Imágenes de páginas

demeanour. He must cautiously and respectfully approach the sacred line, and then get over it quickly with a light step and a duck of the head, or with his back lowly bent. He is fortunate if the cry of ‘Order, order, inspired by the breach of etiquette, is not accompanied by ironical laughter at his grotesque antics.

It is a breach of order for a member to read a newspaper in the House. He may quote an extract from one in the course of a speech, but if he attempted to peruse it as he sat in his place his ears would soon be assailed by a stern and reproving cry of Order, order!' from the Chair. Some members resort to the deception practised by the young lady who had Vanity Fair bound like a New Testament, and was observed reading it during service in St. Paul's Cathedral. Members often slip a newspaper or periodical into the • Orders of the Day,' and read it while the Speaker imagines they are industriously studying the clause of a Bill or its amendments.

The House of Lords is less strict, oddly enough, in little matters of this kind than the House of Commons. The Peers allow the attendants to pass up and down their Chamber delivering messages ; and they have a reporter—the representative of the Parliamentary debates-sitting with the clerks at the table. But in the House of Commons the clerks at the table, and the Sergeant-at-Arms and his deputy, are the only officers of the House who are allowed within the technical limits or boundaries of the legislative Chamber, or, in other words, across the Bar, while the House is sitting. An attendant, even when he has letters and telegrams to deliver, dare not pass beyond the line of the Bar. He gives the messages to some member sitting near the Bar, and they are passed on from hand to hand till they reach the members to whom they are addressed.

Every member is under a constitutional obligation to attend the service of the House. The attendance, however, is not now compulsory. The House, probably, considers the force of public opinion in the constituencies sufficient to correct any laxity on the part of any members in the discharge of their Parliamentary duties. But there is an old procedure known as 'a call of the House,' for taking the full sense of the House on any question of great import

Not less than a week or ten days is allowed to members to respond to the call, and any member not present in the House to answer to his name when the roll is read by the clerk, without due cause for his absence, may be sent for in the custody of the Sergeantat-Arms. This procedure would now be resorted to only on the occasion of some supreme crisis in the affairs of the nation, when it was most essential that every member of Parliament should be at his post. The last time 'a call of the House' was made was on the 19th of April 1876, on the motion of Mr. Whittle Harvey, who subsequently moved for the appointment of a select committee to revise the Pension List. The division on the latter motion (which was rejected by a majority of 122) showed that there were 414 members in the House. The last occasion on which a motion for a call' was moved was on the 23rd of March 1882, when Mr. Sexton, in accordance with notice, moved. That this House be called over on Thursday, the 30th of March. The House on that day was to enter on the consideration of the proposed new rules of procedure (including the closure of debate), and Mr. Sexton's object was to secure the attendance of Messrs. Parnell, Dillon, and O'Kelly, M.P.s, who at the time were confined as 'suspects' in Kilmainham Prison, Dublin. The motion, which was opposed by the Government, was defeated. was pointed out that the procedure was useless for the purpose for which it was originally intended-namely, to take the full sense of the House on a bill or motion, as there is no compulsory process in the procedure of the House by which members, even if they answered the 'call, can be obliged to vote on the question at issue. The 'call' to which members are most alive, nowadays, is the crack of the party Whip.'


That absenteeism was a dire offence in the time of the Stuart Kings is proved by the number and variety of 'orders touching motion for leave into the country' to be found in the Journals during the seventeenth century.

Here are a few of them : ' 13th of February 1620. No member shall go out of town without open motion and licence in the House.' By the next rule it will be seen that knights of the shire were ranked much higher than the representatives of cities or boroughs : 25th of March 1664. The penalty of 101. to be paid by every knight, and 51. by every citizen, &c., who shall make default in attending. Absence evidently became a crying sin, and was visited accordingly: ‘16th of November 1666. To be sent for in custody of the Sergeant. From the succeeding string of resolutions it is evident that, under the restored monarchy, there was a marked inclination amongst members to

play the truant': '18th of December 1666. Such members of the House as depart into the country without leave, to be sent for in custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms. Even this terror does not seem to have effectually deterred 'runaways,' for two months later marks the imposition of a penalty which, in those days, must have seemed formidable indeed : 13th of February 1667. That every defaulter in attendance, whose excuse shall not be allowed this day, be fined the sum of 401. and sent for in custody, and committed to the Tower till the fine be paid.' A similar fine was, at the same time, imposed on 'every member who should desert the service of the House for the space of three days,' without special leave; incarceration in the Tower being part of the penalty. The stringency of this rule was relaxed by common consent in 1668, and a fine of 101. was substituted as sufficiently onerous ; in all cases the fines to be paid into the hands of the Sergeant-at-Arms, to be disposed of as the House shall direct.'

