MR. JOSEPH COWEN,
in rising to call the attention of the House to the suspension of four honourable Members reported on Saturday July 1st by the Chairman of Committees as being guilty of wilful obstruction of the business of the Committee, and to move— 1280That the record of the suspension of John Dillon, Member for Tipperary, Dr. Commins, Member for Roscommon, Joseph G. Biggar, Member for Cavan, and Frank H. O'Donnell, Member for Dungarvan, be erased from the Minutes of Proceedings, on the ground that the suspended Members were not in the House during the proceedings for the obstruction of which they were so reported,said, he had intended to call attention to the expulsion of 16 Irish Members at the first Sitting of the House after they were expelled; but the Speaker ruled that he could not do so as a matter of Privilege. He had not since had an opportunity of submitting his Motion until to-day. The subject might have lost some of its interest by delay, but it had lost none of its importance. In a sense, the postponement might have been advantageous. It had permitted the acerbity and irritation that would necessarily have attended a discussion immediately succeeding the arbitrary exercise of power to clear off. He trusted that they would now be able to debate the subject free from bitterness and personality. He recognized the ability, the patience, the courtesy, and the fairness of the Chairman of Committees. The office he held was one of great responsibility. At any time its duties were both difficult and delicate; but they had been exceptionally so this Parliament. The Sittings of the House had been so prolonged, and the discussions so exciting, that their direction would have taxed the temper of the most equitable and the strength of the strongest. Allowance should be made for these considerations. The Chairman was no more infallible than any other man. He might make mistakes of judgment, and he might fall into faults of temper. Under ordinary circumstances, no one would have referred to such errors or such lapses. Any Member or number of Members who suffered from them might have grumbled; but with a protest they would have allowed the matter to pass. But the course that the right hon. Gentleman took on the 1st of July involved other than mere personal considerations —it involved questions of Constitutional and Parliamentary principle. He had created a new offence—cumulative Obstruction. If the ruling that he had then given was allowed to stand, it would be erected into a precedent, and permanently impair the right of free speech. It would render impossible the existence 1281 of any group of independent politicians in that House, or, what was tantamount to that, it would only allow them to conduct their advocacy on sufferance. They might at any time be subjected to expulsion by an arbitrary Speaker or a partizan Chairman. For these reasons, therefore—first, because of its novelty; and, second, because of its importance—the action of the Chairman was worthy of their careful and deliberate consideration. Let them recall all the proceedings that led up to the Sitting on the 1st of last month. On Thursday, the 29th of June, the Prime Minister said—Her Majesty's Government have become sensible of the great difficulties in which the House was placed in respect of its time, and the remaining time of the Session. We shall endeavour to get on as far as possible with the clauses of the Prevention of Crime (Ireland) Bill in Committee during the present week, even if it entails the necessity of asking the House to-morrow to prolong its Sitting further than usual."—[3 Hansard, cclxxi. 780.]This was an intimation that the Government intended to have an all-night Sitting, and to continue it over Saturday, if necessary. With a view to that event, the Coercionists were divided into relays. One of them had to keep watch until midnight, another until morning, and another through the course of Saturday. The mot d'ordre was that the Ministerialists were not to speak and not to submit Amendments. The Government would do all in the talking way that was requisite in support of the Bill, and that would throw upon its opponents a greater strain in keeping the discussion going. This was not a very creditable mode of conducting the debate. It was more an appeal to brute force than to reason. Still, it was the determination of the Government. The anti-Coercionists followed the example of the Ministerialists, and divided themselves into two sections, one being charged to continue the discussion until Saturday morning, and the other to keep it going during Saturday. The four Members named in his Resolution were amongst those who were required to be present during Saturday, and they were relieved from attendance on Friday night. The hon. Member for Roscommon (Dr. Commins) took very little part in the discussion on Friday. He only spoke two or three times, and never longer than four or five minutes. The hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon) was absent 1282 the greater portion of the Afternoon Sitting, and joined quite as little in the debate. The hon. Member for Dungar-van (Mr. O'Donnell) was not two hours in the House after 9 o'clock. It was not easy to get an exact record of the time they spoke from the London newspapers, as the reports were so incomplete; but from the information he had been able to obtain from Irish papers, and from the hon. Members themselves, the four hon. Gentlemen did not—from 2 on Friday until half-past 9 on Saturday—occupy more than about an hour. He thought that no one would contend that for four Irish Representatives to speak collectively only one hour during such a length of time upon an Irish Bill of exceptional importance was excessive. All the Members left before midnight—some of them two or three hours earlier. Three of them returned shortly after 9 o'clock next morning, and the first thing they heard was their names being read out by the Chairman as having been guilty of wilful and persistent Obstruction during a period they had been at home and in bed. The hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon) did not return until nearly an hour after that, and he was refused admission by the doorkeeper. He left the House the night before unconscious of having committed any breach of the Rules; and when he came back he found— without being heard and without having received notice—that a sentence of expulsion had been passed upon him. He challenged any supporter of the Government to cite, out of the chequered history of the British Parliament, a single case that would justify such an exercise of power. There was absolutely no precedent for it. It was not only unjust and unfair—it was indecent. To punish a man without being heard in his defence was an exercise of dictatorial authority which might be palliated, but could not be justified. The right hon. Gentleman sought to defend his procedure by saying that if the Members had not been guilty of Obstruction the night before they were expelled, they had been guilty on some other occasion. But even that argument would not hold. The House recognized the existence of the Irish Party. The authorities dealt with it as a Party. They had their Whips and their organizations like the Liberals and 1283 Conservatives. The only thing in which they differed from them was that for the other two Parties there was a possibility of Office; but there was no possibility of Office for Irish Members. Now, the hon. and learned Member for Roscommon (Dr. Commins) was the Legal Adviser of the Irish Party. Whenever Bills of importance affecting Ireland were before the House he was consulted by his countrymen, and Amendments were either drawn by him or suggested by him. He stood in the same relation to the Irish Party as his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) did to the Conservatives, or as the Irish Law Advisers did to the Government. If the Amendments proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Roscommon were to be taken into account, they should be contrasted with the proposals and speeches of the legal Members of the other two Parties, and not with those of an ordinary Representative. Judged by that standard, he contended there was not a shadow of justification for the charge of Obstruction against him. In like manner, the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon) was a Leader of the Party also. He was a member of the Land League. No one had taken a more active part than he had during the recent agitation in Ireland. He had not only spoken at numerous meetings, and been privy to the working of the organization, but, along with 1,000 of his countrymen, he had been 12 months in prison without trial, and without accusation—an imprisonment that reflected disgrace upon them as a nation for permitting such an offence against liberty, and dishonour on the Government. The hon. Member, therefore, appeared in that House, not only as an advocate of his countrymen, but as a witness. No one could speak with better information as to the operation of the Act than he could. The Home Secretary, who had charge of the Bill, had never been in Ireland. All the information he had respecting it was got at second-hand or third-hand. If they were to measure the time occupied by the hon. Member for Tipperary, they should contrast it with that occupied by the Home Secretary. Such a contrast would show that the hon. Member for Tipperary had not occupied a tenth part of the time that the Home Secretary had. Neither the hon. Member for Tipperary 1284 nor the hon. Member for Roscommon took a prominent part in the general discussions in Parliament. They confined their labours mainly, though not exclusively, to Irish questions. The same could not be said, for the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar), or the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell); but neither of those Gentlemen had been specially active during the discussions of the last Bill. The hon. Member for Dungarvan only proposed one Amendment, and he did not carry it to a division. The hon. Member for Cavan never proposed any Amendment at all. And it was a striking fact that there were 80 Members of that House who had spoken longer and oftener than the hon. Member for Cavan, and they had not been suspended; while there were 23 Members who had spoken oftener and longer than the hon. Member for Dungarvan, and none of them had been suspended. The broad fact was that the two Members had not been suspended because they were guilty of Obstruction, but because they were unpopular with the majority. It was possible to hit them with impunity, even with approval. There was a rough-and-ready mode of jurisprudence once known on the Border as "Jeddart justice." It consisted in punishing a man first and trying him afterwards. If he was not found guilty of the offence imputed to him, his Judges excused themselves by saying that he had no doubt committed other offences, though he had not been convicted. And this was the mode in which the two Members had been treated. But he contended that Obstruction, in the Parliamentary sense, had not been practised towards the Coercion Bill, and he would cite the Government as a witness in favour of that statement. At an early stage of the discussion repeated applications were made to Ministers to put in force the Rules of Urgency, or suspend the Irish Members. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) on two, if not three, occasions made this suggestion. It was repeated several times subsequently by the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Causton); still later by the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. W. Holms); and on another occasion by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. George Russell), who described the opposition to the Coercion Bill as insolent Obstruction. Other 1285 Members made like suggestions; but the Government—and he said this to their credit—had refused to comply with such demands. Three or four times, if not more, the Prime Minister had declared that the opposition to the measure was not only reasonable, but right. It was a restriction of liberty which the Irish people would feel, and the English people would not. While the discussions had been protracted, he was unable to say that they had been obstructive. The Home Secretary had made declarations of the same kind more than once. It might be said, in reply to this, that these statements were made at the earlier stages of the Bill, when Constitutional questions, such as the suspension of trial by jury, were being debated. But this was not the fact. They had been made at a much later period. On the 23rd of June, a week before the suspension, there was a discussion on the clause re-enacting the Alien Act. The hon. Member for Beaumaris (Mr. Morgan Lloyd) proposed an Amendment extending that Act to England. It occupied the whole of the Evening Sitting, and only a single Irish Member spoke. It would be in the recollection of the House that the Government hesitated whether they should accept the Amendment or not. They wished to delay its consideration; but ultimately they agreed that they would accept it, and shortly before 1 o'clock on Friday morning the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) moved to report Progress, on the ground that although the discussion was highly important, only one Irish Member had spoken. The Prime Minister said, in reply to that appeal—and these were his own words—that the urgency was great and the Bill had been delayed. He was aware that it had justified much discussion, and he recognized the reasonable character of that discussion. They would thus see that even as late as the 23rd of June there had been no Obstruction, and that the opposition to the Bill had only been such as was permitted in Parliament. The hon. Member for the City of Cork withdrew his Motion for Progress, and allowed a division to be taken after the speech from the Prime Minister. The next day the clause was voted; but before it was voted the late Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright) made a speech. The 1286 right hon. Gentleman had been reminded by the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon) that when the Alien Act had been applied to England in 1848 he had been its strenuous opponent. He had not only spoken, but voted against it. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that to be the fact, and he went out of his way to say that he understood and respected the opposition which the Irish Members had made to the stringent provisions of the Bill. Bearing in mind what he had done himself in past years, he was not surprised at the persistency of their resistance to its passing. That was an acknowledgment from another Member of the Government at a still later day that Obstruction had not been resorted to. But, on a more recent occasion still, an intimation to the like effect had been made. When the Prime Minister announced to the House that there would be an all-night Sitting he made no complaint of Obstruction. He did not speak of applying the Rules of Urgency, nor did he even suggest the suspension of any of the Irish Members. The Chairman of Committees was equally silent on the subject. Now, one of two things had happened—either the anti-Coercionists had been guilty of Obstruction or they had not. If they had been guilty, it was the duty of the Prime Minister, as Leader of the House, and the duty of the Chairman, as President of Committees, to move that the Obstructionists be suspended. Neither of them made such a Motion, and the inference was that no Obstruction up to that time had been committed; or, if it had been committed, and they failed to take steps to prevent it or punish those responsible for it, they were neglecting their duty. The Chairman had cited the Rules against Obstruction as warranting the action he took. He (Mr. Joseph Cowen) was there to contend that the Rules did not warrant such a course of procedure. The Rule read—"That whenever any Member shall have been Named by the Speaker, &c, such Member shall be suspended;" and throughout the whole Rule it referred to a Member personally. But if there was any doubt on the point, it bad been cleared up by his hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Mr. Arthur Arnold). He asked the Prime Minister, some days after the expulsion, whether the Rule against Obstruction was not passed in the singular number 1287 and the present tense, and whether it did not only operate individually. The Prime Minister, in his reply, "referred his hon. Friend—as to the framing and interpretation of the Urgency Rule—to the right hon. Gentleman opposite." "The question," he said, "did not apply to him, but to the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote). He had no authority to construe the Rule."
