HC Deb 19 March 1889 vol 334 cc182-92
DR. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)

In rising to oppose this Resolution, I am aware of the position in which the Government are placed in regard to time, but I maintain that the carrying or the abandoning of the Resolution has nothing whatever to do with the passing of a Vote on Account, and that it might be abandoned without the slightest difficulty to the carrying on of the affairs of the nation, and with considerable advantage to the credit of Her Majesty's Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the debate last night, which was brought to a premature close by the intervention of the First Lord, attempted to draw a red herring across the course of this discussion, leading the Committee to believe that in our opposition to this Vote we were actuated by personal dislike of Sheriff Ivory, and that there was no matter of principle involved. This the right hon. Gentleman more than insinuated—he said it. Now, I utterly deny that I have any dislike whatever to the gentleman whose name happens to be mixed up with this Vote. It has been my misfortune on various occasions to find myself interested in the wrongs of various people in order to get those wrongs righted, and on this, as on other occasions, I have not hesitated to approach the Law Courts to assist persons in getting what redress they could. I have seen the Game Laws harshly administered, and when what I thought a legal mistake was made, I have not hesitated to have it Drought before the Law Courts, and on one occasion I had the satisfaction of getting a conviction quashed, and damages awarded against a gamekeeper who acted illegally. On another occasion, a ship's crew belonging to the Clyde appeared to have suffered grievous wrong at the hands of their employer, and I did not hesitate to bring the case before a Court, where I got compensation to the tune of £2,000 for the men. This is a precisely similar case, but the explanation why we fight it so bitterly is that the payment of this money is a gratuitous and gross insult to the vast majority of the people of Scotland—I may say to the people at large—represented by the 27 Scotch Members who voted against the Government last night, while only eight Scotch Members voted with the Government. The right hon. Gentleman says my charges against Sheriff Ivory were virulent, but that has really nothing to do with the matter. The question we have to discuss is whether the Government had any right gratuitously to interfere in order, at the public expense, to relieve a gentleman who happens to be a Sheriff from the consequences of acts, not committed in the discharge of his official duties, but in direct contravention of his official duty. The right hon. Gentleman quoted from Papers that have been read to the House, and which show that I advocated raising the question in assertion of a constitutional right; and then he said I had adopted a Plan of Campaign, and he evidently used the expression to throw discredit on us as Campaigners, in that the action we took was analogous to the Plan of Campaign elsewhere. But the right hon. Gentleman has greatly mistaken the intelligence of the Scotch people—even of the constituency that once returned him to Parliament—if he imagines they will be taken in by any phrase he may choose to apply in this matter. The conduct of the Government has taught us this, that if it is a Plan of Campaign, there may be more honesty in it than in the Government method of paying the expenses of a private individual surreptitiously out of the public purse. One of the gravest charges we make against the Government is the concealment they have practised throughout. If they believed they were justified, if they believed they were doing good, they certainly endeavoured to do it by stealth, and may blush to find it fame. There were three actions concerned, though only two came to trial. The first was raised by Macpherson against the Procurator Fiscal of the Skye district, but it was held to be incompetent, it being declared that the deeds in respect to which the action was raised were committed by the Procurator Fiscal in the discharge of his duty and were privileged, and the case could not go before a jury. That gentleman not being blessed, I suppose, with the influence of Sheriff Ivory, did not get off so well in respect to expenses. A large sum was paid in the shape of expenses. I took the trouble to apply to the agent at Inverness to find out what the expenses on the other side were. It is often the case that the expenses on the side of the plaintiff are greater than those on the side of the defendant, because the pursuer has to bring up witnesses and to pay the whole costs. In this case the pursuers were non-professional, their solicitor had to be paid, their counsel and witnesses had to be paid, and their expenses should have been much greater. Well, in the case of Macpherson versus the Procurator Fiscal the expenses were £125, and the total sum given by the Treasury and the Procurator Fiscal was £59 8s. 11d., or not half that amount. So strict an investigation was not made into this case as into that in which Sheriff Ivory was defendant. The expenses must have been paid out of the Estimates of 1888. The Secretary to the Treasury has told us they were paid out of the Supplementary Estimates, and the date of payment indicates that must have been so. There was a Vote set down for the completion of Peterhead Harbour and other incidental charges, and we should never have heard of this demand but for a direct question put in the House on the subject, and then it came out during the Autumn Session. Under the general accounts, as rendered, it is impossible for any Member to tell what the Supplementary demand refers to, and it was simply by accident, as the result of a question put by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, that the fact was elicited that £200 out of the total was required to pay the costs of Sheriff Ivory. When the story was told such strong opposition was aroused that this Supplementary Vote was postponed to this Session, and that is why we got it so late in the financial year. If the Government had in a straightforward manner put the item down as they have now, it would have been challenged and discussed at once and disposed of before the House adjourned. I wish the House to understand why there is such a keen feeling on the subject in Scotland on this matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer read certain extracts, but he omitted certain disagreeable passages, and so did not show the grounds upon which I advised my friends to raise a fund to test the legality of certain deeds committed in these raids into the Highlands. I shall supply these omissions of the right hon. Gentleman. He ridiculed the idea of malice on the part of Sheriff Ivory. We have evidence that the Sheriff in connection with the expedition of 1885 minted medals for the reward of every policeman who arrested a crofter, and in the case of Beaton he took down the name of the constable who arrested Beaton with the view of presenting him with the much-prized decoration.

