HC Deb 19 June 1872 vol 211 cc1950-72

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)


said, that under the very peculiar circumstances of this Bill, it was impossible to say who was the promoter. He was not then about to discuss the question whether public prosecutors should or should not be appointed, but to call attention to the state of things before the House. The measure was introduced by a private Member (the right hon. and learned Recorder for London) early in the Session, and it was read a second time under protest for the accommodation of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who was at the time in America, and with the understanding that the discussion should be taken on going into Committee. The Home Secretary in the meantime, however, had given Notice of a number of Amendments entirely altering the whole construction of the Bill; and in some respects they removed objections that existed to the establishment of public prosecutors. With regard to the expense that would be brought upon the Imperial Exchequer, he estimated that it would amount in salaries alone to a sum of £50,000 or £60,000 per annum, while the costs of prosecutions would very probably be likewise increased. It would be impossible then to enter into a discussion of the Bill, and the best course to be pursued would be to go into Committee pro formâ, and introduce the Amendments, and then that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should resign the further conduct of the Bill to the Government. Two matters had been rather unfairly introduced into the Government Amendments, that would require explanation—namely, placing the cost of all prosecutions on the Imperial Exchequer, contingently on adoption of the Act by local authorities, while the adoption of the Act was left optional. He wished also to know if on the passing of the Bill, the establishment in Spring Gardens would be abolished. The Government had also introduced into the Bill, a clause for the payment of clerks of the peace by salary instead of fees, while there was another Bill before the House dealing with those officers in the same manner. He wanted to know on which of the two Bills the Government intended to rely? It was a very unusual and extraordinary proceeding to have a clause in two separate Bills to effect the same object in the same Session of Parliament, and both Bills promoted by private Members.


, who had given Notice of his intention to move that the House should go into Committee on the Bill on that day three months, said that the objectors to the Bill were placed in a position of great difficulty with regard to the Bill, in consequence of the course which Her Majesty's Government had thought fit to take in respect to it. One of the principal objections which had been taken to the measure, was the great expense which it was urged the Bill would entail upon the public; but down to the present time no information as to the probable cost to the public of the appointment of public prosecutors had been laid before the House, the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Home Office having declined to produce the result of an investigation that had been instituted into the subject, on the ground that it was a confidential communication. On Saturday last a list of the Amendments proposed by the Government was placed in the hands of hon. Members, and he regretted that neither of the Law Officers of the Crown was present to give the House some explanation of those Amendments, which were of so extraordinary a character as to give rise to the suspicion that they had been extracted from the pages of a comic journal. In fact, those who had come down to oppose the Public Prosecutors Bill as it was read a second time now found that it had ceased to exist, for the Amendments proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had swept away the whole of the first and second pages of the Bill; while only one line of the original Bill was left in the third page, and so on to the end of the chapter; and in short, it would be found that so far from its being a Public Prosecutors Bill, it would deal with entirely different subjects. Perhaps the House would be surprised to hear that by these Amendments the right hon. Gentleman would be empowered, without consultation with the Lord Chancellor or any one of Her Majesty's Judges, to alter the whole criminal law of the land, and to have the supreme direction of such trifles as trial by jury, writs of error, questions of law to be reserved, proceedings before Justices, or other criminal proceedings which public prosecutors were or were not to institute. [Mr. BRUCE explained that the law upon those points was not to be altered.] Under those circumstances, he must confess that his understanding was not sufficiently lofty to enable him to comprehend the meaning of these Amendments. He objected to give such power to the Home Secretary as would enable him at his own will and pleasure to alter our whole criminal law, and without at that moment making the Motion of which he had given Notice, that the House should go into Committee on the Bill that day three months, he left the matter in the hands of the House, and would take whatever course they might think would be the best under the circumstances.


