§ MR. T. E. ELLIS (Merionethshire)
said, that in consequence of the Answer he had received from the Attorney General he would ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance—namely, the determination of the Government to try by Special Jury thirty-one men charged with riot during the collection of Tithe at Llangwm, North Wales.
1354 The pleasure of the House not having been signified,
§ MR. SPEAKER
called on those Members who supported the Motion to rise in their places, and not less than Forty Members having accordingly risen:—
§ MR. T. E. ELLIS
said, he would not occupy the time of the House at any great length in discussing this question. He considered it would be unfair to the prisoners now about to be put upon their trial not to call the attention of the House to the matter. Before proceeding to the actual subject of his Motion, he should like to say that during the last two years various districts in North and South Wales had been disturbed owing to the circumstances attending the collection of the tithes. In three instances the disturbances were serious, and public attention had been called to them in various ways. The three disturbed districts were Cerrig-y-Druidion, Llangwm, and Mochdre. In the case of most of these the Government thought fit to institute an inquiry by means of a Commissioner, but in one case—namely, that of Llangwm, the Director of Public Prosecutions had instituted 8 trial against 31 men for assault and riot. The alleged offences took place on the 27th of May. As the Home Secretary had promised an inquiry, not merely into the disturbances at Mochdre, but into all the tithe disturbances in North Wales, there was no idea whatever as to the prosecution of any man connected with these riots. But on the 30th of June and the 1st of July, that was to say, considerably over a month after the offences took place, summonses were issued against 31 men, farmers and labourers, in the district. Summonses were issued on the Thursday and Friday, and the trials were to take place on the following Wednesday. That just left three clear days between the receipt of the summons and the trial. Instead of those men being tried at the Petty Sessions Court where the alleged offence took place, they were taken to another place 18 or 20 miles off. The result was that the counsel for the defence had only two or three sheets of brief in order to start the trial. On Saturday and Monday the solicitor for the defence asked the prosecutor for an adjournment for a few days in order to prepare the evidence. The prosecutor absolutely 1355 refused to give any time whatever. Renewed application for adjournment was made at the trial, but that also was refused. An incident occurred which gave now point to the application for adjournment. The wife of one of the defendants died, and the man asked that the trial should be adjourned, but not even then was the request granted. Last Tuesday the defendants were committed to the Assizes at Ruthin, to be held next Thursday. Since this was done the solicitor for the defendants went from St. Asaph to the district of Cerrig-y-Druidion in order to obtain evidence. He had done this at great expense and had procured four gentlemen as counsel in the approaching trial. He might state that there was so little crime in North Wales that it was hardly worth while for barristers to attach themselves to the North Wales Circuit, and the result was that for a trial of this sort one had to go outside the Circuit in order to secure competent counsel.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir RICHARD WEBSTER) (Isle of Wight)
The hon. Gentleman is quite misinformed.
§ MR. T. E. ELLIS
said, that if he was misinformed he would like the hon. and learned Gentleman to give the statistics of the number of white gloves presented to the Judges during the last 20 or 30 years in almost all the Assize towns in North Wales, and to state whether it was not the fact that the Judges had repeatedly declared that their coming to North Wales was simply a holiday for them? The preparations for the defence having thus been completed, intimation was given last Saturday morning that a writ of certiorari was to be moved for in order to remove the trial from the Assizes at Denbighshire to the Court of Queen's Bench, or some other place, of which the solicitor was not informed. Now, if there was so much cause for hurry in getting the men committed, he wanted to know why there should be this change of front on the part of the prosecution when the evidence had been prepared, the sureties given, and the counsel engaged? The Attorney General said to-day he had given his decision for the removal of the trial because he could not expect a fair trial at Ruthin. It seemed rather remarkable that in the very first semi-political trial in Wales the hon. and learned 1356 Gentleman by his own fiat should take advantage of a provision, which his own Government refused to put into the Criminal Law Amendment Bill. What did the removal of the trials mean? It meant, in the first place, entailing immense expense on those men, who were but farmers and labourers, and it also meant that the Attorney General, representing either the Treasury or the Government, wished to say on the very first semi-political trial in Wales that Welsh juries were not to be trusted. He should like the hon. and learned Gentleman to tell the House plainly why he expressed his mistrust of Welsh juries when politics and religion, to some extent, came in. Then the next point was that, after mistrusting this jury, and publicly expressing to the country that he could not expect justice in an ordinary trial by jury, he wished to remove the trials to the Queen's Bench. Did he mean to remove them to any other Assize in North Wales? Did he mean to take