HC Deb 17 August 1889 vol 339 cc1604-13

9. £12,639, to complete the sum for Temporary Commissions.


I desire to say a few words with reference to the Educational Endowments (Scotland) Commis- sion which expires this year. There is the peculiar circumstance that while the Commission expires this year, important alterations will be made in the schemes they have passed, and it is desirable that the attention of the Commission should be called to the effect of the changes that will take place within the next few months in order that they may advise the Education Department before they cease to hold office. The Committee is aware of the changes effected by the granting of free education under the Local Government Act for Scotland, and very important changes will take place as regards a number of endowment schemes. The Act provides that where a scheme provides the payment of fees for elementary education, henceforth secondary education shall be provided in its place, but the point upon which the Local Government Act does not make provision, and to which it is necessary the Commissioners should have regard, is that under certain schemes passed by the Education Commission, there are certain secondary schools which have primary as well as secondary education. It is obvious that some change will be necessary, owing to the institution of free education. Every parent in Scotland is entitled to have his child educated free of fee up to Standard 5. But while this is the case there will be several schools in existence having primary departments, which will be giving primary education at the expense of endowments, performing work that ought to be done by the State. So there will be this position: that the richest man can have his child educated for nothing at a State-aided school, while a certain class of people, foundationers under educational endowment schemes, who are entitled to free education on elementary subjects in schools under State assistance, will be required to go before the Parochial Board for the purpose of getting education for their children in educational endowment schools. It cannot be said that the children of persons requiring assistance for the education of their families should have special privileges over the richer members of the community. To my mind there should be a primary school attached to each secondary school under educational endowment. There are reasons for this which only require to be stated to command universal acceptance. For instance, it is of great importance that the secondary schools should have a foresight of the primary education of those who afterwards come to them. Another reason is, that where the schools are separate, parents, as a rule, when the children leave the primary school, do not care to send them to the secondary school. When the primary school is done with, the chances are that the parent will take the child away altogether; whereas, if the secondary school is attached to the primary, the parent will not take the child away. [Cries of "Divide!"]


I do not see how the hon. Member connects his observations with the Vote.


These schemes are at present under the charge of the Education Endowment Commissioners. A change has taken place which they will have to consider in order to see what effect it will have on the schemes under their control, and——


I wish to ask whether the hon. Member is in order in going into detail as to these schemes?


I understand he is asking for an explanation.


The Educational Endowment Commissioners have only three or four months longer to work. It is stated in a note here that they will have to advise the Department as to the adjustment of the schemes already submitted, and what I wanted to bring out was, that before the Commissioners quitted office they should have regard to the change in the Local Government Bill, and be prepared with what alterations they think it desirable to recommend. It is plain that the Commissioners are still in office——


They are not paid.


No; but the work of this office comes under the present Vote. The question is, whether the matter I was referring to comes within the province of the Commissioners. Unless some change is effected before the Commissioners leave office, these schools may be injuriously affected.

Vote agreed to.

10. £4,463, to complete the sum for Miscellaneous Expenses.


This includes the Supplementary Vote, I suppose?


No, it does not.


I would ask the Secretary to the Treasury what is the sum actually spent, after bearing in mind the receipts, on this flummery,—medals, &c.?


The sum actually spent is nil. Last year's accounts, which I have gone into very carefully, show that there is an actual surplus.

Vote agreed to.

11. Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £2,348, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in coarse of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1890, for the Repayment to the Civil Contingencies Fund of certain Miscellaneous Advances.


