HC Deb 06 May 1892 vol 4 cc284-311

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Order for Committee on the Evidence in Criminal Cases Bill [Lords] be read, and discharged; and that the Bill be committed to the Standing Committee on Law, &c."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)

(2.47.) MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)

The action of the Government on this occasion is quite in keeping with the extremely singular course of procedure they have adopted in connection with this Bill, which proposes to effect an important change in the administration of the Criminal Law, and, in fact, to revolutionise it. It is somewhat strange that the Attorney General should not have thought it worth while to be present when a Motion was to be discussed which would have the effect of removing the Bill from the consideration of the House to a smaller body of Members upstairs. The First Lord of the Treasury is not a Law Officer of the Crown, and I contend that it is nothing short of a scandal that such a Motion should be made with regard to this Bill by a layman. On that ground alone I should have been entitled to move the Adjournment of the Debate. I abstain for the present from doing that; but I suggest that as the Attorney General has treated the Bill with such contempt, the Debate cannot effectively take place on the present occasion. Now, the Second Reading of the Bill was taken late at night as a surprise, and substantially without debate. I have not known in my experience a previous case in which a Motion for the Second Reading of such a Bill has been made within half an hour of midnight. When this Bill was called on, an English and a Scotch Member—not legal Members—spoke against it; but the first Irish Member who offered to speak upon it was met with the Closure. The Bill proposes to revolutionise the Criminal Law of this Kingdom by giving a person accused of any offence against the law the option of making a statement upon his oath in regard to it; yet the Second Reading has been taken without debate. The Irish Members, who are specially interested in it, have been forbidden to speak upon it; the principle of the Bill has never been investigated, which in itself is a questionable procedure, and there is now a Motion before the House to remove the Committee stage of the Bill to a small Committee upstairs. I respectfully submit that such a proposal should not be tolerated without full and unrestricted debate on the Second Reading, and after the House have had an opportunity of expressing an opinion upon the principle of the Bill. I would further point out that the stage which the Government wish to avoid is a stage which has actually been commenced. Therefore, the proposal of the First Lord of the Treasury is as inadmissible as it is uncalled-for. It is also a retrogressive one, and invites the House to declare a fiction. Now the Speaker stated, in reply to a question which I put to him on the subject yesterday, that the course proposed was an unusual one, and he added, after further inquiry, that the Bill had been in Committee, and that the Chairman was bound to report something, but that no substantial progress had been made with it. I think he might also have stated that it was not only unusual but unprecedented. No doubt the Speaker did not use the latter word, because he thought it might contain a reflection. At the same time, the term "unusual," coming from the Chair, was in itself something in the nature of a warning. I am entitled to submit that the Government have taken an unjustifiable course. In the ordinary usage of this House, when a Bill is to be referred to a Committee, it is open to any Member to move an Instruction; but the Motion of the First Lord of the Treasury is a restricting Motion, which would deprive the House, as a whole, of the right to give Instructions to a Committee, because the denial of the right of individual Members is also a denial of the right of the House. Surely that in itself is a sufficient condemnation of the present proposal. To refer this Bill to a Standing Committee on Law is a misuse of the machinery of this House. Those Standing Committees were devised for purposes well understood—they were intended to relieve the House of a certain kind of labour. It was proposed—and I think the Debates of the House at the time will show it—in the case of Bills, in regard to which there was general agreement as to their leading principles, ascertained on the Second Reading, and where Bills were complicated and required special knowledge, that it would be more convenient to the House that the Committee stage—the stage of detail and minute examination—should be deputed to a smaller body of Members having special qualifications. And I freely admit that in the case of such non-contentious Bills that procedure is better. But this is not such a case. The Bill is not complicated; it cannot be called a Bill of any length; it is not a non-contentious Bill. In the opinion of the Irish Members, the Bill is largely contentious, and we protest against such a Bill, with regard to which we have had no opportunity of expressing our views, being taken from the floor of the House, as a destruction of the most valuable rights of Irish Members with regard to legislation in this House. What is the constitution of the Law Committee with regard to Irish Members? The Committee of Law consists of 68 Members, and contains eleven Irish Members of all Parties. On it there are seven Irish Nationalist Members, four of whom—Dr. Commins (Roscommon, S.), Mr. T. M. Healy (Longford, N.), Mr. P. Mahony (Meath, N.), and Mr. J. E. Redmond (Waterford)—are absent. We have no assurance or expectation that any of these Members can attend the Committee upstairs. Six Irish Members have availed themselves of their right to put down Amendments to be dealt with by a Committee of the whole House, and here I have to return for a moment to the subject of the proposal to avoid the Committee stage to remark that the Committee stage had so far progressed that not only had the Chairman taken the Chair and reported Progress, but that these six Irish Members had availed themselves of their right to put down Amendments to be submitted to the Committee of the House, which it is proposed to extinguish. Only two of these Members are Members of the Standing Committee. The other four Members are debarred from bringing their Amendments before that Committee, because they are not Members of it. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford (Sir J. R. Mowbray) has, of course, the power to add fifteen Members of the House for the special purpose of this Bill; but although Ireland is specially interested in the Bill, the Bill is an Imperial Bill, and therefore the Committee of Selection, in adding fifteen Members, would not take any exceptional number of Irish Members. They would probably treat the Irish Members proportionately to their representation in this House. Therefore, we can only look for the addition of two or three Irish Members, and I submit that the four score Members who sit on this Bench would consequently not have any fair representation on the Committee. I say the nature of the Bill is such that it cannot properly be considered by the Standing Committee on Law. The main provision of the Bill is that a person accused of any offence may have the option of offering evidence upon his oath on the hearing of the charge against him. Now, Sir, I submit that if the Committee stage is taken away from this House, where it has the advantage of the presence of a number of gentlemen such as the Solicitor General for England, and the Member for West Ham, Mr. Fulton, and others who are versed in the administration of the Criminal Law—I say that effective consideration of the Bill cannot be had by the Standing Committee upstairs. In connection with the proposition that the person accused of the offence should be entitled to offer evidence in respect to the charge against him, there are two matters which require essentially to be considered. One question is whether such a change in the law will not be calamitous. It has to be considered whether a person accused and guilty of a crime and of opinion that the facts against him are conclusive, might not be tempted to try a last chance by offering a false oath, and to fortify this by the perjury of others. That is one point in regard to which we cannot have satisfactory consideration except by this House itself, or by a Select Committee which would have the opportunity of examining experts. There are two points relative to Ireland. In England the administration of the Criminal Law is impartial; but in Ireland, owing to political and agrarian conditions, the administration is not impartial. I say that, in order to enable me to vote upon the clauses of this Bill and to vote upon its Third Reading, I require the testimony and evidence of persons versed in the administration of the Criminal Law in Ireland as to whether the ends of justice would not be defeated by a provision of the law which affords the accused person the option of offering evidence upon oath as to a charge against him- self. In my opinion, in any case of political or agrarian character which comes before the Justices, the Police, or the Stipendiary Magistrates, or before a jury packed with persons who are not of the prisoner's creed, or a trial after a change of venue, the option of offering evidence upon oath will be likely to operate against the ends of justice. For, if the prisoner declined to give evidence, it will be taken as proof of his guilt; and if he did offer evidence upon oath, the particular charge against him would be used by the Justices of the Peace, the Stipendiary Magistrates, and counsel for the Crown in cases where the jury was packed, as a means of extracting political information not relative to the particular charge, but relating to movements in the country. It would also be used, in cases where the prisoner pleaded good character, as a most offensive, irritating, injurious, and unconstitutional inquisition into the whole course of his life. I submit there are grave and substantial reasons why the Committee stage should not be taken by the Committee on Law, but by a Committee with power to call experts to give us the evidence we are without at present, and which we require in order that we may come to a judgment upon the matter, and which will not be afforded by the course we are about to pursue. I hold that the most convenient proceeding will be to allow the ordinary course to be taken, so that Members from Ireland and other Members may address themselves in Committee of the whole House to the consideration of the details of the Bill. I submit, under these circumstances, the First Lord will do well to withdraw the Motion which he has made—a Motion which the Chairman has declared to be unusual, and a Motion which carries inconvenient and unconstitutional consequences. If the Government refuse to adopt this course, I submit it is the duty of the House to object to the Motion.

