§ Order for Second Reading read.
THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITE) (Strand, Westminster)
Sir, in rising to move the 242 second reading of this Bill I have to state at once that it is not my intention to occupy the time of the House at any length. I look upon it as the preliminary stage of a judicial proceeding, and, therefore, it would be highly undesirable, for me at all events, and I hope the opinion will be shared by other hon. Members, to attempt to give the slightest colour to the circumstances under which we ask the House to accept the second reading of the Bill. The measure is one which has been proposed as an alternative to that asked for by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell)—namely, a Committee of this House. I will not again dwell upon the circumstances which induced the Government, and many hon. Members besides, to think that a Committee of this House is wholly unfit to enter into a consideration of the grave charges which are to form the subject of investigation. Apart from other considerations, we are of opinion that the passions excited by debates in this House during the last four or fives years render it hardly possible for Members to divest themselves altogether of Party prejudice and feeling, and to enter upon a judicial inquiry of this character in a judicial spirit, and with the perfect calm in which alone they ought to enter upon it. Under all the circumstances it would not be fair to imperil the character and reputation of the House of Commons by asking it to enter upon an inquiry under such conditions. But we admit that circumstances have occurred recently which justify an inquiry into the charges and allegations advanced. Those charges and allegations have been made now in a formal and distinct manner in a Court of Justice, and they have, therefore, advanced from the position they occupied last year into another and a totally different position. We have, therefore, offered to the House and to the hon. Members who are concerned, that a Royal Commission, based upon precedents which exist in the past, when great questions of immense difficulty have presented themselves for investigation and inquiry, based upon the precedent of Sheffield many years ago, and also based upon the precedent of a less important character in regard to the Metropolitan Board of Works—I say, following these precedents, we have offered a Royal Commission which shall have full and complete powers to investigate 243 all the charges and all the allegations which are contained in what the Lord Chief Justice declared to be a tremendous indictment against hon. Members below the Gangway. The Bill is neither more nor less than an extension in clauses of the Notice on which it was introduced last week; it contains the powers to which I then referred and the authority which I then described, and we consider that with anything less than the powers and authority with which it is proposed to clothe the learned Judges who are to conduct this inquiry, it would fail in justice and in fairness to all the parties who are concerned. We are of opinion that if this inquiry be entered upon it must be a complete and searching inquiry, and must finally dispose of the charges which have been made bearing wholly or partly upon hon. Gentlemen opposite. We do not think we should be acting in common fairness and justice to those Gentlemen accused by or concerned in those charges if we failed to afford them the most full and complete opportunity before a judicial tribunal of entirely clearing their character; and we have confidence that a judicial tribunal such as that we propose to constitute will act with the fairness, with the justice, with the impartiality, with the consideration which all English Judges have exhibited in recent years, and which have entitled the Bench to the respect and esteem of all honest men, no matter what politics they profess. In the course of the debate last year the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) expressed the most complete confidence that every Judge on the Bench would discharge a duty of this character with absolute impartiality. I regret very much that the same confidence has not been extended to an English jury. It is an extraordinary thing that in these days faith and trust are not placed in an English jury in a case of this great importance. If hon. Members will not appeal to an English Court for the justice they desire to receive—I have nothing to do with the motives or the arguments or the reasons which induce hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, or those who are associated with them opposite me, to decline to submit a case of this character to an English jury; still I feel that such a circumstance is to be most deeply regretted and deplored. The 244 fact remains the same, and we have neither the inclination nor the power to compel them to resort to an English jury—[Mr. PARNELL: Oh, yes, you have.]—but the indisposition to do so will appear to the House and the country as one of the circumstances rendering it expedient that a Commission, rather than the House itself, should be the tribunal to determine questions which have long been a public scandal. It rests with the House to say whether this inquiry shall be as full, as complete, as impartial, as searching, and as final as we desire it shall be. No one will rejoice more than I shall if the result of such inquiry shall be to entirely clear hon. Gentlemen opposite. Under this Commission the Judges will have power to determine what they will regard as the material charges and allegations advanced, and which in other circumstances would be, and are now to be, investigated. I have myself full confidence in the Judges we desire to name on this Commission. We believe they will command public confidence and esteem, and, referring to the observation which has been made, they will command the confidence which has always been felt in English Judges, and when I mention the names to the House I think they will justify the confidence I have expressed. The Lord Chancellor has, Sir, nominated Sir James Hannen as President of the Court, and Mr. Justice Day and Mr. Justice A. L. Smith as the other members of the Court. I have now, Sir, made my statement, and I have endeavoured to avoid making any remark which would distract attention or rouse angry passions or feelings. I do not desire to prejudge the issue—the tremendous issue—before the House and the country, nor do I desire in the slightest degree to say one single word or a single syllable which could be taken c to influence the Court. The issues, Sir, are tremendous to the character of the House and those concerned in this great trial—this great inquiry—and I believe that if the House accepts the proposal which I have made the result must be to the advantage of the country, whatever the result or the determination of the case may be. I beg to move the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. William Henry Smith.)245
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
I am glad, Sir, that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury has seen it expedient to change from the absurd and untenable position which he took up on the last day when this matter was before the House, when he told me that it was a question for me to decide—it was for me and others to decide whether we should accept or reject this Bill. He now takes a more becoming ground for a Minister of the Crown when he says that it now rests with the House to decide. I am glad he has amended his hand in accordance with the advice I took the liberty of giving him on the last occasion. It is well that I should direct the attention of the House very shortly to the history of this question. I originally asked for a Select Committee to inquire into the statements made affecting Members of this House, and into the genuineness and authenticity of the evidence on which the statements were made. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, in reply to a Question of mine on the 1st July, couched in these terms, said that he declined to give me a Select Committee to inquire into the genuineness and authenticity of these letters—firstly, on the ground that he considered the issue was too limited and narrow; and, secondly, on the ground that the tribunal I asked for was unfitted for the purpose. But he went on to say—We are willing to propose that Parliament should pass a Bill appointing a Commission to inquire into the allegations and charges made against Members of Parliament in the recent action of 'O'Donnell v. Walter.'The House will observe that the statement of the right hon. Gentleman on the 12th of July was that the inquiry was to be confined to the allegations made against Members of Parliament. In the Notice of Motion which the right hon. Gentleman placed on the Paper two days afterwards—having, in the meantime, received a friendly hint at the Cabinet Council from the counsel for The Taxes—let that statement be denied or not—and having had, perhaps, also the advantage of an interview then or subsequently with Mr. Walter himself—he mends his hand, and extends the inquiry by the addition of "and other persons."
§ An hon. MEMBER: Why not? What has that got to do with you?246
§ MR. PARNELL
He now proposes to inquire into the allegations and statements made against Members of Parliament and others in the course of the trial of the recent action of "O'Donnell v. The Times." Now, Sir, I will show that this Bill proposes to inquire, not into my conduct, not into the conduct of my Parliamentary Friends, but it proposes to inquire into the conduct of the whole agitation of the Land League in America, in Ireland, and in Great Britain. If you want an inquiry into the Land League, say so. Bring in a Bill for the purpose, and then we shall know what to say to it. It is very odd that, although the Land League sprang into existence 10 years ago, it never occurred to the Government to move for a Commission to inquire into its proceedings until these forgeries—these infamous forgeries—appeared in The Times. The right hon. Gentleman said the other day that he had brought this matter forward in order to give us an opportunity of clearing our character, and he repeats that statement to-day. I say that he has not brought it forward in response to my request, or for any purpose of the kind. He has brought it forward for the purpose of casting discredit on a great Irish movement, to endeavour to traduce a people whom you ought now to be fully ashamed and fully tired of traducing, and to contrive a means of escape for his confederates from the breakdown of the charges which he and the hon. and learned Attorney General sitting beside him know full well will break down. We are now told that these letters are only secondary matters, and even if proved up to the hilt, as it will be proved, that each and every one of the letters mentioned the other night are barefaced forgeries, it will not affect the case of The Times. You seek now to raise this turgid cloud in order to cover your retreat and the retreat of your confederates, which you know well will soon be forced upon you. I shall show, by reference to the speech of the hon. and learned Attorney General, that these charges and allegations are charges against the Land League, and not against me. The hon. and learned Gentleman made no charges against me until he came to the forged letters. He made four charges, which he supported 247 by false statements—statements which I shall show to be false charges, which the hon. and learned Attorney General will not venture to repeat when he knows what they are, as he will know after I have done. But these four charges and allegations would not have been charges and allegations but for the false statements put into the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman; so that it comes to this—that the whole case in the speech of the hon. and learned Attorney General for the defence in the recent proceedings breaks down against me personally. It amounts to nothing. It has not the weight of a grain of wheat, not the weight of the chaff belonging to a grain of wheat apart from these forgeries. Yet we are told by the right hon. Gentleman that he is offering this inquiry into allegations made, not against me—leaving the forged letters out of the question—for the purpose of enabling me to clear my character from the most cruel and infamous charges ever made against a public man, and which have been made against me because I am a public man. For I do not suppose that the London Times ever would have given £1,000 for these forgeries of this wretched ex-Member of Parliament of whom we hear, if they had not been letters implicating me or seeking to implicate me. But my vindication from these cruel and abominable charges is to be postponed and left to the last. There is first to be an inquiry into every conceivable thing—an inquiry which we cannot see the limits of within less than two or three years, and I am to be put to the expense of finding counsel to conduct this inquiry in Ireland, in America, in France, and wherever the Judges may think it necessary to send a Commission, while if the inquiry went to the point as to these forgeries I know I could demonstrate to conviction within a week that they are forgeries. And that is the fairness of the right hon. Gentleman. This is how he shows himself so anxious to do justice to a Member of this House. He has told us, indeed, that he cannot compel us to go before a jury. Yes; but if he had the courage of his grandmother he would send me before a jury. Now, I say again that the charges and allegations of the hon. and learned Attorney General were made, not against me and 248 my Colleagues, but against the Land League. The hon. and learned Gentleman makes abundant reference to the Land Leage in this pamphlet from The Times. Almost every page is studded with them. He tells us at page 54 of the pamphlet that—Most grave and serious charges have been made against the Party known as the Parnellite Party. I deny that the plaintiff is justified in saying that nine-tenths of these charges refer to him. They refer to the Land League in Ireland, which was guilty of crime and iniquitous acts.On page 55 the hon. and learned Attorney General says—Why, I will undertake to demonstrate that the alleged libels prior to June 17, 1887, did not refer to the plaintiff or to the 'Constitutional Party,' with whom Mr. Lucy represents Mr. O'Donnell to have been connected, but to the Irish Land League.On page 56, speaking of Mr. O'Donnell, the hon. and learned Attorney General says—He knew that incidents would be put to him received in those journals which would have incriminated the Land League.Also, lower down on the same page, he says—What I say is that Mr. O'Donnell has no right to assert that he ever was a member of the Irish Land League, and that the organization of the Land League under which outrages were incited and committed was one with which he was associated.Then, on page 64, we find more in the same strain. The hon. and learned Gentleman says—Now the letter of Mr. O'Donnell was a very sensible one; but what are we to think of the gentleman who is now posing as an injured man as included in libels upon this very body—the Irish Land League?And lower down, on page 64, he says—And his (Mr. Ruegg's) client has pretended through his counsel that he is libelled in these attacks upon the League.On page 65 he says—These murders can be traced to no cause whatever except the language used at Land League meetings,and so on. I can run through the whole of the pamphlet, and give you dozens of similar extracts to prove my contention still further if necessary; but I do not think that it is necessary that I should do so. It was the Land League against which the indictment was brought by the hon. and learned Attorney General in the recent trial, and it is against the Land 249 League that you are to issue this Commission of Inquiry, and not against myself. Now, if I refer to the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman—the greater part of which was absolutely void of foundation and a great deal of the rest of it without sense—it is because the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury referred me to that speech as a substitute for the details which ought to have appeared in this Bill. In that speech there are abundant references to the doings and speeches of other people, many of them most obscure; but there is very little reference to my doings or speeches. