HC Deb 09 August 1916 vol 85 cc1162-81

Motion made, and Question proposed,

5. "That a sum, not exceeding £8,493, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1917, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of His Majesty's Secretary for Scotland and Subordinate Offices, Expenses under the Inebriates Acts, 1879 to 1900, and Expenses under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, 1899."[NOTE.—£10,000 has been voted on account.]


I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100, and, in doing so, I need hardly say that I have no vindictive intention, especially as the right hon. Gentleman has just come into his new office, and we are glad to welcome him. Hon. Members of this House are aware that I have, from time to time, put down a number of questions relating to the procedure of the Sheriff-substitute in the county of Roxburgh, under the Lighting Order, in regard to small merchants and traders. In the Royal Burgh of Jedburgh there were several cases in which different people were, on the first enforcement of a Lighting Order, sentenced to pay heavy fines. Mr. Mathew Carstairs Noble, for instance, was fined £710s., whilst his wife was also fined £7 10s.; and in the question which I put to the Secretary for Scotland, and which was answered to-day, I ask whether the facts as I stated them are correct. The facts were these: that at the time when the alleged offence was committed Mr. Noble was in some other part of the Royal burgh and not in his house, and that Mrs. Noble had done nothing worse than commit negligence. My information is that Mr. Noble was away somewhere else in the town and that his wife was busy springcleaning or something of that kind, and that in a moment of forgetfulness, no doubt, she left the blind up, and for that offence her absent husband was fined £7 10s., and the wife was also fined £7 10s. Mr. Cockburn was also fined £15. There were two or three more who were fined at the rate of £10 and £7 10s. These persons alleged that the fines were excessive.


Is the hon. Member discussing the action of the Law Officers?


No, I am complaining of the conduct of the Secretary for Scotland.


If it has anything to do with the Law Officers there is a special Vote for them, and the matter cannot be raised on the Salary of the Secretary for Scotland.


I am not raising any question about the Courts, except so far as it affects the question whether they ought not to have exercised the prerogative of mercy on behalf of those people who consider themselves aggrieved. I am merely stating the case and putting forward the grievance. I have no intention, except incidentally for the purpose of explaining the reason why I bring this matter before Parliament, of attacking, either directly or by insinuation, the learned Sheriff-substitute Baillie. The accused say that these fines are excessive. That is their grievance. They held a public meeting to express that view. A former Provost was in the chair, and they unanimously stated what they thought about it. Their view is that the law is the refuge of the subject, to which, at any time of difficulty, he can resort, that they are relying on their constitutional rights, and that their right to petition the Crown is one with which nobody should interfere. They have a right to hold their public meeting, and they have done so, whereupon they proceeded by petition to the Secretary for Scotland, the appropriate Minister of the Crown, who has the same sort of power under custom and Statute as the Home Secretary has in that part of the realm which, in the Act of Union, is called South Britain, and is known under that designation to this day. They went to him, but they got no redress, and feeling their grievances and knowing that this House of Parliament is and always has been the proper place for stating their grievance, that it is the grand inquest of the nation and that they have a right to have their views expressed here, they have asked me to state them. Their first grievance is the excessive fines, but their second, the point which I bring forward now, is the refusal of the Minister to bring the prerogative of mercy into play. It is the same power which is constantly put into operation by the Home Secretary in England. It is a very wellknown procedure in England and is not unknown in Scotland.

