HC Deb 17 March 1911 vol 22 cc2598-604

Resolution reported, "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £2,100, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1911, for Criminal Prosecutions and other Law Charges in Ireland."

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

Captain CRAIG

I rise to ask the learned Attorney-General one or two questions with regard to this increase in the cost of criminal prosecutions in Ireland. I am somewhat at a disadvantage, because I was under the impression that these Supplementary Votes would be taken in the same order as they were during the Committee stage, and I did not expect to be called upon to discuss this Vote so early in our proceedings this afternoon. In view of the fact that on the last occasion when this Vote was before the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for North Armagh (Mr. Moore) raised a matter of very great importance to his constituency, and, bearing in mind that the discussion which took place on that occasion, drifted away from the question of the actual expenses which had been incurred by the particular Department concerned, before we allow this item of £2,100 to go through, I think we should have some explanation as to how this increased amount is arrived at. This is all the more necessary when one takes into consideration that the fact that these charges, ever since the present Government came into power in 1906, have been steadily increasing instead of decreasing. Everybody is aware that in the year 1907–8 we have had to complain each year of the excessive amount charged for criminal prosecutions and law charges in Ireland without the benefit accruing which one would naturally expect from the expenditure of such a large sum of money, in addition to what was granted under this heading when the Unionist Government was in power.

Anyone who glances at the Paper will see that the bulk of this Estimate is made up with the expenses of prosecutors and witnesses, and I want to know whether these expenses have been incurred by insisting upon a change of venue in various parts of the country where it is found impossible to have a fair trial. If expenses amounting to £1,400 are incurred by having to change the venue from certain disturbed areas in Ireland in the case of trials for malicious injury and other criminal causes to parts of the country where a fair trial can be obtained, my objection to this increased expenditure would not be so great as it otherwise would be. If these trials are removed from county Clare or some other disturbed area to be tried before a county jury in Dublin or Belfast where a fair trial can always be relied upon then the expense of taking prosecutors, counsel, and witnesses long distances in order to get justice in the courts, it is only natural that course would entail the expenditure of a large sum of money. If it is true that it has been found necessary to take these long journeys in order to secure justice what becomes of the assurance of the Chief Secretary given in 1908? According to the report of the local Nationalist paper, the judge of the Assizes said it really appeared to him that a man was as safe in the dock in Kerry as he was here on the judge's bench. I recollect the words, because they struck me as a most horrible comment on the state of affairs since the statement made by the Chief Secretary that he hoped by giving full responsibility and weight to local jurors in Ireland eventually this excessive cost would be reduced and that the people in those localities would find that it was to their advantage to maintain law and order by finding true verdicts in the cases placed before them. Nobody who knows the state of affairs can deny that the Chief Secretary and the Law Officers have absolutely failed in the course which they have pursued. Instead of an improvement having taken place, as we all hoped and trusted, it is once more necessary to add to the already heavy charges by asking for £2,100 extra.

The next point I wish to raise is with regard to the £700 fees for counsel, due to an increase in the number of Crown prosecutions. I wonder why it is necessary when we have the learned Gentleman and his colleague and when one of them is always in Ireland to spend £700 on account of an increase in the number of Crown prosecutions. Although there has been during 1910–11 at all events, increased activity on the part of the Law Officers of the Crown, as far as I can judge—and I have spoken to several of my learned Friends—that should not have entailed any necessity to employ outside counsel. Would it not be possible for the Attorney-General and his colleague to manage all the prosecutions themselves, and thus make it felt throughout the disturbed parts in Ireland that it is the Law Officers of the Crown themselves who are prosecuting, and not anyone to whom they have delegated their authority? If, instead of getting some barrister who has not all the weight and dignity which ought to be attached to the Law Officers of the Crown to act for them, the learned Gentleman or his colleague acted for themselves, the effect in certain parts of Ireland would be very great indeed. I would also like to ask whether any discrimination is made in the choice of the cases which the right hon. Gentleman and his colleague undertake on behalf of the Crown, or whether in certain cases they think it discreet and judicious to remain in their shells and not to appear personally, but to delegate their authority to some counsel in the neighbourhood or someone they send down from Dublin. I am not grumbling at the salaries of the hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleague or making any personal attack upon them. My remarks would apply no matter who happened to occupy the high offices they hold. We pay large salaries to these two officers, however, and they might be able to undertake the work without calling in outside assistance. Can the right hon. Gentleman hold out any hope that this increase will not occur again I It has been stated both by the right hon. Gentleman himself and by the Chief Secretary that their policy is one which will eventually lead to much less expense in connection with this Department. It has been far otherwise. Year after year we have been asked for an increased grant without reaping any advantage in the better state of the country or in a feeling of greater safety among the people, or in that due respect which every citizen ought to have for the law. Unless we get a satisfactory answer to these questions, I hope some of my colleagues will move a reduction of the Vote in order to enter a protest against what is not merely an increase this year, but a tendency year after year to add to the Law Charges in Ireland.

