HC Deb 09 April 1883 vol 277 cc1841-64

In dealing with the grave matter, for which the House has consented to postpone all the other Business of the night, I think I shall meet the wishes of the House if I endeavour to do it with the greatest simplicity and brevity, which, I am sure, is the spirit in which the House will come to a consideration of the question. I do not think it is necessary that I should at any length give the House the reasons why it is necessary to introduce a Bill of this character, but introduce it at once; and without delay. This, after all, I think, everybody will admit, is the time to act rather than to discuss. The nature of the danger which we have to meet is well known to everybody in this House and out of this House. I have had occasion, more times than once in this House, to call its attention to the character and imminence of the danger. I have called the attention of the House to the Assassination Press abroad, and to the menaces of what was intended to be done. At that time, some persons, from ignorance, which might be excus- able, thought that was a danger which was capable of being encountered by ridicule. I thought at that time that it was not a danger capable of being encountered in that manner, and I think everybody is convinced of that now. We know what it is that we have to deal with. We have to deal with an organized band, consisting, unhappily, not of the men of the lower criminal classes, but of men in the higher walks of life—men who are banded together against all the interests that keep society alive; men who are like the Assassins of the East, and the Pétrohurs of the Commune, like the worst criminals the world has ever produced. Though they are secret societies hero, they are public societies elsewhere. They advertise their objects; they announce them; they avow them; they collect money for the purpose of committing wholesale murder and burning down civilized towns. That is the nature of the danger with which we have to deal. We have to deal with men who, like pirates, are the enemies of the human race, and who, in my opinion, ought to be treated like men who have no nationality. So, knowing this danger before us—a danger which, like Nihilism, may be called, in some sense, a new danger—we must meet it by new remedies, not, I hope, in the spirit of panic, but in a cool and resolute spirit, and with a determination to strangle those plans and put down the authors of them. The first line of defence we have against these dangers is to b8 found in the police; and as I have the honour to be connected with that distinguished force, I hope I may, in a single word, pay my tribute to the splendid services which the police, not only in the Metropolis, but also in the Provinces, and, above all, in Ireland, have rendered to the cause of society. Sir, I sometimes hear, and I always hear it with regret, and almost with indignation, unjust aspersions on the police; but I always regarded, and I still regard, the English and Irish police as the best in the world. That they are the best police for the preservation of order, consistently with a due regard to liberty, I believe no man will deny. Criticism has been passed upon their capacity for detection; but you must remember that here they work under great disadvantages for this purpose. They work subject to criticism—I think sometimes unwise—which dis- arms them of the means which they ought to possess, and which they ought to employ for the purpose of putting down secret crime. In spite of these disadvantages, however, they have, in the last week, rendered services to society equal to any of those for which successful Generals and victorious Armies have received the thanks of Parliament. I hope I may be forgiven on this occasion for expressing to them my tribute of confidence and admiration—a confidence and admiration which, I believe, is shared by every Member of this Assembly. The next line of defence which we have is to be found in the penalties of the law. With reference to the existing state of the law, it is not necessary to go into any minute examination. I will first only refer to the Explosives Act of the year 1875. That Act was not directed against persons possessing explosives with a criminal object. It was rather directed to defend property and life against the reckless and negligent, or careless use of a very dangerous commodity. I will only say, if it does not come under our immediate business, it will be necessary to reconsider the provisions of that Act. I think they are most inadequate and most defective. Under that Act, it is permitted to every private person to have 15 lbs. of dynamite or 30 lbs. of gunpowder; and, therefore, if you have a lodging-house with 10 persons in it, you may have 150 lbs. of dynamite or 300 lbs. of gunpowder. I think the House will be of opinion that is a condition of things which ought not to exist, and I have given direction to have measures taken to alter that condition of things. There is another great defect. In registered premises a person is able to keep 200 lbs. of gunpowder, 500 lbs. of explosives, and 200 lbs. of fireworks, or in lieu 60 lbs. of mixed explosives—that is, 60 lbs. of dynamite, or something still stronger than dynamite. When I tell the House that the local authorities have no power to refuse any man, however unfit he may be, a register—and at this moment the man at present in custody at Birmingham for making nitro-glycerine, if released, could demand a licence to keep 60 lbs. of dynamite—I think these are conditions which the House would not wish to see continued. The provisions are not criminal provisions. I cannot see why any private person should keep dyna- mite without a licence. I see no reason why a private person should keep a great store of gunpowder; and I see no reason why the local authority should not judge whether the person is fit to be registered or not. Passing that by as not the main object, and coming to the existing state of the law, in the draft of the Bill which I am introducing the House will find in the margin of the 1st and 2nd clause references to the sections of the Acts which at present exist. I will not go into a minute analysis of the existing Acts; but I may say that they are defective in two particulars. They are defective, first of all, because, dealing with different matters relating to explosions, they have very narrow definitions—for instance, explosions near a building where someone dwells, a dwelling-house. Well, that definition is so narrow that it leaves intervals where crime may be committed with impunity. The principle of legislation ought to be to have larger and general words, which are capable of including all the crimes which may be committed. Now, that is the first defect in the existing law; and the second is, that the penalties are grossly, I might almost say ludicrously, inadequate, in some cases, to the offence. For instance, under the 54th section of the Act of 1861, chapter 97, making or possessing explosives with the intention to commit a felony is a misdemeanour punishable by two years' imprisonment. It is perfectly obvious to anyone that to any person possessing this explosive for criminal purposes this punishment is utterly inadequate. That is all I think it necessary to say on the subject, because I am sure I am giving an accurate account to the House of what the law is, which anybody can verify for themselves. The defects of that law it is the object of this Bill to amend, and I think I shall best do what is useful for the House by simply going through the Bill; and perhaps, as this Bill is only just in the hands of hon. Members, I may be permitted to do so. I will point out first to hon. Members the principle upon which the Bill is framed. Where an