HC Deb 23 July 1891 vol 356 cc203-6

Resolutions [22nd July] reported.

Resolution 1 (see page 2) agreed to. 2. "That a sum, not exceeding £46,283, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1892, for the Salaries of the Law Officers; the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of the Solicitor for the Affairs of Her Majesty's Treasury, Queen's Proctor, and Director of Public Prosecutions; the costs of Prosecutions, of other Legal Proceedings, and of Parliamentary Agency.

*(12.17.) THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir R. WEBSTER, Isle of Wight)

I crave the indulgence of the House for one moment while I deal with one observation which fell from the hon. Member for Poplar yesterday in moving the reduction of this Vote, and which certainly ought not to be allowed to pass without some notice. The hon. Member is reported to have said— That far too much of the law officers of the Crown was done not by themselves but by others who are commonly called their devils, and so, while the country thought they were getting the opinion of the Attorney General, they were only getting the opinion of a junior member of the Bar. I am quite sure my hon. Friend spoke from information he believed was true, or perhaps he only intended to make some general criticismon what he believed to be the working of the present system. I desire to say, speaking first for myself, that during the five and a half years I have been in office, I have given over a thousand opinions, and there is not the slightest foundation for the suggestion that any opinion given by me has been otherwise than my own opinion. I have always given my own opinion after full consideration and deliberation, and I may say the same for my hon. and learned colleague the Solicitor General. It is true that we both receive very considerable assistance from junior members of the Bar, the same assistance as is invariably expected and given when private opinions are taken at the expense of the client. It is only right that that assistance should be given, because it is necessary that there should be a thorough examination by juniors as well as by leaders. The only difference between public and private matters is that in the case of the former the assistance of juniors is provided at the expense of the Law Officers instead of the clients.

MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

I do not object to my hon. and learned Friend calling attention to anything which fell from me in the course of the Debate, though I regret he was not here yesterday, so that any error I fell into might have been cleared up at the time. I accept the statement of the hon. and learned Gentleman to the fullest extent, and if I have fallen into error I desire to withdraw what I have said. But the report of my speech in the Times, although accurate on the whole, omitted the qualification which I attached to the words the hon. and learned Gentleman has quoted. My argument really was that the pressure upon the Law Officers, owing to their private practice, is so great that they cannot give so much time to Government work as they otherwise would.

(12.22.) MR. T. M. HEALY

I hope the Home Secretary has re-considered the words he used yesterday with reference to the duty of the Public Prosecutor in taking proceedings against the promoters of fraudulent companies. I was astonished to hear the right hon. Gentleman make the statement that the persons who entrusted their money to Directors of companies which turned out fraudulent deserved no pity whatever, and really were almost as bad as the Directors themselves. In regard to the case in which the late Lord Mayor of London has given very remarkable evidence this week, I think the Treasury and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury are really as much to blame as anybody else. They allowed a contract to be boomed in the City as if it was a valuable contract, when, in point of fact, the Hansard Union were doing for nothing what Mr. Hansard got £5,000 for doing. I maintain that the whole fraud in connection with the Hansard Company is largely due to the action of the Treasury. We know very well Conservative Members are connected with this particular company, and I think it is most unfortunate that the Home Secretary should have held the language he did yesterday. I have a letter from a working man in Birmingham, who says he took 20 shares in the company on the strength of the late Lord Mayor of London being a Director. And yet it is said that that poor man is no more to be pitied than those who got up the company.


I have not seen any report in the public Press of what I said yesterday, but my remarks were made in reply to the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir G. Campbell), who took the view that cases of fraudulent company-promoting were peculiarly such as the Treasury ought to prosecute. I, on the other hand, put forward the view that in the great majority of cases the persons who invest their money do so in the hope of great profits and with full knowledge of the risks they run, and that the public generally are not immediately concerned.


The expression to which I referred just now, as used by the right hon. Gentleman, was "One set of rogues and knaves scarcely less honest than the other." The words were omitted in the Times report, but appeared in the Daily News and Standard.

DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)

I rise for the purpose of congratulating the Attorney General on the very good advertisement he has made of his own business.


I think there is a little misconception as to this business. The fact is, the Government did not make the contract with the Hansard Union at all. It would have been just as open for any other person or firm, if their tender had been accepted, to have sold their business to the Hansard Union as was done by Messrs. Macrae, Curtice, & Co. At the time the contract was made the Hansard Union was not in existence, and it was, therefore, impossible for anyone to forecast that the contract made with Messrs. Macrae, Curtice, &. Co. would be acquired by the Hansard Union.

MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)

I happen to know that a very considerable number of people took shares in the Hansard Union largely on account of the fact that a contract had been concluded with the Government.


That was not the firm with which the contract was made.


The contract was in existence, 'and was referred to in two prospectuses issued by the company. Perhaps the Treasury could not take away the contract, but I think they might in some way or other have let the public know that a false impression was conveyed in the prospectuses. I know several people in London who looked on the contract between the Treasury and the company—


The hon. Gentleman is not in order: that arises on the Stationery Vote.


Can I move a reduction of the Vote?


The Question is "That the House doth agree with the said Resolution."


Can I make an explanation?




I will make it on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Resolution agreed to.

Resolution 3 (see page 57) agreed to.