HC Deb 14 June 1892 vol 5 cc1081-100

COMMITTEE. [Progress 30th May.]

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1.


I understand this Bill is a conglomeration of two Bills which have been referred to a Select Committee; but there are in the first clause some words which I do not understand. In line 7 occur the words "or pursuant to any statutory authority." I can understand the words "Royal Commission," or a "Committee of either House of Parliament"; but these words I do not understand, and I should like the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill to explain what they mean. They are not intended to apply to Courts of Justice; and if they are merely general words they are very dangerous in this Bill, and I move that they be omitted.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "or pursuant to any statutory authority."—(Mr. Maurice Healy.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."


It would very much weaken the Bill if these words were left out. Before the Select Committee, which was unanimous in passing this Bill, this question was argued fully, and it was thought to be most desirable that it should apply to all such inquiries as are held by the Board of Trade referring to railway questions and other inquiries at which people in the position of railway servants would be called upon to give evidence. It was proposed by the hon. Member for Hackney (Sir Charles Russell) and the hon. Member for Chester (Mr. Yerburgh) that this Bill should include such departmental inquiries as these. I hope this explanation will satisfy the hon. Member, and that he will not proceed with his Amendment.

*MR. MCLAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)

I hope the House will pass this Bill in the strongest possible form. As a Member of the Select Committee which inquired into the hours of railway servants, I feel that it is very necessary that this Bill should become law. Had it been passed earlier it would have enabled us to get probably more accurate evidence, and better evidence; and I should very deeply regret if, especially from this side of the House, Amendments were moved to minimise the effect of this Bill. I fully agree with what has been said by the hon. Member opposite, and I think these statutory inquiries will be held more frequently in the future. It is of the utmost importance that the railway servants should have perfect liberty and freedom in giving evidence before inquiries of the kind which are included in this Bill, and I have sufficient knowledge of Railway Directors and of Railway Managers to know that this may be a matter of the utmost difficulty. It may be that that does not apply more to Railway Managers than to many other large employers; but I believe if this Bill had been passed earlier, the result of the Breach of Privilege Debate in the matter of the man Hood would have been very different from what it was. I trust the hon. Member will not press his Amendment.

MR. DARLING (Deptford)

These words give protection to persons who may give evidence before a very im- portant class of inquiry, and they were unanimously agreed upon in the Committee, because it was thought that this protection should be given. These words are looked upon as highly important by the class which would be affected by any inquiry into railway questions, and I do not see why any objection should be raised to full protection being given. The Courts of Law have power to protect witnesses who give evidence before them, and I do not see why witnesses who are called by the inquiries which are contemplated by this Bill should be deprived of protection. If these words were omitted the Bill would be of comparatively little use. I fail to see what is the ground of objection to these words, and I do not see why any class should be deprived of protection.


I can assure the hon. Member that I have not the smallest desire to exclude from the Bill the class of persons to whom he has referred, and I admit the reasonableness of what has been said, that all classes of persons should be protected in giving evidence. At the same time, the class of inquiries to which this Bill can refer is not large, and I think it would have been better if they had been specified. What I had in my mind was a totally different class of inquiry from anything that has been mentioned. We frequently have in Ireland Star Chamber inquiries under the first clause of the Crimes Act. Those hon. Members who were in the House in 1887 will remember the struggle we had with the Government over this clause, and how it was extended by our Amendments. I am anxious that the work that we then did should not now be all undone by a few casual words in a Bill of this kind. It is very desirable that witnesses should be properly protected, and I do not desire that even witnesses who give evidence before a Star Chamber inquiry should be molested, but I am very anxious that the concessions we obtained after hard fighting should not be swept away by a few words inserted in another Bill. I will look at the words again before the Bill reaches another stage, and I will now ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 2.


