§ Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
, resuming, said, that suggestions had been made on the Opposition side of the House that Ministers had made a change of front on the matter—that last year they had said that it was absolutely impossible that they could grant any sort of Commission or other tribunal, and that his hon. Friend ought to go before a jury. Now they said that they would grant him a Commission of Judges. He was not in the least surprised at the change of front of the Go- 337 vernment. They were always changing front. But he was surprised at the reasons which they gave for the change. They said that a new light had come upon the matter in consequence of the statements made by the hon. and learned Attorney General as Counsel for The Times in a Court of Justice. What that new light was he did not quite understand until the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary explained it by stating that the charges in Court were alleged under an absolutely exclusive privilege, because nobody could sue the Attorney General or any Counsel at Law for any thing he had said in a Court of Justice. Now the only new charge was the second letter read, by the hon. and learned Attorney General. He (Mr. Labouchere) thought he had as low an opinion of The Times as it was possible for any Member of that House to entertain; but he was bound to say that he had not so low an opinion as the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had. He did not believe that if The Times were sued by his hon. Friend for that second letter they would plead privilege after the manner of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, and, would say that they were not liable because the letter had been read in Court and had not appeared in their paper. It was perfectly surprising that Gentlemen calling themselves Ministers of the Crown should come down to the House, and urge such twaddling, pettifogging objections as that. His hon. Friend the Member for Cork had asked for a Committee to investigate certain charges made against him by The Times. The reply of the Government was that they were perfectly ready to give a Commission, but not what was asked for by his hon. Friend. They wanted not only to investigate these charges that had been made, but also to go into the conduct of everyone who in any sort of way in any country in the world had been connected with the National movement in Ireland, and that, not in the last two or three, but in the last 10 years. The Commission was to investigate, not what they on the Opposition Benches would term crimes, but what Ministers termed crimes—Boycotting and the Plan of Campaign—for which those on the Opposition side of the House honoured and respected the Irish Members for having initiated. They were to investigate as to whether those Gentlemen had been 338 associated with anybody who might have been a member of some other association, which was not the Land League, but which, perhaps, was some doubtful association. Let them consider what construction was to be put upon speeches of hon. Members of that House. They did not want a Judge for that kind of thing, and they did not want a Commission. Most of the things alleged they were prepared to admit and to glory in. But, so far as the construction to be put upon these things went, they considered themselves as good, and perhaps better, judges than any three judicial gentlemen in the country, especially if they were to be estimated by those Gentlemen who sat on the Treasury Bench. This Commision was to have full powers not only to call witnesses, but they were positively to give indemnity to any ruffian who might come forward and incriminate himself, provided that he was so accommodating as to incriminate somebody else. This was essentially a fishing Commission, proposed in order to find evidence for The Times—not for the particular charges brought by The Times, but for the general invective of that paper; and it was intended by appointing it to evade all the particular questions which on that side of the House they wanted to raise. There were good reasons why Mr. Egan and Mr. Byrne should not appear in this country, and yet in their absence it was proposed to investigate their letters and conduct. It was obvious that persons whose names had been brought into the matter would have to be represented by counsel, and this would cause enormous expense. Then they had a right to complain that there would not be the ordinary safeguards and securities which usually environed persons who were charged, and also that the charges had not been specified. What did they mean by specification of charges? If he charged the hon. and learned Attorney General with being a murderer—[Sir RICHARD WEBSTER: You have.]—if he charged the hon. and learned Attorney General again with being a murderer and the hon. and learned Gentleman sued him for libel, the hon. and learned Gentleman would have the right to ask him to state whom he had murdered, when the murder was committed, and under what circumstances; and the object would be to prevent a general accusation going before the Court upon 339 which counsel might inquire info the whole life of the hon. and learned Attorney General. What was meant by requiring specification was this—they wanted to know the when, the where, and the how of the charges made against Members; they required these guarantees to be given to the accused; and it would not be a fair trial unless these guarantees and securities were given. When an action for libel was brought the plaintiff could call for the discovery of documents, and could claim to have access to them; and the reply of the hon. and learned Solicitor General to this demand was that witnesses might be tampered with and possibly be murdered; and so rules were laid down that would protect the accused, and it was not intended there should be a fair trial, because The Times would find it not only difficult but impossible to answer the interrogatories that litigants were ordinarily subjected to. He had often admired the effrontery of Her Majesty's Government, but never more than when it was said that this Commission was granted at the wish of the Irish Members, and in particular of the hon. Member for Cork. At first it was said that if the Irish Members objected to the Bill it would be dropped; but that idea was given up. The hon. Member for Cork did object to the provisions of the Bill, but it was to be forced through the House. It was said that the hon. Member wanted to dictate to the House the sort of Commission to be appointed, and The Times was indignant at the idea. But other hon. Members did not want the hon. Member for Cork to decide everything; they only wanted the Commission to follow the ordinary usages of Law Courts. They objected to all questions being settled by The Times, and to the late Counsel for The Times arranging with the Government the scheme which would allow The Times to throw as much mud as possible. There were two important issues raised; and the first related to a letter alleged to have been written by the hon. Member for Cork, the authorship of which it was admitted would disqualify him from association with honourable men. If that letter had not been put forward the series of articles would have been forgotten, like many other pamphlets on the Irish Question. The primary object of the Commission should be to inquire into 340 the genuineness of that letter. But they were met in limine with this difficulty—that The Times said that it would not disclose the source from which that letter came, and in the course of the recent trial it was said the source would not be disclosed if the refusal cost The Times the verdict. The suggestion was that the life of the person who furnished it would be in danger. Was The Times going to disclose the source of that letter? If not, how could there be a real investigation? The hon. Member for Cork could not prove a negative. As to the evidence of experts, it could not be important in this case on one side or the other. They could not prove complicity in a particular crime by citing a speech construed to amount to advocacy of murder in general; and although such speeches might be confirmatory evidence when a specific charge was established, yet in this case they must show the source of the letter to enable the hon. Member to deal with the question of its authenticity. If this was not done the inquiry would be an absolute farce, although it would cost thousands to the country and deprive it of the services of three Judges for a long time. How was it that the Bill was one only for an inquiry into the charges made against Irish Members? It ought to have been one of inquiry into the charge made against The Times, that it had been accessory to the publication of a forged letter. Was that charge to be inquired into? If it were to be, and if the hon. Member would have the right to ask the Commission to call witnesses who might be committed to prison if they refused to answer questions, then one great objection to the Bill would be removed. If that could not be done, then the inquiry would be all humbug and illusion. No inquiry was needed into Boycotting, the Plan of Campaign, and things of that sort; but inquiry must be directed to crimes that would render a man unfit to sit in that House. As it was, the Commission was framed by The Times' Counsel and the Government to provide The Times with cogged dice in order to play the game against the hon. Member for Cork. Their object was to occupy the attention of the public mind during the Autumn with long reports of sensational and lying evidence of matters which had occurred, or had not occurred, years ago. They wished 341 to divert attention from what was now going on in Ireland. What the Opposition wanted was an investigation into the charges against the criminals of the moment—against the Government. They wanted to know about Mitchelstown. They wanted to know about Mandeville, and about the poor doctor; they wanted to know about that poor man who was the instrument of the tyranny of the Government, and who cut his throat rather than dare to go into the witness-box. They wanted to know about these iniquities, these villainies of the Government. Ministers were wise in their day and generation in trying to divert attention from these things, but the Opposition would be wrong in allowing them to do so. Mr. Pecksniff himself might have envied the hon. and learned Solicitor General's remark, that Gentlemen on the Irish Benches ought to be thankful for the unprecedented generosity of Her Majesty's Government in granting this Commission. This particular Commission was simply a trap which they were asked to be foolish enough to walk into. The Government had exhibited no generosity to Irish Members, who asked for bread and were given a stone. He had put down a Motion on the Paper to read the Bill a second time that day six months; but the hon. Member for Cork, who was accused every day by The Times of trying to shirk the investigation, was so exceedingly anxious to have the opportunity of going before any tribunal, and of declaring on oath that he never wrote those letters, and was not accessory or privy to crimes, that he urged him (Mr. Labouchere) not to move the Amendment. He did not believe they would alter the Commission in any way, because the Government would not dare to do it. The Times would keep them up to the mark, and would not allow them to alter it. The Government were simply the slaves of The Times. Perhaps they would send for Mr. Walter, as they did before; but he would not be very anxious to alter it, because, as it stood, it was a good deal too favourable to himself. But if the Bill were not amended in Committee, he really thought the Opposition ought, at the third reading, seriously to consider whether they ought not to protest against the Commission, and refuse to accept it any way, so as not to allow the hon. Member for Cork to walk into a trap—to be treated so unjustly and un- 342 fairly as he would be by such a Commission. For his own part, he had always thought that a very exaggerated importance was given to these charges in The Times. Take the letters. His hon. Friend denied that he wrote them. Obviously The Times must have got them from a man who was either a thief or a traitor; he might have been a forger. All the evidence they had got was that of a man who said—"I am a thief, or I am a traitor, but I am not a forger." Was the evidence of such a person to weigh for one moment against the assertion of his hon. Friend, or against the assertion and denial of any Member of that House? Of course not. Why, they would not hang or try a dog on such evidence. Take the charge of his hon. Friend the Member for Cork and his Colleagues being accessory or privy to crime. He had read all through Parnellism and Crime, and the long speeches of the hon. and learned Attorney General; but he could not find a tittle of evidence to support the charge. There was nothing but a series of speeches made by his hon. Friend, and comments made upon those speeches by The Times, or the hon. and learned Attorney General acting for The Times; and what had they got against this? They had the evidence of Lord Spencer and of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), who was Home Secretary, and they both said they could find nothing to connect the Irish Members in any sort of way, directly or indirectly, with the perpetrators of crime. Then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Mr. John Morley), who had been Irish Secretary, stated the other day that he could not find one iota of evidence against them. He had asked the permanent officials at the Castle—men who were more or less against the Nationalist Members—and they told his right hon. Friend that they were absolutely and entirely convinced that the persons accused were in no sort of way accessory or privy to outrages or crimes. He perfectly understood the anxiety of his hon. Friend (Mr. Parnell) to have an opportunity to vindicate his character. He honoured and respected him for it; but he would urge him seriously to consider whether this Commission would really give him the opportunity of clearing himself of the charges that were made against him? His own 343 impression was that it was carefully and insidiously designed to prevent it. His impression was that it was a plan of the Government carefully and insidiously designed to enable The Times to ride off upon a false issue, and that it was intended to enable every scoundrel and ruffian who liked to come forward to vilify and abuse his hon. Friend under cover of a Court of Justice with a bill of indemnity before him to protect him from the consequences.
§ MR. ELLIOTT LEES (Oldham)
May I be allowed, as a young Member of this House, to make a few remarks upon this question; for I think it affects the young Members of the House more than any others; because, even if the character of this House should deteriorate, those who have been here for many years will not forget that they have been Members of Parliament in times when that title was one of the most honourable that an Englishman could bear. But for the younger Members there will be no such consoling memories. They stand upon the threshold of public life; and it is a matter of grave consequence to them to know what may be the character and reputation of those with whom their future public life may have to be passed. ["Hear, hear!"] I am not surprised at hon. Members opposite jeering at that statement; but if Providence and our constituencies are kind to us, we, the young Members, may remain in this House for years, and it is of importance to us to know that the House and its Members shall continue to bear as high a character in the future as they have done in the past. I appeal, I therefore, to hon. Members opposite not lightly to reject, hamper, or obstruct the offer which has been made to them by the Government. I rejoice to hear from the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) that the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) has asked him to withdraw his Amendment for the rejection of the Bill, although he says that an attempt may be made to modify the Bill in Committee; but all the arguments of hon. Members opposite have been directed to show how very easily they could disprove these charges in a Court of Law. Then why not take the opportunity? Why not accept the offer of the Government? Why not go before the Commission and disprove the charges which have been made against them? It may 344 be true that the strongest part of the case is the letters which are said to have been written by the hon. Member for Cork. Hon. Members opposite say—"You are going to put a lot of matter into the inquiry, and the letters will be burked and stifled in the midst of it all, while the point to which the country is looking is that of the letters." I fully admit the force of that objection; but, on the other hand, if they can succeed in disproving the genuine character of these letters they would cause a tremendous revulsion of feeling in the country. Let them then face the inquiry, so as, in the first place, to disprove the letters, and then let the Government, if they like, go into all the extraneous matters. Let me point out to the House that this question is in a very different position now from that which it occupied last year. Last year a letter was published in The Times, which, if true, implicated the hon. Member for Cork as a sympathizer in one of the vilest—one of the foulest—murders that has ever made history blush. This year letters have been published which directly charge him with being personally implicated in that crime, either as accessory before or after the fact. ["No, no!"] The hon. Member for Northampton says "No;" but the hon. Member for Cork himself seems to be of a very different opinion. Last year the charges were made only in The Times newspaper, which is published at the price of 3d., and therefore does not circulate largely amongst the working classes in the North of England and the great centres of thought in the manufacturing districts; and owing to that very silly newspaper etiquette, which is founded, I suppose, upon jealousy, the other great daily newspapers made very little of these charges, and did not half put them before the people of the country. This year, however, things stand upon a very different footing; for these charges have been made directly in a Court of Law, have been blazoned forth throughout the length and breadth of the country, and have in every part of the country excited public interest to the very highest pitch. Hon. Members opposite will, therefore, find that these are charges which it is no longer safe, honourable, or wise to ignore. If they are innocent, as they say they are, and as the House must assume that they are, they have everything to gain and nothing to lose by 345 submitting to this inquiry. One would naturally suppose that their first impulse would have been to go into a Court of Law, and sue The Times for heavy damages. Just imagine what enormous damages they could have got out of a wealthy newspaper like The Times. Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not always refuse money for the purpose of carrying out their political projects or crotchets. In fact, none of us do that. We have heard a great deal lately, I think, of a gift of £5,000 by a Mr. Rhodes to the Irish Parliamentary Party. [Cries of "It was £11,000."] Well, £11,000, and that, I suppose, is a very welcome addition to their funds. But what a mere fleabite is £11,000 compared with the damages which hon. Members might obtain from The Times newspaper! Well, there is still a chance for hon. Members opposite. If they accept the offer of the Government, of a Commission to examine into these charges, and if they prove before that Commission that these charges are untrue, where is the Judge and where is the jury that would go against the decision of the Commission, or refuse to hon. Members the most exemplary damages? Hon. Members opposite cannot, it appears, trust an English jury. Well, that is very strange, coming from men who have just been boasting of the great sympathy which exists among the English democracy with their cause. If they have no confidence in English juries, they might bring their action in the Dublin Courts; but I understand that hon. Members have no confidence in Dublin juries either. In fact, it seems to be very difficult, if not impossible, to accommodate hon. Members with a tribunal in which they have confidence. In this Commission, however, the Government offers them a tribunal which surely ought to satisfy them. And if they do not accept it, it will be our duty to go down to our constituents and explain to them what has taken place; nay, more, it will be our duty to reiterate those charges against hon. Members. Now, I come to an appeal which I have to make to Her Majesty's Government. I dare say many hon. Members who have been to America know something of a game of cards which is known by the name of "poker." Those who are acquainted with that game will know what I mean. It seems to me that The Times newspaper and hon. 346 Members opposite have been "bluffing" long enough, and that it is time they were called upon to show their hands. It is all very well to go on like this whilst the stakes are small; but, when the stakes come to be charges of murder and forgery, I say they are too high for English politicians to play with, and, therefore, I say to Her Majesty's Government—let us have this matter settled once for all. If these charges are not settled, see what a predicament hon. Members of this House are placed in. We must comp down here, night after night, and sit in the House with these men, who are charged with being implicated in murder, and if we go to our constituents we must act the part of counsel for the Crown. This is not a dilemma in which I am content to be placed—it is not a part which I wish to play; and, therefore, whilst I appeal to hon. Members opposite to accept the offer of the Government, I implore the Government, whether hon. Members accept their offer or not, to press this Bill through the House.
§ MR. WHITBREAD (Bedford)
said, the speech of the hon. Member who had just sat down showed that he had completely grasped the situation when he said that the question was no longer one between The Times and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cork, but one between the House and hon. Members from Ireland. He differed, however, from the hon. Member as to the possibility of hon. Members from Ireland getting damages from The Times if they once went before the Commission. In the first place, if they went before the Commission they were finally estopped from getting damages from The Times. ["No, no!"] If hon. Members looked at the words at the end of the Bill they would see that any civil action would be barred in the case of any witness called before the Commission. They did not want the money of The Times. What they wanted was the opportunity of clearing the character of hon. Members in that House. He confessed he was anxious for inquiry, but such an inquiry as, if charges were made against him, he would be willing to enter into himself or recommend a friend to enter into, so framed, so conducted, and upon such definite issues as every Member sitting in that House would claim for himself as his first right. More than that he would not ask, less than that justice would forbid him to 347 accept. So long as those charges were based upon extracts from speeches, artfully and carefully strung together, so long as they consisted of inferences and conclusions drawn from the movement of hon. Members of that House and their communications with other persons, here in Ireland, in America, or in Australia, so long he was of opinion that hon. Members might ignore them and rest quiet under them. Two considerations led him to that. In the first place, the Nobleman who had been Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and the Gentleman who had been Chief Secretary for Ireland had both publicly and formally stated that after careful inquiry they were satisfied that no charge could be substantiated or brought upon which crime could he based. If, after that declaration, new evidence had been forthcoming, then it was the bounden duty of the Government, if they were in possession of that new evidence, to put those hon. Members upon their trial. Afterwards came the publication of the first famous, or infamous, letter, and that materially altered the case. That was a charge definite and direct, and capable of being substantiated or disproved, and he was then anxious for inquiry. They begged the Government to adopt the old Constitutional method; they were not afraid of the partizan feeling of that House; but the Government refused that old Constitutional method, and the hon. Members charged could do no more. The next step was the trial of "O'Donnell v. The Times." That, again, had altered the position of affairs completely and entirely. Up till that time the Government had not distinctly linked themselves with those charges. In that trial had come, through the mouth of the Attorney General, for the first time many other letters even more damning, if they could be proved true, than that which The Times had first published. He did not know what could be thought by hon. Members of a man in the position of the proprietor, or it might be the editor, of The Times—he did not know who was in authority—but of a man who month after month had letters in his pocket which he said he had reason to believe to be true, and which charged nothing short of incitement to murder against hon. Members, and who waited for a convenient opportunity to produce them, waited as if he had got an old curiosity, and wanted 348 to find the market ripe for it. That alone, in his humble judgment, was enough to throw considerable doubt upon the authenticity of the letters at first starting. Now the matter was brought before the House by the action of the Attorney General. It was no longer a question between The Times and hon. Members from Ireland, but it was a question of how hon. Members from Ireland were to be treated by the House. The Government themselves had admitted that that speech of the Attorney General altered the whole aspect of affairs. Of course it did. The Government talked to them about offering a fair tribunal, and said they would not limit the scope of the inquiry. If an action for libel had been brought against The Times, he could understand the proprietor of that journal saying—"I will justify for the whole libel, and will not set up a part of it." But now they had from the mouth of the Attorney General charges, which the hon. and learned Gentleman believed to be true, and which he said he could prove, brought against hon. Members of that House—charges that amounted to nothing less than charges of incitement to murder. The Government talked about narrowing the issue; but was not such a charge a wide enough issue to try? He thought the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Elliott Lees) was right when he said—"Try this first. If you succeed in proving these letters against hon. Members from Ireland, you will have destroyed them as far as public life is concerned." If, on the other hand, the Irish Members proved the letters to be forgeries, as he believed and as he hoped they would, he did not think the public would care much about the strung together extracts, the reports of interviews with Walsh and Ford, and other matters of that kind.