MR. JOSEPH COWEN
said, he was reading from a report in The Times. He had read exactly what the right hon. Gentleman was reported to have said, and certainly the impression left upon his mind by the answer given was that the report that he had quoted was a correct one. But, any way, he could have the report, and verify the correctness of the statement.
It cannot be possible that I made such an observation. It is rather difficult at this distance of time to speak positively; but I believe that the Question put by the hon. Member for Salford was as to a quotation from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote), and that I asked the hon. Member to apply for the meaning of the quotation to the right hon. Baronet.
Mr. JOSEPH COWEN
said, of course, if the right hon. Gentleman denied the statement, he had nothing more to say; but he could not be censured for quoting a report that had appeared in more than one paper, and which certainly was in accordance with his own recollection, as well as that of a number of other Members. Still, he would not press the point further. Without contending that the right hon. Member for North Devon was the authorized interpreter of the Rules, he would contend that, as the Rules against Obstruction owed their origin to him, his opinion of them was entitled to deference and respect. And what was his opinion? He would undertake to quote, not one sentence, but 10—not 10, indeed, but 20—throughout the right hon. Gentleman's speeches during the discussions on the Urgency Rules which would show that they were intended to be applied individually, and not collectively. This was not only the letter of the Rules, but their spirit; and 1288 it found expression in the whole discussion—even in a speech that was made by the Prime Minister himself in February, 1880. He would read two extracts from the remarks of the late Leader of the House bearing on the point. That right hon. Gentleman said—In order, therefore, to avoid any difference of opinion arising on the point" (the application of the Rule), "it is important that the House should proceed to immediate judgment, as it were, on the spot, and in the presence of those who had witnessed the commission of the offence and were acquainted with the surrounding circumstances."—[3 Hansard, ccl. 1461–2.]This not only bore out his contention that the Rule was personal, but that punishment should be dealt out on the spot and in the presence of the offender. On another occasion, during the discussion two years ago, the present Leader of the Opposition, in objecting to an Amendment by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell)—proposing that a Member should have an opportunity of explanation, defence, or apology before he was suspended— said—The Amendment was founded on a misapprehension. It had been supposed, for instance, that the Speaker might he mistaken in Naming a Member on his committing an offence; but the Speaker or the Chairman would, in the first instance, call a Member to Order, and probably nothing more would take place. No penalty would follow unless the offender persisted, and he would have every opportunity of making an explanation or apology."—[Ibid., 1692.]It would be impossible to cite words more completely justifying his contention that a man could only be suspended for Obstruction after notice had been given him that he was committing an offence, and when, despite the warning, he persisted in his Obstruction. But other evidence could be supplied to substantiate his argument if necessary. The Leader of the Opposition was not the real author of the Rule against Obstruction. It owed its origin to his right hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Raikes) the late Chairman of Committees, and it came about in this way. A Committee on the Business of the House sat in 1878, and the then Chairman of Committees was examined at great length. He was asked to explain the Obstruction that had taken place before him and give a suggestion as to its abatement. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Raikes) thereupon submitted a proposal which 1289 was embodied in the Report of the Committee, and subsequently became the Rule of the House. The hon. Member for the City of Cork was upon the Committee, and he cross-examined the right hon. Member for Preston as to the action of the Rule. It was seen that it might be stretched in the way that it since had been, and the right hon. Member for Preston was asked if such a straining of its powers would be warranted. Now, he (Mr. Joseph Cowen) desired the House to listen to the reply. The hon. Member for Cork City inquired if the adoption of the proposed Rule would not give power to any Member to charge a number of men with Obstruction and get them suspended. The answer of the right hon. Gentleman was—That is not an accurate description of the Rule. The objection would have to be taken during the particular speech of one particular Member, and the Question submitted to the Committee would have reference to that Member only.In answer to a further question, the right hon. Member for Preston said—It would only be competent for a Member to call attention to Obstruction in the case of and at the time of a Member committing the offence.In a further answer he said—It would not be competent for any Member or the Chairman to go back to the case of another Member who had addressed the Committee, say, half an hour before.If these answers did not justify his contention that Members could only be suspended individually; that they ought to have Notice twice before they were suspended; and that the suspensions could only take place in their presence, he did not know the meaning of the English language, and he did not know what would justify it. He called not only the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the late Chairman of Committees, to support him in the argument he was sustaining. There were three things in Parliament about which there ought to be no difference of opinion—and, indeed, until now he did not know that there was any—namely, questions of Order, questions of Privilege, and questions of Obstruction. The essence of all these matters was their urgency. If a Member was called to Order, he must be called when he was guilty of a breach of Order. If he wished to raise a point of Privilege, he must raise it promptly; and, in like manner, if he was guilty of Obstruction, 1290 notice of the offence must be taken at the time and on the spot. But, according to the decision of the Chairman of Committees, something very different from that could be adopted. A Member could have a running account of Obstruction accumulating against him—in fact, as he said before, the Chairman had created a new offence—cumulative and constructive Obstruction. If his decision was to stand and become the law of Parliament, it would seriously affect the liberty of discussion. If a partizan Chairman could suspend 16 Members at a Sitting, there was no reason why he could not suspend 60—why, upon a stretch, he might not suspend the whole Opposition. It would be said that it was hardly likely he would do that. Possibly not. But they should recollect that there was a great change going on in Parliament, and that all their arrangements in the House were based upon the idea that there were only the "Ins" and the "Outs." But there had been a third Party formed in recent years, and it was likely to get stronger. It was the creation of that Party which had caused the recent differences over the mode of conducting Business. And they might expect another. The present Government and their supporters were going far to call another Party into existence. They were drawing the strings so tightly that men of independence would not brook their restraints. What with their caucuses and their clôtures, they were stifling the expression of opinion. They would find that men would break away from that restraint. They would not submit to it. It would produce a reaction, and if not next year or next Parliament, certainly in an early Parliament, they would have a group of independent Members acting free from Ministerial restraint. And what would be easier than for a Chairman of Committees appointed by one of the orthodox Parties to suspend the whole of the Members of such a group? It was not an Irish question. It involved the privileges of Parliament and the rights of Englishmen just as much as it did those of Irishmen. He contended, in conclusion, that the Members who had been suspended were not present at the time the offence they were accused of was committed; that they had no warning given to them; that the Government admitted that the discussions, although prolonged, had not 1291 been obstructive; and that the Rule under which they had been suspended did not warrant such a suspension. He had no wish to say an unfriendly word of the Chairman of Committees. He recognized the onerous and distracting circumstances in which he had been placed. It was a great strain upon any man to sit for so many nights in such an atmosphere and amid such excitement. It was to this strain that must largely be attributed the course the right hon. Gentleman had taken. And circumstances justified him in making that remark. In the first list of expulsion the hon. Member for Longford (Mr. Justin M'Carthy) was not included, and in the second list he was, thus showing that there had been considerable looseness in arranging the document. The Chairman voted in a division, and forgot that he had done so. He also sent a report of what transpired to the Press, and the account he gave at one time did not harmonize with what he had given at another. He was not recalling these facts with a view of condemning the right hon. Gentleman's proceedings— [Mr. GLADSTONE: Hear, hear!] He (Mr. Joseph Cowen) heard the right hon. Gentleman's cheer, and he know what it meant; but he begged to repeat that there was nothing he had said that was personally unfriendly to the Chairman. He had desired to speak of him most kindly, and he referred to these occurrences to warrant the statement he had made—that in the fatigue, and excitement, and confusion incidental to the prolonged discussions, he had unwittingly, or unconsciously, committed an injustice upon some hon. Members of the House, and had incorrectly interpreted the Rules. The hon. Member concluded by moving the Resolution, of which he had given Notice, which he had read to the House.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the record of the suspension of John Dillon, Member for Tipperary, Dr. Commins, Member for Roscommon, Joseph G. Biggar, Member for Cavan, and Frank H. O'Donnell, Member for Dungarvan, be erased from the Minutes of Proceedings, on the ground that the suspended Members were not in the House during the proceedings for the obstruction of which they were so reported,"—(Mr. Joseph Cowen,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, that the hon. Member for Newcastle seemed to be apprehensive that the right of unlimited opposition which some independent Members cherished was in danger. He should have thought that no Member of the House had less reason to entertain any such fear than the hon. Member himself, because a system of independent opposition to successive Governments had been practised by the hon. Member for many years with absolute impunity; and nothing seemed to have interfered with a course of the freest, he might say the severest, criticism, and the most skilful and persistent opposition to the present Administration, which had been pursued with the greatest success and perfect impunity by the hon. Member for Newcastle. The hon. Member said that the hon. and learned Member for Roscommon (Dr. Commins) was Legal Adviser to the Party opposite. He had no doubt that the hon. and learned Member for Roscommon performed that duty very ably; but there was still a higher and more skilful adviser of hon. Members opposite in their opposition to measures of the Government, and that was the hon. Member for Newcastle. He was a living example to show that there was nothing that you could not do, and nothing that you could not say, against any Government. The hon. Member for Newcastle was not satisfied with his assault upon the Administration in that House—he had taken in his hands the Authorities of that House, and desired that it should pass a Vote of Censure upon them declaring want of confidence in them. He said he had spoken in the most kindly manner of the Chairman of Committees. Well, the hon. Member for Newcastle had his own standard of kindness, and no man had aright to quarrel with it—De gustibus non est disputandum. But, setting all that aside, he (Sir William Harcourt) should like to look at the Motion that the hon. Member asked the House to