There is one point I am anxious to raise on this clause. The Bill is one to which I have given some attention, on account of what took place upon the Select Committee on the Hours of Railway Servants, and I think it will be a very useful alteration in the law. The one point which I am anxious to bring before the House, with a view of obtaining the opinion of some hon. and learned Members who may have considered this subject, is this: Paragraph B of the second clause provides that any person who threatens, or in any way punishes, damnifies, or injures, or attempts to punish, damnify, or injure, any person for having given evidence upon any inquiry, or in respect of the nature, quality, or character of the evidence which he has given upon any such inquiry, unless such evidence is shown to have been given in bad faith, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and be liable upon conviction, &c. Only the other day before the Royal Commission on Labour several witnesses attempted in their evidence to promulgate what really were libels against other persons, which libels had formed the matters of action in Courts of Law, and for which they had been punished. I do not know whether as the Bill now stands it would or would not be possible for a person—I am not talking of a railway servant or anyone in that position—to go before a Committee of this House or a Royal Commission and promulgate an atrocious libel against some person who would by this clause be debarred from bringing an action against him in a Court of Law. That would be a very serious matter indeed, and I trust that that would not be the effect of the Bill. What I want to know is whether the words "given in bad faith" will include a case of that kind?


The right hon. Gentleman has raised a very important point, but he has learned advisers beside him who must be capable of informing the House how the matter rests. I hope if they are not satisfied that an action for libel would lie under those circumstances, they will make it clear that such would be the case.


I will look into the matter with pleasure if it be desired, but my attention has not been called to it before, my right hon. Friend only mentioning it to me just before he rose. The real answer is that the Bill does not touch that particular question. The law would not be altered in that respect by the Bill at all. Anybody giving evidence in a Court of Law is absolutely privileged, except in very rare cases, where a man goes out of his way and volunteers a statement which has nothing whatever to do with the case. The Bill leaves the law as it is. In answer to the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), I would say that if an action for libel lay before the passing of the Bill, an action would lie after it has passed. The Bill contemplates punishing persons preventing others from giving evidence. I will, however, look into the matter, and if there is any doubt it can be dealt with on Report. Words might be inserted to show that nothing in this Bill should affect any such right of action, but my impression is that there is nothing in the Bill affecting it.

*(6.35.) MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)

I am sorry I was prevented by illness from being present at the Committee, and I shall now have to object to the first sub-section of Clause 2, as, in my judgment, it is too wide. That is also the view of a large number of working men who have had an opportunity of considering the question. I fear, as a layman, that Sub-section (a), as it stands, would cover the action of a committee of a trade society passing a resolution to the effect that it was undesirable that any members of the society should give evidence before an inquiry held under statutory authority, and make them guilty of a criminal offence. That is a position of things to which I hope the House will not give its sanction, and it is certainly wider than anything which was said in the course of the Cambrian Railway discussion some time ago. If the sub-section is persisted in, I shall have to challenge the question by dividing the Committee in reference to it. It would, as it stands, cover numerous cases before witnesses had even come to give evidence.


There is no Question at present before the Committee. It will make it more regular if the hon. Member will now move to omit Sub-section (a).


I move, Sir.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 11, to leave out "Sub-section (a)."—(Mr. Fenwick.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."


I think the hon. Member for Wansbeck has raised a point well worthy of consideration, but his Amendment goes too far. I admit that it is open to question whether the words "hinders or attempts to hinder" are not too wide. I can very well understand that hindering might be done by proper and justifiable persuasion which ought not to be brought within the purview of the law. I think that persuasion might be used quite as much in the interest of the workmen as of the employer. If the hon. Member would confine his Amendment to striking out the word "hinder," which has a doubtful meaning, I think that would meet his view, and we might discuss the matter.


May I point out that the word "intimidate" would be just as objectionable as the word "hinders," unless you define the term "intimidation." If I endeavour to persuade a fellow-workman not to give evidence it may be held in a Court of Law that I have intimidated him, and unless you define that term the word is as objectionable as the word "hinders."


The difficulty might be removed by taking the definition of intimidation as it is in the Trades Unions Act, where it is limited. I agree that these words are rather too wide. If you get rid of the word "hinder" you should also get rid of the word "prevent."


I do not think the general scope of the Bill is too wide; but I agree that these particular words are capable of misinterpretation. I would suggest that the question should stand over to the Report stage, so that the Attorney General may consider it.

