Mr. Sullivan) should be the last to cavil at any little exuberance of spirit arising out of the recent successes of the Conservative Party—successes which astonished nobody in the world more than themselves. They had long eaten the bitter bread of exile, and he had no desire to curb the rejoicings with which they hailed their entrance to the Promised Land of office. The hon. and learned Member (Mr. Lopes) described the Liberal Party as having been deserted by their Leader;—and here, again, it was legitimate for him to crow lustily. The hon. and learned Member and his Party had a Leader of whom they might well be proud—a Leader who never, even in the most gloomy days, despaired of the Tory Party. He did not desert his Party when it was in sorer straits than was the Liberal Party at the present time. He adhered to their fortunes while jealousies clogged his footsteps and murmurs of mutiny were heard that might well have driven him from their camp; and, in the end, as they had seen, he had led his Party to victory. The hon. and learned Member, like Demosthenes in his orations, having led up to it artistically, came to the most deadly charge of all—that the Liberal Party was allied to a band—to a disreputable band—to a disreputable Irish band—in the House of Commons. On that question of alliance it was right he (Mr. Sullivan) should say a few words. There had been no alliance negotiated, nor was there any alliance in existence between the Liberal Party and the Home Rule Party. It was undoubtedly true that the greater number of the members of the Homo Rule Party on other questions than Home Rule were Liberals; but that Party also included members who were stanch Conservatives. It was true that in the main the sympathies of the great majority of them were with hon. Members on that side; but they felt equally independent in giving support to any useful measure that might emanate from the other side of the House. Was it to be hurled as a taunt or accusation against Home Rule Members, that they had rescued the Irish representation in that House from the condition under which its support was sought to be allured by the Galway subsidy offered by a Conservative Administration, or by a half-dozen places for good loyal Catholics on the part of the Liberals? They had ceased to render the Irish Party amenable to such political corruption; but they had never sought in any discourteous way to repudiate the fact that hon. Gentlemen around them who might be opposed to them on the Home Rule question were to be found in the same division lobby with themselves. Of all the charges made by the hon. and learned Member for Frome that of an alliance was the least grounded on fact. But let him (Mr. Sullivan) say, as he had touched on the duty of Irish Members in that House, that in bringing forward this matter they did not present themselves as suppliants for any special protection or satisfaction for themselves. As far as concerned their personal honour, they would take care of that themselves. They were not suing for any special protection that was not given on the ground of the dignity of that Assembly itself. They hoped to conduct themselves in the debates in that House in a manner consistent with its usages and with the spirit which pervaded it. If the language used by the hon. and learned Member for Frome affected only one Member of the House, it would have been a very grave offence. But that language was an insult to 50 Members of the House. It was something still more serious—it was a crime against that House. It was spoken by a Member of one nationality against Members who represented another, and was therefore calculated to inflame national feeling, and to excite national passion. The hon. and learned Member for Frome was probably now in his calmer mood he would ask him this—was it not unchivalrous to make such a charge on the part of the many who were strong against the few who were weak? The Home Rule Members were weak; those Members who objected to Home Rule were strong. The Home Rule Members left their country to come to the House and plead, under most disadvantageous circumstances that entitled them to generous consideration, the cause of that country. According to the laws of all civilized nations the persons of ambassadors were specially secured from assault or indignity. The Home Rule Members were the ambassadors of the Irish Nation, and it was exactly in that capacity that they had thus been insulted. In that capacity they were that night. Let him say, in concluding, that his Friends had warned him how all this would end in the House. He had been warned that the hon. and learned Member would escape with impunity—that after he (Mr. Sullivan) had sat down and a few speeches had been made, and perhaps some warmth—which he, for his part, deprecated—had been exhibited, there would arise to calm the ruffled scene the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli), whom they were always so glad to hear in that House; that he would sternly reprehend unparliamentary language in the abstract, but genially extenuate it in the particular; that he would say something kind about the Isle from which the Home Rule Party came, and would then recommend them to say no more about this matter. He (Mr. Sullivan) showed how little he agreed with those vaticinations by rising to make a statement. It was his duty to acknowledge that the right hon. Gentleman, throughout his career as a statesman had shown a warm interest in whatever concerned the honour and dignity of that House, which had been the cradle of his ambition and the theatre of his fame. For his (Mr. Sullivan's) part, his task was fulfilled in calling attention to this matter. Heartily did he regret that it had devolved upon him, in the absence of his distinguished Friend, whose greater acquaintance with the Forms and precedents of the House would have lent force to his argument and whose genius would have rendered it attractive. He was deeply conscious of the very indulgent and generous spirit in which the House had listened to him that evening, and which had more than compensated in his own estimation for the inability which he had felt in rising to make this statement. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving that the passage complained of be read by the Clerk at the Table.