§ MR. ELLIOTT LEES
, interposing, expressed a hope that the hon. Gentleman was not intending to represent his words in what he had just said.
§ MR. WHITBREAD
said, what he had represented the hon. Member to have stated was that it was desirable to try first the question of the letters.
§ MR. ELLIOTT LEES
explained that his argument was that if the authenticity of the letters was proved in the course of the inquiry the public would think very little of the other charges.
§ MR. WHITBREAD
said, he thought the hon. Member was recommending 349 them to try first of all this issue of the letters. For his own part, he thought that was the issue which ought to be first tried. It was a clear issue. Let them consider for a moment how well placed the Conservative Party was for the trial of that issue. The charges of The Times were divided into two parts. One part consisted of extracts from speeches delivered at or before the time when it suited the Conservative Party to seek for and to accept the alliance of these very men. Gentlemen opposite might say that they knew nothing about the letters. That was quite true. The letters did not transpire till long after their alliance with the Irish Members had ceased, and consequently they would be exceptionally well placed to try the issue now. If they believed, as their Attorney General said he believed, that the other charges could be proved against hon Members from Ireland, they should remember that when they were courting their alliance the Irish Members came red-handed from these crimes; and if they really committed them, that was the time when one would have thought that Gentlemen opposite would have most shrunk from meeting them in the Lobby or courting any alliance with them. Were there any other charges formulated? He had listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Cork on the previous night, and it struck him it had the ring of truth about it. He understood the hon. Member to say—"If you have got other charges formulate them, and we will meet them. We do not object to go before your tribunal, but let your charges be definite charges which we can meet, and which will not waste our life and the whole of our means and substance in an endless inquiry." He asked hon. Members opposite whether this kind of fishing, roving inquiry was one which any single individual of them would recommend a friend to enter into? Just conceive what it meant. The Commissioners were to inquire into every action in order to throw odium, suspicion, and dirt on the hon. Member for Cork. This was to be carried on whether the witnesses were in England, Ireland, America, Paris, or Australia. Would any man live to see the end of such an inquiry if it were really tried out? Could any man's purse stand it out? No. All they asked was that the Irish Members might 350 know what it was that they had to clear their character from. The humblest criminal was entitled to know upon what charge he was going to be tried; and were they in that House to be less jealous of the position and character of Members there? Hon. Gentlemen opposite could not get rid of those Members. They must meet them in that Chamber in debate; in Committee they must be constantly rubbing shoulders with them; and yet they would not venture to raise definite charges against them, although they vaguely professed to believe that the slanders of The Times were not without foundation. Members on that side of the House asked but for one thing. They were content to go before the tribunal which was suggested, but they asked to know on what charges they were to be tried. He thought the country would understand them when they said that they asked for nothing more than a definite charge, a fair tribunal, and consequently no favour.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
I will endeavour to confine within very reasonable limits the observations which I desire to address to the House. I will not follow, point by point, the speeches which have been delivered from this side of the House this evening, although I may have to recur again to several of the statements which have just been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread). As regards the speech of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), it was couched in the vein of cynical humour to which the House is accustomed from that hon. Member, and in which he develops from his own inner consciousness imputations of mean and unworthy motives against his political opponents in which I hope he does not really believe. I am sure he must have been very unfortunate in his experience of human nature, if he cannot admit to himself that Englishmen, even although they happen to be Ministers of the Crown, are really filled with a desire for fair play and justice. Sir, I address the House from rather, I think, a different standpoint than that of those who have hitherto supported this Bill. When I entered the House in 1876 I took my seat below the Gangway on those Benches, and I found very often near to me, and very often side by side with me, the hon. Member for the City of Cork. I was at that time intimate with that 351 hon. Member. We did not agree upon many subjects; but I was able to co-operate with him on many others. Our intercourse was close, and I think I might say friendly; and, Sir, I am bound to say that at that time I formed a judgment of the hon. Member for Cork, of his character, of his motives, of his honesty, of his sincerity, and of his patriotism, that will not allow me easily to accept the charges which have now been made against him. I have retained my own conviction as to the integrity of his character. I did not share, I did not associate myself with, the accusations made against him by the late Mr. W. E. Forster in this House, and I took an active part, as I am not at all ashamed to confess, in securing the release of the hon. Member from Kilmainham; and, Sir, the only think which could shake, or which has shaken, in the slightest degree my confidence in the hon. Member's ability to disprove these charges which are now made against him, and which, if proved, would, as he says, leave him dishonoured and dishonourable, is his apparent reluctance to face a full inquiry. ["No!" from the Home Rule Members.] Now, we will test that, and we will take the test which is put by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford.—namely, that we have no right to ask the hon. Member for Cork to undergo any inquiry which we would not invite ourselves, and accept for ourselves. The hon. Member for Cork is charged with these offences in The Times; suppose a charge of that kind had been brought against me by The Times newspaper, does anyone in this House believe that, under those circumstances, I would not have gone to a jury? Does anyone believe that, under those circumstances, I would not advise a friend to go to a jury? [An hon. MEMBER: Suppose it were against United Ireland?] An hon. Member says "United Ireland." I do not think it at all improbable that United Ireland may slander or libel me; but, if it does, I will go to a jury. [An hon. MEMBER: In Dublin?] Even then, I would go to a jury. [An hon. MEMBER: Of English Tories?] Now, the answer of the hon. Member for Cork to the suggestion that he should go to a jury is, that he cannot trust himself to an English jury. I am not going to dispute the perfect honesty of that objection. I assume that the hon. Member sincerely 352 feels that he cannot trust himself to an English jury, though I do not think that his distrust would he shared by hon. Members from English and Scottish constituencies who are in alliance with him. We should, I think, all feel that, though an English jury might be partizan, yet in a matter of this moment, involving such terrible charges against the character of anyone, it might be trusted to do justice. I admit, however, that the hon. Member for Cork may sincerely and honestly object to an English jury. Well, does he object also to a Scottish jury? Does he object to an Irish jury? I was asked just now whether I would go to an Irish jury. I answer I would, if I could not go to an English one; but probably I might prefer an English one. I could understand, therefore, if the hon. Member for Cork should put greater trust in a Dublin jury. Why does he not go to a Dublin jury? That is the question, I confess, I have not seen answered. I can quite understand the prejudice which would lead him to refuse to appear before a Middlesex jury; but what is the prejudice that can make him refuse to appear before a Dublin jury? There is no doubt whatever that he could do so. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Mr. John Morley) admitted the other day that Mr. Parnell might have gone before a Dublin jury, and what was the reason he gave for his not doing so? My right hon. Friend suggested that it would not be fair to The Times. But why should the hon. Member for Cork be tender with The Times?
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
If my right hon. Friend will excuse me for interrupting him, what I said was that The Times would say it would not be fair.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Why should the hon. Member for Cork care twopence what The Times says? [Loud Home Rule cheers.] I am delighted to have the assent of hon. Members. Those cheers show that hon. Members agree with me that there is no rational reason why the hon. Member for Cork, who, it is said, has been scandalously libelled by The Times, should care twopence what The Times would say if he took them before a Dublin jury. In the absence of any explanation from him, I cannot understand why he did not take an action for libel against The Times to 353 Dublin. My right hon. Friend says—"We are willing to go before a Committee of the House of Commons." That is the answer which is made when it is suggested that the hon. Member for Cork should go before a jury. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Hackney (Sir Charles Russell) said last night it was most inconsistent for us to urge the hon. Member for the City of Cork to go before a jury, and at the same time to dispute the impartiality of what would practically be a jury of Members of Parliament. Oh! yes; but my hon. and learned Friend forgets the distinction. What would happen if there were a Committee of the House of Commons would be that the Committee would undertake to be Judge and jury too. I may say at once that, personally, I differ from many Members of the House on one point. I am sorry the Government did not grant a Committee. I am perfectly convinced, in my own mind, that the result would have been unsatisfactory and incomplete; but it would have prepared the way to a unanimous assent to a different kind of investigation. In one sense the objections to a Committee would be very strong. A Committee of the House of Commons would have to be Judge and jury. I do not think there is anyone who thinks that an investigation could be effectually carried out except by someone of experience in legal and criminal proceedings. My objection to a Committee of the House of Commons is, not that it would not be impartial, that it would not be able to rise above the considerations of Party. I believe that it would be incompetent, and that it has not the qualifications for dealing with a case of this kind, and that it could come to no satisfactory result. The real issue is not as to the tribunal, for the proposed tribunal is accepted, I believe, by hon. Members below the Gangway, and is certainly accepted by the hon. Member for Bedford. The only issue that remains, therefore, is what reference shall be submitted to the tribunal? And remember, that the same question would have arisen if the Government had agreed to appoint a Committee. But before I go to that, let me put my hon. Friend (Mr. Whitbread) right upon one point. He says that the Irish Members asked for a Committee. That is not 354 exactly the case. What happened was this—that these charges were made, were received with silence for a fortnight, and no demand was made for a Select Committee. Then a new and different charge, a much less grave one, was made against Mr. Dillon, and thereupon an hon. Member on the opposite side of the House brought these charges forward as a Breach of Privilege, and, in order to meet that, an Amendment was moved, I believe by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), asking for a Committee to inquire into the charges against Mr. Dillon, and not into these letters. That was the original Motion, and that was objected to, and when the inconsistency was pointed out of limiting an inquiry into what, by comparison, was a totally unimportant matter, then it is true that there were expressions from this side of the House—I think from the Irish Members—of their willingness to extend the inquiry to include the charges made against them. It is right, I think, to put that historic element before the House, because it is a very different thing from the burst of indignation, directly the charges were made, with which we are told the Irish Members demanded full and complete inquiry. I go on to point out that if the inquiry had been granted as asked, there would still be the question—what was to be inquired into? It is quite true that anyone reading the speeches of my hon. and right hon. Friends, would have imagined that the whole of the charges brought by The Times were to be inquired into, and that such a reference as is contained in this Bill would amply meet the demand. But it has since been pointed out that the charges were to be distinct, and it is quite evident that the whole argument of my hon. Friends would be illogical and inconsistent, unless it applied to a Committee of the House of Commons quite as much as to a judicial Commission. So that we come now to this—what limitation is to be placed on the inquiry which we all agree to except the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), who does not agree that an inquiry has become absolutely necessary? Nor does there seem to be any hon. Member who says that the tribunal is not a fair one. There remains the question—what is to be the issue? The 355 hon. Member for Cork, as I understand, asks for two limitations and a condition. He asked that the inquiry should be confined to the Members of Parliament whose names shall be specified in the Bill; and he asks, in the second place, that they should be confined to charges against those Members which shall be specifically defined. In the third place, I understand him to suggest that the order of the inquiry should be fixed; that the Commission, in the first place, should examine into the authenticity of the letters, and then proceed with the other branches of the inquiry. I agree with the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Lees) that these letters constitute the principal, if not the gravamen, of these charges, and no inquiry would be satisfactory which did not give a principal place in that inquiry to an examination into the authenticity of these letters. If they should be successfully shown to be base forgeries, all the rest of the case, whatever it be, will be so prejudiced that I much doubt whether the public will pay much attention to it. All that I admit, and everyone must admit, but it seems to me that there is sufficient security for the hon. Member for Cork. It cannot be, under those circumstances, that an inquiry into the letters will not take an early place in the inquiry, and that it will not have the greatest possible importance. But to lay down the exact mode and form in which evidence is to be tendered would not, I think, be wise. It would be better to leave those matters to the discretion of the tribunal if you have confidence in the tribunal. I think they may fairly be trusted to establish the place and order in the inquiry which is to be occupied by an examination into the authenticity of these letters. I propose to go through the objections which strike me as to the mode of the inquiry and the limitations proposed, and to consider the objections taken by the hon. Member for Cork. To his objection of the vagueness of the inquiry, as contained in the Bill—a general objection—I answer that I object to limit or hamper an inquiry into the truth. This is not an ordinary inquiry, but is an extraordinary judicial proceeding. A Commission of this kind which has been appointed on three or four previous occasions is undoubtedly a most inquisitorial instrument. As far 356 as I know, it has never failed, when it has been appointed, to get out the whole truth about the transactions submitted to it for investigation, and it has done that just because it is not limited in its inquiry, because everything is left to its discretion, and by those means the whole truth has been elicited. I am sure the House will feel that I am not putting those views forward in any aggressive mood. I am ready to say that I believe now, as I have believed before, that the hon. Member for Cork will be able to show that he is innocent of the acts which have been imputed to him. But in that case, in order to establish his innocence, it is requisite in his interest as much as that of any other man, and quite as necessary that the inquiry should be made as far as possible full and complete, so that not a shadow of a doubt should remain in men's minds on the subject. I will give the House an illustration of what I mean as to the propriety of not putting fetters upon the discretion of the Judicial Body you are about to appoint. I may say I can remember something of the Commission which was appointed to inquire into what were termed the "rattening" outrages in Sheffield. I dare say that the House can remember that the Commission practically traced the instigation of the whole of those outrages to a scoundrel named Broadhead. He was the "head and front of the offending," and the guiding spirit throughout the whole of the business. But I believe it was the case that no particular suspicion rested upon Broadhead before the inquiry commenced. If it had been necessary to state before the appointment of that Commission, who were the persons accused, and what particular crimes they were accused of, I believe that Broadhead would have escaped altogether. But I need not pursue an illustration of that kind further. One such illustration is surely sufficient to show that the fullest discretion should be placed in the tribunal you are about to appoint if you wish to get at the truth, otherwise you will limit its power to do so. I ask whether it would be satisfactory to the House, to the public, or to the accused Members themselves that if there be other persons concerned in this inquiry, they shall escape because the hon. Member for Cork and his Parliamentary Colleagues are entirely inno- 357 cent? Suppose they are innocent absolutely, that they can be washed white as snow, but that there are other persons of whom we have no knowledge, but who are guilty, and whose transactions are embraced in the charges of The Times—would hon. Members below the Gangway wish to shield them from detection? Those guilty parties, if such there be, will be shielded if the limitations which are attempted to be put upon the inquiry are consented to by the House. But there is another point, which is more personal to the hon. Members who are accused. Of what are they accused? They are accused, in the words of the Lord Chief Justice, of "complicity with crime, of connivance with crime, and of condonation of crime." Well, how are you going to establish their innocence of these charges, unless you go into their relations with other persons who are criminated, and who are not Members of Parliament? The thing is perfectly absurd. It is connivance, complicity, knowledge before or after the fact that you have to deal with. You cannot begin to attempt to prove it without going into the relations of Members of Parliament with persons outside Parliament. The charge against the hon. Member for Cork is not, as I understand it, as was stated by the hon. Member for Bedford, a charge of murder. [Mr. WHITBREAD: It may be of incitement to murder.] Well, it may be, I admit, a charge of incitement to murder in connection with the second letter, but that does not follow. I did not want to press the point; but I meant to say in passing that it does not follow that if that letter were written by the hon. Member for Cork, the words he used would necessarily amount to an incitement to murder. Unquestionably, on very many occasions, the words—"Make it hot for old Forster," might well have been used without giving rise to the slightest danger to his life—they might merely suggest that it should be made hot for him in the House of Commons. But passing that, which is evidently a possible interpretation to be placed upon the letter, I want to say, speaking generally, that the charges against hon. Members in this House do not necessarily imply that they have been personally guilty of actual crimes. What is charged against them is a moral offence of the greatest flagrancy—most heinous, but they are 358 not charged with any act which would subject them to a criminal prosecution. If the charge against the hon. Member for Cork was such as to render him liable to a criminal prosecution, I should agree with those hon. Members who say—"Why do you not prosecute him?" Undoubtedly, under the circumstances, they ought to prosecute, but it is not so. I appeal to lawyers in this House, and I say that the charge against the hon. I Member is merely that he has been guilty of moral complicity with crime and of knowledge connected with it, than it is a charge of an actual criminal offence. And, I say again, that there is no possibility of the hon. Member clearing himself of these charges, unless he is allowed to go into his relations with other persons who are not Members of Parliament, and who are not named in this Bill. But I am prepared to carry the matter a step further. The necessity for going into their relations with other persons has already been admitted by the hon. Member for Cork and by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor). The hon. Member for Cork, with an indignation which seemed to me perfectly natural and justifiable, went through the charges made against him in The Times, and he denied them with corroborative detail, and gave the House an account of his relations with Walsh and Devoy and Ford. The hon. Member having taken that course, therefore admits that he is called upon to give some explanation of his alleged complicity with those parties. In that case, why should the hon. Member refuse to do before a judicial tribunal what he has already done before this House? But the hon. Member for the Scotland Division, who is also one of the accused parties, and, therefore, speaking for himself, went much beyond that. The hon. Gentleman also gave us an account of his relations with one of the outside persons, Mr. Byrne. The hon. Member admits that he had communications with that person, and he has explained what their nature was. Again, I ask the hon. Member, why I should you refuse to give before a judicial tribunal—subject, though you would, of course, be to cross-examination—the evidence which you are perfectly willing to give to this House? I want to call attention to the language 359 of the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool, because it is very remarkable language. He said last night, speaking for himself and his Parnellite friends—We are willing to go into the box to give evidence and to be cross-examined, we are willing to tell everything we know"—["Hear, hear!" from an Irish Member.] That cheer is quite uncalled for—we are willing to have the subject of the letters investigated, we are willing to have the question of our complicity with crime tested, but we are not willing that under this pretext you should go into the history of the Land League.Well, but that is the gravamen of the charge. [Cheers and "Oh, oh!"] Yes, yes; but do not be in a hurry. The charge is that hon. Members have been guilty of complicity with members of the Land League who have been guilty of murder and outrages. How can you investigate such a charge as that without going into the history and the operation of the Land League? That is the position of the accused. No one doubts—I believe not even the hon. Member for the Scotland Division—that certain Members, probably subordinate members of the Land League, were guilty of crime; nobody doubts, nobody denies that the hon. Member for Cork was the president of the Land League, that the hon. Member for the Scotland Division occupied a prominent and responsible position in connection with that organization, and other Members connected with it were also responsible for the organization. These are facts—admitted facts on one side and the other What is charged? That there was complicity between the men at the head of the organization and those tools and instruments who were guilty of crime. Now, I say that, in order to clear yourselves from these charges, it is absolutely necessary that you should be allowed to go into the transactions of the Land League, and show what complicity there was between the proceedings of the Land League and those who are accused. I confess that, under these circumstances, it appears to me to be perfectly inconsistent with the position taken up by the hon. Member for Cork and by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division, that any limitation should be put upon the inquiry with reference to the persons who may 360 be charged with offences. But it is said that the charges should have been specifically set forth in this Bill. Of course, there is a preliminary objection to that as far, at all events, as