said, that the former opposition to the Bill appeared to be confined to two ques- tions, one of which was whether the appointment of a public prosecutor should be limited to the metropolitan district; and the other, whether the Secretary of State should be empowered to divide the country into districts for similar appointments, wherever the justices or town councils concurred in the arrangement. These objections had been considered by the Government, as well as by his right hon. and learned Friend the Recorder, and the other hon. Members whose names appeared on the back of the Bill; and, to speak the plain truth, he regarded the compulsory appointment of such an officer for the Central Criminal Court district as a wise alteration in the measure. With respect to the other question, affecting the rest of the country, he had as little doubt as on the first one, and he could only repeat what he said on the second reading, that it was really a disgrace—and he used the word advisedly—that England was the only country in the world where prosecutions for crime should mostly be left at the mercy of private individuals, who might or might not proceed with them as they thought fit. In his opinion, therefore, it was a matter of great importance that they should ascertain how far they were agreed in carrying out the principle of appointing public prosecutors. As to the two main objections which were urged against the Bill, he thought the Amendments intended to be moved by the Government would deal wisely with those parts of the Bill to which those objections applied. He hoped the result of this discussion would show that the House wished, in the first place, that public prosecutors should be confined to the Central Criminal Court; and, in the second place, that an opportunity should be given for the appointment of a public prosecutor in any provincial district where such an appointment might be desired by the local authorities. The Bill might be regarded as divisible into two parts—one relating to the appointment of public prosecutors, and the other relating to the mode in which the expenses of prosecutions should hereafter be paid. Excepting as to the mode in which it was now proposed to defray those expenses, he denied that the Bill was entirely new as compared with its original form. However, the question before the House might be said to be, whether they were in a position to go into Committee to consider that part of the Bill which remained practically the same, for he never would press upon the attention of the House anything which they had not had a fair opportunity of examining. His anxiety that the Bill should be proceeded with arose from the fear that, as it was the measure of private Members, and not of the Government, they would have no other day on which to consider even that part of the Bill which was quite familiar to everybody in the House. The Bill was an important one, and as it was desirable that it should not be postponed, through unnecessary delay, to another Session, he therefore hoped the House would see the propriety of going into Committee for considering the first portion of the Bill.


said, his right hon. Friend who had just spoken had had a long experience in that House, and had also had experience in the Home Department, and he would ask him whether it was in his recollection that with regard to so important a measure as that such a course had ever been taken as had been taken with respect to that Bill? His right hon. and learned Friend the Recorder had brought in a Bill on this important subject, which was surrounded with difficulties, and with which various Parliaments had attempted to deal. That Bill was read a second time, with next to no discussion, on the understanding, he believed, that the principle of it should be discussed at the following stage—namely, at the stage at which the Bill had now arrived. On the day before the Bill came to be considered in Committee a series of Amendments to be proposed by the Government were put into the hands of hon. Members of the House. If those Amendments were adopted the Bill would become a totally different Bill from that which was introduced by his right hon. and learned Friend, for they filled 13 pages, and if they were accepted only 300 words of the Bill as introduced by his right hon. and learned Friend would be left. That was not the way in which the House had a right to expect that sort of business to be conducted. The criminal law was supposed to be under the superintendence of the Home Secretary, who was responsible to the House for its proper administration, and for the introduction of such measures as he might think requisite for its amendment. As a Member of the Government, the Home Secretary had the command of a great deal of the time of the House, and if he thought a measure ought to be introduced on this subject, he had abundant opportunity of submitting such a measure to the consideration of the House; but to allow a private Member to introduce a Bill on the subject, and, after it had been read a second time, to turn it inside out—to put a new Bill into an old framework—was a course which hitherto had not been adopted by a Home Secretary. Suppose the Bill went into Committee, and these Amendments, which would make it a totally different Bill, were adopted, the House would have lost the opportunity it might have had on the second reading of expressing its opinion on the principle of the Bill. In fact, the course proposed to be taken by the Home Secretary was practically an evasion of those Rules of the House which were made for the purpose of securing an adequate discussion of the principle of a Bill; for the only opportunity the House would have of discussing the principle of this Bill would be on the third reading—the last stage. There was no necessity for having embarked the House in this difficulty, which was entirely owing to the way in which the Home Office now appeared to abandon functions which it used to perform in that House. That was not the first time that Session he had felt it his duty to complain of the way in which the Government did business, and he hoped some change for the better would be made, and that the Home Secretary would pluck up courage and introduce on his own responsibility such measures as he thought were desirable with regard to the administration of the criminal law.