explosion takes place which leads to the loss of life, that is not dealt with in the Bill. It is not necessary to do so. By the masculine sense of the Common Law of England, if a man produces an explosion by which life is lost he is guilty of murder, and would be dealt with for murder without this Bill. I take up, therefore, the question of explosions at a point which is actually short of murder. The 2nd clause of the Bill deals with an explosion which has not caused loss of life, but with the case where an explosion has actually taken place. The clause says— Any person who unlawfully and maliciously causes by any explosive substance an explosion of a nature likely to endanger life or to cause serious injury to property "— that is the distinction, and I think it is large enough to include any explosion, because no explosion of a serious character could fail to be described as one likely to endanger life, or to cause serious injury to property. Then it proceeds— shall, whether any injury to person or property has been actually caused or not, be guilty of felony, and on conviction shall be liable to penal servitude for life, or for any less term (not less than the minimum term allowed by law), or to imprisonment with or without hard labour for a term not exceeding two years. I do not think anyone will think that is a penalty which is too severe for that offence. The next clause of the Bill deals with the case where there has not been an explosion, but where there has been an intent and an attempt to cause an explosion. That is a degree lower, because the explosion has not actually taken place. I would like to call attention to the first words of the section. It says— Any person who unlawfully and maliciously (a) does any act with intent to cause by an explosive substance, or conspires within or (being a subject of Her Majesty) without Her Majesty's dominions"— I wish to call the attention of the House to this—within the Realm the jurisdiction of the Crown applies both to subjects and aliens. Over aliens abroad we have no power. But over a British subject we have authority and jurisdiction for his acts all over the world; and, therefore, if a British subject goes to France or Ameriea, and is a party, either directly or indirectly, by word or deed, or by speech, if he is accessory in any manner to any of these transactions, he is, when he returns to this country, subject to our jurisdiction and to the punishment imposed by our law, just as if what he has done had been done in this country. That is a principle which is distinctly stated in this clause. The clause proceeds— Any person who within, or, being a subject of Her Majesty, without Her Majesty's dominions, unlawfully and maliciously does any act"— we think that will cover all sorts of acts— with intent to cause by an explosive substance, or conspires to cause by an explosive substance"— that will cover all conspiracies for the purpose, whether done here or abroad, and whether anything contributing to the conspiracy is done here or abroad— by an explosion in the United Kingdom of a nature likely to endanger life or to cause serious injury to property; or (b) makes or has in his possession or under his control any explosive substance with intent by means thereof to endanger life, or cause serious injury to property, or to enable any other person by means thereof to endanger life or cause serious injury to property, shall, whether any explosion does or does not take place, and whether any injury to person or property has been actually caused or not, be guilty of felony, and on conviction shall be liable to penal servitude for a term not exceeding twenty years. There, it will be observed, you have to prove the intent; and if a person makes this attempt, or manufactures the explosives, or possesses explosives with that intent, and that is proved, no man, I think, can say that 20 years' penal servitude is too severe a punishment for such an offence. I come to the next clause, which can hardly be said to be different in the character of the offence, though it is different in the character and the nature of the evidence to be offered. This clause, the 4th, says— Any person who makes or knowingly has in his possession or under his control any explosive substance, under such circumstances as to give rise to a reasonable suspicion that he is not making it or does not have it in his possession or under his control for a lawful object, shall, unless he can show that he made it or had it in his possession or under his control for a lawful object, be guilty of felony, and, on conviction, shall be liable to penal servitude for a term not exceeding fourteen years, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years with or without hard labour. In the first place, the prosecution must raise a reasonable suspicion as to the conduct of the man who makes an explosive or has it in his possession or under his control; and having raised that suspicion, then it is thrown on the prisoner to show that he made it or had it in his possession or under his control for a lawful object. In my opinion, it is perfectly justifiable, when reasonable suspicion has been shown to exist with reference to the conduct of people who cannot, or else will not, give any account of themselves, or why they are in posesssion of a commodity which, even by mere carelessness, may be destructive of thousands of lives and of an unlimited amount of property, that they should be called upon to show their right and the reason why they are possessed of these things. Do not let it be said that this legislation is of an unexampled character, and produced in panic. It is nothing of the kind. It is part of the settled and permanent law of this country. In the Act of 1861, with reference to larceny, if a man is found in the night armed with a dangerous and offensive weapon, and having in his possession, without lawful excuse—proof of which excuse shall he upon such persons—any picklock, key, crow, jack, or other implement of housebreaking, then he shall be convicted. If a man may be called upon to show the reason why he has a picklock in his possession, I think he may be called upon to show also by what right he possess a hundredweight of nitro-glycerine; and therefore I say this legislation is founded on exactly the same principle as that of our existing and permanent law, and no objection whatever can be taken to this clause upon that ground. I do not know that it was absolutely necessary to do so; but the fact of throwing the onus of proof on the defendant induced us in drawing this Bill to put a slightly lower penalty upon the offence in this clause—a penalty of 14 years' penal servitude. The next clause is one which, perhaps, it was not strictly necessary to enact, because to a great degree it is already the law of the land. But I think it desirable that public attention should be called to the fact that it is not only the man who makes this nitro-glycerine, or the man who places it where an explosion takes place, who is guilty of a crime, but that every man, whether he does it in this country, or, if he is a British subject, whether he does it anywhere else, who supplies money, or solicits money for the purpose, or in any way procures, counsels, aids, or abets, or is accessory to the commission of a crime, under this Act, is liable to suffer exactly the same penalty as if he had been guilty as a principal. About the 6th clause I need say little. The House knows about that clause. It is a clause which was originally in the Peace Preservation (Ireland) Act; it was re-enacted by this House in the Prevention of Crime Act of last year; and it has proved of singular efficacy, because it was by its use that the Phœnix Park murders were traced. It gives the power