*(6.42.) MR. MCLAREN

The valuable part of the sub-section is that it would punish employers who prevented workmen giving evidence, and I think that side is as important as that put forward by the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Fenwick). A man might be hindered or prevented from giving evidence by an expression of opinion on the part of his employer; but that would not be intimidation as defined by the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt). I think we should endeavour to leave the subsection in such a form that it will prevent such action on the part of the employer, even by means of persuasion, which is very difficult to challenge in a Court of Law. As the sub-section stands, I think the committee of a trade society passing a resolution that it is inexpedient that any of its members should give evidence would come under the clause, and, therefore, I think it is too wide. But I should object to leaving it out altogether, and I do not think it would meet the necessities of the case to strike out "hinders" and "prevents" and to leave in "intimidate." There would be many ways, which could not be called intimidation, in which employers would try to prevent their workmen giving evidence.

(6.45.) MR. DARLING

I am surprised that the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Fenwick) should make this proposition, for one of the Bills referred to the Committee of which I was a Member was called the "Bill for the better protection of witnesses giving evidence on Parliamentary and other public inquiries." That Bill was backed, among others, by the hon. Member, and the second section of the Bill provided that whoever, without lawful excuse, should in any way interfere with any person so as to prevent, or with a view to preventing, such person giving evidence should incur the penalties provided in the Bill. That Bill proposed to make it an offence, not to intimidate or hinder, but simply to interfere with a person desiring to give evidence. The resolution of a trade committee such as has been referred to would be interfering, and would have come under the Bill. Hon. Members seem to think that while a body of workmen prevent other workmen giving evidence it is all right, but that it is all wrong when the employers prevent them. I think the principle in the hon. Member's Bill is the better one; but, at any rate, we should adhere to the sub-section as it stands, as I do not think anybody will be hurt by it.


I have listened to the discussion, and it seems to me that if we leave out the words "hinders, intimidates, prevents, or attempts to prevent" for the purpose of inserting the words "by threats or intimidation, prevents or attempts to prevent," that would meet the case. It would limit the offence to threats or intimidation, which are sufficiently defined, and the prevention or attempt to prevent by these means would meet the object of the Bill.


The Government have made themselves responsible for this Bill, and yet it is only at this stage that we by chance find out these defects in it. I quite agree that "hinders" is too strong, and I think that those who assist the passing of this Bill will find that they are cutting a rod for their own backs. I take the view that this is a very dangerous Bill, which will be mischievous in Ireland and probably in England. The Attorney General says that intimidation has been defined—so far as I know it has not been defined; and it is used in Statutes exactly because it is impossible to define it. Until this word was introduced the theory of English law was that a criminal offence must be defined with the greatest strictness. The word "intimidation" was expressly selected to cover a mass of matter that could not be defined, and up to this day that word has not been defined. It purports to be defined in the Irish Coercion Act, but that definition is simply an extension of the meaning of the word. I do not think my hon. Friend's position would be any better if he struck out the word "hinder," while so vague a word as "intimidation" is left in. This is a very serious Bill, and yet we have not a single Amendment on the Paper. It creates a new misdemeanour, and apparently the Law Officers of the Crown have not even read or considered the Bill. If the Bill is to be passed this Session, it should be done after careful consideration.

*(6.53.) MR. FENWICK

The hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Darling) has pointed out that I backed a Bill in which the term "interfere" was used, but he passed very lightly over these qualifying words, "without lawful excuse," and he will not find the word "intimidate" in that Bill. All the trouble and difficulty that has arisen in connection with the Trades Union Act has arisen in consequence of the vagueness of the term "intimidation." We have had again and again to appeal from learned Recorders and County Court Judges to the Court of Queen's Bench in order to have justice done to the members of trade societies. The right hon. Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) suggested that we should take the definition of intimidation as it appears in the Trades Union Act. There is no definition of it in that Act. If the word "intimidate" is to remain in the sub-section, there must be a Definition Clause added to the Bill, giving a clear definition of the meaning of the word, otherwise the Bill will not be acceptable to the great mass of working men in the country. I am anxious for the passing of the Bill, so that the workmen should have that protection to which they are entitled when they give evidence before statutory authorities; but I also wish to prevent the misunderstandings which have occurred through the wide interpretation of the word "intimidation."


