« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
• examination ; and 2ndly, if there be a charge of 6 contempt and breach of privilege, and an order for • the person charged to attend and answer it, and a wilful disobedience of that order, the House has undoubtedly the power to cause the person charged to be taken into custody, and to be brought to the bar to 6 answer the charge ; and further, the House, and that • alone, is the proper judge when these powers, or either 6 of them, are to be exercised.'
The House of Commons has of late years had to grapple with a series of problems relating to the management of its own business, which are mainly due to the inordinate growth and complication of that business, and to a greater variety in the personal characteristics of members of the House, as representing Scotland and Ireland as well as England, and as elected by a more independent system of voting than heretofore. Long experience has gradually taught the House to frame a series of rules which have seemed calculated not only to secure quiet and regularity in debate, but also to extend the utmost latitude of speech and action to individual members which could be compatible with the complete accomplishment of all the business before the House. Nevertheless, the working of such rules must depend for its success upon the common understanding that they are to be interpreted according to the intention with which they were introduced, and not strained and abused in order to defeat the general purposes of the assembly in the interests of individual licence and caprice. In the session of 1877 the House was brought face to face with a difficulty which could scarcely be foreseen, inasmuch as it arose out of the inadequacy of its own existing rules to meet a conspiracy entered into
by a knot of individual members to arrest legislation by means of that very procedure of the House the spirit and intent of which they were ostentatiously setting at defiance. A certain number of members combined together to prevent the progress of legislation, by way either of punishing the House for an alleged neglect of business in which they held themselves especially interested, or else of forcibly securing space for the interposition of that business. Wbile the outward forms of the House seemed to be punctiliously complied with, they attempted, by dint of artificially sustaining interminable debates on worthless points, and repeatedly dividing the House on the question of adjournment, to govern the House by a compact and unscrupulous minority. The following strong language in reference to this conduct may be cited from a writer whose calm historical grasp of the true character of the English House of Commons, as well as his practical knowledge of its procedure, entitles him to especial respect. Mr. Reginald F. D. Palgrave, Clerk Assistant to the House of Commons, writes': “An attempt to injure Parlia* ment by means of its procedure, or to lower it in the * public esteem, is not so much a breach of Parliament« ary decorum as a breach of faith with the State. For
such an offence is the misuse of privileges and of high
position, by those who are entrusted with that position • by the State itself. And though it may seem strange, • that, to assign a due place upon the old criminal code " to so new a crime, a comparison should be sought • among the lower types of guilt: still not less true is • it that a Member of Parliament, who takes his seat
| The House of Commons. Ilustrations of its History and Prac. tice. By Reginald F. D. Palgrave. Preface to revised edition, 1878.
• under the sanction of the oath of allegiance, and in
defiance of that oath employs the right he so acquires • to inflict injury or contempt upon the Constitution,
passes into the company of faithless trustees and of • deserters who betray their comrades.'
While, at the time of the obstruction here referred to, the House exhibited a dignified self-restraint, and even leniency to the particular offenders, it lost no time in amending its rules in such a way as to prevent, if possible, the recurrence of such scenes, and protect the general assembly against the tyranny of small and pertinacious cliques. This was effected chiefly by the passing of a rule which empowers the Speaker of the House, after calling a member twice to order, and on his still persisting in disobedience, to name the member. As the process and consequences of naming a member have been shrouded in a good deal of obscurity, it will serve to explain them, and also to describe the operation of the new rule, if the facts of its first application, as described in Hansard, are recalled.
On the 6th of August, 1878, a debate was taking place in the House of Commons on the question of allowances to the families of reserve-men in the army for the period during which they were called out for active service. Major O'Gorman,—who seems to have had some personal ground of discontent at what had been done or not done,--repeatedly called out · Hear, bear,' and • Order,' in the course of the speech of Colonel Stanley, Secretary for War. The Speaker called upon the bon.
and gallant member for Waterford to desist from these • interruptions.' Major O'Gorman defended his conduct, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer urged that he should apologise, and submit himself to the ruling of
Case of Major O'Gorman.
the Chair. The Speaker said: "He owes it to the House • to make some apology for the interruption he bas
persisted in carrying on. I must call upon him ať • once to make such apology as is due to the House.' On Major O'Gorman’s refusing, Mr. Bulwer observed : • Although the hon. and gallant member may think that • he is not exceeding his privilege, yet now that his
attention has been directed to it from the Chair, I am • sure the hon. and gallant member is too good a soldier - to refuse to submit to discipline. Major ('Gorman replied : : The Speaker has not called me to order. He has • done nothing of the sort.' The Speaker then said : After • what has passed, I have no other alternative left me • but to name the hon. and gallant member for Water* ford, for the line of conduct he has pursued this even• ing; I now name you, Major O'Gorman, for having
interrupted the proceedings of this House by disorderly 6 conduct, and for having refused, when called upon by i the Chair, to submit yourself to the judgment of the • House. Thereupon the Chancellor of the Exchequer moved, and Mr. Lowe seconded the motion, "That • Major O'Gorman, for his disorderly conduct and dis• respectful behaviour towards the Chair, be directed to 6 withdraw.' The motion was carried, and it was further ordered that Major O'Gorman, “ for his disorderly con• duct and disrespectful behaviour towards the Chair, be • directed to withdraw; that his conduct towards the • Chair be taken into consideration to-morrow ;' (and • that he do attend in his place to-morrow.' On the next day Major O'Gorman made an ample apology to the House. The Orders were discharged, and, in the words of Hansard, the Speaker's language in concluding the matter is “entered upon the Votes 'as follows :
The House bas now heard the statement and apology of Major O'Gorman. If it should be the wish of the House to proceed no further in the matter, it will be • an agreeable duty on my part to declare the will of the • House in favour of indulgence. The House may be
assured that, while jealous for the character of this · House, and determined, so far as lies in my power, to
maintain order in debate, it is with great reluctance • that I put in force the authority of the Chair, as I felt bound to do on this occasion.'
Besides the contest which has been thus disclosed between the House and small bodies of its own members, another intrinsically more important contest has been waged of late, and is likely to be waged for some time to come,—that is, the contest between the claims of what are called private members of the House and the Government of the day. The subject cannot be fully discussed till, in a later chapter, the situation of the Executive Government in its relations to the House has been investigated. It is difficult to sum up in a few words the comparative value of the claims to attention which may be urged generally on behalf of Government business and on behalf of the motions or bills of private members. It is by no means true that the advantage in respect of pressing importance is invariably on the side of the Government. Nor is it true that all the more important measures urged by private members are in course of time, if they deserve it, taken up by the Government. The Government of the day is at the head of a great party, and dependent for its continued existence on the fickle breath of public opinion outside.
Hansard, v. ccxlii., 1380.