adopt. The Motion to which the hon. Member had called attention raised a matter which he hoped he should be able to discuss without any personal reflections which would be disagreeable to any of the individuals inculpated, because it was a pure 1293 question of Parliamentary proceeding. He ventured to submit that the hon. Member for Newcastle's interpretations of the law of Parliament in this respect were entirely unfounded; and, without discussing for one moment more than was necessary the conduct of individual Members, he thought the House would not be disposed to accept the Resolution. The hon. Member contended that the power to stop Obstruction could only be exercised upon the spot against an individual as it were in flagrante delicto. Well, first of all, that certainly was not the course taken upon the occasion of the suspension of these Members, because the Chairman called the attention of the Committee to the long-continued and increasing Obstruction of the Business of the Committee, which had occupied 23 days. The Chairman said the time had now arrived when he was persuaded that the Committee, having full knowledge of those proceedings—that was, not the proceedings at the instant, but the continuous course of proceeding—would support him in Naming the Members who had taken the most prominent part in persistently and wilfully obstructing the Business of the Committee. Now, of course, the first question was—Was there a distinct design to obstruct the Business of the Committee on the Prevention of Crime Bill? It seemed to him that it was a matter of common knowledge that there was such a design. Before the suspension took place he was utterly unaware that it was going to take place, and he did not hear of it till an hour after it had taken place. That was his single absence from the Committee during these proceedings. Was there a design deliberately to delay this Bill? There was one rather important witness on that subject, and that was the hon. Member for Newcastle himself. He thought it was on the third reading of the Bill when the hon. Member got up and said— "We have done our best to defeat this Bill; but as we could not defeat the Bill we have, at all events, done what we could to delay it." He was not complaining of that statement; but it was, at all events, proof that there was a design, not merely to discuss the Bill, but to delay it as an alternative to defeat. It could not be denied that it might be within the right of hon. Gentlemen to take a course of that description; but then there was a 1294 correlative right on the part of the House to defeat such opposition, because if a minority deliberately set to work to defeat, and, if it could not defeat, to delay the progress of a measure which an overwhelming majority of the House had a desire to pass, then the House would be helpless unless there resided within it some power to defeat such an attempt. Therefore, it was necessary that the House should have in itself, either by Common Law right or by some special Rules, the power to defeat a deliberate design such as that avowed by the hon. Member for Newcastle. The hon. Member for Newcastle had said that at various times appeals had been made to the Government; but he must repeat what he believed the House was perfectly well aware of, that this suspension was not the act of the Government, nor had it been carried out at the instigation of the Government. He himself had not had the remotest idea when he went away that morning that the suspensions would take place, and was not aware of the fact till several hours after the Members were suspended, he having meantime gone to bed. Without any invidious reflections upon individuals, he might say that the House had undoubtedly become impatient with the discussion on the earlier clauses of the Bill. He himself, he hoped, had not shown any undue impatience. He said more than once that he thought it was natural that the discussion of matters touching so deeply Constitutional principles should be prolonged, and he declined to consent to an all-night Sitting or any extraordinary method until all the great questions involved had been disposed of. But the clause on which the Obstruction for which the hon. Members were suspended took place was one of an insignificant character, involving no principles of that description. To spend 19 hours in discussing such a clause was a course which could not be described as fair and reasonable discussion, and which could only be adopted with such a design as that which the hon. Member for Newcastle had avowed. It was perfectly obvious that if they gave 19 hours to a single clause, the proceedings of the House of Commons became a farce, and the transaction of Business was impossible. He therefore said, looking at the whole course of those proceedings, it was quite plain that, unless the 1295 House had within itself some power of defending itself from such proceedings, the House of Commons, as a body, was as impotent as if it were a senseless log. Well, then, was it the fact that the House was without such a power? If the hon. Member for Newcastle was right, it was quite plain that Obstruction never could be stopped. That was his proposition; because it was plain that if the thing were partitioned with the skill which the hon. Member had indicated, no particular individuals would be guilty of protracted discussion, and the people who had been most obstructive had only to absent themselves when the crisis arrived, and nothing could be done to defeat them. If the hon. Member's doctrine were true, the House was perfectly helpless in the hands of a handful of persons who desired to set it at naught, and to make it contemptible in the eyes of the world, and to defeat its power of action altogether. That was a state of things which, he would venture to say, the House of Commons would not recognize as existing. The hon. Member for Newcastle had quoted certain opinions of the late Chairman of Committees in 1879; but all these things had nothing to do with the law of the House of Commons as expounded by the House, who had the right to expound it. The hon. Member had also referred to the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. He was sorry the right hon. Gentleman was not present, because he had always understood it was a favourite doctrine in the minds of the Opposition, on the subject of dealing with Obstruction in the House of Commons, that the action against Obstruction ought not to be any general procedure, but action against individuals. That was their favourite doctrine. He, for his part, at the time when that doctrine was originally promulgated, had ventured to express his doubts that the matter could be dealt with solely on that footing; and certainly if the doctrine of the hon. Member for Newcastle were accepted, it never could be adopted at all. But he would call attention to what was far more important than any opinion expressed by the right hon. Member for Preston in 1879, or by the Leader of the Opposition in 1880, and that was the ruling of the Speaker upon the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman his (Sir William Harcourt's) Predecessor, the late Secretary of State for the Home 1296 Department. Upon the Bill of last year a very similar state of things had arisen, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) appealed to the Speaker for an authoritative ruling from the Chairman on one of the Standing Orders, and as to what was "wilful and persistent Obstruction." It was impossible to have the matter more distinctly put than it was on that occasion. The right hon. Gentleman, on that occasion, said—It seems to me that this is a matter which cannot be decided by an actual individual speech, but by the whole course of the debate."—[3 Hansard, cclvii. 1942.]Thus it was not the individual action or speech which constituted the offence. The right hon. Gentleman went on to point out that hon. Members had not been discussing the actual Question before the House, but Questions of Adjournment of no practical use whatever. Now, Obstructives were very intelligent persons, and when one hole was stopped up they speedily discovered another. It had been discovered that Motions for the adjournment of the House did not pay, and so they took to speaking during the discussion on every clause on the whole Bill, and that for an unlimited period. The Speaker was asked, with respect to that practice, whether, even if individual acts taken one by one did not constitute Obstruction, a combination to do such acts or carry out such a practice might not be Obstruction? On the occasion to which he referred the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire suggested that the Speaker had, by his inherent authority, power to put down such proceedings. He entirely agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that, independently of the particular Rule, the Speaker had a Common Law power of putting down Obstruction of that character. Such a power was absolutely necessary for the purposes of self-defence, and without it the existence of the House would be intolerable. If the proposition of the right hon. Member for South-West Lancashire was right, that of the hon. Member for Newcastle was wrong. No doubt it might be said that one opinion was as good as another. But he would refer to the decision of the Chair on the question of the Standing Order. The Speaker decided that such a combination carried out for the purpose of Obstruction came within the 1297 Standing Orders, and, within the meaning of the Rule, was wilful and persistent Obstruction. The decision of the Speaker on that occasion was even stronger than that of the Chairman on the occasion which the House was then considering. It amounted to this—that, although a Member might be actually in Order at a particular moment, he might be suspended in consequence of his general conduct, independently of the particular proceeding. He ventured to say that the ruling of the Chair on the occasion to which he was referring established the correctness of the view of the right hon. Member for South-West Lancashire, and the inaccuracy of that of the hon. Member for Newcastle. The doctrine, therefore, that Obstruction might take place and become punishable by virtue of a combination, although the individual act would not constitute an offence, was clearly established. He thought, too, he was right in saying that, in answer to a Question on the subject, the Speaker had said that he would be prepared to act upon that view of the law if he thought, having regard to particular circumstances, that it was expedient to do so. So far, then, as the general principle was concerned, he took it that the House could not accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Newcastle without deliberately flying in the face of the ruling of the Chair. That being the case, he thought it was unnecessary for him to enter into any personal controversy on the matter, which would be singularly disagreeable to him — [Mr. CALLAN: Hear, hear!] — more so, he dared say, than to the hon. Member for Louth. However, the last thing he would think of doing would be to enter into a personal altercation with the hon. Member. He did not, on the whole, complain of the manner in which the Irish Members had been treated in the performance of a task which was necessarily extremely distasteful to them. All he had to say was that if they started with the proposition that combination for the purpose of obstructing a Bill was a thing against which the House could protect itself by a proceeding of this character, there only remained the question whether there was such a combination, and whether the individuals suspended were parties to that combination. He did not think anybody would say that there had been no such combination. 1298 Hon. Members were not ashamed of it; it was avowed. That was the method they adopted. Well, then, were the hon. Members concerned prepared to say they were not parties to that combination? The trusted Legal Adviser of the Party would hardly say so. Therefore, they had all these propositions, he thought, clearly established. There was such a combination, these Gentlemen were parties to that combination—a combination of which they were not ashamed, and which they avowed. Then they had the distinct ruling of the Speaker that such combinations were both within the Common Law right of the Authorities of this House, and that it was also within the Standing Order. That being so, he did not see upon what ground the conduct of the Chairman of Committees could be condemned; and certainly he did not see how the Resolution of the hon. Member for Newcastle could be carried, it being in flagrant opposition to the Speaker's declaration of the law of Parliament.