An hon. MEMBER

Who paid for the medals?


The Government have denied that they have paid for them. I do not know if the cost was defrayed out of savings, or whether it was a purely personal undertaking on the part of the Sheriff. The Chief Constable of the county, who was the proper person to be put in charge of the expedition, had had a "tiff" with Sheriff Ivory, and the Sheriff took personal command of the police—a shameful and unprecedented thing in connection with the expedition. The deeds we complain of are these: the arrest of persons without any warrant at all, whole villages besieged and houses ransacked without any warrant or reasonable suspicion against the inhabitants. I could quote a number of instances from the Glasgow Herald, a paper that has no prejudice in favour of the crofters, and I have reason to believe that the very case given by the reporter of that journal could be supported in a Court of Law. That reporter describes how Sheriff Ivory, not being satisfied with the state of things and the disposition of the force, ordered more constables to be told off, and urged the men on to greater exertions by exclamations of "Go ahead" and "Get on with you." He marched men into houses and endeavoured to get the women recognized who were present; he ordered examination of every room, told the men to look into cupboards, under beds, and examine the byres, and leave no means of escape open. A midnight raid was made upon a house where an old woman of 70 resided; she was awakened in her bed by the gleam of a lantern on her face and saw policemen standing around; she was asked where her husband was; she was a widow; she was asked where her son was, she replied in his grave; she was asked where her girl was and replied that she had none. She was very much frightened, and fainted after the police left. Dozens of such cases might be quoted. In one of the first houses invaded, a man named McLean was dangerously ill; he was much affected by the domiciliary visit of the police; and soon afterwards died. His wife describes how much the visit of the police affected him, and how in his sleep he murmured about the difficulty of meeting the expenses of his funeral To carry her husband to the church yard the wife had to beg the assistance of friends at a distance, the men of the neighbourhood being either in custody or hiding in the hills. The funeral procession was met by the Sheriff and his escort of police on their way to pay another visit to the house of the dead man, but they did not go when they heard whose corpse was in the coffin. These are some of the incidents that have stung the people of Scotland in to indignation. In these expeditions there was the greatest brutality on the part of the police. We have an instance in which an officer burned down a house illegally. He was reprimanded forsooth! but he was never brought to trial. We have it in evidence that on another occasion an infant in the cradle was included in an inventory of the contents of a house by an officer, and it is alleged also that he threatened to burn the house down unless the people paid the amount he was charged to collect. These are the things that roused the public indignation, and I must say that it appears to rue a matter of some importance that, before we allow such proceedings to be carried on with impunity, we should put their legality to test in a constitutional way. Three actions were raised. Sheriff Ivory said there were not more than two we could attempt to support out of all the charges made in my speech when this movement was initiated, but why was this? We had no desire to harry Sheriff Ivory—our desire was to settle constitutional points, and so three typical actions were taken. In one of these cases a technical difficulty was found in connecting the Sheriff and Procurator Fiscal with the order upon which the police acted. Of the three actions, one was raised for libel, one on the subject of arrest without warrant, and another for keeping a person in prison for a long time without evidence and then liberating him without apology or excuse. Now, Sheriff Ivory was in the habit of libelling—never a report of his appeared but somebody was libelled in it. The Lord Advocate remarked that I had made libellous statements in this House in respect to Sheriff Ivory, but let me say I uttered those statements outside the House. The speech from which Sheriff Ivory quotes is not privileged, and Sheriff Ivory has the opportunity of raising any action upon it he likes. But I say in this official document he has libelled Norman Stewart, and he did so while the case was pending before the Sheriff Substitute. It is upon the evidence of the representative at Inverness of a Glasgow newspaper that Sheriff Ivory possessed himself of telegrams in a very equivocal fashion, and then he stigmatized the reporter to whom these telegrams belonged as a ringleader in the riots that attended the crofter movement. The Sheriff accused his own officers of committing perjury, and said that perjury was the cause of Stewart's escape. So there was every reason why we should take up an action for libel. Then another reason was that Sheriff Ivory was habitually in the habit of disregarding the rules laid down to regulate the conduct of officials, and with no justification whatever, and not with the honest impress- sion that he was entitled to do as he did. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in his attempt to rescue Sheriff Ivory from the consequences of the illegal action in which he was cast for damages, accuses us of organizing a Plan of Campaign, but let me say that it was owing to the dislike of myself and certain of my friends to do anything in the nature of persecution against Sheriff Ivory, that the other cases were not carried on appeal to the House of Lords. I should certainly be the last man to discountenance such a proceeding now, and I believe such an appeal is still open. If there is such an appeal, I do not think the Government will be so ready to renew their demand for Sheriff Ivory's damages. I think they will be inclined to let Sheriff Ivory hang by his own tail, and sink or swim according to his own deserts. The Chancellor of the Exchequer charges us with wasting time over a small item of £200. Will not his ideas of £ s. d. allow him to see that the Scotch people have subscribed considerably more than this sum to test this as a constitutional principle. We resist this clause on constitutional grounds, and shall carry our protest to a division.

