§ Adjourned Debate on Motion for Committal to Select Committee.
§ MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
I think we have much reason to think that the Government have allowed this Bill to be hung up for upwards of two months; and now, in the expiring weeks of the Session, apparently they are determined to force the Bill through the House. In the face of the strong, the large, and the growing-body of opinion, and especially of professional opinion, against this Bill, I am surprised that the Attorney General is showing so little respect to the opposition which has been offered to this Bill. I do not refer to the opposition in this House, but to the well-known opposition among the judges and among leading members of the Bar. If the House will bear with me, I propose to give some reasons why this Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. In the first place, I say that the principle of this Bill has never been adequately considered. It is true that a clause authorising the defendant to give evidence has been introduced into a certain number of Bills, but if these Bills are examined it will be found that in by far the majority of the cases the proceedings under those Acts, though in name criminal, are in substance and in fact rather civil than criminal. We have, I think, a remarkable instance of that in the Employers and Workmen Act. Under the 4th, 5th, and 6th sections, I think, of that Act, a prisoner, a defendant, may give evidence, but he may not give evidence under the 7th, and the distinction seems to me clearly that which I have pointed out, that in the first case the proceedings are rather civil than criminal. My object 304 is to show that the principle of this Bill has not been adequately considered. If that is so, then, I submit, the proper and usual course would be to refer it to a Select Committee, in order that evidence might be given, and that the principles of the Bill might be further considered. It is not my intention to pursue the argument, or to give any other illustration, but there is one Act upon which reliance has been placed, and I refer to it, Mr. Speaker, because I think it will supply me with one of the best reasons which I could give in support of the Motion, that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. I refer to the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885. Really, that is substantially the only Act under which we have any experience of the operation of the principle which is brought forward in the Bill now before the House. The learned Attorney General relies upon that Act as a precedent, and, apparently, the learned Attorney General is of opinion that our experience of the principle in that Act would be favourable. I need hardly point out to the learned Attorney General that professional opinion is hopelessly divided as to the effect of the Act. There are some who say, like the learned Attorney General, that the effect of the Act has been very favourable, and that it should encourage us to extend the principle; but there are others, with equally wide experience, who say that the experience of that Act in its working has not been favourable, and that it is not a reason why we should go further, but that it supplies us with an excellent reason why we should go back. Now, Sir, if that is so, if professional opinion is hopelessly divided as to the effect of this Act, then, I submit, this is precisely a case which ought to be inquired into by a Select Committee. It is only by a Select Committee of this House that evidence can be taken. I think it is very desirable that judges and others should have an opportunity of telling the country what their experience of this particular Act has been. We know that there are several judges who have expressed an unfavourable opinion of the principle of this Bill, and I think, therefore, that an opportunity should be given to them to appear before the Select 305 Committee and state what their experience has been in carrying out that Act. Then, when evidence pro and con has been given, it will be for the Select Committee to inform this House as to the conclusion at which they have arrived. Then, Sir, another reason which I think I shall be fully in order in stating as a ground upon which this Bill should be referred to a Select Committee is that the Government themselves apparently have not made up their minds with regard to the essential principles. It is the fact that the Lord Chancellor's Bill in 1896 upon this subject imposed restrictions upon cross-examination. The Attorney General himself last year introduced a Bill which imposed no restrictions upon cross-examination, and now the learned Gentleman has reverted to the policy of restriction. Now, Mr. Speaker, my point is that whether or not the prisoner is to be subject to the ordinary kind of cross-examination goes to the very root of the Bill; it is the very crux of the question, and although we are told that the profession is so largely of one mind upon this question, yet the fact is that the very men who support the principle of the Bill, as it is said, are hopelessly divided as to whether or not the defendant shall be subjected to ordinary cross-examination. The Lord Chief Justice of England had said that it is impossible to provide a means by which the defendant shall be protected from precisely the same kind of cross-examination to which the ordinary wit is exposed, and, I think, in these circumstances further inquiry is necessary. It would, it seems to me, be most unfair to restrict the cross-examination of the defendant if you allow him to be a witness at all, and for this reason—
§ MR. PICKERSGILL
Very good, Mr. Speaker; I feel that I am in somewhat of a difficulty, but the ground is somewhat narrow, and, of course, I do not wish again to contravene order. I must, therefore, simply content myself with expressing a hope that the learned Attorney General will accord some respect to the 306 growing opposition against this Bill, and will very carefully consider whether, in face of the opposition, the Bill ought not to be further considered, as I suggest, by a Select Committee. In further support of that contention I may point out those opposed to the Bill have recently received into their ranks a very distinguished recruit. In former Debates upon this question, the great name—in such a connection—of Sir Henry Hawkins has been quoted in support of the Bill. Well, we know now that Sir Henry Hawkins is opposed. I do think that the circumstances are changed, and that the learned Attorney General himself must admit that the defection of so distinguished a criminal judge as Sir Henry Hawkins is a matter which ought to give him, at all events, some food for reflection with regard to the conviction which he has affirmed in connection with this matter. In these circumstances I do trust that the learned Attorney General will not attempt to force through this Bill at a period of the Session when it cannot possibly be adequately discussed—involving as it does a change, which, whether we agree or object to it, is certainly one of a very serious and momentous character—and that the learned Attorney General will agree that this Bill should be referred to a Select Committee.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
I really am very surprised that the Attorney General has not risen to make any answer to the appeal made by the honourable Gentleman. I think the Attorney General does not consider the extreme importance of the question of the Committee to which this Bill is to be referred—whether it should be a Committee of the whole House, or a Select Committee. It is not the first time the Attorney General has treated this question with something like what I might call contempt. Last year he introduced a Bill in a few words, and said it was not to apply to Ireland, because the Irishmen did not like it. A question as to a tribunal is to be committed, and on that question the Attorney General has not a word to say. I had hoped he would have risen and, in a few convincing words, have shown that the honourable Gentleman opposite was entirely wrong. Had he given those few convincing words, I should have saved myself the great difficulty of rising as a 307 layman to discuss this question. Now, Sir, I have another complaint to make, and that is that the First Lord of the Treasury told us—I think it was not later than Friday last—that this Bill would be considered on Wednesday. Why has he put it down on Monday? I think it almost amounts to a breach of faith—a very serious breach of faith. Of course, it is a Bill that cannot be discussed without the assistance of legal friends, and those who take the same view. The effect is this: that the Government, having told us that the Bill would be put down for Wednesday, all the lawyers who have very serious and important engagements in the country, to which they must adhere—even the Attorney General has important engagements—the learned men, the lawyers, who are able to discuss this question in all its merits, and the committees to which it should be referred, are not here. They made their arrangements to be here on the day fixed for the Bill. I say Wednesday having been fixed for the Bill, to put this stage down for Monday really amounts:—I am sure it was not intentional—but really it amounts to something like a breach of faith. Our complaint on this is very serious. I look on the benches here, and I find they are entirely destitute of those legal gentlemen. I see many laymen, but I do not see many great leaders in this question—yes, I see one of them. I do not see many of those upon whom I had relied to have convinced the House that this Bill ought to be referred to a Select Committee, and not considered by the whole House. I trust the Attorney General will recognise that we discuss