§ *SIR C. RUSSELL (Hackney, S.)
Before rising, I paused for a moment or two in order to see whether the Attorney General would desire first to address the House by way of explanation or other wise. I ask permission of the House to make an explanation with reference to a certain assertion of fact made by the Attorney General in the debate on Friday night, with which my name was prominently associated. I shall best put the House in possession of the matter in controversy if I read some letters which have passed between the Attorney General and myself. On Saturday evening—unfortunately the latter was forwarded after the Attorney General had left town—I wrote the following letter—
§ "10 New Court, Lincoln's-inn, March 23.
§ Dear Attorney General,—I have read with complete astonishment your statement last night in answer to Harcourt. I can hardly believe that you are correctly reported. It is absolutely incorrect to say, or in any form of words to convey, that before Pigott's examination, or indeed before his flight, I had called for, or indeed been referred to, or had had the slightest intimation, direct or indirect, that Pigott had, in letters to Mr. Soames or to Mr. Houston, discredited the value of his testimony.
§ This is a grave matter, and must be set right.
§ Pray let me have an answer promptly.
§ C. RUSSELL.
§ The Attorney General, M. P."
§ The Attorney General received my letter, as he informed me, at 10 o'clock on Sunday night. His reply is as follows:—
§ "Hornton Lodge, Kensington, March 24.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Dear Russell,—I found your note on my return home an hour ago.
§ I only wish I had received it yesterday before I left town, as I would have gone through the shorthand notes.
§ I spoke from recollection on Friday, and if I have made a mistake I will frankly correct it, but my recollection is that you called for all 736 Pigott's letters during Soames's cross-examination, and I undertook to produce them. One or two days afterwards I handed you the printed bundle of letters. I think, but I speak only from recollection, that Soames's letter of November 15 refers to Pigott's letter to Houston of the 11th. I know that I twice tried to read that letter of the 15th before Pigott was called, and you requested me to postpone doing so.
§ Having regard to Harcourt's attack, and the grounds of it, the point is not, in my opinion, of importance. But I believe my recollection to be accurate.
§ I have written a brief statement of my recollection to The Times. I hope it will appear to-morrow.
§ I send this reply within an hour of my return, so I think you will agree that I have been prompt.
§ I am very truly yours,
§ RICHARD WEBSTER.
§ Sir Charles Russell, Q. C., M. P."
§ That letter I received this morning. I at once dictated the letter I am about to read to my clerk, but it did not reach the Attorney General until half-past 1 o'clock—
§ "10, New Court, Lincoln's Inn, Monday.
§ Dear Attorney General,—I thank you for your letter received a few minutes ago.
§ I am sorry my letter of Saturday did not reach you before you left town. I wrote to you immediately on my leaving Court on Saturday, and as soon as I read your statement in the House.
§ That statement was understood to convey that five days before Pigott was in the box you had put into my possession evidence in a specific letter under Pigott's hand tending to discredit his testimony—in other words, that you had thus furnished me with valuable materials for cross-examination to his credit.
§ I am confident you will see that in this you are absolutely mistaken. Neither are you correct in saying that I called for any letter between Mr. Soames and Pigott, except the 'arrangement letter' of Mr. Soames. I do not understand your reference to a printed bundle of letters. You offered to produce that letter of Mr. Soames, i.e., of November 15, after Pigott had actually been called and immediately before he was examined, and you will see from your own observation made at the time that that letter had not been produced, much less handed to me, previously, for you then say that I had complained of its not having been forthcoming before, and this letter had been alluded to as the Times' arrangement with Pigott, both by you and by me. But more. I never knew the contents of Mr. Soames's letter of November 15 to Pigott until after the flight of the latter; and indeed that letter would not have told me that Pigott had, in any letter to Mr. Soames, discredited himself, for, although it acknowledges Pigott's letter of the 11th, it is not in any way conversant with the value of Pigott's testimony, but relates to the 'arrangement in writing,' as you call it, of the Times that Pigott should not come to harm. I assure you most 737 positively that Pigott's discrediting letters came upon my colleagues and myself after Pigott's disappearance as a complete revelation I have not yet had the opportunity of seeing Asquith, but I know he agrees with the view I have expressed, for he telegraphed to me on Saturday—'I do not understand the Attorney General's statement.' I wish to add that while I did, more than once to you, and openly in Court, complain of your conduct of the case and still do complain of it, I have not imputed to you, and do not impute to you, dishonourable conduct, and I shall say so in the House. I thought, and I think, that you were led away by the political character of the case into a course of conduct which, on cooler reflection, and in less exciting circumstances, you would not have pursued.
§ C. RUSSELL.
§ Excuse my dictating to my clerk, but I am pressed."
§ I was absent from the House on Friday, and the reason of my absence, I did hope, would have been understood and appreciated on both sides of the House. I wish in this relation to make a few observations in reference to my absence on Friday. My reason for being absent I thought would have been appreciated on both sides of the House. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James) made an allusion to me, an allusion—kindly meant, as I understand—but the effect of that allusion, the impression it conveyed on this Bench, was that my absence from the discussion was due to the fact that I approved of, or was not prepared to condemn, the conduct of the Attorney General. Now, I wish to express exactly what was the state of the case. I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham (Mr. A. Morley) that I desired to be completely dissociated from the matter. My hon. Friend then said that my absence would be misconstrued—that hon. Members might get up and point to my absence as a proof that I was not, in point of fact, ready to say here what I have said elsewhere. I then authorized my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham to say—
§ Several hon. MEMBERS: Member for Newcastle.
§ *SIR C. RUSSELL
No; my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham. I had no communication with my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle. I gave my hon. Friend authority in case my absence should be referred to in any such fashion, to explain distinctly 738 to the House what is correctly expressed in the letter I have just read—that I did think—I do think; I regret to say I still think—that the conduct of the case has been practically unfair to the defendants in the case; but I do draw—and I am very glad to be able to say so much—a broad line of distinction between conduct of which I feel bound to hold the opinions I entertain, and the imputation of dishonourable conduct to the Attorney General. I have nothing to withdraw from the opinion I expressed in the letter. Now, I do not know whether I should supplement my statement and correspondence—which gives, at least, the pith of the matter—by a reference to the evidence? I am prepared to do so if the House will bear with me. In order to understand the matter it is necessary to refer to what took place in the debate on Friday. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby in the course of his speech said—I wish to know when the Attorney General was made acquainted with the letter of November 17 in which Pigott declared his own infamy and informed Mr. Houston and Mr. Soames that if he went into the witness-box his character would be made known, with the result that the case for the prosecution would be destroyed? I should have thought that it was the first duty of those concerned to ascertain the character and the credibility of a witness upon whose evidence this foul and monstrous charge alone rested.In reference to and in answer to that, the Attorney General, who had previously stated that he was prepared to give chapter and verse, is reported to have spoken as follows:—Will the Committee listen to this statement of simple dates? I have told the House that I knew of this letter in the middle of December. Before Pigott went into the box—five days before—I put that letter into the hands of the hon. and learned Member for South Hackney.The earlier part of the Attorney General's speech shows that he was referring not to the letter of November 15th but to the letter of 11th November. That is so?