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman quotes one of my speeches in America, and this is the head of one of the indictments against me to which the discovery of the forged letters is merely secondary. I think there are four references to me altogether in the statement of the hon. and learned Gentleman outside of the forged letters. He says that I went to America in 1879. This is one of my crimes for which I am to be tried by this Commission, and into the truth of which this Commission is to be appointed to inquire. He says that while I was in America in 1879 I had interviews with Devoy, Ford, and Walsh. The mere fact of my going to America in 1879 would have been too innocent even for the gullibility of a Middlesex jury, and it was too innocent for the hon. and learned Gentleman, so he was obliged to bring in some of the falsehoods to which I shall refer. He was obliged to say that I had interviews with Ford and Walsh. Walsh was the name specially mentioned, because he was the organizer and prime mover in Great Britain of the conspiracy which Carey in his evidence alleged was directed against Mr. Forster's life, and which was known as that of the Invincibles. The hon. and learned Gentleman had seen, I suppose, that while in America I had had an interview with a Father Walsh, who afterwards became treasurer of the Land League in that country, and who is now dead; and it occurred to him—at least to the intellect of the prompter of the right hon. Gentleman—because I do not attribute any personal untruth to him, because those untruths were put into his mouth, and he was guilty, not of want of truth, but merely of want of veracity. He had seen that I had known a Father Walsh 250 in America; but let it be known that Walsh, the Land League organizer, was not in America at the time I was there. He was at his house at Middlesbrough in this country, where he continued to live until 1882, when he left after the time of the revelations of Carey, and went to America. Therefore, he could not be that Walsh that I met in America. The only other Walsh that I remember in America was Father Walsh. But perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will explain who was the particular Walsh whose acquaintance condemns me to the suspicion of having been engaged while in America in unlawful and criminal practices. As regards Mr. Patrick Ford, I have never seen him in my life; but if I had seen him, what then? If I had seen him at that time it would not have made me guilty. As a matter of fact, while I was in America, I was anxious to see him, and I went to his office for the purpose of obtaining an interview with him; but he was not at home, and, my time being limited, I was not able to call again. That describes the whole of my connection with Mr. Patrick Ford during my stay in America. It has also been stated that I met John Devoy while I was in America. That is quite true. With Mr. Devoy I had several interviews. He boarded the vessel in which I went to America on her arrival as a reporter of The New York herald. He took me over the office of that paper and other places of interest in New York. I admit to the fullest extent that I held communications with him with regard to political matters; but all these things are open to the fullest scrutiny, and they will be found on scrutiny to be absolutely innocent and colourless in every particular, and destitute of any incitement to bloodshed. So that halo of bloodshed and the lurid aspect which the hon. and learned Gentleman thought to make out of my visit to America, and my meeting with men having the terrible reputations of Devoy, Walsh, and Ford comes to this—that the only one of these three that I saw was Devoy, and our intercourse was certainly of the most harmless and Constitutional character. This is one of the accusations, apart from the forged letters, to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has referred. Then the hon. and learned Gentleman, in his second 251 indictment, said that I went to Paris in February, 1881, and while there I had interviews with Mr. Egan. It is perfectly true that I went to Paris in February, 1881. I went there to see Mr. Egan, and I not only had interviews with him, but I stopped in the same hotel with him. I not only went to Paris once, but I went there twice. But then the hon. and learned Gentleman goes on to say that in 1881—this is to show how wicked I was when I went to Paris—about the same time Sheridan was going about Ireland disguised as a priest. Will the House credit that the hon. and learned Attorney General was so little informed of the facts of his case that, for the purpose of attaching a guilty complexion to my visits to Paris, he was obliged to antedate Sheridan's journey to Ireland disguised as a priest by fully eight months. Nobody but a person who was conscious that his statements could not be subjected to the test of evidence could have had the unblushing effrontery manifested by the hon. and learned Attorney General at the late trial. Then there is a third point which the hon. and learned Attorney General endeavoured to make against me in the same speech, and that was a speech which I made on the 9th of September, 1880, at Ennis, when I advocated Boycotting. Undoubtedly I did make that speech advocating Boycotting. And then the hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say that I was present at a subsequent meeting in October, at which Mr. Matthew Harris made a speech, and that I did not rebuke him, although I was present. That makes the fourth charge urged against me in the speech of the hon. and learned Attorney General, and these are the whole of the charges that the hon. and learned Gentleman made against me in that statement apart from the forged letters. Then, with regard to my speech advocating Boycotting, it is true that I did so. No doubt I am responsible for having advocated, and perhaps introduced, the practice of Boycotting in Ireland. And the hon. and learned Attorney General claimed against me that, from Boycotting, outrages and murders in some measure resulted. That may be the hon. and learned Attorney General's opinion; but it is not mine. I have never advocated the practice of Boycotting since the passing of the 252 Arrears Act of 1882. Before that time I believe that it was necessary, owing to the helpless and defenceless state of the Irish tenantry—a state to which your Party and the House of Lords contributed by the rejection of the Compensation for Disturbance Bill. I believed that I was justified, under the circumstances, in making that speech and advocating the practice of Boycotting. I admit that is a question that is open to discussion, and that the hon. and learned Gentleman is entitled to his opinion, and I to mine. But I believe that this speech and other speeches of mine, so far from promoting outrages, prevented them. I know well what my thoughts and my intentions were. I know that my view and desire in all my speeches in Ireland during the winter of 1880 and 1881 was to wean those few of the Irish people who had sought refuge in criminal acts and outrages as a means of defence against their oppressors, and to teach them to value Parliamentary methods and the safety of entrance within the gates of the Constitution just then opening, and which now, thank God, are fully opened to them. I believe I have been successful in achieving that object, and that no man lives who can boast that he has brought a nation so soon to an implicit trust in Constitutional and pacific measures as I can boast that I have brought the people of Ireland. Now, with regard to the speech of Mr. Matthew Harris. Here, again, is another example of the slipshod fashion in which the hon. and learned Gentleman got up his speech. He stated that I was present during that speech. Why, I was not present at all. As a matter of fact, I was several hundreds of yards away, sitting in the hotel in Galway; and, as another matter of fact, that speech was not made at Mayo at all. The Government shorthand writer who reported my speech, and who reported Mr. Harris's speech at that meeting, afterwards swore in Court during the State Trials in Dublin that I was not present at that meeting. But all these little facts are too small and too insignificant to be inquired into by the hon. and learned Attorney General in making statements which he knows are not going to be answered. Now, I have dealt with the four charges which the hon. and learned Attorney General made against me in his speech; 253 but he did not rely upon these merely, but flourished a whole bundle of forged letters in the face of the Court as well. Now, Sir, I have dealt fully with the question of the forged letters on a former occasion in this House. What I have to say, so far as my doings and proceedings go outside the question of these forged letters, is that there is not one single true statement which was then made by the hon. and learned Attorney General, and which is made in the pamphlet called Parnellism and Crime, which is not an open and notorious matter, which is not recorded in every public journal of the day as having taken place, and for ascertaining the accuracy of which you require no Commission. They are open and on record, and everybody has his opinion in regard to my acts and utterances. If it was a question of opinion, I grant you the case might be different; but you do not appoint a Commission to inquire into questions of opinion, but into matters of fact. I come, then, to the forged letters. We have had from Mr. Egan recently, as I ventured to predict we should have, the fullest and most complete denial, coupled with absolute evidence of their falsity, that any man could have given with regard to such productions. As to the letter to which my signature was attached—and which is alleged to have been in the handwriting of Mr. Henry Campbell, my private secretary—I have seen during the last few days my late private secretary, Mr. Henry Campbell, who was dangerously ill during the trial, but who, nevertheless, would have taken his place in the witness-box at any risk to his life, in order to refute the calumnies of the hon. and learned Attorney General if the trial had gone on, and he assures me of the fact, of which I was already aware, that the handwriting of the body of the letter bears not the slightest resemblance to his. I wish to ask the hon. and learned Attorney General a simple question—Whether he ever personally himself compared any of Mr. Campbell's admitted handwriting with the handwriting of the forged letters? Did he or did he not? [Sir RICHARD WEBSTER made no sign.] I think that is a fairly plain question to which the hon. and learned Attorney General, if his conscience was easy, might have nodded or shaken his head. I will ask him another question, 254 which he, perhaps, will find more difficult to answer—Did he ever learn from The Times the source from which they got those letters before he, the Legal Adviser of the Government, consented to link his fortunes and those of his Party and Government with those infamous productions? If he did not take those precautions, I do not think he will be absolved from the charge of rushing blindfold into accusations of such infamy against his brother Members of this House without that due examination and inquiry which a man in his high and learned position ought to have used. Well, Sir, the object of all this is perfectly plain. It is evident to the Government and to the hon. and learned Gentleman, and to The Times, from all their utterances during the last few days, that the case of the forged letters is going to break down, and they want to divert the inquiry of the Royal Commission into other channels. If they have anything to say against me, let them appoint a Commission by all means to inquire into my actions, and I know I shall come out untarnished from their scrutiny. If they have anything to say against the Land League and any reasons why this inquiry should be gone into, although they themselves never proposed it or thought of it during all these long years, let them come down to the House and say, "We think the proceedings of the Land League ought to be investigated, and we propose a Commission;" but I, Sir, will be no party to letting the Government, by a side-wind, under the pretext of investigating my doings, enter into such an inquiry as this, which must undoubtedly extend over a very long period of time. Why, Sir, these four charges that the hon. and learned Attorney General made against me were matters of notoriety. They were known to Lord Carnarvon in 1885, when he sought an interview with me in an empty house in London. They were known to Lord Salisbury a month or two later, when he spoke in his speech at Newport of the Irish Chieftain.
§ MR. PARNELL
When he referred to me as the Irish Chief, when he expressed the wish and hope that it might be possible that Ireland might have restored to her some small portion of her lost legislative independence by the adoption of the Colonial model. These 255 things were all known to the old Tory Party and the Tory Government of 1885, when you deliberately abandoned coercion, asked for no inquiry into the Land League, and said, through the mouth of Lord Carnarvon, that you would try another and a better way in the dealings of England with Ireland. Nothing new has happened from that day to this to create suspicion, or to point any additional charge against me, except the production of these forged letters. I shall call for the production of evidence in support of those charges, and for the production of the forged letters. I call upon the Government to limit the scope of this Commission to what the right hon. Gentleman avowed in his reply to a Question he was going to limit it—namely, to charges and allegations made against myself and other Members of this House. I ask that the Bill shall exclude "other persons," and name specifically any Member of Parliament charged. I ask that the Bill shall provide that the Commission is not only to be one conducted by Judges, but that it shall also be a judicial inquiry. I ask that the Bill shall provide that I and my Parliamentary Colleagues as the persons accused shall have the power at the commencement of the proceedings of opening our case by counsel and conducting it as in a judicial proceeding for libel. If that be not so, the Commission might call any witnesses they pleased, in any order they pleased. They might refuse to call witnesses whom we considered urgent; they might refuse to do many things which would be necessary for the conduct of our case; and this is not provided for in the Bill as it stands. I ask, fourthly, that the Bill shall provide for a definite specification of the charges made against me. I say that if this is not done it would be open to the Commission, under the imputations made in Parnellism and Crime and in the statement of the hon. and learned Attorney General, to go into the history of every outrage that has occurred in Ireland, and every speech that has been made by every member of the Land League in England, Ireland, Scotland, and America, before it came to the question of the authenticity of the forged letters. And I ask, finally, that the Bill shall provide for the discovery of documents, &c., before the commencement of the inquiry. It is obvious that it will 256 be of vital importance for us to have facilities for seeing these documents before the Commission commences to sit—not only for seeing them, but for taking photographs of them, and for having them examined by experts; for, according to the statement of the hon. and learned Attorney General, these statements have been in the hands of his experts for weeks and weeks, and we want them to be in the hands of ours. Now, Sir, I think I have made out my case that, in asking the House to adopt this Bill, the Government, under pretext of appointing a Commission to inquire into the conduct of myself and my hon. Friends, is appointing a Commission which will not close its labours until it has inquired into every speech and every outrage that has ever been committed in Ireland or elsewhere, and that this is not a fair way of proceeding. I have shown the absurdity of the case so far as disclosed in Parnellism and Crime, and in the speech of the hon. and learned Attorney General in the late proceedings sought to be made against me. I have shown it has no shadow of foundation—that it consists of open and overt acts, of speeches delivered in the full light of publicity, and of proceedings about which there was no shadow of concealment whatever, which were announced in all the newspapers; and I say it is not fair, decent, English—it is, moreover, I believe, cowardly and unjust—to ask us to accept such a measure in response to the claim I make in this House for an investigation into these infamous charges, meaning no more than ordinary justice.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)