The individual freedom of members in our times is not so much restricted; but that absenteeism is still an offence is proved by the fact that occasionally the Orders of the Day' contain a notice, such as the following, in the name of one of the Whips :

• Mr. T. Ellis.

• To move that leave of absence for two months be granted to Mr. J. R. Flemming.'

Such motions are made by the Whips on behalf of a follower who desires to absent himself from the House of Commons on the ground of urgent business, ill-health, illness in his family, or domestic affliction, and the leave of absence applied for is always granted by the House. This however is only done when the member concerned is serving on a Committee.

A member of the House of Commons cannot, according to the ancient law of Parliament, resign his seat. Once he is duly elected he must retain the trust confided in him by his constituents till the dissolution of Parliament, unless he is removed by death or becomes a bankrupt or a lunatic, or is expelled the House, or accepts an office of honour or profit under the Crown. The latter condition, however, affords a practical, though rather ludicrous, means of escape for a member who desires to rid himself of his representative and legislative responsibilities. He accepts the office of 'Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds.' It seems that centuries ago the Chiltern Hills—a portion of the high lands of Buckinghamshire-being covered with timber afforded protection to numerous banditti, and it was the duty of the Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds to protect the inhabitants of the neighbouring districts from their depredations. The duties have, of course, long since ceased, but the nominal office has been retained. By accepting it a member who wishes to resign vacates his seat, and a writ for a new election is, in consequence, issued on the application of the Whip of the Party to which the retiring member belonged. The office is resigned as soon as the purpose in view is accomplished. It is in the gift of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It cannot be conferred twice in one day, but there are two other offices of a similar nature—Steward of the Manors of Hendred, Northstead and Hempholme,' and · Escheator of Munster'-at the disposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in case he should receive more than one application on the same day.

But there is nothing more amusing, perhaps, in all the quaint and curious customs of the House of Commons than the strange

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

ceremony which marks the termination of its every sitting. The moment the House is adjourned, stentorian-voiced messengers and policemen cry out in the lobbies and corridors, 'Who goes home?' These mysterious words have sounded every night for centuries through the Palace of Westminster. The custom dates from a time when it was necessary for members to go home in parties accompanied by links-men for common protection against the footpads who infested the streets of London. But though that danger has long since passed away, the question Who goes home?' is still asked, night after night, during the session of Parliament. No reply is given, and none is expected.


[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]


Inthelittle church of St.Werburgh, close to Christ Church Cathedral Dublin, two men lie buried. The one is Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the other Charles Henry Sirr, at whose hands he met his death. It would seem a strange chance that, out of all the graveyards of the world, these two, the slayer and the slain, should have been thus brought together within the narrow compass of one church; but so it is, and as they rest, the one above, the other in the vault below, we may be sure that, wrapped in the profound reconciliation of a common defeat, each sleeps well, undisturbed by the proximity of the other.

To set a death, as it were, as the headline of a life, and a grave as its frontispiece, is to reverse the natural order of things. But it is precisely the close of Lord Edward's career which has for a hundred years riveted upon him the gaze of his countrymen; and of him, as of another, it might be said that in their eyes no action of his life became him like the leaving it. It is, in fact, his title to a place in history.

At first sight Lord Edward's career presents but another monument of failure, vowed as he was to the service of a cause predestined to disaster, and furthermore dead before it had been granted to him to strike so much as a blow in its defence. But there is another reading to the story. The words success and failure are, after all, purely relative terms, often used to designate their opposites; and in the same way as it would be a manifest absurdity to rank a millionaire among the successful of the earth if it unfortunately chanced that money was an indifferent matter in his eyes, or to congratulate a man who would have selected a stirring and adventurous career upon the possession of a comfortable income and a pleasing domestic circle, so it would obviously be a misapplication of language to call one unfortunate who remains unconscious of calamity.

Regarded from this point of view, it is astonishing what different complexions the record of some lives commonly regarded as tissues of misfortune will assume, and the empty hands may be the fullest after all. On Lord Edward fate--more just in her dealings than it sometimes appears—had bestowed a cause, and who shall decide

« AnteriorContinuar »