said, his right hon. Friend who had just spoken was a great authority on the conduct of the Business of the House; but he ought to remember the great block of Public Business which had occurred and was continually increasing. His right hon. Friend said the Government ought to undertake the conduct of this Bill, but they had not time to do so. He could not help thinking, therefore, that the time had arrived when the House might with advantage recognize the existence of a new class of Bills— what he would call hybrid Bills, half Private and half Government—which, having been long under the consideration of the House, might, though introduced by private Members, and discussed in the time set apart for private Members, receive the special support and sanction of the Government. It was said the principle of this Bill was a new principle—namely, that there should be a public prosecutor; but that principle could in no sense be said to be new, for it had been admitted on both sides of the House in discussions on the second reading; all, therefore, that remained was a matter of detail, for if these Amendments had been before the House on the second reading the House would have been told that they involved questions of detail which should be dealt with in Committee. In answer to the question, whether or not there should be a public prosecutor, the House on the second reading apparently said, Yes. The question how far the appointment of a public prosecutor should be compulsory or permissive was also a question of detail—that was to say, a question for the Committee. He did not concur in all the Amendments, but they could be modified in Committee. He, therefore, hoped they would lose no further time, but proceed with the measure while they had the chance.


said, he must contend that with the exception of the point that a public prosecutor should be appointed, this Bill had been abandoned by its promoters. ["No, no!"] Why, it was absurd to say that the Amendments intended to be moved by the Government would not make it a totally different Bill. The Bill, instead of enacting that public prosecutors should be appointed, held out facilities for the appointment of a public prosecutor in any district that might choose to appoint one. Things would be left as they now were until a public prosecutor was appointed. What course ought to have been adopted? Without going so far as his right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), who spoke as if the Order for going into Committee ought to be discharged with the view of bringing in a new Bill, he thought the Bill ought to have been committed pro formâ, in order to insert in it the Amendments of the Government. The Bill could then have been reprinted, and ample time might have been afforded to hon. Members to consider the Amendments of the Government; whereas, if the House went now into Committee on the Bill, the difficulty of the subject would be enormously increased through not having adopted that course. With respect to the latter part of the Bill, for instance, however desirable it might be to settle the question of costs, he did not think that on going into Committee on a Bill which did not deal with that subject was the proper time for considering it. He was quite aware how over-pressed the Government were with the number of measures they had brought in; but it was more important to have measures fully considered than to relieve by any means the Government from a burden which properly belonged to them. The Home Secretary had shown that he felt the importance of this question of public prosecutor, and that it was impossible for the Government not to intervene when a Bill dealing with such a subject was before the House. They should therefore take the full responsibility of any Amendments they might introduce.


said, it was not now possible for the Government either to recommit the Bill, and reprint it in time for hon. Members to consider the Amendments, or to introduce a measure on their own responsibility. That was the advice of the authorities of the House on the question. He would admit that the proper course to take when the Government proposed numerous Amendments in a Bill introduced by themselves was to move that the Bill be reprinted, and that that was a subject which properly belonged to the Government, and that it would have been the duty of the Government to introduce a Bill on the subject, if they had had time. But the Government had charge of a great number of questions, which were certain to occupy every moment of available time at their disposal. In dealing with this subject in accordance with the recommendations of the Select Committee which sat upon it, it was absolutely necessary to deal with the question of fees; and they had also tried to fulfil the pledge given to the House to take some steps to relieve the counties from the treatment they now complained of as to the taxation of costs. That had necessarily involved great labour; but, nevertheless, it had been, he hoped, effected by the Amendments made in the Bill. It was impossible for the Government to undertake the conduct of this Bill without abandoning other measures to which they were pledged, and the Government were entirely in the hands of the House with reference to this question. If the House expressed a desire to proceed with the Bill, the Government would be most happy to facilitate its passage by every means in their power; if, on the other hand, for the reasons stated by the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken (Mr. G. Hardy), and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), the House thought the Bill ought not to be proceeded with, the Government would be content to yield to that opinion.