This is a serious question, and one which ought not to be lightly disposed of. I would suggest that it should be considered before Report, as we cannot be too careful as to the words used in creating a new offence. We should save the time of the House if the sub-section were omitted for the present, and another brought up on the Report. In the meantime, hon. Members representing the trades unions would have an opportunity of considering the words suggested by the Attorney General. I think the words suggested by the hon. Gentleman are an improvement, but I also think that all parties concerned in the Bill should have an opportunity of considering them.


I hope the Committee will not accept the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman, for we shall probably not have a greater assembly of lawyers present on Report than we have now. We on this side should be most willing to accept the words suggested by the Attorney General. So far from this Bill not having been considered up to the present by the Law Officers of the Crown, the Solicitor General (Sir Edward Clarke) was Chairman of the Committee to which the Bill was referred, and it was considered in the presence of the hon. and learned Member for Hackney (Sir Charles Russell), and the whole Committee was unanimous in passing the Bill in its present form. We cannot do better than accept the words suggested by the Attorney General, which will be found all that can be desired.

(6.59.) MR. ROBERTSON (Dundee)

I share the dislike to the use of the word "intimidate," as I believe there is no authoritative definition of it. It was defined in the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act as such intimidation as would justify a Magistrate in binding over the person intimidating to keep the peace. That was repeated in the Conspiracy Act of 1875 as it left this House, but it was struck out in the House of Lords, and the word was left absolutely undefined. The Plymouth case was taken to the Superior Court. The Court held that the facts brought before Mr. Bompas did not constitute a case of intimidation under the Act; but they did not go beyond the bare facts before them, and they refused to define intimidation in the way in which we tried to define it by the Act of last Session. We made an attempt to restore the Act of 1875 to the condition in which it originally left the House of Commons. We tried to get rid of the mischief which the House of Lords had done, but we were beaten by hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I venture to suggest that we should leave out the word "intimidates" in Sub-section (a), and define it by a Definition Clause; and if that is in order, let the Definition Clause extend to intimidation wherever it occurs.

(7.1.) MR. R. T. REID (, &c.) Dumfries

I do not think the hon. Gentleman was quite accurate in saying that we were all unanimous in selecting this word. Some of us, myself amongst the number, preferred the word that appeared in the Bill of the hon. Member for Hackney. Now, I want to point out that the object of this sub-section is to place a person who interferes with witnesses before a Committee of this House in the same position as a person who interferes with witnesses in a Court of Justice. There is no definition of what is a contempt of Court, and yet it is a very wide offence, and it depends upon the discretion and judgment of the Court whether a contempt of Court has been committed by interfering with witnesses. I think the suggestion of my hon. Friend below me (Mr. Robertson) is a very good suggestion—namely, that we should leave out the word "intimidates" and then define the word "intimidate" by the Definition Clause at the end of the Bill. It seems to me that it would work out somewhat in this way: that intimidation should consist of threats of violence, or of injury, or loss of employment or wages.


If my Amendment passes it will be an improvement, to a certain extent at all events, and then some hon. Members and hon. and learned Members might try their hand at defining "intimidation" later on in the Bill.

*(7.3.) MR. MCLAREN

Would the Government be willing to admit now that a Definition Clause should be put in the Bill?




Then that would leave us pretty much as we were. Though I entirely agree that the words of the hon. and learned Gentleman would make the Bill better than it is, they would not meet the main objection raised on this side of the House—namely, that the word "intimidation" undefined is objectionable. We would gladly accept the words of the hon. and learned Gentleman if they were merely to be a stepping-stone. But we cannot accept them unless it is made quite clear that some definition shall be put in the Bill, and that it shall be considered also before the Bill leaves Committee, and not on the Report stage, which I think would not be satisfactory.