the men for trial to Chester or to bring them to London? When the Government proposed to bring Irish-speaking witnesses from Ireland to London they shrank from their own proposal. They withdrew the clauses and promised to bring in Coercion Bill No. 2. In this case, where Welsh-speaking witnesses were concerned, men who understood very little English, they proposed, apparently, to bring them to London without the enactment of either Coercion Bill No. 1 or Coercion Bill No. 2. The conduct of the Government in connection with the trial was very ill-omened, and it was remarkable that the hon. and learned Gentleman, who had no experience whatever of Welsh juries, should offer this public insult to them by branding them as unreliable and unworthy to carry out the law of the land and to judge the men of their own race before an ordinary Judge of Assize. If the Government wished to make matters more difficult in Wales, if they wished to inflame a quiet and orderly peasantry to do acts and harbour feelings which in their normal state they would neither do nor harbour, they could not possibly select a more sure method of attaining their object. It might be of small moment to the hon. and learned Gentleman in London to sign a Paper and remove a trial; but an act of that kind 1357 sank and burned into the hearts of a sensitive people. He gave the Government fair warning that the Welsh people, no more than the Irish people, would allow themselves to be trampled upon and insulted by actions of this kind. The question of the connection between Church and State might be a different matter; but if the Government wished to make that question a difficult and complicated one, if they wished to arouse the animosities of race or make the administration of justice difficult, they were going exactly in the right way to do it; but if they wished the Welsh people to be in the future, as in the past, quiet and law-abiding, then the Government should give to them the same fair play as they gave to Englishmen in their own English counties. He concluded by moving the adjournment of the House.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn." —(Mr. T. E. Ellis.)
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
said, it was impossible for him, for obvious reasons, to reply to that portion of the hon. Member's speech which was addressed to audiences outside the House. When the hon. Member spoke about trampling on the Welsh people he must know perfectly well that no Law Officer of the Crown could reply in that strain to observations made in moving the adjournment of the House. At any rate, he thought the hon. Member might have had the fairness to remember the distinct answer which he gave to a Question the previous evening, and not to have misrepresented the intentions of the Government. There had never been the slightest intention or proposal to bring this case to London. The hon. Member also stated that it was the intention of the Attorney General to change the venue. The Attorney General had not the power to do so; it must be done by the Court upon a proper application. To suggest, therefore, with such impassioned eloquence that this power had been used for the purpose of showing that he, as Attorney General, wished to cast a slight on Welsh juries, and that the Government were aiding him in this object, was absolutely without foundation. He could not enter into the question of removal, because it was a matter which had to be dealt with by the Courts 1358 on materials properly laid before them. It would, therefore, be wrong for him to prejudge the case one way or the other. As regards the preliminary proceedings, which had been referred to by the hon. Member, his knowledge of these matters was obtained probably from the same sources as that of the hon. Member, and possibly the hon. Member knew more about the case than he himself did. He had heard the questions put to the Home Secretary, and the answers which had been given. The Attorney General had nothing to do with the committal of the prisoners or the place where the magistrates were to sit. If there was a cause of complaint against the magistrates it could be invested in another way. The hon. Member stated that it was on Tuesday last when the committal for trial took place. Then and then only did the matter come before the Attorney General. On the materials which were placed before him—which he declined to discuss in the House—he considered that a fair trial would not have been obtained at Ruthin in the state it then was, and he accordingly determined that the case should be removed to the Queen's Bench side, in order that proceedings might there be taken so that a fair trial might be secured. One result of this would be that if the Court thought it desirable in the interests of justice the trial could take place by special jury, whereas it would not be tried, by special jury on the Crown side. That was all that had been done, and for it he took the full responsibility. As to what the hon. Member said about securing counsel, he had to say that his information was to the contrary effect. He was not, of course, entitled to refer to private conversations; but if the hon. Member would endeavour to obtain information from those who instructed him in this matter he would ascertain that counsel on the North Wales Circuit were perfectly ready to defend these men. The removal, however, to another place on that Circuit—Chester, for example— would not lessen the power of the defendants to get more counsel. Ruthin was a place to which counsel did not go so much as some other places on the Circuit. In reference to the expense in securing counsel, the hon. Member would find, on inquiry, that the outside expense would be a guinea each for retaining them. The suggestion, there- 1359 fore, that