HC Deb 12 August 1904 vol 140 cc413-7
* MR. TULLY (Leitrim, S.)

, in moving the issue of a new writ for Cork City, said that, according to Sir Erskine May, the acceptance of office legally vacated a seat, and obliged the House to order a new writ. The same authority laid it down that in the case of an acceptance of the Chiltern Hundreds, the statutory power of Mr. Speaker to issue a writ on his own authority during the recess did not apply. That meant that unless a writ were now issued Cork City would be disfranchised for reasons which hon. Gentlemen opposing the issue would not dare to avow to the House. This vacancy occurred as long ago as last November or December, and the reason it was not filled up was that the hon. and learned Member for Waterford went to Ireland and declared that it was no use filling the vacancy, that the Government were in a condemned cell waiting for execution, and that there would be a general election in a few weeks. But what had happened? The Government had come out of the condemned cell, and the hon. and learned Member had gone home with his £8,000 out of the landlord's bonus. Mr. O'Brien, in his recent letters, had adopted a very fair and reasonable attitude, and he (the speaker) agreed with him that the present Government was a most "squeezable" Government so far as Ireland was concerned, if only they knew how to squeeze them properly. For taking that view Mr. O'Brien had been condemned and placed in the same category as he (the speaker). ["No, no."] Here was his declaration in a telegram expressing his scorn at the feline compliments in the resolution passed in Dublin condemnatory of his policy.


The question is not the opinion of Mr. O'Brien, but whether the vacancy caused by his acceptance of † See (4) Debates, cxxxix., 1388. the Chiltern Hundreds is to be filled up by somebody, not necessarily Mr. O'Brien.


said he was merely replying to an interruption. Cork City was being disfranchised because Mr. O'Brien wanted to have common sense and fair dealing in Ireland, instead of menacing agitations which led to nothing except Bills giving bribes to certain landlords, Nationalist and otherwise. But there was another reason why the writ had not been moved for. In the London Gazette Mr. O'Brien was described as having accepted the stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds, and it was a serious thing in Ireland for anybody to be described as the paid bailiff of His Majesty's Government. In America and elsewhere Mr. O'Brien would be branded as holding paid office under the British Government. A serious precedent would be established by the seat being allowed to remain vacant for so long a period, and it might result in grave consequences. Necessity might arise for an Autumn session to consider a question of peace or war, the decision of which might result upon a single vote, and that the vote of the Member for Cork City. The period during which the seat was vacant would be used to sap and undermine Mr. O'Brien's position, and as any fortress might be reduced in six months, so before next session Mr. O'Brien might be deprived of the right of representing Cork City. He begged to move.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown in Ireland for the making out of a Writ for the Election of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the City of Cork in the room of William O'Brien, esquire, who, since his Election for the said City, bath accepted the Office of Steward or Bailiff of His Majesty's Three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Bonenham, and Desborough, in the County of Buckingham."—(Mr. Tully.)

MR. BLAKE (Longford, S.)

said that immediately they obtained, upon Mr. Speaker's recommendation, a postponement of the Motion for the issue of the writ for twenty-four hours, he communicated, or tried to communicate, with the Chairman of the Irish Nationalist Party by wire, in order that they might obtain his understanding on the situation. He had been unsuccessful in reaching him, and he had had no response. It was his good fortune, however, to have had a personal conversation with the hon. and learned Member for Waterford on the subject of the Cork vacancy some two or three months ago. The writ had not been moved and was not moved now from the Benches occupied by his Party under these circumstances. After the vacancy occurred, it was intimated to the hon. and learned Member for Waterford by those who were responsible for the conduct of political affairs in Cork, that they did not desire the issue of the writ; and these naturally and necessarily must be the most ardent supporters of the late Member for Cork. His hon. and learned friend intimated his readiness to move for the issue of the writ at any moment at which he might receive an intimation of their desire for it, but on the date to which he had referred he had received no such intimation, and he was quite confident he had received no such intimation subsequently. Nor had he received at that date, and he did not believe he had received since that date, any such intimation from any other quarter. Therefore, as far as his knowledge and belief went, there had been no expression from the City of Cork as to any desire that the writ should be moved for, and the expression from the political authorities had been to the contrary for reasons which were well known, but which were not of the character indicated by the hon. Member for Leitrim. The only intimation he had received since the Motion was proposed the previous day was one from Mr. A. Roche, Lord Mayor of the city of Cork, who wired him, "Defer application for writ for the present." He did not think it necessary to say what were the relations of Mr. Roche to the late city Member, but they were well known to Irishmen. The question must be disposed of by the House upon general constitutional considerations and nothing else.

The only circumstances which could, in his opinion, justify the non-issue of a writ, and the leaving of the city of Cork or any other place unrepresented for a time beyond that which was reasonable, and which both sides might require to make their arrangements, was that there was practically an unanimous feeling on the part of the constituency in favour of that view. [Cries of "No, no!"] That was the only justification which those who were responsible ordinarily for moving for the writ had for not doing so. But there was another security, which might occasionally be abused, but which he thought was a valuable security, and it was the right which, he understood, appertained to any Member to move; this was a right personal to every Member who assumed to himself to represent that general feeling of the body in favour of representation. It was quite true that paradoxically one might say that if the writ had been moved for earlier there would have been something to be said for the Motion which could not now be said., But it was now impossible for a representative of Cork City to take his seat this session; therefore no urgency existed from that point of view. It was true that in this particular case the ordinary right of two Members to address Mr. Speaker during the recess, and so procure the issue of a writ did not obtain, and consequently, unless the writ were now issued, Cork City would be unrepresented during the early days of next session, when exciting events might be occurring. The Nationalist Party had all along recognised that their abstention from moving for the writ could only operate as long as no Member availed himself of his privilege to move independently. That was the extent of their responsibility and the limit of their power. According to the practice of the House any hon. Member had a right to move after giving twenty-four hours notice. As far as he and his colleagues were concerned, they were satisfied that the rights of Parliament and of the City of Cork, and of any minority in that city to be represented in Parliament, were amply secured by the powers possessed by any hon. Member to move for the issue of a writ if he thought fit to do so. Having received no intimation with reference to this matter from any person in the City of cork the Nationalist party had left to others the task of moving for this writ.

As for their own Party domestic affairs, he did not choose to debate them in the House of Commons. They did not choose to leave those affairs to the arbitrament of the House, and they did not ask the House to pass any judgment upon them. They had been for some time indifferent as to whether their policy received condemnation or praise from the hon. Member who had moved this writ, and they did not recognise him as an advocate of the policy of lion Gentlemen sitting on the Irish Benches. He cared not who the man might be who presumed to bring up their Party domestic affairs in that House, he should decline to debate them. The general considerations he had stated were applicable to the case before them. He regretted that that unanimity which alone could have produced a contented state of things did not exist, but at the same time he recognised the right of any hon. Member to move, and he recognised that it was the duty of the House of Commons to take care that the vacancy should be terminated as rapidly as possible. Although his Party did not chose to move they had no desire to resist the Motion. He might add that the responsibility for the course he had taken rested with himself alone because he had not had an opportunity of consulting his hon. and learned friend the Member for Waterford upon the matter.

Question put, and agreed to.

Ordered, That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown in Ireland for the making out of a Writ for the Election of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the City of Cork in the room of William O'Brien, esquire, who, since his Election for the said City, hath accepted the Office of Steward or Bailiff of His Majesty's Three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Bonenham, and Des-borough, in the County of Buckingham.—(Mr. Tully.)