*(7.4.) MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)

I hope my hon. Friend will press this question to a Division, because it is an exceedingly important one. If this sub-section were passed in the form in which it appears in the Bill, it would lead to a great deal of litigation in the future. Already it has created a great deal of feeling out-of-doors. We do not want this feeling to become intensified, and find ourselves at no distant day involved in a conflict with the authorities arising out of this unfortunate sub-section. I think it is only fair that it should be stated that when the Committee sat upstairs we were placed in a most unfortunate dilemma. The Committee sat only three hours. There were two Bills to consider: one introduced by the hon. Gentleman on the opposite side and one by the hon. and learned Member for Hackney. They were essentially lawyers' Bills, as many of us saw from the first; and it was somewhat difficult for us to quite master the details of either of them. When it was proposed that we should take the two Bills and roll them into one, the matter became still more complicated, and some of the most learned Members of the Committee confessed once or twice during our discussions that they were not quite clear what we were doing. ("Oh, oh!") Well, I remember the question being put by one Member of the Committee:—? "Where are we, Mr. Chairman?" ("Oh!") Yes; that question was put. I remember it perfectly well; and if the hon. Member charges his memory I think he will recollect it. I think, therefore, I am quite consistent in supporting the Motion of my hon. Friend to omit Sub-section (a). I have spoken to friends who are old Trades Union leaders, with quite as much experience as any of us here can claim to possess, and they all agree as to the great danger and difficulty there would be in giving effect to this clause. I respectfully suggest to the Attorney General to carry out the wishes of my hon. Friend, because he is simply voicing the general feeling, so far as I can gather, of Trades Unions out of doors, irrespective of political considerations.

*(7.9.) MR. FENWICK

I would suggest to the learned Attorney General, as a solution of the difficulty, to accept the words that have already been mentioned by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dumfries Burghs. I should then be prepared to accept Sub-section (a) in that form— In order to obstruct the due course of any inquiry, by threats of violence, or of injury, or logs of employment or wages, prevents, or attempts to prevent, any person from appearing or giving evidence on any such inquiry. But, as I understand the learned Attorney General seems to have made up his mind to retain the word "intimidates" in the Bill; and as I understood from a gesture made by him a short time ago he does not intend even to insert a Definition Clause in the Bill defining what is meant by intimidation. If that be so, then we shall be obliged to fight the Bill through all its future stages.


The hon. Member for Wansbeck seems to be under a misapprehension. I have not intimated by gesture or otherwise that I would accept no definition of "intimidation." What I said was that I would require to see what the definition was before I would be prepared to support it. It is much more difficult to define it than the hon. Member thinks. The drafting of such a clause requires a great deal of consideration.


I think that remark rather strengthens what I ventured to say some time ago—that this is far too important a matter to legislate upon in a hurry. It is quite obvious that it requires the most careful consideration. I must say that it is rather late in the Session to deal with a matter of such a serious character. I do not blame the Government. But it is quite plain that this is a very ticklish clause, and nothing more should be done with regard to it without full consideration. Therefore, I again repeat the suggestion which I ventured to make to the Attorney General, as the definition of "intimidation" will require consideration, that he should postpone this subsection for the purpose of bringing up well-considered words on Report, so that we might have an opportunity of seeing how the matter stands.

*(7.13.) MR. CREMER

I beg to move, Mr. Courtney, that you report Progress, and ask leave to sit again. I am at a loss to understand why the Attorney General, after having stated that there is extreme difficulty in defining "intimidation," should persist in retaining sub-section (a) in this Bill. Seeing that the right hon. Gentleman has arrived at that conclusion, I think we should be neglecting the duty which we were sent here to discharge if we did not make every effort in our power to prevent this clause passing in its present obnoxious form.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Cremer.)

(7.14.) MR. DARLING

As I understood the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, it was that, for the present at all events, we should omit Sub-section (a) altogether, and then to consider whether we should put something better instead of it. For my own part, I should be in favour of accepting that suggestion to omit Subsection (a). I would go further, and say, so far as I am concerned, I should not desire to put anything at all in the place of it.


I made the suggestion seriously, and not with the object of throwing ridicule on this Bill. If we-are to go on with this Bill, it is quite plain that these words must be reconsidered. I think, upon the whole, the better course is to report Progress, and let the matter be considered fully. Therefore, having in view that the real object of the Bill may be carried out, I am prepared to support the Motion for reporting Progress.


I hope the hon. Member will persist in his Motion. If I had any doubt as to the attitude which I should take towards this Bill, that doubt would be removed by the attitude shown by the hon. Member for Deptford. The hon. Member is interested in the Bill not for Trades Unions, but because he thinks it could be used against Trades Unions. The hon. Member will permit us to draw our own conclusions from the observations he has made.


