HC Deb 09 July 1858 vol 151 cc1194-9

said, he wished to ask the Attorney General for Ireland whether, as the statement of the car-driver, that Burke admitted to him (the cardriver) the false character of his (Burke's) evidence against the Cormacks on the trial, has been confirmed by Burke on his examination before the Solicitor General for Ireland, it is the intention of the Government to take steps for the apprehension of Burke? A most painful impression had been produced upon the public mind in Nenagh by Burke's admission, and he thought that it was incumbent upon the law officers. of the Crown to prosecute an inquiry which they had themselves instituted, and thoroughly to sift the evidence which had been brought against the accused persons. It was the more necessary to ascertain how far Spillane was to be relied on, as be was now in the hands of the Government, to be brought forward on future trials.


said, that the hon. Gentleman had on a former occasion brought this question before the House, and he thought that be had then given him a satisfactory answer, but he regretted to find that he had not done so. It was alleged that the witness Burke, while leaving Ireland, told a story to the car-driver, when the police had left the car, that the evidence which he had given on the trial was false. On this being reported by the police an inquiry was instituted, which took place, not before the Solicitor General, but before a magistrate, when it was found that there was no reason to detain Burke for one hour. Burke was accordingly conducted out of the country, according to the custom which prevailed in that part of Ireland when a witness could not safely remain after giving his evidence in a case of this kind. But the Solicitor General stated distinctly that there was nothing in the depositions taken in the case which would have justified him in detaining Burke one hour; and even if a man did state a falsehood, that did not justify his arrest; for if it did the prisons would soon be inadequate to hold the prisoners.


said, the Attorney General had not answered the question in such a way as to set the public mind at rest. The car-driver and Burke were said to have been examined in the presence of the Solicitor General. The general impression was, that on being thus examined before a magistrate Burke confirmed his statement to the car-driver, and repeated that his evidence against the Cormacks on the trial was false. Was that true? Burke now stood in this position:—When examined before the Coroner, on oath, he said he knew nothing of the transaction; on the trial he made a contrary statement, and gave evidence against the Cormacks, and since then he had confirmed his original statement before the Coroner. He wished, therefore, that the Attorney General would give a distinct answer to the question—yes or no.


said, that it was very painful in a case of this kind, that concerned the administration of justice, that after a trial of two days, and after a witness had been examined And cross-examined by eminent counsel, and his testimony believed by a jury, it should now be sought to impeach it by the simple, uncorroborated statement of a man who was taking him to the seaport. He could only answer the question by reading the words of his colleague:— These persons were brought up and carefully examined before a magistrate. Having perused their depositions before the magistrate, I came to the conclusion that there was no ground for detaining Burke, and that there was no ground for making a charge against him. There was no ground for saying so, and it was absurd to say that there was.


said, he must again appeal to the Attorney General to give a distinct answer whether Burke had or had not repeated the statement he made to the car-driver.


could not say exactly what Burke said, because he was not present, and had not seen the depositions. There were, in fact, no depositions, and there could be none, for there was no charge and no trial. The man was asked certain questions; he answered them, and was let go about his business.