*MR. KNOX (Cavan, W.)

I have on the Paper a notice of Motion which I hope it will not be necessary to move; or at least, before that course is taken, I hope we shall have an explanation from the Attorney General as to the reason of the unusual course proposed in reference to this Bill. I feel especial regret at the absence of the Attorney General, because I have to call the attention of the House to a report—I hope and believe it is an incorrect report—of the speech which he is alleged to have made on the Second Reading of the Bill. That speech, if it was made by him, must have been, from his knowledge and from the circumstances of the case, a deliberate attempt to mislead this House. ("Order!") I say I cannot believe that this speech was made by the learned Gentleman. My hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton)—though no Member of this House watches the proceedings with greater care than he does, in his endeavour to prevent the many injustices which are contemplated constantly by hon. Members opposite—has been slightly inaccurate in his description of what occurred on the Second Reading of this Bill. He has confused the Second Reading of this Bill with the similar stage of another Bill. If the facts had been as he suggested, the present Motion would, indeed, have called for comment. But as the facts stand, the Motion is subject for much more serious comment, and the point is one the House would do well to consider if there are to be any longer relations of ordinary courtesy between Members on one side of the House and on the other. In that interest it would have been better had the circumstances been otherwise. It appears, according to the report in Reuter's Parliamentary Debates, that the Second Reading of this Bill was taken immediately after the discussion of a technical subject on which the majority of the Members of this House were not interested—the Indian Councils Bill. One would have thought that a Minister, rising to propose an important measure after a discussion on a Bill of that character had suddenly ended, would have explained to the House the nature of the measure he was proposing, and whether, from his past experience, the Bill was non-contentious or not. I do not find that the learned Gentleman did anything of the sort. According to this report, he said— I beg, Sir, to move that this Bill be now read a second time. There has been a universal expression of opinion in favour of the measure, which was read a second time last year, and which has been most carefully considered by Lord Herschell and by all the lawyers in the House of Lords, and it meets with their approval. What may be thought of this measure by Lord Herschell or the lawyers of the House of Lords we do not know. It is very probable that they do approve of this measure, because it is a matter of common knowledge that Irish Nationalists are not represented in the House of Lords. They do not want to be. But so far as Irish lawyers in the House are concerned, the Attorney General must have known that they were, and have for many years been, determinedly opposed to this or any similar measure. When in 1888 a similar measure was proposed in this House, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) opposed it most vehemently when the Attorney General had the conduct of the measure. So that it must have been within the knowledge of the Attorney General that, instead of there having been a universal expression of opinion in favour of this Bill, it was a Bill which a large section of Members in this House determinedly opposed, and will continue to determinedly oppose. If, then, the Attorney General did use those words, I venture to say it was most unfortunate, in the interests of courtesy between hon. Members on opposite sides of this House, in the interests of Government business to-day, and hereafter, during this Session, and to the end of the present Parliament, that the statement should have been made. It appears that if this report is correct the Second Reading of this Bill has been obtained by what is little less than fraud. By contrivance it was that the Second Reading was obtained when, of course, no Irish lawyer was in the House, and when Irish Members who are not lawyers did not see what the Bill meant, but were deluded by the statement that there was a universal expression in its favour. But, even so far as Great Britain is concerned, I know there are many distinguished lawyers who are opposed to this measure. The hon. and learned Member for the Brigg Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Waddy), a distinguished criminal lawyer, has told me he is opposed to this Bill because he believes that in many cases it will lead to the conviction of innocent persons. Hence, as far as even England is concerned, it is not the case that there has been a universal expression of opinion in favour of this Bill; and as to Ireland I am not aware of any lawyer there in sympathy with the popular movement who has expressed his approval of this measure. Of course, hon. Members opposite may dismiss Ireland from their calculations when they propose such measures of reform, but we Irish Members are determined to do our duty by those who send us here, and to oppose measures which we believe will lead in Ireland to the conviction of men who are innocent of the charges made against them. We may hear it said that no man need give evidence who does not wish it.