Sir, I have waited till the very last moment before rising in my place, because I must confess that, as on many occasions in life, truth exceeds the bounds of fiction, and passes wholly beyond them, so I can hardly describe the astonishment with which, after listening to the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down, after listening to the plain and explicit demand which he has made on the Government, and the grave and remarkable allegations that he has made as to the speech of counsel in the case of "O'Donnell v. The Times," that no answer has been offered. As the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury said that he could not force the 257 hon. Member for Cork to bring his case before a jury, though the right hon. Gentleman entirely passes over the fact that he might have brought the hon. Member for Cork before a jury, so I may remark that it is out of our power entirely to compel the Government to speak when they find it expedient and politic to keep their mouth closed. The hon. Member for Cork has spoken, as I think, with great power, with some warmth, which was absolutely unavoidable in the circumstances in which he is placed, and with very great plainness, although we perfectly understand the position which he has thought it his duty to assume. It would be entirely inexcusable if I were to imitate the hon. Member for Cork in deviating from the tone of calmness on this subject. There would be no excuse for me. I have to look at it from another point of view, and I think that, rather than allow the House to go to a Division without any further explanation, it has been my duty—acting, as I have the honour to act, in connection with a considerable section of Members of this House—it has been and is my duty to state my view of our position in reference to the proposal now before it. I speak for that section of the House which is one, perhaps, less responsible than any other portion of the House. Because, during the last Session of Parliament, we explained very distinctly our views that by justice, that by policy, that by precedent, that by regard to the jurisdiction uniformly assumed by the House over its own Members in cases where their public character was gravely and even fatally impugned, we were bound to appoint, in the absence of other conclusive evidence, a Select Committee of our own to make this inquiry. I cannot complain that the right hon. Gentleman has delivered his opinion against that method of proceeding; but he will allow me to say that all that has since happened shows me more and more how entirely we were justified—nay, how entirely we were bound—to make the proposal that we then made, and which the majority of this House thought proper to refuse. I pass on from that to show that what we have now to do is to exercise our best judgment upon the vote before us, and take such course as our public duty may appear to dictate. Undoubtedly, I will go so far as to say that any inquiry, however unprecedented, 258 which is likely to attain the object in view, has for me, individually, strong claims upon my assent if I have not power to obtain a better and a more Constitutional inquiry such as I have failed to obtain. Whether or not the inquiry now proposed is to afford the least hope of attaining the end to be pursued depends, I think, upon the answer to be made by Her Majesty's Government—for, after all, they will have to make an answer—depends upon the answer to be given by Her Majesty's Government to requests such as, in his suggestions, if I understand them rightly—such as those which have been made by the hon. Member for Cork. I must refer briefly to one or two observations of the First Lord of the Treasury which I cannot allow to pass uncontested. He says—and it shows the poverty of his case as to precedents—he says he relies on the precedent of the Commission of Inquiry into the allegations against the Metropolitan Board of Works. If the Metropolitan Board were a section of this House—if it were composed of persons whom it was in our power to deal with by a Vote of Censure or of expulsion, I might assume there was some primâ facie ground for that case. But the Metropolitan Board is an extraneous Body. It is only by legislation that we can proceed to try the case, and that question is vitally and fundamentally separated from the case before us. Well, then, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman refers to the proceedings of last year, and states that since then the position has been totally altered. How has it been altered? By a speech of counsel, unsupported by a rag of evidence. I have not a word to say against that speech of counsel or respecting it except to say that, as I understand, the duty of counsel is to speak according to the instructions received from the party he represents, and that it is no more than an echo of that party in the case. How, Sir, does that alter the position of the question? I admit that the front has been extended, and that new letters have been produced. They fall into the same category as the letter of last year; but, as to the authority of the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman, he would laugh if I were to assign the slightest authority as apart from the evidence which he might have to produce, of which I know nothing whatever, and as 259 to which I say nothing whatever on its merits, but as to which, as non-apparent, I must treat it as non-existent—the speech of the Attorney General stands alone, and it adds nothing whatever in weight, in power, or in authority to the original articles. I shall refer very shortly indeed to what appeared to me to be the points necessary to be mentioned—for, so far as I am concerned, the decision of those points cannot take place before my vote upon the second reading, and they will have to be considered at another stage. The right hon. Gentleman has given us the names of three Judges whom he thinks fit to constitute a tribunal that will, with reference to the personal qualities of those composing it, command the confidence of the House. Well, Sir, before giving my own assent to the entire composition of that tribunal, I am bound to say I must take time for full consideration. I am not prepared at this moment, as at present advised, to meet the assertion of the right hon. Gentleman, with regard to that unqualified confidence, in the manner which I most earnestly desire. I know the fact—that which I have said on former occasions—with respect to the general character of the Bench. It would have been in the power of the right hon. Gentleman to have made a selection which would at once have hushed everybody—nay, rather would have commanded the warmest acclamation. I cannot at this moment say, with respect to the whole of those three names, he has made such a selection. The practical points suggested by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cork are these. In the first place, he asks that the proceeding shall be a judicial proceeding. I can hardly suppose that that demand of the hon. Member for Cork can have raised any difficulty on the part of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman himself stated fairly and explicitly that this was "the first step in a judicial proceeding." It is our duty to make such reasonable provisions as may at least clearly declare the mind of Parliament in regard to the nature and the limits of the heavy task that it is proposed to lay upon those gentlemen. We are—in the opinion of a very large minority of this House, at least—devolving upon others a responsibility that belongs to ourselves. If we do that, the very least that we can do, in addition, is to make clear to those whom 260 we solicit to undertake our duties what we desire them to do, and to lay down distinctly the limits within which those substitutes are to walk. That is the first demand. The second request that is made is that "other persons" shall be excluded. I own, Sir, I never read words in a draft Bill with greater astonishment than I did the words "other persons" in the Bill now before us. In the original proposition of the right hon. Gentleman there was not the slightest reference to "other persons."
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. My own impression is that I mentioned "other persons." ["No, no!"] I put it on the Paper on Friday.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
The surprise with which I read the words, when I saw them on the Friday, is the exact measure of my confidence that they were not used before. However, I hardly suppose that it will be seriously believed that we are going to appoint a Commission to inquire into the acts of other persons, subjects of Her Majesty, with regard to whom no definite allegations have been made, and who may include any number of thousands of Her Majesty's subjects. It is impossible for me to take any responsibility with respect to a Bill for the purpose of appointing an inquiry of this kind with reference to other persons who, whatever their deeds may be, ought to be left to the action of the ordinary law. The whole ground for the proceeding, which does not seem to have been understood by the Government, rests in the historical and Constitutional fact that this House assumes—and, in my opinion, rightly assumes—a jurisdiction over the conduct of those who are Members in matters of public duty vitally affecting their capacity to serve the Empire. That is the reason—if there be a reason—for this inquiry, which does not touch the other persons, who would properly come under the ordinary law. I have some confidence that even the majority of this House will hardly be prepared to include those persons within the purview of the Bill. The letters alleged are of a character that evidently, if they proved to be genuine, would require such notice in this House as I will not now stop to 261 describe. The Members of Parliament who are to be the objects of this inquiry, necessarily one of a penal aspect—I am not bringing that forward as a matter of complaint, but as a matter of fact—are entitled to be pointed out, and are bound to be pointed out, as the objects of the charge. Surely it can hardly be intended that an investigation is to be made against all and sundry persons unnamed. Gentlemen who may apprehend and suppose that they may possibly have a share in these imputations are entitled to claim that they shall be brought out into the light of day, and that the intention to charge them shall be laid before the world; so that there shall be some responsibility in making these terrific charges, and that people shall not be able to recede from them by saying—"It was not you whom I meant, but somebody else whom I have not named." In that case you provide a shelter and refuge for a skulking cowardice of such baseness as no words of mine can adequately describe. Finally, I wish to learn from Her Majesty's Government whether they intend to define the charges that are to be the subject of investigation? It appears to me, as far as I am able to understand, that there are but two. First and foremost come the letters alleged to be forged, letters which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cork has denounced with an indignation which no honest man could do otherwise than feel. But I assume nothing on the subject, except that they are the head and front of the matter. Everything else is in comparison ancient history; everything else passed the ordeal of our debates from 1880 to 1885; passed the ordeal of the Dissolution of 1885; passed the ordeal of the Tory policy of that memorable Autumn which history will never forget; passed the ordeal of the General Election without raising a single scruple in the minds of those who were then the Ministers of the Crown, and whose duty it was, if they thought there was a case, to make their inquiries and bring these evil deeds to light—I do not speak now of the letters, but of the general charges—and it was only last year that the publication of those letters which appeared in the broadsheet of The Times astounded the whole world, which constitute, together with the family of letters which follow, the main charges 262 against the hon. Member for Cork, and which he demands an opportunity of being able to examine and confute. There is that charge of the forgery of the letters, and what other charges are there? As I apprehend, there is the question whether any Member of this House can be found guilty of complicity with crime. I will say nothing upon that subject. It is a charge which I have never made; it is a charge which no Colleague of mine has ever made; but it is a charge which we should not have scrupled to make if we had known or believed that there was any ground for supporting it. With that, I admit, you have nothing to do. I recognize it now simply as a charge. I do not deny, if facts can be produced belonging to the case of the Attorney General tending in the minds of a judicial tribunal to establish complicity with crime against any Member of this House, that that is a legitimate matter for the cognizance of the House, and for the inquiry of this Commission, if this Commission is to sit. I will not now inquire whether it is to be done by words introduced into the Bill in Committee, or by general direction, in the Bill, or by Schedule; I do not enter into that question; but what I do declare in my judgment to be the absolute demand both of policy and of justice is that definite charges, and only definite charges, shall be handled as a matter of legitimate accusation, whether against Members of this House or against any other persons. Now, Sir, the position is very peculiar. I heard the right hon. Gentleman challenged repeatedly by Questions in this House as to his communications with the Attorney General. The right hon. Gentleman said that he would give no answer whatever as to the nature of these communications. I am bound to say that in giving that answer the right hon. Gentleman did no more than fulfil his public duty; but the right hon. Gentleman must see that that does not quite get rid of the whole case, and we who think that he was right in demanding unlimited liberty of private and confidential communication with the Attorney General may still think that a more deplorable error of judgment never was committed than when the Attorney General of the Government—of any Government, but especially, perhaps, of a Government diametrically opposed in politics and 263 sharply divided by prejudice and feeling from the hon. Member for Cork—undertook the conduct of the case of The Times. I do not believe that the Attorney General would make any unfair use of his position. I am making no charge of that kind, but I am speaking of this. I know that, while it was his duty to do everything he could for the defendants in the action, it was likewise his duty to advise Her Majesty's Government with regard to the proceedings we have now before us, and in my opinion these two sets of duty are absolutely incompatible with one another, and may lead us into difficulties and embarrassments of which we have no conception. As far as I am concerned, I think that an inquiry under thoroughly competent and impartial Judges is a method of proceeding which, after the right and true method of proceeding has been refused, is better than none; but that inquiry must, I think, be put into such a shape as shall correspond with the general law and principles of justice. I do not see that the general demand which has been made ought to constitute the slightest difficulty on the part of Her Majesty's Government. I speak in the belief that every one of these requests are requests easy to be complied with—requests to do nothing but to define and clear the road for the Commission, and make certain the attainment of clear and definite issues, which otherwise I hold to be most doubtful. The right hon. Gentleman has not said anything as to the period of passing a Bill of this nature—a Bill open to the objections which lie against the wording of the measure we have before us, and with omissions so strange of what appear to me the first and most essential conditions of securing a thorough and an effective inquiry, and enabling gentlemen who may be charged to sustain the enormous burden to which they must in any case be subject. Without those securities I certainly will have no responsibility whatever. The right hon. Gentleman has not told us to-night what view he takes of the Bill at present, whether it is a measure of legislation to be pressed forward on the ground of public principle, independently of the manner in which it is received, or of the time it may take; nor do I press him for information on that point. I simply describe the course 264 I intend to pursue myself. I have given my opinion that the conditions stated by the hon. Member for Cork appear to me to be fair and true conditions; I might go further, and say that unless they are conceded I think that the country will be driven to the conclusion that the proposal had been made in order that it might be refused.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. MATTHEWS) (Birmingham, E.)