this question under most serious disadvantage, and that he will consequently make allowances for us, and especially me, a poor humble layman, not knowing one word of the law from another, but not uninformed as to the principles of the law. I say, under these circumstances, amounting almost to a breach of faith—under these circumstances, I think we may claim the special indulgence of the House. I hope Her Majesty's Government will be prepared to allow this Debate to be adjourned, at any rate, until Wednesday, for which date everybody is prepared. But we are not prepared for it to-day. We did not expect in the least that this question would be taken to-day. We saw, 308 of course, that it was put down for to-day, as it has been put down time after time in a merely formal manner, perhaps for the twentieth time this Session, and probably for the twelfth time since the question was seriously raised, and therefore none of us, and myself, certainly, had the least anticipation that this Bill would come on. When I saw that the Bill was down as a fourth order I should have been prepared to go happily home to dinner, except for a lurking and lingering suspicion of the Front Benches, which always remains in the minds of an experienced Member of this House. Under these circumstances, I think we are entitled to special indulgence in discussing the serious question of the Committee to which this Bill should go. Why, Sir, the question can be divided into several heads. In the first place, the Bill would naturally go to a Committee of the whole House, and I confess that that is the tribunal to which I should naturally wish to send it. My belief is that, under the conditions I am about to describe, the larger tribunal should be chosen for dealing with a Bill which proposes, as this Bill does, a tremendous revolution in the law of this country, a revolution which for a thousand years never entered the minds even of the most distinguished law officers who ever sat upon these benches. I say that when a tremendous change of that kind is proposed, I do think it is not a Select Committee, but a Committee of the whole House, which should deal with the matter with the proper information at its command. Now, Sir, what is the proper information? Surely in a matter of this kind the House should not dare to proceed with so momentous and tremendous a change without obtaining the fullest information from experts in matters of practice, as the judges of Her Majesty's Court of Queen's Bench. As to Chancery judges and Chancery barristers, they know nothing about it—not so much as an ordinary layman, and certainly not so much as a man who has been tried for his life for a criminal offence. Therefore I attach no importance whatever to the opinions of either Chancery barristers or Chancery judges, but the opinions of Her Majesty's judges of the Court of Queen's Bench are essential 309 in this matter; and I say that when the House of Commons is asked to make this tremendous revolution in the law of England it is entitled to say that it will not proceed a single step in the matter without being fully informed by those who have the largest experience, namely, the judges of the Queen's Bench; and there are others, such as recorders and chairmen of quarter sessions, who might also be called upon to give serious and solemn evidence in the matter. But as to the judges of the Court of Queen's Bench, you ought not to go one inch without having their opinion. Now, Sir, I come to the next point. What is the proper way of obtaining the opinions of the judges of the Court of Queen's Bench? It is to call them to the Bar of this House and ask them at that Bar for their opinion of the change proposed in the law. Were their opinions given in that way we should be in a better position than a Select Committee upstairs, whose decision is subject to review afterwards by this House, and, as the Members are well aware, the House has constantly reversed their decisions. Consequently, the proper place, it seems to me, in which this Bill should be considered is in full Committee of the whole House; and the proper way of obtaining the opinion of the judges is, as I have said, to call them to that Bar, and have their opinion given to the whole House. Now, Sir, this is no new proposal. I hear an honourable Member below the Gangway, probably a junior Member, who has recently entered this House, laugh; but, Sir, if that honourable Member had taken the trouble that I have in referring to endless precedents, especially in old times, with reference to matters of this kind, and as to obtaining the opinion of the judges, he would not have laughed, I think. It is no new thing. Again and again Her Majesty's judges have been called to that Bar. Perhaps the House will bear with me while I explain that the mode of calling the judges there and taking their opinion is a peculiar one. When a Peer is requested to appear at the Bar to give evidence it is directed that a chair shall be placed for him, and that he may sit down covered; when the judges are called it is directed that a chair shall be placed, and the judge there- 310 upon stands behind the chair and rests his hand upon, it.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
Yes, Sir; I was merely giving an illustration which I thought arose out of the matter. Well, Sir, my belief is that the proper way of taking the opinion of the judges is that they should be called to the Bar of this House, and that they should be called separately, and should give their opinions out of their experiences to the full Committee of the whole House.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The honourable Member is aware that the Motion is that the Bill shall go before a Select Committee, from which it would have to come back to a Committee of the whole House, and his argument as to what should be done in Committee of the whole House is surely not relevant to the question whether the Bill shall be referred to a Select Committee.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
I did not understand that the Bill having been referred to a Select Committee would be referred back to a Committee of the whole House; but if that is so, and if the judges can then be examined—
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The honourable Member misunderstands me. I am expressing no opinion as to whether the judges can be called, or as to what can be done in Committee of the whole House.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
Quite so, Sir; I wish to argue that the Bill should be referred to a Committee of the whole House, in order that the judges should be called, as has been done in old times. But if the judges are not to be called before a Committee of the whole House, then I think the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, and a Select Committee would require to call before it not merely the judges but recorders and chairmen of quarter sessions, and other competent persons able to deal with this question. I am not going in the least into the details or merits of the Bill, and I should not be in order in doing so; but 311 I am in order in saying that, be it for good or for evil, this Bill does propose a most unexpected and tremendous change in the law of the land, and I would leave no stone unturned to get the opinions upon this Bill from all those who are in such a position as makes them competent to deal with the merits of the change here proposed. But, Sir, a Select Committee would not have the power to get them. There might, however, be another way of taking the opinions of the judges, recorders, and chairmen of quarter sessions; that is to say, they might give their written opinions. In one way or another I do trust the House will insist that the opinion of those experts shall be given before we proceed further with this Bill; and as the question seems to be solely between the two Committees, the Committee of the whole House and a Select Committee, then unhesitatingly I say the Bill should go to that Committee before which it will be competent to hear the evidence of the judges, and of other persons, if need be. I know not what the fate of this Bill will be. I think I know its origin. It has, I think, been forced on the Lower Chamber and an unwilling Cabinet, and I say we shall incur in this House the greatest responsibility if we make a change of this sort without exhausting all the means in our power for getting the opinions of all those who are competent to tell us what the effect of the proposed change will be. Opinions, I know, vary. Some think it good and some bad; but the only persons who have a right to speak, and who are in a position to be capable of pronouncing on a vexed question of this sort, are those who have had actual experience in the administration of the criminal law to which this Bill will apply. Sir, I cannot imagine why Her Majesty's Government should resist this Motion. They cannot wish to have an imperfect Measure passed through this House, which probably would require Amendments the next year or the year after. They must have the same wish that we have. If it could be really shown that there is a balance of testimony that the change is likely to be good, then I think there would be no resistance to it; but if not, if the balance of opinion is against it, surely Her Majesty' Government would be willing to abandon the Bill. I do not know whether Her 312 Majesty's Government really and seriously intend to resist the Motion to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, but I trust, if that be so, they will give some strong argument, which can be understood by a humble layman like myself, for not allowing the Bill to go to a Select Committee, so that the evidence of the judges and others competent to deal with the matter might be taken.