the presentation of the Bill is concerned. To have specified the charges would have made the Government a party to the indictment. [Cheers and counter cheers, and an hon. MEMBER: They are.] Whatever hon. Gentlemen may say—and I, for one, am prepared to make all allowance for their indignation when suffering under these charges—whatever hon. Members may say in the heat of debate, I do not believe that in cold blood they will say for a moment that the Government are in any way parties to these charges which have been brought against them. [Cheers and cries of "We believe they are!" and an hon. MEMBER: Smith has confessed it.] Well, of course I cannot dispute the statement of hon. Members that they do believe; but I am not sure that the period of coolness to which I referred has yet arrived. Well, there is another objection to the limitation of charges which is proposed. It was, I think, the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) who gave his interpretation of the specification of charges, and who wished to have in the Bill the name of everybody who can possibly be accused of particular crimes, the dates of the crimes, and the places where they were committed. It appears to me that any attempt to include particulars of that sort into the Bill would limit the inquiry so as probably to make it useless. Let me put a possible case. Suppose that under the conditions of indemnity given in the Bill, new witnesses should present themselves, or suppose a witness should come forward willing to testify that a particular Member of Parliament had been connected with, or been privy to, or had advocated or suggested a particular murder in Ireland—under the proposed limitation that hon. Member would have no chance of vindicating his character from so tremendous an aspersion on it, and that would necessitate a second inquiry, and perhaps a series of inquiries from time to time would have to be instituted before we could get at the bottom of the truth or falsehood of these allegations against Members. If a charge of that kind is made, a serious charge which the persons accused would 361 feel a natural desire to answer on the spot, why is the Commission to be limited and to be refused the opportunity of going into it? If, however, all that hon. Members believe is that there should be a general indication of the charges, I can only say that it seems to me that the House might be only too willing to meet them. What I mean is this. It may be said on behalf of hon. Members—"We do not want this inquiry to last for an indefinite time, and therefore we do not want to go into mere offences against property, into Boycotting, and matters of that kind. They are illegal, they are crimes in a technical sense, but they are not the sort of crimes into which inquiry is now demanded." Well, exclude them by all means. I certainly think matters of that sort would be altogether irrelevant to the main object of the inquiry, and I do not see why the inquiry should not be confined to general charges of real importance affecting complicity with crime on the part of hon. Members and with crime of personal violence and outrage. So that if hon. Members say—"We shall be satisfied if you propose to inquire into the charges of The Times, into our connivance with crime, into our complicity with crime, into our condonation of crime," it appears to me that we ought not to stickle. I do not see why the Government should stickle as to words. Those are undoubtedly the matters into which the public wants an investigation, and those are the questions which, I take it, it would be improper in the slightest degree to limit. Now, I come to the objections which have been taken by the hon. Member for Cork—they are not numerous, and, as I venture to think, not very important—to what he calls the vagueness of the proposals of this Bill. He says, in the first place, that the Commission in those circumstances would take 10 years. I do not myself think it would take a very long time. My own opinion is, that it would very shortly appear after the Commission met what was likely to be the result of the inquiry, and, according to that, the inquiry would speedily terminate; or, if it went on, it would only be because there was a grave and serious matter which, in the public interest, should be investigated. If that be the reason for the delay, then I say no one would grudge the delay, whether 362 it be weeks, months, or years, if the whole truth can thereby be established. Then, some of the Friends of the hon. Member for Cork have referred to the question of expense. I confess that is a difficulty which strikes me very forcibly. I think we should all feel that a most grievous hardship would be inflicted on those hon. Members if at the expiry of a lengthened inquiry which had shown them to be absolutely innocent of the atrocious charges which have been brought against them, they should have been ruined in their circumstances without hope of redress. The hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Lees) said in that case they would he able to bring an action against The Times. But my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford has pointed out that that would be impossible. The indemnity would intervene, and they would have no remedy against those who had libelled them. In order to be perfectly fair, let me take the other side of the case. Suppose those charges are proved, then we should all be disposed to say that a great public duty had been performed by The Times, and that it was a very great hardship upon The Times, wealthy as the proprietors of that journal may be, that these enormous expenses should be cast upon them for performing that public duty. In either case, therefore, I say, provided the judgment of the tribunal is conclusive, it does appear to me that a grievous hardship may be inflicted; and I think the Government ought to consider whether, in the event of a conclusive judgment being arrived at, the reasonable expenses of the successful parties, whoever they may be, ought not to be paid by the Nation. This is a national inquiry, an inquiry of national interest, and in my judgment so exceptional, so entirely unprecedented, that the Government would be perfectly justified, and would, I think, be supported by the House, if it brought forward a proposal to pay the expenses of those who have innocently been brought into those charges. Then there comes the third objection, which is that, under the pretence of investigating these grave and serious charges, the Commission and the prosecutors, the parties chiefly concerned—the accusers, I should call them—will try to cover up those charges, to smother and minimize their importance, in order to put forward others which we regard 363 as of infinitely less consequence. I do not think there is the slightest fear of anything of that kind. I do not believe that three Judges of the reputation of the Judges who are to constitute this tribunal would allow the inquiry to stray into irrelevant matters, to take up questions of accusations of an unimportant character and against unimportant persons. But even if they did, in order to exhaust the argument, how would the hon. Member for Cork and his Friends be prejudiced? On the contrary, it appears to me that all public opinion, all public sentiment, would go with them. It would be felt that The Times has committed itself to those grave and serious charges, and unless it proves them it could prove nothing. To lead the inquiry off into subsidiary and comparatively unimportant matters would be, in my opinion, fatal to the reputation of The Times, fatal to its success. It can only deal with these comparatively unimportant questions so far as they have a direct bearing on the important charges which we allow ought to be investigated. I say, as the conclusion of my examination of the subject, it appears to me that what the House ought to desire, and what hon. Members below the Gangway ought to gladly accept, is the fullest, the freest, the most complete investigation into the whole circumstances. I do not think any proposal to limit this inquiry, even though hon. Members may think there will be a waste of time, a waste of money, ought to proceed from them. I think they, on the contrary, ought to say in effect—"Having got a fair tribunal, we do not care how wide is the reference which we leave to it; we are content; our characters cannot suffer from any investigation, however complete it may be." Only one word more before I conclude, as to the situation in which we find ourselves. This Bill is presented as an offer to hon. Members, especially to the hon. Member for Cork; it is presented as a concession, to reject or accept as he may think fit. I understand that he has rejected it, or, at all events, that he would be inclined to reject it in its present form. That being so, the Government may well reconsider their position. They could, with perfect consistency, withdraw this Bill; but I venture to say that the matter is really now out of their hands. It is in the hands of the House of Commons, 364 and it is the honour and the dignity and the character of the House of Commons which are at stake. It seems to me that in the interests of the House of Commons, in the interests of the public, in the interests of hon. Members who have laboured so long under those imputations, we are bound, without reference to the Government, to take this matter in hand and say, whatever it may cost in the way of time and labour, whatever may be the disadvantages to public business,—"We are bound to take this matter in hand and carry it through, we are bound to secure that there shall be the fullest and most complete and most satisfactory investigation into the terrible charges which have been allowed to hang so long over the heads of prominent public men."
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
I think the three last speeches to which we have listened have shown the advantage of the adjournment of the debate last night. We have had this question treated from different points of view by the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Lees)—whom I must congratulate on the ability which he has shown in his early speech to this House—by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), who never speaks except with great authority from his calm judgment and experience. We have also heard an analytical speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain); and all of them have raised this question above that level of miserable special pleading to which it was reduced last night on behalf of the Government by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary and the hon. and learned Solicitor General. At last the House is beginning, I think, to appreciate that this is not a question for the counsel for The Times, and that the issues are not to be settled by them as they have been settled in this Bill. All those hon. Gentlemen to whom I have referred have pointed out what is the real character of the charges that have been made and which have to be met. My right hon. Friend has said that the charge is a charge of complicity with crime and with murder. There is no doubt that that is the charge. The charge made in the alleged letters is a charge of complicity with crime, which makes the man who is guilty of it accessory before the fact and after the 365 fact of murder. Now, it is a very remarkable fact that in the defence of this Bill offered by the Government last night there was not the smallest reference on their part to those letters. They evaded those letters; they shrunk from them; they put the case on other grounds. [Cries of "No, no"] Hon. Gentlemen opposite who cry "No" seem to doubt the accuracy of what I say. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary said that the charges of The Times in the action of "O'Donnell v. Walter" touch much more closely the Land League than they touch the hon. Member for Cork. The right hon. Gentleman put the case against the hon. Member for Cork as a subordinate and subsidiary case; he put the charges, which he said were charges against the Land League, as the primary case which the Government desired to prosecute and pursue. That is absolutely inconsistent with the point of the speeches by the hon. Member for Oldham, the hon. Member for Bedford, and the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. They have pointed out that the head and front of this case is the charge against the Member for Cork and his Friends, who in are the Representatives of the Irish people in this House, of their personal complicity with crime. And one of the great complaints we make of this Bill, framed as it has been under the advice which has been sought by the Goverment, is that they have, for reasons best known to themselves, endeavoured to cast this charge against the hon. Member for Cork into the background and to bring forward something totally different. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham has said, also, that the charge is a charge of crime as popularly understood by the public of this country. It does not mean those artificial crimes which you have created by your legislation; it does not mean Boycotting, or those things which you have made crimes and which were not crimes before. That is not what the country understands by Parnellism and Crime. It is a totally different charge, and yet the action, as it is described here, is an action full of imputations of that character, and which are entirely opened by the reference as you have chosen to make it. I have now found the remark of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary to which 366 I referred just now. The right hon. Gentleman said,It is to the Land League much more than to the hon. Member for Cork that the allegations of The Times newspaper refer.That is the view of the Government. What is to be prosecuted in this Commission is not principally the charges against the hon. Member for Cork and the Irish Members, but it is the Land League which the Government desire to prosecute. Then that is a political prosecution. It is against a political organization that the prosecution is aimed; and we complain that the Government have framed their Bill for that purpose—a Bill professedly given to particular individuals in order to afford them an opportunity of clearing their characters. Having given the Bill thus, you come forward and say, "These men to whom we offer this tribunal are not the principal objects of the inquiry; it is the conduct of a political organization that we wish to inquire into." The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary says that such an inquiry as that touches upon political subjects and passions. Of course it does; and it is because it does that the Government appear to me to be determined to make it the principal object of their inquiry. The right hon. Gentleman got into a rather embarrassed position in talking about skiffs and steamships; how one coasted and the other did not coast upon political subjects; and what he desires is to embark this Commission first mainly upon a political inquiry—an inquiry into the conduct of a political organization. Then you say this is to be a judicial inquiry. What do you mean by that? It is to be a judicial inquiry because it is constituted of Judges. Yes; but are the Judges to act upon judicial principles? My hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Hackney (Sir Charles Russell) endeavoured to press that point, and the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary and the hon. and learned Solicitor General flinched at once. They said, certainly not; it is not to be conducted on the well-known principles of judicial evidence.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I have not got his words here, but the hon. and learned Solicitor General was 367 asked whether the law of evidence would apply, and he said that that would be narrowing the issue.
§ SIR EDWARD CLARKE
It is only fair to state that what I did say was, that I could not imagine that Judges, who had been used to dealing with evidence, would deal in a different way with a matter so grave as this from that in which they would deal with a matter in which £25 worth of property was concerned.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I am very glad. Then the hon. and learned Gentleman believes that the matter will be dealt with on the principles of judicial evidence. Let us have that clearly understood. Is this inquiry to be a judicial inquiry, conducted upon judicial principles? I venture to say that that is a matter of supreme importance, because an inquiry conducted by Judges not upon judicial principles, not upon judicial lines, is not a judicial inquiry at all; and if the Judges conduct an inquiry of that kind they are no better than anybody else, and perhaps a good deal worse. The value of Judges is that they shall be bound to inquire upon judicial principles and strictly bound by the rules of judicial procedure. What I understand by judicial proceedings is something very different from the proceedings known in a town, the government of which was recommended to us by an hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, the government of old Venice, where there was a lion's mouth which supplied the judicial evidence upon which proceedings were taken; and what we desire is not to have the lion's mouth established, but that there should be principles laid down upon which the investigation should proceed. The charges ought to be made in a clear way. Supposing in the days of the Reform agitation somebody had charged Lord Grey and Lord John Russell with having been accomplices in acts of violence committed in those days, say the Bristol riots or the conflagrations at Nottingham; and supposing that Lord Grey and Lord John Russell had come to this House, or to any other tribunal, and complained of such charges, and you said, "Oh, no, we are not going to inquire whether you are accomplices in these transactions, but we are going to examine into the whole Reform agitation, the whole Re- 368 form organization, and the Birmingham Union, and see what they have done, and go back 20 years and consider, from the time of Wilkes downward, every act of violence and outrage that had been committed." Would not that be an insult to offer to men charged with being accomplices in acts of violence and out-rage? That is a very fair illustration of the manner in which you profess to meet the demand that has been made. If this is to be a judicial inquiry, conducted on judicial lines, who is to be arraigned? There is no judicial proceeding in which it is not known who is the person to be arraigned. What are the charges to be brought? No proceeding is a judicial proceeding in which it is not perfectly well known what are the charges to be brought and inquired into. Does the Bill refer charges to the Commission against any persons, or charges of any particular kind? No; it refers a speech of counsel for The Times, and nothing else. I will not say a speech of the hon. and learned Attorney General. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary said truly last night that the speech of counsel for The Times added nothing to the statements of his clients. That is not the view taken, I observe, by Tory newspapers. A leading Tory newspaper said the other day, "What more do we want? We have had a speech from the hon. and learned Attorney General, which is equivalent to the finding of a Grand Jury," and thereupon they called upon the Government, not very unreasonably, I think, to prosecute the Member for Cork and his Colleagues. If the hon. and learned Attorney General believed one single word of what Sir Richard Webster said, it was the duty of the hon. and learned Attorney General to indict the Member for Cork and his Colleagues. The proof that the hon. and learned Attorney General does not believe the speech of the counsel for The Times to be a fact is that he has not advised the Government to take any such course. Then, speaking not of the hon. and learned Attorney General, but of the counsel for The Times, this I will undertake to say, that a more extraordinary and, in my opinion, a more unjustifiable course was never taken by a person placed in his position. I have always understood that it was a tradition of the Bar that the counsel, whatever 369 instructions he might receive, would not, unless it were necessary for the interests of his client in that particular case, open evidence against persons who were not, and could not be, present to defend themselves, which he did not think it necessary upon the issue before the Court to prove; and that he would not endeavour indirectly to damage the character of people who were necessarily absent, by statements which they were unable to refute. But the counsel for The Times expended a day and a - half in making statements which he said had no relation to the plaintiff in the case, and which were calculated to injure and damnify the character of other men whom he knew could not come there to justify and defend themselves. To show that that was the case, he pledged himself to prove all the statements he had made to the Court, and when he came to the end of his speech on the third day he actually entreated the Court not to allow the issues to be gone into which he himself had spent a day and a-half in expounding, and to prevent evidence being given to disprove the statements he had made. These things go to show that the trial was not an ordinary trial, and confined to certain persons, but that it was a political prosecution. It is most unjustifiable in itself to force on the public mind other issues than those which a Judge and a jury would have to try. But that attempt explains a great deal that we see in this Bill. It seems to have been framed in the same spirit of endeavour to confuse the issues as was shown by the counsel for The Times when he brought before the Court matters that the jury were not impanelled to try. We do not wish by a side wind to damage the characters of men in a manner against which they have no defence; and against such a course, whether it be taken in the High Court of Justice, or in the High Court of Parliament, I enter my solemn and indignant protest. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary said we had demanded that the Government should pick out of the allegations of The Times the sum and substance of the charges it made. We have asked nothing of the kind. Regarding the Government as I do as the main promoters of these prosecutions, I would not trust them to do anything of the kind. I tell them honestly I think they are the last people 370 in the world to be trusted to do anything of that sort. What we have asked is that the charges should be defined, and that they should be specified. That may be done in different ways. The hon. Member for Cork may state the charges he considers to have been brought against him, and which he wishes to refute; or The Times may state charges which it is prepared to support or to prove. You say that this tribunal are not to be bound by technical rules. Is it a technical rule that a man should know whether he is charged, and what he is charged with? Why, that is the fundamental essence, and the first conception of justice; and to have the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary and the Law Officers of the Crown disparaging that which is the first principle of justice, and denouncing it as a technical rule, is one of the most shocking things I have witnessed in this House. Nothing would shock you; for we know very well that you are racing for blood. What we protest against is that any man, even an Irish Member, should be called upon to plead to a sort of hotchpotch, miscellaneous slander. That is not judicial inquiry. You may as well call upon all the members of a particular society to go before a tribunal and prove that they are not disreputable people. That is really the framework and conception of this Bill. It is not merely—and I do not think this has been observed upon in the debate—that you have not defined the subject of inquiry. The Bill first speaks of the charges and allegations made against certain Members of Parliament and other persons in the recent action, and that, apparently, is the limitation of the Bill; but when you come to the 3rd clause you go far beyond that—The persons implicated in the said charges and allegations, the parties to the said action, and any person authorized by the Commissioners may appear at the inquiry.The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary says that, in an ordinary criminal case, it is all very well to be governed by these technical rules of evidence and technical pleadings, and that is because punishment is to be inflicted. Is there no punishment to be inflicted here? Is it the view of the right hon. Gentleman that in some poaching case where men may get a month's imprisonment the technical rules of justice are to be ob- 371 served, but in a case in which the result may be—I will not say the object is—to blast the reputation of a nation and its leaders, the rules of justice are not to be applied? I confess that a more unworthy sentiment I never heard uttered by a man occupying such a position. The distinction you make is that in some petty case of larceny or misdemeanour, you are to be governed by the laws of evidence, and that you must investigate technical issues, because punishment is to be inflicted; but that, in a case like this, in which you strike at the public character and private life of every man involved, you are absolved from considerations of that kind, and that you may take any amount of hearsay evidence and go into a muddle in which you hope to blacken and destroy the characters of your opponents. Pleading in Court is not a technicality at all—it is of the essence of justice that you should make it clear to the Judge and the jury, to the man concerned and his fellows, what he has been charged with, what is the evidence produced upon that charge, how he has met it, and what is the conclusion that has been arrived at. To take any other course is not a judicial proceeding at all; it is a mere political artifice resorted to for the purpose of besmirching and throwing mud at political opponents. This is what the hon. and learned Solicitor General calls the unprecedented generosity of the Government. Generosity! Men are to be attacked and not know with what they are charged, and they are not to be protected by the ordinary laws of evidence which are applicable to the meanest criminal. The challenge of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Hackney upon this point really searched into the depths of the mind of the Government. If they come forward now and tell us that this is to be a judicial proceeding, conducted according to judicial principles, of course one of the gravest objections to the form of the inquiry will be removed; but if that is not done then the Government are seeking to hoodwink the mind of the public and to induce them to believe that this is a judicial inquiry because you put Judges upon it, while at the same time they are depriving it of the essential qualities that belong to a judicial inquiry. Reference has been made to the Sheffield and the 372 Metropolitan Board Commissions as precedents, but they have nothing whatever to do with this case, because in those cases there were no allegations against individuals and there had been no demand by individuals for inquiry and redress. What is the use of saying that with unprecedented generosity you have offered men who have been personally libelled a form of inquiry which gives them no personal redress, and citing as precedents cases in which there was no personal attack? Fairness and justice seem to me to demand that which I understand to be demanded by the hon. Members for Oldham and Bedford, and in a modified degree by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, and it is that the grounds of the proceedings are to be stated and the charges are to be specified. You may have it done in this way. The hon. Member for Cork may state the libels of which he complains, undertaking to refute them. You may say that possibly he may not traverse important parts of the imputations. So much the worse for him, because in that case they would be taken to have gone by default, and he would endure the consequences of that. An alternative would be for the accuser to state the charges as if he were a prosecutor, to state the issues he desires to raise and to prove. Or there is a third course, which is, to let the Court assign the charges and let them be dealt with on judicial principles. If instead of a hocus-pocus of a speech by the counsel for The Times you have a definite statement of charges upon which issues may be raised and dealt with on judicial principles, the persons implicated would know what charges they had to meet and how to meet them. It seems to me to be quite clear from the speeches made that that is not what the Government intend; it is not what they offer. They have put in the background the main charges; they have told us that the charges against the hon. Member for Cork and his friends are secondary matters, and that the main matter is an attack upon the Land League first and the National League afterwards. It is not denied that they have been advised by the counsel for The Times, and that the Leader of the House has had a personal interview with the proprietor of The Times—a charge which I repeat again, and ask him whether he is pre- 373 pared to deny it. They talk of unprecedented generosity to the Member for Cork and his Friends while the issues have been settled by the counsel for The Times and after consultation with the proprietor of The Times. Do you expect the House and the country to agree that this is fair play? We have been told by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary that the main and principal and first subject of inquiry is the conduct of the Land League and of the National League. Why? Does not the House see that as far as the Government can manage it—and, as I understand an answer that has been given, the counsel for The Times is again to be the hon. and learned Attorney General—this Commission is to be worked as a subsidiary adjunct to the Crimes Act? Is it not perfectly plain that in attacking the National League you may bring men up before this Commission in order that you may get at your political adversaries and at the same time make use of this special Commission for the purpose of putting down the National League? That is the reason why we are so suspicious of these vague issues. You talk a great deal about Parnellism and Crime just as you talked a great deal about crime in Ireland, but when you came to deal with crime, we found that you meant a very different thing from what the rest of the world understood by that word. And this Commission is not constituted to deal with crime, but its first object is to wage war upon the National League. Therefore I say that you are disappointing the expectations which you held out, and which have been entertained in the country, that this was to be a fair inquiry into the issues raised in the libels in The Times against the hon. Member for Cork and other Nationalist Members. This Bill has been conceived in a spirit of general political prosecution, and I protest against such a proceeding for many reasons. After what the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) has said, I feel bound to repeat here what I have stated elsewhere. I believe there were no two persons with better means of knowledge of the transactions of that period than those possessed by Lord Spencer and myself, and I may say that in all the anxious investigations of that terrible period we never discovered any evidence connecting the hon. Member 374 for Cork or the Irish Representatives with complicity with crime or with its perpetration. We object, I say, to the present form of the Bill, and we shall endeavour to amend it in Committee upon the principles laid down by the hon. Member for Oldham and the hon. Member for Bedford, and, more or less, by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. According to the Bill as it stands, this will not be a judicial inquiry, and, as explained by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary and the hon. and learned Solicitor General, the inquiry will violate every principle which should govern it. You have refused to state who are the men to be charged, and to state the charge they are to meet; and as long as the Bill continues in its present form it will remain founded upon principles fundamentally unfair, which are not calculated to promote but rather to defeat and baffle the ends of justice.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR SCOTLAND (Mr. J. P. B. ROBERTSON) (Bute)
The right hon. Gentleman (Sir William Harcourt) has almost transcended his own transcendant powers of accusation in the charges which he has made to-day in his speech. He has not only accused his own Profession of practices which would certainly have disgraced a Profession of less prestige, but he has ventured to accuse the Judges of the land of being about to lend themselves to a partizan investigation for the purpose of defeating opponents of the Government. Would the right hon. Gentleman adhere, in his calmer moments, to a statement of that kind, for no other meaning can be assigned to the words by which he described the Commission as machinery for Party purposes. Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that three of the Judges of the land would lend themselves to such a disgraceful enterprise? And if he does not personally believe that, what right had he to say what he has said to-night? It is unprecedented for one who has held such high Office as he has, to predict that an inquiry such as is proposed will be used for base political purposes with the consent and assistance of the Judges. Then the right hon. Gentleman has spoken of some of us as "racing for blood." His ambition in rhetoric, as well as in political matters, seems to be to exagge- 375 rate and outstrip hon. Members sitting below the Gangway on his side of the House. We were told the other night that we on this side were butchers. Now the right hon. Gentleman improves upon that, and talks of us as "racing for blood!" It is but little to say that the right hon. Gentleman has travestied the purposes and effect of this Bill. He has said, among other things, that its effect would be to establish a roving inquiry into the politics of Ireland. Has he, I should like to know, considered what are the accusations which the Commission will have to inquire into? This is what the Lord Chief Justice said the other day—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 be accompanied with crime, and of having personal knowledge of many of the crimes which did accompany it.That is a compendium of the accusations which are coming before this Commission.
§ MR. J. P. B. ROBERTSON
The right hon. Gentleman will see the point. The Lord Chief Justice is describing the very question which is to be submitted to this Commission, and he describes it as a frank and plain accusation of participation in a system which must be accompanied by crime. It is preposterous to say that the gravamen of the charge made by The Times is not a distinct and unambiguous accusation of complicity in crimes. But the right hon. Gentleman has, to a large extent, misapprehended or misstated the nature of the accusations brought in these articles. The Government do not profess to formulate the charges, for they have been made, and it is not for them to put a gloss upon them. It is only the right hon. Member for Derby who thinks that it should be either The Times or the hon. Member for Cork who should declare what the charges are. [Sir William Harcourt: Or a Court.] Well, then, will the right hon. Gentleman object to the Court following the 376 dictum of the Lord Chief Justice of England? The right hon. Gentleman has made a complaint which certainly struck me as being a most flagrant inconsistency. He is exceedingly anxious lest this Commission should adopt methods which are not judicial. Might I ask upon what ground does that suspicion rest? Does it mean that the Commissioners are not to be entitled to follow up clues which are disclosed in the course of the proceedings, or to initiate inquiries into matters which fall within the plain scope of the investigation? Why, the whole object of a Commission of this kind is to ascertain the truth by the direct action of the Judges. Now, I want to know whether the right hon. Gentleman has any doubt as to the justice and propriety of an investigation by the Commission into the general charges which have been made against the Land League? May I recall to his recollection what was said by a high authority about the Land League in former days?—"To-morrow the civilized world will pronounce judgment"—On what?—"On this vile conspiracy." The Land League is an association which depends upon the support of the Fenian conspiracy. Why is the right hon. Gentleman so anxious now that there should be all this reserve and tenderness in abstaining from investigation, which is not promoted by individual interest? Is it that he thinks it undesirable that there should at last be a full ascertainment of matters which have often been made the subject of accusation, and sometimes, perhaps, of random rhetoric? Is it desirable that there should not be a full inquiry now, that complete guarantees for fairness and justice can be established? I cannot profess to take very seriously the argument of the right hon. Gentleman. I cannot but be surprised at the forgetfulness which he shows in the precautions which are suggested as to the real scope of this inquiry. From whichever point of view you like to take it, it is not an inquiry into the rights or wrongs of Mr. Parnell in a question with The Times. Mr. Parnell, if he chose, might have sued The Times on that ground; but the accusation of The Times was not against him as an individual, but as one of the prominent members and agents of an organization. His name is coupled 377 with the names of eight or ten other hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, and they are so coupled because those are the men of whom The Times said this—They are the chief members of the first Home Rule Ministry in trade and traffic with avowed dynamiters and well-known contrivers of murder.That is the accusation, and it is idle to say that the hon. Member for Cork is now entitled to treat that merely as a private or personal matter of his wrong; he must take his place with those who are accused in the sweeping condemnation which the Chief Justice of England has described as "frankly and plainly made." It has been said that it is not fair that the words "and others" should stand in the Bill, because that introduces more vague and general matter for investigation. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) has never got rid of the idea that this inquiry is an entirely domestic one for the House of Commons, and of a purely disciplinary character. We completely dispute that view, because we regard the question as one of inquiring into and investigating matters far above the individual conduct or character of any Members of the House of Commons merely as if they were members of a club—it is treated now as affecting the State, in the interest which it has in clearing political associations from complicity with gross forms of crime. And may I say that the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) gave, I think, a very frank illustration of the absolute necessity for all Parties of the retention of those words "and others?" Mr. Frank Byrne falls under "others;" he is not a Member of the House of Commons, and the hon. Member for the Scotland Division proceeded, I thought, with capital frankness to give another illustration of what he considered would be the proper conduct and result of this investigation. He says that he, for his part, is perfectly content to make a present of the guilt of Mr. Byrne to the Commission, and he acids—"All I say is, I am innocent." But then I should like to hear, under those circumstances, what Mr. Frank Byrne has got to say, and I do not quite see how Mr. Frank Byrne is not entitled to have his conduct substantively inquired into in order that 378 he may stand on the same elevated pedestal as the hon. Member for the Scotland Division. But if Mr. Frank Byrne had more of the chivalry and less of the prudence of the movement, then I should suppose that the intermediate course might be adopted by which both gentlemen would deny the other's innocence and assert the guilt of the other. What is the Commission to do in that case? If the words "and others" are not retained, how should the matter stand? The Commission would be limited by the very consideration which was dwelt upon by the Chief Justice in the last trial—the high inconvenience of investigating substantively the guilt or innocence of third parties, they not being represented in the case. Accordingly, apart from the point of view of this being merely a disciplinary proceeding, it is absolutely impossible it could be successfully conducted if the Judge were fettered by the feeling of reserve which he invariably would have when the substantive charge in the case turned out to be one which was framed against somebody who was absent. In the case of the hon. Member for the Scotland Division, and I take his case not ad invidiam, but merely because it was mentioned, the media which determine his guilt or innocence are, first of all, the guilt or innocence of Mr. Byrne, and then the relation between the two men. The guilt or innocence of Mr. Byrne is the first step in that inquiry, and I would protest in the interest of justice against such an inquiry being conducted at the peril of the reputation and even the life of a third party if we are merely to concentrate our attention on the comforts of Members of the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman wanted to know about the evidence. I presume that a Commission constituted, as this is, of the highest legal ability and experience, would make it very safe that no conclusion is come to which rests on other than indisputable evidence. In all this I suppose I am dragging down the debate to that trough of degradation from which the right hon. Gentleman was glad to see it raised. But did the debate survive the right hon. Gentleman's own speech, or am I the first to have dragged it down to a lower level than that from which it was raised by the right hon. Member for West Bir- 379 mingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain)? A heavy responsibility rests upon anyone who on the threshold of the inquiry attempts to diminish the authority of the Commission or lower it in public esteem. With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's animadversions on the conduct of the Attorney General, is there a lawyer in the House who responds to that accusation? Remember what was the position of my hon. and learned Friend in that case. He, for The Times, it is true, disputed that Mr. O'Donnell was the object of attack in those articles; but that was a matter upon which he necessarily had to anticipate that the Court or the jury might go against him. Mr. O'Donnell appreciated and appraised much more highly his own political importance; but, looking at the facts as brought out in those articles, I am bound to say that I think that his case was not so contemptible on the question of association of the character which was denounced. What I venture to ask my brethren of the Legal Profession is this—could any counsel, with a due sense of the safety of his client, be supposed to disclose his whole case in opening to the jury? Was it possible to state everything upon what was comparatively narrow ground, and not to present in its length and breadth what the Chief Justice said in the end are fair and frank charges, to whomsoever they may apply? One word as regards the probable result of this inquiry. I cannot understand the hesitation which seems to paralyze the action of hon. Gentleman on the other side. If they consider what the result will be—of the acquittal which they pronounce to be so certain—it will restore to them not merely the respect of good men, but it will restore what always goes along with it, the hatred of bad men. It will deprive them of what I am sure they must feel now to be a kind of praise which is far more injurious than the foulest libel. It will show to the people in America who who are concerned in the dynamite doings that they have been mistaken, and that the world has been mistaken, in supposing that the two wings of the Party afforded to each a licence; the men of murder affording a licence for fine speech to the men in Parliament, and the men in Parliament affording a licence to them to trade in dynamite. That surely is a result which, in virtue 380 of acquittal being certain, ought to be welcome, and coupled with that there will be another relief, which I am sure will also be most welcome; they will no longer be trammelled by the receipt of money to which their virtues disentitle them. I read the speech which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Mr. John Morley) made at Morpeth the other day, and I was surprised at the inadequacy of the arguments by which he supported the paltry opposition which has, in the end, been offered to this Bill. I was not surprised that at the last he began to "babble of green fields." I was not surprised that he professed he would far rather have been out of what he felt even then to be a very bad business. But I am a student of the right hon. Gentleman's writings, and I would congratulate him on having now an opportunity of ceasing from what he described in one of his writings, regarding a political character in the last century of far less fair fame than the right hon. Gentleman—It would have saved him and his colleagues from the invariable habit of leaving violence and iniquity unrebuked, of conciliating the practitioners of violence and iniquity, and of contenting themselves with the inward hope of turning the world into a right course by fine words.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
It is somewhat remarkable that the advocates of the Government in this debate have all been concerned as counsel for the defendant in libel actions; and while we have the hon. and learned Attorney General (Sir Richard Webster), on the one hand, acting as counsel for The Times, and then coming down to this House to show the other side of his nature, as if possessing some intellectual bulkhead which enabled him to distinguish between the counsel for The Times and the Attorney General of the Government, and while we have him acting as drawer and drafter of this Bill, we have the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Scotland (Mr. J. P. B. Robertson), who is so fully assured of our connection with dynamite and dynamitards, whom we find to have been the leading counsel for The Glasgow Herald in an action for libel which that journal admittedly made against my hon. Friend (Mr. William O'Brien) the Member for North-East Cork. The Herald charged him with 381 having, at Birmingham, regretted that something interfered to prevent another victory in the Phœnix Park being had over the right hon. Gentleman the present Chief Secretary for Ireland. But that case is different from the one before the House—first, because there is the distinct and definite charge that he, in his speech at Birmingham, had said that he regretted that the right hon. Gentleman could not have been mutilated in the Phœnix Park. Second, for the additional good reason, that you have a verdict by the majority in Scotland. The hon. Member for North-East Cork had, therefore, come chance of obtaining a verdict. Perhaps, after the interposition of the second counsel for the second libellous journal we may trust that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) will not expect that this debate will be closed at the dinner hour. I would propose to remind him that considerable amplitude has been given to the debate by the remarkable suggestions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), with which I shall deal by-and-bye. But may I venture, first of all, to refer to the frank, off-hand manner in which the right hon. Gentleman said if he were attacked, he would seek an English jury, and if he could not get an English jury he would seek a Scotch jury, and if he was denied both an English and a Scotch jury, he would take as a pis aller an Irish one. Well, Sir, being sometimes a student of legal lore, I venture to believe that in the text book on the Law of Libels there is to be found a leading case known as "Chamberlain v. Marriott." That case, which anybody can refer to who chooses to send down to the Law Library of the House of Lords, lays down a most important proposition. They will also find that the defendant in this matter is no less a person than the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Judge Advocate General of England, and that the plaintiff, strange to say, is no less a person than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. But what became of the action? Why did not it go on? What happened it? Is the right hon. Member for West Birmingham still in the flesh? I think so. Is the Judge Advocate General alive? There can be no doubt about that either; for he went to Egypt the other day, and 382 like the rest of the immaculate Gentlemen of the Treasury Bench, who do everything for nothing, pocketed large sums of money for doing work in aid of that other immaculate gentleman, the Khedive of Egypt. Why did not the right hon. Member for West Birmingham proceed with his action? The reason is plain. What were the accusations made against the right hon. Member for West Birmingham? That he crushed his own rivals in the screw trade. That he made "corners" against them for the purpose of ruining them. That this right hon. Gentleman, who is in the habit of wearing choice orchids in his buttonhole one day, and the next day writing cheques for large amounts, crushed his trade rivals, and used his position as the head of the Birmingham Caucus to become, as it is now the fashion to style the proceeding, a sweater in the screw trade. Where is the Party now? Where is the libel action now? Why did the action of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, the right hon. Gentleman who was so eager to get an English or a Scotch or an Irish jury, why did his libel action vanish into thin air? I think I remember another action, in which he himself and many of his numerous brothers and brothers-in-law were concerned, before he became the curled darling of Dukes and Duchesses, when his brother was refused admission to the Reform Club, when he was blackballed, and when an action was threatened against the gentleman who blackballed him. Somehow, Mr. Speaker, it never came off. For such Gentlemen to get up and tell us—who have not only personal but national and international questions to consider—for the right hon. Gentleman to taunt us with our reserve in facing a British jury, seems to me a little too fine. I will now tell the House very plainly my opinions. An English jury is now cracked up to us as the height of everything that is admirable. Then why was it that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham and the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale and his Friends, who now recommend to us an English jury—how was it that when Her Majesty's Government last year, in the Coercion Act, proposed to refer Irish trials to the Old Bailey; how was it that, under the pressure of the Liberal Unionists, that clause was struck 383 out? Was not the reason quite plain? It was rightly said, because we will not permit the question of national prejudices to stand in the way of justice between Englishmen and Irishmen, and in the way of a fair trial. It is said that a Committee of this House would not be a fair tribunal, and that jurymen are purged by some curious process, and that they shake off their bitter passions when they pass the sacred barrier of the jury box. They would not trust 12 Members of that House; but they would commit to 12 Cockney shopkeepers the trial of this most important issue. What is there different in the nature of Englishmen, whether they be Members of Parliament or non-Members of Parliament? Surely, if you want a special jury, is not this House the best special jury? We are told that the London shopkeepers are unprejudiced. Who says so? If you are to say to us that they are unprejudiced, it does not lie in your mouth to say that this House is more unprejudiced; and if we are willing to take a Select Committee of a majority of our enemies upon it, surely we who are to run the risks are the proper persons to decide whether we should run those risks or not. