(3.) Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £29,776, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1889, for the Salaries of the Law Officers; the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of the Solicitor for the Affairs of Her Majesty's Treasury, and of the Department of the Queen's Proctor for Divorce Interventions, and of the Department of the Director of Public Prosecutions; the Costs of Prosecutions, including those relating to the Coin, and to Bankruptcy, and of other Legal Proceedings conducted by those Departments; and various other Legal Expenses, including Parliamentary Agency.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
said, he rose to move to reduce the salaries of the Law Officers of the Crown by £4,000—namely, the Attorney General (for non-contentious business) £2,000, and the Solicitor General (for non-contentious business) £2,000. This reduction was one which he had proposed last year; but at that time the Committee was not prepared to give effect to his views. He did not oppose the Vote from any personal or Party motive. He should have been just as much in favour of reducing the salary of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney (Sir Charles 942 Russell), if he had happened to hold the Office, or that of any other Attorney General, as of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite; because he thought the English Government paid their Law Officers "not wisely," but very much too well. He did not think the public were really aware of the amount of the emoluments the Law Officers of the Crown received. He presumed that he would not be in Order if he were to refer to the Scotch and Irish Votes in this connection. He would therefore leave the task to the Scotch and Irish Members, who, no doubt, at the proper time, would discuss the Votes for their respective countries. At the present moment he proposed to confine himself to the consideration of that part of the English Vote which related to the salaries of the Attorney and Solicitor General. About 50 years ago the salary was abolished by the Whig Government of the day when they were economizing on every hand. The Government cut down the salaries, and allowed the Law Officers to be paid on the ordinary scale for such work as they were asked to do for the Government, and so economical were the Government that they refused to allow their Law Officers to use Government stationery, but compelled them to provide their own pens, ink, and paper. To such a degree was this course pursued, that "Honest Jack Campbell," who was then in Office, complained bitterly of being condemned perpetually to the Office of Solicitor General, "with its scanty emoluments," and added to that the further grievance—a somewhat odd one for a Whig—that he had "to find an independent seat in Parliament" for himself. The emoluments rapidly increased as the work increased, and in 1871 Mr. Lowe, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, changed the mode of payment by a stroke of the pen, altered the system of payment, and curtailed the emoluments. He instituted a system of fixed salary for so-called "non-contentious business," with fees, in addition, for "contentious business." The principle upon which Mr. Lowe had acted was practically confirmed by a Departmental Committee, which sat some six years later. It now appeared from the Return which he held in his hand, and which was referred to early in the evening by his right hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. 943 Henry H. Fowler)—a Return which he had moved for on the 9th of July, but which was not yet either printed or distributed—it appeared from the Return that the amounts paid to the Law Officers were considerably greater than had appeared from the information which he had had in his possession last year, when he made a similar Motion. From this Return, which he thought would considerably astonish the Committee, he found that the total annual emoluments of the Attorney General, on an average of 10 years, was £11,375, made up of a fixed salary of £7,000, and average emoluments from fees for "contentious work" of no less than £4,375. He found that the average emoluments of the Solicitor General amounted year by year to £8,900, so that the average yearly sum paid to those two Law Officers of the Crown amounted to no less than a sum of over £20,000. Secretaries of State and the Prime Minister were only paid at the rate of £5,000 a-year; and it did seem to he a very great disproportion indeed to pay an Attorney General nearly £12,000 a-year, and the chief Secretaries of State only £5,000. In the course of the debate last Session, the Attorney General, replying to his remarks, practically admitted the great discrepancy, but proposed to remedy it, not by reducing the salaries of the Attorney and Solicitor General, but by raising the salaries of the Prime Minister and the Secretaries of State up to the level of that the Attorney General. In these democratic days, he (Mr. Buxton) thought that the House of Commons would consider a great many times before they assented to such a proposal as that; and he, for one—for once not in accordance with the traditions of the Liberal Party—proposed to level, not up, but down, in the matter of official salaries. Again, not only did the Attorney General receive a salary and emoluments which amounted to £12,000 a-year, while the Prime Minister received only £5,000 a-year, but there was a further great disproportion in the mode of payment. For the salary received by the Prime Minister and Secretaries of State, they were supposed to, and practically did, devote the whole of their time to the Public Service; while the 944 Attorney and Solicitor General, in addition to receiving salaries for what he might call the ornamental, and payment at the ordinary rate for the useful, part of their work, were allowed to take as much private practice as they liked, in addition, during their official life. He did not wish to dwell upon the serious evils which must lately have forced themselves upon the minds of every Member of the House in that connection. He believed his hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. P. Stanhope) intended to raise this question and discuss it from the aspect which it had recently assumed; and he would not, therefore, dwell upon that particular feature of the case, but would only say in connection with it that while he, for one—and he thought he might speak for every other Member of the House in respect to that matter—was not disposed to blame the present holder of the Office for that which had arisen, it was nothing less than a grave scandal that the official adviser of the Government should take part in a case which was really and to the fullest extent of a political nature. No doubt the hon. and learned Gentleman had merely followed what had been the tradition of the Offices of Attorney and Solicitor General, and he did not wish to blame the hon. and learned Member, but he thought it was high time that this system of allowing the Law Officers to retain their private practice, while they were paid large salaries for undertaking public work, ought to be brought to an end. The hon. and learned Attorney General might be "like Cerberus, two gentlemen at once," but he did not think the hon. and learned Gentleman ought to have two personalities where the duties of his Office were concerned. Putting aside the question of the political aspect of the case, surely it was not right that the private interests and the public duties of a public official should come in such acute conflict, as they necessarily must do in the case of our Law Officers, who, although paid considerable salaries for devoting themselves to the public service, at the same time were able to take private work for which they were paid in addition, and which they could only carry on by, to a great extent, neglecting their public duties. Take the case of the Royal Commission which was now sitting. Was it physically pos- 945 sible for the present hon. and learned Attorney General, who, day after day, week after week, month after month, had to devote his time and attention to a great case in the Law Courts, to give that time and attention to his public duties which we, who are paying him a salary of £7,000 a-year, are entitled to demand at his hands? Sir Richard Baggallay, who was Attorney General at the time, gave evidence before the Committee of 1877, and said that he was strongly of opinion that any Attorney General who desired to fully discharge the duties of his Office must give up his private practice, at any rate while Parliament was sitting. It would seem that some 60 or 70 years ago an Attorney General of that time, Sir Stephen Shepherd, did absolutely give up his private practice in order that he might visit the various Departments and devote the whole of his time to the duties of his Office. That state of things was, however, as Campbell put it, "corrected" by Sir James Scarlett and others, and unfortunately it was not now in force. They were told that if the Attorney and the Solicitor General were forced to give up their private practice they would have to be paid a larger salary than they received at present. But he did not believe that, paying as they did on the average to those two Law Officers something like £20,000 a-year, they could really come to Parliament and say that the loss would be so great in giving up their private practice that their salaries ought to be increased. In the debate in that House last Session, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton said very truly that they could not buy champagne at the price of small beer; but they were paying at present such a very large salary that they could obtain the services of the best man in reference to these particular Offices. It seemed to be thought by some that the proposal which he now made was so revolutionary, and would reduce the Attorney General to such an impecunious position, that it would be impossible to obtain the services of good men. It appeared to be supposed that his proposal was to put the Office up to tender and to accept the lowest bid for it. But even if his proposal were adopted, the average emoluments of the two Offices would still be some £16,000 or £17,000 a-year; and 946 he did not think that was too small an amount to ask those gentlemen to take for discharging the duties. It was quite possible that it might entail a certain pecuniary loss for the Attorney General to accept the Office; but he would ask the Committee whether political life did not mean a pecuniary loss to every one of the Members of the House? He did not see why the lawyers alone should be entitled to plead the sacrifices they made for the service of their country. He did not say that everyone who came into that House was actuated by the highest motives. They were actuated by different motives; some by ambition, some by a desire for advertisement, some by the belief that the House of Commons was a very good club, whereas, as a matter of fact, it was the worst and most expensive club in the world. But whatever might be the motives by which they were actuated, he thought there was no class except the Legal Profession, who, by their own admission, were in any way actuated by pecuniary motives in entering those doors. He put aside the class of "guinea pigs," because, no doubt, some men came there to give their valuable services to Boards of Directors, and to gain some pecuniary advantage by having "M.P." added to their names; but, putting that class aside, he did not believe that any other class in that House made anything out of politics, and he did not see why lawyers should be the only class who desired to make something out of politics. His hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General (Sir Edward Clarke), in a speech which he delivered not very long ago, in regard to a fusion of the two branches of the Legal Profession, had stated that there were 115 offices of an aggregate value of £300,000 a year, to which the branch of the Profession to which he belonged could obtain access, and to most of those offices the easiest access was through the doors of that House. In addition to that there were the Attorney Generalship, the Solicitor Generalship, the Judgeships, and also the very highest Office in the Realm—that of Keeper of the Queen's Conscience. Now, it seemed to him that they treated their lawyers rather as spoilt children. Not only were all those pecuniary advantages, by obtaining a seat in that House, open to that particular class, but for some 947 reason, which he did not appreciate, the lawyers were allowed to get off all the hard work of Private Bill Committees, while their work in connection with other Committees was lightened as far as possible. The result of all this was—and he thought it was the unanimous opinion of other Members—that they had too many lawyers in the House, and that it would be a good thing if they had rather fewer of them. Now, he did not think so meanly of the class of lawyers as they seemed to think of themselves. He did not believe that the Attorney or the Solicitor General was actuated entirely by the question of emoluments in accepting Office. He believed that they looked at other considerations besides—that they recognized that it was a high honour to hold their Offices, and that by holding them they were doing a great service to the country. He believed, therefore, that if we paid our Law Officers a somewhat reduced salary, we should still retain the services of the best men, and, at all events, secure men who were quite competent to do the work that had to be done. In the debate last year the hon. and learned Attorney General (Sir Richard Webster) did hit on what he (Mr. Sydney Buxton) thought was a considerable blot in the present system. He stated that his was the only Department in which there was no permanent staff, and the result was that Attorney General after Attorney General, going quite new to the work, had to pick it up as he best could, and was placed in a position of great disadvantage in consequence of that state of things. He gathered from the remarks of the hon. and learned Gentleman that he suggested it would be a good plan that there should be a permanent office connected with the Attorney General, with a permanent staff of clerks, who would be able to give advice to the successive holders of the office, and place them in such a position that they would be able to take up the thread of the work at the place where their predecessor had left off. But even if Parliament accepted that proposal and created this office, he did not think the actual pecuniary advantage to the Attorney General would be very great. There was some inconvenience to him, no doubt, in not being able to carry on the work with the aid of permanent officials, but the actual ex- 948 penditure which the absence of permanent clerks entailed would not be more than £200 or £300 a-year. Lastly, he thought there was this most important point involved in the question. He believed that the fact that we paid such very high salaries to our Law Officers tended to keep up the cost of law and of justice in this country. The special fees given to the Attorney General tended to raise the general standard of fees; and, to his mind, one of the chief scandals of the day was that law was the luxury of the rich, instead of being the protection of the poor. In conclusion he trusted the Committee would understand that in moving the reduction he did not desire at all to aim at the present holders of these Offices; and if his object would be better gained by moving, in order to raise the principle, a mere nominal reduction he would do so, instead of moving the large reduction of which he had given Notice. If in the course of the debate that suggestion were made he would be glad to adopt it, and to move a reduction of £5 or £100, or some other nominal sum. Until, however, the suggestion was made, the Motion he intended to submit to the House was that the salary of the Attorney General should be reduced by £2,000, and that of the Solicitor General by £2,000.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item A, Salaries of the Law Officers, be reduced by £4,000."—(Mr. Sydney Buxton.)
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
said, that before the hon. and learned Attorney General (Sir Richard Webster) rose to reply he desired, upon this Vote, to refer to a statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary (Mr. Matthews) that afternoon. He should be glad if the hon. and learned Gentleman would give the Committee, without fee, the advantage of his legal opinion on the point which he (Mr. Bradlaugh) had raised upon the Truck Act [Cries of "Order!"] He respectfully submitted that the hon. and learned Attorney General was the responsible Law Officer of the Crown, and the hon. and learned Gentleman had himself, on this question on Friday last, expressed an opinion upon the construction of the Act. He believed he was perfectly regular in challenging the 949 answer which the hon. and learned Attorney General gave on Friday.
Does the hon. Member desire to question the hon. and learned Attorney General on a special legal point?
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
said, he wished, in discussing the question of the hon. and learned Gentleman's salary, to find fault with the hon. and learned Attorney General, as the responsible Law Officer of the Crown, for having apparently misled the Home Office by an incorrect construction of an Act of Parliament.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
I do not understand you to say that I must not challenge the opinion of the hon. and learned Gentleman. I would ask whether it is competent for me to do what I have indicated upon this Vote?