§ Mb. ARTHUR ARNOLD
said, he was of opinion that nothing was more clear than that Her Majesty's Government were in no way involved or implicated in the matter now before the House, and he ventured to say that neither was the ruling of the Speaker in any way involved in this matter. The speech of his right hon. and learned Friend (Sir William Harcourt) was wholly beside the mark. The right hon. and learned Gentleman dealt solely and entirely with the question whether there had been obstruction of the Prevention of Crime Bill. But on that they were agreed. He (Mr. Arthur Arnold) was glad the matter came before the House in the form of the Resolution of the hon. Member for Newcastle. With all due deference to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary, he thought that this was a subject on which the youngest Member of the House might venture to form an opinion as well as the highest authority, there being no precedent whatever for the course of proceeding that had been adopted on the occasion in question. He had himself no doubt that there had been wilful and persistent Obstruction to the Prevention of Crime Bill; but what he contended was, that there was not only no precedent for judging a Member in his absence from the House, but there 1299 was not, in the words of the Rule in question, any warrant giving permission to the Chairman to judge a Member in his absence from the House. As a humble student of Parliamentary history, he contended that there was not in the Records of this House a single instance in which a Member had not been summoned to his place to receive the judgment of the Chair. As a matter of fact, in this case the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon) was in the neighbourhood of Hammersmith when this judgment was passed upon him; and the first intimation he heard of his suspension on the morning in question was from the doorkeeper. It was simply because the Chairman of Committees had suspended a Member who was not present at the time to receive the judgment of the Chair—who, in fact, had been absent many hours—that he supported the Resolution of the hon. Member for Newcastle. Neither the Speaker nor the Prime Minister had expressed any opinion on the point as to whether judgment could be passed upon a Member in his absence.
§ MR. DAWSON
said, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary admitted that, although he knew the course that had been pursued by the Irish Members, he was not aware when he left the House that morning that they were about to be suspended. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had also told them that the suspension took place on account of what had been previously done. That was the strongest argument that could be adduced in condemnation of the conduct of the Chairman of Committees. It was quite clear that the whole of this matter was an afterthought, and that the necessity for the punishment did not arise at any particular moment. The fact was that when it became desirable that the Coercion Bill should be immediately passed the Government directed the Chairman of Committees to take action, and he did so. The hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Joseph Cowen), in his speech to-day, had used the pronoun "we," boasting that he was engaged with others in delaying the Bill. Why was he not suspended? The reason was that he was an English Member. Was that an honourable or dignified course for the Government to adopt? The fact was that the Government could play, and was playing, as it 1300 liked with the Irish Members, while it dared not suspend an English Member. He should support the Resolution.
§ MR. DILLWYN
said, the mistake was not to have confined the suspension to those Members who were then and there guilty of Obstruction. It was a fact that the Chairman Named several Gentlemen as guilty of Obstruction who the House agreed were not guilty—as, for instance, the hon. Member for Kilkenny (Mr. Marum); and that he omitted to Name others who had been undoubtedly guilty. The hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Joseph Cowen), the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), and the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Thompson) were admittedly a great deal more guilty of delaying the Coercion Bill than the hon. Members mentioned in the Resolution. Why were they not suspended?
§ MR. DILLWYN
said, he did not admit that. He did not think it required much acumen to have enabled the right hon. and learned Gentleman to discover that the hon. Members for Newcastle, Durham, and Northampton were the head and front of the delay to the Coercion Bill. The mistake that had been made showed the danger of Naming any number of Gentlemen as guilty of Obstruction. There was no precedent for such an exercise of arbitrary power by a Chairman of Committees, and its exercise on the occasion in question showed the danger of acting merely upon recollection of what had taken place. He could not say he regretted that this question had been raised to-day, because he thought it was in the interests of freedom of debate. He would vote for the Resolution, believing that if they sustained this principle, which was now claimed—this arbitrary exercise of the power of condemning Members in their absence and unheard—they would strike the heaviest blow he had ever seen struck at the root of freedom of debate in Parliament.
§ DR. COMMINS
said, that, for his part, although he was by no means indifferent to the good opinion of the House, he did not attach a feather's weight of importance to the record of his expulsion on July 1st remaining on the Journals of the House. Nay, on the contrary, both himself and his constituents looked upon it as a far greater honour than if he 1301 had received one of the Baronetcies which were lately distributed with such a lavish hand. He did not altogether blame the Chairman of the Committees, for it was his belief that there was a power behind the Chair which constrained him to act in the way he had done, and which ought to avow itself. The Home Secretary had defended the action of the Chairman on the ground of the Common Law of Parliament, and on the Rules of February, 1880. Now, Common Law was the law of precedent; but there was no precedent for the action of the Chairman of Committees. It was a revolution, a coup d'état, and there was nothing even analogous to justify it. If the dictum of the right hon. and learned Gentleman was accepted, there was an end to the highest privilege and the proudest boast of that House—freedom of speech, which would then become a mockery. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's defence reminded him very much of a species of justice in Scotland known as "Jeddart justice"—the hanging of a man first and trying him afterwards. Such an argument addressed to the right hon. and learned Gentleman when he had arrived at the Woolsack, and his brow was adorned with a coronet, would inspire him with very little regard for the intelligence of the man who had used it. As to the Rules of February, 1880, these clearly aimed at a Member who was found in the act of doing something amounting to Obstruction, and who persistently and wilfully did so, notwithstanding the warning of the Chair. The Rule, therefore, was inapplicable to himself, as he had just come into the House after spending the night in bed, in time to hear himself Named, or to the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon), who came down to the House to find the doors of Parliament shut against him. He contended that every adjournment of the Committee during the 23days' Sitting precluded the Chairman of Committees from going back upon anything which had happened in Committee, and that the attempt to do so was an afterthought, suggested by the discovery that absent Members had been included in the wholesale suspension. The Home Secretary had declared that there was a conspiracy to obstruct the Business of the House, and he said that no hon. Member would get up and deny it. He 1302 (Dr. Commins) denied that there was any such conspiracy, and he challenged the right hon. and learned Gentleman to prove it. There was a combination against it, no doubt, just as there was a combination on the other side to get it passed; but its opponents had not broken any of the Rules of the House. For himself, as one of the Members mentioned in the Motion, he contended that he had only done his duty to his constituents. He had spoken only once before the Bill reached the Committee stage, and then for less than 15 minutes. In Committee he had moved several Amendments; but he challenged the Government to show that any of them were obstructive or frivolous. Nor had he once spoken on the Amendments of other Members except with a bonâ fide object of furthering the discussion, in corroboration of which assertion he might point to the fact that he had only once been called to Order by the Chairman for irrelevancy. The House might judge, then, of his astonishment, after being absent all night, at finding himself Named as guilty of Obstruction the moment he arrived at Westminster the next morning. The truth was that the Chairman had a cut-and-dried list of Members to be suspended, and this list was drawn up some time before the right hon. Gentleman thought fit to use it. However, he would say no more on this matter. Having explained his own conduct, he was indifferent as to the Resolution, and did not feel called upon to vote for it.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he regarded the Home Secretary, in the line he had taken, not as representing the Government qua Government, but as defending the rights of that House, which was entitled to have orderly discussion, and, if necessary, to put down Obstruction. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had laid down the law of the case very distinctly, and no answer had been given to him. He rejoiced that both by the Common and Statute Law of that House they had the right to put down Obstruction. Last year the Common Law of the House had been put in force by the Speaker, and this year the Statute Law of the House by the Chairman of Committees. They had been told that there was no precedent for such a course; but neither was there any precedent for the conduct which had provoked it. He 1303 would take one test. They started with something like 13 pages of Amendments; but after a fortnight they had 60 or 70 pages, and they were told that the Amendments would never grow less. On Clause 17 the same Amendments were discussed as had been disposed of on Clauses 14, 15, and 16, and then they were to have a series of Provisoes; and now they were told there was no conspiracy or Obstruction. As to the four Members, it should be remembered that the question of absence did not affect the matter. The conspiracy having gone on for several days, some must necessarily be absent. And here he must observe that the Home Secretary, during the discussions on the Bill, conducted himself in an exceedingly dignified manner. He must also say, in presence of the Premier, that the right hon. Gentleman had not treated the Home Secretary very generously, for, while leaving all the harsh proposals to his Colleague, he reserved to himself the more agreeable part of making the concession. If for more than 20 days Gentlemen had been carrying on Obstruction by dilatory speeches, Amendments, Provisoes, and every means in their power, it did not matter much whether at the time of the suspension some of them were absent or present.
