Justin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthy.

England under Gladstone, 1880-1885 online

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and it had been whispered that he was so silent because he was
not in accord with his colleagues on the Irish question. He was
roused from his silence by a speech of The O'Donoghue's. The
O'Donoghue was at this pei-iod of his varied political career an
ardent supporter of Mr. Parnell . He sat in opposition to Govern-
ment, and made himself conspicuous as an aggressive patriot and
unfailing opponent of the Govei-nment. He declared that the
Land League differed in no respect from the Anti-Corn Law
League, and taunted Mr. Bright by asking what trials followed
the agitation and the denunciations of landlords which belonged
to the movement of which Mr. Bright and Mr. Gobden were
the heads. A little later in the debate Mr. Bright rose and spoke.
In a speech of great bitterness Mr. Bright attacked the conduct
of the Irish Parliamentary party. He denied angrily that any
parallel existed between the action of the Land League and the
Anti-Corn Law League. With all the indignation of which Mr.
Bright is a master, and with more than his usual vehemence, he
flung himself in a very fury of passionate oratory upon the Irish
opponents of the Government. It almost seemed as if Mr. Bright
were determined to make it plain, by the very rage and whiil-
wind of his passion, how completely unfounded were those
rumours which hinted that he was at odds with his colleagues
in the Cabinet on the Irish question. He assailed his oppo-
nents with all the eloquence at his command ; and though the
speaker was now old, the strength and power of that eloquence
were still sufficiently impressive, even to those at whom all its
fierce invective was levelled.

The severance of the extreme Irish party and the Govern-
ment was now complete. Mr. Bright, who had often supported
Ireland before, and was looked upon as a true friend by the
Irish people, was now one of the bitterest opponents of the
Avhole national movement and of its Parliamentary leaders.
The Irish national press was fiercely exasperated to find Mr.
Bright supporting coercion for Ireland. He had indeed voted
for coercion before in his younger days, but he had always been
eloquent against it, and his utterances were brought up against


Ijim by the Irish papers. They reminded him that in 1866 he
had described coercion for Irehmd as an ' ever-failing and ever-
poisonous I'emedy ; ' and they asked him why he recommended
the unsuccessful and venomous legislation now. They pointed
to his speech of 1849, in which he said, ' The treatment of this
Irish maladv remains ever the same. "We have nothing for it
still but force and alms.' They quoted from his speech of 1847 :
' I am thoroughly convinced that evei'ything the Government or
Parliament can do for Ireland will be unavailing unless the
foundation of the work be laid deep and well, by clearing away
the fetters under which land is now held, so that it may become
the possession of real owners, and be made insti'umental to the
employment and sustentation of the people. Hon. gentlemen
opposite may fancy themselves interested in maintaining the
present system ; but there is surely no interest they can have in
it which will weigh against the safety and prosperity of Ireland,'
Such a passage as this might have served, it was urged, as a
motto for the Land League itself. What other doctrine did
the Land League uphold but that the land should become the
possession of real owners, and be made instrumental to the em-
ployment and sustentation of the people ? Might not the Land
League have fairly asked the Government what interest it could
have in the present system of land which would Aveigh against
the safety and prosperity of Ireland? Had not Mr. Bright told
them, too, in 18G6 that ' the great evil of Ireland is this : that the
Irish people — the Irish nation — are dispossessed of the soil, and
what we ought to do is to provide for and aid in their restora-
tion to it by all measures of justice ' 1 He disliked the action of
the Irish members now because they were acting against the
Liberal party ; but had he not said in 1866 also, * If Irishmen
were united, if you hundred and five members were for the most
part agreed, you might do almost anything that you liked ; '
and further said, ' If there were a hundred more members, the
representatives of lai"ge and free constituencies, then your cry
would be heard, and the people would give you that justice
which a class has so long denied you ' 1 ' Exactly,' repUed his
Irish critics. ' We have now a united body of Irishmen, the


largest and most united the House has ever s'een, and you do
not seem to look kindly upon it. You do not seem to be acting
up to your promise ma,de in Dublin in 1S6G.' ' If I have in
past times felt an unquenchable sympathy with the sufferings
of your people, you may rely upon it that if there be an Irish
member to speak for Ireland, he will find me heartily by his
side.' At the same speech in Dublin, Mr. Bright said, * If I
could be in all other things the same, but in birth an Irishman,
there is not a town in this island I would not visit for the pur-
pose of discussing the great Irish question, and of rousing my
countrymen to some great and united action.' ' This is exactly
what we are doing,' said his Land League critics ; ' why do you
denounce us now % Why do you vote for Coercion Acts to
prevent the discussion of the great Irish question % '