I desire to move the reduction of this Vote by £600 on the ground that the compensation of £1,600 paid to Michael Brannaghan and Peter Murphy, the two men wrongfully imprisoned in connection with the Edlingham burglary, is excessive, and that the case demands further investigation. Considerable attention has been paid to this case in the country, and I am sure that if this Vote had been brought forward at any other season of the year it would have had great interest for many Members of the House of Commons. As it is, we are asked to pass the Vote at a time when it is impossible to discuss the matter satisfactorily. I have continually dunned the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary on this subject, but have been unable to ascertain why this Estimate has not been put before us until the middle of the month of August. I can well understand that the right hon. Gentleman has been in no hurry to lay it before the House. The Estimate relates to a case not only important in itself, but raising a grave and serious question as regards our police administration and administration of justice. My experience of similar cases has not been small, and I say that my impression is that the matter was not originally one of extreme difficulty if it had been thoroughly investigated. It has never been thoroughly investigated; there have been half a dozen piecemeal and partial investigations, which have only led to the matter being left in greater obscurity than ever. It was one of those cases in which the evidence, if true, was entirely overwhelming. The men who were convicted of the burglary were undoubtedly guilty if the evidence was true. It appears to me there was no middle course—either they were guilty, or the police were guilty of a most foul and abominable conspiracy, and the case is one of the most deplorable that ever came before the House. The Home Secretary, after a one-sided inquiry, came to the conclusion that the conviction some years ago was an erroneous one, and that the men were entitled to compensation. My own impression is that the Home Secretary, seeing how careful he always is to weigh the facts in cases of this kind, is probably right; but, at the same time, I must say that the case has never been cleared up, and there is this extraordinary peculiarity about it, that, whilst the House of Commons is asked to vote this sum in compensation to the men wrongfully convicted, the local Magistrates—including a very distinguished Member who usually sits opposite—seem to share with many others the opinion that these men were guilty, that the Home Secretary has been drawn into a trap, and that the compensation is improperly granted. Whilst the Home Secretary is asking us to grant a Vote because these men were falsely convicted, the local Magistrates have gone so far as to present the police with an address on vellum for their conduct in this case. I do maintain that there is something wrong in our system which renders such a scandal as this possible. The men, Brannaghan and Murphy, were accused of burglary and shooting at and wounding a man and his daughter. There were boot-marks which were identified as those of the accused, and there was an overwhelming piece of evidence, as I think, which the Judge unfortunately rejected. It appears that, some time after the burglary, a piece of cloth was found under the window where the burglary was effected, and that it exactly fitted the place from which a piece of cloth was torn out of the trousers of one of the prisoners. There was something suspicious in the fact that the fragment was not found until some days after the burglary. The Judge, unfortunately, stopped this evidence, saying that the button attached to the cloth did not correspond with the other buttons on the trousers. It now turns out that there was a tailor who could have proved that the piece of cloth came out of the prisoner's trousers, but he says it was not torn out but cut out. Either this evidence as to the piece of cloth was true or concocted, and the Judge should have gone into it. No doubt the Judge did his duty as he thought; the men were found guilty, and sentenced to penal servitude for life. They protested their innocence, but no one paid any attention to them, and the thing was forgotten for many years, until a young and rising lawyer took the case in hand. He seemed to have some reason to suppose that these men were innocent and that others were guilty. He put himself into communication with a clergyman named Perry, and I believe that that gentleman did excellent service, and did his best to get at the truth. Mr. Perry seems to have got a confession from two men, and I commend this gentleman for having obtained it, although I must say I think he was rather wanting in discretion in trying to make too much capital out of these men from a religious point of view. He not only got the confession for the sake of the release of the other men, but he paraded the men who confessed as Christian martyrs of the highest degree of virtue. They went about with petitions in favour of the two men in prison; they were petted and fêted, and high teas were given to them, and they were induced to make a formal confession. From subsequent proceedings it appears that these men asserted most positively that they were induced to make their confession on a promise that they would not be punished. It seems, therefore, from their own account, that these men are not such high - class Christian martyrs after all, their confession having, as they say, been made in the belief that they would not be punished. They are very much aggrieved that they have received punishment. They do not seem satisfied with immunity from punishment hereafter, but think they ought not to have five years' penal servitude in this world. These men having confessed, their confession involved the existence of a gross conspiracy on the part of the local police, and it seems to me that there ought to have been a thorough and complete inquiry into all the circumstances. It was within the power of the Judge who tried the case to have insisted that there should be a full inquiry notwithstanding the confession of these men. The Home Secretary only made a private inquiry, and upon the strength of that inquiry he awarded Brannaghan and Murphy £800 each. I consider that under any circumstances the compensation awarded is excessive, and especially so when it was given without the case having been probed to the bottom. A great many people believe that the confession was not a true confession, but the result of a conspiracy. The people in the locality assert that there is not much to choose between the first two men and the second two—that they are all notoriously bad characters—and that it is possible that the hope of getting a portion of the compensation money induced the confession. It is not true that the men who made it were told that if they only confessed they would escape all punishment. It would have been very much better if the Judge, instead of accepting the plea of guilty, had insisted on going into the evidence, and had not left the matter to the action of the Home Secretary in granting a private inquiry. Subsequently, the Government's method of clearing up the matter was to charge the police with conspiracy and prosecute them on that charge. It is always a difficult matter some years afterwards to bring a case of this kind home to the guilty parties, and again, in regard to the conduct of the police in the matter, it appears to me that in connection with the trial of these policemen there has not been a real and a thorough inquiry. The two most important witnesses who could have thrown light upon the subject were not called—the lawyer who first obtained a clue to the confession, and the clergyman, the Rev. Mr. Perry, through whose means the confession was obtained. Mr. Perry was subœnaed, but never examined, the prosecution apparently thinking that prejudice might be thrown upon the case in consequence of the religious element which had been introduced into it. I have no hesitation in saying that in the public interest Mr. Perry ought to have been examined, and the whole case gone into thoroughly. The Judge in his charge took a very strong view adverse to the case of the prosecution, and indicated his opinion that the allegations had not been made out. I certainly think a very great injustice was done to the Rev. Mr. Perry, who was not called, when the Judge most plainly cast upon him an extremely offensive aspersion, on the strength of what was said by one of the burglars who came forward to give evidence. The Judge suggested that it was a very great pity that a man in the position of the Rev. Mr. Perry should have tried to extort a confession by the suggestion that if the man confessed he would be relieved from a charge of murder which he was alleged to have committed some time previously. The result was that after the Judge's Charge at the trial, the police were not only acquitted, but were acquitted triumphantly, and actually had an address written on vellum voted to them by the Magistrates. My opinion is that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary is probably right in believing that the police concocted the case, which was a very serious one; and it is to be regretted that there was not a thorough investigation by which the real facts could have been made apparent. I also think it is dangerous in a case like this to give a very large amount in the shape of compensation. The moral I draw from the case is that we are bound to entertain very considerable doubt as to the excellence or superiority of our police system and our method of police administration, and, in addition to this, I think we cannot but regret the want of a system of public prosecution such as prevails in other countries. There are certain legal saws which are accepted in England almost as if they came from Heaven, and one of them is that the police system of this country is almost perfect, and I am sorry to see that the amount of prejudice which pervades the English mind on this subject is spreading to our possessions in other parts of the world, and has already manifested itself in India. In former days, the police in India were a judicial police, such as we see in France; but now that system has been changed, and the English system substituted, and it often happens that in cases before the Courts the Judge is apt to reverse convictions obtained by the police. Under the circumstances I have stated, and because I believe the compensation in the case under discussion has been excessive, I now move the reduction of the Vote by £600.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £1,748, be granted for the said Service." — (Sir George Campbell.)

