HC Deb 09 June 1903 vol 123 cc309-12

informed the House that he had received the following letter relative to the imprisonment of a Member:— From the High Sheriff, County Sligo. Sligo, 8th June, 1903. To The Right Honourable The Speaker, House of Commons. Sir, I beg to inform you that on the 6th, June, 1903, I arrested Patrick Aloysius M'Hugh, Esq., M.P. for the North Division of Leitrim and delivered him into the custody of the Governor of Sligo Gaol, acting on an order of the Right Honourable Mr. Justice Ross, Land Judge of the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice in Ireland, dated 18th day of April, 1902. I enclose copy of the order and warrant respectively. I have the honour to remain, Sir, Your obedient servant, A. C. O'HARA, High Sheriff of Sligo.

MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)

I suppose I shall be within my right, according to precedents, in moving for a Committee to inquire into this matter, as a question of privilege, provided the Leader of the House does not make the Motion.


That is not so. There is no question of privilege where the contempt is one of a criminal nature. In the order enclosed, it is not stated whether the contempt was of a criminal or civil nature; but, as I understand, although I have no authoritative information, the offence of which Mr. M'Hugh was guilty was one of criminal contempt, and therefore there is no privilege.


hoped the Speaker would bear with him for a moment. He submitted that the case was precisely similar to that which occurred last year in connection with the same hon. Member, when it was held that privilege arose, and a Committee was appointed. The contempt consisted in not having given such an apology as Judge Ross considered proper, and he did not think that that brought the case within the category of criminal contempt.


remarked that this was not a matter for which the Executive was responsible.


What business is it of yours, then?


said he happened to be furnished with a copy of the order on which the warrant was issued. The order, dated 18th April, 1902, stated that the contempt consisted in publishing in the Sligo Champion newspaper, of which the hon. Member was editor and registered proprietor, resolutions passed at meetings of the Irish National League, interfering with the receiver in the management of a certain estate under the Landed Estates Court. That was the order. He pronounced no opinion on the particular nature of the contempt, but he thought it only right to give the House this information.


thought that great service had been done to the interest he wished to forward by the intervention of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. This document showed clearly that it was not a case of criminal contempt at all. The dispute, moreover, was more than a year old, and it was notorious that it had been settled some eight or nine months ago. He did not know why the prosecution should have been proceeded with, unless for the sake of embarrassing those who were anxious to pass the Land Bill.


drew attention to what he called the parallel case of Mr. E. Dwyer Gray in support of the contention that Mr. M'Hugh's contempt was not of a criminal nature.


In the case of Mr. M'Hugh, a Committee was appointed last year, and its Report, after dealing with the facts, states— Your Committee beg to report that there is no distinction to be drawn between the case of criminal contempt and other indictable offences. The privilege of Parliament does not extend to such cases, and the House is not called upon to take any further steps. It is always for the Speaker to say whether a, primâ facie question of privilege is raised. If it is a case of criminal contempt, privilege does not arise any more than in cases of ordinary indictable offences, and here I think it is perfectly clear that this is a case of criminal contempt. That is clear on the facts stated in the order of the Court; and, therefore, I should not be justified in leaving the question to be argued and the time of the House to be taken up in a matter which I ought not to leave to discussion, because, by the practice and law of the House, the privilege of Parliament does not extend to the present case.


I beg to submit, Sir, that you are not in a position to come to a conclusion as to whether or not this is a case of criminal contempt. That is the very question to be inquired into.


The facts have been stated by the hon. Member himself, and the certified order of the Court is before me, and on the face of it, as I have said, this is a case of criminal contempt. I assure the hon. Member that I have the greatest desire to leave these cases to the House whenever there appears to be any ground for it; at the same time it is, of course, my duty to investigate the matter just as I would in any ordinary case of privilege, and determine whether there is a primâ facie case or not.


Just one word more—


I have given my decision upon the matter, and I am sure I have done it with every desire to be entirely fair.


I am most reluctant to trespass, and I acknowledge, Mr. Speaker, most fully that you have shown every latitude. What I want to point out further is this—you are founding your ruling upon a Report of a Committee. That Report has never been submitted to the decision of the House.


I may be right or wrong, but it is impossible for me to allow continued argument after I have given my decision.


As a matter of practice, Mr. Speaker, may I ask, with great respect, can a Report—


Order, order! The hon. Member for Waterford put that point.


This is the way to receive the King when he comes.


asked the Chief Secretary if he had any information as to the statement that Mr. M'Hugh had been deprived of the customary privileges of first-class misdemeanants.


I only received notice of this Question a few minutes ago, and I am not in a position to give any information as to the treatment accorded to the hon. Member for Leitrim in Sligo prison. The hon. Member has been arrested in pursuance of the action of the ordinary Courts of law and not at the instance of the Irish Government. On receiving notice of the hon. Member's Question I directed telegraphic inquiries to be made as to the facts and the classification of the hon. Member as a prisoner.

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