§ MR. SPEAKER
addressed him as follows:—
MR. O'Kelly, you have been ordered by the House to attend in your place, this day, in consequence of a complaint of Mr. M'Coan, that he had received a Challenge from you, which appeared to have arisen from causes connected with proceedings in this House.
I have now to acquaint you that Mr. M'Coan, having assured the House that he would not be a party to any hostile 1489 measures, the House will expect a similar assurance from yourself; and is prepared to receive from you any explanations which you may desire to offer, and such submission to the pleasure of the House, as the occasion demands.
§ MR. O'KELLY
I have to say, Sir, in the first place, that this matter was brought before the House without my receiving any notice from the hon. Member for Wicklow (Mr. M'Coan). The hon. Member has stated very fairly the cause of dispute between himself and me; and, therefore, I do not consider it necessary for me to enter into the merits of the case. I, however, think the House is travelling outside its proper jurisdiction when it interferes with a matter of this kind, which did not take its rise in anything that occurred in this House. The matter between the junior Member for Wicklow and myself is a purely personal one, and touching my own dignity and my own honour. If I may judge from the vote of this House, this House is prepared to take a view of this question which I am not prepared to take. I do not care much about the opinion of this House, or the opinion of the people of this country; but I do think a great deal of the opinion of men of honour who live outside this country, with many of whom I have, during the better part of my life, had very intimate relations. I believe that men of honour outside this country will justify me in the position that I have taken; but, so far as the junior Member for Wicklow is concerned, I see no reason why he should have thought well to bring this matter before the House, because, before doing so, he had already placed himself beyond any risk that might have arisen through my action by his letter declining to meet me. Now, Sir, my opinion of a man who deliberately offers an insult to another, and then refuses either to apologize or to afford reparation, is that that man, by that act, falls out of the category of honourable men, and is, therefore, no longer worthy of attention from any man.
It is not my intention, Sir, on this occasion, to reply to the speech of the hon. Gentleman; but I think I may be permitted to say, in the general interests of good order and of that good feeling and mutual respect which ought to prevail among Members of this House, that I have listened to it 1490 with much regret, and that I very deeply lament the part which it appears to me the hon. Member, as at present minded, has alone left to me. For my own part, I should have listened to his speech with the disposition which it would have been my duty to entertain, to construe it, if it had been on any point ambiguous, in as favourable a sense as the words could bear; but I cannot say that I think the speech is ambiguous. The hon. Member has referred to matters of relations between himself and the junior Member for Wicklow. On those matters it is, perhaps, not properly my part to touch. What it is my part to touch upon, acting on behalf of the House, and subject to the judgment of the House, is the relations established between the hon. Gentleman and the House in regard to this rather painful matter. The hon. Gentleman says lie cares very little for the opinion of this House. Well, Sir, on that I think I need only say that the question whether the hon. Gentleman cares little or cares much for the opinion of this House is not, perhaps, a question on which the character and dignity of this House will, in the main, ultimately depend. Nor is it the question which is now before us. The question now before us is, What is the duty of the House in such a case as has now arisen? Sir, in addressing the House last night, I said very little upon this subject; but I proceeded upon a conclusion ratified in my own mind, and agreeable, as I understood, to the views entertained by the best authorities, who had had such opportunity as the suddenness of the case afforded of considering the circumstances that were before us. I think now, as the hon. Member has given his opinion—an opinion which he was perfectly competent to give—that this matter lies beyond the proper jurisdiction of the House, it is quite necessary that I should say a few words, and they need not be many, on that subject. Then, Sir, my words will be these. One most important chapter of consideration which the House never disregards in approaching any question of its procedure is that of precedents. Now, it is very difficult indeed to find precedents that are exactly on all fours with the case that is now before us. But I may say confidently, with respect to precedents, that while they do not minutely agree with the circumstances that have now arisen, 1491 they unquestionably indicate that the practice of the House has been to carry its rule of interference further than the interference which was proposed yesterday, and which I shall venture to ask the House still to carry forward. I will not go back on particulars. The work of Sir Erskine May gives the opportunity for reference; and I doubt very much whether those who have examined the references there given will contest what I have said, so far as precedents are concerned. But, Sir, I must say that while