Motion agreed to.

The said paper delivered in, and the paragraph complained of read.


said, that while listening to the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan) it occurred to him that the hon. Member appeared perfectly satisfied with the position of the Irish Members in that House. The hon. Member for Louth was prompt to bring forward certain expressions that had fallen from Members of the House elsewhere, although in the case of the hon. Member for Lincolnshire (Sir John Astley) the words had been retracted. The hon. Member now asked for a retractation of the expressions used by the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. Lopes), and sought to have them placed on the records of the House, but he proposed no action. It seemed to him surprising that the hon. Member, who, as he told the House, represented the feeling of a whole nation, should show such a deficiency of courage; and he (Mr. Newdegate) would ask whether it was worth while to occupy so much of the time of the House when no action was to be taken? After all, the expressions complained of had reference to the discontent produced by Irish Members in connection with the Home Rule movement, which was, in reality, a disguised agitation for the repeal of the Union. For his own part, he had been led to doubt whether it would not be better for the Irish Members to retire in a body. He admitted that that would be a deep disadvantage to the United Kingdom; but if Irish Members were determined to render their position in the House offensive or noxious, they would thus produce among the Members of the House generally a diminution of any feeling of regret that their absence might cause. He did not think that the question had been placed before the House in a form in which it could be received. With regard to the statement of the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan), he did not appear to be seconded by the other Irish Members.


The hon. Member for Louth has made a statement to this House relating to words uttered by the hon. and learned Member for Frome, and the hon. Member has, in the exercise of his right, desired the Clerk at the Table to read the passage complained of. It is the duty of the hon. Member to conclude with some Motion, which may be discussed by the House itself.


said, he should bow to the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair. If he had unwittingly committed an error, he trusted the House would excuse it, as he had been led into it by the precedents which he had already quoted and which showed that the substantive Motion was made in each case by the Prime Minister, who was supposed to have charge of whatever concerned the dignity of the House, Certainly in the case of Mr. O'Connell the Motion was not made by the hon. Member who called attention to the matter. The complaint was made by Viscount Maidstone, who moved no substantive Motion. In the case of Mr. Ferrand the Motion was, he believed, made by the Prime Minister himself, although the question had been raised by another Member. However, he should bow with the utmost deference to any statement which the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair might make on the subject. He begged to move—"That the language contained in the paragraph complained of is a breach of the Privileges of this House."


, in seconding the Motion, said, he should not have addressed the House, but for the remarks which had just fallen from the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), who undertook to tell the House that the hon. Member for Louth in bringing forward this Motion was not supported by the Irish Members. He felt therefore constrained to speak upon the question, and to say that, in his opinion, the hon. Member for Louth was only acting as the exponent of the wishes of the whole party in the course he had taken. The best way to form a correct judgment of the character of the remarks made by the hon. and learned Member for Frome would be for every Gentleman in that House to bring the remarks home as applicable to themselves. Let right hon. Gentlemen who sat on the front Treasury Bench ask themselves what their feelings would be if an excited Member of the Home Rule party were to speak of them in an after-dinner speech in Ireland as a "disreputable band." The right hon. Gentlemen opposite would then begin to understand whether or not the Irish Members were over-sensitive in complaining of the language used by the hon. and learned Member for Frome.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the language contained in the paragraph complained of is a breach of the Privileges of this House."—(Mr. Sullivan.)


