§ 69. Mr. LYNCH
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, in view of the fact that in the letter, signed E. Blackwell, from the Home Office, Whitehall, 27th December, 1913, it is asserted that Thomas William Stewart has been punished for holding up to contempt the religious belief of others and making use of language calculated to wound, and in view of the pronouncement of Mr. Justice Coleridge in the case that it is a fact that you may attack any other religion, such as Mahomedanism or Judaism, in the most blasphemous language, and the law will hold you harmless, he will, if this statement of law be correct, introduce a Bill to protect Mahomedan and Jewish subjects of His Majesty from language calculated to wound?
§ Mr. McKENNA
I am not aware of any necessity having arisen for legislation to protect Jews or Mahomedans in this country from aspersions on their religion of the character of those directed against the Christian religion in the case referred to.
§ 70. Mr. LYNCH
asked whether on 18th November, 1913, Thomas William Stewart was tried at the Staffordshire Assizes on an indictment for blasphemy, was convicted, and sentenced to four months' imprisonment; whether on the following day he was indicted for indecency and acquitted; whether he is still in prison; and whether the Secretary of State authorised a letter, dated front the Home Office, Whitehall, 27th December, 1913, and signed E. Blackwell, wherein the continued detention of Thomas William Stewart was justified, not on the grounds of blasphemy, but by insinuation of the offence for which he was acquitted?
§ Mr. McKENNA
The prisoner, Thomas William Stewart, was tried and convicted as stated in the question on the 17th November last. He was sentenced on the following day to four months' imprisonment, and is still in prison. He was tried on the 18th November on two indictments charged him, firstly, with sending an indecent article by post; and, secondly, with selling an indecent pamphlet. On both these charges he was acquitted. The hon. Member is in error in supposing that the Home Office letter of the 27th December, 1913, gave reasons to justify the continued detention of Stewart. The only and complete justification of Stewart's detention was his conviction and the sentence passed on him by the Court, against which he did not appeal. The Home Office letter contained the reply to a Petition asking for an exercise of the Prerogative of Mercy, one of the alleged grounds for mercy being that Stewart was a victim of religious persecution. Had the circumstances attending Stewart's breach of the law been such as to lead me to believe that he was actuated by zeal for the truth as he understood it and was a victim of religious persecution, I should have felt that that was a strong ground for advising a reduction of his sentence; but I found, after examining the evidence on which he was convicted, and consulting the judge, that Stewart's public speeches were delivered, not so much with the object of 1409 Spreading his ideas of truth as of facilitating his commercial dealings, and that, notwithstanding the nature of his goods, his wife was employed to advertise his trade by going amongst the miscellaneous?crowd of men, women, and children which his speech collected round him. I was satisfied that the petition for his release was based on a wholly mistaken view of Stewart's character and motives, and in my reply in the letters of 27th December and 6th January, I explained what the actual facts were. Sincerity and purity of motive may be good grounds for advising an exercise of the prerogative; but in Stewart's case these grounds did not exist.
§ Mr. McKENNA
Yes. I accept full responsibility for all the letters which are issued from the Home Office.
§ Sir W. BYLES
Is there any truth in the statement in the Press that this man is about to be released?