said, he should now proceed, with the permission of the House, to answer the several questions which had been put to him in the course of the evening. The first to which he should reply was, that of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Ewart) who desired to know whether the Government had any measure in contemplation for the purpose of creating a Department of Justice in conformity with the Resolution which had been passed by the House of Commons. Now, with regard to that, as with regard to another Resolution to which the sanction of that House had been given, he would only say, that if it had been productive of no result it was not owing to any want of respect for the House upon the part of Her Majesty's Ministers. He could not, of course, state the reasons which might have induced the predecessors in office of the present advisers of the Crown not to act upon the Resolution in question; but, so far as he himself was concerned, he was perfectly ready to admit that he would have been quite prepared to propose a vote to the House with the view of establishing a Department of Justice, provided he had been furnished with any satisfactory definition as to the duties which such a Department when constituted would be called upon to discharge. Hitherto he had not been furnished with any satisfactory definition upon that point, and he had not deemed himself, therefore, to be in a position to ask the House of Commons to incur the expense which the scheme would involve; but when the necessary information upon the subject was supplied, he would be found prepared to act in accordance with the Resolution at which the House had arrived. He should next advert to the question of the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir J. Trelawny), who had referred to a subject of still greater importance. He wished to ascertain what the intentions of the Government were in reference to the long-vexed subject of church rates. The hon. Baronet seemed to be of opinion that, in consequence of the views with regard to it to which expression had been given by Members of the Government in the other House of Parliament, it was the duty of Her Majesty's Ministers immediately to introduce a measure to carry those views into effect. Now, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was not prepared to say upon the part of the Government that it was their intention to introduce in the course of the present Session any measure with that object; but he must, at the same time, be permitted to state, notwithstanding certain observations which had fallen from the hon. Baronet, that Her Majesty's Ministers did not relinquish the hope of settling the question of church rates, and that they would take the earliest opportunity after the re-assembling of Parliament to ask the opinion of the Legislature upon a Bill which they would introduce, in the hope and belief that it would be accepted as a satisfactory solution of a long-controverted subject. In dealing with either of the important matters to which he had adverted, however, some regard must be had to the time at which Parliament should resume its sittings—a question which had been brought under the notice of the House last evening by an hon. Member below the gangway (Mr. C. Forster). Now, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was bound to admit that the arguments which were urged in favour of the assembling of Parliament in the autumn were not merely plausible, but that they were, to some minds, convincing. He believed that the origin of the meeting of Parliament at that period of the year at which now it was accustomed to assemble was not at all to be attributed to the popular cause which was usually alleged—namely, the passion by which the people of this country, as well as the Members of the Legislature were animated for the sports of the field. Our predecessors were as much attached as we could be to those sports, and yet Parliament in olden days, and even he believed in the commencement of the present century, was wont to assemble in the autumn, and to bring its labours to a conclusion at the commencement of June. The custom in accordance with which the Legislature met early in the year, instead of towards its decline, had its origin, he believed, in the union with Ireland, and the necessity which had thence arisen for making a complete change in the system which previously prevailed, in order to promote the convenience of those brother Members who were obliged to repair from what was then considered a great distance to this country for the discharge of their legislative functions. That being so, he had simply to state, in reply to the hon. Member who had called his attention to the subject, that whenever it was brought fully under the consideration of Her Majesty's Ministers they would be prepared impartially and temperately to discuss it. He must, however, remind the House that it was hardly fair to recommend that such a change as the hon. Member proposed should at once be carried into effect. It must be borne in mind that there had been an autumnal Session in the present Parliamentary year; that, although that sitting had not been of a protracted character, it had entailed all the inconveniences of disturbing the plans and habits of hon. Members, and that some time had been expended upon a very important discussion. But although the late autumnal Session had not been very long, he was, he thought, entitled to call the attention of the House to the fact that, owing to those changes which from time to time took place under a constitutional form of Government, Her Majesty's present advisers were called upon to conduct the affairs of the country not till some time after Parliament had met subsequent to the Christmas recess, he himself not having taken his seat upon re-election until the 12th of March, and that during the period which had since elapsed they had found it to be their duty to deal with subjects of a most important and difficult nature. He might add that the time of the Government had in consequence been completely occupied; that they had as yet by no means concluded the business of the Session, and he, therefore, thought it would be unfair to ask them to meet Parliament again so early as the month of November or December next. They had not had the advantage of any preparation for the policy which they had pursued during the last few months, and under those circumstances he could not help thinking that they were entitled to ask the House not to adopt the great change which was proposed until Parliament assembled again at the beginning of next year, which would probably be the case. In making those observations he must not be understood as being at all opposed in theory to the scheme of the hon. Gentleman who had put the question. There were, however, in his opinion, valid arguments against any immediate alteration of the present system. Having answered the various questions which had been put to bins he trusted the House would be prepared to go at once into Committee of Supply.


said, it appeared to him that it would be a change for the better if, as a general rule, Parliament resolved to assemble in the autumn instead of at the beginning of the year. When the Earl of Derby made a proposal that Bills left unfinished in one Session should be taken up at the same stage in the next, he (Lord J. Russell) was the only one of those who usually took a leading part in the discussions in that House that expressed an approval of the noble Earl's suggestion. As to the plan now under discussion, he did not think that meeting in autumn would be sufficient to ensure a satisfactory disposal of business unless the plan were accompanied by other arrangements. The question was an important one for Her Majesty's Government to consider; but if they thought they required more preparation for their measures this year than an autumnal meeting would permit of, he had not a word to say against giving them time for that preparation.