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Alleged Breach Of Privilege—Lord Clarendon's Letter

Volume 102: debated on Monday 5 February 1849

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said, he did not know whether that was the time for submitting to the House a matter which he considered to be a breach of privilege. He wished to draw the attention of the House to a document he held in his hand, and which he must say, under all the circumstances of the case, he really did hope would turn out to be a breach of the privileges of that House, and a fabrication. A copy had been left at his residence of a printed paper, purporting to be presented to both Houses of Parliament by command of Her Majesty, and to be a letter from the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, He should conclude his remarks, by moving

"That William Clowes, the Printer of this document, be called to the bar of this House, to answer for himself and his instigators to such a breach of privilege."

The hon. Gentleman has not mentioned to me his intention of making a Motion of this description, and I was not aware, till he rose, of the nature of the paper of which he complains: but I understand him to allude to a paper presented to both Houses of Parliament by command of Her Majesty. It cannot, therefore, in any way be a breach of the privileges of this House.

I beg to say it is an authentic document, passing between two Members of Her Majesty's Government, and presented to both Houses by command of Her Majesty.

said, he was then reduced to moving that the House do now adjourn. ["Oh, oh!"] He believed he was perfectly in order, and that he could now proceed with his observations. He must denounce the paper of which he spoke as a most unconstitutional document. It was hardly creditable that a paper containing such propositions should have proceeded from one Member of the Government, or that it should have been sent to another. At the risk of his unpopularity he had no hesitation in saying that the document was unconstitutional, yet they were assured by the First Minister of the Crown that it was authentic.

I rise to order. I beg to know if the hon. Member's observations relate to the question of adjournment?

Certainly the observations we have just heard from the hon. Member do not relate to the question of adjournment.

thought the question involved in the document, of such grave importance that the dignity of the House would be best consulted by an immediate adjournment, for the purpose of giving consideration to the document which he had to bring under their attention. And he put his Motion on that ground; therefore, being in order, he must bog to say that if the House did inherit any of the spirit of its predecessors, the present was the occasion on which it could be best displayed. History informed him that the House of Commons had always been nobly jealous of the liberty of the subject, and of the integrity of the constitution. If the liberty of the subject was not a mere pretence, he must then say that there were serious grounds for considering whether there was not matter enough to frame an impeachment of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. If the fatal precedent now offered was accepted—if the liberties of Ireland were to be complimented away at the beck and will of one man, where, might be ask, were the Irish people? It was an entire mockery of admitting the Irish to equal rights, if such a document as he had to bring under the notice of the House was admitted. The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland had shown himself completely ignorant of the condition of the country which he governed. He had been guilty of grave misdemeanor in giving vent to such recommendations as he had done with regard to the people of Ireland. The Lord Lieutenant called upon the Legislature to agree, out of compliment to him, to vote away the liberties of the Irish people. Now, let it be clearly understood, he (Mr. J. O'Connell) did not deny the capacity of the noble Lord; but he denied his merits as a governor of Ireland. What was it that the document of which he had to express his condemnation contained? The head of the Executive Government in Ireland was therein seen to take upon himself to declare that a constitutional object was unattainable in Ireland, and therefore that the people of Ireland were to be deprived of their constitutional rights. In the sixth paragraph, the mask was thrown off. There was a plain confession that the Lord Lieutenant recommended the destruction of the constitution of Ireland—that the high privilege of personal security was to be done away with—and this, in order to put an end to political excitement and agitation. The words used by the Lord Lieutenant, in his letter to the Home Secretary were to the effect, that, in order to procure for Ireland a respite from the agitation for a repeal of the Union, it was necessary to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act. Who was it that had told the noble Lord that a strictly legal object was not to be attained by means of agitation? Was it not monstrous that any Member of the Executive should propose to Parliament an interference with the constitution, with a view to prevent the people seeking for the attainment of a constitutional object? Would the House do what that nobleman called upon them to do, and say that the people should not agitate for the repeal of an Act of Parliament? Would the British House of Commons, jealous of the liberties of the subject, the guardians of the British constitution, asserting themselves to be the legislators not only for England, but also for Scotland and Ireland, consent, on the mere personal recommendation of that nobleman, to trample upon that constitution, and to make a distinction between Englishmen and Irishmen? The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was seeking to put down an agitation which was already out of itself—which was utterly extinct. Not a spark of the ancient fire was now to be seen; the agitation had no vitality in it; and the Lord Lieutenant called upon the House to inflict that gross outrage on the whole of the Irish inhabitants, without even a pretence that the agitation existed at that moment. He (Mr. J. O'Connell) asked for the adjournment of the House, in order that Members might have time to consider the document in question. If Members thought that this matter did not come home to them at this moment, it would, ere long, if this precedent were established. They themselves thought that there could not have been a worse indication exhibited of the regard of England for Ireland. He contended that there was one law for Ireland and another for England. There was a legislative Government for England, and a dictator and a despot for Ireland. He implored the English representatives to think well over this letter, and not to sanction the unconstitutional and tyrannous propositions which it contained. Something was due to those Irish Gentlemen who had done their best to prevent the Irish insurrection of July last; and for himself he could say, that he had had the proud satisfaction of being able to refer to the testimony of one of those who were engaged in that insurrection, in a letter written from America, that even he, humble individual as he was, had prevented many people from rushing headlong into the vortex. If the Irish people wished for agitation, the recommendations contained in that document would form an excuse perhaps for entering upon it. That document would be the only thing which could revive the scattered elements of that agitation which had wrung Catholic emancipation from a British House of Parliament. It would be a stain and a blot upon the House of Commons if they adopted the recommendations of Lord Clarendon. [Laughter.] They might laugh and jeer as they pleased. It was their hour now, but Ireland's hour would come, and they should remember, in the language of the poet—

"Nought can escape the vigil long
Of him who treasures up a wrong."
He looked upon this document as most unconstitutional and tyrannous in its nature; and when Ireland's hour should come, the people of that country would hold it in bitter remembrance. He should conclude by moving, that the House do now adjourn.

then rose, but as he commenced by stating that it was not his Intention to second the Motion, he was immediately met by loud cries of "Order, order!" The hon. Gentleman, however, was endeavouring to proceed, when

said: The hon. Gentleman is out of order. There is no question before the House.

then resumed his seat, and the Motion fell to the ground for want of a seconder.