*MR. A. SUTHERLAND (Sutherland)

It certainly is a new character for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to insist against the wish of Scotch Members in paying this sum out of the Exchequer. During the debate incidents have been brought out that make this case tolerably plain, but perhaps I may be allowed to call to the recollection of the House the circumstances out of which these Highland expeditions arose. The people of Skye claimed a right of grazing on land which the proprietor resisted. An interdict of the High Court sustained the contention that there was no right of grazing, and it was because of a breach of this interdict that the whole of the expeditions took place. But mark the result. An Act of Parliament was passed appointing a Commission to inquire into crofter grievances, and that Commission took evidence in regard to this grazing right. What did the Commission find? Why, they made the agent of the landlord produce documentary evidence to show that the people had the right. That incident would be quite sufficient to account for all the feeling which has been manifested during these proceed- ings, and to bring all the so-called upholders of law and order into utter contempt. As a matter of fact, it was shown that the tenants and the people persecuted by Sheriff Ivory were the real upholders of law and order. They Slave been proved to have been in the right, and I call on the Lord Advocate and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to deny these facts if they can. We have got to this time of day, that the Government, who will not pay anything in response to the just demands of the people, come forward, and, in the face of the people of Scotland, insist on expending £200 on an action for which Sheriff Ivory ought to pay himself. If the Government desire to take the steps best calculated to force on the agitation for Home Rule in Scotland they are doing it, and in so far as they are doing it I am thankful to them. I have great pleasure in supporting the proposal of my hon. Friend that the House do not agree with the Committee.

*MR. PROVAND (Glasgow, Blackfriars, &c.)

This is a very bad case, and the feeling throughout Scotland is so strong in reference to Sheriff Ivory on account of his conduct on the two expeditions that he took part in to the Isle of Skye, that we feel bound to protest against this payment. The £200 now asked for may be taken to be the costs in the case of the man Stewart, and the case ought to have been—and was, in fact—a private suit of this man against the Sheriff. The Sheriff had no occasion to say what he did about Stewart in his report. What was the result of the action? Why, there was no trial. The language the Sheriff made use of in his report was unjustifiable, and the Sheriff did not attempt to justify it; on the contrary, his counsel stated distinctly that the facts did not justify what he had stated about Stewart, and, therefore, the case went by default. I think myself that the Government are ashamed of this matter. Why was it that they tried to smuggle the Vote through last December without saying a word about it? As the hon. Gentleman the Member for the College Division of Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) has remarked, it was only by an accidental question put by an hon. Member that it was discovered that this £200 was concealed in another Vote. There are several other things the hon. Member for the College Division has said to which no answer has been returned by the Lord Advocate. The right hon. Gentleman has evaded the issue. The Chancellor of the Exchequer twitted those who opposed the Vote last night by saying that there were very few Scotch Members present to discuss it; but on the right hon. Gentleman's own side of the House there was not a single Scotch Member to defend Sheriff Ivory. No one had a word to say for him except the right hon. Gentleman himself. And the Division List must have shown the right hon. Gentleman what the Scotch Members think of Sheriff Ivory. On the Division five private Scotch Members supported the Vote, and 26 Scotch Members opposed it. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be able to explain that to the House, if he has anything to say on the subject to-night. The Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke of the action taken by Stewart as a bogus action; but Stewart was a poor man, and how, I ask, could sympathy be better shown than by contributing money to enable him to defend his character? If the right hon. Gentleman would not have had the man go to Court, will he say what other course he should have taken? It was necessary to adopt either civil or violent means. A great deal of bitter feeling has been excited in Scotland in consequence of the action of Sheriff Ivory, especially on his second expedition. The reports in such newspapers as the Glasgow Herald and the Edinburgh Scotsman show that by day he was but a mere man-hunter and by night a sort of official moonlighter. No wonder there has been so much agitation against him. As to the publication of his Report, it cannot be contended that the public service required it, nor was that the reason of the publication. He says himself that he was prompted to it by the charges made against him by the Rev. Mr. M'Cullum reflecting on his conduct in making arrests feeling, as he did, that Mr. M'Cullum's charges should be contradicted at once, in as public a manner as they had been made. The interests of the public service had nothing whatever to do with the Sheriff's action; and in view of all the circumstances of the case, I shall vote against the granting of this £200, as I consider it a gross misapplication of the money of the taxpayers.