to a magistrate—even though the culprit has escaped, the individual who places these explosives may himself be destroyed by it, and you would then have apparently no means of discovering the crime—to enter upon an inquiry, such as that which was entered upon in Dublin, and, by means of that inquiry, you may find who the accessories were who set on any man. Therefore, this clause is one of the most essential and important clauses of the Bill. I have omitted to state, in reference to the 4th clause, under which the onus of proof is thrown upon the defendant, that by Sub-section 2 the defendant is made a witness, in order that he may defend himself. That has been done in all cases where the onus of proof is thrown on the prisoner. I now come to Clause 7, where there is another protection to innocent people being vexed under this Bill, and that is that no prosecution shall be instituted, except by the consent of the Attorney General; and therefore, if, through the police or otherwise, an innocent man may be taken up, and gives an account of himself, the depositions go before the Attorney General, and the proceedings come to an end at once. That is a considerable benefit. Sub-section 2 of the 7th clause is for this purpose—that by a technicality of the law, much to be regretted, if a man is indicted on several counts for felony, the prosecutor may be called upon to go upon one count, and the conviction does not go on the count to which the evidence applies. Here that is prevented. A man may be indicted under several counts, and a conviction may take place on the count which the evidence justifies. The 8th clause applies to the very strong and effective Search Clauses of the Explosive Act of 1875, which, I think, are all that could be desired for the purpose. The 2nd sub-section of this clause is one which is necessary to amend the clause of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1873, under which the master of a ship has power to refuse dangerous goods, or throw overboard dangerous goods, but has not the power at present to break open boxes which he may have reason to suppose contain dangerous goods. It is quite obvious that in the Mercantile Marine it is of great importance that if the captain of a ship should have reason to suspect that he has boxes of nitroglycerine on board, he should have power to open them and get rid of the explosive. That is the object of this sub-section. Then comes the Definition Clause, which is a clause of considerable importance. The word "explosive" substance applies not merely to explosives themselves, but, what is absolutely essential, it applies to all their materials. If you do not do that you do nothing. If you allow a man like Whitehead to have in one room sulpheric acid, in another room nitric acid, and in another room glycerine, and you are to wait until he combines the three, he will defy your law. It is absolutely necessary that all the materials which may be used in the composition of explosives should be brought within the scope of the law. I am perfectly aware that there are many materials of explosives, like saltpetere or sulpheric acid, or sawdust, which may be perfectly innocent in themselves; but no man will be punished unless he has those materials in his possession in such a way as to raise a suspicion that they are intended to be used for an improper purpose. And it is necessary, also, not only to deal with the materials for making any explosive substance, but also with the apparatus and machinery that are intended to set the explosive materials at work. The Bill, therefore, makes mention of— Any apparatus, machine, implement, or materials used, or intended to be used, or adapted for causing, or aiding in causing, any explosion. That will deal with detonators, with chlorate of potash, with sulphuric acid, and with all the means employed for exploding the commodity. I think I have called attention to all the material parts of this Bill. I have heard it suggested that the Bill might have been made a temporary Bill. I do not share that opinion. There is nothing in this Bill which ought not to be permanent. Every provision of this Bill is a provision forming a part of the permanent law of the land; and to deal with it otherwise than as the permanent law of the land would be, in my opinion, at this moment to weaken its authority. You would induce people to think it had been passed in a panic with exceptional severity. It is nothing of the kind. It is a Bill which ought, ill my opinion, to have been passed long ago. It is a Bill which ought to be permanently maintained; and, therefore, I hope there will be no proposal to deal with it on a footing, I will not say to make it useless, but certainly to weaken its authority. If it should turn out—as, of course, is highly possible—that errors have been committed in the framing of the Bill, why, it is perfectly easy to amend the Bill hereafter, as you amend any defective permanent Bill. It is not, therefore, necessary to make it a temporary Bill in order to correct errors in it, and that is the reason why we did not so propose it, and why we cannot accept any proposal of that character. It would be a very great disaster, and great detriment to what we are doing to-night, if any proposal of the kind I have indicated were made, or, still more, were accepted by the House. Now, I have no desire to impress upon the House more than I am sure they feel it themselves the necessity of this Bill and of passing it at once. I know it is not my business to increase excitement—it is rather to allay than to excite panic; but I should be doing very wrong if I concealed from the House my conviction, and if I did not state upon my responsibity what I know, that the danger is very great and very imminent, and that it ought to be dealt with at once, and with a strong hand. The House will not expect me to say more. They will not wish me to say more than that. If I did, I should be committing the grave error—against which I take this opportunity of protesting—of those interviewers, who, in order to gratify the public curiosity, make public very often things which tend to defeat the ends of justice. I think I have sufficiently stated to the House what it is intended to do. I am sure the House properly estimates the gravity of the circumstances that they have to deal with. We, on our part, have done our best to propose a measure which we think the best fitted to cope with the evils with which we are threatened. It is the duty of the Government to press upon the House, at the earliest moment, to pass this Bill. I shall ask the House for leave to introduce the Bill. I shall then ask leave of the House that the Bill be read a first time; and if the House is, as I hope it is, unanimously of opinion that a Bill of this character is necessary, and necessary at once, they will desire to read the Bill a second time. I do not Bee how there can be any dispute as to the principle. Well then, if that be so, the Government are so impressed with the urgent necessity of going on with this Bill, that we shall ask the House, after the Bill is read a first time, it being ready in the usual regular form, to read the Bill a second time, and we shall then ask the House to go into Committee on this Bill. I do not ask the House to proceed with legislation precipitately—that would be panic—but let us go on with this Bill as far as we can, till we see that there are circumstances of a grave character which ought not to be disposed of at once. With those observations, which I have endeavoured to compress as much as I could, I ask leave of the House to bring in the Bill and to read it a first time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Law relating to Explosive Substances."—(Sir William Harcourt.)