said, he never remembered a case in which that House and the country had been less fairly treated than on that occasion, neither did he recollect a Bill with respect to which so many Amendments were proposed as in the case of this Bill, which was not committed pro formâ with the view of reprinting it with the Amendments, and thus enabling the House and the country to know what was to be debated. The alterations, moreover, which were proposed to be made in this Bill by the Government were not of a formal, but of a most material kind, and they affected the principle of the Bill. Another point was the large bribe that was offered to parties who would accept the Bill. The Bill was said to be permissive, except as regarded the Central Criminal Court; but while it was made permissive a very large offer of public money was made to all parties who would accept it, and of course there would be a corresponding disadvantage to those who did not accept it. For what was the proposal? That, in the event of a county or borough accepting this Bill, the public prosecutor would pay all the expenses, without the necessity of resorting to the funds of the county or borough, the necessary inference being that all who did not accept the Bill would be dealt with according to some capricious rule of thumb on the question of the repayment of their expenses. Such a principle, introduced by the Government in the form of an Amendment, ought of itself to have secured the re-committal of the Bill, in order that the country might be able to discuss and express its opinion upon it. There was another point in the Amendments which certainly ought to be considered. It was said that if anybody thought the public prosecutor was not doing his duty properly, he might apply to a Superior Court to set him aside. That was a very queer proposal. In the first place, it did not show much confidence in the people that were to be made public prosecutors. In the next, no provision at all was made about dealing with the prosecution of a criminal, while the public prosecutor and the person who complained of his conduct were contending with each other in one of the Superior Courts. Was the criminal to be handed from one side to the other, or what was to become of him? The Bill, in point of fact, had become a Government Bill, because it provided for the payment of public money, and the Government ought to appoint a day for the discussion of it. [Mr. BRUCE dissented.] The right hon. Gentleman shook his head. Perhaps the Government had too many omnibuses of their own blocking up the way. He did not think the Government had taken a proper course with reference to this Bill, for they ought to have given the House a fair opportunity of dealing with what had in fact become a new Government Bill.


said, he must agree with the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire that the House was hardly put in a fair position in regard to the Bill. For instance, there had been a distinct understanding arrived at by the Government that the counties should be relieved from the cost of prosecutions; but they were now to be asked to consent to another arrangement in the matter, and one to which he believed the counties would entertain a very strong objection. He also felt convinced that the House would never consent to the extensive powers given to the Secretary of State by the Bill. Another point was, that under the Bill the clerks of justices might be appointed public prosecutors, and they might carry on prosecutions in defiance of the magistrates. That was certainly most objectionable.


explained that under the Bill, clerks of the justices, if appointed public prosecutors, would only have the power to prosecute where offenders had already been committed for trial.


said, however it might be, he was not sure the right hon. Gentleman was correct in that interpretation of the language of the measure. Again, why should they be asked to consent to fees being given for prosecutions—a thing that many hon. Gentlemen entertained a great dislike to? The right hon. Member for Oxford University had said that the only principle in the Bill was that of public prosecution; but he differed from that statement, and he thought that it was very unfortunate that the House should now be placed in a position of much embarrassment on account of the course taken by the Government.


said, he had listened with attention to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State in order to find some guidance as to the course they should pursue; but the right hon. Gentleman appeared to have found the difficulties of arriving at a settlement of this case to be so very great, that it was not till Saturday that he had been able to place the result of his deliberations before the House. Now, if it took the Home Office so long to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion on the various points involved, how could it be expected that in four days hon. Members who had to communicate with their constituents could make up their minds as to the course they should take on this important Bill? Confessedly, this was a new Bill, and if the Home Secretary had introduced it, could he have expected the House to read it a second time and go into Committee upon it within four days? The changes they would introduce were extremely important, and surely the opportunity ought to be allowed of consulting those interested in the subject throughout the country at large before the House committed itself to legislation on the subject. He thought the proper course for the House now to adopt was to recommit the Bill pro formâ, for the purpose of inserting the Amendments, and that then it should be considered at as early a day as possible.


said, he wished to explain, what he had not perhaps sufficiently explained before, that he felt had he moved to-day that the Bill be recommitted without giving an assurance that the Government would carry it through, he might seriously interfere with the chance which those having charge of the Bill had of carrying the Bill this Session; and he did not wish to take any course which might prove disastrous to his right hon. and learned Friend the Recorder by taking such a step.