Order, order! The question is, which Committee is best calculated to deal with this Bill—a Committee of the whole House, a Select Committee, or a Standing Committee.


Well, Mr. Speaker, I have to admit that my words were not perhaps directly relevant. If, however, we had had an open discussion on the Second Reading there would have been no difficulty in explaining the nature and effect of the measure, in so far as it might be necessary to show that it is one which should be considered by a Committee of the whole House Hon. Members who have no knowledge of the character of judicial trials in Ireland cannot understand what the effect of this Bill will be there, and why it is essential in our judgment that it should be discussed openly and in the light of day. But, Mr. Speaker, without trespassing upon your ruling, I will try to show why it is of vast importance that, this Bill should be discussed in Committee of the whole House. In a Committee of the whole House, for instance, Irish opinion will necessarily be more fully represented than it could be in a Committee upstairs, because Irish Members are not always able to give as full attendance to Committees upstairs as they would like. And besides, there are measures before the Standing Committee on Law which have no interest whatever for Irish Members. Then the discussions before a Standing Committee are but slightly reported. Though many hon. Members, and I for one, care little about that, and would be prepared to spend hour upon hour even in camera to prevent such a Bill as this passing, yet it is a noted fact that where proceedings are not reported it is difficult to obtain a regular attendance. But apart from that consideration, this is a matter of great public interest, and one which concerns the constituencies of hon. Members intimately, and for that reason I think it should be discussed under circumstances that will give them the opportunity of knowing how their Representatives act in regard to it. As far as I can learn, no such Bill as this has ever been suggested after mature inquiry by any Commission or other body. The Royal Commission which inquired into the question of the Criminal Code in 1879 did make certain suggestions on this subject, but the learned Commissioners were divided in their opinion. Some of them thought it would be better not to allow prisoners to be examined at all. However, the majority overruled the minority, and they did, under certain conditions, propose to give prisoners the right of giving evidence. But what were those conditions? In the first place, the learned Commissioners considered that it was essentially necessary to give power to the Court to strictly limit the right of cross-examination, not by mere rules of evidence, but at discretion. In the second place, the learned Commissioners did not propose to give a prisoner the right to give evidence on oath, or to give the prosecuting counsel the right to cross-examine, at a preliminary inquiry. They only proposed to give such right to the one or the other at the trial. To Ireland this is a matter of great importance. It means whether or not Removables in Ireland are to have the power to worry and torture unfortunate men who come before them. The Judges of Assize in Ireland are not always beyond suspicion of political feeling. They have obtained their places by faithful service to the Crown in obtaining convictions, and most of them carry to the Bench not a little of the feeling shown by them at the Bar. They remain Crown Prosecutors upon the Bench. There is a danger in the proposals of this Bill in the case of trial at Assize, but there is a greater danger in the case of trial before a Removable Magistrate. If the Government had brought in a Bill in the terms of the Criminal Code recommended by the Commissioners I have alluded to, we might have had less objection to the discussion of the details before a Grand Committee, but as they have chosen to bring in a Bill which is essentially different from what was recommended by those Commissioners, and which has not been recommended by anyone after full inquiry into the subject, I think we have a right to demand that discussion of its details shall be carried on by a Committee of the whole House. Then the Government have deliberately removed the safeguards which were introduced by the wisdom of the learned Commissioners in their Report in 1879, and have neglected to supply any others. Many safeguards might be introduced, if this Bill were considered by a Committee of the whole House. For instance, I notice that an hon. Member opposite—a Conservative of the old school, who does not wish to break up the foundations of the British Constitution—proposes that if prisoners, are to be put in this new and dangerous position they shall be provided with counsel to watch their interests. The hon. Member opposite is not a Member of the Standing Committee on Law, and therefore that reasonable Amendment cannot be moved, at any rate by the hon. Member who has designed it, before the Committee upstairs. This is one of the safeguards that might be inserted in the Bill. Well, Mr. Speaker, this Bill is one which we in Ireland are resolutely opposed to, and we will oppose it here or upstairs. Surely there is enough distrust of the law in Ireland already, and enough difference between the tone and temper of the English and Irish Courts, without altering the Criminal Law of Ireland in such a way as to increase that distrust and difference. An hon. Friend of mine, who is a Unionist, went to Ireland, and although he remains a Unionist he said to me, "I must admit that in the tone and temper of the Courts of Justice, and in the way justice is administered in Ireland, as compared with England, there is a difference which the mere letter of the Statute Book cannot explain." The fact is that in Ireland the jury are often of a different religion, and even speak a different language from the prisoner. The Judge, too, from his whole training, is opposed to the prisoner, regarding himself as a being of a superior class. Jury, Judge, and prosecuting counsel are linked in an effort to punish the unfortunate man who is placed in the dock. In England the prosecuting counsel is thought to exceed his duty if, in an ordinary case, he uses all the skill of his profession to obtain a conviction; but in Ireland the prosecuting counsel's greatest achievements are those in which he obtains convictions on behalf of the Crown. I venture to think, Mr. Speaker, as there is already great distrust of the law in Ireland, it would produce a disastrous effect if this House were to decide that a further change in the law, opposed by the vast majority of Irish Representatives, shall be carried out in such a way as will deprive the mass of the people of knowing anything about what goes on. If the Government persists in sending for the consideration of Standing Committees Bills on which there is an essential difference of opinion as to the principle, they will entirely destroy the utility of these Committees. If Bills like this are sent to the Standing Committee there will be no moderate or reasonable measure, about which there is a general agreement, passed through it this year. The consideration of the Amendments to this Bill will necessarily be more lengthy in a Standing Committee than in a Commitee of the whole House, for many reasons. In the first place, the Closure does not apply in the same way. At any-rate it is not so commonly applied, and for other reasons it is probable that the discussion before the whole House would take a shorter time than the discussion before a Standing Committee. So I venture to ask the Government, if they wish the Standing Committee on Law to do any useful work in the interests of legal reform during this Session, to withdraw the proposal they now make and allow this Bill, which must remain essentially contentious, and on which there must remain an essential difference between the Irish Members and Members on the opposite side of the House, to be discussed in a Committee of the whole House. I appeal to those Gentlemen opposite, who though they may be Conservatives are not in favour of uprooting every principle of freedom which still remains, to help us in passing this reasonable Amendment, and I appeal to them to prevent the passing of a Motion which would be disastrous to the administration of the law in Ireland, and would destroy the last vestiges of respect for the administration of justice that are left in the Irish people.

