HC Deb 15 February 1875 vol 222 cc387-90

, in moving for an— Address for Return of Thirty Petitions signed by 13,666 persons, presented to Her Majesty the Queen in relation to the late Tichborne Trial, and especially a Petition from the inhabitants of Wapping signed by 6,333 persons, and from the Tichborne neighbourhood signed by 853 persons, all which Petitions were forwarded by command of Her Majesty to the Secretary of State for the Home Department for advice thereon; and, Copy of the Correspondence in relation thereto, said, the reply to the Motion which had been already conveyed to him was, that it was not according to precedent, and he therefore asked the special attention of the House to what the Motion was, so that, even if it should be the first of the kind, it was high time that a precedent should be established. It was for a Return to that House of certain Petitions which, having been presented to Her Majesty, praying for the exercise of her Prerogative of mercy, had been by Her Majesty referred to the Secretary of State for the Home Department for his advice thereupon. Now, if the Secretary of State was prepared to state, as a matter of principle, that he was not amenable to the House for advice given to Her Majesty, it was well that they should consider such a principle. The ordinary duty of every Minister of State was to give such explanation to that House, and the very term responsible Government, of which, by the Constitution, they were supposed to be the type, could have no meaning, unless the Ministers were then prepared to answer for the advice given by them, in their several Departments, to the Crown; and he would not urge this argument further until the right hon. Gentleman should have declared in his place that he would not afford the House the opportunity of knowing what these Petitions were, and how they had been dealt with. The case was, however, sufficient in itself to justify a proceeding in favour of publicity. It was the Tichborne Case as to which that House was specially responsible to the public, as having sanctioned an unprecedented outlay of public money for the prosecution. Last Session Petitions, signed by above 50,000 persons, were presented, asking for further inquiry, as well as to the trial itself as in respect of certain extraordinary powers assumed by the Court of Queen's Bench to fine and imprison for contempt of Court; and the reason for these Petitioners having addressed Her Majesty in person, was some difficulty in expressing their sentiments in accordance with the Rules of the House, or the view taken thereof by the right hon, Gentleman in the Chair. The fact was, the Petitions in question raised the House to such a degree of irritation by speaking of the "unfair trial," and using other expressions which implied a want of faith in the justice of the trial, that at length the Speaker refused to receive those containing such remarks. The proceedings which took place in the House excited an additional sensation in the country, and the inhabitants of Wapping, which was one of the "scenes" in the extraordinary case, eventually determined upon addressing Her Majesty on the subject, which was an unusual course, perhaps. This Petition he had referred to in his Motion. He did not wish to go into any disputable question of that kind; but it might not perhaps be known to the House that these Petitioners and others were by no means content, and that during the Recess, meetings had been held in very many large towns and populous districts, at which very strong language had been used, and he might say unanimously adopted, in their demand for further inquiry into this trial, and its manifold incidents. In fact, the feeling was widely spread, and was constantly increasing, that the conspiracy for which the victim was now lingering to death in Dartmoor, after his being deprived of his estates by a special Act of Parliament, was one that imperatively demanded exposure and punishment, and that it concerned the confidence of the public in the fair administration of justice that further investigation should take place. He had himself taken no part in these public meetings, and was therefore the more free to speak of them as entitled to the attention of that House, as expressed in the Petition to that House, and referred to Her Majesty the Queen, and he therefore appealed to the right hon. Gentleman not hastily to refuse to afford the House in this form all reasonable information as to the nature and extent of the public feeling on the subject. He would only add, in conclusion, that he never could speak on this subject without avowing distinctly and positively that he was as convinced as he was of his own existence, that the man now a convict in Dartmoor under the name of Castro was truly Sir Roger Tichborne. He should not be doing himself justice if he did not now state, as he had done before, that he had just as much certainty in the innocence of the man. [Laughter.] He regretted to hear anyone laugh at an honest expression of a well-founded opinion. The object of the Petitions was to express want of faith in the fairness of the trial, and a belief that further investigation, at all events, was necessary in order to restore the confidence of the public in the administration of justice in the country. That was the subject of the Petitions, and it was one well worthy of discussion in the House; and it was on that ground that he ventured to hope that the right hon. Gentleman might be induced to withdraw his objection to the Return, or that he might be able to give some explanation of a more satisfactory nature than he (Mr. Whalley) had yet received. He trusted some hon. Member, even if he differed from him on every point touching the subject, would second the Motion, so that the right hon. Gentleman might have an opportunity of replying.

The Motion not being seconded, was not put.