§ MR. LYTTELTON (Warwick and Leamington)
I must apologise to the House for not having been present earlier, but I confess that I did not expect that the Motion was coming on now, and it has taken me by surprise.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir R. WEBSTER,) Isle of Wight
May I explain? There is really some misunderstanding. There is no intention of taking the Bill to-night, but only the Motion to refer it to a Select Committee, and what my right honourable Friend stated the other day was that the Committee stage would be taken on Wednesday.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I must point out to the right honourable Gentleman that he spoke upon the Motion when it was last before the House, and that therefore he is not entitled to speak again.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
I do not think the statement just made by the Attorney General really meets our complaint that the Bill was not to be taken until Wednesday. The answer of the Attorney General is that the Committee stage is not to be taken until Wednesday, but that this Motion is to be taken to-night. Now, our view is that the discussion at this stage really raises most important questions. Sir, since this question was first raised I have endeavoured to keep an open mind upon it. I have read a great deal, both on the one side and the other, and I have heard a great deal both on one side and the other, and I am candid enough to say that I think there is a great deal to be 313 said for the Bill, and a great deal to be said against it. But, on the whole, I must say, my mind being still open, that there is more to be said against the Bill than for it. But that is not really my point now. My point has been raised by my honourable Friend the Member for King's Lynn, and whether this change is a desirable change or an undesirable one, undoubtedly it is a great change—I think I may say a revolutionary change. Up to this time, during centuries of administration of the law in this country, we have gone upon the principle that it is not the business of the prisoner to prove his innocence, but it is the business of the court to prove his guilt. I hope I shall keep well within the rules of order, and I am not arguing the merits of the Bill, but I am simply arguing the question of the particular method which it is necessary to adopt in order that this Bill may be properly and adequately discussed. But I will argue in favour of a Select Committee, because I hold that this Bill is of such a character that it requires the full investigation which a Select Committee can alone give to it. I do not think that anybody will deny, I do not think the learned Attorney General will deny, that this Bill will make an enormous, a revolutionary change in the whole of the legal procedure of this country. Well, when I heard a Bill of this kind proposed by such a man as the Attorney General, I asked myself whether he is a Radical and I am Conservative, or whether I am Conservative and he is a Radical; because nothing, it appears to me, can be more revolutionary and more Radical than that a great change of this kind should have been proposed, and should be forced through the House without the fullest investigation. The point we are discussing to-night is whether the Bill is to be discussed in Committee of the whole House or by a Select Committee. Now here is the difference between the two. When a Bill is discussed in Committed of the House as a whole, it is discussed with the conditional precedent that its principle has been accepted by the House, or, at least, by an overwhelming majority of the sense of the House. If, however, a Bill is referred to a Select Committee, it means that the question is so important, that the change is so great, that opinion 314 is so divided upon it, that it is necessary that the House should be armed with all the expert evidence that can be obtained upon the subject. Now, Sir the latter course is the course of which I am in favour, and of which I think the House ought to be in favour. I know very well that there are a great many, lawyers, a great many judges, strongly, in favour of this change, but I know equally well that there are a great many lawyers and a great many judges very strongly opposed to the change. Well, Sir, I think we are entitled to ask that the matter shall receive full investigation, and I do not think this is an unreasonable demand, when a revolutionary, change is proposed by a Conservative Government. For all these reasons I cannot quite understand why the Attorney General opposes this proposal. He must know that the Bill has not been adequately discussed. He must know that the opinion against the Bill is largely increasing and largely gaining in force every day. Does the learned Attorney General think it right to force a great change of this kind down the throats of the House of Commons by a majority? No, Sir, I do not think it is a wise course, and I do not think it is a fair course, and I appeal to both sides of the House to join us in preventing the Government from forcing rapidly through the House a most revolutionary Measure.
§ SIR R. WEBSTER
I do not propose to speak at any length at the present stage, but I wish to say most distinctly that I regret very much that the honourable Member for King's Lynn has thought it necessary to charge the First Lord of the Treasury and myself with a breach of faith. The First Lord of the Treasury said that the Committee stage of the Bill would be taken on Wednesday, but it was never contemplated, I venture to say, speaking for the majority of this House, that this preliminary Motion would not be taken to-day. The Motion must be disposed of either to-day or to-morrow. This Bill has not been kept hanging up without any intention of proceeding with it. The principle of the Bill has been recognised over and over again, There have been full discussions in regard to it, and the House has, 315 by a very large majority, recognised the principle. To suggest that there shall be an inquiry before a Select Committee is simply to suggest that the House of Commons is unable to make up its mind on this very important question. The honourable Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool has said that there is a growing opinion against the Bill. My experience is exactly the contrary. Although suggestions have been made respecting its details, there is no growing opinion against a change of the law. Upon the question of whether the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee or not, my answer, on behalf of the Government, is that we consider that the House of Commons is perfectly competent to deal with this matter. We have in this House Chairmen of Quarter Sessions, Recorders, and others who are well acquainted with criminal law, and the House has on many occasions affirmed and re-affirmed the principle of this Bill. I therefore trust that the House will allow this stage to be taken. We proceed with the Committee stage of the Bill on Wednesday.
§ MR. DILLON
I entirely agree with the honurable Member who says that the Government have been guilty of a breach of faith in proceeding with the consideration of the Bill tonight. When the Leader of the House says that a certain Bill will not be taken until a certain day, the House always understands him to speak of all the stages of that Bill. If this is not a stage, what are we talking about? I repeat, without fear of contradiction, that when a Minister declares that a Bill will not be taken until a certain day the House assumes that it will have nothing to do with the Bill until that day.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
Perhaps the honourable Member will allow me to point out that what I said was that the Committee stage would be taken on Wednesday; but this is not the Committee stage.
§ MR. DILLON
I accept the explanation of the right honourable Gentleman, and I must say that, though opposed to 316 him in politics, I have never known a Leader of this House more faithful to his engagements. But I must take exception to the statement of the learned Attorney General. What did he say? He said that the whole House was qualified, and fully qualified, to deal with this Bill. He said that we have in this House Chairmen of Quarter Sessions, Recorders, and legal experts. Yes, but we have not Her Majesty's judges, and I want to draw the attention of the Attorney General to this point particularly. When the Second Reading of this Bill was being discussed I rose, I think, twice in the course of the Debate, but the discussion was absolutely monopolised by lawyers. I do not quarrel at that; but we ignorant laymen, who were not permitted to take any part in the discussion, listened to it with great interest; and what did we find? We found throughout the whole of the discussion lawyers getting up—chairmen of quarter sessions and men of large experience—and contradicting each other all along the line, both on questions of principle and questions of fact. Now, Sir, I say that that description of the Debate, which no one can contradict who listened to it, is an absolute justification for the appointment of a Select Committee. But how are we poor laymen to arrive at a conclusion on this matter? We may be very negligable quantities in the mind of the learned Attorney General, but we form the majority of the House, and must decide this question; and when we hear experts one after another throughout a long Debate contradicting each other on questions of fact and on questions of principle, how are we to arrive at any decision on this question, which everybody admits is of the most vital importance? Sir, I desire to place before the House the humble opinion of a man whose experience was gained by being a prisoner in the dock, and not by being the prosecuting counsel, or the judge, or the recorder; and speaking in the position of a prisoner who has been tried, not for his life, but for his liberty, I most strongly protest against this Bill. I say, Sir, that the men who are tried have no voice in this House, and the men whose liberty is really at stake under this Bill are not adequately represented in the House at all; 317 and I say that from that point of view, in my humble judgment, this is a cruel Bill. I am not going to enter into the details of the Bill, but I say that the House of Commons ought not, without sufficient information, to make this great change in the law. I say that from the point of view of the layman, and from the point of view of the prisoner, this is a great invasion of the rights which the law of England has been so jealous to guard throughout many generations, and, indeed, many centuries. Now, Sir, I listened throughout the Debate on the Second Reading to the statements as to the opinions of the judges, and we were informed—and this is one of the strong points on which I rely for the claim to have this matter referred to a Select Committee—we were informed that the great majority of Her Majesty's judges were in favour of this Bill, and names were mentioned. We have seen since that Debate declarations from some of the judges who were quoted as supporting the Bill that they had arrived at the conclusion that the Bill ought not to be passed. I say, therefore, that the laymen in this House are entitled to know, before they give their votes, whether in Committee of the House, or on the Third Reading of the Bill, what is the present division of opinion amongst those who are the judges of the land, and county court judges and recorders, as to the effect of this Bill. This Bill has been described, and I think truly described, as a Bill for the manufacture of perjury—
§ MR. DILLON
The last sentence may be, but I would respectfully submit, Sir, that I am seeking to show the great difficulty we laymen have in making up our minds in view of the extraordinary conflict of opinion which we were all witnesses to in the expert discussion of the Bill on the Second Reading, and I do consider that in view of that extraordinary conflict the lay Members of the House are entitled to some further enlightenment and to some opportunity of investigating and satisfying their minds as to what is the actual state of skilled opinion in reference to this extraordinary and revo- 318 lutionary change in the law which we are asked, as it were, blindfold, to give our assent to.
§ MR. RICHARDS (Finsbury, E.)