(3.32.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.

With regard to the observations that have been made as to the absence of my hon. Friend the Attorney General (Sir R. Webster), I regret it is impossible for him to attend in his place, but I will try to replace him, and lay before the House certain reasons which I think should convince hon. Members that the course we propose is the correct one. The Member for West Belfast commenced his speech by referring to what happened at an earlier stage of this Bill.


If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me I will at once admit that I fell into error. The Government had rushed the business and we were taken by surprise. In speaking just now I was in error, and had another Bill in my mind.


I was not going to make any point of it, but I was going to remind the House that the hon. Member had fallen into an error as regards this Bill.


I confused it with another Bill.


There was no Closure on this Bill. It was read a second time without opposition in a thin House, and when the hon. Gentleman and, I have no doubt, several of his colleagues from Ireland were absent. There was no taking by surprise on the part of the Government in any evil sense of the term. The Bill was on the Order Paper in the ordinary way, and the Irish Members were quite aware, or might have been, if they had consulted the Paper, that it was likely to be brought on. The Member for West Belfast alleges that it is not a very usual course of procedure to refer to a Standing Committee a Bill of which the Committee stage in the full House had already been begun. I say that the Committee stage had not been begun. The Chairman had been got out of the Chair, but no question had been discussed, no Amendment had been proposed, and no progress had been made with the measure; and if the Minister in charge of the Bill thinks that its progress would be facilitated by transferring it, even at this stage, to the Grand Committee, I confess I see no objection to that course, and I do not think the House would have any reason to complain.


Even if Amendments have been put down?