I do not propose to reply, Mr. Speaker, in much detail to the observations which fell from the hon. Member for Cork, who, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite observed, spoke with considerable warmth. I am not disposed to imitate that warmth. It would not become me to utter a word, either conveying any opinion of my own or the opinion of the Government, with respect to anything which may be the subject matter of the inquiry before the Commission. There is only one matter to which I must allude. The hon. Member said that the Attorney General had linked his Party and the Government with the accusations. To that I must enter a most emphatic contradiction. It is perfectly true that the Attorney General appeared in the case of "O'Donnell v. Walter" as counsel for the defendants; but everything that he then said was said solely in his capacity of counsel for the defendants, and did not emanate from him as Attorney General in the slightest degree. It may be right or it may be wrong—it is a matter on which hon. Members are perfectly free to form their own opinions—that the Law Officers of the Government should be allowed to take private practice. But as long as the Law Officers of the Crown are allowed to enter upon private practice it must be obvious to anyone who knows that they are governed by the rules which apply to the Profession of the Law, and that what they say in advocacy of private clients has no more to do with their position as Law Officers of the Crown than any two subjects the most remote from each other. I do most emphatically deny that the Government have, in any sense, made themselves parties to the charges and allegations the investigation of which this Bill is intended to assist. We have never brought any charge against hon. Members of this House, or against persons outside this House. We have 265 heard with great concern, and with the interest which, of course, anybody must feel on such a subject, the accusations which have been made outside this House and in the public journals. We have listened to the debates which have taken place in this House on this subject, and to the denials—I hope I may say without offence the passionate denials—made from time to time by hon. Members who sit below the Gangway. We have said, and expressed our opinion more than once, that these matters are so grave, so momentous, that in our judgment they ought to be brought to some public test; and it seems to me that the right test—I was going to say the only right test, but that would be too strong an expression—certainly the right test is that which the Courts of Law properly constituted afford to every British subject who is attacked in his reputation, and who meets there with abundant means of justifying himself. But hon. Members below the Gangway have always met that allegation with assertions of this kind—"We cannot trust your British Courts of Justice; we do not trust your British juries." And even the infirm and despised Primrose League is dragged in, and it is said that it may be potent enough to influence one juryman. We have listened to these statements with sorrow and dismay; but it does not become us—we have not attempted to judge those who have declined to appeal to the Courts of Law. That matter has been left undecided until the present moment. What occurred the other day? "O'Donnell v. Walter" has revived all the statements which were made in the public Press. May I take this opportunity of saying that I entirely agree with what fell from the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), whom, I think, I am not misrepresenting when I say that he urged that the statements of the Attorney General added nothing to the statements of the clients he represented? But may I take leave to add that there was this circumstance of difference between what had occurred before and what occurred then? Up to that time all that had been alleged against anybody was simply contained in newspaper articles, of which, perhaps, it was not incumbent upon any public authority to take further notice than they 266 might be deemed to deserve. But when these matters were alleged in a Court of Justice—[Cries of "By whom?"]—by counsel for one of the parties. I would draw hon. Members' attention to the fact that they were alleged in circumstances which prevented hon. Members opposite from taking the ordinary remedy of an action. The charges were alleged under an absolutely exclusive privilege, because nobody could sue the Attorney General or any counsel-at-law for what he said in a Court of Justice. What he says in a Court of Justice as advocate for one of the parties is absolutely privileged. There was that circumstance of difference—namely, the singular solemnity and the great public notoriety of the circumstances, with all the importance which attaches to the proceedings of a Court of Justice. These statements are repeated in the most emphatic way with the offer of proving the truth of the allegations. That circumstance, in our judgment, did add something to the situation. Not only were the anonymous newspaper charges solemnly repeated in a Court of Justice and offer of proof tendered, but the hon. Member and other persons who were aggrieved and attacked by those statements had no legal remedy. Consequently, although we refused the tribunal asked for by hon. Members opposite, although we refused a Special Committee of this House when this matter was brought forward again, this offer has been made by the Government in order to settle the question which has been raised. Now, what are the questions raised and to be settled by the Commission? The hon. Member for Cork was guilty of a singular inconsistency. The drift of his speech was this. He said that the charges brought against him by the Attorney General had no more weight than the chaff of a single grain of wheat.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
Yes; apart from the forged letters; and the hon. Member said that the charges were charges against the Land League. The conclusion—and I thought it a singular conclusion—at which the hon. Member arrived was that there should be no inquiry into the doings of the Land League, but that we should confine the inquiry into the allegations against him 267 —["No!"]—which, with one single exception, he said, had not the weight of the chaff of one single grain of wheat.
§ MR. PARNELL
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon—I really said nothing of the sort. My contention is that in causing an inquiry into my proceedings you are inquiring into the proceedings of the Land League. I said if you wish to inquire into the proceedings of the Land League frame your Bill for that purpose.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
What we wished to inquire into was the allegations made by counsel for the defence in the action of "O'Donnell v. Walter." We brought no charge—["Oh!"]—we have brought no accusation even against the Land League. But accusations have been made against them in this action, and it was upon the ground of these accusations that we were appealed to, and accordingly we said we would issue what we considered a fit and proper judicial tribunal to inquire into these allegations made in the course of the action. We do not say that those allegations are levelled exclusively at the hon. Member for Cork, although, of course, he is included among them. These are accusations raising certainly a very large issue, an issue of a most painful kind, which involves complicity with crime beyond a doubt on the part of some persons or other. [Laughter.] Do hon. Members wish me to assume the attitude of an accuser? [An hon. MEMBER: It is an innuendo.] I will certainly do nothing of the kind. That is not the attitude which either the Government or I intend to assume. It is you who complain of certain reflections made in the course of certain proceedings, or, if you like to take the original offence, in certain newspaper articles. We assent to an inquiry into those allegations. But the moment the assent is given you turn upon us and say—"You, the Government, must pick out from these allegations what you allege is the substance and meaning of them. We demand that you make specific allegations against A, B, and C, and come forward as their accuser." That is not the part we have undertaken to play. I have looked into the proceedings of "O'Donnell v. Walter" with some care, and if I may be allowed to say so, I agree with the hon. Member for Cork that it is to the Land League, much more than 268 to himself, that those allegations refer. The Land League is in the first rank, and the hon. Member himself is connected with the Land League. Now, let me state to the House the allegations and charges made in the action of "O'Donnell v. Walter" in as few words as I can. The allegation is that the Land League first, and in a less degree the National League and the members of it, have used their own organization for the purpose of intimidation, outrage, and crime. That, I understand, is the one main charge brought in what the Lord Chief Justice called "this great indictment." There is a second charge formulated in these words—That the Land League, the National League, and the members thereof have allied themselves with the perpetrators and with the contrivers of intimidation and crime, and have availed themselves of their help in order to further their own peculiar ends.If I may paraphrase those two charges, they are charges that what has been called a Constitutional movement and a Parliamentary agitation does not stand by itself, but that it leans upon, and has been assisted by, a concurrent system of terrorism, outrage, and crime, and not that crime dogged the steps of a Constitutional movement, but that the leaders and managers of that movement encouraged intimidation and crime. I understand that to be the grave indictment, and undoubtedly it is very grave. It is an indictment which touches so closely political subjects and political passions that, for our parts, we thought that a Committee of this House was the last tribunal to try it. We, who have been engaged in conflict very often with the members of the League that was incriminated, and our supporters were disqualified from our hostility upon other points and other matters; while, on the other hand, hon. Members opposite were disqualified from sympathy and association in a common political struggle. On those grounds we refused to grant a Committee of this House as a means of inquiry into this indictment, which, though not a political indictment, touches the very verge of political questions. If the two things are incapable of being distinguished, why did not hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite in Parliament last year ask us to grant a Committee of Inquiry? To mix the two subjects of Party politics and crime does 269 not depend upon the tribunal which is to try the charges. Whether there is a Special Committee or a Commission of Judges, that dangerous proximity to political questions which I agree exists in the case of this indictment against the Land League would have existed with far greater peril to the mere sailing skiff of the Committee than to the solid steamship of the Judicial Commission. A Committee would practically have gone astray and been wrecked on these rocks, which we hope a Commission would keep clear of. These are the allegations which I find in the case of "O'Donnell v. Walter." I agree with the hon. Member for Cork that it is mainly against the League, and against himself as connected with the League, that these allegations are made; and it seems to me that it would be childish for the Government to say that this indictment having been made, and having been repeated in a Court of Justice—having been challenged and taken up by a political Party, having been passionately denied in the House—that we were, forsooth, to take it up and direct a Commission to inquire into it, and to leave out the main items and substance of the charge. Of course, as regards the hon. Member for Cork, and suggestions either of knowledge or complicity on his part respecting certain lamentable events, about which I will make no further comment, the letters, as pieces of evidence, are most important; and I quite agree that he is, on every principle of fairness and right, entitled to make good every case he has in the strongest and the most emphatic way against them and at the earliest opportunity.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
So be it. If that is the only thing he has to deal with, his part in the inquiry will be a short and an easy one. But, after all, those letters are only evidence in support of one part of one of the allegations made in the case of "O'Donnell v. Walter." I can see no difference between a letter that shows either complicity or sympathy with outrage and crime, and a speech or an article in a newspaper, or acts done which show similar complicity or sympathy. Now, it cannot be said that the issues I have endeavoured to present to the House are not definite 270 issues. The reference in this Bill is perfectly definite and precise as to persons who are charged. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian requires that before he can assent to this Bill we should define the charges. Well, I am not quite sure what is meant by that. Either the charges are in the proceedings of "O'Donnell v. Walter," and in the articles on Parnellism and Crime, or they are not. If the charges are not there, they are not referred to the Commission. If they are there, why do you require somebody who has not made the charges to define them more closely? On the part of the Government, I refuse to assume the office of interpreter, enforcer, or explainer of the charges. They are there. They have been before hon. Members for many months, and they have thought it worth while to make them the subject of applications for a Special Committee to inquire into them; and, therefore, I suppose they knew what they were. Now, when a judicial tribunal is offered to them—which I, at least, hope will be accepted by the great majority of the House as an impartial tribunal—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian turns on us and demands that the charges shall be put into a more definite shape. It is quite right and proper, when your object is to punish a man for a specific act committed on a given day, that you should tie up his accuser by narrow and technical rules of criminal proceedings, in which time, place, and circumstance are mentioned. When, however, your object is not to inflict punishment, but to discover the truth, this specific definition of charges becomes——. Well, I said I would avoid any words savouring of passion, and therefore I retract the observation I was just going to make. It appears to me that, in showing a desire for a strict observance of the technical rules in a criminal pleading, hon. Members lay themselves open to the suspicion that they wish to evade inquiry into what is really material and substantial. What is the meaning of this demand for a specific enumeration of the charges? Observe that you have never done so when you thought the occasion deserved the statutory institution of a Commission of this kind. Such a Commission has never been used as an instrument for the prosecution of 271 people, and that is why you cover it with indemnity. You use it as the instrument for discovering the truth on an occasion of such great public importance as to warrant the creation of an extraordinary tribunal of this sort. Why is it that you shut the door against punishment, and against all those consequences which are the root and foundation of all that is precise and accurate in your Criminal Law? It is because you want to discover the truth of the matter. You did so in both the precedents which have been referred to in the course of this debate. You did so in the case of the Metropolitan Board of Works. ["Oh!"] Oh, I know it is less important, less grave, but still it was also important to the Metropolitan Board to know of what they were accused, and the reference in the Bill was to investigate and report into the workings of the Metropolitan Board of Works and the irregularities which are alleged to have taken place in connection with it. There no definition whatever is laid down; the Commissioners are left perfectly at large. Take the precedent of the Sheffield rattening case, which is one more to the point. There had been a series of outrages committed at Sheffield, and criminal proceedings had proved abortive. The public mind was exercised. Then, as now, accusations were levelled, not so much against individuals as against an organization. It was said that the Trade Union was responsible for the outrages, and members of the Trade Union strongly resented those accusations, and came to this House and demanded an inquiry, which, after a good deal of hesitation, was granted. The inquiry was like the present, a judicial inquiry, and the Reference was in the largest possible terms—The Commission shall inquire into any acts of intimidation, outrage, or wrong"—the