I beg the hon. Member's pardon; I used no such expression. What I said was that I was perfectly willing to accept the course suggested of omitting the sub-section and substituting nothing instead of it.


I must point out that the Question before the Committee is the Motion to report Progress.


One of the most extraordinary invitations I ever heard from those Benches came from the Attorney General a while ago. This is a clause creating a new criminal offence—a misdemeanour; and he issues an invitation to all and sundry to come forward and assist him to frame a definition for this new criminal offence. Is that the way legislation is to be conducted in this House? I submit the Government should know their own mind in this matter, and that this matter is not to be dealt with by private Members, but by those who are responsible for the Government of the country.

(7.20.) SIR HORACE DAVEY (Stockton)

I shall support the Motion to report Progress on this ground. It appears to me that the substantial question before the House is not the question of draftsmanship, but it is the question of what the Government really mean. I think it would be better to postpone the discussion till another day, when the Government may be able to tell us—perhaps they might be able to put it on the Paper in order that we might be able to consider it—what their meaning is. I think, perhaps, the best suggestion that has been made has been made by the hon. Member for Dumfries, and I am prepared to support that suggestion.


I wish to point out to the hon. and learned Gentleman that this is not a Government Bill at all.


But the Government have taken it up.


Not at all. All that the Government have done, as it appears to me, is to bring forward this unopposed Bill so as to prevent it from being defeated. The Government have no responsibility whatever in the matter.


All the more reason, I think, why the Government should agree to report Progress. It is quite plain, and the Attorney General himself has admitted, that this sub-section as it stands is not satisfactory; and, that being so, the best course for the Government to take is to allow Progress to be reported, which will afford time for further consideration.

(7.29.) MR. ELLIOTT LEES (Oldham)

I beg to suggest that instead of using the words suggested by the Attorney General for Sub-section (a), Clause 2, the words used in Subsection (b) should be substituted, and the Sub-section (a) should then run—"any one who threatens, damnifies, or injures any person in order to prevent any person from appearing or giving evidence upon any such inquiry," thus doing away with the necessity for using the word "intimidation" altogether.


I think there is something to be said for the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Oldham. The Report stage is not a convenient opportunity for a discussion on the definition of "intimidation," which is essentially a matter on which Members ought to be able to speak as often as they think necessary. Therefore I support the Motion to report Progress, and I hope the Government will consent to it.

Question put.

(7.30.) The Committee divided:—Ayes 34; Noes 70.—(Div. List, No. 189.)

Original Question put, and negatived.

Words omitted.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."


The Attorney General was asked whether or not this clause would prevent an action for libel if a witness had misconducted himself by uttering libellous matter when evidence was given. He said that it would not, and that the law would not be altered by this clause passing into law. I am not concerned to preserve actions for libel in cases of this kind, but it would be desirable to know whether it is the intention of the Government that the clause should stand as amended, or whether it is their intention to bring up a fresh subsection in lieu of sub-section (a)?


The Government have no responsibilty in the matter beyond what has already been stated by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. It seems to me that the question whether any sub-section should be drawn up in substitution for the Sub-section (a) is really a matter for the consideration of the promoters of the Bill. I think the Bill will work very well as the clause stands without the sub-section; but if the promoters think it desirable to bring up anything further, I suppose they may do so, but I do not see why the responsibility should be thrown upon me.


I submit that this is a very unsatisfactory way to leave this matter in. Are the Government responsible for this Bill or not?




They are not responsible for it. Well, then, who is responsible for it? because it unquestionably makes a very serious change in the law, and I think we ought to have some guidance from the Government. Are the Government willing that the clause as it now stands should pass into law, and that that should be the beginning and ending of the matter, because if, as I understand, it is the intention of the promoters to bring up something in place of Sub-section (a), then the whole controversy will be revived. The hon. and learned Attorney General says that he is not responsible for the Bill, and of course that is technically true; but I do think it is a matter for the consideration of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and I ask him, speaking as he does in some sense for the Government, whether he intends to leave the clause as it stands, and if the promoters bring up any clause in substitution for Sub-section (a), is he willing that it should pass in that way?