I might shrink from going the length to which the House has proceeded on some former occasions, there are certain considerations which tend to give an enhanced stringency to the obligations that this House has on previous occasions required. The most important of these considerations is the great change, and I hope, on the whole, beneficial change, that has taken place in the sentiments and habits of society with regard to private encounters between hon. Members. Formerly, as the hon. Gentleman says, the canon to which he adhered was supposed socially to prevail; and a gentleman was supposed to place himself beyond the limits to which the privilege of his rank extended by declining to give what is called "satisfaction" in a matter of this kind. But, Sir, it is a matter of notoriety that the last 30 years have seen a very great change in this respect. A very long time has elapsed—I am aware that the case of high words used has happened within a shorter interval, but it is a very long time—perhaps, speaking roughly, not less than the number of years I have mentioned—since the mere challenge to a personal encounter has passed in this House with reference to any proceedings among its Members. ["Oh!" from Irish Members.] I am speaking of what has happened in public, and in the proceedings of this House, and I rather believe I am accurate in what I say. I could easily recall, were it to the purpose, cases which would bear testimony to the great change which has taken place in the habits of society; but, Sir, if that be so, and if the general view of society is, as undoubtedly it is in this country at this moment, as fixed by general practice, adverse to these encounters, then I say, whatever duty there was on the part of the House to interfere before, exists—I do not say over wider 1492 limits—that is another matter—but certainly exists with an increased stringency as it now comes before us, because the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wicklow (Mr. M'Coan), who 30 or 40 years ago might have been withdrawing himself from the general opinion and practice of society, is, in the course which he has taken, now conforming to the practice; and it is not in dissenting from the prevailing practice, but in conforming to it, that he has invoked the assistance, and, if I may say so, the protection of this House. Well, the hon. Member for Roscommon (Mr. O'Kelly) says we have perfect security against a breach of the peace, and with that we ought to be satisfied. I am not able to accede to that. I do not think that in this ease we should take a one-sided engagement from one party. In the first place, it is not accurate to say that a one-sided engagement invariably affords security against breach of the peace. On the contrary, a one-sided engagement is very often introductory to breach of the peace, although not to that particular form of breach of the peace which had been originally contemplated. Therefore, Sir, I think the question really is whether this matter lies within those limits within which it has been the practice, and is the duty, of the House to interfere. We are of opinion, after the best consultations that I have been able to hold, that it does so lie; and, for this reason, it is clearly not a mere personal misunderstanding on a personal matter, but is manifestly a public matter. It is not only a public matter—a political matter—but it grows out of—though the circumstance did not take place within it—what did take place within the limits of the House. It can be looked at, I conceive, from two points of view. The hon. Member for Wicklow says—"I went to Ireland to perform a Constitutional duty, and to explain to my constituents my proceedings in the House, for which they had a right to call me to account. When I was engaged in that duty I was drawn—and perhaps I may say required—to enter into a particular case in which I thought fit to withdraw from the House and not to vote; and my action in this House led me to make explanations of my conduct, which brought the challenge of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Roscommon." Therefore, Sir, from this point of view. 1493 it is manifest that this proceeding had its origin in a matter that took place within the walls of this House. If I endeavour to look at it from the point of view of the hon. Member for Roscommon, it is susceptible, perhaps, of being differently stated; but I think we will arrive at exactly the same conclusion. The hon. Member for Roscommon is at liberty to say—"I did not call for any explanation of the conduct of the hon. Member for Wicklow; but what did happen was this. The hon. Member for Wicklow thought fit to make observations upon me for what I had said or done within the walls of this House, and these observations led me to send him the challenge." Well, if that be so, even from the point of view of the hon. Member for Roscommon, as from the opposite point of view of the hon. Member for Wicklow, in either or both cases, the matter has arisen from what has taken place within the limits and in the course of the proceedings of this House. Now, Sir, what I wish the House to bear in mind are these two propositions. In the first place, there is no case known to me, and I cannot learn if there is any case in which a Member of this House has brought forward his receipt of a challenge from another Member of this House, and has invoked the intervention of this House, when the House has refused that intervention. That, if true, is an important proposition bearing