§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
called attention to a matter which he considered a gross breach of Parliamentary privilege. A large section of the Members of the House, to which he did not himself belong, had been accused of intentional fraud and of entering into a criminal legislative conspiracy. The accusation was brought by the senior Member for the City of London in a speech he had delivered outside the House on the previous day. The rule was explicit: the imputation of dishonourable and corrupt motives to Members of that House was not allowed, and had always been regarded as a gross breach of privilege. The passage on which he founded the charge was as follows—Was it not rather a paradoxical position? You have a Party come into power with an overwhelming numerical majority at their back. You have their leaders pledged to Home Rule, all believing in Home Rule. You have followers the great majority of whom 877 are also pledged to Home Rule, and all believing in Home Rule. But this Party, with its enormous Parliamentary strength, has not the courage of its opinions, and is so afraid of the public feeling in England and Scotland that it is not going to carry out the policy in which it says over and over again with unwearied iteration that it thoroughly believes. What is the inference to be drawn from that strange and paradoxical state of things? It is that the policy of the present Government of Ireland is a deliberate and intentional fraud upon the British electorate. If you consider, in addition to and in conjunction with the particular facts that I have just described to you, the attitude taken with regard to the House of Lords, you will then. and then only, grasp the full nature and extent of the criminal legislative conspiracy of which we are now to be the victims.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
said he would leave the right hon. Gentleman to do that. He contended that the use of the words "deliberate and intentional fraud" and "criminal legislative conspiracy" was a breach of privilege, as imputing corrupt and dishonourable motives to Members of the House in relation to their Parliamentary duties. He cited a case in which Lord Selborne, when a Member of the House Commons, imputed corruption to the Irish Members. Attention was called to the speech in the House, and Mr. Speaker Peel said the words might be discourteous, but there was no mala fides imputed to Members in the discharge of their duties in the House. In the present case, however, he contended there was mala fidesclearly imputed, not to one or two Members, but to a whole Party in relation to their Parliamentary duties, and he asked Mr. Speaker to rule that the words were a breach of privilege.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member asks me whether in my opinion there is any breach of privilege in the use of the words attributed to the senior Member for the City of London; and he founded himself, as I understand, on two expressions used in the course of a speech—the word "fraud" and the words "criminal legislative conspiracy."
§ *MR. SPEAKER
That is no matter. Fraud must be intentional. If I believed, 878 or if anybody who either heard or read the words, believed that the right hon. Gentleman was imputing to Ministers conduct which was capable of being indicted for what "fraud" or "criminal conspiracy" really means, it would be obvious that a breach of privilege had been committed. But I cannot think that anybody who heard the words or who had read them would for a moment believe that any such meaning could be attached to them; and taking the very instance the hon. Member has given of the ruling of one of my predecessors as to whether mala fideshad been imputed or not, I should say, taking that as a criterion, that I should be justified in saying that no mala fides had been imputed such as to bring the conduct within the scope of an indictable offence. We know perfectly well that, in the ardour of political contest, words are very often considerably strained; but I feel convinced that in this instance no breach of privilege has been committed.