§ *SIR C. RUSSELL
Then the Attorney General goes on—So if it was desirable that the other side should know—if they ought to know—that the man's character was discredited, I myself had given that information. ["Withdraw!"] Hon. Members who have cheered me do not want the charges withdrawn. They have been refuted by evidence which cannot be disputed. In the 739 course of Mr. Soames's evidence, which was given some days before the 20th of February, the letter was called for, and I produced it and handed it to the hon. and learned Member for Hackney before Pigott went into the box.Sir W. HARCOURT: Two months afterwards.The ATTORNEY GENERAL: The right hon. Gentleman says two months afterwards.Then the Attorney General went on to say that was not the pith of the accusation, and so on. I think I can make the case pretty clear by referring to the occasion on which the matter came before the Court. Mr. Soames has been repeatedly in the box, and so far as this matter is concerned I may begin with his examination, or his cross-examination, on the 15th of February. On page 2903 of the proceedings I call for the memorandum of Pigott's evidence. Mr. Soames said it was taken from Pigott on 19th October, and in order that the House may follow the bearing of these circumstances let me remind the House that there are three letters in question. On the 11th of November Pigott wrote a letter, called a discrediting letter, to Houston, and Houston destroyed that letter; but fortunately Pigott sent a copy of that letter under cover of another letter to Mr. Soames. The letter of the 11th of November is acknowledged by Mr. Soames on the 15th of November that is the "arrangement letter." It is followed by a further discrediting letter of Pigott's own on the 17th of November. Now, the next point is this. On the same date, 15th February, pages 2918 and 2919, I called for the Pigott-Houston letters. It is rather important that I should call the attention of the House to this, for the Attorney General may possibly be misled on this point. On page 2918, I asked, in cross-examination, "Have letters passed between Richard Pigott and Mr. Houston?—Yes. When did you get them?—About a week or ten days ago. From whom?—From Mr. Macdonald." That is, Mr. Macdonald of the Times. So it is obvious that the answers do not refer to the letter in question, the letter of 11th November, because that letter was sent to Mr. Soames himself. Then a little lower down in the Report it will be seen I call for the Pigott-Labouchere correspondence, and the Memorandum sent by Labouchere to Pigott. Then I asked a question as to the statement which was 740 put into writing almost immediately, and put into the form of a Statutory Declaration. That does not touch the letter in question. Then, on 2922—I think it will be convenient to the Attorney General that I should give these references—the letter of arrangement, as it has been called, is referred to, but that letter is neither produced nor called for at that time. On page 2923, Pigott's statement of further evidence he was prepared to give is also referred to; it was neither called for nor produced; but there was produced the Statutory Declaration given by Pigott to Houston. Up to this time, neither directly nor indirectly, was there any reference to any letter of the 11th of November, or of any other date, having been written by Pigott to Mr. Soames. At the end of Mr. Soames' cross-examination, at page 2931, the papers which had been previously referred to, and which did not include any letters, were asked for and produced. Then came Mr. Macdonald, and after his evidence came the attempt to anticipate Pigott's evidence by calling experts. I will not discuss that now. I am sorry to have had to allude to it even so far, but it was necessary to do it, because we are rapidly approaching the examination of Mr. Houston on the 19th of February. At page 2983 the Statutory Declaration is produced, and a memorandum of conversation with Eugene Davis is asked for at page 2995. On the 20th of November Houston is still under cross-examination, and it was on that day that Pigott made his first appearance in the box. Up to this time there was not a shadow of ground for the suggestion that the letters of Pigott to Mr. Houston and Mr. Soames of the 11th of November and 17th November, and Mr. Soames' letter of the 15th November were referred to in any way. I was cross-examining Houston (seepage 3016) when a noticeable circumstance occurred. I was cross-examining Houston, and I asked him whether he still believed in Pigott, and he said that up to that time he bad had no reason to doubt him, and still anticipated that he would do what he had promised to do, although he did not like Pigott's interview with Mr. Labouchere. I ask the House is it possible, supposing I had had at that time any information as to the existence of the letter which Pigott himself had written to the witness in the box, and 741 which the witness had destroyed, and in which letter Pigott had discredited himself, I should not have put a question about it to Houston. On the same occasion, in page 3031 of the shorthand notes, the arrangement in writing is referred to as not having been up to then produced. At the bottom of page 3035 the Attorney General's re-examination proceeds—Before Mr. Pigott comes I will put in a letter Sir C. Russell has called for of November 15th, but which has not been produced—the arrangement in writing.This is the Attorney General's description of it. It was a letter in which Mr. Soames acknowledged the letter of the 11th, and made no reference whatever to its discrediting character so far as Pigott's evidence was concerned. Then I said I would wish that put in when Mr. Pigott was in the box.The Attorney General: As a matter of fact you did not. If you say so now it is another matter. I give it to my learned friend now.Sir C. Russell: I said so at the end of my cross-examination.The Attorney General: When you called for it Mr. Soames was in the box, and you asked for it, and rather complained of our not having it at the time.Sir C. Russell: No.The Attorney General: It is not worth discussing, however, my Lords. I tender it at any time.Though Pigott had been called he was not actually in the box, and I did not even then get the letter (though the Attorney General did offer to put it in) of the 15th November. But even if I had got that letter it could not have shown that Pigott was a discreditable witness. I wish to make this matter perfectly plain. On February 26 Pigott had disappeared, never to re-appear in the witness-box, and Houston was recalled. On page 3209 of the shorthand notes appears the following—The Attorney General: There is one matter I submit to your Lordships should come first in fairness and justice. Your Lordships will remember in the course of Mr. Soames being in the box Sir Charles Russell called for a communication between Mr. Pigott and Mr. Soames, and Mr. Soames at once said he would produce it.Sir C. Russell: I do not object to it.The Attorney General: On my offering that it should be put in, Sir Charles Russell asked me to postpone it until Mr. Pigott was in the box. I have no doubt Sir Charles would have read it at some time or other, but I ask to be allowed to put Mr. Soames in the box before anything else is done, and your Lordships will 742 get from him the communications that he had with Pigott on the subject. I venture to think that my learned friend will agree this is a right course.Sir C. Russell: I have no objection at all, provided I am at liberty to call Mr. George Lewis.The Attorney General: That is no condition at all.The President: We will adjourn.The Court adjourned.Up to this time it is clear that the letter of the 15th of November had not been put in; that is perfectly obvious. What then takes place? After the adjournment the Attorney General said—I was about to read a letter from Pigott to Mr. Soames; but I will take the course at present suggested, and will read the letter of the 15th of November and the letter of the 11th, which is referred to in it, which were those which were called for by Sir Charles Russell.I ask the Attorney General to refer to any syllable or line, or to any suggestion, great or small, direct or indirect, where I ever referred to the letter of the 11th of November. I could not have done it, because I did not know of its existence. The Attorney General goes on to say—Your Lordships will afterwards judge whether the other should be read or not. I read the 15th of November—first, I had better read the 11th of November, 1888, from Mr. Pigott to Mr. Soames:—'I enclose you a copy of a letter I am sending Mr. Harrison by this post, to which I must earnestly request your earliest attention'—that is, the 11th of November from Dublin. The letter enclosed is in these terms—'8th November, from Pigott to Houston. Dear Sir,—Enclosed completes story of the negotiations.'The witness: No; that is not the letter, I think.The 8th of November, I think?—No, that is not the enclosure.How does it begin?—The enclosure is the 11th of November, 1888.Have you got it?—I have.Just read it, please.The President: Is this the letter which was enclosed in the letter of the 11th?—It is a letter written to me, my Lord, by Mr. Pigott, enclosing a copy of a letter that he had written the same day addressed to Mr. Houston.Not, then, of the 8th of November?—No; that is another letter.Now, again, I ask the Attorney General either to admit that he has made a mistake—we may differ as to the importance of the mistake—or to point out any passage in the whole of the evidence to show there was, from the beginning to the end, any reference to any letter of November 11th. Now, this remarkable passage occurs. According to the statement 743 of the Attorney General, I am supposed to have had this letter in my possession since February 20th, five days before February 26th. On the occasion in question, what happened? I asked—Have you got any copy of this?The Attorney General: Read it, please.Sir Charles Russell Kindly give me a copy.The Attorney General: I have not got a copy.Yet it is said that that document, of which I was asking for a copy, had been in my possession for five days. I do not know that there is any other matter to which I desire to call attention. I can assure the House—and I hope that those on both sides of the House who know me will believe me when I say it—it is no pleasure to me—far from it—to have to say one word in reference to this matter, and if it had not been for the mistaken kindness on the part of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bury, I certainly should not have intervened to-night. But I feel called upon to give an explanation on a matter of fact, and though it may give pain to the Attorney General—which I greatly regret—to express my honest feeling and opinion as to the mode, which I do not think a fair one, in which the case has been conducted.