MR. GEORGE RUSSELL
said, that there were two points of contention—one, whether individual Members were rightly included; the other, whether the method adopted by the Chair was allowable or not. On a general review of the case after so long a period, it seemed to him that two or three names were included in the list of suspended Members by inadvertence. One of these was the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Dillon), with whose personal opinions he disagreed, but who always comported himself with dignity and with a sense of what was due to himself and the House. There were also the hon. Member for Kilkenny (Mr. Marum), and the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Justin M'Carthy), whose speeches, though sometimes obnoxious to the charge of tediousness, were not on other grounds open to objection. At the same time, as regarded the other hon. Members, he thought the visitation which fell upon them was merited. The occasion was one for no half-hearted remedies, for no courteous language, for no elaborate attempt to justify, palliate, and 1304 excuse. It was rather for measures of justice, peremptory and effectual, which, though they might sometimes in their infliction cause inconvenience to hon. Members who had not deserved it, were yet absolutely necessary to a House which, in the absence of Rules definitely drawn up with a view to such an emergency, was bound to defend itself on the inspiration of the moment against outbreaks of disorder and lawless Obstruction that rendered the existence of a popular deliberative Assembly well-nigh impossible. On the larger question, whether collective and retrospective suspension was allowable, the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton), with his usual penetration, had pointed out that, in a case of combined Obstruction, they must be prepared to act sometimes retrospectively, because an hon. Member who had resorted to deliberate Obstruction might at a particular moment, when he saw the sword of Damocles about to descend, absent himself, and evade the penalty. He saw no reason, therefore, for recording any condemnation, either of collective or retrospective action. When they were confronted with difficulties from a certain quarter of the House, such as the oldest Members of the House had not in times gone by witnessed, it was of first and vital consequence that they should, with one heart and mind, support the Chair in its decisions. He, therefore, trusted that a large majority would support the Chairman of Committees in the retrospective view of what took place on the occasion in question.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
said, he was astonished that the Chairman of Committees (Mr. Lyon Playfair), whose conduct was in question, did not think proper, or, to put the matter more correctly, was not permitted to come here and make his own defence. Undoubtedly an injustice had been done to hon. Members, and the course that ought to be taken by the Prime Minister should be to admit that injustice, and undo it by expunging from the Records of the House the names of the hon. Members in question. He could not congratulate the Government on the support of the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton). During this Session that hon. and learned Member had made himself notorious by blocking as many Bills as possible; and if he had been a 1305 Member of a small Party instead of belonging to one of the two great Parties in the State, an application of the doctrine of constructive Obstruction would have sent him about his business long ago. Replying to the Home Secretary, who had said that to adopt the Resolution of the hon. Member for Newcastle would be to weaken the authority of the Chair, he contended that the adoption of the Resolution would only be a repetition of what had been done in the case of the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell), who had been relieved from the suspension imposed from the Chair by a Motion for which the. Prime Minister himself was responsible. There were, he argued, three conditions which ought to be fulfilled if the Rule against Obstruction was to be applied in a just manner. In the first place, it ought to be applied to the case of a single Member only; secondly, it ought only to be applied after warning; and, thirdly, it should be applied in the presence of the Member concerned. He challenged the Leader of the Opposition to deny that when the Rule was passed by the House it was intended that the three conditions which he had described should be fulfilled. He warned the House that the doctrine of Obstruction in combination might be fatal to the liberties of small parties, such as the extreme radical Party, or a Republican Party, when such Party should exist. The Home Secretary, who at first contended that Obstruction had dogged the Prevention of Crime Bill through all its stages, had subsequently retired from that position. Why? Because the recorded opinion of the Prime Minister was against him. On June 6 the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government said—Although the debates upon the Irish Crime Bill have been long….yet I must say I do not think they have been of such a character as that we could justly tax them" (the Irish Members) "with the offence, if I may so call it, of Obstruction."—[3 Hansard, cclxx. 236.]The Prime Minister, on being asked by the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) whether he was prepared to ask for a Vote of Urgency with respect to the Prevention of Crime Bill, answered in the negative, as the Bill had not, up to that date (the 12th of June), in his opinion, been dealt with obstructively. But the position of the Government was 1306 that Obstruction began on the 17th clause. Was any warning given by the Chairman of Committees, in accordance with the words and the spirit of the Rule against Obstruction, that Obstruction had begun? He defied the Government to point out a single instance of such a warning. But were Irish Members justified in opposing the Bill at the point at which they were suspended? The right hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir William Harcourt) said all the important clauses had been passed by the Committee. They were engaged in discussing one of the most important clauses of the Bill—namely, the 20th—which involved the question whether a blood tax should be levied upon a large body of people, or on one street, one house, one man, so that the penalties would amount to absolute bankruptcy. The next clause related to punishment for offences against the Bill, and involved the question whether a person should be imprisoned for six months with hard labour or not. That was the very essence of the Bill. A word with regard to the conduct of Irish and English Members. The Home Secretary had made a new Parliamentary offence. It was a Parliamentary offence now to delay a Bill. Would the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister have liked that doctrine to apply when the Divorce Bill was before the House? [Mr. GLADSTONE: I would.] He (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) wondered if the right hon. Gentleman was ready to deny that he delayed the Divorce Bill. [Mr. GLADSTONE: Yes.] The right hon. Gentleman was ready to make that denial. His memory, however, was distinct that the right hon. Gentleman not merely delayed the Bill, but openly declared his intention to delay it; and, according to the new doctrine of the Home Secretary that to delay a Bill was Obstruction, the Premier clearly stood convicted of Obstruction. The hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Joseph Cowen) said that some English Members spoke far longer and more bitterly on the Prevention of Crime Bill than Irish Members. Why were not those English Members suspended? The answer was this—that the Authorities durst not suspend English Members. In spite of the new Rule, in spite of their Caucuses, that freedom of opinion, that toleration, which had been the noblest feature of English political life, still existed in the case of English Members, and could not be nullified by 1307 a decision of the Chairman of Committees. Behind this question was a very large question—a much larger one than that referred to by the hon. Member who had just spoken, or by other hon. Members. If the Prime Minister supported the conduct of the Chairman in suspending the Irish Members, it would shake the confidence of the Irish people in Parliamentary representation. Nothing could play better into the hands of revolutionists than an interference with the confidence of the Irish people in the justice of Parliament; and if the Prime Minister joined in a conspiracy against the freedom of speech in that House, he must henceforth be proclaimed a friend of the revolutionists in Ireland.
Sir, I really wish to call the attention of the House to the fact that the debate, which has involved, undoubtedly, many topics of very great importance, has travelled into very wide fields, in comparison with the terms of the Resolution which is now before us. I sincerely desire to bring to the mind of the House the question whether, at this period of the Session, and in this condition of Public Business, it is their intention that we should enter at large into matters which undoubtedly would justify a very great extension indeed of discussion, or whether we should confine ourselves to the Resolution before us. Because I do not hesitate to state that there is hardly one-tenth of the speech just delivered that has had any reference to the Resolution—although I am very far from saying that any considerable portion of the remaining nine-tenths was either frivolous or trivial. On the contrary, it was very important matter; but it was matter not belonging to the Resolution before the House. I do not think this is a convenient opportunity for a general discussion of the question of Obstruction, and of dealing with the rights of the House in endeavouring to check certain practices, for the very plain reason that we are not debating a Resolution fairly raising the merits of the question. We are debating a Motion of Censure on one of the Authorities of the House for a specific and well-defined offence—well-defined, I mean, by the terms of the Resolution—and I put it strongly to the Members of this House, that when it has been found necessary by a portion of those who sit here to call 1308 into question an alleged offence committed by the Chairman of Ways and Means in the Chair of the House, justice and propriety and policy alike combine to require of us that we should deal judicially with that question, offering proofs of the offence, and confining ourselves strictly to the offence thus alleged. Now, I cannot help thinking that hon. Gentlemen will feel that there is great force in the appeal, and that, however right it may be to discuss at the proper time and manner all the topics raised, this is not the time for entering upon such a discussion. I think it is our absolute duty to the House itself, to the laws of the House, and to the Authorities without whose aid we could not conduct our discussions for a day, to keep ourselves distinctly to the matter at issue. Notice has been taken of the absence of the Chairman of Committees. Well, the Chairman of Committees did not happen to consult me upon the subject, but I should think he took good and sufficient advice; and I am bound to say, if the right hon. Gentleman had happened to consult me, I should strongly have urged his not taking any part whatever in this debate. It is not the right hon. Gentleman's business, as an Authority of the House, to come here and plead his cause as a party and a private individual. It is his business to trust, I will not say to the generosity, but to the justice and consideration of the House, and to entertain a full belief that what is duo to himself and to his Office will be sufficiently remembered without his presence; while the dignity of that Office, as well as his own personal consideration, would somewhat suffer were he to assume the position of any party in the cause. Some reference has been made with regard to admissions I am supposed to have made in connection with some of the proceedings on the Prevention of Crime Bill. I admit the accuracy of the passages quoted; but the hon. Gentleman goes a little too far when he says that those were absolute acquittals—if I may use such a phrase—as absolute assertions of the innocence of the hon. Member and his Friends, down to certain dates. Now, I am not prepared to make that admission without some qualification. The allegation the hon. Member had to meet was cumulative—that there grew up the evidence of an intention for Obstruction.