I wish, Sir, in the few words I want to put before the House, in the first place to endorse everything that has been said by the right hon. and learned Gentleman as to the efficiency of the police. To them, I think, thanks are due, not merely from this House and the other House of Parliament, but from the whole country for the services they have recently rendered in tracking out these conspiracies to explosion. Very often the police have been unjustly abused; but now that the time has come for testing their efficiency, their efficiency has been attested, and I believe they do deserve the thanks of the country, just as much as our soldiers and sailors who have gone through the hardest battles in all parts of the world. They have great difficulties, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said. They have not merely the preservation of order, but they have to preserve order with a due regard to liberty. It is in steering between these two poles that the difficulty and delicacy of their duty very often arise, and I believe they have always done their duty in this way to the best of their powers and with advantage to the country. I will not detain the House more than two minutes with regard to the old law, which was really embodied in the Consolidation Bill of 1875, known as the Explosives Act of that year. I am quite certain that if the penalties had been increased at that time we would not have had to pass the present Bill now. But as that Bill has been alluded to, I wish the right hon. and learned Gentleman had been good enough to state, for the information of the House and the country, that the effect of that Bill has been very largely to preserve life in gunpowder factories and elsewhere, and has in that way done a great amount of good. I wish to say one or two words on the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I wish, as far as I am individually concerned, and as far as those with whom I usually act are concerned, to state at once that we are quite willing, in the emergency which has been brought before us, to give support to the Bill. In face of the dangers to which life and property are at present subject, feeling quite certain that this is a new thing which must be put a stop to, and that all Parties must join together and say at once both to those Englishmen who are in England, and those Englishmen—if they can call themselves Englishmen—who are abroad, and who stir up crime and assassination from places where they think they cannot be touched, it is quite time that all Parties in the State said to them—"We shall take care that your wicked and iniquitous practices shall not bear fruit." Therefore, I agree in all that has been said by the right hon. and learned Gentleman as to Clauses 2 and 3 of this Bill. I am sure the House must feel that if any person, according to the 2nd clause, causes by any explosive substance an explosion of a nature likely to endanger life or to cause serious injury to property, it is a most serious offence, and one deserving of serious condemnation. And so with the 3rd clause; anyone who attempts to cause by an explosive substance an explosion of a nature likely to endanger life or property, even though he does not succeed, is deserving of severe punishment. I think the principle of those two clauses is perfectly right. So also with the 5th clause, which provides for the punishment of accessories, and is, I think, simply carrying out more effectually the existing law. The 4th clause is really a very severe clause. I do not mean to say it is not one that should be passed, nor do I offer any opposition to it myself; but I do not think that the effect of it has been clearly explained by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. According to the draft of it— Any person who makes or knowingly has in his possession or under his control any explosive substance, under such circumstances as to give rise to a reasonable suspicion that he is not making it or does not have it in his possession or under his control for a lawful object, will be guilty of felony. I want to know who is to say what is reasonable suspicion? I presume the suspected person will be brought before the magistrate, and that he will be thrown on his defence when he appears before the magistrate. It is a mere question of wording; but I think the term "reasonable suspicion" ought in some way to be defined. Suppose a man has a quantity of gunpowder in his house, and that he has it with the object of poaching. That, of course, is not a lawful object; but would such a case not come within the words of the clause? I draw the attention of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to that point. I am not, I repeat, prepared to say that a clause of that description ought not to be passed. If the Government come forward, and on their responsibility say that, in their, opinion, this is a clause which ought to be passed under the existing circumstances, I, for one, should not object; but they must take the responsibility of stating what, in their opinion, is necessary. They have information which we have not, and cannot have; and if they state that the clause in its present shape is really essential, I shall support them. I do not think that I need trouble the House further upon that point. On the whole, I think that this Bill will greatly strengthen the law of this country in reference to this matter. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has referred to a rumour that possibly some opposition might be offered to the Bill as it stands, with the object of limiting its duration. For my own part, I must say that, as far as the 4th clause goes, I should be better satisfied if it were made a temporary clause only. ["No!"] I will tell you why I should be better satisfied if that clause were to remain in force for a limited period only. The right hon. and learned Gentleman who has brought forward this Bill tells us that this Bill must be passed at once. I, for one, say that when the Government brings forward such a measure as this upon an emergency, this House ought to rise to the occasion, and pass the Bill through all its stages to-night. Only this is not quite the way in which we should legislate for a permanency. This 4th clause is a most complicated one; and, therefore, I should have been more satisfied had its provisions endured for a limited period—say, for two years only. ["No!"] However, I do not desire to detain the House longer, and I shall conclude by expressing my desire to support the Government in carrying this Bill to-night.