§ *THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir RICHARD WEBSTER,) Isle of Wight
I shall not detain the House for more than a very few minutes. If I have made any mistake I shall frankly admit it. I will merely state my belief in the matter in the same way as my hon. and learned Friend has stated his, and if I am in error I do not know whether the difference between us will ever be solved, but I will state to the House exactly the material on which I form my judgment. I respect my hon. and learned Friend's recollection, and I ask him to give the same credit to my recollection. I must ask to be allowed to make one or two preliminary remarks, which I shall do without the slightest feeling. I only regret that my hon. and learned Friend was not in the House when the attack was made upon me, because I think he would have shared with me the feelings of indignation at the imputations which were made upon me by the right hon. Member for Derby It is all very well for my hon. and learned Friend to say that he makes no 744 imputation upon my honour, but it is hardly possible for any one who heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby to think that he made none. That right hon. Gentleman brought eight or nine charges against me, every one of which I answered. I undertake to say that I have answered every one of them, though I will not undertake to say I satisfied every hon. Member on the other side. The suggestion now made is that in respect of one part of one of those charges I am mistaken in fact. I do not believe that I made any mistake; but if I did say that, it is upon an almost immaterial point. ["Oh!"] I am sure my hon. and learned Friend will deal fairly with me; it is of no use for the right hon. Member for Derby to-express silent signs of contempt. The charge made against me is that I kept back—and this is the sting of the charge—from the Court all knowledge of the letters of the 11th and of the 17th of November. I admit at once that I was under some misapprehension as to the date. I had no notice at the time of the particular details of the charges—of that I do not complain; but, as a matter of fact, I had no notice of them. I had to rely entirely upon my memory. I had not the shorthand notes to refer to, and I made a mistake as to a date, as I did last night when I wrote my letter. I thought that the letter so much commented on by the right hon. Member for Derby was the letter of Soames to Pigott of November 15. I did not apply my mind to the letter of the 17th of November. What I had in my mind was the letter of the 11th, which I thought was the letter of the 15th. That letter was described by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby as being a letter in which Pigott declared his own infamy, and informed Mr. Houston and Mr. Soames that if he went into the witness-box his character would be known, with the result the case for the prosecution would be destroyed. I said in the House that that was an absolutely incorrect representation of what Pigott's letter was. I said there was no word in Pigott's letter, be it that letter of the 11th, 15th, or 17th, which justified any such statement. But the charge was that I kept that letter back from the Court. Now, I am not complaining to my hon. and learned Friend, who conducted the case with great 745 forensic ability; but will any barrister kindly consider what the real facts are? I will put the case worse against myself. I agree that I was wrong about the five days I quoted from memory. I believe I should have said two days. I will explain exactly how the error arose. I had nothing to go by except my recollection of the actual course of events. On February 20 last I specifically asked to be allowed to put in the letter of November 15, 1888. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby will be good enough to follow me upon a question of my bonâ fides in this matter. I offered to put in the letter of November 15, 1888. How does that letter commence, and the House will then see whether this argument of my hon. and learned Friend is really possible. The letter of November 15 begins—I am in receipt of yours of the 11th, enclosing a copy of a letter you have addressed to Mr. Houston.Is there any barrister, or anybody who ever practised at all, who will suggest that if I had been allowed to read that letter of November 15 I could have declined to put in the enclosure referred to of November 11? The mistake has arisen entirely from my not having the shorthand notes with me. Thinking that the letter to which reference has been made was under date the 15th, I referred to it as the letter of that date. It must be remembered that although I knew more than a month ago the debate was to be raised, I received not the slightest idea from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby of the nature of the charges he was going to bring against me. All I can say is that I meant to put in before the Court, and I offered to put in, a letter of November 15; and if that letter had been read the result would have been this—that then the letter of November 11 must also have been read. Let me tell the House exactly how the matter stands. My hon. and learned Friend desires to discuss here a matter which he may afterwards desire to discuss before the Court.
§ *SIR R. WEBSTER
My hon. and learned Friend cannot make an attack upon me without my being allowed to make a reply. He has said he is 746 going to attack me in the Commission. I am perfectly aware of it, and I said before the Commission that I would bear with resignation the attacks to be subsequently made by my hon. and learned Friend. It is before the Commission that my conduct in reference to the case will have to be discussed. But this debate is raised upon this, comparatively speaking, minor point, because my hon. and learned Friend elected that no single part of the Pigott correspondence should be read until Pigott went into the box. My hon. and learned Friend will not differ from me on that point; but I was bound to produce it all. I ask my hon. and learned Friend just to let me tell what my recollection is. I do not agree with his very minute criticism of the shorthand writer's notes, but I will tell the House how I understood the particular answer to which he attached so much importance. I do not at all agree that when he asked for the Pigott and Houston correspondence he simply meant to ask for the letters which came from Mr. Macdonald. It is perfectly plain he did not; for, in the same breath, he asked for the Pigott and Labouchere, the Houston and Pigott, and the Pigott and George Lewis correspondence. Now, I assert that not one of these latter ever was in the hands of Mr. Macdonald; and I assert that the correspondence of Pigott and Labouchere and of George Lewis and Pigott was never in any hands except those of Mr. Houston and Mr. Soames. Therefore, so far from only intending to call for the letters in the hands of Mr. Macdonald, my hon. and learned Friend asked distinctly for all correspondence and the Statutory declaration. My hon. and learned Friend's memory misleads him. He asked for the letters which had come from Mr. Macdonald, and then made a general request for the letters Mr. Soames had. But he did not stop there. Before the adjournment on that day my hon. and learned Friend asked Mr. Soames whether he had got the papers. Mr. Soames said he had not been able to get them, but would get them after the adjournment of the Court. The 15th of February, I wish the House to remember, was a Friday, which is the reason I came to make the mistake about the five days. I have endeavoured to ascertain the accuracy of my recollection by asking Mr. Soames distinctly as to 747 what was done; and I will state to the House the result of my conversation with Mr. Soames. On the Friday, or the Saturday following, printed copies of the correspondence were prepared to be handed to counsel in different bundles. My recollection is distinct that on the following Tuesday morning I handed to my hon. and learned Friend the Pigott and Soames bundle of letters. He says "No." Has he searched his papers? Is he sure the bundle is not among his papers? It really is immaterial on the merits of the matter; but I believe there will be found among the papers the very bundle that I handed to him. It may be that he handed it back to Mr. Soames; he very often did hand back bundles if they were not going to be put in. But my recollection is distinct that I handed it to my hon. and learned Friend, and I asked him to let me then read the letter of November 15, which, if there was any cat to be let out of the bag, would have let out the cat with respect to the letter of November 11. I repeat, although it is almost childish to argue it, that if I put in a letter of the 15th I could not decline to put in a letter of the 11th referred to in it. My hon. and learned Friend is not only a most astute man in all these matters, but he was assisted by juniors who are rapidly following in his steps. And they would immediately have called for that letter, and I should have had to produce it. I can only say I believe I handed a bundle to my hon. and learned Friend on Tuesday, February 19. I may be mistaken. I can only state what I stated in a letter written last night, and which appears in the Times this morning. I do not say that my hon. and learned Friend ever read the letter. I have never suggested anything of the kind. It may be that, inasmuch as he was not going to deal with the matter until Pigott went into the box, he did not consider it of sufficient importance to look the bundle through. But Mr. Soames informs me, quite independently of my own statement, that his recollection is distinct that the bundle was handed to my hon. and learned Friend. Have the papers been looked through to see whether that bundle is in existence or not? It is perfectly clear from Mr. Soames's examination of February 20 that I handed some document to my hon and learned Friend, and 748 that he said he did not wish it read until Pigott was in the box. I say again, my hon. and learned Friend must not and will not misrepresent me in what I have not stated. I had not the slightest communication with anybody last night when I wrote my letter. I wrote from recollection, and without any reference to shorthand notes at all. I ask the House to allow me to read from that letter, because I cannot put the matter more distinctly. I wrote that "In the course of Mr. Soames's cross-examination Sir Charles Russell asked for all letters which had passed between Mr. Soames and Pigott, and I undertook to produce them; that the next day or the next day but one "—of course I meant by that the next day when the Court assembled—" I handed Sir Charles Russell a printed bundle of the correspondence containing, as I believe, copies of Pigott's letter, of November 15 and November 17." Now, the House will judge whether I meant to mislead anyone. What did I say:—" As far as my memory serves me, the copy of Pigott's letter to Mr. Houston of the 11th of November was not in the bundle, but as to this my recollection is not distinct." I admit that, in so far as the other night I referred to the Pigott letter as a separate and distinct document of November 15th, I was wrong. I ought really to have referred to it as a document of November 11th which was referred to in Mr. Soames' letter. I only wish to read one concluding sentence, and to ask whether it does not represent my position fairly. The charge made against me by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby was that I had kept these matters back from the Court; that I had vouched Pigott as a witness of truth, and had not told the Court that there was this letter in my possession. That letter would have been read just before Pigott was produced, but that my hon. and learned Friend elected that the correspondence should not be read until Pigott was in the box. I do not believe that any one will deny that after reading the letter of the 15th, the letter of the 11th of November must have come out, and, of course, I intended that it should come out. May I remind the House that on the 26th of February I actually mentioned the letter of the 11th of November as one which had been called for by my hon. and learned Friend? 