said, he would not go back on what had been done, but would address himself to the question what was best to be done now. He was in favour of the principle of appointing a public prosecutor, though many of the details of the Bill seemed to him to be faulty, and therefore he was anxious that the Bill should be discussed. Supposing the Bill committed pro formâ, and the Government Amendments incorporated in it, would the right hon. Gentleman promise them time for its discussion—say a Morning Sitting? In that case they might still entertain the hope of carrying a Bill for the appointment of public prosecutors that Session. He objected the other morning at 2 o'clock to the Resolution by which it was proposed to sanction the expenses to be incurred by the Amendments of the Government, for he wanted an opportunity of discussing the financial arrangements under these Amendments, and he observed that the last Order of the Day was to go into Committee on that subject. He could not, therefore, hope to have the opportunity he desired; but he must say he entirely agreed with his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) that very powerful inducements were held out to local authorities to appoint public prosecutors. Supposing they did so, what was to follow? These public prosecutors were to order any expenditure, sanction and check it, and actually to pay the money. Could that be considered sound in principle or satisfactory in practice? Local authorities might jump at the appointment of public prosecutors, in order to save the rates and to escape the grievance now felt in the deductions from fees and expenses made by the Treasury; but the House was bound to take care that while saving rates they were not increasing taxation unduly. He, however, saw no machinery proposed by the Government to control the lavish expenditure which would be incurred if these Amendments were agreed to, and protested most strongly against that principle. It would be far better to appoint some one wholly independent of the public prosecutor to check the expenditure. There were cases in every county which occasionally required a public prosecutor; he said occasionally, for as chairman of Quarter Sessions he could not say that more than two cases had occurred in several years where a public prosecutor was really wanted. What he should prefer would be that there should be certain large districts—say half a circuit—to which a public prosecutor should be appointed, who, on application of the authorities having charge of the administration of the law, should institute prosecutions where private individuals did not come forward. He agreed that in the district of the Central Criminal Court, and in large manufacturing centres, public prosecutors might be highly necessary and valuable; but he denied that throughout the length and breadth of the land they were wanted in every county and borough, and it was most undesirable to saddle the public with the expense of this officer unless he was really wanted. At all events, he insisted that there should be a taxing officer wholly distinct from those who incurred the expenditure. He hoped the arrangement he had suggested with regard to a Morning Sitting would be accepted by the right hon. Gentleman. If not, he must vote against going into Committee on this Bill to-day.


said, that they were within a fortnight of the time when the Quarter Sessions were hold in different parts of the country, and it was of great importance that the Justices should have the opportunity of considering the details of this Bill. He, therefore, hoped that the suggestion to commit the Bill pro formâ would be accepted by the Home Secretary, and that a Morning Sitting should be appointed for discussing the Bill the week after the Quarter Sessions had been held. He must say, from his knowledge and experience, he did not believe that the appointment of public prosecutors was necessary in the agricultural districts. On the other hand, he did not see why a county was to be put under the pains and penalties of this Bill if it did not appoint a public prosecutor. He entirely agreed with his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) as to the bribe which was held out to counties under this Bill, for the public prosecutor was to come with the money of the Consolidated Fund, and deal with it in paying the expenses of prosecutions. Besides, as to the machinery proposed in the Amendments of the Government, it was of a most despotic character, and such as would require the most careful and deliberate consideration of the House. There was a clause proposing to enact that the Rules and Regulations of the Home Office on this particular subject should have all the force of an Act of Parliament. He did not agree with that. He did not say that that was a new Bill. It was a modification of several former Bills which had been introduced to the House. That was evidenced by the fact that, with regard to the Central Criminal Court, it had been deemed desirable that a public prosecutor should be appointed; while the Government, in their Amendments, had left the counties and the boroughs to adopt a public prosecutor if they thought proper.


said, that when the question as to how public prosecutions were to be conducted was being discussed he thought they could not be too careful what sort of machinery they introduced in this Bill. Therefore, it was most desirable that they should adjourn the consideration of the Amendments which the Government proposed. He was thankful to the Government for one thing they had done, in adopting a suggestion he had made to enable clerks to the Justices to prosecute where they were paid by salary. The clerks to the Justices were generally selected from the most respectable solicitors in either town or county, and when paid by salary they were a cheap and effective machinery for conducting prosecutions ready at hand. Certain most unfair insinuations had been made against them; but he was glad the right hon. Gentleman had shut his ears to the idle nonsense people who knew nothing about the subject had talked, and proposed to avail himself of the assistance of gentlemen well qualified to fill the posts of public prosecutors. He was not quite so sure as to the policy of the proposal only to introduce the public prosecutor when the case had been committed for trial. It was in the preliminary proceedings before Justices that so many of the matters of which complaint had been made in the Press, and elsewhere, had occurred, and it was at that stage, he was of opinion, that the public prosecution would be of the greatest use. If the Bill was not proceeded with this Session he hoped the Government would introduce it with these Amendments as a measure of their own next year, when he would do his best to assist in making it a practical scheme.