word "wrong" was inserted after debate in the House—alleged to have been promoted, encouraged, or connived at by Trade Unions or Associations, whether workmen or employers, in the town of Sheffield or in the immediate neighbourhood, and as to the cause of such acts, and the complicity therein of such Trade Unions or Associations.At that time no political Party was Specially interested in this matter, and there was no outcry as to the injustice, 272 unfairness, and iniquity of leading a general inquiry into acts "alleged" by anybody in the world against these Trade Unions or Associations. That Commission, like the present one, was not to discover crime in order to punish it, but to ascertain, as far as possible, the whole truth about the grievances, outrages, and scandals which had moved the public mind. Therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman calls upon us to specify the charges in question in a definite way, I take leave to submit that both reason and precedent are against him. I again must repeat that this extreme anxiety to tie the hand of the Commission whom you trust—and I agree that if you cannot trust your Commission it had better not he appointed at all—and to prevent them from following up any evidence which appears to them to be material and within the four corners of the document I—savours very strongly indeed—and I think the public mind would so regard it—of a desire to hamper and to embarrass the Commission. For my part, as far as I am entitled to speak for the Government, all I can say is that we shrink, and not only shrink, we decline to assent to any limitation that will have that ugly aspect. Another point which the right hon. Gentleman very strongly made was that the Government ought to confine the case to the charges and allegations as they affected Members of Parliament. Against that demand I must enter my emphatic dissent and protest. I deny absolutely that any different treatment in this matter should be meted out to Members of Parliament than to other persons. As I read these accusations, they strike even more heavily at persons of distinction who are not Members of Parliament. The Lord Chief Justice, in his summing up, used language which struck me very much when he spoke of a great variety of persons who were deeply incriminated by the charges, Members of Parliament and those who were not Members of Parliament, and who are well known to the world as prominent men. I do ask, on every principle of fairness and justice, are you to say, We give you both the benefit and the risk of this inquiry, for there is the benefit of the accused persons clearing themselves successfully from allegations made against them, and there is the risk that some charges 273 may be considered by the tribunal to be established? [Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR: Not the smallest.] As the hon. Member pleases; but in every inquiry of this sort there is that benefit and that risk. But is that benefit and risk to be confined to Members of Parliament? Do hon. Members suppose that this inquiry is of our own seeking? Certainly not. It is offered in response to their own insistance and their own pressure. Inasmuch as we accede to the demands and pressure of hon. Members below the Gangway opposite, while telling them that, in our opinion, their remedy is elsewhere, are we to leave out in the cold those who have not the opportunity of coming to this House and making applications to us, but who are equally implicated, whose characters are equally valuable to them, and whose guilt, if there be guilt, it is equally important to the public and the country to know? I assert that this inquiry would be a mockery and a farce if you tried to strike out the words "other persons." Why, the whole substance and force of the allegations which are made is this—that certain persons, members of the League, some of them Members of Parliament and some not, have, as I have said, been brought into complicity, connivance, association with crime and criminals, and into making use of the fruits and results of crime. That is the charge, and how is it possible to investigate that charge at all if you leave out the actions of other persons? I am reluctant to mention names, but there is a gentleman named Egan whose name figures largely in these proceedings. Of Mr. Egan I know nothing. I know that the right hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) has asserted of him that he is a most respectable citizen of Dublin; but I am aware that in the recent proceedings it has been stated that he used Sheridan as a go-between between himself and the outrage-mongers in the West; that he was charged with knowing about the Invincibles; that he declined to say whether the funds of the Land League, of which he was treasurer, were used to promote the dynamite explosion at the office of the Local Government Board; that he removed books and papers which would have thrown considerable light on the proceedings of the association; that it is suggested he left England as soon as the evidence of Carey was given 274 because he thought it safer to be abroad; and that he is alleged to have organized a "martyrs' fund" for the Phœnix Park murderers. If all these things are true, the description of the right hon. Member for West Belfast would be totally inapplicable. How is this inquiry to be conducted unless you first ascertain whether Egan is a most respectable citizen of Dublin? This person was in close connection with leading members of the Land League. Will anybody suggest that this inquiry into the charges and allegations made should be held without in quiring into what Egan may have done? Then there is the name of Mr. Byrne. Here, again, I do not pretend to the slightest knowledge of Mr. Byrne; but I cannot imagine any Commission conducting this inquiry without first ascertaining whether or not Byrne did write a letter which I find it stated he did write, in which he advocates "the torch, the knife, and dynamite." Is it true he kept certain knives which were used upon a memorable and tragic occasion for days in Palace Chambers in a room which I need not further describe? Are these things true or not? If true, to what extent were they known by those with whom he daily associated and whose servant he was? Those are the two stages of the inquiry. Mr. Byrne is not a Member of this House, and is the Commission not to inquire into his case? I might mention Mr. Patrick Ford—[The ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir Richard Webster): Sheridan.]—and Sheridan. This inquiry will be a ludicrous farce unless the relations of Patrick Ford with hon. Gentlemen opposite are to be investigated. I will not multiply examples. What do hon. Members opposite wish? Do not let them suppose that I am expressing my own opinion of their conduct when I say that the suggestion in these papers is that they who call themselves Leaders of the Irish Constitutional Party are in the closest alliance every day with the band who are by every means in their power inciting to outrages of every kind, the use of dynamite and war to the knife with this country. The hon. Member for Cork says that he failed to see a certain person in New York—that is what it will be the business of the Commission to inquire into. The hon. Member is not the only person attacked in these papers. To my mind this is 275 one of the gravest charges that ever was preferred against a body of men, and it is one in which the public have a deep interest—it is that a Party professing to be a Constitutional Party are really in the closest alliance with men who are organizing outrages and murder, who are collecting the money to be expended in the furtherance of outrages and murder. The question into which the Commission will have to inquire is—Is that charge well founded, or is it not well founded? This, it is said, is the point that ought to be omitted from the inquiry; but in the public interest and your own it cannot be so. To me it appears to be the cardinal point of the whole case. Are hon. Members opposite content to sit down under a charge of that kind? Are they content to be ranged on a common platform with men of the character which I have indicated? Is the suggestion that your movements in connection with the Clan-na-Gael are not to be inquired into—is that to remain uninvestigated?
§ MR. MATTHEWS
I am very glad to hear it. I am rejoiced to find that your alleged connection with the Clan-na-Gael is a subject which you do not fear to have investigated?
§ MR. MATTHEWS
Then the members of the Clan-na-Gael are the "other persons" whom it is now proposed to exclude from the scope of the present inquiry. If you strike out those words, you will reduce the inquiry, so far as the Clan-na-Gael is concerned, to a farce. I maintain that the charges to which I have referred are not of common knowledge—they are charges which demand inquiry and proof on either side for the satisfaction of the country and the House. Upon some other matters I shall waste very few words. I rejoice to hear the hon. Member for Cork demand that the proceedings of this Commission shall be of a judicial character, which shows that he appreciates the value of the rules of procedure of our Courts. Undoubtedly the Judges who will sit upon this Commission will give, as they are accustomed to do, every facility to those who are before them to appear by counsel, who will make speeches on their behalf, who will 276 examine and cross-examine the witnesses, and I am sure that that part of the hon. Member's demand will be readily granted. But the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian, as I understood him, desires that we should confine the inquiries of the Commission to the question of the authenticity of certain letters, which he maintained were the head and front of the offences, while the rest of the charges contained in these papers were ancient history. These sneers of the right hon. Gentleman at outrages and crimes which are barely seven years old seem to me to be misplaced. The right hon. Gentleman said that this ancient history of outrages and crimes having passed the ordeal of a General Election in 1885, and of a Dissolution and of the formation of a new Government, had disappeared from view for ever. But if that was the case, why had the right hon. Gentleman in April of last year, in tones of passion, demanded the very inquiry which was now offered? In April of last year the charges of Parnellism and Grime were before the public, while the letters which were produced at the recent trial were not before the public. [Cries of "They were."] Not in April of last year. I am referring to the arguments of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian, who has not done us the favour to remain in the House during the rest of this debate. The right hon. Gentleman said that to go into anything behind the letters was to go into ancient history which had been whitewashed by the General Election. But the right hon. Gentleman did not regard the facts behind those letters as ancient history last year when he demanded an inquiry into them. It would almost seem as though the right hon. Gentleman wished to make it appear that the Government desired to make it impossible to accept their offer. There can be no doubt that the fact that these charges were reproduced before a Court of Justice in the case of "O'Donnell v. Walter" gives them additipnal solemnity. Charges brought forward in that case include not only hon. Members of this House, but others far below them in social position; and it is into the deeds and misdeeds, into the merits and demerits, of such persons that this Commission is to inquire. Unless the inquiry were to be far-reaching, thorough, and complete, 277 it would be useless for the Government to undertake it. Unless the inquiry were to be of that character this great dispute can never be satisfactorily settled; and if the action of the Commissioners is to be hampered and crippled by technical restrictions, as is proposed by this Motion, it will be impossible to get at the whole truth.
§ SIR CHARLES RUSSELL (Hackney, S.)
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department has made a very remarkable speech, which has been characterized by his usual ability—a speech which certainly would not have given any casual visitor to this House any idea of the subject which we are debating. If an intelligent visitor had entered this House and had listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, he would have come to the conclusion that the Bill was one to inquire into every crime and into every outrage that had occurred in Ireland during the last 10 years, during a time of great political and social excitement, instead of being a Bill put forward by a Government as a means of giving to a number of hon. Members of this House an opportunity of meeting charges which had been brought against them. The right hon. Gentleman has made some very extraordinary statements. We are pressing to have the specification of the charges which those hon. Gentlemen are called upon to meet, and we are met by the right hon. Gentleman, who makes the startling statement that while the meanest criminal in the country is entitled to a specification of his alleged crime, he is only so entitled because there is a punishment attached to his offence; but that in this case, although the charges made against hon. Members would, if established, be followed by blasted reputation and might involve death to their political hopes, they are not to have a specification of their offences because, forsooth, in consequence of there being a provision for indemnity under the Bill, their offences will entail no punishment, and, therefore, they are not to receive that protection to which the meanest criminal is entitled! The speech of the right hon. Gentleman makes it necessary for me to recall the circumstances in which this proposition of the Government was made. It will be recollected that last year an hon. Member brought 278 before the House the fact that in an article which appeared in The Times serious imputations were made against the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), and that those imputations should be made a matter of Privilege. That hon. Gentleman asked this House to appoint a Committee to inquire into those allegations. Among other objections which were urged to the appointment of a Committee, it was said that the issues raised would be too narrow and confined; and, in answer to the objection made, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Mr. John Morley), with the authority of hon. Members below the Gangway, expressed the readiness of this hon. Member to meet any specific charge to be preferred before that Committee, whether it was contained in the particular article of the newspaper or not, provided always it was described and defined. That was refused. Why? Because it was said that so strong was political feeling in this House that a Committee could not be trusted to do anything like justice to the hon. Member for East Mayo and his Colleagues. And yet the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith) to-night got up and, in tones of mournful lament, exclaimed against the fact that faith in juries was a thing of the past. Are juries free from strong political prejudice? Is it to be said that juries can discharge an effort of self-control in the conscientious discharge of duty to which hon. Members of this House are not equal? The right hon. Gentleman seems to forget, when he speaks of that failing of faith in juries, that he and his Administration have shown very little faith in juries, and have practically in Ireland put an end, for a time at least, to that institution, which the right hon. Gentleman on this occasion and in this connection appears so much to cherish. That matter was then disposed of. It comes up again in the late trial. Let me remind the House of the circumstances of that late trial. I shall not make any comments on that trial, or the course it took. A gentleman institutes an action for libel against The Times, and The Times, in effect, says—"We did not mean to libel you; you are not worth libelling; you are an inferior personage to whom the matters complained 279 of do not apply;" and the plaintiff, having proved the libel, left his case in that condition for the time. What followed? I am bound to call attention to what followed, because it has been said that additional sanction and additional weight are given to those charges, because they were solemnly made under the sanction of a judicial trial and by an officer of the Crown. What was the state of the case? At the end of the plaintiff's case, those who were representing The Times knew that their case was that nineteen-twentieth parts of the charges did not apply to Mr. O'Donnell. They did not submit that to the Judge. They did not even confine the address which they made to the jury to the parts of the libels which were said to be in question. What they did was this—I am merely stating the facts; let the House draw its own conclusion. They