On what does this custom rest? I claim that they ought to have the benefit of an ancient custom of this kind, namely, the right of the Crown to reduce sentences and to exercise the great prerogative of mercy. I claim that all public prerogatives are given to the Crown for the good of the people. Again, I repeat that the law, especially the constitutional law, is the refuge of the subject, to which he can go when he has been aggrieved. I have mentioned custom as being the most familiar thing. Very often the Home Secretary has interfered with regard to much smaller sentences than these. I come on to Statute law. Great Statutes like the Declaration of Rights in England and the Bill of Rights are second in estimation and reverence in South Britain only to Magna Charta. They apply to the whole administration of the criminal law. These great constitutional laws defining the position of the King, while they require him to execute justice without delay, also require him to execute justice with mercy. He is supposed to be present in all his Courts in the person of his judges, his magistrates, and all the other judicial officers. The Declaration of Rights settled what the rights of the people were, and it involved a change of dynasty from the House of Stuart to that of William and Mary. That Statute law expressly says that excessive fines are wrong. It was one of the grievances alleged against James II. of England and VII. of Scotland. It was one of the reasons why they were prohibited there, and why the Crown was transferred from an ancient house long endeared to Scotland and vested in William and Mary. No one, from that time to this, has had any word to say against the glorious Revolution of 1688. It may be answered that it is not the law of Scotland, that under this great Statute the King is only dealing with English affairs, and that he may look on Scottish affairs with a different eye. I should like to deny that proposition, and point out that very soon after the Lords and Commons of England had made over the Crown to William and Mary the Estates of the Kingdom of Scotland had their meeting. That was a very great political time. It followed twenty-eight years of persecution, and the times of James II. which the historian Hallam describes as One of the wickedest administrations that ever existed in this world. They had had long experience of excessive fines and many things worse than that. They had to consider what they would do to put the Kingdom in a better state. They had the Duke of Gordon with his men in Edinburgh Castle threatening them, and they had Claverhouse outside. The burghers of that burgh were very much afraid that he would use his sword to hack them down if they agreed with the Lords and Commons of England, and handed the Crown to Prince William and Princess Mary. They passed then their Declaration, which is very much the same Statute as the Bill of Rights. In many cases it uses the very same words. It does not actually use the word "excessive," but denounces past fines that were exorbitant and extravagant. It prohibits them for the future as being essentially against the peace of the Realm, and therefore, I suppose, against the allegiance of the subject. It denounces "exorbitant and extraordinary" fines occurring in the future. I hold, therefore, that the doctrine of the prerogative of the Crown in regard to judicial duties is the same in both parts of this Kingdom. I have had much to do as a judge of the High Court in India with interference with sentences. The law expressly confers on those judges the power, without motion made, to interfere with sentences which they consider excessive, and there is a direction to all Indian Courts in that famous piece of jurisprudence which has for half a century been the law of all the nations of India, the Indian Penal Code, that fines must not be excessive, and the only comment that is made about that by the learned men who have had written commentaries on that great Indian Statute is that it is taken from the Declaration of Rights; and if anything more were wanted to fortify that part of the argument, which touches about 300,000,000 subjects there, I need only mention that it was Lord Macaulay, who was a statesman as well as a lawyer and an historian, who drafted that code.

The burghers of Jedburgh are right in demanding that the matter shall be discussed in this House. There is a great leading case that says that the High Court of Parliament, and the House of Commons as a part of that High Court of Parliament, has power, jurisdiction, and authority to inquire into anything that goes on in any subordinate Court. I have been appealed to as the Member for that county to bring forward what these people who have to pay the fines, and their neighbours, ratepayers, and others, at a public meeting alleged to be grievances, because the Secretary for Scotland ought to have examined into them and rectified what there was of excess. In one case a fine of £15 was imposed, and in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Noble £7 10s. each, and there are other cases of £7 10s. and £10, and the people of Jedburgh live in terror lest other high fines of that sort should invariably be inflicted upon them. I have tried to get at the facts of the case by questions in this House. A written answer was given me to-day, but there was no answer to two parts of my question. I asked whether this Mr. Noble was not out at the time and so knew nothing about it, and whether Mrs. Noble's offence only consisted in negligence. That is my information. I state that more pointedly and solemnly because having put the question to find out whether these are the facts, that part of it is entirely ignored. They say the amounts are heavy if considered along with their pecuniary circumstances. These are not great and rich people who have motor cars to ride in every day or who dress themselves in purple and fine linen. They are the ordinary, quiet shopkeepers and little innkeepers of a little country town in Scotland, and to them £15 or £10 is a big sum to pay, especially as it is known that the trade of Jedburgh is suffering because of the War, and they have had many expenses and have given very much to charity, and, like most of us, have had bereavements. No country excels the borderland in traditions of valour, nor, as I believe, in present courage in coming in great numbers to the flag and taking a great part in the fighting in all parts of the world. The people generally are in such a condition that all public authorities ought as far as possible to be generous, and, while being just, to imitate the Crown in its office of mercy. I believe that very strongly, because I know the people well.