I wish at once to dissociate myself from those who have charged the First Lord of the Treasury with any breach of faith, or those who attack the Lord Chancellor for inflicting upon an unwilling Cabinet this particular Measure. But, having had some 17 years' experience in prosecuting for the Crown, I think I may be able to offer to the House some reason why this Measure should be referred to a Select Committee. Mr. Speaker, during the last vacation it was my privilege to visit one of our Colonies where this law is in operation, and I had the pleasure of a long interview with the Chief Justice of Victoria, and he charged me, whenever this Measure came before this House, that he should like it to be known that the opinion of the majority of the judges in the land where this change of the law had taken place, was distinctly against it. Every year the judges of Victoria have to report upon the cases which have been tried before them, and particularly upon any reform of the law. The judges have, year after year, reported that they are against the present position of the law in Victoria, which is what this House is now asked to make law in this country. Now, the Chief Justice of Victoria is a distinguished lawyer, a member of Trinity College, Dublin, and before his elevation to the Bench, he was one of the most brilliant advocates in Victoria. There is not, as far as I can understand—and I had the opportunity of meeting all the judges there—there is not, I say, a single judge who is in favour of the law as it now stands. The honourable Member who has just spoken—I hope I shall not be out of order in following him on that particular point—made use of an expression the judges themselves have used. They have called the attention of the Parliament of Victoria to the constantly-increasing number of cases of perjury which have been brought about by this change of the law. Mr. Speaker, this surely is an argument why this Bill should go to a Select Committee. Let 319 us hear the opinion of Her Majesty's judges, and I am confident that, at all events, if there is not a majority against this proposal, there will be found to be a large and consistent minority of the judges of the land against the proposed change. What happens in our Colonies will most certainly happen in our own country. Under the proposed system, one criminal cleverer than another will manage by deliberate perjury to escape his doom; but the unfortunate prisoner, who is innocent of the charge brought against him, and who has a record against him, will be afraid to go into the box—
§ MR. RICHARDS
What I want to urge upon Her Majesty's Government is, that surely it is a question whether consideration should be shown to a minority which, at all events, is composed of experts. Her Majesty's Government must know that this is not a pressing Measure, it has been before the House year after year, and there is certainly no very great feeling outside the House in favour of this change of the law. As far as honourable Members on this side of the House are concerned, they have been led away by the eloquence of the Attorney General, and of my honourable and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth. I am sorry my honourable and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth is not in his place to-night, because I think he would admit that there are younger Members of the Bar who do not share his views, and who, at all events, at the present time, have greater experience of criminal matters, than the honourable and learned Member himself. Of course, if. the House considers that the only reason that the Crown prosecutes is to secure the conviction of the prisoner, by all means do not send this to a Select Committee, but pass it without further discussion. But if, on the other hand, the Members of this House who are not members of the profession to which I have the honour to belong, wish to be guided before they give their vote, surely they cannot be better guided than 320 by having the opinion of Her Majesty's judges, and of those honourable Members of this House who outside occupy the position—the important position—of chairmen of quarter sessions and of recorders. I am confident, Mr. Speaker, that if those opinions are brought before the House we, at all events, shall bow to the verdict of the majority. This we do say, that it is an extraordinary and a gigantic change of the law, and one which is revolutionising our own views of right and justice. It is in the interests of justice, and not in the interests of party, that I shall certainly record my vote in favour of this Bill being referred to a Select Committee.
§ MR. VESEY KNOX (Londonderry)
I rise to support the Motion. The Attorney General denies that there is a constant increase of opposition to the principle of the Bill amongst the legal profession and the judges to this Measure, but he admits that there is a growing difference of opinion on many details of the Measure. That, I venture to think, is rather a reason for referring the Bill to a Select Committee, and not for proceeding with the consideration of the details of the Measure in Committee of the whole House. Of course, a Select Committee would not merely take evidence on the principle of the Bill, and as to whether individual judges were in favour of the principle of the Bill or were opposed, to it, but they would also consider what safeguards were necessary for a prisoner in the opinion of those judges who are in favour of the principle of the Bill. Now, we know that even among those judges who are in favour of the principle of the Bill there are a large number who are opposed to many details of the present Measure. I would refer especially, if I may, to the case of Lord Ludlow. Lord Ludlow is, of course, a Member of the Upper House, and has the right to express his opinion there on the details of the Bill; but, according to a letter which appeared in the Times, he was unable to do so, owing to the fact that the Committee stage in the House of Lords was taken at a time when it was not expected to be reached. Of course, it would not be right for me to enter in any way upon the proceedings of the other House, but I mention the fact to show that there were learned judges of great experience—and there 321 is no judge who has sat on the Bench who has had greater experience in these matters than Lord Ludlow—who are Members of the other House of Parliament, and who were, nevertheless, unable to give the benefit of their experience to the House in considering the Measure. Now, I venture to think that Parliament, as a whole, ought to have the benefit of that experience before settling the details of the Bill. For that reason I venture to contend that it would be only right, even if there be a majority of the House—as undoubtedly there is—in favour of the principle of the Measure, that the House should have the benefit of expert opinion upon the details of the Measure before coming to a conclusion. Of course, the learned Attorney General says that there are a large number of Members in this House who have had great experience in criminal prosecutions. That, undoubtedly, is so. But does he say that in Committee of the whole House this House is likely to be guided by the opinion of those Members? If he says so, I venture to think it is contrary to all our experience of what happens in Committee. A Committee of the whole House on these questions, which are of the greatest importance for the liberty, and even the lives, of Her Majesty's subjects, will be guided, not in accordance with expert evidence, but by the votes of men who have not even listened to expert opinion. I venture to think that, on a question of this kind, where there is, as it cannot be denied, and as the learned Attorney General does not attempt to deny, a great difference of opinion on the details of the Measure in the legal profession, among the judges, and among all those who have a right to have an opinion on the expert side of the question, that there is a need for expert guidance, not merely on the principle but also on the details of the Bill. Of course, there is a vast distinction between a Select Committee considering a Bill and a Select Committee considering the abstract question of whether or not prisoners are to be allowed to give evidence. It would, perhaps, not be in accordance with the practice of this blouse, after so large a majority has decided that prisoners ought to be allowed to give evidence, to call for a Select Com- 322 mittee to consider the abstract question. But that is not what this Motion asks; this Motion simply asks that a Select Committee should give the House the benefit of its advice upon the details of a particular Measure which has been brought before the House, and I venture to think that that is a reasonable proposal, and one which ought to meet with the acceptance of the Government. Of course, in a Sitting such as this the Government can pass any Measure which they like, and there is no doubt that on the few occasions the business of the House takes the full time it is expected to take there will be no difficulty in passing the Measure through. The Select Committee need not, perhaps, take a long time in its deliberations. The witnesses whom it would call before it need not be very numerous; they would almost, I should think, be entirely confined to one class of witness—the judges, either of the superior courts or chairmen of quarter sessions. But it would not interfere with the passing of this Bill during the present Session, if, after hearing the opinions, it was still the wish of the majority of the House that the Bill should be passed into law. But I venture to think that there is a strong case in favour of giving this detailed consideration to the Measure, and that it can only be given after inquiry by a Select Committee; and for that reason I venture to support the Motion before the House.
§ MR. BIRRELL (Fife, W.)
I cannot help Chinking that the best thing the House can do is to proceed to consider the Bill in Committee of the whole House. The opinions of many eminent lawyers have been heard on both sides, irrespective of Party, and the conclusion is that they are irreconcilably opposed one to another. And if the judges' opinions were heard before a Select Committee the same conclusion would, of course, be arrived at. Ultimately, therefore, the House will have to assume the responsibility of making up its mind on the main principle of the Bill. It is idle to be told that lawyers differ on this subject. They differ on every subject, as people connected with trades differ. I quite agree that this is one of the most difficult and anxious questions that can 323 engage the attention of the country, but ultimately the responsibility will rest upon us. I do not believe myself for a moment that anything we hear from the judges will help a single Member of this House in making up his mind as to the main principle of the Measure. As to the details, the learned judges have views of their own, and there are more experts on matters of law in this House than on any other matter. We legislate for all sorts of trades and manufactures, with very few experts to guide us; and though it may be a very terrible thing for us to assume responsibility of this sort in this particular Measure, assume it some day or other we shall have to do. As to the talk about the increase of perjury, that is against argument, against allowing interested parties to give evidence. Nobody will deny that interested parties are far more likely to commit perjury than the people who have no interest either one side or the other. But the evidence has been admitted, and undoubtedly perjury has been enormously increased in consequence. But the point I desire to put before the House is this: We shall ultimately have to decide this question for ourselves. We know that differences of opinion do unfortunately exist on this subject, and we must reconcile ourselves to those differences of opinion by the knowledge that they exist on other subjects.