took that opportunity of restating and republishing in the form of a report of a judicial proceeding, with added emphasis and with added force and evidence to be given, and particularly with the addition of alleged forged documents, the whole indictment against the Leader of the Irish Party and against the Colleagues of that hon. Member. Then, having occupied nearly three days in that course, the concluding portion of that address was an appeal almost to the learned Judge, out of fairness, forsooth, to the Irish Members, that they might not be called upon to enter upon proof in circumstances so unfair and so disadvantageous to the Irish Party at that stage! The matter then comes again before Parliament. A statement is made by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) and by Colleagues of his on the subject of those letters. Again the request is preferred for an inquiry in this House. The hon. Member for Cork, at least, has shown more faith in Members of this House who sit opposite to him than the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, for, although he knew that the majority of that Committee must necessarily by the ordinary rules be a majority of his political opponents, he was not averse to trusting himself to the honour of those political opponents. "No," the right hon. Gentleman repeated, "go into a Court of Law; bring an action for libel." I will say, with all deliberation, having some experience of 280 actions of libel, that I would infinitely prefer, with all its difficulties and with all its attendant disadvantages, which are great in such a case, an action for libel before the most bigoted and partizan jury in the City of London, than a tribunal constituted in the vague and unfair and on the disadvantageous terms that are found in this Bill. Now, what are the charges? It is necessary that I should say a word or two upon this, in order that the House may understand what justification I have for this, I admit, sweeping criticism of this Bill. I read the charges last week for the first time. I read Parnellism and Crime, and I read the report of the trial of "O'Donnell v. Walter," which consisted in by far the greater part of the unproved speech of the learned leading counsel for The Times. Those charges I make out to be these in substance. First, that the Land League, of which certain Irish Members were members, had been guilty of encouraging or being parties to Boycotting, of speeches which were incitements to intimidation, and so to the causing of crime; that the managers of the Land League—those most prominent in Irish political movements—had been in association with Patrick Ford, and had obtained moneys for their purposes in Ireland largely contributed through his instrumentality. Upon what, in great part, rest those allegations? We have the best authority for the proof of the foundation on which they rest, for I find in The Times the other day that they were apparently a little in doubt as to the authenticity of the alleged letters. On the 13th of July The Times wrote thus—We are prepared with our proofs of the genuineness and authenticity of the letters read by Sir Richard Webster, but we have never professed to treat it as more than secondary evidence in support of what we hold to be an overwhelming case"—how proved?—proved mainly by the speeches and by the writings of the men whom we have denounced.Are those speeches and those writings secret matters? Does it need a Special Commission to catalogue the speeches of members of the Land League, prominent and obscure, in its thousand branches throughout Ireland, or the speeches of those who are supposed to be in sym- 281 pathy with them on the other side of the Atlantic? It would be ridiculous, so far as this part of the case is concerned. The point rests not in dispute about facts so much as the inference to be drawn from the facts; and are you to appoint a Commission of Judges who are not to elicit facts, but who are to draw conclusions as regards particular circumstances, some of which happened nearly 10 years ago, instead of leaving the country, as has already been done, to draw its own conclusions from premisses which on this part of the case are open and notorious? The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House spoke on this matter as if those writings in The Times were a new revelation. Has the right hon. Gentleman never read The Truth about the Land League, by "One Who Knows?" I think the name of Mr. Arnold Forster appears in connection with it; and has he never read The American Irish and Parnellism Unveiled by a Mr. Bagenal? These things have been said again and again—nay, more, so far as their main pith, point, and substance are concerned, they were contained in a remarkable speech delivered by the late Mr. Forster in an attack which he made in this House on the hon. Member for Cork. Then, I want to know, is it to be confessed in this House that what is wanted by this Commission is not to endeavour to fix criminality, criminal complicity, on specific individuals in relation to crime, but under the guise of a Judicial Commission to present afresh to the country the occurrences—the hideous, hateful, and condemnable occurrences—many of which, in times of great political excitement and great social pressure, occurred over a space of 10 years in Ireland? That may or may not be a justifiable object, but if it be the object declare and announce it. But do not be guilty of the hollow and deceptive conduct of making specious offers of treating your honourable opponents as if you were conferring a favour upon them. State in downright language what it is you mean. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of state for the Home Department said that principle and precedent were in favour of the course which the Government had taken. I say there is no precedent for such a course. The Sheffield and the Metropolitan Board of Works cases were mentioned; but in neither of those cases were definite per- 282 sons charged, nor was the matter of those inquiries in any way under the control of this House, except in so far as this House is part of the Legislature which brings them under control by Act of Parliament. But the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary seems to me to have entirely lost sight of the only ground on which this inquiry can be justified as it was offered, and with reference to the object with which it was offered. It is that this House, anxious for the reputation of its Members, anxious in the interests of its Members and its own character and dignity, desires to give an opportunity to the Members implicated of meeting specifically the charges made against them. But will that be effected by this Bill? I will endeavour to show that the plan of the Government, carried out on the lines of this Bill, would not only be unfair, but would be positively unworkable, and might be interminable. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary says that there is a specification of the "other persons," because those other persons are named in the proceedings of "O'Donnell v. Walter." Let me illustrate my objection to this. Supposing in the course of the inquiry an allegation is made by a witness in which he mentions as accomplices or accessories, before or after the fact, certain named persons—is the Commission not to inquire into the history of that, and not to follow it up? According to the Bill it would seem they must. And is not the person whose name is introduced, although not even mentioned in the proceedings of "O'Donnell v. Walter," to have an opportunity of appearing before the Commission? Of course, he must have that opportunity; and once you make this groping inquiry there is no possible limit to the number of persons who may be entitled, according to the principles of common justice, to come before the Commission and be heard in explanation or defence. But the cardinal point is this—that the inquiry should be a judicial inquiry in the real sense of the word. Make your general inquiries as wide as you please, but as regards the allegations against Members let the charge be specified, and the inquiry into them judicial. Now, I understand the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary to have made a concession on that point. I wish clearly to understand what it is. What does he mean by a "judicial inquiry?" Does 283 he mean simply an inquiry in which all the inquirers are to be Judges, and is the whole matter at large to be left to them? I wish for an answer.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
Answering the demand of the hon. Member for Cork, who said—"We demand that we shall be treated as though we were plaintiffs in an action for libel with counsel to open our case and reply." That is the judicial feature.
§ SIR CHARLES RUSSELL
That is not an answer to my question. I will indicate what I mean, because I think it is all important that the matter should be cleared up in view of the misleading references to the precedents of Sheffield and the Metropolitan Board of Works. Does he mean that this is to be an inquiry conducted according to the rules of legal evidence? I want an answer. I await an answer. A nod of the head will be sufficient.
§ SIR CHARLES RUSSELL
I ask, is this or is this not to be—[Cries of "Order!"]—an inquiry conducted according to the rules of legal evidence? Surely at this stage of the argument we are entitled to know whether the Government have made up their minds. Let us know; is it to be an inquiry conducted according to the rules of legal evidence? [Cries of "Order!"] I think I have a right to ask that and to claim an answer. If it is to be an inquiry according to the rules of legal evidence, then the charges against the hon. Member for Cork must be dealt with only upon evidence which, according to the rules of evidence, in all fairness, is evidence against him. There cannot be brought into the inquiry the loose and gossiping statements which may introduce his name, but which may affect other persons and not the hon. Member directly. This is of the marrow of the question. And when the precedents of Sheffield and the Board of Works are referred to, just let me point out the possible injustice which may result if they are followed. What the Commissions did in these cases was this. They had certain persons before them, and announced that they would take control in the case, and call witnesses; that if the parties required witnesses to be called they would take the statement of their evidence, and consider whether they 284 would or would not call them; and that having put such questions as to them seemed right, they might allow counsel for any of the parties to supplement the examination or cross-examination. Is that the course intended? While that is a perfectly intelligent course if the Commission is to be a searching, roving, and, so to speak, impersonal Commission, it is utterly inapplicable, unjust, and unfair if it is meant to be applied to a case in which imputations of a grave character are made on specific persons, your Colleagues in this House. If, therefore, it is to be a judicial inquiry and according to the rules, the judicial rules of legal evidence, then the case of each man who is charged with any specific offence which you can pick out of Parnellism and Crime or out of the report of "O'Donnell v. Walter" has the right to have his case tried on its merits and according to the rules of evidence, which experience has shown to be necessary for the protection of character and the defence of liberty. I must call attention to the fact that the Bill refers to persons "implicated," not to persons against whom the allegations or charges are really made, but to persons implicated in the charges and allegations, and these persons have a right to appear before the Commission by counsel. Then I want to know what are the limits and bounds in point of time and in point of expense to the Commission? And are all these persons to bear the enormous expense, to say nothing of the worry and burden, of attending the inquiry? One of the charges made in the speech of the learned Counsel who led for The Times was in relation to the disturbances that had occurred in the neighbourhood of Loughrea from the years 1880 to 1882. The learned Counsel said that in that period of three years there had occurred a certain number of murders and outrages in the district; and the statement was that these murders and outrages could be traced to no cause whatever except the language used at Land League meetings. What does that mean? It means, if formulated, that certain persons whose names are to be found in the speech of the learned Counsel made speeches in which they used language which formed the true cause of the murders and outrages in question. How are the Commissioners 285 to inquire into that? Are they to inquire, into the state of the district, the conduct of the landlords towards their tenants, whether there were circumstances of great social depression, whether there were evicting landlords, and whether the landlords were making fair abatements? If they cannot do that they cannot exhaust the inquiry into the charges. But there is a broader object. Was ever a Commission set up for the purpose of asking learned Commissioners to draw an inference of crime from certain speeches delivered all over the country? Was there ever a Commission with such functions as this Bill proposed to confer? The learned Counsel referred to the County Kerry which has been in a very disturbed state, and in which, unhappily, there has been considerable crime. As far as we can learn this is the county in which the Land League had less hold than in any other part of Ireland. But here, again, the same inference was drawn by the counsel for The Times. Is the Commission to go into the history of these outrages, and report on the various circumstances which might or might not have caused or led to these crimes? I say you are asking your Commission to discharge a task never attempted by any Commission before, and which would prove quite unworkable, besides possibly resulting in the greatest unfairness to particular individuals against whom charges are levelled. We have suggested that, so far as the Members of this House are concerned, there should be a distinct specification of the charges and of the names of the persons against whom charges are made. The only concession we have so far obtained is that the persons implicated are to have similar rights as they would have in an action for libel. This is not to be found in the Bill, and the Bill will therefore have to be altered in this respect at all events, unless you intend to leave it to the Commission. Reference has been made the Sheffield Commission, and to the Metropolitan Board of Works Commission; but both these Commissions had power to call what witnesses they pleased and in what order they pleased, and, in fact, absolutely not only to control, but to conduct the inquiry. Of course, in that case there were no specific charges against specific individuals. These are some of the reasons why this Bill ought not to be allowed to pass in its present shape. You cannot, you do not, 286 believe in those charges yourselves, or you would not act as you are acting. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary made a speech full of graceful phrases—a speech dictated apparently by a desire to spare everybody's feelings. But you cannot forget—you must not be allowed to forget—that you are supposed to be giving to Colleagues of your own an alternative to an action for libel, and you are bound to observe an attitude of mind anxious to see those imputations removed from certain Members of this House. The country does not expect, did not expect, that when the hon. Member for Cork asked for an opportunity of vindicating himself that you would make him this offer of a Commission to inquire into the doings and sayings of Mr. Patrick Egan and Mr. Ford in America and of Sheridan at some remote period. What the country expected was that an inquiry would be held in which an attempt would be made to bring home against certain Members below the Gangway in this House criminal complicity with crime—not by means of speeches made at Land League meetings or other political meetings, but complicity such as would be recognized in a Court of Law. If you leave the Bill in its present state you will convey to a large portion of the country the impression that your object is not to secure a fair and legitimate inquiry, but to create a Commission which under the spurious form of a Judicial Commission will be a convenient vehicle for throwing dirt on your political opponents, and, in trying to bring home guilt to them, to discredit the Nationalist Party of Ireland. It has, indeed, been said that one of the great objects gained if this Commission went on would be to ruin the Irish Question, as if the Irish Question depended upon a handful of men. You speak of these men as if they were the people who created the political agitation, whereas the fact is that it is the political agitation, the social revolution, that has been going on in Ireland that has created them, and thrown them—it may be for a time—to the surface. The history of revolutions in all time and in every land teaches this. Believe me, the country will not be satisfied with any mode of inquiry which does not afford a fair and legitimate opportunity to those hon. Gentlemen for the vindication of their characters, and which does not give them, at least, the same opportunity 287 of meeting specific charges and under the same protection that they would have in a Court of Justice.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir EDWARD CLARKE) (Plymouth)