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham said, and the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Scotland also touched upon the point, and said, the Government refuse to strike out "other persons" from the Bill, because it may be that at some place a point of detail may be discovered between the crimes of other persons and the crimes of Members of Parliament. What would prevent you inquiring into that if "other persons" was struck out? The fact that X and Y are named in the Bill, though no one is brought into approval with the crimes of X and Y, that will not stop you from inquiring into their crimes under this Bill. The hon. and learned Solicitor General for Scotland said by a sort of innuendo—when we are asked to believe that the Government are so entirely anxious for fair play in this matter—he says we are also anxious to give Frank Byrne an opportunity of proving, if he got the chance, in addition to proving his own innocence, he would prove the guilt of other persons. May I ask under the Bill how you are going to get at Mr. Frank Byrne? You will have your Commis- 384 sion, and I just fancy your Commission sitting in the Bowery at New York with respect to the conduct of Mr. Frank Byrne, and you will have the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Scotland, the leading counsel for The Glasgow Herald, going over to New York for nothing—the Members of the Government do everything for nothing—going out to New York and asking Mr. Frank Byrne to walk into his parlour. I cannot imagine a greater absurdity than the supposition that men in America, who do not care a farthing about your Commission, are going to tell you that they have committed crime, and that they will do so in order to get what to them would be worthless, a certificate from three London Judges. That is one of the most extraordinary and childish things I ever heard of. We are asked now to treat this Bill as a serious measure. I am anxious to treat it as a serious measure. We are told by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham that the first thing to be got at is the truth. When the hon. and learned Attorney General for England had the opportunity of proving the truth in "O'Donnell v. Walter," why did not he seize upon it? The Home Secretary said last night, and certainly if he used the words in the sense I attribute to them, they seem to have been conceived in the spirit of the Dungarvan days. That is, that they are words that, on future occasions, it would be possible to make upon them a different interpretation. The right hon. Gentleman said, and I noted his words, "these statements"—meaning the statements of the Attorney General at the trial—These statements were repeated in the most solemn manner with the offer of proving the truth of the allegations.Where was the offer of proving the truth of the allegations made by his confederate beside him? When the hon. and learned Gentleman had the opportunity, what did he do? Of all the forensic indiscretions of the hon. and learned Gentleman—I should be out of Order if I referred to the hon. and learned Gentleman's conduct as acts of indecency—therefore, I say of all the acts of indiscretion of the hon. and learned Gentleman, his late action is the worst. Of course, he acted without pay—disdaining the vulgar lucre of The 385 Times, scratching out with his pen the very large number of noughts that followed the first figure in the amount and tearing up the cheque, and for two days, first thundering with his carronade and then his big gun, at one time charged with the bullets of Patrick Ford and another with the dynamite of Dr. Gallagher. After 18 hours—"Oh, lame and impotent conclusion!"—he appealed to the Judge, saying—"Does your Lordship think we need go into our case?" Mr. Speaker, I am a very poor man. I have never probably earned as many guineas in my life as the hon. and learned Gentleman has in The Times case. But if I were instructed to make a series of the most abominable charges—including murder, hypocrisy, villany, assassination—every combination that a man could cram into 18 hours of declamation—and then, at the conclusion of my oratory, I had to ask the Judge, "Need I go into my case," all I can say is, I would tear the stuff gown off my back before I would do it. And then what does he do? Reference has been made to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The hon. and learned Attorney General, having acted his part as Mr. Hyde in the Royal Courts of Justice, came down to the House of Commons as Dr. Jekyll, and with a sanctimonious smile of primitive virtue began to draft the Bill, from which, however, he had the modesty to exclude his name. And we are asked to believe in the bona fides, and the good faith, nay, the generosity, forsooth, of Gentlemen capable of tactics of this kind. We are asked to believe them when they assume a virtue which we know they have not. I can only say this—men are charged with complicity with assassination and crime of all sorts; but if those men so charged by the hon. and learned Gentleman had committed the crimes, I believe they did not do it for pay, not for cash—they did it in the mistaken notion that they were serving a political cause. I deplore and condemn that mistake; but what am I to think of the men who would do what I have described, and would do it for the sake of a few guineas? I can only say, Sir, if where Frank Byrne now resides in that free and great Republic, we were to empannel a jury of American citizens, impartial as between man and man, knowing nothing of the prejudice of either country, and if they were asked 386 which they would prefer to be—the man who makes a series of charges of murder, blasting, the character and reputation of 80 or 90 men, occupying at least in their own little country positions of some importance, if they were asked whether they would rather be that man, or the man who mistakingly committed murders for a good purpose such as Mazzini approved, I believe the American jury would prefer the cause and the actions of Frank Byrne than those of the Attorney General. Why does not the hon. and learned Gentleman speak? Why is he glued to that seat? Why is the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House so anxious that the debate should close? What about the hon. and learned Gentleman's duty to Her Majesty? I presume, on taking Office, he took the oath to disclose all treasons, crimes, and murders, and with all this weight of testimony, why does he not produce the testimony of our guilt and hunt us from public life? What is restraining him? His restraint is his position as Attorney General, which is worth £8,000 a-year; but what would be the worth to the nation if he were to resign his office as Attorney General, if he were to take his old position below the Gangway, and then being free from official embarrassments, and shaking of the clogs of filthy lucre, he were to earn a national testimonial from the British Empire by saving its fair bosom from the foul charges that lie upon it, owing to the presence in this House of 86 assassins? I can only say to the hon. and learned Gentleman that preceding Attorney Generals have not done as he has done, and succeeding Attorney Generals, I believe, will not do so. For myself, I said last year, on this debate, that were it not that we have appealed for justice to the English people on our own character and our own position, we would not care a pin about the attacks of The Times. Sir, we dwell amongst our own people. We know what our people think, and we do not live in the region and atmosphere of Old Bailey in London. We live amongst the Irish people, and the attacks of a London journal, when our consciences are free, have no effect on us or our positions. We know what our own people say of us, and as to what The Times says of us we do not care a snap of our fingers. It is only because we believe it might 387 have the effect of prejudicing voters in this country, and only on that account, that we feel it touches us, and that we deem it necessary to ask for some vindication. What is the vindication offered to us? We are offered a Commission of three Judges. I do not know anything about those three Judges; but I will say this—that the three Judges should have their work cut out for them here in the Bill. And I think I detect the hand of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in this portion—The Commissioners," says Mr. Hyde, "shall inquire into and report upon the charges and allegations made against certain Members of Parliament—not into the charges and allegations of crime, but complicity with crime. It is said of me that I myself have been at the Chicago Convention. Well, I went out to Chicago, and there I met Patrick Ford. Very well, is that a crime? I did attend the Chicago Convention, and I shall be able to give the Commission some lovely tales about it. I will tell them one thing about the Chicago Convention and Patrick Ford, which will show exactly the amount of complicity between us and the so-called dynamiters that we are supposed to be receiving money from, in the words of the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Scotland. What happened at the Chicago Convention—a Convention one of the greatest that ever was held of the Irish race, numbering 1,000 delegates from all parts of America, where hon. Members opposite might naturally suppose that Patrick Ford and The Irish World would be received with an "Hurroo!" and that everything about Patrick Ford would be regarded, so to speak, as almost gospel? One mistaken and misguided individual got up at the close of the proceedings to propose a vote of thanks to The Irish World, and will it be believed that, out of 1,000 delegates, he could not find a single seconder. The motion was howled down with execration. I was also with Patrick Ford on a Committee of Resolutions. Patrick Ford was not on the committee; but there was some question about a resolution approving of "no rent," and the curious thing was that these extreme gentlemen would not approve of "no rent," and someone brought in Patrick Ford, who hastened into the committee on resolutions, where 388 he had no business; and I will never forget the look of hatred on the face of a gentleman, one of the prominent members of the meeting. That gentleman, an honest Federal officer in Baltimore, Colonel Tivohill, called for Patrick Ford's instant expulsion from the Committee, and the man had instantly to leave. That, then, is one of the gentlemen we have been plotting with—the dynamiters, &c. Patrick Ford, I believe, so far as he is personally concerned, is as honest a man as the hon. and learned Attorney General; indeed, from my experience, I should rather say more so, because what Patrick Ford has done, if he has done anything to bring himself within the reach of the law, he has not done it in the way of trade. He has not attacked the English people in the way of trade, and then advised the English people as to how they can escape from these attacks, which were really not meant; but I say, as I am charged here—and I heard it last night for the first time from the hon. and learned Attorney General—with being in trade and trafficking with these men in America for the purposes of murder—let them search out in every place I went to in America, and I spoke for three or four months—the hardest task I ever went through in my life—having visited 60 or 70 cities, and I defy them to put their hands on one word—even one word—or statement of mine in those wild American cities, as you call them, which I would not repeat; and repeat gladly, in this House.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
Certainly, Sir. I went there in October, 1881, and I came back about March, 1882. But the hon. and gallant Gentleman will get it all in Scotland Yard. We had our eyes open when we were in America. I was going to say, let some definite charges be made. But the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham says "no," because in Broadhead's case there were offences proved of which nobody had suspected him before, meaning thereby—" I sat with the Member for Cork for a long time, and I was very intimate with him, and I made the Kilmainham Treaty with him, and I never suspected him; but make a fishing inquiry, as in Broadhead's, and who 389 knows into what depths of blood this Irish Bluebeard will not be found to have plunged?" What I say is this—Are we going into a fishing inquiry? What I understand is that we should meet certain definite charges which are to be made, but I decline to submit to a fishing inquiry. I am not going to be brought before a Commission where I might be asked—"And so you were born in 1855?"—"Yes." "Very well; what did you do next?" I answer, "I don't know." The Judge says—"You cannot explain yourself?" and thereupon counsel for The Times is to make an allegation against me, because I forgot exactly. What I say that we are entitled to is this—You should formulate the charge against us, and not proceed on a fishing expedition such as that the right hon. Member for West Birmingham went to Washington upon. We do not want these three Judges to be three Cod Commissioners to take evidence at Washington. We want them to put their finger on a particular charge, and then ask us to reply "yea" or "nay," or what we had to say in reference to the matter. I was about to refer to the three Judges—one of them we know is Justice Hannen, the Judge of the Divorce Court, though in what particular the functions at the Divorce Court have fitted him for trying this particular case I do not know. The second Judge is Mr. Justice A. L. Smith. Why he has been appointed I also do not know, unless it is as a delicate compliment to his namesake, the First Lord of the Treasury, and in order to appeal to the widest section of the English democracy, I am unable to state; but I hope Mr. Justice Smith, when I come before him, will not on account of these observations deny me a certificate of innocence. The other Judge is Mr. Justice Day. I sent for a copy of The Times, but, unfortunately, it is against the Rule of the House—which, like many other Rules, seems to me to be a great absurdity—I am not allowed to have it brought in. But if anyone will turn to the columns of The Times they will see how Judge Day acted at the Belfast Commission. I am not now attacking Judge Day, for it would be dangerous to attack a Judge from whom you hope to get a certificate of innocence. Judge Day was appointed on that Commission, said The Times, this 390 morning, falsely, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Mr. John Morley). He was not. The fact was that the appointment was not made until the Tories came into Office in 1886, and he was appointed by the present President of the Board of Trade (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) to the Belfast Commission. Now a serious thing occurred, and if you turn to The Times of the 6th October, 1886, you will see exactly what happened was this—A member of the Bar, a well-known and distinguished member of the Bar, Mr. O'Shaughnessy, who appeared on behalf of the Catholics of Belfast, asked to be allowed the right of cross-examination, and Judge Day refused. Then Mr. Kisbey, a gentleman who is since not unknown to fame, appeared on behalf of Lord Enniskillen and the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. And you will remember, as an incident of the present campaign in Ireland, that that gentleman, who appeared as counsel for the Orangemen of Ireland, has since been promoted to be the Judge of Mr. John Dillon, also asked for the right of cross-examination on behalf of the Orangemen, and he was also refused; in fact, anything to equal what I would call the snub the Judge administered to poor Mr. Kisbey I have never seen. It was—"We do not want you." Then Mr. Kisbey, on behalf of the Orangemen, and Mr. O'Shaughnessy for the Catholics, with the rest of the members of the Bar, retired in a body, and they passed a resolution protesting against the conduct of Judge Day, and The Times' Dublin correspondent, the morning afterwards, takes up Mr. Kisbey and condemns Judge Day. Well now, Sir, is that the way we are going to be treated? Are we, when the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Scotland goes out to interview Mr. Frank Byrne, or to Zululand to interview the surviving members of the Carey family, who are said to be located there, are we to be denied the right of cross-examination, because the Judge thinks this a matter in which we must not interfere, as it is not in the charges? I admit the Bill allows examination and cross-examination, but only under particular circumstances; but that is not the absolute right of those who are charged, which we require. We claim that the charges shall be formulated, 391 and that there shall be some persons present entitled to look after our interests. We also claim from the hon. and learned Attorney General—for he is the father of the Bill—that he shall put in the Bill exactly charges that we have to answer, and, furthermore, that he shall give us some primâ facie proof of those charges, before we are called upon to deny or answer them otherwise than by handing in a copy of a magnificent oration, which he delivered at the Old Bailey or at one of the Courts of Justice. That, Sir, I conclude to be our position, and when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham alluded to the question of costs of counsel, I think I am entitled to put in a word on behalf of costs of witnesses. Again, where is the Commission to sit? Is it to sit in London, and are we to have witnesses brought to London from the depths of Connemara? How would the First Lord of the Treasury like to be dragged over from Galway without a five pound note to pay his expenses? Do you expect the Maamstrasna peasants to come down from their mountains, in their wild manner, bringing their interpreters with them, to the Royal Courts of Justice, Loudon, without allowing them a single sixpence as viaticum for their expenses? Why should the Commission sit in London? If it is to take cognizance of Irish matters, why, then, should not the Judges sit on the scene of their inquiry, and in the country which it concerns? A more monstrous thing was never proposed. It is bad enough for 80 Members of Parliament to be made seasick three or four times a month, because it suits your Imperial convenience to bring us here; but why should the penalty be inflicted upon the witnesses who are to come over to the scene of your judicial inquiry? In brief, these are some of the allegations which we have to make against this Commission. We say the fair and proper tribunal would be the tribunal of a Committee of this House, and this House alone is cognizant and can take cognizance of the action of its Members, and it is no answer to say to me—"We want to inquire into the conduct of other people." If you do, bring in a Bill for that purpose, occupy your Autumn Session with it. Occupy next year with it. We have asked, with reference to a specific matter, that this 392 House should deal with it, and you have no business to tack on to that other matters to suit your own purposes. The Commission is represented as being given to us out of your generosity as a been. Let it be so. If that is true, it should be so framed as to enable us to answer the charges made against us. For you to have the framing of it, for your counsel and advisers to have the drafting of the indictment, and then to plead that you have been actuated from the earliest moment by nothing but a desire for our own interests, is to tell us something that we entirely decline to believe. For these reasons, I am of opinion that when this Bill goes into Committee, it will be necessary for us to subject it to necessary criticism, and to move Amendments first and foremost to prevent witnesses being kept here and detained for months without getting a penny for expenses; second, to provide that every party shall have at all times the right to be heard, either by himself or by his counsel; next, that the expenses of the investigation should be provided for; also, that the charges shall be made so that we shall not be called upon to plead, so to speak, until the charges have been at least primâ facie proved. There was good sense, I must say, in one of the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, when he said that he did not want, practically, to inquire into such matters as Boycotting and speeches at Ennis in the year 1881. That is common sense. If you take specific matter, it can be inquired into, its causes and origin, and that would be better done by a Committee of that House upon which a majority of hon. Members opposite would have been appointed. From such an inquiry the Irish Members do not shrink. Besides, if you are going to make inquiries into what results followed from these speeches, you might also inquire whether the blood spilt at Belfast flowed from the speech of the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill). You might also have to inquire whether fighting in Ulster was recommended in the speeches of the hon., gallant, and humorous Member for North Armagh (Colonel Saunderson). These are matters of speculation. The human mind is a speculative instrument, but it cannot, so to speak, define exactly with reference 393 to matters of that sort what has been the cause and what has been the effect; but if you take specific matters they can be inquired into. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham says that a Commission of this House would have been jury as well as Judge; but is not your Commission composed of Judges as well as juries? The Commissioners will be both. When all is over what will we have gained? The hon. and learned Solicitor General for Scotland said we should have gained the good feeling of all men. Much we care for the opinion of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite—much we care for his good opinion, or for the opinion of his Colleagues. Much we care, for instance, for the opinion of such of the Colleagues of the First Lord of the Treasury as the hon. and gallant Member for Rochester (Colonel Hughes-Hallett). Your good opinion or your bad opinion does not weigh in our opinions a feather's weight, but as it may affect the minds of the electors of this country. On that ground, and on that ground alone, if it were necessary to clear our characters as members of the first Home Rule Ministry, I have no objection to an inquiry. But it seems to me that if this is proposed in order to brand the first Home Rule Ministry as a gang of murderers, a much simpler way would be to insert a provision into the first Home Rule Bill that Charles Stewart Parnell, Justin M'Carthy, your humble servant, and the Lord Mayor of Dublin shall take no part in the future administration of Ireland. Put that in your Bill, and if that is your only objection to Home Rule, I, for one, will gladly accept it. The Irish cause is a permanent and a living cause. If your objection to Home Rule is that we, at a Convention, met Patrick Ford, then take measures in your Home Rule Bill accordingly. I appeal to the English electorate, even if these charges were proved to be true, not to judge the sacred cause of Ireland by any such gauge or measure. The sacred cause of Ireland has embalmed within it the principle of Nationality which Englishmen in all times and in all ages have worshipped, aye, and have died for. We, for the moment, it is true, are the Representatives of that cause, and shall perish and pass away; but there will come those after us who, whatever hap- 394 pens to us, will carry that cause forward. Do you think you can put a big gravestone on the cause of Ireland by proving the truth of the libels in Parnellism and Crime?" I defy you. The spirit of Ireland which has risen superior to the million calumnies with which you have poisoned the ear of the world, rises defiant and resplendent against all your attacks. In the name of the Irish people, we, on their behalf, bid you defiance, and we tell you to do your best and your worst against the spirit of Irish Nationality.