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
said, he regretted that no Member of the Government had risen to answer the very able speech of the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Sydney Buxton). He wished to repeat, in the first instance, the complaint he had made at Question time, that the Return as to these emoluments had not been placed in the hands of Members before the discussion. He quite understood, as the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) had stated, that the Government were not responsible for the delay in the printing; but the Government were aware that this debate was coming on, and that the Return was not printed. Here they had a Return ordered on the 9th of July to be laid on the Table of the House, and it had been presented on the first day of the re-assembling of the House. He thought there ought to be some controlling authority over the printing of the House, in order that a short Return, which might be printed in a single night, might be placed in the hands of hon. Members. The consequence of the delay in this instance was that he would have to read the Return to the House, and he intended to do so, because 950 the figures were very misleading. His hon. Friend had only given the figures as they appeared, but it was greatly to be regretted that owing to the carelessness which had taken place somewhere—he did not say where—in reference to this Return, he should be obliged to trouble the Committee with the whole of the figures. He was not going to follow his hon. Friend (Mr. Sydney Buxton) in his attack on the Legal Profession. The criticism of his hon. Friend was of a sort that was frequently passed upon lawyers. He did not know that the Legal Profession were in the habit of saying that there were other classes of Members who were too numerous in that House; but it always was a taunt flung at the Legal Profession that they were too numerous there, and that the House would be glad to get rid of them; but he would tell his hon. Friend that that was a question which rested with another body to decide—namely, the constituencies themselves. The argument was always used whenever a legal gentleman became a candidate; but if the constituencies chose to send a number of legal gentlemen to the House of Commons, the responsibility rested solely upon them. The point he wished to submit to the careful consideration of the Committee was, first, that the remuneration which the country paid to its Law Advisors was such as to justify it in requiring that these officers should give the whole of their time to the Public Service. His second proposition was this—that the public legal business of Her Majesty's Government was of that magnitude that if it was to be properly and efficiently discharged it would occupy the whole of the time of the Law Officers of the Crown. The Return which he had before him went back as far as 10 years ago, and showed the remuneration which was paid to the Law Officers from 1878 to 1887. He was sorry to say that it had not come down to the present year 1887–8; but, at the same time, that would enable them to discuss the question with more freedom, because any remarks which might be founded upon the Return would not apply to the present Law Officers of the Crown. In 1878 the amount paid to the Attorney General was £12,156; in 1879, £12,337; in 1880, £11,811; in 1881, £11,997; in 1882, £11,901; in 951 1883, £10,710; in 1884, £9,914; in 1885, £9,848; in 1886, £10,266; and in 1887, £12,109. That amounted, in round figures, to not much short of £12,000 a-year. The highest figure reached by the Solicitor General was £11,148, and the lowest £7,913. The question was, ought the country to command for those salaries the whole of the time of the gentlemen who received them? His hon. Friend did not call the attention of the Committee to the remuneration which was paid to the Law Officer who might be more happily brought into contrast with the Law Officers than any other—he meant the Lord Chancellor. The gross amount of remuneration received by the Lord Chancellor was £10,000 a-year. They had, therefore, this fact—that the Attorney General was receiving more than the Lord Chancellor and the Solicitor General nearly as much. The objection would be raised that they could not expect any great lawyer to forego his private practice, even for those large salaries, and that, if he did, he might not be able, when his period of Office came to an end, to resume the private practice which he previously had. He had the greatest possible respect for, and admired much, the genius and ability of the men who now held the position of Law Officers, but he did think that £12,000 a-year would command the services of the very ablest and most eminent men at the English Bar. Not only did the Attorney General receive a large salary, but he became the head of his profession, and this gave him a status and position which was of the greatest value to him supposing he remained in private life, and it also gave him the right—he thought he might use that word—to claim the succession of certain high judicial offices if they become vacant. Therefore, in dealing with this remuneration of £12,000 a-year, they had also to deal with the rank and status, and the crowning of the legitimate ambition of a long professional life. He did not believe that an Attorney General who returned to private practice, after devoting himself entirely to the duties of his official position, would find that he had been injured at all. A good article would always command a good price; and a distinguished advocate returning to the general practice of his profession would 952 not be without professional appreciation. He did not wish to introduce anything personal into the debate, but he should like to say that his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James), when he was Attorney General, did not take private practice, but devoted his great powers to the service of the State. He need not tell the Committee that when his right hon. and learned Friend resumed his practice, he resumed the very high position which he had previously held, and his clients were only too glad to avail themselves of his services. He did not think that there was anything in either of those two objections which ought to induce the House to hesitate to deal with this matter. There was another important matter to bear in mind. It was not a question of whether a man ought to give them the whole of his time for the remuneration, for if the remuneration was inadequate to induce him to give the whole of his time it would have to be increased. But he did think that the Attorney General and the Solicitor General ought to give the country the whole of their time. The country needed it. The amount of legal business was increasing from day to day, and the amount of work now to he done was very much greater than it was 10 or 15 years ago. He was satisfied that no hon. Member would get up and say that it was too much to ask that a Law Officer should devote the whole of his time to his official work. They might get men of colossal ability able to devote their time to the two things—that was to say, their public duties and their private practice; but Parliament had to legislate for the average, and he was satisfied that it was necessary that the House and the country should receive the whole of the time of the Law Officers of the Crown. He was not going, as he said at the commencement, to argue the point whether their salaries were too great or too small, although that was a point which his hon. Friend had raised, and which other Members would discuss. He should certainly, however, vote for any Motion which would enable the Committee to express its opinion upon the question as to whether the Attorney General and the Solicitor General ought to give the whole of their time for the salaries they received.
§ MR. HALDANE (Haddington)
said, he would follow the example of his right hon. Friend (Mr. H. H. Fowler), and refrain from entering into a controversy with the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Buxton) as to the utility of having so many Members in the Legal Profession in the House. It might be that there were too many of them; but he would submit to the hon. Member for Poplar that the legal Members of the House fulfilled a useful, though a humble, function. They were the hewers of wood and the drawers of water to the whole House. ["Oh, oh!"] Yes; if they were not engaged in debating clauses in the many Bills which came before the House, they were employed in the Lobbies in drafting and drawing up Amendments. It might be that the function was not a very lofty one; but he would point out that in the Legislatures of America and France the proportion of lawyers was certainly not less than the proportion which existed in that House. But to come to the question under discussion, he wished to say that he found himself, in the main, in accord with his right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler). It seemed to him (Mr. Haldane), in the first place, that there were one or two difficulties which the Committee would do well to bear in mind before coming straight off to a conclusion upon this subject. They saw the Attorney General sitting there conducting Bills through the House and answering Questions; and they knew that this was only half of his work—that he conducted a very large part of the business of the country, while he also discharged very important functions at the Bar. He was not merely the advocate of the Crown at the Bar; but he occupied a position which might almost be called quasi-judicial. He decided when it was proper that the Crown should assert its rights, and did this sometimes under very delicate circumstances; and he kept in check a whole train of officials, and a vast amount of machinery, which he had to control, not as a partizan, but as a man who was bound to see that which was fair done on all sides, and without regard at all times to the interest of his client. If they took the Attorney General and made him out-and-out a Minister in the House, it would be impossible for him to perform those functions at the Bar which were performed 954 under the present system. The change which was suggested by his right hon. Friend was one that would carry them a great deal further than securing the whole time of the Attorney General for the Public Service. The objection had been raised as to whether they could get men of ability and position to do the work on these conditions. It was surmised that some of the learned gentlemen who had held the Office of Attorney General during the last few years had had private practices which brought them in at the least £20,000 a-year; and, therefore, the acceptance of the Office involved the sacrifice of the difference between that and £10,000 or £12,000 a-year. Still, he believed the position would be taken, because it brought with it elevation to a high Office of State; and a man occupying the position of Attorney General was rewarded in a way that was not to be measured by money only. He believed they could get men to do the work; but it seemed to him that the proper course and the logical consequence of the suggestion before the House lay in the direction of a much larger change than merely abolishing the private practice of the Attorney General. It had always seemed to him to be an anomaly that the chief Legal Adviser of the Government should be the Lord Chancellor, sitting in the House of Lords, and being a Member of the Cabinet. Lord Brougham proposed, for reasons which were thought to have great weight, to separate altogether the judicial from the administrative functions of the Office, and if that were done, the chief Law Advisor of the Government could sit in the House of Commons and be supported by a Solicitor General. Some change would have to be made in course of time, and he thought it ought to be in that direction. There had been no Attorney General more able, courteous, and industrious, and more willing to assist Members on all sides of the House, than the present holder of the Office; but, whatever the capacity of the Attorney General, it was impossible that one man could do the enormous amount of work which devolved upon the Office in these days, and at the same time attend to practise at the Bar. They were now on the verge of a period when legal reforms would make larger demands than ever upon the energy and time of 955 the Attorney General, and that House would require the assistance of a Law Officer, with the position and influence of a Lord Chancellor, able to devote all his time to the conduct of legislation. It was impossible that an Attorney General could be sufficiently versed in the mysteries of all the branches of the law to give sound advice to the Government, unless he devoted all his time to the work, and to the collection from experts the materials for useful legislation. Therefore, it seemed to him that what they should aim at was, in the long run, having a system under which a Minister would occupy such a position as he had described, bearing, it might be, the name of Attorney General, but, at the same time, having the influence and prestige of the Lord Chancellor. It might be that the Solicitor General would preserve his present position and be the head of the Bar, as the Attorney General was at the present time. In any event it seemed to him that a change in that direction would be one on the principle that his hon. and right hon. Friends had suggested when they submitted that it was necessary fur the Law Officers of the Crown to give more of their time to their official business than they did at present. It was because he believed in that principle that he should vote for the Motion.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)
At the commencement of this discussion I must say that I had a strong prepossession in my mind that there was a plausible case to be made out for the proposition which the hon. Member opposite has submitted to the Committee; but in the course of the discussion, although it has been maintained solely by advocates of change, I have become convinced that the House would err if it departed from the present arrangement. In the first place, I may point out that if there is a disease that we have to remedy, the remedy which would be suggested might, in all probability, turn out to be worse than the disease. The hon. Member who originated this debate was of opinion that the Attorney General ought to have an office and a staff of clerks in order to discharge his duty properly. Why, the whole of the efforts of economists and reformers in this House have been directed to keeping down the bulk of the Civil Service. At 956 present the Attorney General and the Solicitor General have no vested interest in their Offices; they have no right to pensions, or retiring salaries, or things of any kind. We pay them well while they occupy their official position, and when they are out of Office the State has nothing more to do with them. But once set up these Offices with the staffs, and the cost will soon exceed any reduction we may be able to make. The hon. Gentleman who submitted the Motion has proposed something more alarming still; he contemplates that we should set up a new Department; not only a bureau, but a Ministry of Justice, with an immense staff of officials—high officials, as well as clerks. There may be a great deal to be said in favour of the establishment of a Ministry of Justice; but I hope that the House will not for a moment contemplate making any change in this respect at the present moment. To come to the main question, the point I maintain is this—that the hon. Gentleman who proposed this reduction thinks that the Law Officers of the Crown should give the whole of their time to the service of the State, and ought not to take private practice. Well, the adoption of a Rule of that kind will not result in economy in money, so far as the Committee of Supply is concerned, because it is not proposed to reduce the salaries; therefore, having regard to the position of the Committee of Supply, we are not directly interested as to whether the Law Officers shall or shall not take private practice. What we are interested in is the country shall secure the ablest lawyers it can obtain for the position of Attorney General and Solicitor General. When the Committee remembers what important issues may depend upon the legal advice the Law Officers gave to the country—I imagine that it has more than once been that absolute issues of peace and war have depended upon that advice—we cannot over-estimate the importance of securing the best and brightest geniuses which the country can afford for these positions. If it could have been shown that the Law Officers of the Crown had done their work imperfectly on account of the private practice which some of them undertook, then I think that a sufficient case would have been made out; but the 957 hon. Gentleman who submitted the Motion, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), who supported it, and the hon. Member who spoke last—and who, under the guise of support to the Motion, brings forward a scheme of his own—did not attempt to insinuate that the work of the Law Officers of the Crown had been badly performed on account of private work. I ask then, would it not be unjust, where no case be made out for it, certainly, to alter the relations between the State and its Law Officers which were settled upon after careful consideration years ago—would it not be unjust to lessen the attractions merely on some theoretical fancy that we might get better work out of our officers than we did? I fully expected that the hon. Member who submitted this Motion would point out to the Committee some definite case where private practice had interfered with the due discharge of the duties of the Attorney General and Solicitor General; and in the absence of any evidence to that effect, and with a strong presumption that the evidence is in a contrary direction, I have abandoned altogether the idea I originally held that a case could be made out for the change. So far as I am concerned, I am utterly unable to give any support to the Motion which is made to alter the present system.