Motion agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Secretary Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT, Mr. ATTORNEY GENERAL, and Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL.

Bill presented, and read the first time.


I now, Sir, ask leave of the House to read this Bill a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir William Harcourt.)

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed.


I must now move that you, Sir, do now leave the Chair.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Sir William Harcourt.)

Motion agreed to.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clauses 1 to 3, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 4 (Punishment for making or possession of explosive under suspicious circumstances).

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."


said, he had not heard the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary very distinctly, and therefore did not know whether it was proposed to make any alteration with regard to this clause. Failing that, he desired to draw the attention of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and of the House, to what appeared to him, upon a cursory reading of the clause, to be an imperfection in it. The clause provided— That any person who makes or knowingly has in his possession or under his control any explosive substance, under such circumstances as to give rise to a reasonable suspicion that he is not making it or does not have it in his possession or under his control for a lawful object, shall, unless he can show that he made it or had it in his possession or under his control for a lawful object, he guilty of felony, and, on conviction, shall be liable to penal servitude for a term not exceeding fourteen years, &c. If the clause had been worded— Any person having under his control such explosive substances so as to give rise to the reasonable suspicion that he had it for the illegal purposes contemplated in this Bill, he could have understood the application of the clause. What he would put to the Homo Secretary and to the Law Officers of the Crown was, whether, if the clause were unaltered, any poor man who lived in the country in which game was preserved, and who was reasonably suspected of an inclination to poach, would not be liable under the clause if an ounce of gunpowder were found in his possession?