The ATTORNEY-GENERAL for IRELAND (Mr. Redmond Barry)

I have every hope that the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman will be realised in the future and that there will not be an increase similar to that provided for by this Supplementary Estimate. As he himself suggested, a large part of this additional sum has been rendered necessary by the removal of trials from various parts of Ireland to the city of Dublin. Three or four cases of importance which were removed caused great expense in the way of witnesses. These trials, however, do not account entirely for the increased cost. There were in addition during the last twelve months two or three cases of an exceptional character, very important and expensive. With regard to the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman that these sums might be avoided altogether by the Law Officers themselves undertaking all the prosecutions, I would put it to him whether, from his acquaintance with the state of affairs in Ireland, he does not agree that that would be impossible. It would be physically impossible for the Law Officers to appear in all the courts in Ireland, and the expenses, instead of being less, would be larger than at present. They do from time to time appear in particular criminal cases, selected not for any private reason at all, but because, owing to their great importance and sometimes to their great difficulty, it is felt that it is best the Law Officers should personally conduct them. The hon. Member may rest assured that in making a selection no private consideration is taken into account. Particular cases are selected entirely because of their importance and the public interest taken in them. I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman will be glad to hear from me that his observation that the condition of the country, as a result of these prosecutions, is not satisfactory, is not well founded, so far as the present year is concerned. The House will rejoice to hear that the reports to hand from the learned judges with regard to the present assizes, which are not yet completed, but which has been sitting two or three weeks, have been to the effect that in practically every county the condition of the country is very satisfactory, and that in some counties improvements are to be found. I have here some of the reports of some of the charges of the learned judges in practically every county. I find that in them the condition of the counties is described in most cases as "satisfactory"; in some cases as "highly satisfactory," and in the county of Kerry, alluded to by the hon. and gallant Member, the Lord Chief Baron, in charging the grand jury, congratulated them on the improved state of the county.


Will the right hon. Gentleman give the report for County Clare?


I have here a report of the charge of the Lord Chief Baron there, in which he says: "The condition of the county while not satisfactory was improving." The impression left on my mind as a result of the summary I have before me is that not merely in the case of the cities but also in the case of the counties the condition of the county is satisfactory, and the improvement is of an encouraging character, affording in that respect a complete answer to the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, that really no good effect at all has ensued as a result of the criminal prosecutions. I think that the result has been satisfactory. The increased expense has been inevitable, but it has been largely due to the trial in Dublin of exceptional cases, for which no provision was made in the Estimates of the year. I hope the hon. and gallant Member will think this a satisfactory answer.


May I be permitted to make an appeal to hon. Gentlemen to allow this Vote to be passed. I understand it is the wish to discuss Votes upon which there has been no debate up to the present.


I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we ought not to prolong the discussion on this particular Vote, but I should like to say a few words. I do not think the explanation of the right hon. and learned Gentleman is really very satisfactory, because we know that in the last two or three years these expenses have increased, and all we get is the expression of a hope that next year there will be a diminution under this head. Hope is not yet taxed, though I suppose it will be very shortly if this Government remains in power. It is very cheap to tell us that we may have a reduction in the future, but I am afraid—although we were told in Committee that the state of Ireland is peaceful and law-abiding, there is no doubt that there are certain portions and certain districts where the conditions are not at all satisfactory: where they are not improving, and where, if the administration of the present Government is carried on for any length of time, they will not only not improve, but will deteriorate. Why is it? Because in certain districts there is a very legitimate feeling of grievance and indignation which ought to be directed against the Government, but which is in fact directed against law and order generally, because owing to the policy of the Government land purchase has been suspended over the greater part of Ireland. The people urgently desire land purchase to continue, but they see that the great difficulty standing in their way is that the landlords are unwilling and really unable to sell at the price offered. Therefore, they vent their ill-feeling against the law in general. I think the right hon. Gentleman is not standing on very sure ground when he hopes for a diminution in crime in these particular districts, and a great comment on that is that he has been obliged to remove a great number of cases for trial from the district where the crime was committed to populous centres. I am not complaining of that. I think it was the only thing the right hon. Gentleman could do, but it is a comment on the state of these particular districts that in the opinion of the Government—a Home Rule Government, who are willing to commit the future of Ireland to the representatives of the lawless districts—that they are obliged to remove these cases for trial from these districts to big populous centres like Dublin and Belfast, where a very large proportion of the jurymen would be Unionists and Conservatives—people of the better class. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh."] Will hon. Members deny that the juries both at Dublin and Belfast are of the better class, and that they happen to be Conservatives and Unionists. Do they deny that in the College Green Division of Dublin, where the commercial classes live, everybody who has any stake in this country votes for the Conservatives. That, I suppose, is part of the policy of the Government of killing Home Rule by kindness, but I do not think they can kill Home Rule by kindness. They will never be able to do so, and I would protest—this is very relevant, I think, to this discussion—against the continued absence of the Chief Secretary for Ireland.


That has nothing to do with the Vote.


I wanted to show that owing to the Chief Secretary not being at the helm this lawlessness has taken place, but of course I will not press the point. May I, however, be allowed to add that I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman is taking much too rosy a view, and I beg to move the reduction of the Vote by £100.


I have already put the Question, "That the House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

Question put, and agreed to.