§ SIR HENRY JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)
I hesitated somewhat taking part in this debate, considering whether it would be well that I should do so, having occupied the position of Attorney General, and being unwilling to suggest that my successors in that Office should be placed in any worse position than that which I had occupied. At the same time, it seemed to me that it might have been suggested that I was wanting in moral courage if I declined to state my views in regard to this Motion. My hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Buxton) has placed two propositions before the Committee. One of them is that the Law Officers of the Crown are over-paid, and that there should be a deduction made from their salaries; and, secondly, he has put forward the proposition that after that deduction has been made the Law Officers of the Crown should confine themselves to their official duties, and refrain from 958 engaging in private practice. I would advise my hon. Friend, who wishes to raise the question of principle, to separate the proposition that the Law Officers of the Crown should not engage in private practice from the proposition that they are over-paid; because it can hardly be expected that the Committee will very largely support the proposal that the Law Officers of the Crown should confine themselves to public duties, if that proposal is coupled with the proposition that they should also have their salaries considerably reduced. But as a question of principle, whether the Law Officers should or should not engage in private practice, I would guard myself from being supposed to make the slightest reflection upon any of the distinguished men who have engaged in private practice, and have satisfied their consciences that they have properly discharged their public duties. Still less do I desire to make the suggestion that those who now occupy the Offices are not also able to discharge their public duties conscientiously. But I think that the Public Service would be benefited if the Attorney General's time was entirely devoted to his public duties. I want no such thing as the formation of a Judicial Department. I do not want to see the opportunity afforded for the creation of new offices; but I do wish to see provision made—it may be by the Law Officers themselves—for some continuity between the proceedings of one Attorney General and his successor. There should always be some tradition maintained from one Law Officer to another; but, at present, the Law Officers go out of Office, leaving nothing behind them for the information of those who follow—no records, or anything of that kind. No clerk remains; and when the new Law Officer goes into Office he has to select whom he may to assist him, and he always obtains persons utterly ignorant of what his Predecessors have hitherto been doing. The Law Officers of the Crown are also relieved from all direct communication at present with the various Offices and Departments of the State. The Departments ought to be entitled at any time to appeal to their Law Advisers—there is a necessity for centralization in this matter. The necessity for this has been very great. As an instance of that, until my right 959 hon. and learned Friend the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) brought his great energy to bear on the Post Office, the Post Office even refused to allow the Law Officers an official bag, and one of the consequences of that refusal on the part of the Post Office was the enormous sum of money this country had to pay in respect of the Alabama Claims, and the close prospect we had to face for some time of a war with that country. The letter containing the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown, which would have enabled the officials to stop the progress of the Alabama, was stolen, with the result that communications were made to the builders, and the vessel, whilst still unbuilt, left the builders' hands and sailed away during the night. All I would ask for is this—not that there would be a new Department formed, but that the opinion of the Law Officers should be at all times accessible to every other Department of the State. Every other Department has to depend upon the Law Officers for advice; consequently, the Law Officers, who have to give that advice, should be accessible to every Department. That is not the case at the present moment. When the Head of a Department requires legal advice, he does not go straight to the Law Officers, and say—"Tell me what I ought to do," but it takes days before a legal opinion can be obtained. It may be said that in making this proposition we have all precedent against us. I am aware that until lately there have been no claims made upon the Law Officers to perform their duties as they now perform them. The duties of the Law Officers have in recent years been greatly increased. At one time they were not expected to attend the House unless specially summoned. It was thought, in years gone by, that the Law Officers were so hardly worked in attending to their official duties that their presence should not be required in the House of Commons; consequently, unless sent for on special occasions, or to give a vote for the Government, they did not attend in their places. Well, notwithstanding what the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Buxton) has said with regard to there being too many lawyers in the House already, I must say that the most arduous attendants in the House of late years have been the Law Officers of the Crown. They have 960 to attend Standing Committees, and they have to be in attendance here in the House, and all this extra duty has been thrown upon them of late years, in addition to the legal functions they previously performed for the State. I now ask myself, if the first claim upon the Law Officers is that of the Public Service, how can the Public Service be best served? The Government should say to the Law Officers—"We ask you to be in attendance in the House, to give your advice at all times and under all circumstances; and we ask you to devote your energies to the Public Service, and the Public Service alone." We ought to ask the best men who can be obtained; and we ought, therefore, to take care that we do not lower the Office of Attorney General or Solicitor General, so as to make it unacceptable to the best men we can obtain. I cannot help entering a protest against comparisons being drawn between the position of Prime Minister and other Ministers and the Law Officers. Those who become Ministers, as a rule, give up nothing; they only receive their salary in addition to their previous income. But the case of the Law Officer is very different, for he, before he accepts the position, if he is a worthy person to fill it, has a large private practice, and if the emoluments of the Office are considerably reduced we shall not get the best men to fill it. I do not think the Committee would wish anything to be done which would render it impossible for us to obtain the best men to fill the position of Law Officers of the Crown. My view, therefore, is—and I do not enter into details as to income—that the Law Officers would willingly seek the comparative repose, after years of contention and strife, which will be afforded by abstention from private work, if that abstention were made a condition of their appointment. I do not accept the view of those hon. Gentlemen who think that this arrangement would put the Law Officers out of touch with the Profession. I think those claims upon his services which required him to deal with contentious business would still keep him in full touch with his Colleagues at the Bar; so that if this view I put forward be accepted, it seems to me that it will detract nothing from the estimation in which the Law Officer of the Crown will be held at the Bar. It seems to me 961 that the position will be more highly esteemed, and still more valued by members of our Profession, if it is felt that the Law Officers are removed from the ordinary strifes of forensic life, and are made almost the arbiters of the administration of justice. I may say, in conclusion, that although I am thoroughly aware of the great power and capacity of my predecessors and successors to discharge a large amount of work, yet I think the suggestion I made should be accepted; although, of course, I would not desire any arrangement to be made in the future to apply to the present Legal Advisers of the Government.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir RICHARD WEBSTER) (Isle of Wight)
I did not intend to intervene in the general discussion on this Vote at this stage. I only rise to correct a slight misapprehension which has been occasioned by the misinterpretation of some observations which I made last year. I am as opposed to the formation of a new Department as the noble Lord behind me (Lord Randolph Churchill), or as the right hon. and learned Member for Bury (Sir Henry James); and what I said on the last occasion was this: I pointed to the fact that there are no official clerks of any sort or kind in connection with the Law Officers' business; and that the Law Officer has to rely on the consideration and personal kindness of his Predecessor for ascertaining even what papers there may be. I pointed out that every Law Officer pays a very considerable sum, counted by hundreds, it may even be by four figures, for getting such assistance as is necessary to enable him to carry on his work; and what I suggested was not that any new Department should be formed, but that the Attorney General might well consent to a reduction of his salary in order to pay two or three ordinary clerks who should be handed on from Attorney General to Attorney General. No one who has occupied the office will deny that the greatest labour is imposed upon him, because he has not the opportunity of having even one clerk to assist him in doing his work. I said nothing last year from which it could be suggested that I take a different view on this matter to that of the noble Lord. I think that if there were some permanent ordinary clerks to do the work, there would be quite as much profit and 962 remuneration to the Law Officers as at present, and a better discharge of their public duties.
§ MR. P. STANHOPE (Wednesbury)
said, he was glad the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General agreed with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James) in thinking that there were some defects in the present system. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bury complained of the want of continuity in the work of the office; and he had, at all events, acquiesced in the view that the Law Officers of the Crown should confine their attention to Government business. This was a great advance in the views entertained by Gentlemen who had previously held the position of Law Officers of the Crown; and he could not help thinking that it was all the result of the debates which had taken place in that House. As to the remark made by the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill), that no definite case had been made out where the private practice of the Attorney General interfered with his public duties, he (Mr. Stanhope) had intended to make out such a case; but, in view of the proceedings which were taking place before certain Judges, he was unable to fully develop his contention in that direction. On some future occasion, however, he should have to call attention to proceedings now going on, and to point out that the action of the Attorney General, in regard to them, was absolutely at variance with his responsibilities and duties to the Crown. There was this to be said, which would not in any way reflect upon what was going on before the Commission to which he referred—namely, that it was a trial upon which the fate of Parties depended. It was, above all, a political trial; and that the Attorney General of this country should, in the exercise of his private practice, give to one side in that trial the sanction of his eminent official position was not a thing at all approved of by impartial public opinion. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bury thought it was necessary that they should pay large salaries, in order to obtain the highest legal talent for the service of the State. Well, he (Mr. Stanhope) could not agree or assent to that proposition. In the United States 963 of America they had an Attorney General who, so far as he was aware, was a man of great eminence, but for his duties he received a salary of only £1,600 a-year. In France, which was a country of considerable grandeur, and which was not given to financial economies, they had an officer corresponding to our Attorney General, who received only £1,400 a-year; and salaries on the same scale were given to the Law Officers of the Crown in Germany. Consequently, he could not conceive for one moment how it could be contended that we in England should consent to the payment of these large and bloated salaries in order to obtain the highest legal talent. Certain legal gentlemen had spoken in the course of the debate, who seemed to assume that it was an almost essential condition that an Attorney General, in order to hold that position, should be earning something like £20,000 a-year at the Bar; and, as a consequence, that the fitness of a man to be a Law Officer of the Crown was to be measured by the amount of his fees at the Bar. He regretted very much that they had arrived at that view of the Ministerial Offices in connection with the Legal Department of the State. He had hoped that, in view of the distinctions derived from official positions, we could get capable Legal Officers to perform the duties required of them for less than was at present paid; and he trusted that in saying that, the Attorney General would not suppose that he was casting any reflection upon him. He certainly, however, believed that capable gentlemen could be appointed to legal positions in the Government at a very large saving to the State. The noble Lord the Member for South Paddington seemed to infer that the proposition of his hon. Friend (Mr. Buxton) was one for the creation of a new Department—for a Ministry of Justice—which would lead to enormous expenditure. The noble Lord had pointed out that this would involve the creation of a number of new salaries, which would outweigh the aggregate of the salaries of the Attorney General and Solicitor General. He (Mr. Stanhope), however, would point out that the Attorney General and the Solicitor General were not the only officers in connection with the Legal Departments of the Government. Almost 964 every particular Department had got either a counsel or a solicitor connected with it. When he went into this question last year, he had been able to show that fees were paid to various legal gentlemen other than the Law Officers of the Crown, amounting to hundreds of thousands a year. Consequently, he ventured to say that, by a re-arrangement of the Legal Department of the State, and by having at the head of it efficient officers at less exaggerated salaries than those at present paid, who would give their whole time to the Public Service, they would have much better and much more satisfactory results than those attending the present arrangement. He had already said that it would have been his desire to have criticised at some length the action of the Attorney General in "another place;" but, it appeared to him, that it would be better to do so when those proceedings were closed, and when it would be possible to go into a fuller development of this important matter.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)
said, he thought the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Buxton) must be highly gratified at the course this debate had taken. Perhaps after the observations which had been made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James) and the Attorney General, he would hardly think that the Committee was prepared to follow him in the precise line in which he had put his Motion on the Paper. The main thing they had to secure was the best possible legal services which could be obtained for the State. It would be a penny wise and pound foolish policy to look for a reduction in the salaries of the Law Officers of the Crown. As he understood from the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bury, if a nominal reduction were proposed he would be able to vote for it, as indicating that it would be well if one or both of the Law Officers of the Crown were restricted to their public duties and debarred from public practice. He (Mr. Illingworth) thought that would be an eminently satisfactory advance in the consideration of this great subject; and he, for one, would make an earnest appeal to his hon. Friend (Mr. Buxton) to withdraw his Motion, and move a nominal reduction for that purpose, and 965 not for the double purpose as contained in the Motion as it stood.
§ Mr. SYDNEY BUXTON
said, that if the Committee would allow him to withdraw the Motion, he would move that the Vote be reduced by the nominal sum of £5. That would be the course he should like to follow; but he had understood that as he had put his Motion down in certain terms he was obliged to move it in those terms. If the Committee would allow the matter to be put as a matter of principle, in that way many hon. Members, no doubt, would be glad of the opportunity of voting for it. As to what had fallen from the Attorney General, he (Mr. Buxton) had stated that all the hon. and learned Gentleman suggested last year was that a clerk or two should be provided to assist him in carrying on his work. He (Mr. Buxton) did not think it would be desirable to create a large public Department; and as to his reference to the number of lawyers in the House, he had only made it jocularly, and had not intended the Committee to take it so seriously.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. MATTHEWS) (Birmingham, E.)
I should like to say a word or two before the Motion is withdrawn. We have had a very interesting debate, which has wandered altogether from the proposition originally made, which was that a reduction should be effected in this Vote for the reason that the Law Officers of the Crown are paid too highly, and also as indicating the opinion of the Committee that these officers should give up their private practice. I listened with great attention to what fell from such an experienced lawyer as the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James), and I also listened with attention to what fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) and others; but I do not propose to discuss in detail what fell from them on this occasion. I do, however, want to draw attention to one point—to a question which requires the fullest debate and discussion. Why was it that the right hon. and learned Member for Bury retained his office for six or seven years; and why was it that he 966 remained to the last an efficient and valuable Law Officer, able to maintain his position for his Party against the numerous lawyers in the House? It was largely because the right hon. and learned Gentleman has never lost touch of legal practice and procedure—that he continued in that daily conflict with the most eminent men at the Bar, which had originally given him his position. To decide such a question as this—namely, whether private practice is to be allowed to the Law Officers of the Crown or not, in a moment of caprice, of transitory and irregular discussion, would be exceedingly rash on the part of the Committee. Let the Committee consider the sort of questions upon which the Law Officers have to advise. Every day, in my own Department, I am continually seeking the advice of the Law Officers of the Crown. They must have a perfect knowledge of, and familiarity with, the course of judicial decisions and the constantly growing law, to be able to give their advice on the variety of points that arise, and such knowledge is not to be obtained by reading. If the Law Officers of the Crown were not in constant touch with the law as administered in the Courts from day to day, they would not be able to advise the Crown as they did. If the Law Officers were prevented from taking part in cases heard before the House of Lords, and in other Courts, the advice they would be able to give to the Government for legislative purposes would lose considerably in value. If Parliament were to deter its official lawyers from doing what they did now, and keeping themselves in constant touch with the practice of our Law Courts, the consequence would be detrimental to the Service. I do not urge these arguments as decisive—I do not mean to urge that they outweigh those offered on the other side—but all I wish to say is, that if you do prohibit your lawyers from private practice you are entering upon an entirely new path, and you will have Law Officers of an entirely different kind in the future. Of course the public business of the Law Officers of the Crown was their primary duty, and everybody was agreed that no private business should be taken except when the public practice was satisfied to the last item of demand. In his opinion it would be a very grave 967 change in the Office if, instead of having a tried lawyer familiar with the course of judicial decisions and constantly growing law, they were to substitute a man less in touch with the outside world and with the opinions of others. To deprive themselves of such an advantage would, in his opinion, be very unfortunate. He was now simply pointing out that the Government could not consent to a substantial or nominal reduction of the Vote.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item A, Salaries of the Law Officers, be reduced by £5."—(Mr. Sydney Buxton.)