§ MR. HEYWOOD JOHNSTONE (Sussex, Horsham)
I hope the Government will yet see their way to send this Bill to a Select Committee. My reason is that, although great responsibilities, both in principle and detail, are thrust upon this House, and although we have any amount of opinion, and expert opinion, upon both sides, yet I do not think that we have anything like evidence; and I do not think that we can sift or test that opinion unless we refer the Bill to a Select Committee, with power of taking evidence on oath, and testing that evidence by cross-examination, and finally putting before us the net result of the evidence submitted and tested by questions upon both sides. I think this is a matter of extreme importance, and when the expert evidence upon both sides has been so tested and submitted to cross-examination we shall 324 have some sure foundation upon which we can legislate, and failing which, we cannot discharge our responsibilities rightly.
§ MR. M. HEALY (Cork)
I quite agree with the honourable Member that this House will have to decide upon its own responsibility whether this Bill will pass, and in what form. All we who are in favour of this proposal contend is that the House ought not to come to a conclusion, one way or another, upon this question with an uninformed mind, ought not to decide so important and vital a matter on the mere recommendation of the law officer of the Crown or his nominees. I think that the honourable and learned Member for Fife is right in saying that the inquiries of a Select Committee would probably bring out the fact that official opinion, and even judicial opinion, is divided upon this Bill. I think that is very likely indeed. But I do not regard that as a reason for not obtaining those opinions and having before us the Report of that Committee, because if that Committee should find and report that professional opinion was hopelessly divided on the question, and that the experts of the legal profession could not agree upon it, that, I conceive, would be a very strong reason for withdrawing this Bill, and not passing it into law. Before so great a change as this Bill proposes is made I conceive we should have practically a unanimous opinion, and it is because it has been alleged to us that opinion has been practically unanimous that in past years this House has consented to read this Bill a second time after a comparatively meagre discussion. The Attorney General himself, in recommending the Bill to the House, did not suggest that there was anything in the circumstances of the present day which made the Bill urgent, or called for its being passed into law. The only ground upon which he recommended it was that he conceived that in an occasional case or two this Bill would probably secure the liberation of innocent persons who, in the present state of the law, are convicted, owing to the fact of their not being able to offer their own evidence. Well, if the result of the Select Committee's investigation was to assure the House that, having regard to such inquiries as that Committee could 325 make, the opinions of those best competent to advise the House were hopelessly divided as to whether it would or would not have the effect desired, this House would be very wise indeed in coming to the conclusion that the very large and revolutionary change proposed had not been justified by those who recommended it to the House. I can see that a Select Committee on this Bill would have three functions to perform. It would, in the first place, have to decide whether, on a matter of principle, any such change in the law as the Bill proposes was or was not desirable. I admit that the House has read the Bill a second time, and therefore it may be taken to have confirmed its principle. However, nothing is commoner in our Parliamentary experience than to permit the Second Reading of a Measure to be taken provisionally for the purpose of having that Measure sent to a Select Committee, by which inquiry is made as to whether the Bill should be proceeded with further. My own view is that the House would have been wise not to read the Bill a second time at all, or before it did so to have appointed a committee for the purpose of inquiry. I think that would have been a wise and proper course to take; but the House has read the Bill a second time, but I do not consider there is anything in the conclusion to which the House has come on that matter that debars us from directing the Committee to inquire whether on principle it is desirable to proceed with the Bill. Reference has been made to the fact that on the Second Reading the opinion of experts in the House was hopelessly divided. That is one of the reasons which might induce us to send the Bill to a Select Committee, as that Committee might reassure us upon this point, and inform us as to what expert opinion in this matter is. I consider, Sir, that what the Committee would really have to do would be to decide, not whether the Bill ought to pass at all, but whether if it passes it should not be limited to certain classes of offences. Now, Mr. Speaker, on the Second Reading of the Bill this question was argued as though there were only two conclusions to which the House could arrive—the conclusion, on the one hand, that the prisoner should be 326 examined in all criminal cases, and the conclusion, on the other hand, that he should be examined in no criminal case. My own view of that question is this, that the truth does not lie in either extreme. I am myself in favour of having a prisoner examined—
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The honourable Member is directing attention to the provisions of the Bill. The question before the House is, that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee.
§ MR. M. HEALY
Sir, I am endeavouring to show to the House one of the reasons why I consider it would be wise for the House to send the Bill to a Select Committee, and the reason is that the Select Committee might well inquire whether the Bill should be universal in its provisions or should set aside a special class of offences, and say that it is the proper thing to have a prisoner examined in that particular class of case, but not that there should be a general enactment that the prisoner should be examined in all cases. I confess it appears to me to be the most important function which a Committee can perform. Unquestionably there is a large body of opinion—expert opinion—judicial opinion, professional opinion—in favour of having the prisoner examined, and the honourable and learned Gentleman the Member for Plymouth referred, when speaking on the Second Reading, to several cases where he conceived that if it had been possible for the prisoner to be examined the result would have been different. Now, it appears to me that what the Committee would have to do would be to consider whether it was wise and desirable that in this special class of case there should be an examination of the prisoner. In cases of offences against females—
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The honourable Member is now discussing what Amendments ought to be made in Committee. The only question before the House is whether the Bill shall be referred to a Select Committee.
§ MR. M. HEALY
What I am now discussing is whether or not a Select 327 Committee might inquire whether or not the Bill should be limited to a particular class of offences. I submit, with great respect, Mr. Speaker, that this is the most important duty which a Select Committee could perform. I say that in Committee of the whole House it is quite impossible that the mass of Members of this House can form an opinion upon the question. They have not the knowledge or experience. Indeed, it is quite impossible for the average Member of the House to come to an intelligent conclusion as to whether, say, in embezzlement cases, it might be desirable or not to examine a prisoner, or, if desirable in that kind of case, whether you should extend it to a case involving the life of a prisoner when he is being tried on a charge of murder. I for one am convinced that the House will come to a false conclusion if it decides the questions involved in this Bill by an absolute negative or an absolute affirmative. The prudent course, I think, lies between the two, and I am therefore in favour of sending the Bill to a Select Committee in order that that Committee may point out to the House what particular class of cases there is in which the prisoner might be examined, and what the cases are in which it would be dangerous and bad policy to let him be examined at all. These are two fields of inquiry which the Select Committee might have before it. But I think there in a third field of inquiry. I think the Select Committee might well consider the details of the Bill. We have heard from the learned Attorney General himself that since the passing of the Second Reading he has received a large number of communications, all, as he said, in favour of the Bill, but in a large number of cases recommending Amendments in its details; and, as we know, the Bill itself, since it was first introduced in the House, did go through a large number of changes. Now, it appears to me that these details are also a very important matter for the Committee to consider. The Committee might well take evidence as to whether it was desirable that a prisoner might not only be competent, but should be compelled, to give evidence; whether it would be a wise thing 328 to allow the wife or husband of a prisoner to give evidence, and whether that class of witness should be compellable or merely competent. Again, there is the very important question of cross-examination. The Committee might well inquire—
§ MR. M. HEALY
Mr. Speaker, I was not expressing any opinion upon the particular point to which I was adverting. I accept your ruling, Sir. Without going into details, I say the whole machinery of this Bill might very well be considered by a Select Committee, and if the Government itself, which has now introduced this Bill year after year, has been unable in any two years to introduce the Bill in the same shape, and to agree amongst themselves as to what that shape should be, I do submit that this is a conclusive reason for submitting the Bill to a Select Committee, and having experts before that Committee, and moulding the Bill in accordance with the opinion of those experts. Reference has been made to the opinion of the judges. I think that professional opinion of all kinds should be taken. I do say, Sir, that in a proposal of this kind, involving as it does an enormous change in our criminal law, Parliament will be departing from all previous precedents if it make the change with an uninformed mind, and without having fortified itself by referring the question to a Royal Commission, or a Committee of the House, whose function it would be to conduct an inquiry and report to the House on the question. So far as. I know, at the date when all great changes of procedure have been made, at the time of the Judicature Act, the Common Law Procedure Act—at the time, as far as I am aware, of every change of a cardinal kind which has been made in the civil or criminal law, these changes were preceded by Committees, or Royal Commissions, which took evidence and heard the opinions of those competent to give them, and by that means enabled the Legislature to come to a wise conclusion. The Government, in making this revolutionary change, are departing from 329 precedent. They aye apt following the course followed in, the past, and I do, Sir, protest against the course which they are adopting.