The amounts seem to me heavy, whether you consider the pecuniary circumstances of these people or whether you consider the special circumstances of the time of war. They are heavy again because in no other part of Scotland do you find any fines for this sort of thing—for mere negligence, as on my information I assert, nothing else being said in reply to my question and no contradiction being given. They are higher than the sheriffs of Scotland inflict in any other part, so far as I know. I have found that in Glasgow, which is a pretty big place, the fines are often 2s., and they go up sometimes to 15s., and in many other boroughs of this same sort the scale of fines is based on that. They have no appeal. In Scotland the law leaves this class of case to the learned Sheriffs and the learned Sheriffs' Substitute. In England the jurisdiction is vested in the ordinary magistrates and in the justices of the peace in the counties and the boroughs. I know something about that, for I am on two Commissions of the Peace in Surrey, and I can say what amount the magistrates think there is quite sufficient. The County Bench at Guildford has a number of well-to-do gentlemen before them for a first offence. Some of them had been warned by the police. The fines that they inflicted on that class of people were about £1, and those persons grumble at the amount of the fine when there had been no malicious intention. In Godalming, which is a little borough, the justices content themselves in dealing with the poorer people there with fines varying from 2s. 6d. to 20s., and this is in a neighbourhood where a Zeppelin came one night and dropped a lot of bombs. I saw one as I was going up from the station to my house, and found all the people outside watching the Zeppelin, which was flying through the air and trying to bombard a powder factory which is not very far off. That has not made the magistrates bitter at all in the imposition of fines. The justices in England, whether they belong to counties or boroughs, speaking generally, try to find out what is the position in life of the person, and when it is an offence that is made such only by the law, where there is no wickedness about it and none asserted, none charged, or even suggested, they take good care to distinguish it from such things as setting fire to a farmer's haystack, or burglary, or other offences of that kind. We do not want to force people into the prisons because they cannot pay the fines. It is a sound and resonable discretion that a fine is meant not as a means of sending people to prison, but merely to give them a reminder that they must not break the law. This has always been urged against heavy fines, and there is one case on record in which the Earl of Devonshire was fined £35,000 for striking a courtier in the face, which practically meant send- ing him to prison. If you sentence a servant girl, who does not pull down a blind, to a fine of £10, she has to go to prison, and the evil done is great. I have mentioned already that the sheriff-substitutes administered the law in the way I have referred to. On a next occasion the fines inflicted by the same sheriff-substitute went down from £15 to 5s. That, I say, is a more reasonable way of dealing with things. But the men who had to pay £15 in the first batch of cases will most likely say that they had bad luck, and that if they had been in the second batch of cases they would have got off with a payment of 15s., or less. Unless these fines are reduced it will be an intimation to this and to any other Court that they may go on inflicting fines of £100 and £15, which are far beyond the means of the people to pay.

There was a case in the papers of a Gentleman on the Front Bench, not unconnected with the Home Office—I am not going to mention his name, because I speak of Gentlemen on that bench with respect—who committed an offence for which people in the Burgh of Jedburgh were fined £15, whereas he got off with 5s. That shows that there is a great deal of difference in these cases. What we require always to think about—and I speak after years and years of judicial work and of controlling other Courts, and after great experience of this particular matter of excessive sentences—what we want throughout the country is an even administration of the law. The law is no respecter of persons, and ought to be equally administered, so that the people of Jedburgh and the county of Roxburgh must not be left to say that it is only in that part of Scotland that heavy fines are inflicted. We must have something like an average, and a measure of common sense. We must have something that which, if any of us were suddenly promoted to be a justice of the peace, and had to go to Petty Sessions, we should consider to be a good enough fine to meet the common sense of the case, and without thinking of the Prerogative of the Crown, and the Claim of Right and the offer of the Crown to their Majesties, King William and Queen Mary, great as all these bulwarks of the law are for the safety of the people. That should never be forgotten by lawyers; and judges, above all, should always remember it. These are not such difficult matters to understand. I saw that an hon. Member of this House got off with only a fine of 5s., and that the wife of a titled judge of this country, I think, got off with £2 odd, but I am not going to speak evil of dignatories or of anybody else, and I am not going to give names. I have no doubt that if the Secretary for Scotland were here he would be eager to join issue with me on what I have said. It all depends on this, that when these Statutes have been broken the fines have been excessive, but the right hon. Gentleman would try to show that they were not. These cases to which I have referred were the first batch, and that was a reason for leniency. These people had had no experience of the new law, and you do not begin to fine people heavily under a new law at first when it is only a case of having blinds up. That is not half as bad as most crimes on the Statute Book, as for instance, that of a boy throwing stones and breaking a, street lamp. In this case there was no previous conviction. I am speaking of facts. I got no answer to-day to my question with regard to the facts, and therefore I am taking what information has been given to me. They pleaded guilty, so as to save the Court trouble, and to show what honest people they were. They gave the excuse of negligence, and that is a thing that applies to Members of Parliament as well as to anybody else. It must be confessed that many of us here, at the end of our Parliamentary careers, will have to say that we have been unprofitable servants and have been negligent in many ways—[HON. MEMBERS: "NO, no!"]—or, to put it in the Scottish way, we were no better than we should be.