MR. M'LAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)

I desire, as a Scotchman, to enter my protest against this Vote. I know a good deal of—in fact, I know intimately—the details of the case, and I do not approach it with the view of needlessly taking up the time of the House, but because I feel that the conduct of the Government, in pressing the Vote on the House in opposition to the strong wishes of the great majority of the Scotch Members, is conduct which will be disastrous to the best interests of the Highlands. There are one or two points I wish to touch on—points which, I think, have not been brought out by other speakers in the course of the debate. There are two admissions in Sheriff Ivory's statement that I want specially to call the attention of the House to, and these two points refer to the action of the Law Officers of the Crown in refusing to take up the Sheriff's case. On page 7 of the Correspondence, Sheriff Ivory himself states that he instructed his agents to obtain the services of the Solicitor General for Scotland as one of the counsel in Norman Stewart's ease, but that the Solicitor General returned the papers and declined to act, on the ground of his official position. The Scotch Solicitor General saw that it was not to the interest of the Crown to interfere—an example which it would have been well for the English Law Officers of the Crown to have followed in another case. On page 8 of the Correspondence, Sheriff Ivory says that, in consequence of the difficulties for which the Crown authorities were, to a large extent, responsible, he was advised that the Lord Advocate, by declining to conduct his defence, had plainly intimated that there were no public interests involved in the action. That sentence seems to me a very vital one. If there were no interests of the public service involved, I want to know why we are called upon to pay this £200? If the matter had been one of public interest, and the public interests had been involved, the Lord Advocate or the Solicitor General for Scotland ought to have defended the Sheriff, or to have been willing to defend him; but if there were no public interests involved—if the Lord Advocate thought that then, and has given no reason to lead us to believe that he thinks differently now—we should not be asked to vote this money. It is clear from the correspondence that, in the deliberate judgment of the Treasury and the Government, Sheriff Ivory ought not to have his defence paid for; and the only reason why they have now changed their mind is because they have been worried into it by that gentleman, the Sheriff having written that if the matter had been referred to Mr. A. J. Balfour, who was intimately acquainted with the work he had to do in Skye, he would have been treated differently. I protest against the Government having allowed themselves to be hectored by Sheriff Ivory in this way. Is an official to be screened and compensated by a Government when he does wrong and has to pay for his wrong-doing? I consider it unjustifiable on the part of the Government for them to indemnify an official, when by his deliberate action, without the sanction of his superior officers in the Government, he commits an irregular act. The fact is undoubted that Sheriff Ivory libelled Norman Stewart; for he himself expected that if he had allowed the case to go before the Court he would have been found guilty. I maintain that you will create a very bad impression in Scotland by voting this money. It must be remembered that this innocent man, Norman Stewart—a poor man—was arrested, put in prison, and very nearly convicted, and yet no proposal has ever been made to compensate him. On the other hand, you have the rich man—the official in the Government Administration in Scotland—breaking the law, libelling an innocent man, and when he is obliged to pay damages, the Government come in and grant him an indemnity. You wilt create a feeling that you are condoning a breach of the law, and seriously embitter the minds of the people of the Highlands against your administration.

The House divided:—Ayes 230; Noes 138.—(Div. List, No. 28.)

It being after ten minutes to Seven of the clock, further consideration of the Report of Supply stood adjourned.

Remaining Resolutions to be further considered this day.

Order for further consideration of remaining Resolutions read—

Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the second Resolution."

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