749 Accordingly, this is the position. The charge of the right hon. Gentleman was this—that I had kept back those letters and put Pigott into the box without disclosing them. I state again that I wished that correspondence to be read before Pigott went into the box. I state again, as I stated on Friday with warmth—I do not apologize for that warmth—that when I tendered that letter of the 15th of November I tendered it as part of the correspondence, and I meant to produce the letter of the 11th. The whole of this debate has been raised for the purpose of justifying the conduct of my hon. and learned Friend, because he thought fit not to put in these letters before Pigott was called. ["Oh!"] The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby may say "Oh!" as much as he likes. How is the position of Friday night altered from that of to-night? Is there any honest person who will suggest that I kept back the letter of the 15th of November? ["Yes."] Is there any one to suggest that I tried to keep back the letter of the 15th of November? ["Yes."] I repeat again if my hon. and learned Friend says he never saw these letters, I believe that he never did see them, or has no recollection of it. But I ask him to respect my recollection, which is, that when I handed him the bundle, my hon. and learned Friend did not wish the letter read until Pigott was in the box. The charge against me on Friday night is without foundation. I disclosed, and ordered to be prepared and put in, all the letters that passed on Tuesday morning, the 19th. I repeat my recollections and strong belief that if the papers are searched it will be found, and that the only reason they were not put in when produced was because my hon. and learned Friend desired to keep them back. I do not think the attempt to prove me in the wrong is worth the amount of discussion which has taken place. It has necessitated my going into the matter at some length. I have shown no warmth, I have simply dealt with the question as one of fact. It is only one of the many charges, and one part of many charges, which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby thought it right to bring against me, and it is some satisfaction that it is upon this point only that the Party opposite have been able 750 to find the slightest rift in the joints of my armour.
§ *MR. ASQUITH (Fife, E.)
I can assure the House it is with reluctance that I rise to intervene in this debate. Like my hon. and learned Friend (Sir C. Russell) I took no part in the discussion or the division on Friday night. I abstained for reasons which I should have thought would have been free from the misconception of the most unscrupulous partisans, but the matter has now reached a stage when, in the interest of historical accuracy, if upon no other grounds, I must endeavour to make perfectly clear the actual state of the case. The Attorney General says this point is of very minor importance. That is a matter of opinion. I was not present in the House during the debate on Friday, but we read in the papers that no part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech was received with such tumultuous applause as the declaration that he had spontaneously volunteered, five days before Pigott went into the box, to furnish to the other side materials for testing this witness of truth whom he was about to produce.
§ *MR. ASQUITH
Quite so; but I am dealing with the importance of the point. Now, what are the facts as they have been elucidated from the shorthand notes, and the statement of my hon. and learned Friend (Sir C. Russell)? Instead of this letter of the 11th of November being produced voluntarily—if it ever was produced at all—it was produced in response to a call in cross-examination, which had to be responded to. Instead of the letter being produced, upon the Attorney General's own admission, five days before, it was tendered on the 20th of February, just as Pigott was about to enter the box. Now, that is common ground between us. As to the letter itself, I assert—and I have as clear a recollection of the matter as I have of anything that ever took place in my life—I assert that neither my hon. and learned Friend nor myself—and I need not say we were in the closest communication in this matter—had the ghost of a glimmering of a notion that there was a letter from Pigott in which he announced that his testimony could not be relied upon. When Pigott went into the box, although 751 we knew something about his antecedents, we believed that he was being put forward as a witness of truth, just as informer after informer had been put forward in the earlier stages of the case. That being so, let me call attention to one remarkable statement made by the Attorney General. His statement the other night was that he had communicated to us the incriminating letters in which Pigott admits he would be discredited on cross-examination. What is his statement to-day? That he had tendered in evidence the letter of the 15th of November, not from Pigott to Soames, but from Soames to Pigott, which contained a reference to the letter of the 11th of November from Pigott to Soames, and that if that letter had been put in then there would have been an opportunity of calling for the letter of the 11th of November. Does he really mean to say that these two statements amount to the same thing? I will not comment upon that statement; the facts are before the House. The shorthand notes bear out in every particular the recollection of my hon. Friend which tallies with my own; and I leave the matter to the honest judgment of any fair-minded and impartial man who reads the statements on both sides.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
I have no desire to aggravate the position of the Attorney General, which must be somewhat painful to him. He has said that this is a matter of no importance. It is wonderful how the importance of things varies according to their issues. We are told now that the forged letter is a matter of no importance. It was not considered a matter of no importance when it was published in the Times on the morning of the Second Reading of the Coercion Bill. Now, we are told that this point is of no importance; but the House on Friday night thought it was of importance, as every one will remember. The Attorney General said that he had no notice that he was expected to refer to this matter. I am surprised at that, as I referred to it at Derby and Lambeth, and warned him that he would be asked in this House as to the letter of the 11th of November.
§ *SIR R. WEBSTER
The right hon. Gentleman did not say a word in his speeches about my keeping the letters back.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
That was my object in challenging him. I asked him when he knew of them. I never supposed he could have known of them and not communicate them. The Attorney General has spoken of my charge against him. What was my charge against him? I said before, and I repeat now, that the Attorney General two months and a half before Pigott came into the box knew that he was a discreditable and discredited witness. I say upon that that it was the duty of any public prosecutor to make inquiry—I do not mean personally, but to instruct his solicitor to inquire into the character of that man. I said that he ought not in a criminal prosecution to produce a man of that character without giving some notice to the accused. This is altogether a foolish attempt to raise a side issue. The real issue is whether Pigott should have been called or not. What I said was that a man who knew what the Attorney General knew in December ought not to lie by and endeavour to keep alive until the last moment the charge involved in the forged letters against the hon. Member for Cork, and to encourage the Times, knowing what he knew, to publish what it did publish every morning. The Attorney General, I said, had kept back his knowledge until the last moment, and only revealed it when driven to the last extremity. It is quite certain that to the defence that letter was never known until the 26th of February, when Pigott had left the country, and if he had not left it would have only postponed the knowledge for another week in order to keep the calumny alive. What answer is there to that? There is no answer; it is confirmed like the rest—like the apology—out of the mouth of the Attorney General. There is one circumstance which is conclusive against the version which the Attorney General has offered to the House. He says that he gave the letters—
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
It is an extraordinary thing, if my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney and my hon. and learned Friend for Dumbarton received letters of that kind, that they did not understand them. Does anybody believe that for a single moment? I say they were not given. There is another circumstance deserving 753 of observation. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney referred to the cross-examination of Houston. That cross-examination took place in the presence of the Attorney General, the Attorney General knew that Houston had been informed by Pigott that he was a discredited and discreditable witness, and yet the witness said, "I had complete confidence in Pigott and had no reason to doubt him." The Attorney General knew that was a false statement, and yet he sat by while he heard a statement made to the Court which he knew to be false. The hon. and learned Gentleman sits by and allows that evidence to be presented as truth. I think that such a thing is altogether unknown in the criminal jurisprudence of this country. ["Oh!" from the Ministerial Benches.] Then you approve of it. That is worthy of you. When documents have been proved to be forgeries you assert they are true; when such proceedings as this in a criminal prosecution are brought before you you say that is what you wished your Attorney General to do, and you admire him for having done it. Here this witness states in the presence of the Attorney General that which the Attorney General knows to be false. ["Oh, oh!"] Yes, he did know it. Houston had stated to him that he had no confidence in Pigott's evidence.
