§ MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether it was the case that only two of the five members of the Salvation Army sentenced recently at Stamford had appealed; and whether he would do anything to mitigate the severity of the punishment of the three men still remaining in gaol; whether it was not the case that on several similar occasions 29 preceding Home Secretaries had ordered the transference of such prisoners to the debtors' side of the gaol, so as to secure that they should have better food and less rigorous treatment; and whether he will order such transference in the present case, pending the decision of the appeal?
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE (Mr. MATTHEWS) (Birmingham, E.)
It is true that two only of the five members of the Salvation Army have appealed. There are two precedents in which sentences of imprisonment with hard labour were altered into imprisonment without hard labour; but there is no precedent for transferring to the debtors' side a person sentenced to imprisonment without hard labour, as was the case with the men; and I am advised that I have no legal right to give such an order.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
If it be a fact that two out of the five prisoners in Leicester Goal have appealed, and therefore been released, are we to understand that the remaining three are still in gaol; and I should like to ask further whether the right hon. Gentleman will allow them to be kept in prison for 21 days for such a ridiculous offence as preaching on a Sunday?
§ MR. MATTHEWS
I am surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman describe as a ridiculous offence a case which has been decided by a Constitutional tribunal of the land to be a serious one. There are three members of the Salvation Army still in gaol—two of them have appealed, and, pending the appeal, they have been liberated. If the appeal is unsuccessful, of course they will have to serve their sentences.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER
Then, without characterizing the offence, I want to know if Her Majesty's Government intend to sanction the imprisonment of Nonconformists in this country for exercising their civil rights?
§ [No reply.]
§ MR. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)
I wish to ask the Home Secretary, whether he gives his sanction to this imprisonment for Protestant preaching, and whether he would approve of the imprisonment of John Bunyan?
§ MR. MATTHEWS
I have told the House more than once already that the imprisonment was not for preaching at 30 all; but the facts upon which the magistrates thought fit to convict were the mere facts of obstructing the public highway. [An hon. MEMBER: For the purpose of preaching.] Upon that conviction a question of both law and fact arose—whether the place on which the meeting was held was a public highway or not. The hon. Member will see that there is no question of Nonconformists or any other religious question.
§ MR. JAMES STUART
asked, whether the Home Secretary was aware that a Primrose League band had played in the place referred to, and had not been interferred with? He had that information from a member of the League.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
I am not in the least aware of the facts mentioned by the hon. Member; the only facts of which I am aware with regard to this question are those of the judicial proceedings.