on the case; and, assuming that intervention to be invoked, I at once put aside the contention of the hon. Member for Roscommon, that the House in general should be satisfied with a one-sided intervention such as he suggests. The other proposition is that if we were to refuse intervention in this case—and I own I should regard a one-sided intervention as almost worse than a refusal of intervention—we should proceed upon this principle—that no amount, not only of dispute, collision, and argument, but of collision in language beyond the ordinary limits, and leading to the consequence of such language—nay, even if threatening to produce fatal consequences, and growing directly out of proceedings in this House, might induce the House to go forward between hon. Members of the House; that the House might become cognizant of what had taken place, and what was likely to take 1494 place, and yet would be bound to shut its eyes and say—"That can be no affair of ours." Those who will calmly contemplate that proposition—though there may be a natural disinclination to mix in personal affairs of this kind, and the duty cannot be agreeable to any of us—will admit, I think, upon the whole, that we have no choice, and that our duty is to impress, and it may be to enforce, upon the hon. Gentleman the Member for Roscommon that he shall take the same course as that taken by the hon. Member for Wicklow, in promising us upon his word that he will proceed no further in the matter. I am not vain enough to suppose that anything I have said can have weighed in the slightest degree with the hon. Member for Roscommon. I would not have interjected those words but for the fact that I am very loth to make the Motion with which, if matters stand as they now stand, it would certainly be my duty to conclude. If I could perceive from the hon. Member the slightest indication that he had more to say, I would very gladly resume my seat, and trust to the future course of proceedings. But I am afraid I am compelled—[cries of "No, no!"]—as I——
§ MR. O'KELLY
Sir, I have, perhaps, failed to convey my meaning as clearly as was necessary in the remarks which I have addressed to the House. I intended to say that after the receipt of the last letter of the junior Member for Wicklow, I had no longer any intention to proceed any further in the matter. I thought I had explained with sufficient clearness to the House that after the receipt of that letter I considered the matter practically at an end.
It is my duty, Sir, to endeavour to remind the House of what I take to be the exact limits of its province in this matter. Undoubtedly the House would desire, with a disposition to settle the business in a manner satisfactory to all parties, to receive an assurance that no bad blood and no recollection of an angry and hostile character should remain in connection with this matter. That is what I should desire with respect to the form; but I cannot say that the words of the hon. Gentleman give me that assurance. As far, however, as I can perceive my duty on the spur of the moment, I think, though the House would be glad to see 1495 this matter come to a completely friendly issue, yet it is not possible for us to force that issue. That is not part of our duty. Our duty is to avert certain consequences. I now understand the hon. Gentleman to say what I did not understand before—that the matter is at an end so far as he is concerned. We have now a double engagement from the two hon. Members; and, under these circumstances, it is not necessary for me to take any further step in the matter.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Sir, I hope, with the right hon. Gentleman, that we may consider what has fallen from the hon. Member for Roscommon as amounting to an assurance given to the House that he will not proceed any further in the matter which has been brought under our attention. If that is the meaning and intention of the hon. Member, of course the House will only be too glad to accept that assurance. There is always in cases of this sort a good deal of delicacy, and there cannot fail to be some pain, in what has to be said. But the question is not so much the relation of the hon. Members who are parties to the matter that is to be considered as their relation to the House. It is the duty of the House, when a circumstance which has arisen in the conduct of its Business has culminated in a challenge, to require from the Members concerned that they shall give to the House the assurance that they will proceed no further in the matter. That assurance was given by the hon. Member for Wicklow yesterday. It has been given, as I hope we may understand, by the hon. Member for Roscommon to-day. If that is so, the matter may be allowed to terminate. The hon. Member for Roscommon will perceive, and the House will perceive, that there was a course open to him, as to any other Member, in similar circumstances who thought he had been offensively spoken of—that is to say, he might have brought such offensive language to the notice of the House. He has not taken that course, but has opened communications of a hostile character with the hon. Member for Wicklow, who, he thought, gave that offence. The question is now in such a position that if an assurance is given to the House that the hon. Members will proceed no further we may allow the matter to drop. If that assurance be not given, it will be necessary, of course, 1496 to take such steps as may be necessary to maintain the character and dignity of the House.