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said, it seemed to him that the Committee had made a mistake in assenting to the withdrawal of a Motion for a substantial reduction of the Vote and substituting one for this miserable £5. He had not yet discovered from any announcement made from the Treasury Bench what the Government intended to do. His hon. Friend's complaint was that the Attorney General received too much salary, considering that he did not give up all his time for the amount of that salary. It had been suggested by other Members of the House that the Attorney General should not have any private practice; but they had not heard from the Government, or from any official source, that it was proposed to meet the suggestion made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James). As matters stood now, the Attorney General received £11,500 per annum, besides which he had a very extensive private practice. They know that the Attorney General was at present engaged in the case before the Special Commission. He would not ask him precisely what he got in the case, but he was sure a gentleman of his talents, having regard to the fees of lawyers, would have a very handsome remuneration. At any rate, this case was going on from half-past 10 in the morning until 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and he presumed that the Attorney General not only received his fee, but, according to professional practice, a daily refresher also, and in that case 968 he presumed he would consider it his duty to be present in the Court every day. On the supposition that the Attorney General received 100 guineas a-day, and taking the period during which this Commission would sit as 25 weeks, the Attorney General would receive, besides his very handsome salary for doing the business of the country, 10,000 guineas. Let them double that amount and they would see what the Attorney General could get. They were told by the Home Secretary that the Attorney General was in touch with his "mother earth." As far as he could understand it, the Home Secretary meant, that if he did not engage in contentious business, he would lose touch with the public. But he was engaged in contentious business; he received £7,000 per annum as Attorney General, and the rest came from the contentious business in which he was employed, and it seemed to him that it would be infinitely better if they were to come to some arrangement and obtain from the Government an assurance that the Attorney General should have a definite salary as Attorney General—that he should be employed in the contentious business of the Government, but that in no case should he have any private practice. He did not wish to go into the case of the Commission, but the Attorney General must know that his position was a thoroughly false one. His position was false from being both a Law Officer of the Crown and also counsel in a case in which the Government was interested, but which was also a private suit on the part of an individual. He should like to have a substantial reduction of the Vote, because, as it at present stood, the Attorney General was receiving his salary for only a portion of his time; but having given up the idea of a substantial reduction, the Committee ought to understand whether the Government accepted the proposition that the Attorneys General should be simply and solely Law Officers of the Crown, receiving salaries on that account, and that they should not be allowed to undertake private practice. If some arrangement of that kind were come to he did not think it would be necessary for his hon. Friend to divide the Committee.
§ MR. SYDNEY GEDGE (Stockport)
said, that if this were a Party question he would not rise from those Benches to express his hope that the Government 969 would accede to the proposition before them. If it were a Party question its supporters would naturally be those who sat on the Speakers' right, as the present Law Officers would not be affected, and their successors would, though at some distant date, be taken from the Opposition. The great advantage of the Law Officers of the Crown confining their attention to the business of the Crown had been shown by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James) to be in the continuity of the work, but two objections had been made to the proposal. It was said, in the first place, that we should not get the best men for the office, but he did not think it inconceivable that we should be able to get the best men for the salary of £7,000 a-year, besides a good deal more for contentious business as well as a good deal of Patronage and an absolute certainty of promotion. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had also urged that the Government would not get such sound advice from an Attorney General who was not continually engaged in contentious business. But his fees amounted on an average to £4,500 a-year, which sum, as the Government paid low fees, represents contentious business to a much larger amount. Now, were they to believe that no counsel could be trusted to give sound advice unless his income from contentious business largely exceeded £4,500 a-year? There had been great objection made to the Judge Advocate General, who had not much official work to do, taking private practice, and if the objection held in one case, it held still more forcibly in the other. He must express his regret that his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General held a brief in the case before the Commission; he thought it a great misfortune for the Government that he should do so, and he knew that this opinion was held by many Members on that side of the House, because it was generally supposed in the constituencies that it was the Government and not The Times which was conducting the prosecution.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
said that the proposition before the Committee was that they should come to a resolution which should prohibit future occupants of the Offices of Attorney General and Solicitor Gene- 970 ral from taking private practice. The Committee would see that the Government, so far as the present occupants of these Offices and themselves were concerned, might accept that proposition at the hands of a future Government with comparative equanimity. This question had been raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Henry H. Fowler) and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) in 1866, and the conditions on which the Law Officers were to hold their Offices were expressed in a Treasury Minute issued in that year.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
said, that was with reference to a dispute which had arisen with respect to the terms of the arrangement. The right hon. Member for Derby and himself settled that question in the interest, as they supposed, of the Government and the public, but there was no reconsideration of the whole question.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, the position of the Law Officers of the Crown was examined into at that time, and a determination was arrived at, and it did not appear to these right hon. Gentlemen to be desirable to make any change in the status of the Law Officers. He had said that if they were regardless of their duty to the country, and the best method of carrying on the business of the country, the Government might accept at once a proposition of this kind, but he thought they would be to blame if they did so without examination. The Government would of course have to examine a proposal of that kind very closely with reference to what they believed to be the permanent interests of the country in the course of the next two months, and they would hereafter state the conclusions at which they had arrived. In these circumstances he thought the Committee would feel that the Government would not be justified in making any such promise of so serious a change as that now proposed affecting the future government of the country; and he, therefore, trusted that the hon. Member would withdraw his Amendment on the assurance he had given.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
said, it seemed to him that the course proposed by the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly reasonable, and that they could not expect Gentlemen opposite at once to fall in with the proposal 971 which his hon. Friend the Member for the Poplar Division of the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Buxton) had presented to the Committee. But he believed that the right hon. Gentleman would have gathered from all that has fallen from hon. Members on that side, and upon his own side of the House, that there was a very general and strong opinion in favour of preventing the Law Officers of the Crown carrying on their private business. On the understanding that the Government gave their serious and careful consideration to the proposal to be made next year, he would advise his hon. Friend to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. BERNARD COLERIDGE (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
said, he rose to Move the reduction of the Vote by £1,000 for the purpose of calling attention to a case of hardship on prisoners who had been unjustly convicted, and who had suffered wrongful imprisonment, and whose case he desired should have further investigation at the hands of the proper authorities. On the 13th of January, 1879, about half-past 5 in the evening, three men were near a farm in the county of Northumberland, standing by that farm were three persons of the name of Robson—a farmer, his son, and his brother; there had been shots heard and three men arrived within sight of the three Robsons; they walked in the direction, of the Robsons, who thereupon followed them, and they were joined by a man named George Ware, his wife, two daughters and a son. These having collected into a knot of nine people, the three men thereupon walked off, and the question was whether the Robsons should follow the three men and take the gun from them. Words passed, and upon the Robsons attempting to follow the men, the one who had the gun shot in the direction of the group of people, killing one of them and severely wounding several others; the men got off and were not seen again that night; but three persons were apprehended on that charge, named Walford, Hardwick, and Morgan, and who lived eight miles away from the farm where the crime had been committed. They were confronted with the Robsons, and when so con- 972 fronted the Robsons identified them, the Magistrates committed them for trial, and they were tried at the Assizes at Newcastle on the 24th April, 1879.
said, he would ask the hon. and learned Gentleman in what way the circumstances he was relating were connected with the present Vote.
§ MR. BERNARD COLERIDGE
said, he understood that the Vote was for criminal prosecutions and quasi-criminal proceedings. The object of his remarks was to induce an investigation in the form of quasi-criminal proceedings in the case of these men.
said, it was possible the question might be raised on the Vote for the Home Secretary's Office, but it could not be raised on the present Vote.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. MATTHEWS) (Birmingham, E.)
said, if the hon. and learned Member would lay before him in private the facts of the case, the subject should be attended to.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
said, this Vote had been challenged year after year, and defended by the Representatives of the Treasury for the time being; the same objections had been taken, and the same arguments had been urged in defence of the officials responsible. He could only call to mind one Secretary to the Treasury who had recognized the force of the objections urged against the Vote.
§ MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
said, he had put down a Notice to move the reduction of the income of the Director of Public Prosecutions in order to call attention to the action of the Department. It was far from his intention to make anything in the nature of a personal attack upon the very valuable public servant who filled this post, but it seemed to him that during the past year there had been some actions on the part of the Department to which, in the public interests, attention ought to be called. The News- 973 paper Libel Act of 1881 provided that no criminal prosecution for libel against a newspaper could take place without a fiat of the Director of Public Prosecutions being first obtained. He had noticed that that fiat had been given very indiscriminately—in fact he had been under the impression that the fiat was issued as a matter of course. It appeared, however, that this was not the case. Sir Augustus Stephenson had shown that this charge could not be maintained. The question, therefore, was as to whether the discretion of the Department had been exercised with reasonable care. He had been greatly astonished by one case, and that was the issue, by Sir Augustus Stephenson, of a fiat with reference to the proceedings against a newspaper in the case of "Wood v. Cox." In that case a newspaper had charged a somewhat well-known jockey with pulling horses; the jockey applied for a fiat and raised proceedings. In reply to a question asked by himself, the right hon. Gentleman opposite stated that the Director of Public Prosecutions granted a fiat when he considered that the libel affected the public and was calculated to disturb the peace of the community, and that those conditions were in this case satisfied. It appeared to him (Mr. Pickersgill) that where a jockey was charged in this way these conditions were not satisfied, and he was confirmed in his opinion by the remarks of the Lord Chief Justice himself in the course of the trial, who said that with regard to the action of the Public Prosecutor he could only lift up his hands in respectful astonishment. There had been other cases in which he submitted that the fiat of the Public Prosecutor had been improperly accorded. It had been his intention to go into those cases at some length, but he did not think it would be necessary for him to do that on the present occasion, because the Committee might perhaps be aware that a Bill was passing through Parliament which proposed to transfer the power of granting the fiat in these cases from the Director of Public Prosecutions to the Attorney General. He believed that the Bill was likely to meet with general approval in the House, and as the power of the Public Prosecutor in this respect would most likely be taken away from him very soon, the remarks which he had made on this sub- 974 ject would perhaps be considered sufficient. A short time ago he had asked a Question in that House with regard to some bogus Companies and trusts; he had inquired as to why the Director of Public Prosecutions, whose attention had been called to the matter, had not taken any action. Since then a correspondence which had passed between the editor of The Statist and the Director of Public Prosecutions had been published, to portions of which correspondence he wished to refer. It appeared that in July last the editor of The Statist drew the attention of the Director of Public Prosecutions to the case of two bogus Companies, and the editor stated that there were substantial documents to proceed upon; he had the report of the liquidators, a copy of which he (Mr. Pickersgill) understood had been forwarded to the Treasury. The editor said in his letter that the liquidators' report fully confirmed the matters investigated and made public; that it showed a vast conspiracy, and that the conspirators had succeeded in obtaining hundreds of thousand pounds from their victims. A reply was sent to the effect that the City Solicitor had authority to commence a prosecution; that as soon as he had the necessary information he would proceed to do so, and that the Director of Public Prosecutions had given him all the information in his possession. In reply to this the editor wrote that he was not referring to the same affair, but that what he wished to bring before the notice of the Public Prosecutor were the misdeeds of a number of other persons. A reply was sent from the Director of Public Prosecutions to the effect that he had communicated with the City Solicitor, who acknowledged the receipt of his letter, which would be taken into consideration by him in connection with other papers in the cases which were already before him. He (Mr. Pickersgill) did not pretend to say, because he had not seen the documents, whether there was sufficient evidence upon which a prosecution might have been undertaken. His complaint was, that having a certain duty imposed upon him by Statute, the Director of Public Prosecutions had chosen to delegate the performance of that duty to another person of whom the Statute took no cognizance whatever. It seemed to him that it was the duty of the Public Pro- 975 secutor himself, which he could not delegate, to investigate the whole of the cases and to determine whether or not there was matter for prosecution, and that certainly he had failed in the performance of his duty in referring the matter to the City Solicitor.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item H be reduced by £1,000, part of the Salary of the Director of Public Prosecutions."—(Mr. Pickersgill.)
§ MR. MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)
said, before his right hon. Friend replied to the questions of the hon. Member who had just sat down, he would ask what had been done with regard to the stopping the sale of impure literature? They had received a definite pledge at the end of last Session, and they thanked the Government heartily for the prosecution that had taken place, and they trusted that this policy would be pressed upon them by the public. He could tell the Committee than an immense quantity of impure literature still floated about the streets of our large cities. Only a few days ago, in Liverpool, two men were taken up for selling Zola's novels, but instead of being punished, they were fined a small sum by the magistrates and were allowed to go free almost without any check. Even in the City of London booksellers were in the habit of selling, in defiance of the law, books and publications which were in their very nature most offensive and injurious to the morals of the young as welt as others. Magistrates only imposed a slight fine, whereas, in his opinion, the offence was worthy of imprisonment. If a stop could be placed on this flood of impurity circulated through the towns and rural districts, he felt satisfied that it would do an enormous amount of good, and he felt sure his right hon. Friend would feel it to be necessary that vigorous methods should be taken to prevent these publications.