money had been thrown away owing to the action of the Attorney General was wholly unfounded. Then as to the witnesses. It must be borne in mind that the witnesses must appear wherever they had to give evidence. The matter stood in this position:—Here was a case where there was no fewer than 31 defendants, and it was quite possible, on further consideration, that it would not be necessary to try them all. It would be seen that a person who had the responsibility of coming to a decision as to the defendants whom it would be necessary to try would naturally be anxious not to rush the case through the Court; the committal only took place last Tuesday, and they were to be tried on Thursday next, leaving the authorities only nine days to make up their minds whether or not it would be necessary to proceed against the whole of the 31 defendants or not. The course he (Sir Richard Webster) had taken had been adopted by him for the purpose of giving the authorities more time to consider the question, as it was often found, in cases of disturbances or not, that the guilt was confined really to two or three persons, and he had also the interests of the defendants in view, for he considered that it must be of advantage to them to have more time to get up their defence. He declined to follow the hon. Gentleman in his suggestion that he was acting differently than he otherwise should have done, because the subject involved a question of politics or religion. In his judgment it would be found to involve nothing of the kind. It would be found to be a riot or disturbance which sprang from the action of two or three persons, and not from wide-spread political or religious feeling which the hon. Member was rather inclined to exaggerate than underrate. He accepted the responsibility for what he had done, and protested that he had not been actuated by any other feeling than that of wishing to see that a fair trial should be obtained.
§ MR. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
Mr. Speaker, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General has given an answer to my hon. Friend, which, except in point of length, is really no answer at all. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that there could not be a fair trial at Ruthin? Why could 1360 there not be a fair trial? The Attorney General would probably reply that an impartial common jury could not be empannelled at Ruthin. That view rather surprises me, because I had always thought that the impartiality of British juries was a cardinal article of faith with right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I do not know whether the Attorney General, unlike the President of the Board of Trade, has learnt to separate Wales from England in his own mind. But this I will say—that a Welsh jury is quite as likely to give an impartial verdict in such a case as this as a London jury is likely to try impartially the case of "Parnell v. The Times." But what did the hon. and learned Gentleman mean by saying he could not get a fair and impartial trial at Ruthin? He meant this—that he could not get a conviction. Why could he not get a fair trial? Admitting, for the sake of argument, that this was true, I would ask whose fault was that? I will tell the hon. and learned Gentleman this—if it is the case, it is because these unfortunate defendants have been so harried and worried that popular sympathy is naturally enlisted in their favour. Instead of their being taken to a Court near their own homes, a cock-and-bull story was told that there was no Court-house or proper accommodation at Cerrig-y-Druidion, and these 31 poor men were dragged a distance of 18 miles to be examined at Ruthin. It appears from the report of the proceedings there, which I hold in my hand, that there were 103 witnesses to be called for the defence; but the Bench declined to hear them. Why? Because they were unanimously agreed to commit them for trial at the County Assizes, which will be held at Ruthin on Thursday next. In order to show how these men were treated, I will ask the House to allow me to read a telegram which I received this morning from the solicitor for the defence—Prosecution point blank refused to adjourn for a few days on ground of Assizes being so near. Counsel had to proceed with defence with three sheets of brief. Since committal I have lived at Cerrig-y-Druidion, to be ready for Ruthin. Have incurred serious expense with counsel and law stationers, and arranged consultation for to-morrow, believing implicitly case would come on at Ruthin. I received no intimation that certiorari would be applied for until Saturday morning. Prosecution in opening case gave no hint. Part of counsel's fees 1361 completely wasted. Expenses from rushing proceedings incurred in vain. Witnesses have to be stopped and sureties to be procured.Now, I ask, is that a fair way of treating these poor peasants? And yet the Attorney General, sheltering himself behind his lofty privilege, does not even deign to say when or where they are to be tried. I quite admit that he has the law on his side. The Attorney General can, without assigning any reason, obtain this writ of certiorari; but it is a practice, I venture to say, "more honoured in the breach than the observance." The case which comes nearest to the present was the notorious case of "Rex. v. the Dean of St. Asaph," defended by Erskine, when the Crown brought the case from Wales to be tried in England, because a Welsh jury could not be trusted—with what result we all know.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
I beg the right hon. and learned Gentleman's pardon. The thing has been frequently done by the Attorney General of the Government of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman was himself a Member.