said, that taking for granted the Bill was permissive, supposing a county should not see fit to elect a public prosecutor, by whom, in such case, would the duties of the public prosecutor be discharged? If the Bill was to be a permissive Bill, and the magistrates were to have power to appoint a public prosecutor at Quarter Sessions, in many places that power would not be exercised; and, in that case, what would become of the taxing officers? Would counties be left to the tender mercies of their friends in New Street? In the county of Durham—of the Sessions of which he was Chairman—prosecutions had been well carried out, and the magistrates had never felt the want of a public prosecutor.


said, he wished to say a few words as to the course which had been taken with regard to the Bill, and, in doing so, must say that the discussion which had taken place would afford material assistance in the further consideration of the measure. It had been stated that the Amendments had only been placed on the Table on Friday night; and it was assumed from that, that the Government had required all the time since the second reading to elaborate their Amendments. But that was not quite correct. He had paid a great deal of attention to the Bill; but it was not a Government Bill. It had been introduced by his right hon. and learned Friend the Recorder, who had only recently returned to England, having been engaged in public duties abroad. It was necessary to consult with him how far the important changes suggested by the Government would be accepted by his right hon. and learned Friend; and when that was done, no time was lost in placing the Amendments on the Paper. Those changes, however, were not by any means of so extensive a character as had been represented. In the first place, they rather reduced and limited the scope of the Bill by restricting it, in the first instance, to the district of the Central Criminal Court; in the next place, they limited the action of public prosecutors to cases actually committed for trial by magistrates; and, in the third place, existing machinery was employed, for Justices' clerks, when paid by salary, would, in many cases, conduct prosecutions very effectually. With regard to the control of expenditure, it was of great importance that adequate provision should be made in the Bill; and it was a mistake to suppose that the expenditure would be at the free will of the prosecutor, and that the only check on him would be dismissal. At the present moment the Secretary of State had power to issue a scale of allowances, while, under the Bill, the tables of fees taken by clerks of the peace and clerks to the Justices would be revised. The whole system of costs would thus be under Government control, and the costs incurred would be taxed. Moreover, every clerk of assize and clerk of the peace was to give such assistance in taxing accounts as the Secretary of State from time to time might require. But if some contended, as they did, that there was no need of a public prosecutor, or of any review of local control of costs as at present practised, let them consider how these costs had been reduced since the Treasury undertook their payment, and began to revise and check the local officers' taxation. In 1848 the total cost of prosecutions formerly paid out of the local rates was £457,213. Next year it was £316,000; the following year £226,000; two years after it was £217,000; and in five years after it was taxed down to £145,000. Such was the effect of the control of the Treasury, and that central control would still be continued, for it was essential that there should be efficient control. The whole object of the Government Amendments had been to limit the operation of the Act to cases in which it was necessary, and at the same time to carry out the pledge they had given to consider the best mode in which they could relieve the counties and boroughs of the grievance of which they justly complained in having to bear the burden of the costs of prosecutions. He protested against the use of the word "bribe" in reference to what the Government now proposed. Wishing, as they did, to relieve those who now complained of their burdens, it was natural that they should propose what they had done, and what they did was a bonâ fide attempt on the part of the Government to meet the wishes of the House and the justice of the case. The Government could not, however, give any pledge that they would find time for proceeding with this Bill out of the time at their disposal, for the state of Public Business rendered it impossible that they could give any such pledge.


said, the House was evidently not prepared to go at once into Committee on the Bill and discuss the Government Amendments; but he thought they wore prepared to allow the Bill to be committed pro formâ, in order that the Amendments of the Government might be introduced. An opportunity would then be afforded to the Justices at the ensuing Quarter Sessions to consider the scope of the Government Amendments; and the Government would afterwards, he hoped, be prepared to name a day for proceeding with the Bill, so that they might at last have some useful legislation instead of going on to the end of the Session as they had begun, with mere sentimental legislation. On the whole, in the rural districts justice, he believed, was well administered, and no public prosecutor was necessary. The Bill should, therefore, be so framed that where public prosecutors were required they should be appointed; but whether appointed or not, relieving the ratepayers from the criminal prosecution expenses from which deductions were now so unfairly made.