I do not know that that ought to make any difference. The House is aware that the object for which the Grand Committees were established was to relieve the Committee of the whole House of some of the heavy labours thrown upon it. But the hon. Member has a further objection to the course proposed by the Government, based upon the fact, as he seems to think, that the powers of the House to move Instructions on going into Committee had been destroyed by the particular procedure we have adopted. The hon. Gentleman is certainly mistaken, because, suppose we went on with the discussion before a Committee of the whole House, the power of moving Instructions has already been lost, and no additional or further loss is entailed by the fact that this Bill is to be discussed upstairs. Further, I do not think either the Member for West Belfast or his friends need be afraid of the particular procedure in this case, because I do not gather that any of the points which they desire to bring before the Committee are of a nature which would require an Instruction to be moved. I have taken down some of the points they have mentioned. For example, there is the point that counsel should be allowed in order to protect witnesses; that power should be taken to limit the cross-examination of a person on his trial; a limitation of the subjects on which he may give evidence; and the character of the Court before which this evidence on the part of the alleged criminal is to be taken. All these, I admit, are points of great importance, but none of them would require an Instruction to be moved beforehand that they might be adequately dealt with in Committee. What is true about the details of the Bill is equally true with respect to the next point; and if I may gather from their speeches, what hon. Members really desire is the exclusion of Ireland from the Bill. They based their opinions on certain alleged shortcomings of the legal tribunals in Ireland. They can scarcely expect me to agree with them in their estimate, either of trial by Resident Magistrates or by Judges of Assize. But whatever may be the ground of their opinions, the question of the exclusion of Ireland from the operation of the measure is emphatically a question which can be dealt with without instruction, and emphatically a question to be dealt with by the Grand Committee on Law. In fact, questions of that kind can be far better discussed in the Committee upstairs than in the whole House. Lawyers are very strongly represented in the Grand Committee—Irish lawyers are very strongly represented, and the lay element is not absent, and everyone will admit that subjects such as this should be approached with technical knowledge, which we can hardly in proportion muster in our Debates in Committee in this House. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Knox) said that he is not a Member of the Grand Committee. That would not prevent his Amendment being moved by some other Member who approved of it; and it is the infallible practice of the Committee of Selection, with whom rests the responsibility of constituting these Committees, to appoint additional Members who are specially interested in any subject, and one of their methods of arriving at a decision is noticing in whose name Amendments are down, and who in the House have shown special interest in, or objection to, the measure to be discussed by the Committee. So I apprehend the Members for Ireland will not find themselves excluded from this Committee in proportion to their numbers. The hon. Member (Mr. Knox) also did not disguise his determination to extinguish this Bill by other means than by mere argument and opposition. He openly declared his wish that the proceedings in the Grand Committee on Law should be so protracted as to prevent this Bill getting through, and there can be no doubt that his threat was intended to deter the Government from proceeding further with this measure.


It was not intended as a threat. I merely say that the Bill would be likely to be disposed of quicker in Committee of the whole House than in a Grand Committee.


The hon. Gentleman told us what would take place in the Grand Committee, and left us to infer what would take place in Committee of the whole House, from the number of Amendments which have been put on the Paper. On that I will say no more. I am far from desiring to limit the power of hon. Gentlemen if they set themselves to the task to make it difficult to pass even the most useful legislation. Their power is great, but possibly it may be found to be a little diminished by the fact that some of the discussion will go on in the Grand Committee. I have been reminded, however, that there is a fourth stage of this measure, when it is not possible for hon. Gentlemen to speak more than once on each Amendment. I do not wish to under rate the gifts and experience of hon. Members opposite, and if they are going to set themselves to work to lengthen the discussion on the Report stage that opens a prospect which I, as the Minister in charge of the Bill, cannot look forward to with agreeable feelings. But that is in the future, and I hope at this stage hon. Members will not oppose the transfer of this measure with respect to which they have safeguards both in the House and before the Grand Committee.

*(3.38.) MR. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)

I have for four or five years occupied the position of Chairman of one of these two Grand Committees, and I have, therefore, gained some experience of the way in which they do their work. I yield to no one in my admiration of the manner in which that work is done; but I must say that a great deal depends upon the character of the Bills that are submitted to the Committees. Bills involving some technical legal question or some mercantile point, on the principle of which the House is agreed, can be dealt with much better, so far as details are concerned, by a limited body of experts. There are several reasons which point to the advisability of Bills of this kind being referred to the Grand Committees. First of all, the Members of the Grand Committees do not vote on party lines; secondly, they always hear the arguments, and last, but not least, their proceedings are very rarely reported, and Members, having no temptation to play to the gallery, generally make their speeches short and to the point. But Bills of a party character have no place in those Committees. Who would think, for instance, of referring to a Grand Committee the Irish Local Government Bill, the details of which, as well as the principle, are of a highly contentious character, and ought not to be withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the House? Then there is a third class of Bills, of which I think this is one, which are not exactly party Bills, but involve very strong feeling and very strong animus on the part of a section of Members of this House; and experience shows us that this class of Bills ought not to be referred to Grand Committees. The Home Secretary will remember that three years ago an Employers' Liability Bill was referred to the Grand Committee on Law Bills, and we were engaged upon it de die in diem for about a month. When the Bill came to the House there was a complaint both on the side of the employers and workmen that the details of the measure had not been fairly discussed and the result was that the Bill was strangled at the Report stage or Third Reading. The right hon. Gentleman has never tried the experiment of bringing that Bill before a Grand Committee again. The present Bill is one of no complication whatever; and a simpler Bill I do not think I ever read. It consists of two or three clauses, and there is nothing to call for that minute, careful, professional discussion which would take place in a Grand Committee, and there are several special reasons why it should not be referred to a Grand Committee. One is that the principle has not been discussed at all in the House, and I never knew a case of a Bill referred to a Grand Committee in which the principle had not been carefully considered. Then, with regard to the right to move Instructions, it seems to me that if the hon. Member who desires to move an Instruction has to take the chance of the ballot for an opportunity, the right to move an Instruction becomes a mere farce. Upon the general principles that I have endeavoured to lay down, I think this Bill should not go to a Grand Committee; but whether it should go to a Select Committee or not is another question. Meantime I would venture respectfully to make the suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman that he should undertake to omit Ireland, and then, if he sent the Bill to a Committee of the whole House, it would pass in a couple of hours. I am strongly in favour of the Bill, and anxious that it should pass into law, but I see clearly that if it be referred to a Grand Committee, in which, of course, there is no such thing as Closure, the chance of passing the Bill this Session will be very small.