§ ME. SEELY (Lincoln)
I wish Her Majesty's Government would reconsider their decision and allow the Bill to go to a Select Committee. They must realise the very great gravity of the change they propose, and the very considerable amount of opposition which has been excited against this change. It has been argued by the honourable and learned Member for West Fife that we have sufficient evidence, and that, in whatever more evidence we may get, we shall only get evidence that there are differences of opinion. But he gave as an instance, in his speech, what to my mind is an unanswerable argument for this Bill being referred to a Select Committee. He stated that the majority of the judges were in favour of the Bill, and he was promptly contradicted by the learned legal Member on the other side. The matter was left. He contradicted him again; and the whole House is left in this position, that on probably the most important question connected with this Bill, namely, the opinion of these judges, more particularly those judges who are concerned in dealing with the criminal law, is not thoroughly known to the House, and I think it is a really serious argument why this House, before it deals with so great a question as this, should send it to a Select Committee. There is another reason why I think it should be further considered, and that is this: it has been discussed almost entirely from the point of view of assizes and quarter sessions cases. But this Bill applies likewise to petty sessions cases, and I am afraid the effect of it might be far more serious in petty sessions cases than in larger oases. I do not regard with any pleasure the prospect of a man who is accused of stealing—
§ MR. SEELY
I bow to your ruling, Sir, but wish to point out to Her Majesty's Government that the operation of this Bill in regard to petty sessions cases has been very little mentioned in the House hitherto. Evidence could be obtained by the Select Committee as to the effect that the. Bill will have upon the procedure of petty sessions, and upon the possibility of its leading to similar procedure in a similar frame of mind in English petty sessions as that which does exist in the courts, and more particularly in the courts corresponding to petty sessions in other countries. For that reason I think Her Majesty's Government would be well advised to take further evidence and further consideration before they pass this Measure into law, and alter the present system under which men are tried for various offences.
MR. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)
I never remember during the thirteen years I have been a Member of this House a case in which, as a result of the Debate on the Second Reading of a Bill, the ordinary Member of Parliament is left in such a state of uncertainty of mind. I believe that Members who are not specialists, and who have listened to the Debate with a view of coming to a conclusion as to the proper course to take, have received no assistance from, it. A great number expressed themselves so to me, and I am sure large numbers of Members went from their ordinary habit in supporting the Government with very great doubt in their minds. I think that is a reason why a Select Committee should be appointed, in order to go further into this question. I wish also to support the point which has been made by the honourable Member who has just sat down. I touched on the same subject on the Second Reading of the Bill, and I think it is most important that evidence should be brought before a Select Committee on the effect this Bill 331 is likely to have in the courts of petty sessions and courts of summary conviction. The importance of having evidence of such a character is shown by the extent of criminal business carried on in these courts. No fewer than 709,000 criminal cases are disposed of by petty sessions, while the total number at assizes and quarter sessions only amounts to 11,000, and no opinion whatsoever has been expressed in the House as to the probable effect of this Bill upon this enormous number of cases in petty sessions. I believe that, as a consequence of the Debate, there has been presented to the Attorney General a memorial signed by a large number of Members of this House, who are chairmen or deputy-chairmen of quarter sessions, pressing upon the attention of the honourable Gentleman the necessity and importance of some exceptional treatment being accorded in this Bill to petty sessions cases. I do not see how it is possible for the House to come to a conclusion as to what that exceptional treatment should be, whether they should be excluded altogether from the operation of the Bill, or whether some other treatment should be afforded, unless the expert opinion of experienced magistrates and chairmen of quarter sessions is obtained, and that can only be obtained by a Select Committee of the House. I trust that the Attorney General will have regard to the expressions of opinion, coming not only from this side, but from Members on his own side of the House, in the direction that I have indicated.
§ LORD C. BERESFORD (York)
I suppose if this Bill becomes law it will be come applicable both to the Army and Navy. I can give my experience as an officer who has sat on many court martials. I say confidently this, that if prisoners were allowed to give evidence in their own defence, most of them—
§ LORD C. BERESFORD
I beg your pardon, Sir. I am afraid that my argument cannot go on on that line, but it 332 is evident to me that this question does require great consideration. It is always wise for any Member of Parliament, particularly when he votes against his own side, to give his reasons, and, as far as I understand you, Sir, I cannot give my reasons; but I shall certainly vote in favour of this Bill being referred to a Select Committee. I am sure that if prisoners in our case—as far as court martials in the Navy are concerned—gave evidence in their own defence, most of them would be hanged.
§ SIR ELLIOTT LEES (Birkenhead)
I should just like to ask the Government what they propose to do in case the Motion is rejected, whether they propose to refer the Bill to the Grand Committee on Law, or keep it for the decision of the House? I should like to point out that if they propose to refer it to the Grand Committee on Law, I believe the majority of Members of the House will vote against them. The questions involved not only affected lawyers, but every citizen of this country. We have heard a great deal upon the main point of prisoners giving evidence on their own behalf. There is another point of importance, though it would be out of order to discuss it now, and that is the point whether husband or wife should be competent to give evidence against each other.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I wish first to reply to the question by my honourable Friend. We recognise the importance of this matter, that it does make a change, at all events, in a large part of the criminal law, and we should never think of withdrawing the Committee stage of the Bill from the whole House and referring it to the Grand Committee. But I hope the House will now consent to go to a Division upon my honourable and learned Friend's Motion. It has been stated by more than one Member who has addressed the 333 House, that time is no object in dealing with this matter; and it has been hanging on from Session to Session, and that one Session more makes no difference. But, Sir, if it be the case that Parliament was not mistaken, that the House of Commons was not mistaken, nor the House of Lords, in the decision which they have over and over again come to on the principle of this Bill; if they were right in thinking, as they have by overwhelming majorities declared time after time, that the interests of justice will be served by the passing of this Measure; if they be right, not merely in the general propositions they have laid down, but in the effect which they have given to that proposition in Statute after Statute dealing with particular offences—then, Sir, time is of the essence of the case, because if we do not pass this Bill into law this Session, another year at least will elapse before that liberty is given to prisoners to do the best they can for themselves on their own behalf. I do not argue—I should be out of order if I did—that this Bill carries out those objects we have sought. But if we do admit that the House of Commons and the House of Lords were not wrong in supposing that it did carry out those objects, we should be very wrong if we took any step which would undoubtedly destroy the Bill for this Session, and defer for at least a year—and, looking to the uncertainties of Parliamentary business, for perhaps more—the grant of that very right which it has been by such large majorities declared ought, without delay, to become law. I hope for this reason the House of Commons will consent to dispose of the Motion of my honourable and learned Friend, in order that we may, on Wednesday afternoon, devote ourselves, with all that vast array of legal talent we have on both sides of the House, to discussing the details of the Bill in Committee of the whole House.