said, he did not dispute the fact mentioned by the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department that great reductions had been made in the expenses of prosecutions; but he would contend that those reductions ought not to be made; and the Judges themselves in a recent case were unanimously of opinion that many of those reductions had been unfair. Having regard to the wealth of this country, the expenses of criminal prosecutions were not excessive, and, remembering the enormous cost of the Tichborne trial, they did not contrast unfavourably with civil cases. Fifteen years ago the late Mr. J. G. Phillimore obtained the appointment of a Committee on the subject of a Public Prosecutor; and he (Mr. Scourfield) served upon the Committee. Lord Brougham gave evidence in favour of that system; but Lord Campbell said that though when he was first Attorney General he was most anxious for the appointment of public prosecutors, he had since found such great difficulties in the way, that he had been unable to carry out his wishes, and did not then see that these difficulties were removed.


said, he must point out that the opposition to this Bill proceeded mainly from hon. Members who were in favour of revising our system of local taxation. He hoped that if the Bill were now committed pro formâ, the Government would pledge themselves to take charge of it next Session, for their Amendments really made the Bill a Government measure. He should have been glad if the Law Officers had been present to assist the House with their opinions on the Bill.


said, he saw no reason for hurrying on the Bill that Session, and his experience of the administration of the law led him to doubt whether the change now suggested would, on the whole, be any improvement. In the Central Criminal Court, and possibly in other places, a public prosecutor might be necessary; but it did not follow that such a system, with the patronage to which it would give rise, should be applied to the whole country. At all events, the Justices should have an opportunity of discussing the Government Amendments at their next Quarter Sessions before any legislation was attempted, for it would be better to postpone its consideration for a year, than to discuss its merits at a time when they had only a very imperfect knowledge of it.


said, that hon. Members who had taken up the subject of local taxation had no desire to prevent the appointment of public prosecutors, and he hoped the Government would give a Morning Sitting for the consideration of the Bill. If the progress of the measure was impeded at all, it was through the Amendments of the Government, for those Amendments had smothered the Bill. The excisions proposed by the Home Secretary, to be replaced by his Amendments, entirely transformed the Bill, and could only be likened to the repairs to a pair of trousers of which nothing was left but the buttons, and to which the Government had proposed to attach a pair of new legs and a seat. He could not understand why there should have been such delay in placing these Amendments on the Paper, for the Recorder had returned to this country six weeks ago; and the House, therefore, ought not to be now in the position of having for the first time to consider those Amendments.


said he objected to the permissive principle which had crept into the Bill, and he also thought the Bill had been so thoroughly transmogrified by the Government that it ought now to be regarded as a Government Bill. The hands of the Government, however, were so full, and the progress of their legislation was so slow, that he feared there was little hope of the Bill becoming law this Session; but he still hoped the Government would themselves grapple with the evil, instead of being content to introduce Amendments, and say—"This is no child of ours, and we cannot promise to push it forward."


said, he should like to know how the system had worked in the other countries which had been quoted as examples. Scotland was being perpetually held up as a model in this respect; but a Select Committee might find evidence to prove that public prosecutors worked very unsatisfactorily. Only a short time ago one Scotch Member contended that they amounted to a practical denial of justice. In the case of Ireland the system of public prosecutors had led in a great measure to the failure of justice, owing to the want of local knowledge and to the carelessness with which prosecutions were got up and conducted. In that opinion Sir Joseph Napier and Chief Justice Whiteside concurred, and the former, in his evidence before the Committee, spoke of "the slovenly and slobbering manner" in which cases were presented, and the result was an unusual number of acquittals. So much so was that the case, that prisoners on leaving the dock free were heard to say—"God bless Her Majesty; she employs counsel nobody else would think of having." Chief Justice Whiteside also stated that although a public prosecutor in Ireland might be never so old or inefficient, he was still continued in office. In Prance, too, in which the system of public prosecutors existed, no one had the slightest confidence in the administration of justice—and the want of such confidence in the administration of criminal justice was also one of the great evils in Ire- land. He would suggest, therefore, that a Committee should be appointed to inquire into the system as it existed in France, Ireland, and Scotland, and other countries before the system in England was given up—a system which, he believed, was the cheapest and most efficient which could possibly be devised.


said, the statements which had just been made by his hon. and learned Friend had taken him quite by surprise. Some Baron Munchausen must, he was afraid, have been whispering in his ear. He, as one who had the means of knowing how the system in Ireland practically worked, could state that prosecutions were most vigorously conducted there under that system. Very able men were selected to represent the Crown in Ireland, and no prisoner there, he believed, ever returned thanks to God or to Her Majesty for having escaped conviction owing to the stupidity of those by whom he had been prosecuted. The informant of his hon. and learned Friend had, therefore, been guilty of presenting to him a gross and unwarrantable caricature of the actual state of things.