§ MR. DONALD CRAWFORD (Lanark, N.E.)
said, he hoped before the Committee came to a decision on a proposal to reduce the salary of the Public Prosecutor, the Government would give some information with regard to his duties, because unless more information was supplied than they were in possession of, he ventured to say that he 976 should not only vote for a reduction by £1,000, but by a much larger sum. It might be that the information which he now asked for was accessible in some form or other, but he believed there were not three Members of the House of Commons who could give any reasonable, intelligent, and satisfactory account of the duties of the Public Prosecutor. He was much startled by the amount of the salary which the House of Commons was asked to give for this Department. The personal salary of the head of the office was £3,000 per annum; there were three Assistant Solicitors at £1,500 a-year each, who enjoyed, he might remark, a larger salary than the Heads of the Departments of the Board of Trade. There was a principal assistant with a maximum salary of £1,200, and six other assistants at a maximum salary of £900. He submitted that this was a very bloated and wholly unjustifiable expenditure unless they were told that the duties of the Public Prosecutor were of a more valuable kind than the Committee had reason to suppose. In every other Department there was a general understanding among the public as to what the duties were; but, speaking for himself, and, he believed, expressing the opinion of the public generally, he had no idea of what were the duties of this Department. He might compare this state of things with the arrangement made in Scotland with regard to a similar subject, and he would not have brought this matter before the Committee unless he thought it a subject which ought to be somewhat reconsidered. They had in Scotland a Criminal Department, and every man knew that if a crime were committed by which he was injured, whether great or small, it was the duty of the Public Prosecutor at once to take the case off his hands and prosecute it to a conclusion without a farthing of expense to the person injured. All that was done at a very moderate outlay. The cost of the Lord Advocate's Department amounted to a little more than £11,000 a-year, which included his salary and that of the Solicitor General, and although their public duties as Law Advisers of the Crown were by no means so important or responsible as those of their brethren in this country, still they were important, and they had the whole responsibility for public prosecutions 977 besides. Then, again, in Scotland there was the sum of nearly £26,000 which provided for local Public Prosecutors in every part of the country, and accordingly in every locality where crime was committed it was at once treated as a public concern and prosecuted. He said if a similar system could prevail in England the country would not grudge a large expenditure upon it. It was this system which commanded the complete confidence of the public in Scotland; it was satisfactory in its operation, and the protection afforded by the system might be one reason why in certain of the more serious descriptions of crime Scotland compared favourably with England. Statistics showed in these a startling disproportion between England and Scotland, taking into consideration the numbers of population, and these figures were not to be attributed in any degree to the manners or character of the people, but mainly or exclusively to the superior system which existed in Scotland for the detection and prosecution of crime. If the Scotch system were introduced into this country, he believed that the expenditure would be comparatively small. That, however, was not at this moment the point at issue. As he had said, if there existed in England a system under which the work was done which was expected to be done, the public would be ready to pay for it; but if it were true that there were not three Members of the House of Commons who knew what the duties of the Public Prosecutor were, or knew under what circumstances they would be entitled to apply for his assistance, then he said that these large salaries, which implied exceedingly high responsibility on the part of the public officials, were improperly paid, and he had no doubt that it was the duty of the Committee to endeavour to reduce them.
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON (Dundee)
said, he would ask the right hon. Gentleman to supplement the information asked for by his bon. Friend in one particular. This Department of the Civil Service was unlike the rest of the Service, inasmuch as it was distinctly of a professional character. There were in it one solicitor, three assistant solicitors, one principal assistant, and six other assistants; and, in addition to these, there were 20 clerks. He asked, with reference to the three assistant solicitors, 978 the principal assistant and the six others, what were their professional qualifications; how they were appointed to the Office? On the first blush, the whole arrangement was extraordinary; and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be able to tell the Committee how the Government proceeded in filling up the appointments to this very important Office.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
said, in answer to the last Question, he thought the hon. Gentleman would find all the information asked for in the Report of the Committee which was appointed by the Treasury last year. The Solicitor to the Treasury was, he believed, originally a barrister, but practised afterwards as a solicitor; Mr. Cuffe was a barrister, and the other assistants, he thought, were solicitors. Several officials in the Department had been transferred from others, and should consequently be considered rather as members of the Civil Service than as belonging to the Legal Profession. He might say that before the present system was organised there were separate Offices at the Board of Works, the Admiralty, and the War Office, which cost the country a considerable sum of money, and all the work of these Offices had been handed over to Sir Augustus Stephenson, while the greater part of the charge which appeared now upon the Estimate was amalgamated. Notwithstanding the abolition of the Office separately held up to that time, the only addition made to Sir Augustus Stephenson's salary was £500; his salary previous to that was one rising from £2,000 to £2,500, and it was increased to the extent he had mentioned in respect of additional work. The hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Donald Crawford) had alluded to the Scotch system, of which he could not speak too highly, with regard to public prosecutions. But he would ask the hon. Member also to refer to the Report just mentioned in which he would find the fullest information. The Committee was a strong one; it was presided over by the right hon. and learned Member for Bury (Sir Henry James), and included Lord Justice Bowen and Mr. John Hollams, solicitor.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
said, that question could be better answered by the Secretary to the Treasury. In reply to the hon. Member for Kirkcudbright (Mr. Mark Stewart), he could only repeat what he had said on a previous occasion—namely, that he would gladly institute prosecutions in the cases of sale of obscene and sometimes seditious literature when he could feel sure that more good than harm would be done by inquiry, the effect of which in the case of an obscene print in a back slum of London would be, perhaps, to send hundreds to buy what would otherwise be forgotten. The consideration had ever withheld him that it would be highly inexpedient to invest the sale of such things with, as it were, the dignity of a public trial at the Assizes, and to incur the delay, the expense, and publicity involved. If they could, on the other hand, seize the whole stock of such publications, and throw them into the sewers, it would be a very good remedy; but hon. Members opposite would object to such measures, and he could not complain of their objection, because such a course of proceedings undoubtedly involved dangers of another kind. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Pickersgill) had referred to the Wood libel case. The hon. Gentleman would readily admit that very great public interest was excited in the case. Considering what large sums of money were at stake in matters on the race course, what a considerable portion of the people was interested in the honesty and integrity of jockeys, and what a great danger to the public peace on the race course there was if it was supposed a jockey pulled a horse, it would be granted that the matter assumed proportions of public interest sufficient to justify an inquiry. He did not say it was right; on the contrary, he rather shared the opinion of the hon. Member that it would have been better not to have granted an inquiry in the case. As he was on his legs, and the Director of Public Prosecutions had been criticized, he hoped he would be allowed to say, in justice to the Public Prosecutor, that that official discharged his duty with extraordinary ability and unflinching integrity in the interests of the public, and with nothing like Party bias or regard for political considerations. The present Public 980 Prosecutor did go as straight as any man could go. It had been complained that the Public Prosecutor did not prosecute more frequently, and the hon. Member for Bethnal Green suggested that the Public Prosecutor was at fault in not prosecuting the promoters of a certain bogus company. He would not pretend to give an answer, because he was not aware, of the details of the case; but it was, perhaps, as well he should enumerate the regulations which had been made for the guidance of the Public Prosecutor. The regulations were of but very recent date, and they were that the Public Prosecutor should only prosecute in cases in which the punishment was death, or when the offence was of a class in which the prosecutions had hitherto been taken by the Solicitor to the Treasury, or when he was ordered by the Secretary of State or the Attorney General to prosecute; or, lastly, where it appeared to him the offence, or the circumstances of its commission, were of such a character that a prosecution was required in the public interest and his action was necessary to secure a prosecution. The hon. Gentleman would see that the case of a bogus company was one in which no direct duty to prosecute lay on the Public Prosecutor.
§ MR. PICKERSGILL
said, that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had pleaded that he was not aware of the details of the case of the bogus company to which he (Mr. Pickersgill) had referred. That was an objection which was often raised in Committee of Supply. But in this particular case it seemed to him that a knowledge of the details of the case was not necessary, because he did not rely upon details, but upon the principle which was raised. A complaint of a conspiracy upon a large scale was laid before the Director of Public Prosecutions, by the editor of The Statist, accompanied by an official document, the Liquidators' Report, substantiating the complaint. The Director of Public Prosecutions replied that the subject of Abbott, Page and Co. was in the hands of the City Solicitor. If any information at all was in the possession of the Treasury Bench, the Committee ought to be told what were the circumstances under which authority was given to the City Solicitor in the case of Abbott, Page and Co. The editor of 981 The Statist then said it was not the delinquencies of Abbott, Page and Co. of which he complained, it was a separate fraud apart altogether from that of Abbott, Page and Co. To the second letter the reply was, "That the letter will shortly be taken into consideration by the City Solicitor." In spite of what the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had said, it did seem to him that, having regard to the fact that in this case it was City men who were implicated, it was not in accordance with ordinary prudence to leave the matter entirely in the hands of the City Solicitor, and in an affair of this magnitude the duty lay upon the Public Prosecutor himself of forming au opinion upon the subject; and he could not but think that official neglected his duty in handing the letter over to the City Solicitor. So much with regard to that particular case. He desired to add a word or two with reference to the other matter he brought forward—namely,the case in which the fiat of the Director of Public Prosecutions was granted under the Newspaper Libel Act of 1881. He felt that a single case would not have justified him in preparing a complaint against a great Public Official, but the case which he mentioned in some detail was not the only case there was. He had the particulars of a largo number of cases, in some of which Judges had expressed very strong opinions, that a criminal prosecution ought not to have been commenced upon such a libel, and in other cases juries had expressed similar opinions. He did not think it was worth while now to refer in detail to those cases, because it was proposed by the Libel Amendment Bill, which was now before the House, to transfer the function to the Attorney General. He thought it ought never to have been put into the hands of any legal functionary of a less exalted position than the Attorney General. He would be glad, in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, if the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Home Department (Mr. Stuart-Wortley) would give the Committee some further information with regard to the circumstances under which, in the case of those Trusts and also in the case of Abbott, Page and Co., authority was given to the City Solicitor to prosecute, instead of the prosecution re- 982 maining at the Treasury and under the direct supervision and control of the Statutory Officer, namely, the Director of Public Prosecutions.
§ MR. GROTRIAN (Hull, E.)