regretted that it had been necessary to bring this Motion before the House, as he had hoped, when a former evening the attention of the hon. and learned Member for Frome (Mr. Lopes) had been called to the words he had used at a dinner party, that the hon. Gentleman would have stated that he did not mean any offence to any Member of the House, and that if any Member was offended by his remarks, be would apologize for and withdraw them. That would have been a manly and an honourable course for the hon. Member to have adopted; and he even hoped that at the eleventh hour, when the present Motion was about to be made, the hon. and learned Member would have obviated the necessity for it by standing up in his place and withdrawing the words he had used. He fully agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan) that if this were a solitary case, and if no other speech of the same character had been delivered, it would have been scarcely worth while to bring it under the notice of the House; but, as his hon. Friend had shown, the Anti-Home Rule epidemic also toot possession of a number of English Members in the autumn of last year, when speeches were made in which Irish Representatives were insulted in language which was perfectly unjustifiable. In particular, his hon. Friend had alluded to the speeches of the hon. Member for North Lincolnshire (Sir John Astley), of the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hall), and of the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. Lopes). He fully agreed with some of the remarks which fell from the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government at the commencement of the Session, to the effect that speeches made by persons of no influence in obscure places, and in dull papers which nobody read, were unworthy of the attention of the House of Commons. But these remarks were inapplicable to the speech made by the hon. Member for Frome on the occasion when, according to his own admission, he uttered the words complained of. His speech was reported in The Times, which could not be called a dull paper, or one which was not generally read. Nor could the hon. and learned Member for Frome be regarded as a person of no influence. He had had the honour of being for at least three Parliaments a Member of the House. He filled the position of magistrate for the county of Wiltshire; he was a member of an honourable profession—one of Her Majesty's Counsel, and Recorder of Exeter; and he was specially chosen by Her Majesty's Government last Session to take charge, as a private Member, of a most important Bill affecting the administration of justice—such a measure as in ordinary cases would have been taken up by the Solicitor General for the time being. If Her Majesty's Government remained long enough in office—and, for his own part, he thought the late General Election bad secured for them not only fixity, but perpetuity of tenure—no doubt the hon. and learned Gentleman would in a short time find himself in the Elysian Fields, and among those Olympian Gods in this country—the members of the High Court of Justice. The important position which the hon. and learned Gentleman occupied in the House justified Members in calling attention to his words. This festival at Frome was not a mere festival given by the hon. Gentleman as Member for the borough. It had been announced in the leading journal as a great political banquet, and it was stated that several distinguished "stars" would be present. A month before it was held, he himself read in The Times that at least two Cabinet Ministers would attend the great Conservative Festival at Frome—namely, the Home Secretary and the First Lord of the Admiralty. Furthermore, it was announced that an invitation had been sent to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government; and many other distinguished persons were named in The Times. On the 10th of January the festival came off, and The Times sent down a Special Correspondent, who reported the proceedings at the length of two columns and a half. A glowing account was given of what occurred. Flags were hung out, and bands of music paraded the town throughout the day. It seemed that there was no room large enough for the banquet, which was held in a monster tent capable of accommodating 1,200 persons. The House of Lords was represented by the Marquess of Bath, and the Government was not represented by the two Cabinet Ministers he had already referred to, but by a Gentleman who would doubtless before long be a member of the Cabinet—his right bon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board. Letters were read at the meeting from the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and from other distinguished individuals. If at so important a meeting the language complained of was used by the hon. and learned Member for Frome, it was no light matter, and ought not to be passed over in silence. What was the language? It stated distinctly that the Members on the Opposition side of the House who supported the Home Rule movement were a "disreputable band." Was not such language, according to its literal meaning, most offensive to hon. Members on that side of the House? Would not hon. Gentlemen opposite below the Gangway have been justly offended if at an excited meeting in Ireland they had been described as a" disreputable band" who obstructed Irish business? the hon. and learned Gentleman offered no explanation. In his judgment, the manly course would have been to withdraw the words; but in place of doing this, the hon. and learned Gentleman attempted to justify his language by referring to Johnson's Dictionary the hon. and learned Gentleman was now sitting in silence. He did not know whether the hon. and learned Member was so acting on his own opinion, or at the suggestion of others, but he certainly thought it was not honourable for him to sit silent under the circumstances.


The right hon. Gentleman has no right to question the honour of any Member of the House.


said, he would withdraw the remark—and he thought the hon. and learned Gentleman ought to withdraw the language he made use of at Frome. If the same language were used by a Member in the House, would not the right hon. Gentleman call him to Order, and make him apologize? But as the Speaker could not act on the present occasion, because the language complained of was not uttered in the House, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, who himself took such an interest in the House, would exert his influence to cause the hon. and learned Member for Frome to apologize for his language, and to prevent Irish Members being for the future spoken of, either in the House or out of it, in language tending to excite animosities and feelings of the worst character.