The next day, Friday, January 28, while the impression of
Mr. Bright's speech was still fresh in the minds of the House,
Mr. Gladstone made a speech which, viewed as a piece of Parlia-
mentary attack, certainly far surpassed it. With all his elo-
quence Mr. Gladstone flung himself against his enemies, justified
the introduction of coercion in the disorganised condition of
Ireland, and bitterly denounced many of the speeches of Mr.
Parnell and Mr. Biggar. From a dramatic point of view the
scene in the chamber was singularly impressive. If the sheer
force of eloquence and anger and the support of a powerful and
enthusiastic majority could have done it, the opposition would
have come to an end then and there, and the Coercion Bill
been carried at once. Never since the night when Sir Charles
Dilke made his famous speech, and Mr. Auberon Herbert
announced himself too as a republican, had the House wit-
nessed such a scene, though since then stormy scenes have
been less infrequent. Mr. Gladstone was inlaying the part of
Jupiter suppressing the revolted gods. Wine, says Macaulay,
was the spell which unlocked the fine intellect of Addison.
Passion is the spell which most surely unlocks INIr. Gladstone's
skill as an orator of attack. The fury of his indignation swept
over the House and stirred it to its depths, arousing tumultuous
enthusiasm in the majority of his hearers, and angry protest


from the minority he Avas assailing. The pale, unmoved face
of Mr. Parnell occasionally showed through the storm as he rose
to correct the Prime Minister in his quotations from his
speeches, and was howled and shouted, if not into silence, at
least into being inaudible.

Vague rumours floated about the House of Commons on the
Monday evening that there would be troublesome work ere
night, but at first there seemed no promise of the excited and
strenuous fighting which kept the weary Commons awake
through successive days. The Ii'ish members were determined
to resist the Coercion Bill in every stage to the utmost. They
challenged fate, in the shape of the Ministry, to come into the
lists and fight it out, and the result was the longest sitting then
on record. The hours came and went, the grey dawn stole on
the heels of night, and ugly night again came breathing at the
heels of day, and found the Commons still wrangling, still
dividing, still calling to order, still stupidly sleeping or vainly
trying to follow the arguments of the various speakers. The
scene was full of interest to those — and there were some — who
had the coui-age to see it out from the watch-towers of the
Speaker's gallery. As the time went on, the appearance of the
House was not without elements of humour. One member of
the Third Party, as the Irish party were called, found the atmo-
sphere cold, and insisted upon addressing the House in a long
ulster, resembUng the gaberdine of Noah in the toy-shop arks.
On the Treasury Bench Lord Hartington, grimly erect, doggedly
surveyed the obstructives. He was curiously in contrast with
Mr. Forster, who sat doubled, or rather crumpled up, in an
attitude of extreme depression. The occupants of the front
Opposition bench wore an air of bland unconcern. * This is not
our fault,' they seemed to say, ' but it is not uninteresting, and
we do not mind seeing you through with it.'

At ten minutes to five o'clock on the Tuesday morning the
Speaker left the chair ; the clerk at the table gravely informed
the House of the unavoidable absence of Mr. Speaker, and his
place was taken by Mr. Lyon Playfair. Still the debate went
on. Irish member succeeded Irish member in lengthy speeches,