§ MR. BROADHURST (Leicester)
I cannot concur with the Leader of the House in the opinion that we ought to come to a hasty decision. This Measure does propose a revolution in the criminal 334 law of the country, and it ought not to be thrust through this House by sheer force of numbers. I contend that a change of this magnitude and of this importance, affecting poor people—and, after all, it is the poor people who will be the greatest sufferers by any change—is well worthy of the fullest consideration, and that the House would be justified even in taking another year before it comes to such a momentous decision as this. If we are going to make a change in the criminal law of the country, do not let us make a change of such far-reaching importance as this unless we have overwhelming evidence as to its necessity, and as to the security given to the poor people of this country against the disadvantages arising from such a change in the procedure. I speak now as one who has had some years' experience in the Petty Sessions Court. Well, the Petty Sessions Court is the foundation stone of the High Court and it is not a court to be ashamed of in any way whatever. I say nothing now as to the merits or demerits of the Bill; but do not let us enter into this vast change, going to the very foundation of the criminal law, without the fullest and most complete evidence that is to be obtained from the resources of the country as to whether it would be beneficial or otherwise. Under these circumstances I feel I shall have to support the Motion referring the Bill to a Select Committee.
§ MR. ASQUITH (Fife, E.)
With a certain amount of diffidence I follow my honourable Friend, who, I understand, has recently assumed with general assent and much efficiency the functions of Leader of the Opposition. He made a speech penetrated by the spirit of the most genuine Conservatism. He views with a certain amount of distrust this proposed change in the law. It appears to me that every speech that has been made in favour of referring this Bill to a Select Committee is a speech which might as well have been delivered against the Second Reading. The House has 335 passed the Second Reading by a large majority, which does, I believe, represent the proportionate opinion of the vast majority outside. I would like to put to honourable Members on both sides of the House this: What do they propose to do when this Bill comes before a Select Committee?
§ MR. ASQUITH
NO one has, more respect than I have for Her Majesty's Judges; but the judges have been the consistent opponents of every Measure of legal reform which has taken place in the last 50 years, when the House of Commons, with whom the responsibility rests, has declared that on the grounds of public policy this change should take place. I would like to know what light you are going to get, what assistance you are going to receive, from the opinion of the judges?
AN HONOURABLE MEMBER
The judges did not oppose the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, though many of them have since changed their mind.
§ MR. ASQUITH
That is a very good argument against the Second Reading, but the House has passed the Second Reading, and the only question is by what particular machinery the principle declared by the Second Reading is to be carried into effect. What is the use of calling to your witness bar people who are entirely opposed to the Second Reading? I cannot see what light Her Majesty's judges could throw on the question, unless, of course, to suggest Amendments in the clauses and the method by which the general principle of the Bill would receive a more practical application. I speak only for myself. I have not had so much experience as some of my honourable Friends whom I see around me, but I am strongly of opinion that to exclude the evidence of the persons who are most conversant with the 336 facts with which you have to deal is to establish an artificial barrier against the ascertainment of the truth, which it is impossible to justify upon any ground of principle or policy. As regards the Motion before the House, if this Bill is to be passed into law, let us take the opinion of the House of Commons upon it, and, proceeding by our ordinary and habitual course, have it in Committee of the whole House, where every opinion may be expressed, tested, and discussed, and do not let us adopt a proposition which, if we were to adopt it, would have the effect of delaying this change in the law to an absolutely uncertain date.
§ MR. J. MORLEY (Montrose)
I find myself with great regret unable to repeat the arguments which I took the liberty of offering to the House on the last occasion when this subject was before it. It is quite true that the House has agreed to the Second Reading of the Bill, but as my right honourable Friend has just said, there are all kinds of qualifications and additions which may be introduced into the machinery of the Bill, as to which surely the evidence of the judges would be of great value. And, as I ventured to say on the last occasion, this is, I should think, the only serious, and even momentous, change in the criminal law of this country—a branch of law which is of the highest importance—that has ever been proposed, which has not been submitted to a Select Committee of this House. I do not know whether my honourable and learned Friend the Member for Leamington remembers to-night the argument he used on the Second Reading of the Bill. I confess that on that occasion his argument seemed to me to be quite irresistible. I am not for a moment going into the merits of the principle of the Bill, but I do not think it follows that because you are proposing to send it to a Select Committee, you are on that account, quarrelling with the principle to which we haw agreed. The inquiry must turn on the qualifications and machinery, and I am 337 sorry to say I am bound to-night to take the position I took, on a previous occasion, and to vote for the reference of the Bill to a Select Committee.
§ *MR. BUTCHER (York)
I listened with amazement to the speech of the late Home Secretary when he suggested that the opinions of Her Majesty's judges should not be taken into consideration. If their opinions are not of value, I should like to know what opinions are of value? Now, this, Sir, appears to me to be not like an ordinary question, which depends for its decision upon political opinion. It is a question which has to be decided on evidence, upon what effect the Bill is likely to have, and I confess I am in a state of ignorance upon that subject. I should like to ascertain, by the evidence of those who have had large experience, what the real effect is likely to be, and, if we want to ascertain that, is there any mode by which we can ascertain it better than by going to those experienced in the administration of the criminal law? I do ask the Government not to legislate in the dark in this matter, and before this House takes so momentous a decision on the administration of criminal law I think it would be wise that we should ascertain the opinion not only of the judges and the recorders and persons who have been concerned in the administration of justice in petty sessions, but of eminent criminal lawyers, so that we may know really whether there is any balance of expert opinion on one side or
§ the other, and, having ascertained that, we may have some prospect of arriving at a proper conclusion.
§ *MR. MADDISON (Sheffield, Brightside)
I only venture, Mr. Speaker, to say one word, as one largely ignorant of the law, and therefore representative of the vast number of my countrymen. I have listened to the Second Reading Debate, and two things are clear in, my mind: first, that those most competent to judge were divided; and, secondly, that the law would operate most heavily, if at all, upon the poor and the ignorant. I regret that the Government have not agreed to refer this Bill to a Select Committee, and I think that in this I am simply expressing the feelings of a very large majority of the poor of the working classes that they did not give one more opportunity, for this question to be ventilated and examined in the most complete manner. I only wish to say I am certain there are thousands and tens of thousands of the poorer classes of this country who may be plunged into great difficulty, and therefore I regret very much indeed that, before such a momentous change is taken, it has not been subjected to another test.
§ Motion made.
That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee."—(Mr. Lyttelton.)