SIR J. SWINBURNE (Staffordshire, Lichfield)

I hope my hon. Friend will not persist in his Amendment, because, in my opinion, the whole case is surrounded with suspicion, not only in regard to the men who have been released, but with reference to those who are now in prison. There is a very strong feeling in the part of the country in which the occurrence took place that the boots were taken and pressed into the ground before the casts were made; and I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary whether it would not be well to take into consideration the propriety of releasing the men who are now in prison. It is known that there is a strong feeling on the part of the police in regard to a comrade who was murdered a few months before; and there is a prevalent belief that to a great extent the evidence in the case against the men was concocted,—that, in point of fact, there was a conspiracy on the part of the police, and more particularly on the part of an Inspector, who is now dead. The whole thing is tinged with a suspicion of perjury as against those men who are supposed to have taken part in the murder of a few months before, and who are now in prison on their own confession. I hope my hon. Friend will withdraw the Amendment, and that Her Majesty's Government will take into their serious consideration the advisability of releasing those men before the expiration of their sentence of five years' penal servitude.


I do not want to press the case further, except as to one point. I do not think the Government are acting very decently in not saying a word on this question. The case is certainly an extraordinary one, and, in justice to the clergyman who has been referred to, I do ask Her Majesty's Government to say there is no justification for imputing to him the conduct which has been alleged against him. I believe there is ground for relieving him of the imputation.


The Committee should understand that, at the trial of the policemen, the two men now in gaol (Egdell and Richardson) were themselves called and cross-examined, and they then voluntarily incriminated themselves as to their share in the transaction referred to. At that trial the evidence of the clergyman as to Egdell's and Richardson's confessions would not have been admissible, and accordingly he was not called; and consequently, anything that may have been suggested against him ought to be discounted by the recollection of that circumstance. I am glad that, upon the whole, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir G. Campbell) thinks that the balance of probability is in favour of the supposition that the right result was arrived at.

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

I only rise for the purpose of suggesting that inquiry should be made by the Home Office into the action of the Magistrates, and as to whether any conspiracy really existed. As it is, the whole matter is in a very unsatisfactory position.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

12. £1,859, Repayment to the Local Loans Fund.

13. £4,507, O'Reilly Dease Estate.

14. £1,885, Crofters' Colonization (Advances in Aid).


I think we ought to have an assurance that there shall be no more money spent in sending out crofters and cotters during the present year.


This money is required under what was previously resolved upon, and no further expenditure will at present be called for.

Vote agreed to.