§ MR. BALLANTINE (Coventry)
said, he ventured to submit that the hon. and learned Attorney General would have felt it his bounden duty to advise that criminal proceedings should be initiated if there had been any evidence against the Irish Party. He thought that nobody could consider it unreasonable that the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) had declined to submit his case to a London jury, and, in his opinion, this Commission was an unsatisfactory solution of the question, and was not more calculated to give the hon. Member justice. He (Mr. Ballantine) had not a word to say against the personnel of the Commission. There was no suggestion that any one of them had any political bias, though it might be alleged against the President (Sir James Hannen) that for the greater part of his life he had been engaged in repealing the union and in creating separations; but they, like a jury, would enter into the inquiry—whatever their intentions might be—having had their minds saturated for the last five years by the slanders of society and the articles in The Times. He believed the Commission was offered by the Government, not in order to clear a Colleague, but with a view to condemn and destroy the character of the hon. Member for Cork, and in the hope that it would indirectly annihilate Home Rule. For these reasons, therefore, he was convinced that neither a Commission nor a jury would afford a satisfactory solution of the case, and that the only right and just solution would be a prosecution by the Attorney General.
§ MR. LOCKWOOD (York)
said, I should not have joined in this debate but for the challenge of the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Scotland (Mr. J. P. B. Robertson). The hon. and learned Solicitor General for Scot- 395 land threw down a challenge to any Member of the House who had the honour to belong to the Legal Profession, to justify the comments which were made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) upon the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General (Sir Richard Webster), and the hon. and learned Attorney General knows me well enough to know that in what I am about to say, I am not actuated by any feeling other than by one of personal regard for him. He knows that I shall do nothing that is in contradiction of the strong personal regard I have for him. But I should be a coward, and not worthy of being a Member of the Legal Profession, if I, agreeing in the main with the criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, allowed professional and personal considerations to prevent me from taking up the challenge thrown down by the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Scotland. What is the fault that is found with the hon. and learned Attorney General? It is this—That being called upon at the conclusion of the case for the plaintiff in the recent trial to represent the parties whom he was representing, he had open to him, as every counsel in the discharge of his duty has, one of two courses, either to submit to the tribunal that there was no case for him to answer, or to submit such a case as he had in answer to the case made on behalf of the plaintiff. What was the course which the hon. and learned Attorney General advocated? In the discharge of what he considered his duty, he made a speech to the jury for some 18 hours, and at its conclusion made to the Judge an appeal which, if it had weight and force in it, ought to have been made at a much earlier stage of the speech. After commenting upon the conduct of Mr. O'Donnell in not going into the witness-box, his hon. and learned Friend said—Gentlemen, it is my duty now so to conduct the case that he never can be allowed to go into the box as a witness. The Times has not charged him with any complicity with crime. It has made no charge against him, and I ask his Lordship to say that it will be a most serious scandal to justice if, on the one hand, The Times should be sued in such an action without the means of obtaining evidence, and that, on the other hand, these third parties should be dragged into court by a man who knows that their innocence cannot be fairly tried in such an action.396 And before the conclusion of that speech the hon. and learned Attorney General said—I ask, my Lord, for your guidance to say what our position is.Now, no one knew better than my hon. and learned Friend that if there was any doubt as to his position, and if he lacked guidance, it was at the earliest stage of his speech that he should have appealed to the Judge for that guidance. It is only fair to the hon. and learned Attorney General—who appeared for some reason to be tongue-tied in this debate—that I should call the attention of the House to a portion of his speech which seemed to be an explanation and justification of the course my hon. and learned Friend was then pursuing. On page 128 of the pamphlet I found my hon. and learned Friend saying—I do not know what course, gentlemen, the Lord Chief Justice may take, but it was impossible for me to submit any case to him until the case had so far been gone into and all the articles read.Did the hon. and learned Gentleman say that applied to the whole of his speech? What possible light could he throw on the case from the point of view which my hon. and learned Friend was endeavouring to demonstrate by spending, for example, some hours in a disquisition upon the handwriting and a comparison of the letters of the hon. Member for Cork? The hon. and learned Attorney General may have intended only to deal with such portion of his case as was necessary to show the scope of the operation of the Land League, in order afterwards to demonstrate that Mr. O'Donnell had no connection with that organization, but he must now realize that many portions of that speech, that many bitter accusations, and many, as we believe, terrible, false imputations were made upon men in their absence, when, to use his own words—They had no opportunity of meeting those charges, and proving they were innocent, if innocent they were.I am sure, from what I know of my hon. and learned Friend, that it is only necessary to point out how grave those accusations were, and that they had no relation whatever to the matter he had to lay before the Court; for him to admit that, it would have been better had they been left alone. Probably if 397 he had again to discharge that which I believe was a difficult task, he would use his discretion in the matter. Had he used his discretion on the recent occasion I should have been spared that which has been no pleasant task, namely, to accept the challenge of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Scotland, and to point out in the humblest way, and with no intention of pointing it out with ceremony, where I think the hon. and learned Attorney General committed a great error of judgment. The hon. and learned Solicitor General (Sir Edward Clarke), in his speech, spoke of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway as being able, if the charges were false, to recover damages which would satisfy their cupidity, which was a most offensive term.
§ SIR EDWARD CLARKE
I did not speak of their cupidity at all. [An hon. MEMBER: Quote.] I said they would be able to recover damages sufficiently large to satisfy revenge or cupidity.
§ MR. LOCKWOOD
Aye, and whose revenge? We are playing with words. If my hon. and learned Friend did not allude to the cupidity of hon. Members, whose cupidity did he allude to? And did he mean to suggest that compensation for men who were accused of complicity in murder was to take the form of pounds, shillings, and pence, which was to appease their cupidity. And let me also follow the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Scotland in some other observations he made. It occurred to me at the end of the debate last night that those who had addressed the House from the opposite side appeared to deal with the suggested Court of Inquiry as though they wished to press home the charges against hon. Members below the Gangway, charges which, apparently, from the tone and temper of their discourses, they implicitly sought to believe. I was glad when the debate was resumed to-day to hear from the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Lees), and also the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) suggestions calculated to bring the opposing parties in the House very much nearer together. I think we were very near together at the conclusion of those speeches; but when the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Scotland 398 rose he very soon threw all the fat he could command into the fire. Whether it was the signal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby who stirred up his national enthusiasm or not I canot say, but he proceeded to do that which he deprecated in the speeches which were made last night. He talked of dynamite plots and plotters; he talked of resources derived from persons who are deeply involved in terrible crime, and whilst he thus spoke he addressed himself to hon. Members sitting below the Gangway in a tone and temper which, I think, did away entirely with the good which might presently result from the pacific utterances of the hon. Gentleman to whom I have alluded. So much for the tone in which the debate has been conducted. Well, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Matthews) in the studied manner, the studied action, and the studied gesticulation—derived from I know not where—over and over again emphasised the suggestion that it was not his intention to prejudge the charges made against hon. Members of this House. Well, I ask, was he honest in what he said? If his words were words of truth and candour, and not words of humbug, they were words most unfortunately selected for the purpose of indicating to the House what his opinions were on this most important question. There is anther question of some importance upon which I wish to say a word. We have heard the accusation made over and over again that there have been private communications between the Government and some persons connected with The Times newspaper. When I first heard the imputation made I expected that there would be a competition between hon. and right hon. Members opposite as to who should be the first to rise to indignantly repudiate the truth of the imputation. For what is the position of matters? We have here two parties to a proceeding—The Times newspaper on the one side, and the hon. Member for Cork on the other; and is it possible that right hon. Gentlemen opposite could have been in communication with one of the parties, or with any person connected with one of the parties—that is, The Times newspaper? The question has not been answered. I anticipate the hon. and learned Attorney General—if he were 399 not tongue-tied—would have answered; and I can only imagine, as a reason for no answer being given, that the hon. and learned Gentleman might say that the accusation is improbable and absurd, and it carries its own refutation. It might be all very well to treat such a charge with contempt under other circumstances; but this matter is too serious for such a line to be taken up. The Government cannot afford to treat the imputation with contempt. When I look at this Bill—which, in the ordinary way, would have been prepared by the Law Officers of the Crown, and would have the hon. and learned Attorney General's name upon it—I do not find the hon. and learned Gentleman's name there; but why is it not there? Is it because it is not deemed desirable to let the public see that the Bill has been drawn up by the counsel for The Times? Were they afraid that the public might think that The Times had themselves prepared the Bill? Is that the reason—and it is a very good reason—why the name of the hon. and learned Attorney General does not appear upon the back of the Bill? It would be a terrible state of things if the Government were to shrink from the consequences of allowing the hon. and learned Attorney General's name appearing upon the back of the Bill and yet consulted with him in private with regard to it. If there is no harm in the hon. and learned Attorney General being consulted in private, what harm will result from his name appearing on the back of the Bill? But if the fact of the hon. and learned Attorney General's name appearing on the back of the Bill will carry suspicion to the minds of some persons—and I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that it carries no suspicion to my mind—I can understand why the hon. and learned Attorney General's name does not appear there. The hon. and learned Gentleman does not intend to favour the House with any observations in connection with the part he has taken in framing this Bill; but whether the hon. and learned Gentleman does so or not, I protest against this debate being closed without some responsible Member of the Government having either the courage to avow, or the honesty to adisvow, the charge which has been made over and over again in the course of this debate; and if hon. 400 Members opposite do not understand the nature of that charge, I will repeat it. We want to know upon authority, whether it is true or not true that, in this dispute between two parties, the Government has entered into private consultation with one of the parties, and allowed that party to dictate—I will not say dictate—to advise them as to what is to be the kind of tribunal to which should be entrusted the power of inquiry into these charges, whereas the other party could only in their public place in the House of Commons pronounce a criticism upon the measure after it is produced. The hon. Member for Cork has pointed out faults in this Bill which have been apparently recognized by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham; but if the Government have doubts as to the wisdom and convenience of entrusting to this Commission the investigation of vague and general charges such as it now appears to embrace, let them enter into communication with those eminent men whose names have been mentioned in connection with the Commission. Will the Government, I ask, leave it to those eminent men to say what shall be the scope of the Commission? If the construction which has been put upon the Bill is correct, especially with regard to the introduction of the words "and others," the Government appear to have dictated to those learned Judges that they should enter upon an inquiry into vague and general matters which have no bearing upon any specific charges against hon. Members of this House. I think it was the hon. Member for Cork who challenged the Government as to why they have not thought fit, if they believed him to be the associate and accomplice of assassins, they did not put him in the dock as a criminal, instead of bringing in this Bill? To which the hon. and learned Solicitor General (Sir Edward Clarke) replied that they did not wish to shut the mouth of the hon. Member for Cork. I cannot think how hon. Members opposite who make those charges can expect hon. Members below the Gangway to sit down calmly and listen to them without showing resentment. How was the challenge of the hon. Member for Cork to prosecute met by the hon. and learned Solicitor General? The hon. and learned Gentleman let out the fact that the case of The 401 Times or the Government—for they are the same—depends not upon affirmative evidence, but that they rely upon a badgering cross-examination to get up a case, hoping that in throwing plenty of mud some of it may stick. Then, coming to the point with regard to the discovery of the documents for which the hon. Member for Cork asks—and, I must say, asks for with reason—it is only right that he should have an opportunity of inspecting the documents relied upon when the trial comes on. "Oh, but you cannot have them," says the hon. and learned Solicitor General, "because the whole object of the Commission would then prove a failure." And he went further, and said if the inspection took place that inspection will involve danger to certain people. That is my recollection of what the hon. and learned Solicitor General said; and what does it mean? By whose inspection of the documents does he mean the lives of others would be in danger—who that would be allowed to inspect the documents would interfere with the comfort or the lives of any persons, or could be in danger through the inspection of the documents? Are these letters not only forgeries, but such palpable forgeries that those who inspect them will be able to see at once in whose handwriting they are, and that they will be able to detect the fraudulent hand that has written them? Was this the object which the hon. and learned Solicitor General had in refusing the inspection of the documents? I am not now going over all the facts advanced in the course of this discussion, but the main fact made out last night by the Member for Cork in his able speech was this, that the charges brought against him are general and vague. He fairly asked—Am I to be held accountable for the impression of any person who heard any speech of mine on a given occasion?Let us take an illustration of what that means. Suppose it is an impression caused by a speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour)—say a speech delivered at Stalybridge, and the first person that one might ask about that speech might say, "Oh, it created no impression at all on my mind." But when another person was appealed to as to what his impression 402 was in reference to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary's allusion to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), he might say, "Oh, I cried out, 'Shoot him.'" Well, I believe this actually happened at Stalybridge, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary allowed this language of menace to go unrebuked. An illustration of this kind amply justifies the hon. Member in the attitude he has taken up in regard to any supposed impressions caused by his speeches, and which would be made the subject of investigation as charges against him. It was, I regret to say, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham that altered the whole tone of the debate, but, nevertheless, whether this Bill now goes to a second reading or not, I appeal to them to alter the Bill in the manner which is desired by the men who have so deep an interest in the matter.
§ MR. DARLING (Deptford)
said, that reference had been made to the changed tone of this debate since the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) had spoken. How were the suggestions put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham received? How was the tone of the debate changed? It was changed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), who instantly accused one-half of the House as "people racing for blood." The blame, therefore, for the altered tone of the discussion should be placed on the right shoulders. The Bill had been threatened with opposition from several quarters of the House; but the speeches which had been made by hon. Members dealt with one little point here and there, or discussed the suggestions which had been proposed. There had been no speech, however, frankly accepting or refusing the tribunal which was offered for the decision of so momentous a question. It was an intelligible line to pursue to say that the Bill should be read a second time six months hence, or that it should be at once accepted and the inquiry entered upon, but, instead of that line being followed, the Bill had been met on the other side of the House with cavilling objections which had culminated in the speech just delivered. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) claimed to be the 403 plaintiff in the action, and to be allowed to open the case, while the Friends of the hon. Member claimed that he was the defendant, and had a right to have the charges specified. They took up from time to time absolutely opposite positions; but why did not those hon. Gentlemen find out whether they were plaintiffs or defendants, and whether they desired the inquiry or not? Even on the question of the constitution of the Court they were not agreed. What did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone)—who knew nothing against the Judges—do? The Judges of the land had held their position for centuries unattacked; they held that position free from the favour of the Crown or the people, and were irremovable except by Petition of both Houses of Parliament. For 200 years there was no instance of the Houses of Parliament attacking the judicial office. This fact surely merited something more from the right hon. Gentleman than that he should say of the Judges that he knew nothing of them, and therefore reserved his judgment. They, on the other hand, did know something of the Judges of England. It had been said against Mr. Justice Day that he had actually been found fault with by a correspondent of The Times. That was an odd reason for hon. Gentlemen opposite—the opponents of The Times—to urge against this Judge. He should have thought that the one man who would have commended himself to hon. Gentlemen would have been the man of whom a correspondent of The Times had not something complimentary to say. But they had persons to appeal to other than a correspondent of The Times. The House of Commons was full enough of barristers of the English Bar; and where was the barrister who would dare to get up and say a single word in derogation of the character and fairness of the Judges? There should be no kind of covert attack by gentlemen who did not know the Judges. If the attack was to be made at all, it should come from counsel practising before the Judges. With all their suggestions and innuendoes hon. Members opposite did not dare to refuse the offer made to them in plain terms, though they hoped to whittle it away. Therefore this inquiry must go on, and he could not refrain from pointing out how 404 much better tactics it would have been if they had in the first instance welcomed the Bill in any shape. But there was no kind of tribunal which hon. Gentlemen were willing to accept. They disliked what they called a "jury of cockneys," although a jury of cockneys gave Mr. Brennan a verdict of £500. They complained of one particular letter; but nothing could be easier than to sue The Times for publishing that one particular letter. Half-a-day would have been sufficient to decide the question whether the hon. Member for Cork did or did not write that letter. Even a jury of cockneys would find a verdict for the hon. Member if that letter was not proved to be genuine. The fact was, however, that this inquiry was forced upon hon. Members opposite and not by them, and must be held in spite of all the trivial objections which were made against it. There would be no disinclination to consider any fair proposal for making plainer what was to be inquired into, if necessary. The Government was instituting this inquiry in order that the whole truth might be got at and the ghost of these charges laid for ever. Until hon. Members got up and accepted the proposition they were open to the criticism.—He either fears his fate too much,Or his desert is small,Who dares not put it to the touch,To win or lose it all.Nothing could be more unjust than the abuse of the hon. and learned Attorney General for simply doing what no one on the opposite Benches would have scrupled to do for one moment. The hon. and learned Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) said he would strip his stuff gown off his back rather than do what the hon. and learned Attorney General had done. He (Mr. Darling) could only suggest that the hon. and learned Gentleman would do well to divest his speeches of similar material, of which they were largely composed. The hon. and learned Member for North Longford has accused the hon. and learned Attorney General of using strong language, for which he was paid £1,000. Why, he had heard the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Longford use language 10 times as strong as that of the hon. and learned Attorney General in the recent trial, for which he got nothing at 405 all. No one stood higher in the opinion of his profession than his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, and if anything could raise the estimation in which he was held it was the most unworthy and undeserved attack of which he had been made the object.