The hon. and learned Member (Sir Charles Russell) has concluded his speech with a somewhat perplexing peroration, in the course of which he has spoken in terms of no great respect of hon. Members sitting below the Gangway, whose conduct Her Majesty's Government propose to have investigated before a judicial tribunal. He says that it is a proposal from the Conservative side of the House intended for the purpose of "ruining the Irish Question." How you ruin a question I do not quite know, but I an understand how you may ruin a Party, and I noticed in the course of the hon. and learned Member's observations that he spoke as if he were looking forward to the result of a close, clear, and fair investigation of the matter being likely to ruin a political Party in one form or another in one part of the House. I think the country will be a good deal interested to-morrow in reading the three speeches which up to now have been delivered against the proposal of Her Majesty's Government. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) met that proposal by a series of technical suggestions and Amendments to the Bill which are intended, if they have any meaning at all, and if there is to be any Commission at all, to narrow the field and action of the Commission now to be appointed. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) reserved the most important part of his speech for the final sentence, in which he suggested that the country would be induced to think that the Government had proposed this Commission for the sake of having it rejected. And after that we had the speech of the unavowed adviser of the plaintiff in the recent action of "O'Donnell v. Walter" telling us, in the first place, that there is nothing to investigate, except the authenticity of the letters alleged to have been forged; secondly, that there is nothing new in the accusations recently made; thirdly, that there is no precedent for the proposal which the Government now make; and, lastly, that the scope of the inquiry now proposed would be so large, and the powers of the Commission would be so far-reaching for the discovery of 288 truth, that it would be altogether unworkable. I would like to examine those three propositions one by one. His first proposition is, that there is nothing except these letters, which are alleged to be forged—and which I observe are spoken of with a remarkable assumption of judgment as "the forged letters"—that there is nothing for the tribunal to consider, except the authenticity of those letters. If there were no other question than that, there would not be the smallest excuse for the Government and for this House for creating the Commission now proposed—if the only question was whether these letters were really written by the hon. Member for Cork, there would not be the smallest necessity for this special tribunal now being established, because one of these letters was published and printed in facsimile in The Time of April 18, 1887. If the hon. Member for Cork had come down to the House on the evening of that day, and had told the House that, within an hour of reading that letter, he had asked for power to institute a prosecution for libel against The Times newspaper a very different opinion of his position with regard to this matter would long ago have prevailed in this country. There would then have been no necessity to go into the question of other and more remote events; there would have been no necessity on the part of the hon. Member to go into Court in order to prove that the letter was not written by him. The Times would have had to take upon itself the burden of proof. The issue put before the jury would have been limited to that; and if the hon. Gentleman had succeeded in bringing home to The Times, by means which would have been prompt, the guilt of having printed as a letter from him that which was never written by him, he would long ago have cleared away the shadow of doubt and distrust which he now com plains has been allowed to attach to his name. Similarly in regard to any other letter alleged to have been written by him. If in a civil action for libel he could have shown that The Times newspaper had failed to show that the letters were written by him he would have gained ample damages for the injury which he complains of, and damages large enough to satisfy the instincts of revenge as well as the instincts of cupidity. Or, if the hon. Gentleman had brought his action 289 in a criminal Court, the author of the libel would have been punished in another way, and would have met with the punishment which the Judge in such a case would have known how to inflict. In the next place, it has been said by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Charles Russell) that these accusations are not new, and that they have previously been gathered up and published in book form. But these accusations, such as they are, were gathered up in the series of articles upon Parnellism and Crime, and in May, 1887, there was no doubt in the mind of anyone in this House what those accusations amounted to. The right hon. Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) took part in a discussion in this House on the 6th of May last year, and the proposal then made he described in this sense——He (the hon. Member for East Mayo) offered distinctly that the inquiry should embrace not only this (the question of the veracity of the Member of the House) but also the authenticity of the letter alleged to have been written by Mr. Parnell, and the truth of all the charges that have appeared under the heading Parnellism Cod Crime.—(3 Hansard,  1220.)That was the only definition that a learned and trained lawyer, taking part in a debate in this House, thought it necessary to give of those charges. If there were still any question as to those charges being specific, I should like to make a quotation, not from the speech of my hon. and learned Friend who had charge of and whose conduct in the case of "O'Donnell v. Walter" has been attacked to-night, but from the summing up of the learned Judge. He said—It would seem that The Times, in the discharge of what the managers thought, and possibly rightly thought, to be their duty, published a series of articles under the title of Parnellism and Crime. They run over about 60 pages, and contain a great variety of statements deeply incriminating a number of persons—Members of Parliament and persons who are not Members of Parliament, but are well known to the world as prominent men. They are accused, frankly and plainly, of abominable crime—not so much perhaps of having been guilty by their own hands, but of having lent themselves to a system which must necessarily he accompanied with crime, and of having personal knowledge of many of the crimes which did accompany it. That is in substance what is charged against a number of persons whose names appear in these articles.There could be no more specific statement than that with regard to this matter. Moreover, if it were a question of 290 names being absolutely mentioned, so as to raise questions between Members of this House and and those who have accused them, I will only read one sentence from Parnellism and Crime, in which names are given. In closing one of the series of articles, The Times said—We suspend our studies of Parnellism. They do not affect to be complete. They are made on a cursory examination of a small portion of the published evidence. They have, however, revealed nearly all the chief members of the first Home Rule Ministry—Mr Parnell himself, Mr. Justin M'Carthy, Mr. T. P. O'Connor, Mr. Sexton, Mr. Arthur O'Connor, Mr. Healy, Mr. Biggar, the Messrs. Redmond, Mr. William O'Brien, end d Davitt—in trade and traffic with avowed dynamiters and known contrivers of murder.I quote these two sentences for the purpose of showing that the learned Judge before whom the ease came the other day had no doubt whatever what the charges were, and formulated those charges for himself in the sentence I have read; and if there is any doubt as to the persons against whom they are made, the persons whose names are given in the second quotation are directly, plainly, and clearly charged by The Times with the offences described. It cannot be said with these articles before us and before the world, that there is any difficulty in discovering what the charges are, or against whom they are made. It is suggested now that the Government should prepare a sort of indictment in this matter, and that they should set forth in the Bill, either as a Schedule, or in some document for which they are responsible, as if they were prosecutors, the names of persons against whom charges are made. But that claim is founded on an entire misapprehension of the attitude of the Government and the House of Commons with regard to the matter. The hon. and learned Gentleman has spoken as if the duty of the Government is to relieve Members of the House of Commons from charges of the kind. In the presence of matters like this, the attitude of the Government ought, I think, to be the attitude of those who are anxious to discover the truth. They ought to be anxious neither to exonerate nor to convict, but to ascertain what the truth is, and it is for this purpose that we propose to establish the tribunal set forth in the Bill. For the purpose of ascertaining the truth of the charges and establishing a tribunal to 291 investigate them, to put on record a new list, or to repeat a list of persons who are to be charged, would be to put the Government and the House of Commons into the false position of making themselves accusers, when really they are only constructing a judicial tribunal to discover the truth. It is som what amusing to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman say that there is no precedent for this inquiry. When it was resolved upon, the Government in framing the Bill naturally turned back to two similar Commissions, the Sheffield Commission and the inquiry into the Metropolitan Board of Works, and when it came to be the duty of the Government to see what provisions should be made as to the powers of the tribunal, they turned to those precedents. I agree, however, as far as I know, that there is no exact precedent for such a case as this, neither is there one which concerns it in one respect, which is, that those who complain of having been grossly libelled have shrunk so persistently from the verdict of a jury. And now we are actually told, as a sort of retort against the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, that there had been reluctance to face the verdict of a jury—we are told by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian that we have the opportunity ourselves of submitting this case to the verdict of a jury by putting the Members incriminated upon their trial for a criminal offence. Does anybody fail to see through that suggestion? Does anybody in this House fail to see that if the persons whose conduct is to be investigated were really guilty, the position they would most desire would be one in which their mouths would be closed—when they could not be asked a single question, and when all the resources of rhetoric would be employed in their defence, and without any inconvenient reference to their own knowledge of facts? When my hon. and learned Friend says that this Commission would be unworkable and unfair, he chooses a very singular instance of unfairness. He chooses the section which says—and I agree that it is a large section—that any person implicated should be entitled to appear by council and call witnesses before the tribunal. But that by no means says that the person shall be entitled to have his counsel making 292 speeches and taking other part in the conduct of the tribunal. The hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say that, of course it will be a judicial tribunal in the sense that it will be held by three distinguished Judges trained in considering evidence and administering justice, and not in the least likely to accept mere babble and gossip instead of the evidence they have been accustomed to deal with. Take the three Judges mentioned, and it is a singular, and, I think, a very unhappy thing that the opportunity should at once have been taken by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian of casting a doubt on the fairness of the tribunal, and so enabling those who may hereafter find themselves condemned by its decision to refer back to his speech of to-night and say that that decision ought not to bear weight, because directly it was mentioned the Leader of the Opposition got up and expressed dissatisfaction with the constitution of the tribunal. I hope at no stage of the discussion on this Bill shall we be called upon to canvass any more the individual Judges; but when the right hon. Gentleman said he could imagine three names which would give more satisfaction to the country, I certainly cannot imagine any three names that could be proposed which would be more absolutely disassociated with Party conflicts, or less liable to have their judgment warped—I cannot imagine any three Judges whose personal history and whose political opinions could less lay them open to doubt on the part of any Leader of this House. Well, then my hon. and learned Friend says they should be bound by all the technical rules of the administration of the law.
§ SIR EDWARD CLARKE
Of course, they will listen to legal evidence, and to legal evidence only. Does he imagine that three Judges would hold a tribunal of this kind, and accept as conclusive, and form the foundation of their judgment on, evidence which, if they were trying a small action for £25 worth of property, they would reject as insufficient and unsatisfactory? I think there is something behind this proposal that the Judges should be bound by judicial rules. There was one remarkable suggestion of the hon. Member for Cork. The hon. Member has actually proposed 293 and desired that in this case, as in the ordinary case of an action at law, there shall be the same powers of discovery. That my hon. and learned Friend turned with the manner of an inquisitor, and I say that interrogatories were in his mind. The proposal is actually made that before the three Judges shall commence to investigate the matter, they shall insist upon each side, I suppose, producing for the other side's inspection every scrap of evidence. Sir, no rule, I imagine, could be laid down more absolutely fatal to the success of this inquiry than that; and I will tell him why, and if he has watched the columns of one or two daily papers since the speech of my hon. and learned Friend was made in the case of "O'Donnell v. Walter" he will find the reason for the observations I am going to make. Supposing a document is produced, if that document is a true one, the other side will know pretty well by what means that document came into the possession of their opponents. They will know the witnesses who will have to be relied upon to prove that document before the tribunal; and in such a case I doubt very much whether the life of such an important witness would be safe. I do not believe that the life of an important witness would he safe, unless he was induced or coerced into making some statement which would discredit his evidence, if it did not altogether make it false. If this House, in unprecedented generosity to Members who are sitting on the other side, seek to save them from the dread peril of going before a jury in the ordinary way by giving them this tribunal, I do not think the House is going to cripple and narrow the action of the tribunal, and risk the efficiency of its working, by laying down in advance special, particular, and narrow rules for its guidance. If we have three Judges, we can trust their experience and authority, surely, to guide the inquiry, if this be tried at all to an end. We can surely trust them with power over their own proceedings, and to summon such witnesses as they please, without being bound to one side or the other. The proposal in the Bill on which the hon. and learned Member commented is a proposal the absence of which from the Bill I should have expected him to complain of. Surely, it is a reasonable proposal that any 294 person who may be implicated shall be entitled to appear by counsel, and to call witnesses to prove his innocence.
§ SIR CHARLES RUSSELL
explained that he had only made the observations referred to to show the unworkable character of the Ministerial plan.