§ MR. OSBORNE MORGAN
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman tell me in what cases it was done? I do not like these vague generalities. I thought not —be that as it may, I will say that it is an odious practice, handed down from the time when the liberties of England had to be defended on the scaffold and on the battle field. Thank God, those days are over! But there are other ways of crushing out the liberties of the people. You may make a trial so expensive, that a poor man cannot defend himself; and that is what you are doing now. You have, on one side, the Attorney General, with all the wealth of the nation at his back; and, on the other, 31 labouring men, who earn a few shillings a-week. I say the House has a right to know when and where these men will be tried; and whether they can be placed in a position in which they can properly conduct their case. I can assure the Attorney General I deplore these unfortunate occurrences as much as he can do; and, as a general rule, I could wish that matters of this sort should be brought before the House in a more regular way. But whose fault is that? It is because the Government have so appropriated to itself every hour, every minute of the public time—which 1362 is our property as much as yours—for its wretched Coercion Bill, that my hon. Friend has had no other opportunity of bringing the question forward. Now, I warn the Attorney General that it is exactly these high-handed proceedings which are bringing the administration of justice in the most loyal and law-abiding part of the United Kingdom into disrepute and distrust. Do you want to have another Ireland in Wales? If so, I can assure you that you are doing your best to attain that end; and I will only add that after the unsatisfactory answer given by the Attorney General, I hope that my hon. Friend will test the opinion of the House by going to a Division, and that every fair-minded man, on whichever side he sits, will follow him into the Lobby.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir EDWARD CLARKE) (Plymouth)
said, that before the House went to a Division, it was right that some protest should be made against the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down, which, he ventured to say, was a scandal to the House of Commons. ["Ministerial cheers, and "Oh, oh!" and "Withdraw!"from the Opposition.]
§ SIR EDWARD CLARKE
said, that if he had travelled beyond the Rules of the House, he respectfully withdrew the expression, and apologized for using it. But he hoped he might be forgiven if he had been betrayed for a moment into any excess of language in desiring to make a prompt and vigorous protest against the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He hoped that every word of that speech might be recorded, and would be before the right hon. and learned Gentleman to read to-morrow morning; and he thought too well of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to believe that when he read it he would feel other than regret at having uttered that speech with regard to a matter now waiting for judicial 1363 decision, and that he who had made that speech had brought into the consideration of that question in the House reference to the most active and violent controversies of Party feeling. And he who had done so was one who had himself held judicial office, and known what it was to exercise the responsibility entrusted to him in a matter which might become controversial in that House, and had known what the obligation was that he should exercise his duty in that matter as his hon. and learned Friend had done simply with reference to the facts before him, and without any regard whatever to Party controversies in that House. He could not understand how the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Osborne Morgan) could excuse himself for having, in a debate of that kind, introduced references to actions of Mr. Parnell against The Times, and talked about defendants in a case which had as yet to come before the consideration of a jury having been "harried and worried in the way they had been." What had his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General done? He had had the duty—
§ MR. OSBORNE MORGAN
explained that he had not said that the Attorney General had harried and worried the defendants. That took place before.
§ SIR EDWARD CLARKE
asked then upon whom the attack was made? Was it directed against the action of the magistrates? If so, what was the meaning of the references to the action taken by his hon. and learned Friend? The charge against his hon. and learned Friend was that he had used the power which was entrusted to him by the law in a way which would prejudice the trial of those persons, and had used it in that way, knowing what the effect of that action would be; and every suggestion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech carried the imputation that his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General had exercised his power in such a manner that, even if they were convicted, the conviction would have been wrongfully and improperly obtained. He could understand the value of that suggestion for Party purposes, but he could not understand how a former Judge Advocate General should get up in that House and assail the Attorney General of the day, who had an obligation to discharge in the course of his duty, with- 1364 out having one syllable of proof, or the smallest foundation of fact on which to base his attack. He had been unable to take down the exact terms of the telegram which the right hon. and learned Gentleman had read to the House; but it was perfectly clear to any lawyer that one or two points in it were capable of an immediate explanation. His hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General had pointed out that, as regarded the retaining of counsel for the defendants, there could not have been that throwing away of money which had been suggested; and he should like respectfully to associate himself with the position which his hon. and learned Friend had taken on that matter. It would be impossible for the function of the Attorney General to be usefully and properly discharged in regard to the Criminal Law if he were to be called upon in that House to enter into a detailed statement of the circumstances and reasons of the action he took in such a case. ["Oh, oh!" and An hon. MEMBER: What is he here for?] If his action were open to challenge, it might be promptly dealt with, and made the subject of censure by the House. But his hon. and learned Friend had made no change of the venue in that instance. What he had done was merely to exercise his power so that that case might be tried by a special jury; and it might be within the competence of the Court, if it thought fit, to remove it to another venue. If that was done, it would be the act of the Court, and not the act of the Attorney General. The action of his hon. and learned Friend had been simply in consonance with the action of previous Law Officers of the Crown; and it was to be hoped that when the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite read his own speech tomorrow morning, he would regret having introduced references to heated Party controversy into a discussion relating to a question which was to go before a judicial tribunal.