confessed that he was very sorry to trespass upon the Committee when every moment was of importance; but as he had the honour of introducing the Nitro-Glycerine Act of 1869, perhaps hon. Members would listen to a few remarks he would like to make. That Act continued the law until 1875, and, looking to what had since occurred, he did not think its provisions too stringent. He would have preferred to see the 4th clause of the Nitro-Glycerine Act inserted in the present Bill, instead of the section now under discussion, and the 4th clause of that Act omitted mention of gunpowder. There was great force in the objection which had been taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) in respect to explosive substances other than those which were now so dangerous. Moreover, he could not understand what advantage there was in retaining in the clause the words— Under such circumstances as to give rise to a reasonable suspicion that he is not making it or does not have it in his possession or under his control for a lawful object. Those words appeared mere surplusage, for— Under his control any explosive substance shall, unless he can show that he made it or had it in his possession or under his control for a lawful object, seemed to be sufficient to meet the case contemplated. If the Committee thought it right, he would move the omission of the words which he had pointed out as merely surplusage.


said, the Government could not agree to strike out those words, because they were put in the clause for the protection of innocent people engaged in a legitimate trade. In reference to the more serious observations of his right hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld), it was necessary he should explain that the object of the 4th clause, as the Committee would see, was simply to throw the onus of proving his innocence upon the possessor of large quantities of explosives. If the Bill only contained the 3rd clause, it would be almost necessary that the person must be shown to have intended to commit a certain crime—namely, to destroy or endanger life and property. However morally certain they might be that that was the case, they would very often have great difficulty in proving the fact The mere possession by a man of gunpowder, even in a game preserving country, would afford no proof that it was intended for an unlawful act. It must be remembered that proceedings under this Bill would not be taken before magistrates, but before a Judge and jury. Furthermore, no prosecution under the Act could take place without the leave of the Law Officers of the Crown; and when application for a prosecution was made, it must be made publicly. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stansfeld) had mentioned an extreme case which might be covered by the clause. He (the Attorney General) feared that if, in drawing clauses of this kind they were to take cognizance of all extreme cases, all desirable and necessary legislation would be prevented.


rather feared that, under a panic, they were legislating too rapidly; and there were some hon. Members who would like to consider the provisions of the Bill a little longer. He believed they were all anxious to provide a remedy for the present state of things, and that they desired to meet the emergency which had arisen; but he could not help suggesting that the object in view would be attained quite fully by an amendment of the clause. He had the words of an Amendment, which he was prepared to move, and which would make the clause read— Any person who makes, or knowingly has in his possession or under his control, any explosive substance under such circumstances as to give rise to a reasonable suspicion that he is making it, or has it in his possession or under his control for any of the illegal purposes mentioned in this Act, shall, &c. He knew that his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General had addressed himself to that argument, but not, he thought, satisfactorily. He (Mr. Hopwood) would prefer that the clause should go on to say—"Unless it can be shown to the contrary." That would provide everything that was necessary; and it would provide, also, that the prosecution should not be for a small matter, but should be for something which raised a reasonable suspicion under the Act. No man ought to be hurt under the Bill, unless his possession of dynamite or nitroglycerine gave rise to a reasonable suspicion that he was about to employ it in endangering life, or in causing serious injury to property. The clause ought not to be passed in the wide form in which it stood at present, or it would establish a bad precedent for future legislation. What made him dwell the more upon this was the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary had rather surprised him by suggesting that in their Criminal Law they were always too desirous of specifying the offence. Why, that was the genius of their legislation—it was the very spirit of their Criminal Law; and he (Mr. Hopwood) certainly hoped that they would never depart from it under mere circumstances of emergency like the present.


suggested an alteration in line 14, subsection 2—that the word "her" should be inserted, so as to make the words—"Such person and his wife or her husband."


said, his Amendment came before that. He would move to leave out, after the word "suspicion," these words— That he is not making it, or does not have it in his possession or under his control for a lawful object, and to insert in their place the words— That he is making it, or has it in his possession, or under his control, for any of the illegal purposes mentioned in this Act, unless it can be shown to the contrary.


understood that the Chairman had put the Question that the clause should stand part of the Bill. If that were so, was it possible for any hon. Member to propose an Amendment to the clause?


said, the hon. Gentleman was right. He (the Chairman) did put the Question that the clause should stand part of the Bill; but he had done so not anticipating any Amendment.