said, that as one who was familiar with the conduct of public prosecutions in Ireland, he also protested against the statements which had been made by the hon. and learned Member for New Ross. The idea of a prisoner returning thanks for his escape because of the inefficiency of the prosecution might have some foundation in the past, but none whatever in the present history of Ireland, for public prosecutions in that country were now, at all events, economically and well conducted. The Crown Solicitors were most zealous and efficient public servants, and he had never known in his experience anything to lead him to the conclusion that the prosecutions were conducted in a haphazard manner. The counsel employed, moreover, were learned lawyers, who had the advantage of making the criminal law a study, and it was quite unwarrantable, therefore, to speak of the conduct of the prosecutions in Ireland as being "slobbering and slovenly." [Mr. M'MAHON: Those are not my words; they are the words of Sir Joseph Napier.] Oh, he knew all about the words "slobbering and slovenly." He had the advantage of hearing his hon. and learned Friend de- liver the same speech the other evening; but if these words were used by Sir Joseph Napier—for whom he had the highest respect—they could have reference only to some incidental prosecutions, and were not meant to apply to the system as worked at present. His hon. and learned Friend had also fished up some old story about a prisoner leaving the dock saying, "God bless Her Majesty" for employing stupid counsel, or something to that effect; but he should like to know where his hon. and learned Friend got the story. [Mr. M'MAHON: From the O'Conor Don.] Well, it was not a bit better because it came from another man. He would have to get the authority of the O'Conor Don; but he objected to his hon. and learned Friend drawing on the stories of 50 years ago. All he could say was that the system of public prosecutions in Ireland worked economically as well as efficiently, and he hoped that England would soon follow the example of Ireland in establishing the system.


said, that seeing that the principle of the Bill was all but universally approved, he would not trouble the House with many words with respect to it. In reply to the objection of the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Wheelhouse), that the question was being hurried on, he would only say that it had been before the House and the country for nearly 20 years, and that on the Select Committee which had sat to inquire into the subject were the Lord Advocate, the Attorney General for Ireland, and the English Attorney General of the day, all of whom were warmly in favour of the appointment of a public prosecutor. At the same time, there had been a series of Amendments proposed which naturally complicated the question, although he was of opinion they were much more simple than seemed to be supposed; and he did not, under the circumstances, think it right to ask the House to proceed with the Bill in Committee in the ordinary way. What he should suggest, therefore, was that the House should go into Committee pro formâ, that Progress should immediately be reported. He should like, then, to see the Bill recommitted in the ordinary way with the Amendments; and he was sure the House would be glad to be afforded an opportunity during the present Session of passing a measure which would be satisfactory to the country. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department might find it convenient to fix a Morning Sitting with that object.


said, he hoped that, as the Bill would in its altered shape be a new one to most hon. Members, there would be an opportunity of discussing its provisions on going into Committee when it next came on.


said, he trusted the Bill would not be proceeded with until after Quarter Sessions were over, and contended that in the county which he had the honour to represent a public prosecutor was not at all required. His constituents were opposed to centralization, and wished to be allowed to do their own work.


said, he wished to know in what position the Clerks of Justices Bill would stand in the event of the arrangement proposed with respect to the measure under discussion being carried into effect?


said, there would be no objection on the part of the Government to the passing of that Bill if they had themselves no prospect of dealing with the question as part of a larger measure. As to the Bill before the House, there were one or two Amendments to the Bill on the Paper which the Government would feel bound to oppose; but he believed that the measure generally was a good one, and so far from the day having been wasted by the discussion which had occurred upon it, he remembered very few Wednesdays this Session which had been more profitably employed. When the Amendments proposed had been inserted, and the Bill was reprinted, the Government would take into consideration the possibility of giving a day for its discussion. There were measures of great importance, however, still to be dealt with, such as the Scotch Education Bill and the Mines (Coal) Regulation Bill, to which the hon. and gallant Member for Sussex would not, he was sure, say the word "sentimental" was applicable; and it would, therefore, be rash in him to make any definite arrangement with regard to the progress of the present measure. The Government, however, in the event of their not being able to deal with the Bill this Session, would do so next.

House resumed.

Bill reported; to be printed, as amended [Bill 203]; re-committed for Wednesday 3rd July.