§ MR. SWETENHAM (Carnarvon, &c.)
said, that he also regretted that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, as a Welshman, should have made such a speech. He, at one time, had the honour of being a member of the North Wales Circuit, and knew better than to accede to what the hon. Member for Merioneth said about the difficulty of getting counsel. He was also a magis- 1365 trate for the same county as he (Mr. Swetenham) was, and ought to be zealous for the support of law in that county. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked whether the House wanted to make another Ireland of Wales? He answered—"Certainly not on the Conservative side of the House;" but, if such arguments as those of the right hon. and learned Gentleman were persisted in, they would lead to such an undesirable result. He protested against these imputations. The right hon. and learned Member for East Denbighshire had asked, "Why could not a fair trial be had at Ruthin?" He (Mr. Swetenham) was not hampered by any official trammels that might surround the hon. and learned Attorney General, so he (Mr. Swetenham) would tell him that the reason why a fair trial could not be secured at Ruthin was that the entire district was permeated with the doctrines of the Anti-Tithe League, and from that district the jurors would have to be brought, so that if the trial took place there the prisoners would be tried by persons who, in one sense, were implicated with them. It would, therefore, be impossible to get a fair trial there, for a fair trial meant a trial by jurymen who, without bias, would give a verdict in accordance with the evidence. Had the defence called their witnesses before the magistrates, and had them bound over, their expenses would have been allowed, and he knew personally that there was no difficulty in getting counsel for the defence. He quite agreed in the remark that the farmers of North Wales were a law-abiding, quiet, peaceful people, and he would challenge anyone to say that, under ordinary circumstances, there was any class of people more so. But he deplored that a certain class of persons, whom he did not expect they would find amongst the prisoners, should have stirred them up. These were the wire-pullers, who took good care to keep out of danger, and who deserved far more to be on their trial than these 31 poor men, whom they had made their dupes.
§ MR. ARTHUR WILLIAMS (Glamorgan, S.)
said, he had no desire to import Party feeling into this matter. He quite accepted what the Attorney General said, that in the exercise of his duty it was incumbent upon him to put the law in motion; but it was a curious fact 1366 that all this interest was taken in the prosecution of these men, whilst far more important criminal prosecutions were taken no notice of. The men were charged with riot, and suddenly, without notice, when the proceedings had been pushed forward with unusual haste, they were informed that this shameful engine of the Government was put into operation in order that the trial might be determined in a manner different to the usual Constitutional method. What was the object of this removal? They had had it from the Attorney General that it was because he did not believe that a fair trial could be had at Ruthin before a common jury. If he (Mr. A. Williams) were to be on trial for any criminal offence he would prefer to go before a jury of the people, who were the only proper persons. A special jury was not the proper tribunal to try criminal charges, and especially was it not a proper tribunal to try charges which, in spite of anything the Attorney General might say, were charges of a political character, more or less influenced by religious feeling. Such charges ought not to be tried by a particular class, and certainly, not by men selected from a body who were entirely opposed in every way to the agitation out of which the riots arose. He could assure the Attorney General that if he persisted in the course he had indicated the Welsh people would not be satisfied with the trial. He hoped the Motion for Adjournment would be pressed to a Division, in order that the sense of the House might be taken on the action of the Attorney General.