§ SIR JOHN SIMON (Dewsbury)
said, that the hon. and learned Member for Deptford's (Mr. Darling's) speech had recalled to his mind the impression made on him when some 20 years ago he first entered that House. After having been accustomed to the close reasoning of the Courts, he was struck by the irrelevancy of most of the speeches which he heard. The hon. and learned Member (Mr. Darling) had taken under his care not only the Attorney General, but the whole Bar of England, and even the Judges themselves. No doubt their Lordships, when they read the hon. Member's speech to-morrow, if it were reported, would be grateful to him for his condescending care of them. He was an older Member of the Bar, perhaps, than any other Member of the Profession in that House, and though it was many years since he practised, he had lost none of that love of the Profession which was felt by all those who followed it. He did not know of any instance in which the rule laid down by Lord Chief Justice Cockburn had ever been departed from—namely, that "the advocate should fight with the sword of the warrior, not with the dagger of the assassin." The hon. and learned Gentleman bad referred to attacks which he said had been made upon the Attorney General. He did not remember a single attack upon the hon. and learned Gentleman. The Government had been blamed, but not the hon. and learned Attorney General. The hon. and learned Gentleman exercised his right as a member of the Bar to take private practice, and the Government were responsible if he committed any error in taking a brief for The Times. He would go further, and say that the Government, having adopted the charges made at the trial, ought to have prevented him from appearing as counsel in that case. The hon. and learned Solicitor General for Scotland stated that the Government were not the accusers in the matter before them. He would like to know in what other position the Government stood. Even the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite 406 (Mr. Darling), who got up to defend the Government, spoke of "the other side." He evidently had in his mind the idea of plaintiff and defendant, or prosecutor and prisoner. The Government stood in no other position than that of public prosecutors, and the only idea which any impartial person could have with regard to their action was that they wished to spread a wide net to catch all sorts of fish, and that they desired to bespatter the hon. Member for Cork with dirt in the hope that some of it would stick. He ventured to hope that the Government would, even at the eleventh hour, indicate in some unmistakable form what the charges were that the hon. Member for Cork and his Colleagues had to meet. It was absurd to say that a man should be called upon to answer language which said that he had "lent himself to a system which must necessarily be accompanied by crime." He did not know of any public movement in this country in the course of his recollection which had not been more or less accompanied by crime or breaches of the law; and was it to be said that everybody engaged in those movements ought to have been called upon to answer for those breaches? He submitted that the House and the country already had all the information that a Commission could obtain with regard to the action of the Land League and the outrages which had taken place, and which no one deplored and denounced more than the hon. Member for Cork. An unconstitutional course had been adopted—a course unprecedented and utterly unknown. What was this Commission to do? To try the hon. Member for Cork and other persons—to place them on their trial at a disadvantage, without knowing the specific charges which they would have to answer. When they had disproved one charge, another would spring up. Some rascal would be brought forward, well bribed and well paid, to say—"I knew the hon. Member for Cork and some of his friends, and they were concerned in a certain murder," and then he would tell all about it. This would start a fresh inquiry, and so on. He could not help noticing the altered tone of The Times when the challenge as to the letters was taken up. The letters were then put into the background. He held that if this Bill passed, it would be a scandal to the 407 House of Commons. It would inflict a gross injustice, and when Party feeling cooled down that would be recognized, and hon. Members opposite would be ashamed of the part they had taken in this disgraceful business. To his mind, it was a mere Party move. Something had to be done to keep the Government going a little longer. They occupied now a most undignified position in the country, and the Bill was to give them a relief. When the Bill got into Committee, it was his intention to move to omit—"and other persons," and he should also move other Amendments. If The Times proved its case, it would have rendered a great service, but if it failed, if it made those abominable charges without foundation, he thought it ought not to be exempt from the consequences. He thought that The Times ought to be made answerable for the injury they will have done to the hon. Member for Cork and his Colleagues. But his belief was the charges were made in order to crush political opponents and to damage their cause.
§ MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)
said, he regretted that the hon. Member for Northampton, in deference to the wish of the hon. Member for Cork, had decided not to press his Motion to a Division, as he should have liked to record his protest against what he considered to be a most unconstitutional proceeding. As to the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, he considered it unsound. A remark of a strange character fell from the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman, giving a reason why the Royal Commission should be preferred to a Committee of this House, protested against fettering and hampering the Judges by Rules of Procedure in evidence. But the right hon. Gentleman also said that the proper tribunal for trying this case was a jury. So that, according to the right hon. Gentleman himself, the best mode of trying the case would be one in which the Court would be hampered by the Rules of Procedure. The right hon. Gentleman must have been under some hallucination as to Rules of Procedure, for those Rules were not intended to prevent, but to assist, the discovery of truth. Again, the right hon. Gentleman drew a distinction between moral and legal complicity in crime. Now, if there 408 was any complicity in crime, it was legal complicity. Moral complicity was a thing he (Mr. Hunter) did not understand. Either there was complicity or there was not. If there was complicity, there was legal responsibility; and, therefore, the distinction was entirely erroneous. The right hon. Gentleman also justified the insertion of the words "and other persons" by a remarkable argument. He told them that they could not examine the conduct of hon. Members without dealing with the conduct of those with whom they were said to be in connection. But the Bill said that these were charges against Members of Parliament, and the effect of the words was to lay before the Judges two subjects of inquiry—first, the conduct of Members of this House; and, secondly, the conduct of other persons, who had no relation or reference to this inquiry. He had the other day asked the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) whether, before they discussed this Bill, he would put before the House some information with regard to the nature of the charges and allegations. What did he know about the charges and allegations? The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury had referred him to the bookstalls. He had not seen the pamphlet nor the pleadings in the trial, nor had he read the hon. and learned Attorney General's speech. He did not think a Member of Parliament was under any obligation to buy pamphlets at the bookstalls, or to spend his precious time in reading piles of newspaper reports; and he held that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury was guilty of a grave dereliction of duty in refusing him the information he had asked for. He had never read Parnellism and Crime, because he knew a little of the inside of Printing House Square and of the gentlemen who composed the articles, and knowing also something of the character of the accused, he was not inclined to spend the smallest coin of the realm upon the pamphlet. When The Times came to the point with a definite statement and produced a letter purporting to be signed by the hon. Member for Cork, he procured a number of the signatures of the hon. Member and also more extensive specimens of his writing. He found in the published signature a large number of variations from the normal 409 signature, and the result of a mathematical calculation was that the chances against the published signature being genuine were about 300,000 to 1. Applying the motto of the Earl Marischal, the Founder of the College of Aberdeen—"They say; what say they? Let them say"—he asked in this case, Who say it? The Times. And what was that? The most embittered and persistent enemy of the Irish Members. And what was the motive of The Times? To stir up hatred between the people of this country and the people of Ireland. It was simply an illustration of the old story of the endorsement on a brief—"No case on the merits; abuse the plaintiff's attorney." The hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) had written that the hon. Member for Cork wanted not only to pack the jury, but also to frame the indictment. The objection to the Bill was that it contained no indictment and merely started a fishing inquiry. Nothing more unconstitutional could be done than to refer vague and undefined allegations of this kind to a tribunal outside the House, when the House possessed ample jurisdiction within itself to deal with the case of any Member.
§ MR. SYDNEY GEDGE
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put;" but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Debate resumed.
MR. FINLAY&c.) (Inverness,
said, that he had listened with some attention to the debate, and the point which had most forcibly impressed him was that it had given rise to a series of most envenomed personal attacks upon the Government and the Members of the Government. For a long time it had been said that the inquiry was anxiously desired; it had been pressed for; and now that it was offered by a tribunal to which no one had ventured to take exception, the Government were assailed in a manner even more virulent than they were when they declined to grant any inquiry at all. That was a matter which would draw the attention of the country to those who made these attacks. Prominent in attack upon the Attorney General had been the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), who had himself been a member of the 410 Bar, which he did not allow the House to forget, for he rarely spoke without expressing his anxiety, which was not always attended with success, to rise above the region of special pleading and of Nisi Prius. The right hon. Gentleman said that the conduct of the Attorney General in the recent case had been contrary to the traditions of the Bar. The Attorney General stood in no need of defence from the attacks of the right hon. Gentleman, which the Attorney General would estimate at their proper worth, for he knew what importance to attach to them, and the country knew it too. If anyone was in the least impressed by what the right hon. Member for Derby said, let him reflect what course would have been taken by the right hon. Member for Derby if the Attorney General had contented himself with submitting to the Lord Chief Justice that there was no case to go to the jury on behalf of the plaintiff. What a shriek of exultation would have been raised by the right hon. Gentleman and by his Friends below the Gangway! It would have been said that the Attorney General, as representing The Times, shrank from investigation, and that he was afraid to state his case in public. It had been said that the offer of a Royal Commission was actuated by distrust of the Constitutional mode of trial provided by Courts of Law. He did not believe that at all. It was not because Judges or the House felt that juries were not to be trusted, or that Judges sitting in Courts were not to be trusted, that this offer had been made. It had been made because hon. Members who had been attacked by The Times, for reasons which had never been adequately explained, had refused to bring their case to the arbitrament of a Court of Law. The reasons given would not bear examination by a sane man for a moment. The articles had been published not only in England, but also in Scotland. It was perpetually being said that the heart of the people of Scotland was with hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. Let them bring their case before a Scotch jury. But he did not think that Scotch juries had any reason to complain, because it appeared that hon. Members from Ireland could not trust their case to a jury of their own countrymen. It was because they had declined to take action that it was necessary the matter should be in- 411 quired into. It was a matter of public concern; it concerned the House and the country; it was necessary in the public interests that these matters should be inquired into. The chief complaint against the inquiry proposed was that the Government desired that it should be complete, thorough, and searching. He apprehended that the opinion, not only in the House, but in the country, would be that if there was to be an inquiry into a matter of this kind it ought to be a complete and thorough inquiry. The matter ought not to be left in such a state that it would be possible afterwards for one side to repeat the charges and for the other to assert that they were false. The House had heard in this debate speeches from the hon. and learned Member for Hackney (Sir Charles Russell) and the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), and those speeches had amounted to no more than a passionate appeal for technicalities in this inquiry. The key note was struck in the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Hackney when he said, speaking of those against whom these charges were made—"They are not receiving the protection to which the meanest criminal is entitled." His hon. and learned Friend passionately appealed to the House that at an inquiry of this kind all the formalities of law should be observed, all the technicalities introduced, and all the niceties of evidence observed which every day led to the acquittal of scores of accused persons whom Judges, juries, and bystanders firmly believed to be guilty. But that was not the spirit in which an inquiry of this kind ought to be conducted. The inquiry would be an inquiry into the conduct of a Party, a Party which assumed to represent the people of Ireland. [An hon. MEMBER: Who does represent them?] Then let the inquiry be one that could be pleaded at the bar of history, and which would dispose of all these grave and serious charges for ever. Neither the House nor the country would be satisfied if the proceedings fell through on some technical point, such as might be taken by the hon. and learned Member for Hackney if he were defending a person against whom grave charges had been brought on Circuit or at Quarter Sessions. He did not think that anyone who heard the speeches of his 412 hon. and learned Friend and of the right hon. Member for Derby could help feeling that the arguments adduced by them were not the real reasons for their objection to this inquiry. His hon. and learned Friend had adduced able and forcible arguments; but those who listened to him must have felt that he was really putting forward arguments in support of a course which had been determined upon for reasons which did not appear upon the face of his speech. Another remarkable speech was that delivered by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell). No one could have listened to that speech without admiration for the ability which it showed, particularly when one thought of the very difficult position in which the hon. Member was placed. But there was one passage in that speech which he had heard with amazement. The hon. Member said—The charges and allegations of the Attorney General were made not against me and my Colleagues, but against the Land League.But of what persons did the Land League consist? He had always understood that the Land League was founded by the hon. Member for Cork. ["No!"] At any rate, the hon. Member was president of the League, the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) was one of the treasurers, and the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) was closely connected with its organization. Several other hon. Members below the Gangway were also intimately connected with the organization. What, then, was an inquiry into the Land League but an inquiry into the conduct of the hon. Member and his Colleagues inside that House and out of it? The hon. Member talked of the Land League as if it could be dissociated from the individuals by whom it was worked. The charge of The Times was that the Land League was founded upon a system of intimidation and outrage, resulting in some cases in actual murder; and The Times accused those who had organized the Land League and who worked it with complicity in practices of that kind. As to the truth of those charges he said not one syllable; but he should have thought that hon. Members below the Gangway who were associated with the League would have desired above all things that there should he a complete and ex- 413 haustive inquiry into charges of that kind, which would, on the one hand, have cleared them of all complicity in such crimes, and if it turned out the other way would have established their truth. The Land League and the conduct of hon. Gentleman were really inseparable; for, while the Land League was in operation it was the creature of the hon. Member for Cork and his Colleagues inside and out of the House; and in the very high authority of the right hon. Member for Derby they knew that the National League was the apostolic successor of the Land League. Then the hon. Member for Cork said that the proposed inquiry would take so long that the vindication of his personal character would be postponed. That was an odd complaint to come from a man who might have brought an action to vindicate himself at any time within the last year in England, Scotland, or Ireland. But the complaint was based upon a misconception. He did not believe that the inquiry would take anything like the enormous time which some people seemed to suppose. He did not believe that it would extend over any very long time, for it would be presided over by Judges of great experience and ability, who would take care that it was kept to the point. Certain conditions had been asked for and formulated by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone). His first condition was that the inquiry should be strictly limited to the conduct of Members of that House. On what ground was that demand made? It seemed to him to be the most extraordinary ground ever taken up in a country where all men were supposed to be equal before the law. The ground was that if a charge was made against a Member of that House, he was entitled to have created for his benefit a special tribunal, which would not be open to any other individual. The right hon. Member for Mid Lothian said—The whole ground for this proceeding rests upon the historical and Constitutional fact that this House assumes, and I think 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.He apprehended that there was no precedent for appointing a Royal Commission to inquire into the conduct of an hon. Member merely because he was a Member, If there were any force in the 414 principle laid down by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian, the principle could only be used in support of a demand for a Select Committee. An inquiry by Committee was an inquiry to which hon. Members below the Ganyway had shown a sort of platonic attachment; but it was a formal inquiry which must be ineffective and barren of any certain result. The argument of the right hon. Gentleman had no force when it was adduced in support of a demand for a Royal Commission. A tribunal of that kind was only established to inquire into matters of public interest such as this, which was a charge against a Party with Members in that House, in Ireland, and even in this country. Of what avail would it be to inquire only into the conduct of hon. Members of that House, for other members of the Party who were not in the House were also accused. Was it not right that their conduct should also be investigated, and would any inquiry be satisfactory which drew the line at those who happened to be Members of the House? An inquiry so confined would be lame, imperfect, and barren. Yet another demand was put forward, and it was said that the charges ought to be specified in the Schedule to the Bill. He should have thought that demand entitled to greater consideration if he had not noticed that nearly every Member who had spoken on his side of the House had shown an admirable capacity to formulate the charges himself. In the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Hackney (Sir Charles Russell) especially, materials would be found which would satisfy any hon. Members who wanted further information about these charges that they had only to consult the hon. and learned Member to obtain the required knowledge. He would now like to refer to what was said by the right hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. John Morley) when the House was about to proceed to a Division last year on the Motion for a Select Committee. The right hon. Gentleman said—My hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) expressed his willingness to extend the reference mentioned in the Amendment of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian so as to include not only the charge made against the hon. Member, but also the subject of the letter imputed to the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), and any other specified and definite charges which could be extracted from the articles called Parnellism and Crime. …. 415 what is submitted to the House is a proposal by which the whole body of charges made by The Times newspaper against the Irish Members shall be submitted to the judgment of a Committee of this House."—(3 Hansard,  1223–4.)Now, those words were used just before the House went to a Division, and if the Committee had been granted it was clearly intended that that Committee charged with the inquiry should pick out what were specific and definite charges. If anything else was meant, if it was meant that there should be merely a preliminary inquiry, the right hon. Gentleman failed to explain himself. If a Commission of three Judges was to be appointed, it was only right and reasonable that the whole body of the charges should go before them. What endless negotiations and ramblings would be opened up if the charges were to be settled in the way that the hon. Member for Northampton desired. He would submit to the judgment of the House that it was perfectly impossible to define all these charges, to give particulars of time, place, and circumstances. Everyone knew what the charges were; but the exact nature of the charges and the duty of keeping the evidence to the point must be left in the hands of the Commission who were to inquire into them. The The right hon. Member for Newcastle desired that only precise and definite charges should be left to the Commission; but he would ask any hon. Gentleman who might be disposed to think that any precise and definite issues could be settled whether a Commission of Judges was not far more competent to pick out those charges than any Members who might be selected in that House. Another demand was that a stipulation should be made in the Bill providing for a rigid adherence to the technical rules of procedure of the Courts of Justice. The right hon. Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) spoke of the rules of evidence with a glowing pride which could only be born of a prolonged practice before Committees of the House, where the Rules were administered in the greatest strictness and in their most rigid purity. But they had to deal with a tribunal which had to investigate and discover the absolute truth, and technical rules, however useful in a Court of Law, when an accused person was on his trial, were entirely unsuited for a Com- 416 mission. It was never intended that a Commission to discover the truth should be bound by rules which had grown up in this country, but which were utterly unknown in other civilized countries. In ordinary life no man would attempt to govern an inquiry by the rules of evidence which had been established for the purpose of trial by jury. When a Commission of experienced Judges was established it was intended that their trained intelligence should be allowed to determine what evidence was reasonably sufficient to enable them to arrive at the result of their inquiries and report to the Crown. Another point was made upon which not much had been said, but something had been hinted—the composition of the Royal Commission. He did most earnestly and respectfully deprecate any discussion in that House as to the composition of the Commission of Judges. He hoped that neither in that debate nor in Committee would they have any discussion as to the merits of the Judges, or that suggestions would be made that others might have done better. Such discussions would be unworthy of the House and of the Judges. He would say nothing as to the intentions with which the various points to which he had alluded had been put forward. He was willing to give credit to everyone who had put forward a demand for being actuated with the utmost good faith; but he did most unhesitatingly say that the only effect of such conditions, if the Government were weak enough to accede to them, would be to render the inquiry utterly futile and abortive. He hoped that the Bill, as it had been drawn with a desire to do even justice to one side and the other, would be adhered to, and that the House would have the satisfaction of securing a thorough and effectual inquiry into matters of the greatest import which had so long disturbed the political controversies of this country, and which, at no distant date, would be happily laid to rest one way or the other.