Sir, I did not rise before, because I really thought this was an affair which would be easily and not unpleasantly settled. The hon. Member for Louth has had an opportunity of addressing the House at considerable length, and in the vein of glowing rhetoric which we always listen to with pleasure. But I will make this criticism on his speech—that as far as the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Frome is concerned, it was a little too long. It reached those proportions because the hon. Member for Louth introduced circumstances with which we really have not to deal now, and incidents which I hoped had been forgotten. It was really unnecessary, I think, to touch now upon the language used by the hon. Member for North Lincolnshire (Sir John Astley). My recollection is, that he withdrew the expressions which were the subject of complaint; and when an hon. Gentleman acknowledges that he has made a mistake, and has used expressions which, on reflection, he sees are not justified, it is the custom of Gentlemen to forget them. Then we have the case of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Frome. I am not here to deny that it is a breach of Privilege to speak of any Members of this House in their capacity as such in terms which imply disgrace, or, as the hon. Gentleman said, ignominy. But I must remind the House that the expressions here used—when calmly considered—though they may certainly justify notice, are still not of a very extravagant character. Unfortunately, in this country there is a kind of conventional language used during the Recess at public meetings, and on other occasions, which is very different from the language of Parliament, and often differs, indeed, from that of the English language. The Tory Party, for example, are often held up to scorn, in the Recess, as a party particularly given to the practice of bribery and corruption: whereas the Tory Party at the present day are certainly not more liable to that imputation than any other party—and, indeed, if you take an historical survey of their history you find, as a Party, they have been remarkably free from bribery and corruption: not wonderful, as the chief basis of their strength has ever been the landed interest. The Liberal Party, again, at public dinners during the Recess, are often described as a Revolutionary Party, and the wildest and most unconstitutional schemes are freely imputed to them. No doubt the Irish Members in their turn—at least a section of them—are sometimes spoken of in a manner which I do not at all justify, which would not be permitted in this House, or which, if any hon. Member had inadvertently so spoken here, would give rise to the opportunity now offered to my hon. and learned Friend of showing his regret for such language. It is true that a section of the Irish' Members some years ago did give us some trouble in the conduct of Public Business, and thereby became subject to the conventional language I have described. I have no reason to say or believe that language of this kind at all applies to hon. Gentlemen who are the advocates in this House of what is called Home Rule. Certainly, at the end of last Session some delay in the progress of Public Business was caused by the line which those Gentlemen took. I am bound to say, however, that in my opinion they were perfectly justified in the course they pursued—though among them there were new Members who may not have acted quite in the Parliamentary spirit which I have no doubt they will learn to appreciate. To maintain that business of importance should not be proceeded with by the House in the form of Continuance Bills was a sound position. It was so recognized by the House. "When it was so recognized, the obstructive opposition, up to that point justified, was withdrawn; and I have no doubt that, in opposing the measures of the Government during the present Session, the Irish Members will oppose these measures in a Parliamentary manner, and will do their utmost to meet the wishes and feelings of the House. I will make one more observation, in consequence of what has been said by the hon. Member upon what I have described as the conventional language which obtains during the Recess. It has been said that certain expressions were uttered in the course of "an after-dinner speech," and the fact that the speech was made after dinner has been held to be almost as "disreputable" as the words themselves. Now, after-dinner speeches are part of the "Manners and Customs of the English People;" and there is no Assembly in the world in which there are more after-dinner speeches than in the House of Commons. It has been my duty to speak frequently during the time I have sat in this House, and I am sure that the majority of the speeches which I have had to intrude upon the House have been after-dinner speeches. I cannot, therefore, admit this as an excuse or a reason for the use, by any Gentleman, of language which is not justified. The hon. Member who spoke second in the debate (Mr. O'Connor Power) asks what we on the front Ministerial Bench should have done if this expression had been used respecting us? "Well, Sir, what I should have done—and I think I may say what all my Colleagues would have done—would have been to take no notice of it. At the same time, I do not" say that the course we should have pursued ought to prevent Irish Members from receiving the satisfaction to which they are entitled from my hon. and learned Friend, who has now an opportunity, in a full House, of doing that which is, I think, the privilege as well as the duty of an English gentleman when he has done wrong—that which will only cause his friends to respect him the more—I mean, frankly express his regret for having inadvertently given pain to others. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will now make use of this opportunity—will remove all ill feeling on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite, on account of his language, and that we shall be able to extricate the House from the painful necessity of making this a question of Privilege.