interrupted by incessant calls to order from all parts of the
House and from the chair. Somewhere about six o'clock the
motion for the adjournment of the debate was defeated by 141
to 27: majority 114. The debate was then resumed on the
original motion, and Mr. Healy immediately moved the adjourn-
ment of the House. At twenty-five minutes past one on
Tuesday afternoon the deputy-chairman left the chair, which
was reoccupied by the Speaker. A small side discussion sprang
up at this point, Mr. Parnell contending that, by the standing
orders of the House, the Speaker had not the right to return to
his place after that place had been taken by the deputy-chair-
man until the next sitting of the House, a point which the
Speaker ruled was based on a misconception of the order. At
ten minutes to three the motion for the adjournment of the
House was divided upon, and was lost by a majority of 204 :
the numbers being — ayes 21, noes 225. Still the debate
went on, without any sign of flagging determination on either
side. The adjournment of the debate was then moved by Mr.
Daly, and this question was fought out for some time and
divided upon — 23 to 163 : majority against, 140. The debate
was then resumed on Dr. Lyon's amendment to the main
question, and the adjournment of the House moved. At
half-past eleven on the Tuesday night the Speaker again lefb
the chair, and his place was again taken by Mr. Lyon Playfair.
At midnight Sir Stafford Northcote appealed alike to the chair
and the Government to do something to put an end to the
obstruction. A little later on the debate was enlivened by a
wordy wrangle between Mr. (novr Sir Frederick) Milbank and
Mr. Biggar. Mr. Milbank complained that Mr. Biggar had used
offensive language to him in the chamber, and, in consequence,
Mr. Milbank, later on, in the lobby, addressed opprobrious
terms to Mr. Biggar. Mr. Biggar denied having used the words
attributed to him, whereupon Mr. Milbank apologised to the
House. By this time a fresh division had been taken, and the
motion for adjournment negatived by 22 to 197 : majority, 175.
At ten minutes to five on Wednesday morning the second
unsuccessful attempt to count the House was made. At nine


o'clock the Speaker resumed the chair, and, immediately rising,
made perhaps one of the most remarkable speeches ever de-
livered from the chair. The Speaker observed that the motion
to bring in the Bill had been under discussion for five days, and
that during that time most of the opposition was purely
obstructive. By the existing rule nothing could be done to
stop this obstruction ; but the Speaker was prepared to take
upon himself the responsibility of ending it by declining to call
upon any more members, and by putting the questions at once
from the chair. This announcement was received with
tumultuous cheering, and tho Speaker then put the motion for
Dr. Lyon's amendment, which was defeated on a division by
164 to 19 — majority, 145. The Speaker then proceeded to
put the main question. An Irish member rose, but the
Speaker refused to hear him. Then the whole Irish party
stood up, shouted for some seconds the cry of ' Privilege ' —
which had not been heard in the House since the day when
Charles I. came looking for his five members — and, bowing to
the chair, loft the chamber in a body. The Bill was immediately
brought in by Mr. Forster. Mr. Forster then explained to the
House that on the previous Friday he had given into the hands
of Mr. Gladstone a speech which he believed to be by Mr.
Pai-nell, and which ]\Ir. Gladstone quoted from as being by
]\Ir. Parnell, but which was, as a matter of fact, delivered by
another person. The House then adjourned until twelve o'clock
of the same day, when it met again to discuss the second reading
of the Coercion Bill. The Irish members who had left the
House in a body that morning did not, however, intend to
follow the example set them by Pulteney and his followers in
the eaidy part of the last century, and secede from the House
for any length of time. When the House met again at mid-
day, they returned to their places in order to criticise the action
of the Speaker in bringing the debate to a close on his own
motion. The Speaker, however, ruled that the matter was not
a question of privilege, and could not be discussed then, but
must be brought forward on a specific motion. The adjourn-
ment of the House was then moved by Mi*. A. M. Sullivan,


and supported by Mr, Joseph Cowen, Mr. Laboncliere, Loid
Randolph Churchill, and Mr. Shaw, and argued upon vintil
nearly six o'clock, when it was defeated on division by 278 to
44 : majority 234 ; after which, it being six o'clock, and the day
being Wednesday, the House of necessity adjourned.