§ MR. E. T. REID (Dumfries, &c.)
said, he was sorry to hear of the lamentable condition of Wales, as announced by the hon. Member for Carnarvon (Mr. Swetenham). It seemed that the people were actually agitating in Wales. He only hoped, for the sake of the hon. Member's peace of mind, that these agitators were not being paid with money from America; but the proceedings in the Principality had a wonderful family resemblance to what had taken place on the other side of St. George's Channel. The Attorney General had rather let the cat out of the bag when he said that the reason why the ordinary course could not be adopted was that there was large sympathy with the anti-tithe movement in Wales. He 1367 (Mr. R. T. Reid), under all the circumstances, was very much inclined to share in that sympathy himself. The Government, he feared, had forgotten that it was always desirable in criminal matters not to depart from the ordinary law, in order to avoid not only injustice, but the imputation of injustice. He did not want to impute to the Attorney General any desire to do a wrong from political motives; but the fact remained that the hon. and learned Gentleman was taking steps to secure that these poor men should be tried by a Special Jury, who would be drawn from a class prejudiced in favour of property, and opposed to those who were agitating against tithes. When the Attorney General declined altogether to say why he had exercised the discretion vested in him, he assumed a too lofty tone. In the circumstances of the case, the Attorney General ought to give an explanation. A large number of persons, for a comparatively trifling offence like rioting, were to be tried by a special jury, contrary to the ordinary rule, and certainly the House had a right to know why that course was to be adopted. A judicial person, he admitted, was not bound to answer questions raised in that House; but the Attorney General was not a judicial person. He was a Minister of the Crown, and as such sat in that House for the purpose of answering questions as to the manner in which his functions were discharged.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
said, while he quite agreed that in all matters which partook of a judicial character, the House should be very careful not to import any Party spirit into its deliberations, he must strongly protest against the doctrine laid down by the Attorney General of non-responsibility to that House. Matters were coming to a pretty pass indeed, and it was necessary to speak out strongly. Whenever the Government were interrogated their reply now was—" Sic volo, sic jubeo." What was the position of the Attorney General? In old days any prosecutor could get a certiorari, but the right being abused, as it was in the well-known case of the Dean of Asaph, the law was altered by 5 & 6 Will. IV. The power of the Attorney General, however, to obtain a certiorari was expressly reserved. Why? Because he was a responsible person, who could be made responsible for any abuse of the power. One of the 1368 privileges of the subject was the right to have a speedy trial before a jury of his Peers. And when the right was infringed, reasons ought to be given for that exceptional course. He did not understand how the Attorney General could refuse to say why he intended to proceed exceptionally in the case of this trial. If the reason were that Wales was in such a condition that juries could not be trusted, the state of the country must be very serious indeed, and surely the House of Commons ought to be told something about it. He did not understand the Attorney General when he said he was not bound to give his reasons for removing the venue from Wales to the Queen's Bench Division.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
denied having said that. What he had said was that he could not explain the reasons of his action to the House, because the matter would come before the Court.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
reminded the hon. and learned Member that it was he who put the Court in motion, and that what they wanted to have was his reason for doing so. He hoped that the Home Secretary would supply the omission in the speeches of the Attorney General and the Solicitor General. What grounds had he for departing from the ordinary mode of administering justice? An hon. Member who sat behind the Treasury Bench had not been as reticent as the hon. and learned Member, and told the House that the people of Wales could not be trusted.
§ MR. SWETENHAM
observed that, on the contrary, he had said that the people could be trusted. What he had intended to point out was that it would be very difficult to find any common jurymen in North Wales who were not more or less connected with the Anti-Tithe League.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
asked why the hon. Member supported the procedure proposed by the Attorney General if he trusted the people? The hon. Member himself had a very strong opinion upon questions relating to land. Was it not he who had proposed to move a very remarkable Amendment to the Irish Crimes Bill, an Amendment under which it would have been possible to inflict 150 lashes upon offenders in agrarian cases?
§ MR. SWETENHAM
said, if the right hon. Gentleman referred to his proposed Amendment it did not deal with, agrarian offences, unless the maiming of cattle could be so considered.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
, continuing, said, he did not think it wise that a course of this kind, which affected a great many persons beyond the prisoners themselves, should be taken without some public statement of the grounds on which it was taken. The Attorney General, it appeared, felt himself prevented by his official position from giving any explanation. But the Home Secretary was under no such restraints, and he ought to tell the House why it had been resolved in this case that the ordinary law should not be allowed to take its course. Such explanation might prevent misunderstanding, and prevent the necessity of a Division.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. MATTHEWS) (Birmingham, E.)