Amendment proposed, To leave out all the words after "suspicion," in line 5, to the word "object," in line 7, and insert the words:—"That he is making it, or has it in his possession or under his control, for any of the illegal purposes mentioned in this Act, shall, unless he can show to the contrary."—(Mr. Hopwood.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."


said, he thought the remarks of his right hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) arose from that right hon. Gentleman not having heard his explanation of the clause. The real point was this. The clause had been very carefully considered—indeed, he (Sir William Harcourt) had spent the best part of three days over it. No doubt, the first idea of everyone would be that which was embodied in the proposals of his right hon. Friend and of his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Hopwood); but for very good reasons the Government had not felt themselves able to accept it, as they felt that it would entirely defeat the object of the clause in its difference from Clause 3. If the Committee were to accept the words proposed by his hon. and learned Friend they would really be thrown back upon all the difficulties which existed in Clause 3, and from which it was desired to find an escape; because, though the hon. and learned Gentleman wrapped up the matter to his own mind in the words "illegal purposes mentioned in this Act," the question was, what were those illegal purposes? Were they the illegal purposes of the previous clause? Was Clause 4 only to meet the illegal purposes mentioned in Clause 3? Clearly that was so; and, therefore, the Amendment would only re-incorporate Clause 3, and destroy the whole object in view in the attempt to distinguish between Clauses 3 and 4. That was the real state of the case. It was possible that the Government might have come to a wrong conclusion in the matter; but, if so, it was not from any want of the assistance of their able draftsman, or of the assistance of the two Law Officers of the Crown. They had come to the conclusion that the Amendment could not be adopted without destroying the efficacy of the clause; and he was bound to say his own opinion was that the clause, as it stood, was most efficient, because it was a clause which would compel these men to come forward and give an account of themselves. He, therefore, hoped the Committee would not consent to alter it.


said, he thought the Committee had decided in their own minds that the Bill must pass that House that night, and he would press it upon them not to alter one word of it. All these clauses had been very carefully prepared and considered; and if any Amendment were inserted it would be necessary for the Bill to be reconsidered, and they would then find themselves in a considerable difficulty. He would much rather pass the Bill as it stood on the responsibility of the Government, and he hoped it would pass that night without any question.


said, he was sure the Committee would allow him to say a word in reply to his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General. They were not legislating in a panic; but, looking at the House, he felt, at least, entitled to say that they were legislating somewhat in a hurry. The right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench (Sir R. Assheton Cross) had advised them to pass the Bill on the responsibility of the Government without considering it; but that appeared to him to be a most unconstitutional piece of advice to give to the House. His right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary had imputed to him that he had moved some Amendment, or proposed an alteration of the clause which would destroy the efficiency of the Bill. Now, he had made no proposal whatever.


I beg pardon; I made a mistake in that.


said, that all he had done was to point out what appeared to him to be a slip in the drafting of the clause. He had endeavoured to speak with the deference which was becoming in a lay Member of the House, and he had asked for explanations from the Law Officers; but he confessed that he was not at that moment satisfied with the explanation which had been given. He believed that his reading of the clause was the true legal construction of it, even though it was not the construction of the Attorney General. They had been told by the late Homo Secretary that the Bill should be passed through Committee without alteration or discussion; and they were told by the present Home Secretary that it was to be a permanent Bill. In order that the country at large should not have the impression that they were legislating in a hurry, some time ought to be given for the consideration of the legal meaning of each of these clauses; or else the Bill ought to be made not permanent, but temporary, so that it might obtain, a thorough reconsideration within some reasonable time.


merely wished to say one word. If the Bill was to be hurried through Committee that night, the sooner it left that House the better. If there was to be no discussion, he did not wish to provoke one; but, as a lawyer who would be responsible for this legislation, he wished to say that he agreed thoroughly and entirely with what had fallen from the right hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld). There could not be the slightest doubt to anybody who read the clause that a case might possibly occur such as that mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman—the case of a poacher, who, having a pound of gunpowder in his house, and not being able to show that he had it for a lawful purpose, might become liable to be convicted of felony under this Bill, and might possibly, though not probably, be sentenced to 14 years' penal servitude, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years. If that was not a possible construction of this clause he should be very much surprised, and he declared emphatically that it was a possible construction. The wording could be satisfactorily altered in five minutes. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary did not intend to exclude this possibility—and he had declared that the clause had been carefully and maturely considered—he (Mr. Bulwer) would say no more; but he felt it his duty to enter this protest against the wording of the clause as it stood.


said, he did not desire to prolong the discussion; but he wished to point out to the Committee that the construction which had been placed upon the clause on the high authority of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Bulwer) was, as he (Mr. Reid) most firmly believed, the correct one. If any person had a pound of gunpowder in his possession, under circumstances which gave rise to a reasonable suspicion that he had it for an unlawful purpose, whatever that purpose might be—even if it only amounted to poaching—that person would expose himself to the penalties of the Bill. [An hon. MEMBER: Why not?] That seemed to him to be going a great deal further than was desirable, or than was intended to meet the evils which now existed; and while he said that, he wished it to be understood that he thoroughly sympathized with the Bill. It had been suggested by the hon. and learned Attorney General that there was a safeguard in the provision that the consent of the Attorney General would be required to a prosecution. In his (Mr. Reid's) humble opinion, though he had no doubt that most Attorneys General would do their duty, it was not right that legislation, which was wrong in itself, should be justified on the ground that the consent of Her Majesty's officers, however high that officer might be, was required before a prosecution could be instituted.