§ SIR EDWARD CLARKE
Look, then, at the dilemma in which that places you. If this proposal had not been in the Bill, you would have said—"There may be all sorts of persons accused before this tribunal, and they will not be able to appear by counsel, or to call witnesses to prove their innocence," and the objection, I think, would have been a strong one. But now that the Government have proposed that persons implicated may call witnesses, and may be represented by counsel, the hon. and learned Gentleman says that the proposal is unworkable. It is pretty easy to see what is at the bottom of the opposing and self-destructive criticisms which have been put before the House to-night. It is a desire to escape from the tribunal altogether. To bring a civil action for libel involves risk; to institute criminal proceedings for libel also involves risk; but here there is no risk of the same kind. It is true that this investigation would involve very grave results, such as the destruction of reputations. [Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR: The exposure of forgeries.] It would involve exposure on one side or the other. At the present I treat the matter as a perfectly open question; but it is true that the investigation involves grave issues. It does not, however, involve the grave results that might follow an action for libel or a criminal prosecution. The institution of either of these forms of trial might result in criminal prosecutions of a very serious kind. Here the persons summoned, if they incriminate themselves in the evidence which they gave before the tribunal, will enjoy immunity from future prosecution by virtue of the certificate of the tribunal. That offer is as just and complete an offer as could be made to persons who declare themselves to have been libelled in the public Press. I believe that it is not open to any of the criticisms which have been passed upon it to-night, and I do believe that the hostility with which the proposal has been met indicates pretty well with what 295 thoughts and sort of feelings different hon. Members look forward to the investigation of the charges made against them.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
said. The tactics of the Government bear a close resemblance to the tactics of the hon. and learned Attorney General (Sir Richard Webster) in the recent trial. A very powerful speech in criticism of the Bill has been made, and not a single Member of the Government rose to reply, but it is left to the Leaders of the Opposition to get up in the middle of the dinner hour. The Government does not even attempt to make a reply. I heard the hon. and learned Attorney General declare in the course of the case of "O'Donnell v. Walter, and in answer to an objection of counsel for the plaintiff, that he would state nothing that he would not afterwards prove in evidence—though that statement of his is entirely expunged from the official report of the proceedings in The Times. The hon. and learned Gentleman would have been stopped early in the delivery of his speech if he had not made that declaration, but having been allowed to make his charges against the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) and his Colleagues on the faith of that promise, the hon. and learned Gentleman broke it. This was a sample of the generosity—to use the expression of the hon. and learned Solicitor General (Sir Edward Clarke)—witli which the Parliamentary Colleagues of the hon. and learned Gentleman have been treated by him and the Government. I have observed an extraordinary thing lately. The letters have gradually changed their importance. At one time they were the most damning evidence against the hon. Member for Cork, who was told, "Either answer the charges in respect of these letters or be condemned. Prove them to be forgeries or leave public life at once". That was the tone a year ago, and to a certain extent that was the tone in the trial of "O'Donnell v. Waiter." But as soon as there seemed to be a chance that public exposure would be the fate of these letters their importance greatly decreased. I do not believe, however, that people will be led astray by the Government and The Times, for everybody could see that as soon as the Nationalist Party got a chance to prove 296 that these letters were forgeries, The Times, conscious of its guilt, endeavoured to shift them into the second place. I maintain—in opposition to the hon. and learned Solicitor General—that the letters by themselves suffice to justify the Commission proposed by the Government, for the result of the case, as confined to them, will have the gravest political results. But that is not the wish of the Government. I always speak of them and The Times together—I have a right to do so. My hon. Friend to-night spoke of them as "confederates," and is not that language justified by proceedings notorious to all the world? The hon. and learned Attorney General, who has been counsel for The Times, assisted the Government in framing a Bill which professes to do fair and equal justice between The Times and my hon. Friend the Member for Cork Nay, more, it has not been denied that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) has been in consultation with Mr. Walter, the proprietor of The Times. [An hon. MEMBER: No.] I defy a denial of the statement. Let me not be misunderstood. I do not regard the conference between the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury and Mr. Walter as by any means as prejudicial to our interests as the conference between the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury and the hon. and learned Attorney General. The hon. and learned Attorney General is a man of ability and experience, who knows all the tricks of the legal trade, and he will be able to tell the Government the best way to frame the Bill in the interests of The Times and against the interests of the hon. Member for Cork and his Colleagues. It is not a public scandal that the Government of the country, professing to do equal justice between The Times newspaper and certain Members of this House, should call into its consultations in framing the Bill the proprietor of The Times and the counsel for the paper? I think I have given the House a sample of the "generosity" of the Government. I take another point. I come to the letters themselves. According to the hon. and learned Solicitor General, these letters are mere trifles—mere secondary evidence according to The Times. The hon. and learned Solicitor General forgets that this second 297 letter inciting to murder has never appeared in any form except in the speech of the hon. and learned Attorney General. [Sir EDWARD CLARKE: The first letter has.] The second letter, which is the worst, has never appeared in any actionable form—I mean the letter read in Court by the hon. and learned Attorney General, and commencing "Dear E.," reminding him that he had "undertaken to make it hot for old Forster and Co." That letter is simply an incitement to murder. [Cheers.] I am glad that is the interpretation placed upon it on the other side of the House; but what does the hon. and learned Solicitor General mean by saying that it is so trifling a thing that it is not worthy to be inquired into? If my hon. Friend wrote that letter he was a murderer in intention, and are we to be told that such a letter and such a charge would not be sufficiently solid material for investigation by a Commission. Then I take the letter in which the hon. Member for Cork is made to say that "To denounce the Phœnix Park murders is the only course open to him." The writer of that letter would have been a hypocrite of the worst kind—a double-dyed coward, and an accomplice to murder. A proclamation in the most vehement terms had been issued by the hon. Member for Cork denouncing the murders, and in this letter he is represented as apologising for that proclamation. Therefore, I am entitled to say that if the Commission had before it these letters alone it would have material which, if proved, would drive the hon. Member for Cork from public life amid the jeers and curses of every decent and honest Member. Yet we have the hon. and learned Solicitor General declaring these letters are trifling and unimportant. Have you lost faith in the genuineness of these letters? Why, these letters would, if you were sincere in you professed faith in their genuineness, effect your object and the object of The Times in depriving the Irish people and the Irish Party for ever of the great and inestimable services of this man of genius and courage who led them—the hon. Member for Cork. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Matthews)—who was put up somewhat late in the day for the Government—assumed an air of official impartiality on behalf of 298 his Colleagues—those confederates of The Times, who are trying to drag us into a game with loaded dice, and with every trick and artifice employed against us. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of investigating the crimes of others as well as of Members of Parliament, and he also spoke of condoning and forgiving criminals. Such a Commission of investigation would bring us very far—it would bring us to the relations of the right hon. Gentleman himself with the Fenian Brotherhood. Does he remember that he obtained entrance into this House by denouncing an Irish Crown prosecutor for the discharge of his duty in prosecuting Fenians? We may also have to put the right hen. Gentleman the Chief Secretary into the box and ask him whether he remembers certain interviews between himself and the hon. Member for Cork, when the Irish Party were discussing the great question whether it was safe to turn the Liberals out of Office for the benefit of the Tories? [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR: Hear, hear!] I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not remember. I know it is very convenient for him to forget; his memory requires frequent refreshing. We would also require to have another person in the box. We would require to have Lord St. Oswald, and ask him to give us the history of the series of conversations that led to that memorable vote of June 8, 1885, which dethroned a Liberal Ministry and gave the right hon. Gentleman his first Ministerial position. What is the meaning of all this talk now about the Land League and crime? Again and again these charges have been brought against us, and the final verdict upon them will never be given. The historian a century hence will probably be discussing whether the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cork in Ennis, in 1880, did or did not lead to crime. That will be the philosophic investigation of historians in years to come. A Commission of Judges cannot decide a question like that. It is a matter of speculation, and no inquiry will ever set the matter at rest. Why, we can call the Government themselves as the best defenders of those charges against us; because they have all been repeated and urged over and over again in one of the most powerful speeches this House has ever listened to from the 299 late Mr. Forster, at the very time we were in close alliance every night with the Tory Party, before the time they climbed into Office upon our shoulders. Why, to appoint a Commission to decide the question whether the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cork resulted in crime is the most idle piece of speculation ever proposed. The Home Secretary thinks it necessary to have other persons included in the inquiry, in order to establish or destroy this case against us. He says that Mr. Frank Byrne was formerly an associate and official of hon. Members on these Benches. That is perfectly true. I will go further, and say that of all Members in this House I was the official most intimately associated with Byrne. I have had all the responsibility of everything done by Byrne so far as his official connection with the League is concerned, a responsibility which is shared by my hon. Friend the Member for the city of Derry (Mr. Justin M'Carthy). I am prepared to give every conversation I have ever held with Mr. Byrne, and to narrate all the actions we have taken together. But will anyone believe, because I was officially engaged with Byrne in the work of the organization, in the work of helping the Tories to get into Office, does anybody suppose that that brings me a bit nearer to a guilty knowledge of the guilty purpose in which it was said Byrne was engaged? ["Yes!" from the Ministerial Benches.] Is that the impartial tribunal? Association with a man for one purpose is a distinct proof in the eyes of hon. Members opposite that you know of the guilty purpose in which the man was also engaged. Up to the moment of his flight to France, I had the fullest confidence in Byrne. The Times says I seconded a vote of confidence in Byrne. I will not say whether that is true or false; but this I will say, that up to the last time I saw Byrne I regarded him as an upright, honest official, utterly incapable of any of the charges brought against him. I will state that before any Commission you like. I proclaim it, although without any Commission. So that, so far as the relations of Byrne and the Parnellites are concerned, there is no occasion for any Commission at all. The Home Secretary also said it would be necessary to show whether the knives were in a certain office in Palace 300 Chambers. I do not know, although I have little, if any, doubt they were, but that will not help the right hon. Gentleman in making a charge of complicity in crime against me, or the Member for Cork, or for Derry City. But if it will help the right hon. Gentleman to bring a charge home to the Parnellites, I will at once concede that the knives were in Palace Chambers. I will concede, further, that the Government did apply for the extradition of Mr. Byrne on a charge of murder; so that, so far as Mr. Byrne's guilt is concerned, there, again, is no necessity for a Commission. What the right hon. Gentleman is concerned to prove is guilty knowledge on the part of the Parnellites, and that I had guilty knowledge of Byrne's guilty purpose. I admit that guilt. What I mean is this—I am perfectly sure that I do not know whether Byrne is guilty or not; but what I know is, that the House of Commons has nothing to do with the question. What the House of Commons has to do with is, whether I am guilty, and whether the hon. Member for Cork is also guilty, and not as to whether Byrne is guilty. The Home Secretary then talked of our connection with Patrick Ford, who wrote incendiary articles. The right hon. Gentle man may put all the articles in. We raise no technical or legal objection in this business; what we want is a fair, straight, clear, and honest investigation. We seek it—we beg it at your hands—and you refuse it. We do not want to shrink from our connection with Ford. I am perfectly prepared to repeat every word I said to Ford, or to anyone else. We are prepared to go into the box, and tell everything we know about Ford and about our connection with him. We will tell every word, and not shrink from a single syllable. We want to know in a clear and definite way what you propose to do. We are willing to have those forged letters produced, and an investigation into them; but we do not feel justified, on a Bill such as this that is now before the House, in having an inquiry into the whole history of the Land League. If a Bill is brought in to deal with the case of the Land League, we are quite prepared then to go into that question. We have been begging for the present inquiry for a year. And we have been quite prepared to submit to an inquiry in which our 301 political opponents on the opposite side of the House would have been in a majority. Now, we are willing to submit to an inquiry by three Judges—all of them Englishmen, most probably opposed to us in politics—if our case is put before them and if our guilt is the real question they will have to try. What are the Government going to do? They know these letters are forgeries. The Times also knows that, and it could easily be seen by the way in which they are endeavouring to escape from inquiry. That shows that they are conscious that they are forgeries. The Government wants to save The Times from a worse exposure—they want to save the Irish Members from an acquittal on the gravest charges ever put forward against public men. This is the most ugly piece of business in the annals of the country; for it shows that the Government are ready to make capital out of charges which they cannot sustain. I leave the country to judge between us and the Government. The Government promised to suspend the Standing Orders of the House, in order that a fair opportunity for the discussion of this question might be given us, and even yet I assume that another speaker will rise from the Government Benches; for, up to the present, all the real and substantial questions of my hon. Friend, Mr. Parnell, have remained unanswered All that we have been told is that this will be a judicial tribunal; but we also want the legal rules of evidence to be followed, and as to that there has been nothing but quibbling. Are we going to get a fair trial, a fair, honest, and impartial delivery between us and The Times, or are we going to be allowed to fall into a miserable trap concocted for us in collusion with The Times?
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Labouchere.)
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, he trusted the hon. Gentleman would proceed with his speech during the short period of time that remained, although it was only 10 minutes. It would be most undesirable to adjourn the debate, and he understood it was the desire of the House that the second reading should be taken that evening. It was not an occasion on which he felt it right to press the House for an immediate 302 decision, unless there was a general wish that it should be so; but he would point out that it was contrary to the understanding—["No, no!"]—well, to the general expectation on the matter.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
said, he wanted to know whether the right hon. Gentleman refused to extend the time for the debate? He thought he had promised otherwise.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, if he had known that there was any general desire that the suspension of the 12 o'clock Rule should be moved he would have done so, but no such intimation reached him.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, that it was perfectly understood that his hon. Friend (Mr. Parnell) would insist upon an adequate discussion of the Bill. The frankest course would have been for the right hon. Gentleman to have put a Motion with regard to the Standing Order on the Paper, and to have moved it, if he found there was a general desire for a longer discussion; but the right hon. Gentleman had precluded himself from any such course on Friday night. It was generally supposed that it was criminals who were afraid of discussion; it was the Government who were now desiring to cloak the question, and to stop by the clock and not by the exhaustion of the debate. He must say it was a preposterous proposition to suggest the close of the debate, and it was absurd to suppose that in five hours so important a debate could be disposed of.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said, he thought that the right hon. Gentleman did not remember what had occurred. On the first reading of the Bill there had been an exceedingly short discussion. He understood that this subject was to be well discussed. He would ask, however, for leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, that he had not long to speak; he had only got six minutes, and he need hardly say it was almost impossible to compress any real debate on this question into that space of time. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) had made a certain proposal to the right hon. Gentleman, and it had been a most surprising sight 303 to see all the Members on the Treasury Bench sitting in sullen silence and refusing to get up. Since then, with the exception of that of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), they had had two speeches, but they had been the small and petty quibbles of two lawyers. What they wanted to do was to discuss this matter in a states man like spirit. It was a very large question—larger than the First Lord of the Treasury or anyone on that Bench seemed to imagine. It established a very important precedent, which might be frequently used afterwards. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would look at this matter as a statesman, and not be led away by what he imagined to be the advantage of the moment for his Party, but consider what would be for the ultimate benefit of that House and the honour of the country. If he did so, the right hon. Gentleman would come to the conclusion that he had made the greatest mistake possible in bringing forward the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had yielded to the wishes of the hon. Member for Cork in proposing this Commission; but the hon. Member had asked for one thing, and the right hon. Gentleman was giving him a perfectly different thing. Did the right hon. Gentleman really think that the appointment of a Commission with the objects he proposed would really tend to elucidate the real, practical question—namely, whether the hon. Member for Cork had been accessory or privy to all these crimes which had taken place in Ireland? The proposed inquiry would be almost interminable, and would cover two hemispheres.
It being Midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, that he proposed that the debate should be renewed to-morrow, and he ventured to express the hope that it would be concluded before the dinner hour. ["Oh, oh!"]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.