The next day, however, witnessed a still more exciting scene,
compared with which any mere prolongation of debate seemed
tame and colourless. At question time Mr. Parnell suddenly
rose and asked if it was true that Mr. IMichael Davitt had been
arrested that day at one o'clock. There was a murmur of sur-
prise, followed immediately by a deep silence as Sir William
Harcourt rose to reply. ' Yes, sir,' was the answer of the Home
Secretary, amid the wildest cheering from both sides of the
House. Had some new conquest or some great victory been
announced, it could not have been greeted with greater I'apture.
Human nature and human voices have their limits, and cer-
tainly the limits of human voices were severely taxed that day
when it was definitely announced that Michael Davitt was once
again in prison. When the cheering abated, Sir William Har-
court went on to state that the Irish secretary and he, after
consultation with their colleasfues and the law oflicers of the
Crown, had come to the conclusion that Mr. Davitt's conduct
was incompatible with the conditions of his ticket of leave.
Mr. Parnell tried to find out what condition of ticket of leave
Mr. Davitt had broken, but the Speaker called upon Mr.
Gladstone, who was waiting to submit to the House his Urgency
motion. Mr. Gladstone had risen and begun to speak when
Mr. Dillon rose also to a point of order. What the point of
order was the House was not fated to hear ; for amid much
noise and shouting from all parts of the House, the Speaker
rose and declared Mr. Gladstone in possession of the House.
Mr, Dillon instead of sitting down when the Speaker rose, and
then rising again to make his point of order clear, remained
standing with folded aims facing the speaking Speaker, and de-
manding his privilege of speech. A few seconds of excited con-
fusion followed, few members of the House remaining silent.
The majoi'ity shouted against Mr. Dillon. The Irish minority


shouted scarcely less loudly for him. ' Name him,' vociferated
English members ; to which the Irish members responded by
shouting', ' Point of order.' Then the Speaker gravely named
INIr. Dillon for disregarding the authority of the chair, not, as
he afterwards explained, for rising to a point of order while
Mr. Gladstone was speaking, but for remaining on his feet
after the Speaker had risen. Mr. Dillon now sat down, and
Mr. Gladstone, rising, immediately moved the usual formula,
familiar enough even then, but destined within the next half-
hour to become much more familiar, that the offending member
should be suspended from the service of the House for the re-
mainder of the sitting. A division was taken, and Mr. Glad-
stone's motion carried by .395 to 33 : majority 362. The Speaker
then called upon Mr. Dillon to withdraw. Mr. Dillon rose
again and strove to speak, but the shouts with which he was
greeted rendered him pi-actically inaudible. He was understood
to announce that he refused to withdraw. The Speaker im-
mediately called upon the serjeant-at-arms to remove Mr.
Dillon. At first 3Ir. Dillon refused to move, but at a signal
from the serjeant sevei-al attendants advanced into the House,
whereupon, as if accepting this as symbolic of sufficient foice
to remove him by physical strength, Mr. Dillon got up and left
the House. All that happened immediately after was an
incoherent medley. Mr. A. M. Sullivan spoke amid vehe-
ment clamour against the Speaker, who explained that he had
named Mr. Dillon not for interrupting Mr. Gladstone on a call
to order, but for remaining on his feet when the Speaker rose.
Mr. Gladstone now made a further effort to go on with hia
speech, and was at once interrupted by The O'Donoghue, who
loudly moved the adjournment of the House. The Speaker
taking no notice of this, Mr. Parnell jumped up and called out
that he moved that Mr. Gladstone should be no longer heard.
Amid stentorian cheers from his own party and indignant shouts
from the rest of the House, Mr. Parnell reiterated his motion
in defiance of the warning of the Speaker, and was immediately
named. Mr. Gladstone again made the motion for expulsion,
which was carried by a majority of 405 to 7, the Irish mem-

COERCIOIsr. ■ 129

b6rs refusinff to leave their seats and vote. On the reassemblins
of the House Mr. Parnell refused to withdraw until the
serjeant-at-arms had gone through the same ceremony with
him as with Mr. Dillon, when he retired amid the plaudits
of his party. It must here be remarked that, whatever may
be the opinion as ta the wisdom, policy, or propriety of Mr.
Parnell's conduct on this occasion, there was absolutely nothing
* disorderly ' in the Parliamentary sense aljout it. Bat a little
time before, Mr. Gladstone had moved, and moved successfully,
that a member should be no longer heard, and it had been
urged in defence of that motion that it was perfectly permissible,
although it had not been made in Parliament for something
like a couple of centuries. Now, if it was permissible for Mr.
Gladstone to put this venerable rule into action against an
Irish member, it was equally permissible for an Irish member
to put it into practice agiiinst Mr. Gladstone. We are not
speaking now of the good or bad taste of such a line of action,
nor do we need to be reminded of the impossibility of carrying
on the business of any legislative assembly if any member might
interrupt it by motions that other members be not heard. But
the Prime Minister had himself revived this antiquated form ;
he had drawn it out from the dust of centuries iii order to
silence an unwelcome speaker ; it had received the full sanction
of Parliament, and until Parliament repealed or altered it, it was
in full force. As the rules binding the House of Commons
affect all membeis equally — as no member, whether he be at the
head of the Govei'nment or not, has any privilege whatever of
making any motion which is denied to any other member — it is
clear that Mr. Parnell was as much in his Parliamentary right
as Mr. Gladstone in moving that a member should iiot be
heard. So much for the mere question of the motion, the re-
vival of which Mr. Gladstone was himself probably the first to