§ The House divided:—Ayes 92; Noes 189.—(Division List No. 170.)341
|Allen, Wm. (Newc.-under-L.)||Brunner, Sir John T.||Dillon, John|
|Allison, Robert Andrew||Burt, Thomas||Doogan, P. C.|
|Baker, Sir John||Butcher, John George||Fenwick, Charles|
|Balcarres, Lord||Caldwell, James||Finch, George H.|
|Beaumont, Wentworth C. B.||Carvill, Patrick G. Hamilton||Goulding, Edward Alfred|
|Beresford, Lord Charles||Causton, Richard Knight||Green, W. D. (Wednesbury)|
|Bill, Charles||Clough, Walter Owen||Hayne, Rt. Hon. Chas. Seale|
|Bolton, Thomas Dolling.||Colville, John||Hazell, Walter|
|Bowles T. G. (King's Lynn)||Crombie, John William||Healy, Maurice (Cork)|
|Brigg, John||Daffy, James||Hedderwick, Thos. Chas. H.|
|Broadhurst, Henry||Dane, Richard M.||Holden, Sir Angus|
|Horniman, Frederick John||O'Connor, Arthur (Donegal)||Thomas, D. A. (Merthyr)|
|Jameson, Major J. Eustace||Pearson, Sir Weetman D.||Tully, Jasper|
|Johnstone, J. H. (Sussex)||Pickersgill, Edward Hare||Ure, Alexander|
|Kearley, Hudson E.||Pollock, Harry Frederick||Valentia, Viscount|
|Kennaway, Rt. Hn. Sir J. H.||Power, Patrick Joseph||Verney, Hon. Richard G.|
|Lambert, George||Price, Robert John||Wallace, Robert (Edinburgh)|
|Leigh-Bennett, Henry Currie||Provand, Andrew Dryburgh||Walton, Joseph (Barnsley)|
|Lewis, John Herbert||Richards, Henry Charles||Warkworth, Lord|
|Lough, Thomas||Rickett, J. Compton||Warner, Thomas C. T.|
|Lyell, Sir Leonard||Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion)||Wedderburn, Sir William|
|Macaleese, Daniel||Robson, William Snowdon||Wentworth, Bruce C. Vernon.|
|McArthur, Wm. (Cornwall)||Seely, Charles Hilton||Whittaker, Thomas Palmer|
|McEwan, William||Shaw, Chas. E. (Stafford)||Wilson, H. J. (Yorks, W.R.)|
|M'Ghee, Richard||Sidebotham, J. W. (Cheshire)||Wilson, John (Govan)|
|Maddison, Fred.||Sinclair, Capt. J. (Forfarsh.)||Wilson, J. W. (Wore, N.)|
|Maden, John Henry||Smith, Samuel (Flint)||Woodall, William|
|Mendl, Sigismund Ferdinand||Steadman, William Charles||Woodhouse, Sir J. T. (Hud'ld)|
|Morley, Rt. Hn. J. (Montr'se)||Stevenson, Francis S.|
|Mount, William George||Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Norton, Capt. Cecil William||Talbot, Rt. Hn. J. G. (Oxf dUny)||Mr. Lyttelton and Mr. Knox.|
|Nussey, Thomas Willans||Tennant, Harold John|
|Arnold, Alfred||Cross, Herb. S. (Bolton)||Hoare, Samuel (Norwich)|
|Arnold-Forster, Hugh O.||Curzon, Rt. Hn G. N. (Lancs, SW)||Hornby, William Henry|
|Arrol, Sir William||Dalrymple, Sir Charles||Hubbard, Hon. Evelyn|
|Ashton, Thomas Gair||Davies, M. Vaughan-(Cardigan)||Jebb, Richard Claverhouse|
|Asquith, Rt. Hon. H. H.||Dickson-Poynder, Sir J. P.||Johnston, William (Belfast)|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Doughty, George||Jolliffe, Hon. H. George|
|Bagot, Capt. J. FitzRoy||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers.||Jones, Wm. (Carnarvonshire)|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn. A. J. (Manch.)||Douglas-Pennant, Hon. E. S.||Kenyon-Slaney, Col. Wm.|
|Banbury, Frederick George||Duncombe, Hon. Hubert V.||Kinloch, Sir John G. Smyth|
|Barnes, Frederic Gorell||Edwards, Gen. Sir J. B.||Knowles, Lees|
|Barton, Dunbar Plunket||Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn E.||Lafone, Alfred|
|Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir M. H. (Brist'l)||Fergusson. Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Mane.)||Lawrence, W. F. (Liverpool)|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry C.||Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne||Lawson, John Grant (Yorks)|
|Bhownaggree, Sir M. M.||Fisher, William Hayes||Lawson, Sir W. (Cumberland)|
|Birrell, Augustine||FitzGerald, Sir R. Penrose.||Lea, Sir T. (Londonderry)|
|Bond, Edward||Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmond||Lecky, Rt. Hon. W. E. H.|
|Boscawen, Arthur Griffith.||Flannery, Fortescue||Lees, Sir Elliott (Birkenhead)|
|Brassey, Albert||Fletcher, Sir Henry||Legh, Hon. Thos. W. (Lancs)|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Folkestone, Viscount||Llewellyn, E. H. (Somerset)|
|Brookfield, A. Montagu||Gedge, Sydney||Llewelyn, Sir Dillwyn. (Sw'ns'a)|
|Bullard, Sir Harry||Gibbs, Hon. V. (St. Albans)||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R.|
|Carlile, William Walter||Godson, Augustus Frederick||Long, Col. C. W. (Evesham).|
|Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lancs.)||Goldsworthy, Major-General||Long, Rt. Hon. W. (Liverp'l)|
|Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbysh.)||Gordon, Hon. John Edward||Lopes, Henry Yarde Buller|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Hertford, E.)||Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John E.||Lowe, Francis William|
|Cecil, Lord H. (Greenwich)||Goschen, Rt. Hn. G. J. (St. Geo's)||Lowles, John|
|Chaloner, Capt. R. G. W.||Goschen, George J. (Sussex)||Loyd, Archie Kirkman|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. (Birm.)||Gourley, Sir Edward T.||Lucas-Shadwell, William|
|Chamberlain, J. A. (Worc'r)||Gray, Ernest (West Ham)||McKillop, James|
|Channing, Francis Allston||Greene, W. Raymond- (Cambs)||Malcolm, Ian|
|Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry||Gretton, John||Mellor, Colonel (Lancashire)|
|Charrington, Spencer||Greville, Captain||Melville, Beresford Valentine|
|Cochrane, Hon. T. H. A. E.||Gull, Sir Cameron||Milbank, Sir Powlett C. J.|
|Coghill, Douglas Harry||Haldane, Richard Burdon||Mildmay, Francis Bingham|
|Cohen, Benjamin Louis||Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord G.||Milton, Viscount|
|Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Hanbury, Kt. Hon. R. W.||Milward, Colonel Victor|
|Colomb, Sir John Charles R.||Hardy, Laurence||Monk, Charles James|
|Compton, Lord Alwyne||Heath, James||Moon, Edward Robert Pacy|
|Cook, Fred. L. (Lambeth)||Helder, Augustus||More, Robert Jasper|
|Cornwallis, Fiennes S. W.||Henderson, Alexander||Morgan, Hn. F. (Monm'thsh.)|
|Cotton-Jodrell, Col. E. T. D.||Hermon-Hodge, Robert T.||Morrison, Walter|
|Cox, Robert||Hill, Rt. Hn. Lord A. (Down)||Morton, A. H. A. (Deptford)|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Hoare, E. B. (Hampstead)||Muntz, Philip A.|
|Murray, Rt. Hn. A. G. (Bute)||Ritchie, Rt. Hon. Chas. T.||Tritton, Charles Ernest|
|Myers, William Henry||Robertson, Edmund (Dundee)||Warde, Lt.-Col. C. E. (Kent)|
|Newdigate, Francis Alex.||Robertson, Herb. (Hackney)||Waring, Col. Thomas|
|Nicholson, William Graham||Round, James||Warr, Augustus Frederick|
|Nicol, Donald Ninian||Royds, Clement Molyneux||Webster, R. G. (St. Pancras)|
|Northcote, Hon. Sir H. S.||Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)||Webster, Sir R. E. (I. of W.)|
|O'Neill, Hon. Robert T.||Schwann, Charles E.||Welby, Lt.-Col. A. C. E.|
|Owen, Thomas||Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)||Williams, J. Carvell (Notts)|
|Paulton, James Mellor||Shaw, Thomas (Hawick B.)||Williams, J. Powell (Birm.)|
|Phillpotts, Capt. Arthur||Shaw-Stewart, M. H. (Renf.)||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Pierpoint, Robert||Skewes-Cox, Thomas||Willox, Sir John Archibald|
|Pirie, Duncan V.||Smith, A. H. (Christchurch)||Wills, Sir William Henry|
|Plunkett,. Rt. Hon. H. C.||Smith, J. Parker (Lanarksh.)||Wilson, John (Falkirk)|
|Powell, Sir Francis Sharp||Smith, Hn. W. F. D. (Strand)||Wylie, Alexander|
|Priestley, Sir W. O. (Edin.)||Soames, Arthur Wellesley||Wyndham-Quin, Maj. W. H.|
|Pryce-Jones, Edward||Stanley, Lord (Lancs)||Young, Comm. (Berks, E.)|
|Purvis, Robert||Stewart, Sir Mark J. M'T.|
|Pym, C. Guy||Sturt, Hon. Humphry Napier|
|Rasch, Major Frederic Carne||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Rentoul, James Alexander||Thorburn, Walter||Sir William Walrond and Mr. Anstruther.|
|Richardson, Sir T. (Hartlep'l)||Thornton, Percy M.|
|Ridley, Rt. Hon. Sir M. W.||Tomlinson, W. E. Murray|
Resolutions agreed to.