Quite so. If there was a cumulative proof, it follows, from the very nature of the charge, that the elements of that proof began to gather before they had reached the ripeness and fulness on which alone they could be said to have reached the position of Obstruction. That appears to me to be a fair argument; but this one admission I felt it my duty to these Gentlemen to make. They certainly did not resort to methods of Obstruction which I have seen really used from more than one quarter of the House on a variety of Bills. They gave us every evening a full measure of the time of the House; but they made no attempt to employ that which is by far the most effective method of Obstruction in Committee on a Bill—moving that the Chairman do report Progress. I also freely admit that it is very true that the matters involved in many cases were of the utmost importance and delicacy, and the question of extending the Alien Act to England fully justified the evening spent on its debate. I think there is something in what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton), although he himself is considered to be open to criticism in certain respects when he refers to the 17th clause of the Prevention of Crime Bill, and to the hours passed upon it as constituting a case which is rather difficult to meet. However, I do not believe it is possible, by any debate in this House, to bring to a judicial issue the question whether there was or was not Obstruction from the method of arguing. The hon. and learned Member for Roscommon (Dr. Commins) has adopted the method of going over the entire series of his speeches on this Bill, arguing from them that he was not guilty of Obstruction. If other Gentlemen were to adopt the same method, I can only say that the end of that must be to land us in more hopeless impotency and incapacity for the discharge of our duty than any degree of that disagreeable predicament at which we have yet arrived. The hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Joseph Cowen) is, I must say, too ready not only to impute error which belongs to us all, but also positive absurdity to those with whom he differs. He had no hesitation in imputing to me that I laid down the doctrine, which 1310 will not bear examination, that the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Stafford Northcote), because he was the author of this Resolution, was its authorized Parliamentary interpreter. The hon. Gentleman will do well not to be so hasty in making these imputations.
What does that signify? I affirm that the report of a newspaper is not sufficient evidence on such a subject. This is a palpable absurdity, evidently arising on the report of a newspaper; and hon. Gentlemen should think twice before adopting that report for the purpose of making me the father of anything so preposterous. It is not worth arguing. I know that if the reporter could have reported certain inverted commas which were not reported, the hon. Gentleman would have seen that I referred to the right hon. Baronet opposite, not as the interpreter of the Resolution of the House, but as the interpreter of the speech which he himself had made, which is a very different matter. I wish to observe that this debate has been treated all through as a judgment on the conduct of the Chairman of Committees, and far be it from me to deny that his conduct is involved in the Resolution. But no one has thought fit to notice that the House itself is also in question. There are three steps in these proceedings. There is the Chairman of Committees, to whom the initiative is given, and who is responsible solely for the exercise of that initiative. Then there is the conduct of the Representative of the Government—the Secretary of State for War—who was responsible for inviting the House to act on the initiative of the Chairman of Committees; and then the House thought fit to vote upon that recommendation, and to vote in support of the Chairman of Committees; and I say it is not fair or just to give to this debate the character simply of a discussion on the conduct of the Chairman of Committees. But that the House must take to itself the responsibility of the vote which it thought proper to give—[Mr. O'DONNELL: The English Government.] The hon. Member says the English Government. That reminds me that the hon. and learned Member for Roscommon (Dr. Commins) invented a way of shielding the Chairman of Committees. The 1311 hon. and learned Member for Roscommon said there was a power somewhere behind the Chairman of Committees, and he wanted that power to show itself. [Mr. CALLAN: Hear, hear!] As the hon. and learned Gentleman said there is such a power, I suppose he and his hon. Friends know it; and, if they know it, I wish they would give us some clue to it. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary says he had gone to bed an hour before, and was slumbering through the proceedings; therefore he was not the power behind. I was in bed at the time of the occurrence, and was awakened by the disagreeable and troublesome words— "Sir, they are expelling the Irish Members." That spoiled any chance I had of further repose; and therefore I was not the power behind the Chairman of Committees. If hon. Gentlemen who appear to be aware of such a fact will give us the slightest assistance in detecting this criminal, whoever he is, and bringing him to justice, we will, with the utmost zeal, lend ourselves to forward their endeavours to promote the ends of public justice. The hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Joseph Cowen) thought he was doing a great kindness to the Chairman of Committees when he said the poor man had been sitting there a long time, his patience was exhausted, his faculties, whatever nature has given him—[Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR: The hon. Member did not say so.] I am not quoting his words; but the hon. Member for Newcastle has taken credit to himself in that he had spoken very kindly of the Chairman of Committees. That may be so, as far as the intention of the hon. Member is concerned; but there is another view of the matter. I will apply it to himself. I am making a speech against his Resolution and against his sentiments, which it is sometimes my fortune to do; and the hon. Gentleman might very well give an account of my speech, and might refer to the time of life to which I had arrived, the natural effect of age in weakening the human faculties, the dimmed condition of the brain when a certain term has been passed; and he might then say he had spoken of me with very great kindness, and endeavoured to cast a veil over my shortcomings and delinquencies. But I might not like that mode of excusing me, and might not feel all the gush of gratitude 1312 which the hon. Gentleman seems to expect from the Chairman of Committees. I do not deny that the question before us, as it appears to me, concerns the Chairman of Committees; but, unquestionably, not him alone. The party mainly concerned is the House. But far be it from me to deny that the House is bound to undo its own act if there has been injustice. I must also observe that a particular ruling of the Chair has been mainly in question during this debate; and with respect to that ruling I am bound to say that if it was to be questioned it should have been questioned long ago. The declaration of the Chair with regard to the principle of constructive and combined Obstruction is a declaration that has been in the knowledge of us all for a considerable time; and I am bound to say that it was a declaration which it was the duty of the Chairman of Committees to take notice of and to consider as in a very great degree a guide for his conduct; and the question is whether we are prepared to call in question the decision of the Chairman, and attempt to reverse it by the Vote of the House. Not that this Vote leads us so far; but that the doctrine which has been made to do service in this debate undoubtedly goes to the entire reversal of the proposition laid down from the Chairman. We are called upon to vote that the Record of certain suspensions of four Members be erased from the Minutes, on the ground that the suspended Members were not in the House during the proceedings, for the Obstruction of which they were so reported. It appears to me that that Motion bristles with objectionable points. In the first place, how is it possible to consider and construe what are the proceedings for the Obstruction of which they were so reported? You have no definition of the time over which those proceedings extend. You do not mean the formal proceedings of the Chairman at the Table. Manifestly, those Gentlemen had been in the House during the greater part of the proceedings; and, therefore, you are calling upon us to assert by this Resolution a proposition which I will not say is palpably false, but the truth of which no man can confidently assert or can clearly know. But, looking at the matter more generally, two pleas may be considered to have been raised—one a narrow plea and the 1313 other a broad plea. The narrow plea is one immediately presented by the Motion, and that is the absence from the House at the time the Chairman rises to Name certain Members, and for a certain limited period before that time, the extent of which we do not know, is to exempt Members from the exercise of his jurisdiction. Will the House commit itself to that principle? It is quite plain that if you do it involves consequences that go far to emasculate the whole Rule, because the most operative part of obstructive measures may take place some time before the time that cumulative Obstruction is declared to have arrived; and you cannot place it in the power of Members to shield themselves by the simple act of a temporary departure from the consequences which, in the judgment of the Chairman and of the House, they may be considered to have invited. As to the broader issue, I was very much struck by the method of the hon. and learned Member for Roscommon (Dr. Commins), who said that the Home Secretary did not demonstrate the offence of Obstruction. He had no occasion to demonstrate it; he had it before him on the very best evidence—that of the speech of the hon. Member for Newcastle.