After the division had been taken, and the leader of the
Irish party removed. Lord Richard Grosvenor, the Liberal
Whip, announced that the Irish members had refused to leave



theii" seats and entei' tbe division lobby, a line of action whicb
Mr. Gladstone immediately expressed a hope that the Speaker
would find some means of dealing with. He was, however, once
more intei-rupted, this time by Mr. Finigan, member for Ennis,
who, following the examj)le of Mr. Parnell, again proposed that
Mr. Gladstone should be no longer heard. The Speaker
named Mr. Finigan ; Mr. Gladstone, for the third time, made
the suspension motion, and a division was again taken,
and the motion carried by 405 to 2, the Irish members again
exi)ressing their protest against the whole proceeding by re-
maining in tlieir seats and refusing to vote. The Speaker
cautioned them that he would i-egard this abstention as defiance
of the authority of the chair, and the Clerk of the House took
down their names. When Mr. Finigan had been removed from
the House, after the same fashion as JNIr. Dillon and Mr. Parnell,
the Speaker called the attention of the House to the condvict
of the Irish members, and ' named ' them at once. There
were twenty-eight of them in all. Mr. Gladstone immediately
rose and moved for their suspension in a body, and the motion
was carried by 410 to 6, the abstaining members, as before,
refusing to vote. Then came a strange scene, such as had never
been witnessed in the House of Commons before. The name
of each member was read out in turn by the Speaker, as he
called upon him to withdraw. Each member called upon
answered to his name Avith a short speech condemning the
action of the Government, and refusing to go unless removed
by superior force. To each member making such announce-
ment, the serjeant-at-arms advanced and touched him solemnly
on the shoulder. In most cases the member so touched at once
rose and walked out ; one or two exceptionally stalwart mem-
bers, however, refused to go until the sei'jeant-at-arms ap-
proached them with such a muster of attendants as made it
evident that he commanded sufficient force to compel with-
drawal. For half an hour this process of naming, speech-
making, and removal went on. At length the bulk of the Irish
members were expelled, and had rallied in the conference room,
where they drew up an address to the people of Ireland, ui'ging

coercion: . 131

item to remain quiet in spite of the indignity offered to their
representatives. Then, for the fourth time, Mr. Gladstone ro&e
and essayed to go on with his motion. But, iu the meantime,
some few Irish members who had not been present hitherto in
the House had arrived, and through their opposition shared their
comrades' fate. First Mr. O'Kelly, and then Mr. O'Donnell,
moved that Mr. Gladstone be no longer heard, and were named,
suspended, and removed, while three others — Mr. Molloy, Mr.
Richard Power, and Mr. O'Shaughnessy — went through the
same process for refusing to take part in the division, and
remaining in their seats while the division went on. Then,
none of the Irish members who followed the lead of Mr. Parncll
being left in the House, Mr. Gladstone began his urgency motion
for the sixth time, and proceeded with it without further in-

After the coiq:) d'etat by which the Speaker brought the
debate on the introduction of the Coercion Bill to an end, the
Government felt the necessity of altering the rules of the House
so far as to meet with such emergencies in the future in a more
legal manner. A set of rules was accordingly drawn up,
nominally by the Speaker, for the regulation of the business of
the House when the state of public business should be declared
urgent. These rules limited the occasions and the scope of
motions for adjournment of either the House or the debate,
gave the Speaker power of calling the attention of the House
to continued tediousness and irreleviincy on the part of a mem-
ber, and of taking the general sense of the House on any debate,
and, if supported by a three-fourths majority, of putting the
question withovit further debate. The rules further preA^ented
the possibility of debate on the motion for the House to go
into committee on any matter declared urgent, and limited
members to a single speech. These rules were laid on the tab.e
of the House by the Speaker on Wednesday, February 9, 1881.
The long argued-about principle of cloture — or closure, to give

Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyEngland under Gladstone, 1880-1885 → online text (page 12 of 38)