The difficulty is that two of the hon. Members who have charge of the Bill are not here. The hon. Member who sits behind the Attorney General (Mr. Hayes Fisher) is, I take it, in charge of the Bill, because his name stands second on the list; but the hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester, whose name stands first on the Bill, and who has taken all the credit—perhaps more than he deserves—for it, is away. He is attending, I suppose, to other duties in securing his own seat at Chester, and is neglecting the Bill which he has brought before the House. If he were here he would be able to tell us what Amendments he was willing to accept. He has left the hon. Member for Fulham in charge of the Bill, but I think that during the course of this Debate the hon. Member has rather given us the impression that he has tried to throw his responsibility upon the Government. The Government equally refuse to accept the responsibility, and throw it back upon goodness knows whom. At any rate, this House is in the curious position of having a Bill discussed of which nobody takes charge. The hon. Member does not take any authoritative charge of it, and he does not tell us what Amendments he will accept or what his course will be with regard to this sub-section which has been omitted. He agreed to the omission because he did not challenge any Division. It is desirable we should know whether he will accept an Amendment on the lines suggested by my hon. Friends below me on the Report stage, or whether he proposes that the Bill should go on without any addition being made in place of Sub-section (a)?


I am in the position of second godfather to this Bill. The first godfather, my hon. Friend the Member for Chester (Mr. Yerburgh), is unfortunately away, but that also applies to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for South Hackney.


No. His name is not on the Bill.


But he is joint-author of this Bill, and he takes a great deal of credit for it. I am very sorry that neither my hon. Friend the Member for Chester nor the hon. Member for Hackney are here, but if the hon. Member for Crewe will allow me I will take the responsibility for the Bill. The exact position in which I find myself is this: I prefer the Bill as it stands; but rather than not get the Bill at all, I would consent to pass the Bill with sub-section (a) taken out. At all events, we shall secure one object—namely, that anyone who intimidates or punishes witnesses after they have given evidence before any of the Committees of this House shall be properly punished, and that in future those witnesses shall be able to obtain from the Courts of Law what they cannot obtain from this House adequate compensation, and we should also have provided that any witnesses who were injured be cause they did give evidence—


Order, order! The hon. Member is travelling wide of the Question. The Question is that Clause 2 stand part of the Bill.


I hope my hon. Friend below will not press the suggestion which he made in regard to the necessity of introducing some other words in lieu of Sub-section (a) because, so far as we are concerned, the Bill in the form in which it will read with Sub-section (a) struck out will, I think, in the main, be satisfactory to us, and I do not think we shall find that there is any necessity for offering any further obstruction to the passage of the measure. The primary object for which this Bill is introduced will be met so far, at least, as we are concerned, if Sub-section (b) is retained in the form in which it is in the Bill. We had a few weeks ago an unfortunate man dismissed from his employment for giving evidence before a Committee of this House. This Bill is introduced to prevent a repetition of any such conduct on the part of employers or Corporate Bodies. It will be practically impossible for employers and Corporate Bodies to do anything of the kind in future, except under the pains and penalties provided by Sub-section (a). Seeing that the object of the promoters has been gained, that such a scandalous state of things which we took the opportunity of denouncing can never happen again—I hope my hon. Friends will not further oppose this Bill, now that the Attorney General has very wisely given way and allowed the subsection to be withdrawn.


I can assure my hon. Friend that we have not the smallest desire that any words shall be substituted for the words struck out. All that I desired to do was to point out to my hon. Friend the danger to which I think we were subjected—namely, that on the next stage of this Bill, when we should have no opportunity of discussing the matter, the promoters of this Bill might put in words in substitution for the words that have been struck out. I think that, before we come to the next stage, we should have some security that they would not take any course of that kind.


I agree to that.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3.

MR. WARMINGTON (Monmouthshire, W.)

I wish to know when the objection mentioned in Clause 3 is to be taken? Must that objection be taken before the case is heard by the Magistrate, or will it be sufficient if it is taken after the case is heard by the Magistrate?


Evidence will be given establishing a primâ facie case, and the Magistrate will ask the accused, "Do you desire me to deal with the case summarily, or do you wish to go before the Session?" I think that is the stage at which objection should be taken.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 4 to 7 agreed to.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered To-morrow.