§ *SIR R. WEBSTER
I am most unwilling to interpose, but I say distinctly that there is not the slightest shadow of foundation for the statement that I either knew or had any reason to know that the answer of Mr. Houston was not true.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Houston was called in February. On the 17th of February Pigott had written a letter. There were two letters, one on the 11th of November by Pigott to Houston, the other on the 17th of November by Pigott to Soames. The purport of both was exactly the same, though the expressions are different. The letter to Soames said:—I am bound again to warn you that my testimony will be certain to be so sensibly weakened in cross-examination as to be seriously injured.Yet the Attorney General considers that consistent with Houston swearing that he had confidence in Pigott Does he think it worth while to let that 754 statement go to the House; aye, and to the country? Look how this case has been dealt with. Soames knew the case of the Times to be rotten. Certainly in November when he received that letter, he knew that Pigott was not to be trusted; the Attorney General knew about the letter on the 12th of December, and he, therefore, also knew the case to be rotten; and yet we have all these combined to keep alive the charge against the hon. Member for Cork. They called the experts first, and this is the only explanation the Attorney General has to give. If there was any doubt about the matter, they ought to have brought it forward and disposed of it at the earliest moment. If they had any reason to doubt the evidence of Pigott, they ought to have called him in November or December, so that the matter might have been investigated and dealt with, and if the evidence, as they had every reason to believe, was not to be depended upon, then the hon. Member for Cork would at least have been discharged from this odious imputation. You may spin cobwebs of miserable professional etiquette. The common sense of the country will see that they are a pretence. It will see that a number of men having reason to suspect that the charges were false and the evidence insufficient combined to keep those charges alive until the very last moment. And why? Because they knew the moment they were brought forward, they would break down and their falsehood would be detected, that was the reason they kept them alive. It was one of the most deliberate acts of professional cruelty and injustice which could be inflicted by an Attorney General or a Public Prosecutor. That is the reason why I thought it my duty, knowing the opinion of counsel in the case, to use the words "deliberate unfairness" or the word "unfairness" which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney has used. The Attorney General has imputed to me that I charged him with dishonourable conduct. I never used the word. People's ideas of honour differ. Your ideas of honour may be that unfairness is honourable. That is the charge, mark you—unfairness to the accused under such an accusation as the hon. Member for Cork laboured under, unfairness by 755 a man in the position of the Queen's Attorney General commanding all the influence and all the power of the Crown. Unfairness is charged against him by the counsel to whom he was opposed, and he says, "Oh, that is a very different thing from a charge of dishonour." That I will not enter into. My charge against the Attorney General was and is in this House, and shall be out of this House—[Ministerial laughter.] Oh, yes, you are not going to determine this question now. You are very much mistaken if you think so. This case, which lies at the very root of the administration of justice, and which shows how the principles you have introduced into Irish Justice are poisoning the administration, will go before the judgment of the country. I say that a more lamentable example of the degradation of the principles which have hitherto governed and distinguished the Bar was never brought under the final judgment of the country.
§ *THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir E. CLARKE,) Plymouth
There is not much "miserable etiquette" about the right hon. Gentleman, either professional or otherwise. With a just admiration for his own speeches, he has taken advantage of the opportunity of the conversation which has arisen this afternoon for repeating, with somewhat livelier tones and with additional declamation, the speech which he made last Friday evening. I am not going to re-open the whole controversy. I do not think the House wishes at length to discuss the whole matter again. My hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney have both made statements to the House this evening with regard to a matter of fact upon which their memories do not agree. ["Oh," and laughter.] I should deserve to be smiled at if I said their memories did agree. Each has appealed to the shorthand notes. The right hon. Gentleman has said that he did not charge my hon. and learned Friend with dishonourable conduct. Does he charge him with dishonourable conduct now?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I will tell the Solicitor General what I charge the Attorney General with. I charge him with what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Hackney (Sir Charles Russell) has charged him with 756 —the unfair conduct of a criminal prosecution.
§ *THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
Now, Mr. Speaker, the House shall be witness and judge. The right hon. Gentleman does not answer with a "yes" my question whether he charges my hon. Friend with dishonourable conduct or not. He says that standards of honour are different. I hope there is no one in the House who will listen to the words I am about to read, taken down from the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon, and then doubt whether he has made a charge of dishonourable conduct against my hon. and learned Friend. He said of my hon. and learned Friend that "on Friday night he thought it worth while to make this statement to influence the judgment of the House." The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that in saying that a man has thought it worth while to make a statement, the accuracy and truthfulness of which he knew could not be sustained, you are charging him with as clear an act of dishonour as it is possible to conceive.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The words "worth while" were used in relation to the hon. and learned Gentleman's statement that it was not a matter of importance.
§ *THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
No, Sir, I cannot accept that statement. The right hon. Gentleman said that my hon. and learned Friend thought it worth while to make the statement in order to influence the judgment of the House. If the right hon. Gentleman means to say that a gentleman of honour can have such an accusation made against him without repelling it with indignation, then certainly the canons of honourable conduct with which he is acquainted are hardly those which will be accepted by the majority of this House. The right hon. Gentleman has made another charge against my hon. and learned Friend, and it is one of a very serious character—that he sat silent while Houston gave evidence which he knew to be false, and that it was his duty to have interposed. Now, in the evidence of Houston, in the passage to which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Hackney referred, there was no duty whatever on the part of Counsel to interpose. There was no statement there made by Houston as to a matter 757 of fact upon which any counsel in the case knew he was telling an untruth. What Houston said was that until Pigott had made a declaration on oath his mind was not easy, as he knew that a large bribe had been offered to him. On November 11, Pigott wrote his letter expressing his unwillingness to come forward, and warning those acting for the Times that his cross-examination would most certainly tend to discredit his evidence in chief. There was a perfectly obvious reason for which Pigott was then trying to escape the necessity of going into the witness box, and he states that reason quite clearly in his letter of the 17th. He says: "May I suggest as an alternative that I should not be asked to come forward, but be provided with means to leave the country—at least, for a long period." He goes on to add that the effect of his evidence might be neutralized by cross-examination. ["Hear, hear!" from the Front Opposition Bench] The right hon. Gentleman who sits open mouthed to cheer every comma is not a Member of the Bar. Does he mean to suggest that because a witness fears that his evidence may be neutralized by cross-examination, that that makes him a discreditable witness. As I have said already there was an obvious reason why Pigott should try to escape the necessity of going into the witness-box. I am not going to break through the rule which I observed on Friday, and which I intend to observe, namely, that, until the Commissioners have pronounced a judgment on this part of the case I will not discuss the conduct of the case or what has taken place before the Commissioners except so far as may be absolutely necessary in regard to debate in this House; but I say, after reading the passages in the letters I have referred to, and seeing the statements which were made by Houston in cross-examination, it is idle to suggest that any sort of duty called on the counsel appearing for the Times at that investigation to interfere and make any statement with regard to Houston. I spoke of this incident as a conversation. It really is. I expected it to be a personal statement on the part of the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, who desired to clear up his relation to the debate on Friday, and on the part of my hon. and learned Friend, whose recollection 758 as expressed on Friday had been challenged in the public papers. There was not, I think, any necessity for the area of the debate being widened by the recurrence of the right hon. Gentleman to his attack on Friday. I do not understand how there can be a doubt in his own mind as to the tenour and purport of the language which he used in this House. At all events, I hold that here again there has been an absolute and entire failure to attach to my hon. and learned Friend that stigma which, in the heat and vigour of Party antagonism, it was attempted to throw upon him on Friday.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