*(3.53.) MR. KELLY (Camberwell, N.)

When the learned Attorney General brought in this Bill I felt the greatest objection to it, and I was surprised that there was no discussion on it, as it was not sprung as a surprise upon the House. I understood the Attorney General to say that there was, in his belief, a universal feeling among the highest legal authorities in favour of the Bill; and though I view the Bill with the greatest anxiety, lam bound to say that so far as my knowledge goes there is a very large majority of the legal profession with a strong prepossession in favour of it. I have heard it stated that one of its effects will be that more convictions will be obtained than is now the case. I believe that is so, though I do not oppose it on that ground. Considerable weight is to be attached to the objection that in a Grand Committee the debates on the Bill will not be reported, for it seems to me we ought to consider to whom the measure will apply. Will it apply to the whole community or to the poor and ignorant members of it? If there is a Bill which of all others will unquestionably affect the poor rather than the rich it is a Bill of this kind. I regret exceedingly that anything should have been said against the administration of justice in Ireland, but I conceive that that is a reason for keeping the Bill in this House. I ask the House to consider what the Grand Committees are. I notice that the right hon. Member for Denbighshire (Mr. G. O. Morgan) spoke with admiration of the way work is done in Grand Committees. I have served upon two of them, and on those Committees there were few practising barristers or solicitors, and those who were Members were seldom present. They are excused attendance on Committees because they are practising lawyers, and yet the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House tells us that the presence of these lawyers will be a guarantee of proper discussion. This question should be discussed by lawyers and largely by men who are not lawyers. In the Grand Committees on which I served we had to wait many days to get a quorum, out of 80 or 90 Members we could not get 20 present. The principal decisions were taken over and over again by less than 30 Members, and we never had 60 per cent. of the Members present. Again and again also we were out-voted by the Government, as will be remembered by those who were Members when the Bankruptcy Bill was under consideration. I want the House to consider that the questions would practically be decided by 25 or 30 Members, and yet if we were to try to raise the same questions on Report in the House, we should be met with the argument that the matter was fully and properly discussed in Committee, and that further discussion, in view of the large majority which decided the question, would be trifling with the time of the House. I believe the Bill cannot be effectively discussed by a Grand Committee, as it is not a question of detail, but one of principle. I believe the great mass of the people of England are in favour of the maintenance of the present system, and look with absolute horror at the introduction of the system in vogue in France and other countries, where it often happens that poor, dazed, half-educated women are subject to severe cross-examination without any proper protection being afforded them. But I do not believe the English Judges would allow this to go on, at any rate to anything like the same extent. Holding, as I do, that the great question in the Bill is the principle, I ask the Government not to send it to a Grand Committee, but, if they will not leave it to the House, to send it to a tribunal like a Select Committee, where the matter can be thoroughly discussed. I move to omit the words "Standing Committee on Law, &c.," to insert the words "Select Committee."

DR. COMMINS (Roscommon, S.)

seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, To leave out the words "the Standing Committee on Law, &c.," in order to add the words "a Select Committee."—(Mr. Kelly.)

Question proposed, "That the words 'the Standing Committee on Law, &c.,' stand part of the Question."

*(4.2.) SIR H. JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)

I am very glad the hon. Gentleman opposite declared himself a strong opponent of this Bill, because that probably explains the earlier part of his speech. His description of what generally takes place on Standing Committees must have struck with astonishment everyone who has taken part in the work of those Committees. It was an attack representing to the public these Committees as a perfect scandal, and as not performing their duties. The experience of everyone on those Committees has been exactly contrary to that of the hon. Member, and the only explanation I can give of the deserted state of the Committee when the hon. Member was present was probably that he addressed that Committee with the same tone and force as he addressed the House to-day, and it is possible if he was as accurate in his statements on that occasion there were members of the Committee who thought they had more important business elsewhere. The hon. Member declares himself an opponent of this Bill, and says it has not been discussed in the House. My memory does not carry me back to the number of times it has been discussed. It has been carried by both Parties in the House, and the majorities in favour of it show that it has been approved of on several previous occasions. While I give the hon. Gentleman credit for being able to add something novel to this Debate, I do not recollect that on previous occasions he used any arguments to show that this is a bad Bill. He speaks of the iniquity of allowing prisoners to give evidence. I should like to know how he voted when it was decided to allow persons to be examined at a private inquiry in Ireland in 1882 and 1887, and I should be surprised if he then thought there was any objection to allowing an accused person to give his own version of the case. The question now is whether this Bill is to pass or not. I regard this Committee as a fitting tribunal to take charge of the Bill, to discuss it, and to place it in such shape as would be acceptable to those on the Committee best able to decide. But there is an opinion opposed to that, view, and if you do refer the Bill, that course will not probably cause the Bill to become law. There will be the Report stage and the Third Reading, and I am so anxious to see this Bill in the Statute Book that I would earnestly ask the Government to see if they cannot make some concession, and I will briefly endeavour to place before the right hon. Gentleman some considerations for doing so. This Bill is necessary on behalf of justice and humanity. I am certain of this, that for years past—though our desire has been to administer justice fairly and purely—year by year innocent persons are convicted because they have not had the opportunity of stating the truth of their own case. We have admitted it in several cases, where we were creating new offences, or framing new procedure—in the Explosives Act, and the Criminal Law Amendment Act —we allowed the prisoner to give evidence.


