§ MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether it is true, as stated in The Star newspaper on the 21st of March, 1888, that—On the 31st of December, 1886, five men and one girl were brought before the Alnwick Bench of Magistrates, for having brought off the beach some pieces of timber,and were fined—£3, odd, each, with the alternative of one month each in gaol for the men, and 14 days for the girl;whether the girl was taken to gaol on Saturday last, and those of the men who have not paid the fine are also "threatened" with imprisonment; whether the timber was washed in with the tide, and practically valueless; and, whether he can state the reason why the policeman refused the "offer of the men to go to gaol."
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE (Mr. MATTHEWS) (Birmingham, E.)
I am imformed by the Clerk to the Alnwick Justices that five men and a girl were convicted on the 22nd of December, 1886, for having in their possession timber which had been jettisoned from a stranded vessel, and had been salved by the fishermen and stacked on the shore. The statutory penalty for this offence is £20, or six months' imprisonment. Four men were fined £2; one man and the girl 10s.; the alternative being a month and a fortnight's imprisonment respectively. Time for payment was given in each case. On the 10th of this month, three of the men only having paid, the Justices issued commitments against the rest. The girl paid on the 17th instant. The timber was not valueless; two of the pieces found in the possession of one of the defendants were valued at 4s. 2d., and four pieces in the possession of another defendant were valued at 6s. 10d. The Justices did not wish to send the men to prison if they could help it.
§ MR. FENWICK
asked, whether it was not true that the men, during the 180 time of the trade dispute to which the right hon. Gentleman had just referred, said that they could not pay the fine, but offered to serve their term of imprisonment during the trade dispute; whether their offer to go to prison was not refused by the policeman; whether they did not offer to pay the amount of the fine by instalments; and whether that offer was also refused? He also asked the right hon. Gentleman to state why the sentence was deferred for such a length of time?
§ MR. MATTHEWS
I am afraid I can only answer the last part of the Question. I understand the Justices to say that the payment was deferred from time to time, and that the Justices were unwilling to send them to prison, inasmuch as the men were out on strike, and unable to earn wages. Time was given on five occasions, until ultimately three of the men paid; and the Justices thought it was unfair to those three if proceedings were not taken against the others.
§ MR. FENWICK
said, the men told the policeman that they were unable to pay, and that they preferred to go to prison during the time of the trade dispute. Afterwards, when the men were in employment, they took them from their homes when they had offered to pay the amount of the fines by instalments.
§ MR. FENWICK
gave Notice that he would repeat his Question, and would also ask the right hon. Gentleman to state further why the offer of the men was refused.