I think that if the wishes of Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench were consulted the area of the debate would be exceedingly small. Let me tell the House the reason Pigott gave me why he did not wish to appear in the witness box. It was because he had forged the letters. The Solicitor General has asked whether we charge the Attorney General with dishonourable conduct. We have specified and proved what the hon. and learned Gentleman has done, and we leave it to others outside this House to decide whether he has acted honourably or dishonourably. We do not assert the one or the other, but we leave it to the constituencies of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and the constituencies of all of us, to decide. One point with which the Solicitor General was exceedingly indignant was that the right hon. Member for Derby should have said that the Attorney General sat still while Houston made statements in the witness box which he must have known to be false. Why, Houston must have known his statement to be false when he said he still believed in Pigott. It did not depend on any interview Pigott had with me, although that might have shaken Houston's confidence in his own witness. It depended on his statement made, not on November 11, but in a letter referred to in the letter of November 11, which was written by Pigott to Houston in May, 1887. I say no one could have received a letter like that, in regard to a witness of the importance of Pigott, without having grave doubts about him. What did Houston do? Why, when he was over in Dublin, where the reputation of Pigott was notorious, he absolutely 759 did not ask anybody what they knew of him. Why, Sir, it is clear that Houston knew perfectly well that Pigott was a notorious scoundrel at that time. But he took uncommon good care not to ask anyone; Mr. Soames took very good care not to ask Houston, and the Attorney General took very good care not to ask Soames or anybody else. That is the real truth of the matter. But, Sir, I was really asking myself just now what it is that hon. Gentlemen opposite are not prepared to cheer? I was complaining that certain letters written by Pigott to Mr. Soames, the solicitor, were not produced in Court. On Friday night the Attorney General said, "I did disclose them," and hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House cheered rapturously. To-day he gets up and says, "I did not disclose them," and hon. Gentlemen opposite still cheer. No matter what the Attorney General may assert—he may say to-day black is white, and to-morrow white is black—he will still command the subservient cheers of hon. Gentlemen on the other side. The Attorney General asserts that he gave these letters in a bundle to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney; but of that there is not one vestige or tittle of confirmation in the shorthand notes, which are taken verbatim. He says to the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Charles Russell), "Look among your papers; you must surely find those letters in your papers. It may be," he says—and I point out this sort of special pleading, which we are becoming accustomed to—"that you did not read them, and that you gave them back to Mr. Soames." Has Mr. Soames looked among his papers? Are they in Mr. Soames' papers? Of course, they are not; how, then, could my learned Friend possibly have given them back to him? The Attorney General further told us that he had no copies in Court of the letters. Were these originals thrown about, and no copies made of them? Yet we are asked to believe that these original letters, which were about the most important matters, were thrown to gentlemen who were conducting the defence, that they did not pick them up, that Mr. Soames might have got them, but that he has not got them, that he does not know whether he got them, and 760 that they must have fallen down and disappeared somewhere. No, Sir; the Attorney General can hardly hope to better the most unfortunate position in which, I am sorry to say, he is at present in regard to public opinion in this House and out of it, by such utter and gross special pleading as we have heard from him this evening. The Attorney General observed that had the Member for South Hackney been in his place on Friday night, he would have been indignant at the charges made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member of Derby. Sir, it is time that we should have a clear and distinct understanding whether lawyers in this House are to be lawyers first and representatives afterwards, or Members first and lawyers afterwards. I do not complain of the Gentlemen who are engaged in this case on this side of the House, that they did not vote. I think it would have been far more decorous had the Attorney General not voted that he was an honourable man. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury distinguished himself by the tone of his speech on Friday, and walked out of the House and did not vote. But I want to know what became of the other lawyers who were not in the case? What became of the hon. and learned Gentleman sitting on that Bench (the front Opposition Bench). We have had trouble enough to get that Gentleman into the House, and he does not add very much to our strength in debate. If he is not going to vote for us, what does he come here for? I find the Times defiant and boastful this morning because our lawyers did not vote against the Attorney General, whereas the lawyers on the other side voted rapturously in favour of him. The Times tells us that the action of these lawyers was a silent protest against the action of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby. "This demonstration was not less significant because it was for the most part silent," but Mr. Osborne Morgan and Mr. Bryce "sank their professional character in that of partizans." Did hon. Gentlemen opposite sink their professional character in that of partizans when they voted for the Attorney General? All I say is this, are we to have this understanding in the House, that when a lawyer is accused of doing anything 761 out of the House, all the lawyers on one side are to vote for him and all the lawyers on the other side are to walk out? Let us understand. There is a letter in the Times from the hon. and learned Member for Cambridgeshire, who says there is but one feeling among practising barristers holding the opinions of the hon. Gentleman himself—one of regret and shame that such charges should have been brought by a once law officer of the Crown. Is my right hon. Friend, because he was once a law officer of the Crown, never to bring an accusation against a lawyer? Those ideas are degrading and derogatory to the honour of this House, and they are entirely contrary to any sort of principle upon which representative Government is based. The Attorney General got up to-night and said perhaps he had made a little mistake, very trifling and unimportant. But, Sir, he did not answer one of the charges brought by my right hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend asked him whether he had been consulted by the Government as to the Special Commission. His answer was, "I cannot disclose." He was then asked if the Government had given their assent. As I understood, the Government had given their assent, though I believe, as a matter of fact, they are obliged to give their assent, or certify, when a Queen's Counsel is engaged in a criminal matter. Then he was accused of giving no names of witnesses, and he replied, "I was not going to give the names, because of the fear of their being intimidated." But this is a public case, in which certain gentlemen are charged with being the aiders and abettors of assasination. Lord Justice Cockburn is precisely such an authority as the hon. and learned Gentleman would reverence. Many are old enough to remember what took place in 1856. Sir Alexander Cockburn, then Attorney General, prosecuted Palmer for murder. He not only gave the names of the witnesses, but he furnished pieces of the evidence which they were going to give, so anxious was he that justice should be done. But in these proceedings the Attorney General declined to give the proofs of witness after witness to those who were engaged for the defence. He made it doubly difficult for the defence. Sir, every resource in the category of chicanery has been exhausted in order 762 to blacken and defame gentlemen who are Members of this House. I say I am glad that this debate has taken place. I trust that again and again we shall recur to this point, until the country thoroughly and distinctly understands that we, at least, on this side of the House protest against this conduct, and openly and frankly express our opinion that it is base and scandalous.