said, he could carry this argument a good deal further. If a man carried a basket of sawdust, he would be in danger, for sawdust was a material which might be used in combination with nitro-glycerine and formed into a very dangerous explosive; and, therefore, under the Interpretation Clause, a man who had a basket of sawdust might be brought into peril under the Bill. ["No, no!"] But that was so; and, therefore, that was a very similar case to the one put by the two hon. and learned Gentlemen who had last spoken. But the protection under the Bill was this—that it could not be applied to these extreme cases, because the Attorney General would step in to prevent such a thing from happening. It would be the duty of the Attorney General to probe and test these extreme cases. No Bill could ever be drawn which would prevent extreme cases from, arising; and it was absolutely impossible to draw a Bill which would stop the offences that were aimed at, if Parliament insisted on having a Bill that, under no conceivable circumstances, would for a single moment cause inconvenience to others than those whose punishment it provided for. That was the case with the Prevention of Crime Bill of last year. Over and over again, during the progress of that Bill through the House, he had said—"If you choose to look at it from that point of view, and to consider every possible particular in which the Bill may be abused, you may throw it out altogether; but if you mean to have a Bill which will effect the purpose that you have in view, you must admit these consequences, and rely on the safeguards which will prevent injustice from being done." There was no other method of dealing with the matter at all, unless the Committee chose to reject the principle of the 4th clause altogether. If they said they would insist on the prosecution proving the offence up to the hilt, or the suspicion of an offence—that something was being done—it would be impossible to legislate in such a matter as this satisfactorily. In the old days of the law, if a man was charged with intending to kill anybody, the prosecution had to prove that he intended to kill some particular and specified person, and that was exactly an example of the objection now taken. The Committee must be content to take the general words with their general effect, and rely on the safeguards offered—that the man who was charged would himself give his own explanation, and that the Attorney General would not allow a prosecution except on good grounds. If the Committee would not consent to that, they might as well dispense with the clause altogether.

Question put, and agreed to.Clause agreed to.

Clause 5 (Punishment of accessories).


suggested a verbal Amendment. The Bill, he said, was directed against the criminal possession, and not against the legitimate possession, of explosives. He suggested that the word "knowingly" should be inserted before the words "procures, counsels, aids, abets, or is accessory to." That would better define the meaning without in any way injuring the clause. He moved the insertion of the word "knowingly."

Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 20, after the word "whatsoever," to insert the word "knowingly."—(Mr. Joseph Cowen.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'knowingly' be there inserted."


said, he did not wonder at his hon. Friend, making this proposal; but it was really unnecessary, for all the other words implied "knowingly." No man could "procure, counsel, aid, or abet "if he did not know. It would be better to agree to the clause as it stood.


said, he had no desire to press his Amendment against the opinion of his right hon. and learned Friend.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 6 to 8, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 9 (Definitions, and application to Scotland).


said, the Home Secretary, in introducing the Bill, had pointed out that the law, as it stood at present, was altogether incomplete and inadequate to prevent the sale and distribution of these terrible explosive compounds, and of the materials of which they were made up. The Government did not desire to hamper their present Bill by any attempt to amend that law; but he (Mr. Gibson) understood that the Attorney General would do something at an early date to amend the law in that respect. Everybody would be glad to know when, and by what method, the Government intended to proceed in that direction, and to procure some machinery of a fit and proper character to restrict the sale of these compounds. He thought that all who dealt in such goods should be bound, as in the case of poisons, to keep a record of those to whom the compounds or materials were sold.


would say, with regard to the possession of explosives by private persons, that that matter rested upon Orders in Council; and he had that morning directed that the Inspectors of Explosives should consider an alteration of the Order in Council, No. 8, so as to prohibit the right of any private person to hold so much as 15 lbs. of dynamite, which seemed to be an unnecessary and improper right to exist, and also with regard to gunpowder. That the Government could deal with by Order in Council. As to registration without objection, or in spite of the objection of the local authorities, that power was given by the Statute of 1875, and would have to be dealt with by Parliament, and he would have it dealt with as soon as might be convenient. It was not, however, a matter of such pressing importance; because he might point out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that as soon as premises were registered the police had access to them, and the police could I always enter upon registered premises.

Clause agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported, without Amendment.


I shall ask permission of the House to move that the Bill be now read a third time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Sir William Harcourt.)

Motion agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.