The right hon. and learned Gentleman is dealing with the general question of the principle of the Bill, and he is travelling beyond the limits of the Amendment now before the House.


I beg the pardon of the House for having travelled away from the question, but I was anxious to ask the Government to re-consider their determination of refusing to allow Ireland to be omitted from the Bill. Nothing is further from my mind than to cast the slightest slur on the administration of justice in Ireland. If it were suggested that Ireland could not be omitted without a slur being cast on the Irish Judicial Bench, nothing would be further from my intention. When I had charge of the Bill in 1886 I took that course and offered to strike Ireland out of the Bill, and my view was that there was not the slightest reason to suppose that any slur would thereby be cast on the Irish Judicial Bench or on the Irish Bar. But I did feel that there are different phases of advocacy existing in Ireland to those existing in England. That is not because any blame attaches to my brethren of the Irish Bar, but is in consequence of the difficulty of bringing the necessity of conviction home to the minds of Irish jurymen; and they have, therefore, become more persistent in their advocacy, and their cross-examination of every witness necessarily differs in degree from the practice in this country. If the majority of the Irish Members are opposed to the extension of the Bill to Ireland why cannot you say, "We will not refuse it to those who do want it, because of the objection of those who do not." I hope this will be no bar to the consideration of the question whether this Bill should be referred to a Standing Committee. This is not in any sense a slur passed upon the administration of justice in Ireland; it is simply intended to facilitate the passing of this Bill into law, so that the experiment may be tried in England; and if it be found successful, it may in course of time be applied to Ireland also.

(4.11.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR

The right hon. Gentleman has made a direct appeal to me, and I am unwilling for one moment to leave without an answer. He has urged that Ireland should be excluded from this Bill, and on two grounds: He has urged it, first, on the ground of Parliamentary time. He has told us that this is a Bill which is much required in the interests of justice in England, the there is an annual crop of false verdicts given in England, by which innocent persons are sent to gaol or to penal servitude for want of this Bill. If these are the blessings which would flow from this Bill I confess I should be very reluctant that they should not be extended to Ireland. Then the right hon. Gentleman said, having regard to Parliamentary time that the opposition raised by hon. Gentlemen opposite was of such a character that everybody knows, unless Ireland is excluded from the Bill the Bill can not pass. Well, I am not in a position to give a direct negative to that forecast. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that both the condition of the Notice Paper, what we have heard this afternoon, and the threats held out by the hon. Member for Cavan do not foreshadow a very cheerful prospect for those who have the conduct of business. If the right hon. Gentleman had rested his case upon the ground of Parliamentary time, I should have very little to say against the force of his observations; but he went further than that, and stated that there were methods of advocacy pursued at the Irish Bar which made it undesirable that this Bill should be extended to that country. I, of course, have no personal knowledge of these legal matters either in England or in Ireland. I have no personal knowledge, nor will the House take me as an authority on the proper method of conducting public trials or on the actual method in which public trials are con ducted on one side of St. George's Channel or the other. But I must say, from my knowledge of the gentlemen who conduct public trials in Ireland, and upon whom a large amount of criticism has been passed, that I do not believe that Irish advocates would condescend to use towards Irish prisoners methods that would not be adopted by advocates in his country. I entirely repudiate the view which the right hon. Gentleman has put before the House. However, I pass from that. The right hon. Gentleman believes that if this reference to Ireland were dropped the Bill would immediately pass into law without further difficulty. One right hon. Gentleman said it would pass in five minutes. I confess my information on the subject leads me to greatly doubt that. I believe if Ireland were omitted from the Bill on the ground that Irish counsel, Irish Judges, and Irish Magistrates are not fit to conduct their business in the same way as English Judges, English Magistrates, and English counsel—


I did not say that.


I know the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not say that; he confined his observations to counsel; but other hon. Gentlemen, speaking on the same side of the House with the right hon. Gentleman, did say so.


My argument was confined to the difference in procedure.


That is true of the hon. Gentleman; and I think the hon. Member for Cavan chiefly dwelt upon the shortcomings of the Irish Bench and the Irish Magistrates. But my own forecast is that if we omitted Ireland from the Bill, hon. Gentlemen from Ireland on this side of the House would oppose the Bill, and its passage would not be so easy as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury is at present disposed to think. However, I recognise that, after what has occurred, it is very improbable that with the time at their disposal the Government would be able to get this Bill through the House. I should therefore like to have a little further time to consider what the future course of the Government will be in reference to the Bill. But at all events, I may state that I do not propose to attempt to force the Bill through including Ireland; that proposal, after what has occurred, might result in our not being able to pass the Bill at all.


Do I understand that in any event the right hon. Gentleman does not propose to force the Bill through, including Ireland, against the wishes of the Irish Members?


No; not this Session.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if we are to understand that the Government maintain an open mind with regard to the advisability of including or excluding Ireland?


No. We recognise that in any case Ireland cannot be included. We recognise that it would be almost impossible by physical force to get it through including Ireland. We must remember the fact that, after all, there are only six days in the week, and only so many weeks in a Session.