§ MR. WHITBREAD (Bedford)
Mr. Speaker, I beg to be allowed to say a few words. I must revert to the speech of the Solicitor General, who read a portion of the letters of the 11th and 17th November. Does the Solicitor General pretend to tell an assembly of this kind that those two letters contained nothing which would rouse the suspicion of any solicitor or any barrister that the man who wrote them was not a witness of truth, and could not stand to the testimony that he had undertaken to give? I do not think the Solicitor General would assert any such thing. The Prosecution were not satisfied even then that Pigott would do as Houston had said—fulfil his promises—until they had got from him a sworn undertaking. They thought they had him in the vice then. The Solicitor General has read! almost all the passages referring to Houston's evidence. What did Houston say? That his faith in Pigott was shaken, not, mark, by the letter of the 17th November, which he had in his pocket, or in his possession, but simply because Pigott paid a visit to the hon. Member (Mr. Labouchere); so that all the while the Attorney General must have known that the reason which Houston gave for doubting the truthfulness of the witness was not the two letters in which Pigott admitted that he would be shaken in cross-examination, but the fact that Pigott had paid a visit to the hon. Member for Northampton. There is, however, a graver question than this to which no answer has been given. How comes it that, knowing as they must have known, and as they would admit that they knew, that Pigott was a doubtful witness to say the least of it—how came it, in Heaven's name, that they still kept the charge alive, ever since the day that they became possessed of that letter up to the time they put Pigott into the box? Not one word of justification has been urged for this course. This seems to me to be the 763 gravamen of the charge. The Attorney General allowed his client the Times, with its enormous circulation, to go on parading in the forefront of its broad sheet these charges and facsimiles and all the rest of it, and for two and a-half months he kept the hon. Member for Cork with this dreadful charge hanging over him, when he must have known that, not in generosity, but in the simplest and most elementary justice, he ought to have brought that charge to an issue. There has been no justification offered for this. We must draw our own conclusions, and the conclusion to which I am driven is that it was hoped that the tar of all the rest of the accusations might possibly stick to the surface, even if it were brightened and cleaned by this other dreadful charge. It seems to me that the connection of the Attorney General with this case has been most unfortunate from beginning to end. It was the Attorney General's connection with the case that really led to the creation of the Commission. When the Attorney General, sitting face to face with hon. Gentlemen from Ireland opposite, said that in open Court he would prove these charges, and especially the letters, I felt that the position of hon. Gentlemen sitting for Ireland on that side of the House was an intolerable one, and that they must accept almost any tribunal that was offered. If I had had a Bar training I might have drawn a distinction between what the Attorney General said as counsel and what he said as a Member of this House. What moved me was, that I thought, not that the hon. and learned Gentleman had pledged his personal word as to the truth of the charges, but that he did think that virtually they were true and that he could prove them. The Attorney General shakes his head, and in future I shall understand, when I am listening to counsel in this House, that I am to regard him as only speaking from instructions, even on such grave occasions as this. We were told when the Commission was formed that the Government desired to act with the strictest impartiality, and to give the hon. Member for Cork an opportunity of clearing his character. I want to know whether that desire was accompanied by an earnest wish that the hon. Member should succeed in clearing his character, 764 or was there a covert hope that he might fail in doing so? I must again draw my conclusions from events; and I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite whether in all this long controversy, step by step as they have walked with the Times and the accuser in this matter, they can point to one, even the most halting, step that they have taken to help to vindicate the character of their Irish colleagues in this House?
§ *MR. C. HALL
I regret I was not in my place when the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) commenced the remarks in which he did me the honour to refer to me; but I understood the hon. Gentleman to say, as I entered the House just now, that the letter I have written to one of the daily papers was a proceeding derogatory to the privileges of the House. Although I did not hear the whole of his speech, I make bold to say that, with the greatest respect to this House, I decline to withdraw a single word I wrote in that letter, and I am the more justified in so saying, as I have been fortified by the opinions of many of my professional brethren since I wrote it, I do not intend to follow the example of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) whose speech would have been more appropriate to the debate of last Friday. He has dealt with topics that have not been referred to by any other Member to-day, and I will not be a party to enlarging the area of this discussion. I only wish to refer to one point which has been touched upon by most of the speakers this afternoon, and that is as to how far it was the duty of those who represented the Times, when they received the letters of the 11th and 17th of November, to immediately, or at any time before calling Pigott, communicate them to the other side. It seemed to be the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt), on Friday last, that there are different standards of honourable conduct in civil and criminal cases. Sir, I can admit of no such distinction. Of course, in ordinary criminal cases, where the mouth of the prisoner is closed, those who represent the Crown do not heavily press the case against him, but where both parties are represented, whether you choose to call 765 it a State prosecution, or a criminal prosecution, or a Special Commission, and where the accused can give evidence, no comparison can be made with an ordinary criminal prosecution. There is not a single hon. Member who practises at the bar who does not know that it is a common thing for counsel to find that witnesses in their brief have been tampered with by the other side, and have signed statements diametrically opposed to the former statements which they have given to the other side; but I am happy to say that it is not often the case that they are offered bribes of £1,000. It frequently happens that there are witnesses who, from the very nature of their occupation or employment, even if they are called, must be known to be hostile witnesses. Examples of this are frequent, for instance, in cases of collision at sea. A look out is a witness who must almost of necessity be called by those who represent the ship. He may have been tampered with by the other side, and frequently is, and the other side obtains a contradictory statement from him, a fact which comes to the knowledge of the opposing counsel. Does counsel, on learning this, withhold that witness? Certainly not. Does he do anything so ridiculous as to go to counsel on the other side and say "I find that one of my witnesses has given you a different statement from that which he has given me, and, therefore, I am bound to tell you what he has said"? The proposition has only to be stated to show its inherent absurdity. I have only one other observation to make. I wish to express the pleasure with which I heard my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney (Sir C. Russell) repudiate all participation in the charge of dishonourable conduct against the Attorney General. It is true that he says he has made complaints, and querulous complaints are frequently made by counsel as to the conduct of opponents during the progress and in the heat of a case; but that is far different to such charges as those brought by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby. Sir, when my hon. and learned Friend said that he did not intend to bring any charge of dishonourable conduct against the Attorney General, the tight hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby gave an approving 766 "hear, hear." But if he approved of the hon. and learned Gentleman for saying this, what excuse is there for the right hon. Gentleman's conduct on Friday evening? Why, he cheered the hon. Member for South Kilkenny to the echo when he spoke of the dishonourable, heartless, and shabby tactics of the Attorney General. Sir, it appears to me that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby meant to bring a charge of dishonourable conduct, which he now attempts to withdraw, under cover of the explanation of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney. Such conduct will commend itself neither to those who are outside nor inside this House. I may add that I cannot help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle (Mr. Morley), after having heard the statement of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, will see fit to modify somewhat the language he used on Friday evening, when he said he had his hon. and learned Friend's permission to state that he approved of the action taken by the Opposition, and I trust that in common fairness he will do so. It is clear that my hon. and learned Friend did not approve of the changes made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, for he has so stated in explicit terms to the House this evening.
MR. JOHN MORLEY (Newcastle)
The hon. and learned Member opposite has referred to me without, I think, any great necessity. I wish to tell the House, in reply to the challenge of the hon. and learned Gentleman, that I see no necessity whatever for modifying one word I said on Friday night. I will not now detain the House for more than half a moment. The hon. and learned Member for Hackney has told the House to-night he made a communication to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham (Mr. A. J. Morley). That hon. Member came to me just before I rose, and said that the hon. and learned Member for Hackney authorized him to say that he concurred in our line of action. I took the words down from the lips of the hon. Member, I read them to him, and I said, "Are you quite sure that is what the hon. and learned Member for Hackney authorized you to say?" The hon. Member 767 replied, "That is exactly the case." What the hon. and learned Member for Hackney has said to-night exactly tallies with that declaration, and I have no word to withdraw.
§ *MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
I desire to address myself to one point, and one point only, and perhaps, as the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General is unable to reply himself, he will instruct some other hon. and learned Gentleman to do so for him. As the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General very correctly put it, there is a conflict of statement on which the memories of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General, and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for South Hackney disagree; and the Solicitor General further put it—and I entirely agree with him—that the shorthand notes are the only things we have to help us in reference to this disagreement. Now, I think I understood the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General to say, some time prior to the examination of Pigott, he handed to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for South Hackney a bundle of printed copies, which included the letter from Soames to Pigott of the 15th November, and the letters of 11th November and 17th November.
§ *MR. BRADLAUGH
At any rate the letter of the 17th November from Pigott to Soames. Now, I listened with attention to the reading of the shorthand notes of what happened on the 26th February, and it is to that I would draw the attention of the Attorney General. If I am right, it was at the time Mr. Soames was in the box, and one of the two letters which has just been referred to was about to be produced in evidence through Mr. Soames. The Attorney General asked Mr. Soames to read the letter of November 15 from Pigott, enclosing the letter of November 11 from Pigott to Houston. The hon. and learned Member for Hackney asked for a copy of the letter, and the Attorney General did not say, "I handed it to you in a bundle some days ago," but he replied, "I have not got a copy."