said, the right hon. Gentleman had filled both the positions of a Law Officer and of Home Secretary, and he ought to have known these questions could not be answered categorically. Such a matter as this did not come before a Government as a Government. It was one which the Attorney General, as the Law Officer of the Government, undertook on his own responsibility. The matter was not one that came even within the knowledge of other Members of the Government, and in the present instance he did not know that any Member of the Cabinet had even heard that it was the intention to apply in this case for a change of venue. He himself knew very little of the facts of this case—he did not even know upon whom the assault was committed; but from what he did know of the case, it appeared to be a pure case of riot and assault, in which the justice or propriety of tithes was only very indirectly involved. That being so, it was only in the most indirect way that it touched any political question. There had, however, been a great deal of excitement in the neighbourhood, and probably it would be impossible to find a jury the members of which were not partizans either of one side or the other. The Attorney General, as the responsible Law Officer, had to form his own judgment as to the course he should take upon the information, and the evidence 1370 before him. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to the writ of certiorari as a rusty weapon, but it was not at all rusty. Such applications were of frequent occurrence, and recognized as very proper where any case excited strong local feeling. The Attorney General would in a few days have to apply to the Court for a change of venue, and it would be open to grave objections that he should anticipate his argument to the Court by a statement to the House. It might, indeed, appear unfair of him to do so, and to be prejudging the case. Certainly it would be most ungenerous to the prisoners, and might, so to speak, poison the wells of justice. The proper course for the Attorney General was that which he had taken—namely, to decline to enter into an agrument in support of the application for the change of venue until that application had been made to the Court.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
said, the right hon. Gentleman surely knew that this was not a case of certiorari at all. The Attorney General had the right of removing the case to the civil side of the Court of Queen's Bench, and he had done so. The change of venue was another matter, dependent upon the order of the Court.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
asked if the effect of removing it to the civil side did not involve its being tried by a special jury?
§ MR. R. T. REID
said, the Attorney General was not bound to move that a case be transferred to the Queen's Bench Division. A motion for a writ of certiorari was not necessary.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
said, he believed that was so in the past. The trial could be removed at the option of the Attorney General.
§ MR. R. T. REID
And the trial will take place before a Special Jury instead of before a common jury.
§ MR. DILLWYN (Swansea, Town)
said, he desired, as a Welshman, to enter his solemn protest against the slur cast upon his country by the proposition to 1371 remove the trial to London. The proceedings against the prisoners in this case would be looked upon in the light of a persecution and not a prosecution. There was a growing feeling in Wales against the conduct of the Government towards Ireland, and they believed that the Government desired to pursue a similar course towards Wales. This proceeding would add strength to that feeling. To try these men by a special jury would not be trying them by their peers. He was glad his hon. Friend had called attention to the subject, and he hoped the Motion would be pressed to a Division, as a protest against the slur which had been cast upon the Welsh people at large.
§ MR. BOWEN ROWLANDS (Cardiganshire)
said, he must complain that the question whether the prisoners should be tried before their peers or not had already been settled by the Attorney General.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
Certainly not. All I have done is to remove the case to the civil side of the Queen's Bench.
§ MR. BOWEN ROWLANDS
And that was with the express purpose of having it adjudicated upon by a special jury. No verdict had been returned in Wales which gave the Government a right to say that Welsh juries would refuse to return a fair verdict. If there was any ground for believing that the ordinary jurors would be unduly partial to the prisoners, there was also ample ground for believing that the special jurors would be unduly influenced against them. If there were any mixed and difficult questions of law and fact in a case requiring to be dealt with by more cultivated intellects, then a special jury might perhaps be a more appropriate tribunal; but this was a question upon which the commonest man could decide as completely and properly as the most cultivated members of the society from which a Special Jury was likely to be drawn. He did not know whether an application had yet been made for a change of venue, or whether that was another of the resources of civilization which the Government were prepared to apply against these poor men. If such an application were made it would be another insult cast at a country one of the constituencies of which he had the honour to represent. 1372 He desired to say that his wish was that no measures should be taken, either from ignorance or wilfulness on the part of the Government, which would be likely to create widespread disaffection in Wales. But, if the course on which the Government seemed now to be entering were persevered in, the result must be to create this disaffection, and to convert one of the most peaceful and loyal parts of the Queen's Dominions into one in which a very different state of things would prevail.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided;—Ayes 129; Noes 198: Majority 69.—(Div. List, No. 310.)