Sir, I should have risen before to say what I am now about to say, if it had not been for the tone and manner of the speech of the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan). When, on Friday last, in answer to a Question, he called upon me to retract the words of which he complained, I felt some difficulty in doing so; and I will shortly state why. I felt that if I had done so, I should, on the one hand, have been admitting the use of words in a sense which I disclaimed; and, on the other, would have been abandoning them in a sense which I avowed. There was another consideration which influenced me—be it right or wrong—and it was this. The question being raised as to whether a breach of Privilege had been committed, I thought it was a dangerous precedent to introduce into this House, that any hon. Member should be at liberty to call any other Member to account for words uttered in the Recess, and with regard to a matter not before Parliament—especially after the hon. Member had distinctly stated that he intended no personal allusion, but that the words merely alluded to the conduct and tactics of a certain Party. These were the grounds on which I acted on that occasion, and I trust that the House will be of opinion that these grounds were not altogether unjustifiable. After what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, I will now take a course which I hope will be approved of by the House, and which will be acceptable to the hon. Members who entertain the same views as the hon. Member for Louth. I am prepared to say that if by the use of the word "disreputable" I have caused pain to any hon. Member who holds the particular views to which I have alluded, I much regret that I made use of that word. I am bound, however, to say, in my own exculpation, that the hon. Member for Louth allowed six months to elapse without communicating with me by letter, or in any way whatever, and that he sits in the House for one week after the opening of Parliament, and never verbally or otherwise communicated to me that he had been annoyed by words spoken six months before. On Thursday last he gave Notice of a Question, which he put on Friday, and did not communicate with me till that Notice had been publicly given. Let me, in justice to myself, say that if he had written me a letter to say that he felt annoyance at the words which I had used, I should have immediately withdrawn them. [Mr. SULLIVAN: I wrote a letter to the hon. and learned Member.] If the hon. Member had given me Notice on Thursday, I would have said unreservedly what I have now said to the House. The hon. Member says he gave me notice. He gave me notice in this way. A letter was put into my hands on Thursday evening as I entered, and when I came into the House, Notice of the Question had been publicly given. Surely, when the hon. Member talks about frankness and candour, it would have been more frank and candid if the hon. Member had given me an opportunity of explaining before he brought the matter before the House. I do not propose to make a single remark with regard to the speech of the hon. Member. He has effectually answered himself when he has thought fit to make public in this House the private communications that passed between him and the hon. Baronet the Member for North Lincolnshire. That is a more complete answer to the hon. Member when he talks of frankness and candour, than anything I could say. Again let me say that, if upon that convivial occasion I made use of expressions which caused pain, I regret that I did so, and that if I had anticipated that the words to which exception has been taken would have caused such pain, I would never have used them.


said, he would ask the permission of the House to withdraw his Motion. In doing so, not a syllable should fall from him calculated to impair the kindly spirit impressed on the debate by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government, and he should be careful not in any way to retort upon the hon. and learned Member for Frome. He was anxious, however, to remove two serious misconceptions which the hon. and learned Member for Frome appeared to labour under. In the first place, he never had any conversation on this subject, either in private or in public, with the hon. Baronet the Member for North Lincolnshire. In his remarks he was simply referring to the correspondence which had been published in the public Press. In the second place, he wished to set himself right with the House as to the charge of his having shown a want of courtesy to the hon. and learned Member for Frome. The hon. and learned Member had said that the words complained of were used six months ago, and yet no communication had been made to him until the present time. But it was the determination of certain of the Irish Members of that House to call attention to the matter the moment Parliament opened. In justification of the course he had adopted, he deemed it right to explain that it was not until Thursday afternoon that he found that in the absence of another hon. Member he was expected by his hon. Friends to put the Question he had done to the hon. and learned Member for Frome. On receiving this information he had, before drafting the Question, written a letter to the hon. and learned Gentleman, and had left it for him at the door of the House, and then, and then only, he gave Notice of his Question. It might be asked why he did not wait for a day or two to hear from the hon. and learned Gentleman before he gave Notice of his Question. He did not do so, because he had been told, for the first time, that if he had allowed eight days from the sitting of Parliament to elapse before putting the Question, he should be precluded by the Forms of the House from putting it at all. Having explained these two matters, he begged, after what had fallen from the hon. and learned Member for Frome, to withdraw his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.