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON (Dundee)
said, he was sorry the hon. and learned Member for Inverness had made such a personal attack upon his right hon. Friend the Member for Derby. If references were frequently made to hon. Members in the tone of studied contempt in which the hon. and learned 417 Member for Inverness had spoken of the right hon. Member for Derby, they who did not regard the right hon. Gentleman in that light would have grounds to press for some reconsideration of the Rule of the House which permitted an hon. Member to abuse the right hon. Member for Derby behind his back, and from the Opposition Benches to support Her Majesty's Government. His hon. and learned Friend sarcastically said they had the people of Scotland with them on the Irish Question. He (Mr. E. Robertson) thought they had. They would look forward with the greatest possible interest to the first opportunity of testing whether they had the people of Scotland with them on this question, and there was no part of the country they would look to with so much interest, and more confidence, than to the constituency of Inverness. It appeared to him that the greater part of the debate had been more suited for the Committee stage than the second reading of the Bill. He desired to state one or two reasons why he could not accept the principle of this Bill. He was as much alive as any man to the desirability of bringing to some public test the charges and allegations which were the subject of this measure. If the hon. Member for Cork had chosen to take these charges to a jury he would have been satisfied. If the House had yielded to the request made from those Benches, and granted a Committee, he would, if possible, have been still more satisfied. No other mode of inquiry being possible, he would have been tempted to escape from a situation which had become well-nigh intolerable by accepting the course proposed; but a full consideration of the matter, apart from Party considerations, had convinced him that the Constitutional objections to the Bill far outweighed its possible advantages. The first objection was that this Bill was a mere privilegium; it was special legislation of a kind unknown in the history of that House, and, he believed, in the history of other Legislative Assemblies. It dealt with the conduct of a few individuals, and with the isolated facts of a series of articles in a morning newspaper. No doubt, all things were possible to the omnipotence of Parliament—and he stood by the supremacy of Parliament as a corner stone—but that omnipotence 418 was possible only on condition that it was exercised with prudence and discretion. They ought to impose upon themselves the rule which was imposed upon other Legislatures by the Constitution. If there was one rule more formally established than another, it was that there should not be special legislation. With the exception of Irish Divorce Bills, and such like matters, no special legislation was passed. In this case a special tribunal was created for specified individuals to determine the undecided issues of an abortive trial at law. This Bill was nothing more nor less than a legislative fraud, which would cause the people of this country to come to a conclusion which he should greatly deprecate, to impose some restrictions on the practical omnipotence of that House. The other consideration which was raised was the position in which the action of the Government had allowed the great and important subject of Privileges of Parliament to fall. On the question of the Privileges of Parliament the Government had misled the House. He hoped the Attorney General would consent to modify the Bill by adding after "Members of Parliament and other persons" the words "in conjunction with such Members;" and if, as recommended by the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Lockwood), the Commissioners were left to define formally the charges which should form the subject-matter of investigation, and if the inquiry was limited to them, he thought a great many of the objections to the Bill would disappear. But, even if the Government met every objection raised on that side of the House, it still seemed to him that this Bill, in its inception and conception, in its whole scheme and detail, was the most unconstitutional Bill that had over been presented to the House, and he, for one, could take no responsibility in voting for it.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir RICHARD-WEBSTER) (Isle of Wight)
Mr. Speaker, I had no intention of intervening in this debate. The position in which I have been placed by having been the counsel for the defendants in the action of "O'Donnell v. Walter" makes it utterly impossible for me to take part in any discussion on the merits of this Bill, and I do not rise now in order to take any such part; nor do I 419 rise to answer the virulent and extraordinary charges which have been made against me by some who have called themselves my friends in their speeches, and by others who could have had no doubt in their own minds that the charges were false almost before they had uttered them. I do not rise to justify myself in any way; I am content to leave my conduct to the judgment of those who have had experience of me in my Profession, and to the judgment of those who will come after me. But I do rise out of regard for those who sit upon this side of the House, in order that they may have a simple and plain statement of the facts, without one word of passion or one word of heat, and in order that they may understand what are the real facts out of which those charges arise. Mr. Speaker, I should like to make one observation before I enter into that plain statement, and that is that in this case I had the great honour of leading and being assisted by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James). [Ironical Home Rule cheers and counter cheers.] Of course, I quite expected that the good feeling of hon. Members below the Gangway opposite would induce them at once to scorn and scoff at that name. They have no knowledge of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's professional position; but those who have known the right hon. and learned Member, as we have known him, for many years as the Leader of the Bar, have known, at any rate, that his conduct in such matters is above all suspicion; and it is a great satisfaction to me to be able to state, with reference to the simple narration I am about to make, that every step was taken after consultation with, with the entire concurrence of, and, I may say, under the advice of, my right lion, and learned Friend. I am not ashamed to own that advice; for though I had the responsibility he had the experience. Mr. Speaker, the possibility of making the attacks which have been made upon me—less violent by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney (Sir Charles Russell), more violent by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), most violent by the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Lockwood)—the possibility of those 420 attacks exists simply by the speakers shutting their eyes to what was the conduct of the plaintiff in this case, to what was the way in which the case was conducted on behalf of the plaintiff. The plaintiff, Mr. O'Donnell, was represented by a young barrister—a gentleman, I believe, of great ability, who, in a most trying and difficult position, conducted the case with sound judgment, and with every evidence that he was fully competent to conduct any case; and I think that if that learned counsel had been left to conduct the case in accordance with his own judgment, in every probability not only would there have been no charge against me, but the fiasco for which the plaintiff and his advisers were solely responsible, would never have taken place. The learned counsel for the plaintiff, acting under advice to which I will refer before I sit down, elected to conduct his case, not by putting in the whole libel or reading the whole libel alleged to be an accusation on the plaintiff, but, by picking out selected passages. He read them without the context, and strung together passages which had no connection, and then he said on behalf of the plaintiff—"I was libelled, libelled by these gross attacks; I was one of the persons intended to be libelled, and I claim damages at their hands because I have been so libelled." In addition, he called three witnesses of great respectability and position—two of them, at any rate, of considerable position—who stated that, in their judgment, Mr. O'Donnell was the person libelled by these accusations in The Times; and then, to the surprise of everybody, he closed his case. The circumstances under which he closed his case are known to hon. Members below the Gangway, who were in Court at the time, and were in constant conference with the plaintiff. [Home Rule cries of "No!" and "Name!"] I refer to no hon. Member particularly—[Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR: Name them!]—but to what was perfectly well known. The counsel for the plaintiff closed his case, and thereupon at that time we were in this position. He had made an undoubted primâ facie case. He had only read one portion of the libels; but the plaintiff had stated through his counsel that he was one of the Land League organization, and the Lord 421 Chief Justice held that, that being the case, he was brought within the libels complained of. Now, Sir, what was the position of counsel? I will appeal to any hon. Member of my own Profession who does not approach this question from a Party point of view, and who regards it with candid judgment, and I say that there is no counsel of five years' standing at the Bar who understands his Profession the least in the world who would not know perfectly well that unless he was in a position then and there to ask for a nonsuit and stop the case he must open the whole case then and there. ["No!"] There is no counsel of position who, when there is a primâ facie case made against his client, and he is called upon to open the case, can do anything but open the whole of his case, if he is going to call any evidence at all; and I repeat that, whatever may be the denials of any irresponsible Member on the matter. But, so far from there being no case, the learned Judge had plainly shown that he thought that at that time there was a case, and had, with perfect fairness, called the attention of the jury to passages which, in his judgment, had referred to the Parliamentary Party as distinguished from the Land League. Here I may be allowed to quote the judgment of the plaintiff in this matter after the trial, which he stated, in language which I am sure nobody will think exaggerated. He writes—I acknowledge the perfect impartiality and high-minded justice of the illustrious Judge, whose remarks against me were entirely made in the ignorance of the cause of my acts and non-production of all my defence previous to The Times statement of charges.I proceeded to open the case for the defendant. I care not what may be the opinion of me of hon. Members below the Gangway; but I am afraid I must say, with regard to the language which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby has thought fit to use about me, that I care very little about his opinion, but that before he thought fit to make such charges against me he might have been a little more careful about his facts. I proceeded to open the case for The Times, with the entire concurrence of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bury, and I proceeded to lay before the Court the case from my instructions— 422 not of my own knowledge, for I had no knowledge in the matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian said perfectly rightly last night that the Bar of England, when they snake their statements, do so on instructions; I said that I was going to prove my whole case. That appears in the shorthand notes.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
The statement does not appear in the report of The Times, and my reference to the omission of the promise in that report is also not included in The Times report of the debate in this morning's paper.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
I do not see the relevance of that interruption. I was about to state that in my opening statement to the learned Judge and the jury I stated that I was about to prove the case on my instructions, and that my difficulties were increased because the plaintiff had not thought fit to go into the witness-box, and therefore I had to prove in a roundabout way what I might have proved quickly if Mr. O'Donnell had submitted himself to cross-examination. Now, Sir, I went on to open my whole case. It was in my own distinct judgment necessary for me to establish two things—or rather three things. I say—and I am making no unexpected confession to the House, for any hon. Gentleman connected with my Profession will understand me—that when I commenced the address to the jury, so far from thinking that I should not have to prove my case, I state, most distinctly and emphatically that I intended to produce the whole of my evidence, and I had no expectation that the result of reading the articles would be to satisfy the jury that, grave as the charges were, they were not charges against Mr. O'Donnell. It was impossible to come to the conclusion at an earlier stage of the case, because the plaintiff had not even read the whole of the articles, but had pieced together certain paragraphs and then said—"I am the person libelled. As every counsel would have done, I started to establish three propositions; in the first place, that there was in existence a Land League, which had, directly or indirectly, according to my instructions—I did not know whether it was so or not—provoked outrage which led to crime; in the second place, that certain prominent 423 gentlemen named in the articles were closely connected with that League; and, thirdly, that a letter, which has been often referred to, was, in fact—according to my instructions—signed by the hon. Member for Cork. It has been suggested by the hon. and learned Member who has made the principal attack upon me that that was a wholly gratuitous and uncalled for attack on my part. I think that before he made that accusation he might have ascertained the facts. Does he remember the allegation in the letter which was signed by the hon. Member for Cork—the allegation that Lord Frederick Cavendish's death was an accident, and that that was alleged to be a libel on Mr. O'Donnell?
§ MR. LOCKWOOD
Such observations as I made referred not to the letter already published, but to the letter read by the hon. and learned Gentleman for the first time.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
Again I would submit whether there was the slightest need for an interruption. I was speaking of the letter dated the 15th of May, 1882, and the most important issue in the case was whether that letter was signed by the hon. Member for Cork. The hon. and learned Member for York says that I was opening the case, and that I ought not to have put forward the other letters which were alleged to be letters of the hon. Member for Cork. I venture to say there is not a counsel who has been two years or two months at the Bar who would keep back the other letters, which were said to be genuine letters, when he was opening his case. If they were kept back they never could be referred to afterwards. Therefore, I am not open to the charge of want of good faith which those who advised the plaintiff laid themselves open to. My speech was not, as has been said, 18 hours long; it was not 10 hours long, though I am willing to admit it was too long. On the morning of Wednesday I was simply detailing to the jury the action of the Land League, and what was the effect of that action, and the story—it may be perfectly ill-founded, I have no opinion on the matter—of what the alleged action of the hon. Member for Cork was, and then I proceeded to read and to lay before the jury the libels which, according to my instructions, I intended 424 to justify. It was not until I was reading the articles that the jury saw through the sham; that they saw that the articles did not refer to Mr. O'Donnell; but that they did refer to a number of other gentlemen, to a class in which the plaintiff, who said that he was libelled, was not included. It is all very well for the hon. and learned Member for York to back out of the charge that he made against me. I think the House will allow me to refer to what the Lord Chief Justice said of my conduct in the matter, and I do not think the House will then be of opinion that such language as I will read will bear out the charges made against me. At the end of my case the Lord Chief Justice said—I had better say at once that I will not allow evidence of the truth or falsehood of the alleged libels on other people to be given in this case. It has been in my mind all through, Mr. Attorney, and you will permit me to say now, that you have stated most fairly and in a most becoming manner the extreme difficulty in which you are placed by the course taken by Mr. O'Donnell. Into the motives of Mr. O'Donnell I cannot enter. That is not for me.On its being objected by Mr. Ruegg that there was a libel on Mr. O'Donnell, the Lord Chief Justice said—Under instructions you did your best, Mr. Ruegg, to make it so, and the only pretence you had for this action, the only shadow of a pretext that Mr. O'Donnell ever had for this action, was that he might drag in other people.Then I said—My learned Friend must pardon me. Mr. O'Donnell is the plaintiff; it is against Mr. O'Donnell I have put my pleadings; there is not a word of justification of this libel against Mr. O'Donnell, and therefore I have withdrawn nothing.Upon this the Lord Chief Justice said—Yes; the Attorney General has withdrawn nothing. You forced him to say what he did by taking the course you did, that though there was nothing said here against Mr. O'Donnell by name, that whenever somebody else was mentioned Mr. O'Donnell was meant, and that you should insist upon it. You forced the Attorney General into saying that if you would have it so, then these people had done this, that, and the other; but he said, like a gentleman, if I may say so, 'I say that with great reluctance, because it is most unfair to these men, and most unfair to us.'One more passage is all that I will read. The Lord Chief Justice towards the close of his summing up, said—The Attorney General has most honourably pointed that out to you. He has pointed out that it has placed The Times itself in very great difficulty, and so it has; but he has also gone 425 on to say what sense and honour and fairness dictated to him—that it has placed a number of other persons who, as I said before, for aught we know in this Court (whatever we may think elsewhere has nothing to do with it), may be as innocent as any man in this Court, it has exposed them to a peril and to an annoyance and an amount of vexation and trouble that hardly any words can describe.Mr. Speaker, as I have said, I did not rise to vindicate myself, but that the House might have the facts before it, and form its own judgment upon them. I have only one or two other observations to make. I must refer to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Derby. He has been a very eminent member of the Bar. [Ministerial laughter.] I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give me his attention.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
The right hon. Gentleman occupied the distinguished position of Solicitor General when the right hon. and learned Member for Bury was Attorney General. I do not know whether he will join in the remarks made by the hon. and learned Member for York, because, if so, the right hon. and learned Member for Bury is included in the disgraceful charge. The right hon. Gentleman thought fit to say that I had disgraced my Profession. [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT dissented.] It came to that. He said I could not believe in the charges, because, if I did, it was my duty as Attorney General to order a prosecution. There is not a lawyer who has heard the right hon. Gentleman but knows that there could not be a grosser or more unjust suggestion as to the duties of our honourable Profession.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
said: I shall be willing to hear any explanation of the right hon. Gentleman, but I hope I shall be allowed to finish the observation I wish to make. Certain information—it may be well or ill-founded—came to my knowledge as counsel for The Times. If I were to use that information in my official position as Attorney General, I should be unworthy of the position I hold at the Bar. So little does the hon. and learned Member for Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) know of the code of honour which, at any rate, we try to maintain. He does not 426 understand that my mouth would be sealed with regard to any communications upon which a prosecution might be founded when I was counsel for The Times.
§ MR. PARNELL
Are we to understand that information was put into the hon. and learned Gentleman's hands by The Times which was not available for the purposes of public justice?
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
The hon. Gentleman has no right to make such an observation. He has never been treated by me with discourtesy. That whole case which I opened I was prepared to prove, and if I am counsel for The Times again shall be prepared to prove. The evidence available when it is wanted, but I should be unworthy of my position if I allowed myself to use it for any other purposes. [Interruptions from the Home Rule Benches.] Hon. Members may be unable to appreciate it. But the right hon. Member for Derby ought to have thought of this before he made that observation. He knows perfectly well that if anything came to my knowledge when I was counsel for The Times not only should I not have been justified in instituting a prosecution, but I should have disgraced my Profession if I had used it for such a purpose. I venture to give the most absolute contradiction of the view which he has expressed. I was there as counsel for The Times and as nothing else, and I have abstained from using the knowledge which came to me as counsel for The Times, directly or indirectly, in my official position. I have only one word to add. I must say that I cannot help having a suspicion that the attacks made upon me have been dictated and prompted to a great extent by the chagrin and annoyance of the unavowed advisers of the plaintiff. I know not—at any rate I must not say—whom I believe them to have been. But this I do know—that the plaintiff on the 6th of July said that his own counsel would have put him into the box, but that he was led to adopt this plan in spite of his own personal repugnance 427 by the opinions of two gentlemen of great professional eminence at the Bar, both Members of Parliament, and both trusted and distinguished Members of the Gladstonian Party. When the hon. and learned Member for Hackney was in his place last night, he did not give any strong denial to the suggestions of the Solicitor General. In fact, he sat silent when he was pointed at. Now, there are only three or four leading lawyers—they may stand up if they like. I will not venture to name them, although I could name those who are of the front rank of the Bar and "trusted and distinguished Members of the Gladstonian Party." If the truth were known, and if it becomes known, it will be found that the advisers of the plaintiff, instead of putting forward their whole case, tried to run cunning. They were told—it has never been denied or contradicted—that they would put The Times in a difficulty if they did not enable it to get admissions from Mr. O'Donnell. So they tried to keep back the plaintiff so that he might not be subjected to cross-examination. This plan was not a very straightforward plan. It was not a very honourable plan for a plaintiff so anxious to clear his character; and it failed—ignominiously failed—because I opened my whole case, the case I was prepared to call evidence to prove—the case the right hon. and learned Member for Bury was prepared to assist me in proving, and thus we roused in the minds of these advisers who have so carefully concealed their names the feeling of annoyance and chagrin that they had somehow failed in their scheme, and that is the reason why they have sought to make these charges against me. They are welcome to repeat these charges as often as they like. I shall never again, unless it be in answer to a question, refer to the matter. I did not rise to justify myself, because I can honestly say that no justification of my conduct was necessary; but I did rise in order that those who have to form a judgment on this matter may have a true, straightforward, and plain statement of the facts.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.