HC Deb 03 February 1881 vol 258 cc64-6

I desire to ask the Prime Minister a Question of some importance; and, to put it clearly before the House, I require to offer a few sentences of explanation, which I trust the House will allow. You, Mr. Speaker, yesterday took upon yourself a very heavy responsibility. You closed a debate when there were Members in the House who, according to the Rules, had still a right to be heard. You said that this exercise of your power was unusual and exceptional. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) asked you under what Standing Order of the House you took that course. You said that you had acted on your own responsibility, and from a sense of duty to the House. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Meath (Mr. A. M. Sullivan) asked you to allow him to question the legality of the proceedings on a point of Privilege. You refused to permit him to do this. You said the only way in which your authority could be called in question was by a distinct Motion. Now, Sir, a Motion by a private Member of the House cannot be made at the present time, as the Government have absorbed all the time of Parliament. What I want to ask the Prime Minister is— seeing the extraordinary, exceptional, and serious character of the step that you, on your own responsibility, took yesterday — whether the Government will give facilities for reviewing your action in this matter? It is not a question of Party. It does not affect the Irish Members alone, but it affects the privileges and rights of the British Parliament; and I trust the Prime Minister will permit the subject to be debated without delay, both in your interest and in that of the Legislature.


I can only say that I enter into all the considerations named by the hon. Gentleman, and admit the force of the general considerations stated in his Question. After an occurrence such as that which has taken place, it is, in the first place, I think, due to you, Sir, and it is, in the second place, due to the universal feeling of the House, and the interests involved, that we should anxiously desire an opportunity, as your judgment and procedure have been challenged, that the final judgment of the House should be pronounced upon it. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly accurate in stating that one large portion of the burden now imposed upon us consists in this—that by a Motion carried in this House we have absorbed all the time and all the opportunities which are ordinarily at the command of private Members. Then, what is the obligation which devolves upon us in consequence of our having, in that sense, possessed ourselves of the whole time of the House? I think the obligation imposed upon us, subject, of course, to our responsibility to this House, is in good faith to present to the House each of the subjects of which we are officially in charge, in proportion to their claim upon the public time. That being so, I must say that, although had such a case as that of yesterday morning occurred in ordinary times, I should have considered that it was urgent, and that it should take precedence of all ordinary Business, and although now I think it should take precedence of all ordinary Business, I must consider we have now in hand Business that is not ordinary. It is Business extraordinary, that the measures now before the House, especially that connected with the safety of life and the protection of property in Ireland, and the proposals which Her Majesty's Government found themselves under the necessity of preparing, to enable the House to deal with those measures, should take precedence of every other subject. The moment that we can tolerably escape from these obligations, I should quite agree—no one would be more desirous than I—that we should relieve you, Sir, from any uncertainty, and that we should pay your office and yourself the mark of respect which can be conveyed by our searching for the very first opportunity of discussing the matter referred to in the Question of the hon. Member in preference to the discussion of anything that can be called ordinary Business.


said, that as the Notice of Motion given by him on this subject now appeared on the Paper, and as he had placed it there for the purpose of raising the question in proper form, and of challenging the legality of a certain act, and as he now learned from the Prime Minister that, although he was aware that the issue was thus raised, he declined to afford the Speaker and the House the earliest opportunity of having that great issue decided, he (Mr. A. M. Sullivan) begged to say that he should not be any party to a farce, and he should withdraw the Motion, which the Prime Minister feared to have faced.