§ *MR. BRADLAUGH
But some letters had been copied, and some copies had 768 been, according to the memory of the Attorney General, handed to the Member for South Hackney. It occurs tome that it requires some explanation why the Attorney General did not say to the Member for South Hackney, "I handed you a bundle of printed letters the other day, in which you will find copies of this and the other letters, as to which Mr. Soames is going to give evidence? "I understood the Attorney General to say that the letters of November 11 and 17 from Pigott to Soames were in the bundle of printed letters which, some time prior to the examination of Pigott, had been handed over by Mr. Soames to the hon. and learned Member; but it now appears that the letter of the 11th of November had not been printed, although the Attorney General stated that he knew of it in the middle of December. How did it happen that this letter was not printed with the rest? How could it have been excluded unless it had been omitted by Mr. Soames? If the Attorney General had been aware of the absence of the letter of the 11th of November from the bundle of printed letters alleged to have been given to Sir Charles Russell, he should have called the attention of Sir Charles Russell to it. The incident as to this letter certainly seems to support the memory of the hon. and learned Member for Hackney when he is in conflict with the Attorney General.
§ MR. W. REDMOND (Fermanagh, N.)
The hon. and learned Gentleman' the Attorney General, as well as other hon. Members on the opposite side of the House, have, since the debate took place about this matter, found fault with Members sitting on these Benches for the attitude they have adopted. Well, I think if hon. Members will consider for a moment the position we have been placed in in this matter, they will come to the conclusion that instead of showing great excitement, or a warrantable amount of excitement, under all the circumstances we have been extremely and excessively calm. The whole Party representing the overwhelming bulk of the Irish nation have been charged with complicity with murder. Letters attributed to the hon. Member for Cork appeared in the Times; and when, for very sufficient reasons, the hon. Member for Cork did not go before a jury, over and over again upon the other side of 769 the House he was twitted with not doing so; and when the Special Commission was appointed, we were told that it was appointed for the express purpose of giving the hon. Member for Cork and his Party an opportunity of clearing their character from the charge of complicity with murder. And, though we found fault more than once with the composition of the Commission, when the Bill was rushed through we were told that it was forced on because the Government were most anxious, whether the hon. Member for Cork liked it or not, that that hon. Member should have an opportunity of clearing his character from these letters. Well, the Commission began to sit, and nobody can possibly doubt that the letters were the chief charge against the hon. Member for Cork and his Party. But for those letters the Commission would never have been appointed. Might we not have expected, under the circumstances, in view of the protests from the other side of the House, that they would have given us every opportunity of clearing our characters? Instead of that, however, what was our surprise to find that nothing whatever was said of the letters—the chief charges against us. The hon. Member for Cork waited in vain for a single thing to be tendered in support of the monstrous charges made in those letters. What we have to complain of as the Representatives of the Irish nation is not so much that the Attorney General has failed to give this letter or that, but that the Attorney General and Mr. Soames and all connected with the Times' case must have known from the first mention of Pigott's name that they had no case. In the very exceptional circumstances, it was the primary duty of the Attorney General to say to Mr. Soames, "But who is this Pigott?" and to insist on reasonable steps being taken to test his credibility. Richard Pigott was the one witness upon whose testimony the letters rested; and is it to be believed for a moment that the Attorney General did not ask Mr. Soames what manner of man he was? When the Attorney General ascertained the character of Pigott, it was his duty as an honourable man to have at once put Pigott into the box, and thus have relieved 85 hon. Members of this House from the frightful charge that had been 770 so long hanging over their heads. Instead of doing that, the hon. and learned Gentleman allowed the Commission to drag on for week after week, and only put Pigott into the box when he was absolutely compelled to do so by coming to the end of his case. Houston has been continually referred to as though he is a man of substance, whereas, in fact, he is, or was, nothing more than a reporter at so many shillings a week, on a Dublin Tory newspaper. In his position, however, as a reporter, he must have known all about Pigott. He must have known that Pigott was a man who lived by his wits. When the name of "Dick Pigott" was mentioned in such circles as those Houston moved in, every one knew "Oh, that is Pigott, the blackguard, the ruffian," and so on. And yet we are told that the Attorney General, in all the sweet simplicity of his character, knew nothing about the sort of man this Pigott was, and that Houston knew nothing about him. Sir, that will not go down with the Irish people, no, nor with the English people either. People when they hear this will say—"It was the business of the Attorney General, seeing the evidence was so slight, to at once bring the letters into Court and give the Irish Members an opportunity of proving them to be false and of vindicating their characters." I do not want to use un-Parliamentary language, but I say that such a conspiracy to keep alive a slander upon an honourable people and their Representatives the world has never before seen. A more cruel and unjust conspiracy was never entered into, and it is all the more cruel that the counsel engaged against us is not a private counsel, but a Member of the Government by whom the country is unfortunately ruled at the present time. I am not prepared to say that a great deal of the infamy of the proceedings does not attach to Mr. Soames, because it is impossible to suppose that neither he, nor Houston, nor Shannon knew the character of Pigott. Will the Attorney General get up in the House and say that he never heard a whisper against Pigott's character until he saw the letter of the 17th of November? Nothing that the Attorney General has yet said will relieve his name in history from the charge of having conducted this inquiry against 85 of his Parliamentary colleagues with 771 unfairness. I shall continue to denounce this foul conspiracy until the Attorney General resigns, which public opinion will soon force him to do.
§ *MR. LANE (Cork Co., E.)
As we have been debarred up to the present from an opportunity of discussing a single matter relating to Ireland locally, in consequence of the general wish that these charges against the Attorney General should occupy the attention of the House, I now wish to call to the notice of hon. Members a matter of grave importance to my division and also to the whole of the people of the South of Ireland. I have to make a complaint against the Chief Secretary for Ireland in reference to the manner in which he has treated me on several recent days at question time. If the Chief Secretary attended to his duties in the way he ought to do it would be unnecessary for me to have to draw attention to this matter, which concerns a protracted struggle on one of the most noted estates in the South of Ireland. It appears that a syndicate of gentlemen has been formed in London, headed by the hon. Member for South Huntingdonshire, to purchase a well-known estate in Munster, and to prevent a settlement which was almost concluded with the Ponsonby tenants. I gave the hon. Member for South Hunts full notice of my intention to bring his conduct before the House.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The subject which the hon. Member is bringing under the notice of the House has no connection with the salary of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, which is now under discussion.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order. The remarks the hon. Gentleman is making have no reference to the salary of the Chief Secretary.
§ *MR. LANE
The question I want to discuss is the manner in which the Chief Secretary conducts the duties of his office in Ireland. I complain that the right hon. Gentleman has refused to appoint any official under him in Ireland to inquire into the circumstances under which a settlement between the tenants on the Ponsonby Estate and their landlord has been prevented by this London syndicate. I say that if he properly conducted the business of his office he would take steps to prevent this 772 grave crisis, which is calculated to lead to dangerous rioting and disturbances of a serious nature in the South of Ireland. Of course, if this is not in order I will bow to your ruling, Sir; but it is in his official capacity as administrator and guardian of the peace that I charge the Chief Secretary with neglect of his duty. I think it is quite pertinent to the vote for his salary, and I submit that he ought to have intervened.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order. The hon. Gentleman is clearly out of order. It is not a matter of which the Chief Secretary would be cognizant.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order. I have already said that the debate originated by the hon. Member is out of order.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman is distinctly out of order. The hon. Gentleman does not show the slightest connection between the salary of the Chief Secretary and the subject which the hon. Gentleman wishes to bring under the notice of the House.
§ MR. A. BLANE (Armagh, S.)
We contend that the Chief Secretary has interfered with the course of justice in Ireland. Last January there were a number of people committed for trial in the County of Donegal, and the Chief Secretary in the beginning of February met the Crown Prosecutor for the County in Dublin, and instructed him to get a change of venue.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
It is no part of my function to be mixed up in any Crown prosecution, nor have I ever done as suggested by the hon. Member.
§ MR. W. REDMOND (Fermanagh, N.)
On a point of order, Sir, I wish to know whether on the Report stage 773 it is not in order to call attention to the conduct of the Chief Secretary?
§ Question put "That the Question be mow put."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 142; Noes, 75. (Div. List, No. 39).
§ Question put accordingly, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 143; Noes, 76. (Div. List, No. 40).