(4.20.) MR. J. MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)

I cannot help thinking that many hon. Members on this side of the House, and a great number of hon. Members on the other side of the House, will hear that statement of the right hon. Gentleman with great satisfaction. It is obvious that if the Government go on with the Bill including Ireland the result will be that as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bury says, and as everybody who has attended to the question for many years knows, an experiment which, whether the right hon. Gentleman regards it as a beneficent experiment or not, public opinion in England desires to have tried will not be tried. I do not desire even for a moment to get on to the contentious ground of the Coercion Act; but I only want to make one remark. The right hon. Gentleman said it was hard that he should be asked to deprive Ireland of a change in the procedure which my right hon. and learned Friend described as a great boon; but that is a principle of his legislation, which he forgot with respect to criminal procedure in Ireland. But I do not want to put the case upon that ground. Nor do I wish to put it on the ground stated by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bury who objected to the extension of this Bill to Ireland on account of the difference that exists between Irish and English advocacy. It is not necessary, in order to justify the exclusion of Ireland from this Bill, to go into that. The sole direct ground on which, in the present case, I should press the Government to consider favourably the exclusion of Ireland is this: that it is desired to have an experiment tried in England in conformity with English opinion, but they ought not to wish to impose upon. Ireland a change which Irish opinion does not like.

*(4.22.) MR. BARTON (Armagh, Mid)

I am a supporter of the principle of this Bill; but I shall strenuously oppose it if Ireland is omitted from its scope, and I believe that other hon. Members sitting near me will take the same course. It is all very well for the right hon. and learned Member for Bury to say that he did not intend the suggestion that Ireland should be excluded as any slur upon Ireland. But it would be a slur if a measure generally admitted to embody a desirable amendment in the Criminal Law should not be extended to Ireland. Having been engaged at the Irish Bar professionally for some years, and largely employed in criminal cases, usually for the defence, I can state that there is no difference as to the mode of advocacy between Ireland and England. There may be a difference in the circumstances to which that advocacy may be applied, but there is no difference in the method. The right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Mr. J. Morley), who has just sat down, has had some experience of how trials are conducted in Ireland, having given evidence as a witness and having been cross-examined for several hours; and I was glad to note that he was very careful not to rest his argument on any such ground. Lord Coleridge, speaking on this very Bill in the House of Lords, said that since the passing of the Prisoners' Counsel ActProsecuting counsel do now, in reply, speak with a force and energy and with a partisanship against prisoners which formerly, when there were no speeches by counsel for prisoners, they were not in the habit of doing. Such was the Lord Chief Justice's comment on the methods of English advocacy, which do not differ from those of Irish advocacy. The newspapers from time to time report "scenes" in Irish Courts, which are calculated to give a false impression in this country as to how trials are conducted in Ireland; and injustice is done by them both to the counsel who defend, including hon. Members opposite, and to the counsel who prosecute for the Crown. It has been further suggested that there is a difference in the spirit governing the administration of the law in Ireland which would justify this exception being made in the case of that country. I have been engaged in many criminal cases, including about twenty cases of murder, during the last few years in Ireland; and I can say most positively that, if there is any difference, it is that there is a more sympathetic feeling towards prisoners in the administration of an Irish Court than in that of an English Court. I believe that a prisoner in Ireland gets "the benefit of the doubt" extended to him more favourably than in England. Lord Morris mentioned to me to-day that he was 22 years on the Irish Bench, that he tried numerous criminal cases, and that there never was a single prisoner executed who came before him. I venture to say that no English Judge who has been on the Bench for the same length of time could say the same thing. I most respectfully repudiate the suggestions which have been made against the Irish Bar and the administration of justice in Ireland. The danger which attends the administration of the law in Ireland is not partiality in the Judge; it is intimidation directed against the tribunal.

*(4.28.) MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

I think the House should not allow itself to be beguiled into a controversy as to how trials are conducted, and the respective merits of English and Irish advocacy. Let us look at this Bill as practical men. The question has not been discussed in this country with reference to Ireland, but it has been discussed, and discussed for many years, by the most eminent lawyers in this House and on the Bench, with respect to English trials, English jurisprudence, and English rules of procedure. A very large number, at all events, of those who know something of the administration of justice in this country are of opinion that if this change were introduced into the criminal system, some guilty persons who now escape would be convicted, and a great many innocent persons who are now convicted would be acquitted. Parliament itself has recognised it in two of the most recent and most stringent Statutes—namely, the Criminal Law Procedure Amendment Act and the Explosives Act. We want this reform in England. We have wanted it for many years. As practical men why should we not have the experiment tried? The right hon. Gentleman says it would take a great deal of time; it could not take a great deal of time. I venture to say that one single day's sitting in the Grand Committee would pass this Bill. It has already passed through the House of Lords; and it has come down here with the stamp of their approval. It has passed the Second Reading stage in this House. I believe one day in the Grand Committee, and possibly one night—no, not a half or a quarter of a night—spent on the Third Reading would put the jurisprudence of England and the English people in possession of a great boon which they desire and which they believe would promote the administration of justice. I appeal to the First Lord—I appeal to the Government—to pass a measure which I venture to say will be found to be one of the most beneficial which they have placed on the Statute Book during the present Parliament.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to. Ordered, That the Order for Committee on the Evidence in Criminal Cases Bill [Lords] be read, and discharged; and that the Bill be committed to the Standing Committee on Law, &c.