said, that during the discussion upon this Vote some reference had been made to the Report of the Committee appointed to inquire into the system of conducting the legal business of the Government, but he had not gathered from the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary whether the Government had taken, or intended to take, any action upon the Report of that Committee. The Report was a most valuable one, and he thought that the public would be more satisfied if the Government, which, he admitted, was a reforming and an economical Government, would add to their list of reforms a reform in this Department. One paragraph of the Report was as follows:—Your Lordships will observe from the evidence that all contentious business of a civil character, both in common law and equity, is conducted, not by the Treasury Solicitor's Department, but by agents employed for that purpose. Such agents receive one-half of the sum chargeable for costs beyond all disbursements. The average profits received by them during the last ten years was £3,599 11s.He did not quite see the necessity to employ agents outside the staff. The necessity did not arise owing to insufficiency of staff, because he found that in another paragraph of the Report the Committee stated—That the staff of the Solicitor's Department is decidedly in excess of what is necessary in order to perform the professional duties discharged by it.If that be so, why go outside and pay large sums of money to agents for conducting the civil and contentious business of the Department? He could quite understand that in the provinces it might possibly be, and very likely was, advantageous and economical to employ agents rather than that members of the staff should be sent down, but he understood that contentious business in London was discharged, not by the staff, not by the solicitors of the Department, but by agents engaged for the purpose. If that were so there was a real opportunity here for some reform. This was the Department in which a little while ago some of the contentious matter appeared to be whether cabs should be employed by messengers. There were seven messengers attached to the De- 983 partment; and he understood that when a question arose as to hiring of a cab, a personal interview was necessary between the messengers and Sir A. K. Stephenson, the head of the Department. There appeared to be in this Department a straining at very small gnats and a swallowing of enormous camels. Surely the time occupied by the interview might have been better employed. He hoped the Government would give the Committee an assurance that the Report of the Select Committee, a Committee composed of gentlemen of very great eminence and experience, would not only receive attention, but be acted upon.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
said, that the hon. Member for East Hull (Mr. Grotrian) had anticipated a point which he (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) rose earlier in the evening to make. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had referred to the Report of the Committee which had just been made the subject of remark. Having read the Report of the Committee, he could not, while the right hon. Gentleman was speaking, fail to admire the right hon. Gentleman's superb and sublime audacity, because the Report—which the right hon. Gentleman referred to so glibly as sufficient to answer all the observations made with regard to this particular Office—was of itself more than sufficient to condemn the Office in whole and in part. The Committee was appointed under a Treasury Minute dated the 11th July, 1887. In that Minute the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer called the attention of the Treasury to the Report of a Committee which sat previously to 1875 on the system of conducting the legal business of the Government, and he pointed out that since that year, in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee, a number of Legal Departments in other Offices, such as the War Office, the Admiralty, and the Office of Works, had been agglomerated in the Office of the Solicitor to the Treasury. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer went on to point out that the circumstances in which the successive steps were taken had not hitherto permitted any final regulation of the central establishment, but he thought that the limit of consolidation had been reached, and that the time had 984 come to attempt to define permanently the duties of the several offices, and to determine the conditions of appointment, number, classification, pay, and duties of the staff required in future for the consolidated Department. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was of opinion that the inquiry would afford a favourable opportunity for considering whether any changes were desirable in the rules or customs which then governed the selection and payment of counsel employed in the various classes of Government legal business. Thereupon the Lords of the Treasury appointed a Committee; and he did not think the House would hesitate for a moment to accept whatever might be the unanimous conclusions of a Committee constituted as that was. The members of the Committee were:—Sir Henry James, Lord Justice Bowen, Mr. Henry H. Fowler, Mr. Frank Mowatt—a principal clerk in the Treasury—and Mr. John Hollams. What was the Report which the Committee made? These were the two points—The staff of the Solicitor's Department is decidedly in excess of what is necessary to perform the professional duties discharged by it;And, secondly,That many of the members of the staff are paid higher salaries than are necessary.He doubted very much if there ever was a Report of a Committee more sweeping, more uncompromising, more absolute than that. There was too large a staff, and the members of that staff were too highly paid. What better ground could the Committee of Supply have for insisting upon a reduction of the Estimate which was submitted by the Government. This Estimate was framed in December, 1887. The Committee reported on the 8th of June, 1888. The Government had had five months to digest the Report. They presumably were not aware of the character of the Department for which they had provided in their Estimate. They were now enlightened. The Committee had informed the Treasury that the Legal Department of the Treasury was over-manned, and that, over-manned as it was, it was also individually over-paid, and yet the Government submitted to the House, five months after the date of the Report, this Vote in its integrity. They had not had a single word from the 985 Government, although the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had spoken as to their intention to reduce this Vote, already condemned by so authoritative a tribunal as that they themselves constituted. Who were the witnesses before the Committee? The first was Sir Augustus Stephenson himself; the next was the Hon. H. Cuffe, an assistant solicitor; and the third was Mr. Chance, an assistant solicitor; and then came Lord Lingen, an ex-Treasury official; Sir Reginald Welby, a present Treasury official; Mr. Wakefield, the Clerk of Accounts in the Treasury Solicitor's Department. The only witnesses who were not Treasury officials were Mr. Mason, the Solicitor to the London and North-Western Railway Company; Mr. J. C. Fox, cue of the partners in the firm of Messrs. Hare and Co., solicitors, the agents to the Treasury Solicitor; and Mr. Justice Wills. More than two-thirds of the witnesses were actually interested parties, officials of the Treasury itself. There were only two really independent witnesses; one was a Judge and the other a Solicitor to a Railway Company. Having heard evidence from that limited class of witnesses, the Committee absolutely condemned the Department in most uncompromising terms as over-manned and as over-paid. And yet this Vote was submitted to the Committee of Supply without any suggestion from the only Member of the Government who had addressed the House of the least intention on the part of the Treasury to reduce the figures. Another very curious point about the Report was, that it enumerated all the officers who were employed in the Legal Department of the Treasury; it gave not only their numbers but their names and their rates of pay, and he found that the numbers did not agree with the numbers set forth in the Vote. There were 31 effective officers named in the Report; there were only 28 provided for in the Vote. The Vote showed a total of £18,493; the Report submitted in June, 1888—that was since the Vote was presented—showed that the total to be expended was £21,702. In other words the Report of the Committee, who had the most detailed information up to date, varies from the figures of the Estimate by no less a sum than £3,000, and in point of strength of staff the Report 986 showed 31 officers as against 28 provided for by the Vote. The Committee's Report contained some very curious observations. The Committee reported that they were of opinion—That the principal injurious effects to which your Committee refer are, that if the persons so employed are possessed of vested interests or claims, the Solicitor to the Treasury has no immediate control over them: he cannot procure their dismissal without the commission by them of acts of gross misconduct, and he is hampered in securing, from time to time, the assistance of persons of ability and industrious habits.What did that mean? Did it mean that the present staff of the Legal Department of the Treasury were not persons of ability and industrious habits; and if it did not mean that, what on earth did it mean? And if it did mean that, where was the authority of the Central Department of the Treasury in a case where persons in an over-grown and over-paid Establishment were indirectly referred to in a Report of such authority as this, as persons wanting in ability and industrious habits? He supposed there was not a Department of a single Civil Service in the world where persons who were wanting in necessary ability and industrious habits could be continued in their employment on full pay, in an Office which was manifestly and admittedly over-manned and over-paid, except the Treasury Department of the English Civil Service. As had been already pointed out, all contentious business in the Legal Department was conducted, not by the Treasury Solicitor himself, but by outsiders, agents employed for the purpose and the Committee reported—That as soon as there are members of the staff capable of conducting causes of a contentious character, the business now performed by the Treasury agents, Messrs. Hare & Co., should be carried on within the Department, under the direct supervision of the Treasury Solicitor. In making this recommendation your Committee desire to expressly state that they are in no way condemning the manner in which Messrs. Hare have conducted the business of the Treasury; and it may be worthy of consideration, if any reconstruction of the Solicitor's Department be effected in the future, whether the services of some of those who have hitherto so conducted that business may not be utilized.A very good and practical suggestion. The outsiders who had been doing the contentious work of the Treasury knew their business. They were not mere red-tapeists, not mere clerks whose prin- 987 cipal concern was to know how to shunt as much as possible of the daily routine business on some Department other than their own, or on to some members of the Department other than themselves. Messrs. Hare & Co. and those they employed, being in active business, and surrounded with the daily energy and excitement of public and open competition, knew their work, and they did their work, no doubt, very admirably. But what the Treasury wanted was such men on their own staff, and not a number of persons wanting in ability and industrious habits. The Committee went on to say—It is difficult to define the exact number of persons required to discharge the duties of the Department; but, as far as they can judge, your Committee are of opinion that if the Department were now to be established for the first time, it should consist of the Solicitor, who should perform the duties now discharged by Sir A. K. Stephenson, and three Assistant Solicitors;"—They had Assistant Solicitors now; but what their qualifications were it might be invidious to say—Five clerks possessing qualifications similar to those possessed by managing clerks in a London solicitor's office;"—What a sweeping condemnation of the whole system which at present prevailed at the Treasury—And such number of other clerks as may be found necessary to discharge the labours of the Office.Then they came to something more in the nature of details. The three Assistant Solicitors were now receiving salaries of £1,500 a-year each, and the Committee were of opinion that those Solicitors should receive salaries varying from £1,500 to £1,000 a-year. They were also of opinion that five clerks should be paid salaries varying from £600 to £300 a-year, those salaries being at the present time nearly double. The Committee only reported upon these subjects to which he had referred. The subject upon which they did not report was the question of the changes which were desirable in the rules or customs which at present governed the selection and payment of the Counsel employed in the various classes of Government legal business. It was not clear that it was the intention of the Treasury that that should be taken in hand, inquired into, 988 and reported upon. The hon. Gentle man the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Jackson) had stated that he had some answer to make to an inquiry addressed to him on this Vote, and he (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) was inclined to suspect that the hon. Gentleman's answer would probably be limited to those points on which he had previously dwelt. It would be interesting, however, to know whether the Treasury meant to deal with that question as to which the Committee had not reported. It was perfectly plain that this Department was ridiculously over-manned and ridiculously over-paid. His hon. Friend (Mr. Pickersgill) had moved a reduction of the Vote by £1,000; but placing the most liberal interpretation upon the Report of the Committee, it was evident that the reduction of £1,000 was one which would be entirely inadequate. For want of a better Motion, however, he (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) would certainly vote with the hon. Member if he went to a Division. He thought that the Committee would see, from the extracts of the Reports he had read, that some radical or thorough reform ought to be taken in hand and pushed to immediate realization in the present financial year. If that were done, it would be found that the Vote, as now submitted to Parliament, was really unnecessary.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. JACKSON) (Leeds, N.)
I will begin, not only by repudiating on behalf of the Government any blame which the Committee may be disposed to allot, but also by claiming from the Committee credit to the Government for having inaugurated the Committee which furnished the food for this discussion. It was because the Government were of opinion that the time had arrived when a complete and searching inquiry should be made into the condition of the Office in question, that they decided to appoint a Committee. Therefore, I shall claim for the Government every credit for the economy which resulted from the step thus taken. The Government were most anxious that they should, on that inquiry, obtain the services of men who would warrant the description the hon. Member for East Donegal (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) has given of it, and that they should have an authoritative expression of opinion. 989 They were, therefore, most careful in their selection of men to serve on the Committee, and they were exceedingly obliged to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Henry H. Fowler) for consenting to be a Member of it. Some hon. Members seem disposed rather to throw blame and to complain that the present Treasury Solicitor has an Office which is not only over-manned, but highly over-paid. That may be so; but that is not the fault of the present Treasury Solicitor. To the Office of which he is the head, there was added, subsequent to his appointment, the Solicitor's Department which then existed in the Office of Works, in the War Office, in the Admiralty, and in the Queen's Proctor's Office. When these solicitors were taken over, they were taken over at their then existing salaries, with their then existing staffs; and if the Treasury Solicitor at that time had wished to make a show of great economy, he might have called on the Government of the day to sanction the reduction of these establishments by granting terms of abolition pension, and in that way to reduce the charge for effective services. Apparently, at that time, it was thought to be more prudent not to grant abolition pensions, not to make any additions to the staff, and not to make any appointments when vacancies occurred. The staff then represented an annual cost of about £27,000. Reductions have been made which had effected a saving of about £7,000 a-year, and in addition to that, there has, in the matter of pensions, been a saving of about £2,000 a-year. I merely mention these facts in order to show that it is not fair to cast blame upon the present holder of the Office of Treasury Solicitor. I think that a perfectly fair question has been put to the Government—namely, what are they going to do in the present condition of circumstances; what action are they going to take on the Report of this very able, strong, and authoritative Committee? In reply, I may state that the action which they propose to take is, practically, to accept the recommendations of the Committee. That, I think, is a complete answer to all and every criticism which has been offered up to the present time. I may add, that since the issue of the Report of the Committee an Office has become 990 vacant which represented a salary of £1,200 a year, and the Government have decided not to fill it. They have also decided, as other Offices become vacant, not to fill them until they bring the total staff within the compass of the lines of the recommendations of the Committee. I think the Committee, therefore, will probably agree that it is not necessary for me to go into the details of the questions which have been put, and the evidence which has been cited, because I take it the object of the Committee is to know what action the Government is going to take on the Report of the Committee which the Government itself appointed.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
said, it was very interesting, of course, to get the statement they had just heard from the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury, and they were indebted to the hon. Member for East Donegal (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) and the hon. Member for East Hull (Mr. Grotrian) for extracting that much. He (Mr. Bradlaugh) did not know that it was the fault of the Treasury Solicitor that he received high pay, but he thought they might have had a little more from the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury by way of detail as to what it was proposed to do. His (Mr. Bradlaugh's) recollection of the evidence, which had been so fully referred to by the hon. Member for East Donegal, included a matter which he did not think that hon. Gentleman had stated to the House. It explained why a great deal of the work which ought to be done by the Solicitor to the Treasury was done by other solicitors as his agents—why this Gentleman who was receiving £3,000 a year, as Solicitor to the Treasury, really did not act in that capacity at all. The Solicitor to the Treasury, frankly enough, in his evidence, said that he had had no experience as a solicitor. This gentleman was, therefore, appointed to an office which he was utterly incompetent to fill, and it was probably meant that he should only be a nominal figure-head, employing somebody else to do the work that he was employed to do. There had been occasions when Sir A. K. Stephenson had given the Government the benefit of his presence in the Police Court, but they had been very seldom, and in nearly every case where Treasury 991 prosecutions had been conducted, they had been conducted by private firms of solicitors who would not have been required at all if the head of the Department had been a practical solicitor. They were told that it was not this Gentleman's fault that he had had to take over different solicitors from the different departments, but they were also told that all these payments were to be persisted in until the gentlemen now holding office died off. It was exceedingly difficult, no doubt, if the abolition of office was to be accompanied with pensions, to abolish offices and so swell the non-effective Votes, but he failed to see why the Government should retain the services of incompetent people at salaries they did not earn. Was it to be said that the Committee had nothing to do with it, and had merely to vote the amounts put before them? He did not think the Committee should do that, but that they should divide against the Vote for the purpose of showing their sense of the position in which they found themselves. If he (Mr. Bradlaugh) had a grievance against the mover of this reduction, it was that he had not moved a large enough reduction. He certainly trusted that the hon. Member would not require any pressing to go to a Division. In any case, he (Mr. Bradlaugh) should only do his duty to go into the Lobby against this expenditure, before the Vote was taken. As an illustration of the manner in which Sir A. K. Stephenson did the country the honour of appearing in Court, he would point out that costs amounting to £40 would have been enforced against some poor men—with the approval of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary—if it had not been for the intervention of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt); and when the costs came to be taxed they amounted only to £14 odd, so that, if the full amount demanded had been paid, somebody would have a made a considerable profit. If these were results for which they paid £3,000 a year, they ought to express their dissatisfaction by a Division. [Mr. MATTHEWS dissented.] The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary shook his head when he mentioned these facts, but the right hon. Gentleman had refused to allow an adjournment of the case to enable the 992 facts to be gone into, when he (Mr. Bradlaugh) had applied for it, and he thought the Committee ought to mark its sense of what had taken place, and of the general position of the Solicitor's Department, by going into the Lobby. In this way they could show that economy had some meaning in it, and was to be translated into a practical Division.
§ SIR ROBERT FOWLER (London)
said, he did not wish to detain the Committee, but merely to state that he had received a telegram from the hon. Member for Flintshire, who usually sat opposite (Mr. S. Smith), expressing his obligations to the Government, and especially to the hon. and learned Solicitor General, for the course taken in prosecuting the publishers of the translations of Zola's works. The hon. Member, who had sent this telegram in June or July last, had brought very forcibly before the House the question of the publication of obscene literature in this country, and had carried an Amendment on the subject, and he now felt very grateful to the Government for the course they had taken in prosecuting the publishers of this atrocious literature. His hon. Friend wished to draw the attention of the House and the Government to the necessity of doing more in the same direction through the Public Prosecutor.
§ MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)
said, it was rather unfortunate that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had referred the House to the Report of the Select Committee, to which, subsequently, such startling reference had been made by the hon. Member for East Donegal. After the references they had heard from the hon. Member for East Donegal, if anyone had hesitated previously as to what position they should take up on this question, and whether they should follow the hon. Member for Bethnal Green into the Lobby, that hesitation would now be dissipated. The more they looked into that Report, the less defence there was for the action of the Director of Public Prosecutions. At first his (Mr. J. Rowland's) impression had been that the Public Prosecutor had not sufficient time to devote to the cases which had been referred to, but when they remembered that such cases as that of the bogus Companies had occurred, they were forced to the conclu- 993 sion that the Public Prosecutor had failed in his duty in refusing to receive information offered to him by responsible persons; when they found that, instead of being over-worked, this official had a staff at his disposal which was far too large for the business he had to do, and that the staff was over-paid, the conduct of this gentleman stood out still more for condemnation.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)
said, he also had a Motion on the Paper for the reduction of the salary of the Director of Public Prosecutions, but his object in opposing the Vote was entirely different from that of the hon. Member, who held that the salary of the Solicitor to the Treasury was too high. He did not wish to go into that question, but his complaint was that the service rendered for the money paid was altogether inadequate, and that the public did not get a sufficient return for their money—that the Director of Public Prosecutions did not do enough in the way of public prosecutions. He did not mean to blame Sir Augustus Stephenson, his contention being that the fault lay with the system under which public prosecutions were conducted, or rather were not conducted. Parliament and the country had decided that we should have a system of public prosecutions, and it was the duty of those who had charge of the Department to carry out public prosecutions; but at present, although no doubt thieves and murderers were prosecuted, the perpetrators of a large number of frauds and dishonest mercantile transactions were not dealt with at all. The country was honeycombed with commercial frauds that were not sufficiently followed up. He believed that it had been altogether a mistake to unite the office of Public Prosecutor with that of Solicitor to the Treasury. The Government had the Office of Public Prosecutor held by an inefficient person, and had evaded the difficulty by a re-organization which took the shape of adding the enormous duties of Public Prosecutor to those of a person who was over-burdened already. Judges and Royal Commissions had exposed the grossest frauds in the country, and there was no doubt, as he had said, that the country was honeycombed with all sorts of fraud, the effect of which was to prevent prudence and saving amongst 994 the community. Nothing prevented prudence more than the insecurity of public Companies, and the difficulty in finding out where money could be safely invested. He maintained that the public had a right to be protected by the State against fraud just as much as they had to be protected against pickpockets. No doubt there had been one or two prosecutions in cases of fraudulent bankruptcy, but they were the rare exceptions. The bogus Companies and Trusts, with reference to which the editor of The Statist had taken action, were allowed to go on without punishment being inflicted on their promoters. The Public Prosecutor bad been communicated with by the editor of that newspaper, and information as to certain frauds had been convoyed to him, but the Public Prosecutor had evaded the inquiry. He (Sir George Campbell) did not say whether the Public Prosecutor ought, or ought not, to have undertaken the prosecutions in these cases, but he thought that the statements of the editor of The Statist ought to have been received in a different spirit than by the mere intimation that the City Solicitor was making inquiries. Was it for the City Solicitor to make inquiries in cases of this kind? No doubt the City was full of frauds, but those frauds had their ramifications outside the City, and therefore he maintained that it was the duty of the Public Prosecutor to move in such matters. Then there was the great Salt Trust, which was nothing more nor less than a great conspiracy. He had asked the Government the other day whether these trusts were legal or illegal, and the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had replied to him as though the point were raised for the first time, and had said that no one had brought the matter before his notice in a way which would justify his taking a legal opinion. The right hon. Gentleman had said this in spite of the fact that every species of public organ had disclosed the matter, and that very considerable authorities, through the Press, had expressed opinions adverse to this system of rings, which old laws of this country had held to be criminal. There were many old laws which held as criminal practices on the part of Companies or individuals in restraint of trade. Competent autho- 995 rities, moreover, had asserted that there were even special laws against combinations to keep up the price of salt. He did not know whether this was really the case, but he thought, at any rate, that the subject was one which should be inquired into. He would point out, however, that there was one thing which the law of this country did affect, and that was the practice of conspiracy. They had heard a great deal of late of the law of conspiracy as applied to Ireland, and they had heard described as illegal combinations with the object of cutting down prices. Well, if these combinations were illegal, he thought that the law should be also brought to bear upon people who combined to keep up prices. At any rate, it was the duty of the Public Prosecutor to satisfy himself as to whether these rings, such as the Salt Rings, were legal or illegal, and whether or not those who took part in them could be prosecuted. He maintained that this country was singularly in want for machinery in bringing public attention to bear upon these things. They possessed such machinery in France, and to the fact that fraud was severely punished in that country was, no doubt, owing the circumstance that the people were so saving. The poor in Scotland were also, to some extent, protected from these conspiracies; but unhappily the law of Scotland was being emasculated by contact with her richer neighbour. He supported the Motion, not for the purpose of censuring any individual, but as a protest against a system.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said, he did not contemplate voting in favour of the reduction of this Vote, because the Public Prosecutor had failed to take criminal action against the Salt Syndicate, nor because that official had not prosecuted the authors of bogus Companies. It appeared that the original promoter of these bogus Companies had run away, although the editor of The Statist thought certain other persons should be prosecuted for having associated themselves with him. It might or might not be a proper thing to prosecute these persons; but at any rate, with reference to the fraudulent Companies, no decision could be come to until the Public Prosecutor had been heard; there might or might not be a case. But when he found, as he did in 996 one case, that a summons was dismissed because the Prosecutor could not find about £40 costs, he felt an abuse existed; especially as Mr. Poland, he supposed, did not do the thing cheap, on the job, and it was a scandal that a prosecution should fail for a reason like that. What he asked was this—when prosecutions were undertaken by the Treasury or Joseph Chamberlain—[Laughter]—Peter Chamberlain, he meant—the Public Prosecutor did not fulfil the duties himself. For such cases Mr. Poland drew four guineas, and unless he had an explanation why the Public Prosecutor did not see to these cases himself, he should go to a Division.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
said, he would point out to the hon. Member for East Donegal that the Select Committee to which reference had been made had reported upon all points referred to them; but by that strange and mysterious law which seemed to regulate the printing of documents for the information of the House, as they did not report upon one part of the Reference much more than four months ago, the Report was not well in the hands of Members. The Committee had reported that it was not desirable to make any change in the rules or customs which at present governed the selection and payment of counsel. The work appeared to the Committee to be performed in a satisfactory manner; but they had recommended one important change, which, to some extent, bore upon the matter the Committee were discussing some time ago—namely, that when the Attorney General went to prosecute in any case out of London he should not be, as at present entitled, by the etiquette of the Bar, to a special retainer of 300 guineas. The Committee recommended that this payment should cease, and that a different scale of emolument should be adopted. He (Mr. Henry H. Fowler) begged to thank the Secretary to the Treasury for the way in which he had spoken of the labours of the Select Committee, and for the promise which had been made to adopt the recommendation contained in its Report. He recognized the difficulty in which the Treasury were placed in this matter. They had allowed the office to grow into its present unsatisfactory condition. There was a staff of 49 members 997 in the Treasury Solicitor's Office, of which the cost, exclusive of the Solicitor's salary, was £18,000, whereas the Solicitors' Department of the North Western Railway Company, which no one would say was of small importance, was conducted at a cost, exclusive of the Solicitor's salary, of a little over £7,000. He hoped the Secretary to the Treasury would not listen to any scheme for re-organization. The real crux of the question was whether the Government were going to allow any additional staff taken into the Office to become permanent members of the Civil Service? Hon. Gentlemen on that side had been, and still were, of opinion that they should not do so. They were of opinion that the Treasury should constitute a Court of Appeal, but that the Solicitor to the Treasury should engage and dismiss the various employés, whereas the present system implied so many vested interests and pensions in the case of those on the staff. They wanted the Treasury to say that the statement which had been made was not merely a friendly one, but that it should be a permanent decision binding on the successors of right hon. Gentlemen opposite; that a change was to take place; that they were to reduce the overgrown establishment of the Office, and re-constitute it on a new, economical, and permanent basis.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. JACKSON) (Leeds, N.)
said, he was obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for what he had stated, but he thought that he had been a little too hard in his criticism at an earlier part of the evening on the non-production of the Report of the Committee. The Report which he made so much of was at the moment in the Vote Office and in print, and he mentioned that to show that they had endeavoured to produce the Report in time for use in the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not want the Government to make a merely friendly statement—that he wanted something to be put on record. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that this was not the manner in which the Government were endeavouring to conduct their business, and that the reason why he did not enter into details was because he thought the statement made would cover the whole 998 subject, and that it would be understood that the Government intended to give effect to it. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to a recommendation that certain clerks should not be members of the Civil Service. The Government were prepared to accept the recommendation of the Committee on that point, and in every respect, with the exception of the three assistant solicitors. The right hon. Gentleman would remember that the Committee were not unanimous on that point, and that two Members of the Committee who signed the Report expressed the opinion that the three assistant solicitors ought to be members of the Civil Service. So far as the assistant solicitors were concerned, he wished it to be understood that with these exceptions, which were for the moment in abeyance, the Government had accepted the recommendation of the Committee, and that the other members of the staff were not to be members of the Civil Service. He hoped that would satisfy the right hon. Gentleman. There had been a practical agreement arrived at in reference to the staff which was considered necessary in future, and it was to be placed on record at the Treasury what course was to be followed with respect to this Office. The points to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred would be placed on record and carried out actually in the form which he desired. He hoped he might appeal to the Committee at that somewhat late hour (10.30) to allow the Vote to be taken, and particularly would he appeal to the hon. Gentleman who had moved its reduction. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Henry H. Fowler) had himself pointed out the difficulties in the way of giving effect to the hon. Gentleman's Motion. It would be inconsistent with precedent, and most unusual, to reduce the salaries of the existing staff, and he trusted that, on the authority of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Pickersgill) would be satisfied with the discussion which had taken place on his Motion. He thought the Government had shown that they had not been neglectful or wanting in care or attention with respect to the question brought forward, and he hoped he had satisfied the hon. Gentleman that the Government had endeavoured, as far 999 as was in their power, to give effect to the recommendations of the Committee.
§ SIR HENRY JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)
said, it was very satisfactory to hear from the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury that he accepted the principle that with certain exceptions the solicitors in the Treasury Department should not be servants of the Crown. He hoped the hon. Member for Bethnal Green would not take a Division as to a deduction from the salary of the Public Prosecutor. There was no intention to leave things as they were, but it was only fair to the gentleman who filled the office of Solicitor to the Treasury to say that he was placed in a position of great disadvantage. The Establishments of other Departments had been sent over to the Solicitor to the Treasury; they had no experience in relation to the kind of business with which they had to deal, and in consequence they were in that respect inefficient. There was nothing which the Government should enter upon with greater care than the prosecution of Companies of the kind referred to; and he thought it was an evil thing to tell persons who became shareholders of Companies, in order to get large profits, that if they failed the Government would prosecute. It was much better to leave persons to trust to their own intelligence as to speculative Companies than to the Public Prosecutor. He remembered one of the most convincing arguments was used in that House by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), who, when he was asked to countenance a public prosecution in the case of Overend, Gurney, and Co., declined to do so, because it would have been giving aid to speculators, and saying to persons who wanted to get high dividends—"You are not to trust to your own intelligence." He protested against the teaching that when a man could not get back his money from a public Company he should be able to go to the Public Prosecutor and so commence a prosecution.
§ MR. PICKERSGILL
said, an appeal had been made to him which he regretted he could not accede to. Replies had been made generally by the Representatives of the Government, but, so far as his own remarks were concerned, he 1000 had not received any satisfaction whatever. The complaint on his part with regard to certain bogus Companies had, he thought, been missed by one or two hon. Members. He did not for one moment say that there had been a case for prosecution; he had not seen the papers, and it was absurd, in their absence, to express an opinion. But he had drawn attention to a City scandal, and he had protested against a case being handed over to the City Solicitor for investigation which ought to have been followed up by the Director of Public Prosecutions. He felt convinced that the door would be opened to the greatest possible abuse if they were to sanction this course of action on the part of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
§ MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
said, he did not wish to take away the salary of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The only occasion on which he came in contact with that official was when he asked for a fiat to prosecute the Editor of The Western Morning News for a criminal libel on himself, in pursuance of which he had had the satisfaction of prosecuting Mr. Grosser and compelling him to make a public retractation and apology. Therefore, for his own part, he had to express satisfaction with Sir Augustus Stephenson in reference to the matter, which was of great importance to him at the time. But there was a question of later date, with reference to Trafalgar Square, to which he must call attention. Towards the end of July last the hon. Member for North-West Lanark (Mr. Cunninghame Graham) stated to the House that he would use his influence to have the meetings in Trafalgar Square discontinued upon a statement of the point at issue; this was to be done on the understanding that the legal and constitutional question would be distinctly and fully stated in a special case which was to be presented to a Court of Law, the draft of which special case he had in his hands. It appeared that an attempt had been made to strike out the wide legal and constitutional points which hon. Members on that side of the House desired to raise; and, on the understanding that these could be raised alone, he and his hon. Friends had consented to forego their right of meeting in Trafalgar Square. He asked the 1001 Chairman whether he would be within his right in saying anything further on this subject?
said, he presumed the hon. Member wished to challenge the view taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions. If that were so, he did not think that the matter would come under the present Vote.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
asked if he would be in Order in moving to reduce the salary of the Solicitor because he had refused to state a case?
said, that on that ground the case could be brought forward, but he had understood that it was a question as to the accuracy of the view taken.