I imagine that the hon. Member for Newcastle was not suspended because it was not established that he had been guilty of an act of Obstruction. I would remind the hon. Member for Louth that the speech of the hon. Member for Newcastle was delivered on the third reading, and that the suspension took place in Committee. The hon. Member for Newcastle said— "We endeavoured to defeat the Bill and we failed; and we endeavoured to delay the Bill and we succeeded." It was a delay not addressed to the business of persuasion. If it had been so addressed, and bonò fide addressed, to the minds of the House, it would not have been delaying the Bill. But the hon. Member conveyed to us a totally different idea—that he thought it an object of policy to delay the Bill, and that it was a subject for congratulation that 1314 the Irish Members, along with himself, had succeeded in delaying the Bill. The hon. and learned Member for Roscommon says that in the case of any other measure of the kind, we are prepared to prevent, by all means consistent with the Privileges of the House, the passing of the measure. What is consistent with the Privileges of the House? Is it consistent with the Privileges of the House that every Gentleman in that quarter of the House should on each stage rise at the beginning of the evening, if he could catch the Speaker's eye, and speak until the hour for adjournment? But what is the condition of the House of Parliament in that case? It is that the House is reduced to total incapacity for the performance of its duty; and the House is entitled, by that natural right of self-defence with which every Assembly is invested, to interfere for a limitation of that misuse of Privilege, and to call the excessive use of that Privilege by the name of Obstruction or otherwise. Neither the narrow issue that absence is an efficient contention, nor the broad issue that no attempt was made to do more than discuss that with the view of convincing and persuading the House, can for a moment be maintained; and I would ask the House finally to consider this—that the selection of these four Gentlemen is a very nice matter indeed; and were we to vote upon them man by man, great varieties of opinion would arise. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. George Russell) said there were some Gentlemen who were less open to the charge than others; but he did not think they were exactly all these four Gentlemen; and you must bear in mind, if the House passes a Resolution of self-condemnation and remorse to efface the record of the proceedings in regard to these four Gentlemen, what would be the effect of that action in regard to the other 12—it certainly would be a most emphatic branding of the other 12. For myself, I must confess that, if I had had to pick out four Gentlemen as the least chargeable with Parliamentary delinquency, I should not have chosen those mentioned in the Resolution. Under these circumstances, I need not say that I shall resist this Resolution; and I venture again to express the hope that we may not have a general and vague discussion upon the position of the Irish Parliamentary Party, or the 1315 prejudices to which it is subject, or the lawfulness of delaying measures; but that we should keep strictly to the issue which is before us, and endeavour to give to the discussion of the question as judicial a tone as we possibly can.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, that, as one of the 12 Members suspended, he desired to address the House. The Prime Minister had made a speech which he could not but characterize as exceedingly playful, and he should not attempt to detract from the amusement which might be derived from such a sudden and unexpected display of humour. He imagined that the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Joseph Cowen) had two motives—first, to call in question the conduct of the Chairman of Committees, and to procure a condemnation of an unwise, improper use of extraordinary powers, thereby protecting the liberties of the House; and, secondly, to secure in that House just and impartial treatment of Irish as well as English Members. For this the hon. Member was entitled to the thanks of every hon. Member who sat with him. He was one of the 12 Members who sat in that House throughout the night of the 30th of June. The Government having challenged them to a struggle of physical endurance, they accepted it, and the Government was defeated, and it was for defeating the Government that they were sentenced, and it appeared very much that in consequence of that defeat they were not to be forgiven either in this world or the next. In his opinion, the Standing Order referred to was plain, and was intended to be applied after warning to an individual Member of the House and in his presence. The Motion consequent was that such a Member be suspended from the service of the House during the remainder of that day's Sitting. There they had emphasized the fact that the presence of the Member at the time was an absolute necessity. But the question was asked—Suppose the Member incriminated left the House before action was taken on his conduct? Well, the way to deal with such a case was not by stretching a Rule never meant to apply, but by making a new Rule. The right hon. Gentleman founded himself on the argument that a number of Members had banded themselves together to delay the Bill. "Delay" was an elastic term. If it was meant that they occupied 1316 time for the purpose of occupying time, there was no foundation for the assertion. It was a notorious fact that the majority of the Irish Party abstained from taking part in the debates upon the Bill, because, while their wish was that the arguments against the measure should be fully and fairly placed before the Government, they were unwilling that unnecessary time should be taken up, and many of them who had influence among their Party brought that influence to bear upon their Colleagues to induce them not to speak at undue length. There never was a more wanton accusation than that made by the Home Secretary—who, for the sake of an epigram, was apt to forget the actual facts of the case—when he said that the method of the Irish Party was upon every clause of the Bill to debate the whole measure. A very cursory examination of Hansard would show that the speeches had this one merit—they were confined strictly within the scope of the particular clause or Amendment under discussion. But if what was meant by delay was that the Irish Members endeavoured by occupying time in discussing the Bill to induce the Government to consider the propriety of mitigating the severity of its provisions, in that sense only was there delay. In a body of Members forming a minority, whether large or small, nothing was more legitimate than to insist and persist in the expression of their views, so that the Government of the day might modify their intentions. Considering the nature of the Bill, and that under it the people of Ireland were for three years to live in a position from which every vestige of liberty was banished, Irish Members would have betrayed their duty if they did not take care that the measure was sufficiently debated. The Home Secretary spoke of the Common Law. They all knew that when the Attorney General for Ireland could not find a Statute he fell back upon the Common Law; but he never did so when he could find a Statute. But the Home Secretary, though there was a Rule at his hand, fell back upon the Common Law. If stateliness of deportment and elegance of gesture could constitute an argumentative speech, the speech of the Home Secretary was unanswerable. But the whole question was whether the Rule was properly applied, and the Home Secretary shelved 1317 that question. For his own part, he took no interest in the present Resolution. He did not want to blot out the record; he was content that it should remain until the day of doom. He did not believe that it was by erasions from the Records that the rights of Irish Members or the rights of the Irish people would be established; it would be by a more drastic process. The censures passed upon Irish Members did not injure them in the light of Irish public opinion. A time would come when the Irish Members would return to that House, doubled in strength and reinforced in resolution. A time would come when they would wield a power in that House which would compel both Parties to have regard to them; and if Party Government was to be maintained, and English freedom to have the safeguard of Parliamentary Rule, the only way to maintain that Party Government, and to preserve that Parliamentary Rule, would be by effacing from the Records, not that contemptible Vote of Censure, but the Rules upon which the censure was founded.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, that, as direct reference had been made to him by more than one speaker, it would be almost disrespectful to the House if he did not reply to the questions addressed to him. He quite agreed, as every reasonable man must do, with what had fallen from the Prime Minister with regard to any particular Rule. The construction put upon any Rule of that House, as upon the provisions of an Act of Parliament, must rest with those upon whom the authority to interpret it was put by law, rather than upon those who were at first responsible for framing it. The hon. Member for Galway (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) had asked him whether he adhered to his opinion on three points—first, whether it was intended that the Rule should be brought to bear on individuals alone; secondly, whether it was meant to be applied without warning; and, thirdly, whether it was to be applied in the absence of the parties on whom it was brought to bear. It had been said, with some slight inaccuracy, that on all these points his opinions were more or less in accord with what fell from the hon. Member for Galway. With regard to the first point, the evidence he gave before the Committee on Public Business had reference to a Rule shaped in rather 1318 a different form from that which had become a Standing Order, inasmuch as it allowed, not only the Chair, but any Member, to call attention to an abuse of the Forms of the House. He expressed his opinion that attention ought not to be called to an infraction of the Rule half an hour after the offence had been committed. To the opinions he then held he was bound to say he still adhered. The hon. Member for Galway had attributed to him an opinion that the Rule should in no case be applied without warning. In his evidence he said he would rather not fetter the action of the Committee or of the Chair by requiring that warning should be given; but he added that, as a matter of practice, he had no doubt that a Member would be sufficiently warned. He desired to lay stress upon that, because he should be sorry if he were supposed to think that, in every case, a warning ought to precede the application of the Rule, because there were many cases which required to be dealt with on the spur of the moment. With regard to Members being dealt with in their absence, he did not find any definite answer of his own; but it would be sufficiently clear to anyone who read the evidence given before the Select Committee that it had not crossed his mind that it was likely or even possible that this Rule would be brought to bear on Members in their absence. It was with regret that he referred to those matters; but he should be open to a charge of weakness if he concealed his opinions. The Motion now under consideration had been brought forward in a very unfortunate form, as no Amendment could be moved to it; but, apart from the question of form, there were two grave considerations which would largely influence the House in the course they adopted. They were asked not only to condemn the action of an official of the House, but to repudiate the action taken by the House itself. He presumed that the House was always slow to repudiate in the same Session a solemn proceeding of its own. However imperfect might have been the appreciation of the matter by some of the Members who voted, the House generally would feel itself bound by its own decision, and would be unwilling to re-open a question which had been decided, at the time at all events, upon such materials as it then had for forming 1319 a judgment. Moreover, there was a question arising out of the phraseology of the Rule itself, which contained the following words:—Provided always that nothing in this Resolution shall be taken to deprive the House of the power of proceeding against any Member according to ancient usages.It might well have happened that the House thought, and that the Chairman was also of opinion, that, whatever construction might be put on the precise words of the Standing Order, it was still open to the House to exercise its ancient jurisdiction in order to protect itself against flagrant or repeated disregard of the spirit which should govern its deliberations. Although he should be sorry to lend himself to any expression of adhesion to the view which on this particular occasion was taken by the Chair, if that view were to be limited by the words of the Standing Order, yet, having regard to the width of the powers given to the Chairman of Committees and to the Proviso at the end of the Standing Order, he should regret to see the House take any step which might seem to throw any shadow of a doubt upon its ancient and undoubted jurisdiction in dealing with offences against its proceedings. He could not vote for the Resolution, and he hoped the hon. Member would withdraw it. If they were to improve their procedure, it should be by giving an interpretation to the Rule itself, and. not by passing a Resolution which would shake to its foundation that respect for the Chair which was essential to the dignity of their deliberations.
§ MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY
said, that after the last speech there could be no doubt that an application had been made of the Rule in question, which was very different from what was in the minds of those who framed it. In response to the Prime Minister's suggestion that some evidence should be adduced of the existence of a power behind the Chair he would instance his own case, without any desire to separate himself from the other Members who were suspended. But twice did the Chairman of Committees omit his name when reading the list of Members to be Named, although his name was included in the Motion of the Secretary of State for War; and afterwards in the Question put by the Speaker; and so struck was he by the Chairman omitting his name, that he went to the 1320 Table and asked whether it was included, and the Chairman replied that he did not believe it was; but the Clerk added that it was in some list or other. The fact remained that he was actually included in the Motion and was suspended without ever having been Named by the Chairman in the manner required by the Rule. If the Chairman was acting solely of his own motion and had consulted no one, he must have gradually formed an opinion from his own observation as to the conduct of the particular Members which made them guilty of Obstruction; and, therefore, he must have been so impressed with the conduct of each that he could have no doubt as to whether one was in the list or not; and the very fact that he had such a doubt, and that he twice omitted the name in what was supposed to be the formal Naming and in putting the Motion, and yet allowed it to be read by the Mover and by the Speaker, was a pretty clear indication that the list or lists were framed or suggested by others, and not by the Chairman as the result of his own observation. These facts illustrated the difficulties and the dangers of this new-fangled method of Procedure, and proved, by example, that a Member might be included in a Motion without having been Named by the Chair.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, he had heard with surprise from the Prime Minister that delay must necessarily be a Parliamentary offence, seeing that the right hon. Gentleman had just delayed the consideration of the Lords Amendments to the Arrears Bill, because such important issues were involved that a little extra time for deliberation was desirable. The Irish Members who debated the Coercion Bill all night, did so by the same right as Members who debated it during the day; and he had himself once taken part in a 26 hours' Sitting in which he defended the true policy of the Empire against a mistaken Government and a mistaken House of Commons. On the Prevention of Crime Bill the Irish Members simply did what they believed to be their duty, and they spoke to the point as much as was possible; but it seemed to be forgotten that the measure was in reality a Code—a consolidation of all Coercion Acts. The time Irish Members devoted to some of the clauses was very short, and such a Code could not 1321 have been passed for England in the same time. He made no complaint against the Chairman of Committees; but he did complain, and that strongly, against the action of the House of Commons—he would not quarrel with the trigger, but he found fault with the power behind it; and he thought there ought to be a special inquiry by a Select Committee into the suspensions, and all Ministers, Members, and Officials concerned ought to be examined. A searching investigation would elicit facts that would be well worthy of consideration. He rarely spoke on the Coercion Bill, and mainly in reply to provocations from the Government, and particularly the Home Secretary; and he was not aware of any intention to obstruct the Bill. The act of the Chairman of Committees, unjust as it was, would not brand the Irish Members with disgrace, but would serve to recommend them to the Irish people. The right hon. Gentleman the late Chairman of Committees, though his speech was a strong condemnation of the conduct of which they complained, was too good an Englishman to do justice to the Irish Members; but history would be on their side, and would record the brutality and treachery with which they had been treated.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Sir, I would not like the debate to close without saying a few words, especially as I have been several times appealed to by hon. Members who have spoken. At the same time, I think the matter is one which has been sufficiently disposed of by the speech, on the one hand, of the Prime Minister, and, on the other, of my right hon. Friend the late Chairman of Committees. It seems to me that we have before us a proposition which it would be extremely difficult for the House to accept. We are not only asked to vote that the record of the suspension of the Gentlemen named be erased from the Minutes of our proceedings, but that it should be done on the ground that those Gentlemen were not in the House during the proceedings of Obstruction for which they were so reported. The Prime Minister has very pertinently asked whether the absence of a Member during any portion of the proceedings in which he may have taken part is to be regarded as a reason for exempting him from the operation of the Rule. I cannot help feeling that the circumstances under 1322 which the action of the House was taken were of a character different in some respects from those which were contemplated at the time when the Rule was originally proposed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Preston has stated very clearly what were the considerations in his mind when he recommended, not exactly this Rule, but the Rule upon which this was founded; and he has stated very accurately that we did not at the time contemplate the kind of Obstruction which arose upon the occasion when this course was taken. But the view, not only of the Chairman of Committees, but of the Speaker, who had also to put the Resolution from the Chair, seemed to put another construction upon the words of the Rule, which, after all, were all that the House had to go upon. It was not so much the intention of those who proposed the Rule as the effect of the Rule when it was in existence, and was accepted by the House, that we have to deal with it; and, as has been truly pointed out by the Prime Minister, not only did the Authorities put the construction upon the Rule, but the House accepted the construction, and those who were present voted in accordance with it. If we go from the actual question of the strict letter and construction of the Rule to the intent and meaning of the Rule, then I think the House ought to bear in mind that cases may arise—and I believe they did arise upon that occasion—in which that Rule ought to be applied, and the meaning and spirit of it is, that it should be applied even to Members who may not be in the House at the particular moment when the action of the House is called for. Take an instance. Suppose that a large number of Gentlemen desire to delay the proceedings of the House, and upon some question which is raised one of these Gentlemen gets up and makes a speech of half an hour in length, there can be no objection to that. But supposing he is followed by another, who makes the same speech for another half-hour, and that 20 or 30 Members take that step and then leave the House for a time, it is obvious that there is something there which needs interposition. Such a proceeding would unquestionably be in the nature of Obstruction, and others would be guilty besides the last of the series of offending Members who may chance to be present at the moment when the action 1323 of the House is called for. The House cannot possibly be precluded from taking action on the ground that some of the Members so continuing have made their speeches and have gone away. If they can be shown to be parties to the same transaction, it seems to me that it may fairly be held to come within the meaning and spirit of the Rule. There is, I admit, a question which the House would do very well to consider, and which more than once presented itself to my mind, as to the mode in which the Rule should be applied. I own I am not quite satisfied with what was actually done. I do not lay the blame on the Chairman of Committees. He observed, or considered that he had observed, some concerted action which, taken as a whole, implicated a number of Gentlemen; and he thought it his duty to bring their names before the House in a body, because it was in their corporate capacity, if I may use the expression, that they were guilty of Obstruction. And what was the next step? It was the Motion which was founded on that, that these Gentlemen should be taken in a lump and not taken singly, and should be suspended. That Motion was made by the Secretary of State for War. The House was prevented by the form of the Resolution from distinguishing between the case of one man and another. I think that was unfortunate, and I thought so at the time. The fault, if there was fault, was not in the Chairman of Committees calling attention to these Members; the fault was rather in the way in which the Minister brought the matter under the notice of the House. I am not prepared to pass any censure in the case. It was a question of very considerable difficulty, and in these matters, if we are to be closely inquiring into every step that is taken, we may sometimes run into unnecessary refinements. If this Rule is to work it ought to be considered with reference to the difficulty created by obstructive Members, and it may very possibly be the case that when several Members are Named together the House would desire to make some alteration or omission with regard to one of them; but the Rule is so wide that it precludes anything of the kind. It precludes any Amendment, any debate, or any explanation, and was put in that form on the theory that it would be applied to a Member actually present 1324 in the House, and in the presence of those who were able to speak of their own knowledge to exactly the circumstances which did occur. Undoubtedly, if you apply it to such circumstances as those which occurred a few months ago, the difficulty arises which does not arise against a single Member, and which we did not expect would arise when we originally proposed the Rule. I have no doubt that I used the language quoted by the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton), and spoke of it as a Rule which would be applied in the presence of the Member to whom it was made applicable. Undoubtedly, if it is carried beyond that, it is a matter for consideration whether the Rule does not require some amendment. But I think that the Resolution proposed by the hon. Member for Newcastle is one which renders it impossible that we could adopt it without appearing to throw a censure upon the Chairman of Committees, and on the Speaker who put the Question subsequently, and on the Members who voted for it. I do not think there is anything which calls for censure of that kind. I feel satisfied that there was no intention of doing any injustice; and I do not know that it would have been possible, under the circumstances, that any different vote could have been arrived at when the Question was put in the form in which it was put. I regret that it was so, but feel that we must be prepared to encounter some difficulties and inconvenience if we are to protect ourselves against extravagant use of the powers of delay and Obstruction which do exist, and are sometimes had recourse to in a manner quite inconsistent with the conduct of Business in the House. With regard to the particular occasion, I had not been in the House for some hours before the Resolution was passed; but it did appear to me when I came into the House that what was going on was a specimen of the case in which there was something like concerted action—a concerted attempt to delay the progress of the Bill; and I, for one, and I believe a very large number of Members, accepted the authority which told us that that Obstruction had been carried on by the Gentlemen whose names were brought before us. I think that in this discussion we have had a question which, undoubtedly, does require some recon- 1325 sideration; but I do not think that we ought to pass anything which would be in the nature of a Vote of Censure, because we ought to feel that in these matters we ought to strengthen the hands and support the authority of the Chairman, who had a difficult and invidious task imposed upon him, and I am certain that in all he did on the occasion he acted thoroughly bonâ fide, and with a simple and earnest desire to preserve the dignity and honour of the House.
§ MR. THOMAS COLLINS
said, he thought that the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Joseph Cowen) had done good service by bringing the question forward, and was fortunate in the form in which he had done so, because, if the Resolution was not agreed to, the House would simply pass to the Order of the Day, and the Resolution itself would not be directly negatived. He had been present in the House till 4 o'clock in the morning. He could not agree with the Prime Minister that any debate for the mere purpose of delay was necessarily Obstruction. He knew something of the difference between judicious criticism and wilful waste of time. He had never been guilty of wasting the time of the House. Members might speak, or combine to speak, and protract the debate to great length, for the purpose not of influencing opinion in the House, but of bringing their views before the country. That might be a most desirable course in some cases, and was not Obstruction. But on the night in question there certainly was Obstruction. But was it dealt with in the proper way? He objected to the suspension of Members en bloc, and he thought the House ought to have the opportunity of dealing with and voting upon each case. The time might come when 200 Members would be suspended in this manner en bloc. The words of the Rule, too, were in the singular number, and the Chairman had strained them in order to suspend Members in a batch. But he could not support the Resolution, because he did not think that mere absence from the House was any reason against the suspension of a Member, who might, by accumulative acts, have deserved the punishment; and he could not, six or seven weeks after the suspension, pass a Vote of Censure on the Chairman, whose autho- 1326 rity ought to be supported and strengthened by every Member of the House. But he hoped that was the last occasion on which Members would be suspended en bloc.
§ MR. DALY
said, he held that there was evidently a concurrence of opinion that the Chairman of Committees had exceeded his powers on the occasion which was the subject of debate. He contended that at the time when his Colleagues were suspended it was more than usually important that the Irish Representatives should be treated with impartiality, and held that by his action the Chairman committed gross injustice as well as a grave error. He was very glad that the subject had been brought before the House, because the effect of the debate which had taken place would probably be that the mistake of the Chairman of Committees would never again be repeated. The Government did not punish obstructive English Members by suspension, because they dared not disfranchise English constituencies, even for a limited time.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, he rose to express his regret that the Resolution was not so framed as to convey a censure upon the whole action of the Chairman on that Saturday morning.
§ And it being a quarter of an hour before Six of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till To-morrow.