§ DR. CLARK
said, it was simply that in order to have a case stated it was necessary to obtain the consent of the Treasury, and a case had been drawn up by which the right of public meeting in Trafalgar Square and other spaces in the Metropolis was to be brought before a Court of Law. The Solicitor to the Treasury struck out all the public questions, and narrowed the case down to technical and trivial points in reference to one of the cases, which at present prevented an appeal being made to the Court on a great public question. Instead of getting a fair case stated to the Judges to ascertain whether there was any public right of meeting, the Solicitor to the Treasury, who was the only official they knew in the matter, had struck out all the points of public interest and limited the others to two. He thought hon. Members had a right to move the reduction of the salary, because the Solicitor to the Treasury had not enabled the opinion of the Judges to be obtained.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)
said, the prosecution of widely-extended frauds appeared to him to be a matter within the province of the Public Prosecutor, and he thought that he was entitled to have some further explanation on this subject. The only explanation given was that by the right hon. and learned Member for Bury (Sir Henry James); but, with all respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the real basis of his argument was that English lawyers were opposed to public 1002 prosecutions. The right hon. and learned Gentleman protested against public prosecutions of the kind, because he said that people ought to take care and look after their own interests. Undoubtedly, large investors would be able to do this; but he contended that for smaller men, who invested their savings, it was totally impossible for them to protect themselves against such frauds. His opinion was that while you could not protect people against their own folly, they ought to be protected against fraud; and that when a subject of the State saved his money and wanted to invest it fairly, the State ought to protect him, if his money was fraudulently obtained from him. It was not desirable in the interests of the country that these small investors should be altogether debarred from taking part in the industrial enter-prizes of the country. Therefore, he repeated that the Committee were entitled to some further explanation on this subject from Her Majesty's Government. Did the Government mean to say that it was not the duty of the Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecute mercantile and financial frauds which were directed against the public interest; did they think that, under those circumstances, the Public Prosecutor should have handed over the case referred to by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Pickersgill) to the City Solicitor; was it the duty of the Director of Public Prosecutions to ascertain whether there had been a breach of the Criminal Law or not; and, if so, was it not his duty to prosecute?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
said, he understood the duty of the Public Prosecutor was to stand in the position of the public when there was no reasonable ground for believing that private persons would discharge the duty which belonged to them of prosecuting a person who had defrauded them. It was not the duty of the Public Prosecutor to take up the interests of every private individual throughout the country. The theory upon which the Government had proceeded was that private persons who were injured by fraud and robbery were bound, as citizens, to defend themselves and prosecute those who had done them wrong. If, however, they had reason 1003 to believe that there was no prospect of a great public wrong being remedied except by the intervention of the Public Prosecutor, then the Public Prosecutor intervened. But it had never been countenanced, nor was it laid down by any Act of Parliament, that he should take the place of every private individual and prosecute for every private wrong. He thought it would be a great misfortune if they were to relieve the public of their duty of defending themselves, of looking after their own interests, and of seeing carefully to their own protection, and if they were to create an impression that a great rate of interest was to be got from investments; but if there was anything wrong behind these investments, that there would be a public watch-dog, so to speak, to pounce down on the individual who offered the inducements. It seemed to him that in England, at all events, they were able to protect themselves wholesomely and healthily against those who wished to prey on the community at large, and he did not think that it would be for the good of the community that they should impose upon a public body the duty which belonged to individuals. Reference had been made to the correspondence which had passed between the Editor of The Statist and the Director of Public Prosecutions with reference to the City Solicitor, who had been instructed to prosecute in the case in question. He thought it would have been obviously most undesirable that another prosecution should have been set on foot by the Public Prosecutor side by side with that undertaken by the City Solicitor. At all events, they had no right to ask the public to bear the cost of a prosecution which ought to be undertaken by individuals.
§ DR. CLARK
said, that he thought hon. Members ought to leave this matter over until the Report stage of the Vote, if the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury would tell the Committee whether the Government were prepared to state cases and allow an appeal to be made to the Judges on the right of the police to prohibit public meetings. At the present time, as Sir Augustus Stephenson had not consented to state a case, they would be compelled to call meetings in order to make one. He hoped the Government would meet the Committee by saying that they would give a fair case to go to 1004 the Judges, and then the Committee would probably defer the further consideration of the matter until the Report.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir EDWARD CLARKE) (Plymouth)
said, he thought there must be some misapprehension with regard to the question of the settlement of this case. The desire of the Government had been and was that every question which could arise on the circumstances given in evidence should be fully brought out and discussed in a Court of Law. He was, of course, conversant, to some extent, with the matter of this case, and he was aware that certain paragraphs originally in the draft were struck out; but that was done not because they raised any large question which the parties were reluctant to have discussed, but because they included matters which ought not to have been introduced, and which could not properly be stated for the consideration of the Court. The desire of the Government was that every question which could be raised on that case, however large it might be, should be fully and fairly stated, and be discussed and decided upon by a Superior Court, and he thought that if the hon. Member who made these observations would look carefully through the case he would see that the amendments were such as did not strike out any statement of fact with regard to what had taken place, and that the draft form sent back was intended to raise the largest and most important questions of law.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
said, he happened to hold in his hand the draft of Mr. Poland as corrected by him on behalf of the Treasury. If the Solicitor General asked him to believe that no constitutional or legal question had been excluded by these emendations of Mr. Poland he respectfully differed from him on a matter of fact.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
said, then they asked the Government to provide them with a case that should raise all the questions, because the case set out by the hon. Member for North-West Lanark (Mr. Cunninghame Graham) was that they would take no further steps in what they considered to be their legal rights in the matter until a special case 1005 had been decided by a Superior Court, which would settle one way or other which party was right in his contention. The questions for consideration struck out by Mr. Poland had reference to whether the public had right by law to assemble and hold public meetings in the Square; whether it was lawful for the police by force to prevent the people from meeting when such meetings were lawful and orderly; whether processions had rights by law to pass through the adjoining thoroughfares; whether it was lawful for the police to prevent by force the passing of processions; whether the Proclamation had or had not been warranted by Common Law or Statute; whether persons taking part in such meetings might be removed from the Square by the police by force or otherwise; and whether such persons might lawfully resist such removal? He contended that all these questions were those in which the public took an interest, and on the decision of which, by a Superior Court, hon. Members had set their hearts. He said that every one of these had been deliberately struck out by Sir Augustus Stephenson or Mr. Poland, apparently with the cognizance or assistance of the Solicitor General. They were told that because these particular questions were not connected with Borgia's case they must make a special case and incur expense. As the Solicitor General knew, there were at least three cases.
said, that a discussion criticizing the administration of the Public Prosecutor's action in not carrying out an engagement would, no doubt, come under the examination of the Committee on this Vote; but he must inform the Committee that if they intended to review the items of a special case to be agreed upon between two parties it could not be allowed for a moment.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
asked the Government whether they would carry out their pledge, and enable hon. Members to raise this question before a Superior Court? It was upon that understanding they abstained, and should continue to abstain, so long as the Government kept their pledge, from taking any further action connected with the Square. They simply asked that if Borgia's case would not raise these issues, another case should be taken in order that it might be brought before the Judges.
§ SIR EDWARD CLARKE
said, this was a question not for the Government, but for the magistrate. It was for the magistrate to state the case on the facts laid before him, and if that were done the Government would give all the assistance in their power to have the largest questions raised that were involved in the case.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
said, that no reply had been given to one of his questions. What he wanted to know was, whether the Government would try to ascertain if the proceedings of the Salt Ring constituted a breach of the Criminal Law of the country?
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, that the hon. Member had given the Government no information on which they could possibly proceed. They had nothing in the nature of information as to what he described as a Salt Ring. If the hon. Gentleman would lay before them facts to justify their action, they would take such action as it might be necessary to take in the interests of the country, but they had nothing more than the statement of the hon. Gentleman that there was a Salt Ring. If, however, the hon. Gentleman would give them on paper any statement which they could submit to the Law Officers of the Crown, he would undertake to say that if it were shown that wrong had been done to the country a prosecution should follow.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
said, that in the United States there had grown up a practice under which great producers had combined in order to raise the price of material and produce to consumers. That system seemed to have been imported into this country, and he believed that an attempt had been made by the great salt producers to combine to raise the price of that product and not allow free trade in it to exist. He had read these statements in the newspapers. He wanted to know whether they were true; and, if true, did they amount to a breach of the Criminal Law? He would submit the matter in the form suggested by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 90; Noes 180: Majority 90.—(Div. List, No. 283.)
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.1007
(4.) Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £42,917, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1889, for Criminal Prosecutions at Assizes and Quarter Sessions, and for Adjudications under 'The Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1879;' fur Sheriffs' Expenses, Salaries to Clerks of Assize and other Officers, Compensation to Clerks of the Peace and others; and for Expenses incurred under Extradition Treaties.
§ MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)
said, he desired to draw attention to a point which had been brought before the Committee for several years past, one on which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James) expressed a somewhat strong opinion not long ago. The point was that clerks to the Justices in counties were interested parties in the proceedings which were taken against the prisoners who were brought before magistrates. A prisoner was brought before a magistrate, and the clerk advised the magistrate as to what he should do. If the clerk advised that the prisoner should be prosecuted, the clerk received the fees for drawing up the brief and for other services. It was quite clear that this was most irregular and most unfair, and that, as a judicial practice, it could not be defended for a moment. Clerks to magistrates in boroughs received no such fees, and could not take part in any proceedings which were initiated against a prisoner after the latter was originally brought before the magistrates. Magistrates' clerks in counties, however, were actually interested in prosecutions. One did not like to say that a clerk would, under those circumstances, advise a magistrate to order a prosecution unless he really believed there was necessity; but still the temptation was there for a clerk in a case in which, perhaps, he had not quite made up his mind—a case in which there was some doubt—to lean to that side which was to his own personal benefit. He believed that last year the Attorney General (Sir Richard Webster) expressed an opinion strongly opposed to the present system indeed, the only reason he (Mr. Molloy) had heard assigned for the continuance of the mal-practice was, that if the clerk had not the advantage of the fees which 1008 followed from their action, there might be some difficulty in getting a clerk of sufficient legal knowledge and standing to carry out the work. But if it were necessary to double or treble the salaries of the clerks to the Justices, it was infinitely better that should be done than that the clerks should be left in the position that they were interested parties in the prosecution of prisoners. It was hard that year after year the same complaint should have to be made in the House, that each succeeding Attorney General should declare that this was a mal-practice and ought to be abolished, and that yet, year after year, the practice was allowed to exist.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir RICHARD WEBSTER) (Isle of Wight)
said, the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Molloy) had, no doubt, called attention to a matter of great importance. It was perfectly right to say that magistrates' clerks in boroughs were prohibited from taking part directly in prosecutions, and he thought it was very desirable that the prohibition should extend to clerks to Justices in counties. At the same time, he did not believe any serious abuse existed. That, however, was no argument against reform. During the last few weeks he had been in communication with persons who had brought before his attention cases where partners of clerks to Justices, or persons connected with them, had acted in the way complained of; and he had made representations to the authorities in regard to the matter, in the hope that the practice would be discontinued. He quite agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman that this was a matter which ought to be redressed, and, as far as he was concerned, he should only be glad to see a reform of the law effected.
§ SIR HENRY JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)
said, that very often in rural districts there was no selection of solicitors. They required to intrust prosecutions to gentlemen of high legal standing, and in some places there was no other solicitor to whom prosecutions could be intrusted but the clerk to the Justices. He admitted the evil, which must be dealt with in some way or other.
§ MR. MOLLOY
said, that they had been treated to the same expression of opinion as in years past. Was it not time a decision should be arrived at? The Attorney General, speaking on 1009 behalf of the Government, considered that the practice should be abolished, and the evil was admitted on all hands. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James) had spoken of the difficulty of finding suitable solicitors in sparsely populated districts to whom to intrust prosecutions. Of course, in the selection of clerks to Justices an endeavour was always made to find somebody who would not be likely to indulge in mal-practices, but in a large class like that of Justices' clerks it was impossible to say that there would not be some who would advise prosecutions for the sake of the extra fees which they would obtain. The Committee was entitled to hear from the Attorney General that, before the Estimates were again introduced, some effort would be made to put an end to this mal-practice which the hon. and learned Gentleman himself condemned.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
said, he was not in a position to give a pledge in the matter. He had brought the question before the attention of the authorities, and he would do so again.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said, he noticed in the Vote the item of £14,800 for the "repayment to Sheriffs in England and Wales of expenses incurred in providing lodgings for the Judges on circuit, rewards in respect of extraordinary exertions in the furtherance of justice, and other expenses." He would like to know what were the expenses incurred in providing lodgings for Judges, and what were the rewards? What rewards were given, and under what circumstances were they given?
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. JACKSON) (Leeds, N.)
said, he was afraid he could not give the hon. Gentleman the details, because he had not got them. He had no doubt he could get them if the hon. Gentleman wished to have them.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, the Committee ought not to be asked to pass an item of £14,800 and to receive the details afterwards. It might be satisfactory or it might not, but he thought he must divide the Committee. He begged to move that the Vote be reduced by the sum of £14,800.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 66; Noes 176: Majority 110.—(Div. List, No. 284.)
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £153,315, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1889, for such of the Salaries and Expenses of the Supreme Court of Judicature as are not charged on the Consolidated Fund.
§ MR. JENNINGS (Stockport)
said, that he had a reduction to move on this Vote, but he was afraid that at that time (11.40) it was quite impossible to explain his reasons for the Motion. He therefore begged to move that the Chairman do report Progress.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Jennings.)
§ The Committee proceeded to a Division, and the Chairman stated that he thought the Ayes had it, but his decision was challenged; and it appearing to the Chairman that the Division was frivolously claimed, he directed the Noes to stand up in their places, and Twelve Members having stood up, the Chairman declared the Ayes had it.
§ Resolutions to be reported To-morrow.
§ Committee also report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.