Mr. JAMES HOPE (Treasurer of the Household)

No one on this bench will suggest that.


I have another question about the facts down for to-morrow, in which I deal with the question of atrocities. Was there any atrocity in any one of these cases? I assert, strongly and boldly, on the information I have, that there was not. There was no suggestion whatever that these people had been in connivance with the enemy, or had set themselves up against the law. Had that been the case, one could have understood why a fine of £15 should have been inflicted. But that was not the case in any instance. There was no aggravation; no atrocity; no connivance with the enemy; nothing, so far as I am informed, and I have made some inquiry, and I have been to Jedburgh for that purpose. There was nothing beyond mere ordinary negligence, such as any woman might be guilty of on a washing day. Take the case of a man who happens at the close of the day to go out for a walk in the burgh: how can he then be certain that his wife will keep the blinds down all the time that he is out? A husband's authority has certain limits, but you would never think of putting a woman in a dock for a thing like that, or a man either, for we should not put the two of them there.


Which one would you put there then?


I would leave that to the learned judge or to the procurator-fiscal. I think I have said most of what I meant to say, and I have expressed pretty clearly the views taken by these subjects of the Crown on this matter. It is for the common subjects and the peaceful citizens that all laws are made. What are we here for but to see that these people have opportunities of leading quiet and useful lives, undisturbed even by the authorities and the law; or, if they are brought up for venal offences, that they should be treated in an ordinary common-sense and merciful manner? As far as I know, the Lord Advocate has had nothing to do with this case, and I have not put any questions to him about it. My questions have been put in order to ascertain the facts, and to find out whether there was any obduracy, any previous conviction, any atrocity of any kind, any aggravation or wicked intention, or any connivance with the enemy. Any of these, things would have made the offence quite different. It has not been alleged that any other sheriffs or Courts in Scotland or England have ever thought of imposing fines like this. I have not brought in the personality of the learned judge. It is not with him my quarrel is. It is not about him that the burghers of Jedburgh, men and women, in public meeting assembled, have complained. It is of the Ministers of the Crown, who seem to think that these matters do not concern them, that the prerogative of mercy should not be extended to these matters, whose answers always have been of such a sort that I have felt bound, in order to preserve the liberty of the people, to bring this matter forward.

The prerogatives of the Crown are given for the benefit of the subjects, and this High Court of Parliament is a place where all grievances can be discussed, and as there is no judicial appeal in these cases particularly, the responsibility of the Minister of the Crown is enormously greater. It is a difficult thing to bring up matters like this and to discuss them in the House of Commons without full knowledge of the facts. But that has happened many times before in cases where the prerogative has been wrongly used, or where it has not been put into force at all when it ought to have been. The books are full of cases of the kind. Everyone who knows the constitutional law knows that. Therefore, as I have not had an answer to my questions about these particular circumstances, I should say that these sentences, fines of £15, and in another case £7 10s. on the husband and £7 10s. on the wife, £10, and similar amounts—in such cases as we have had in the county Roxburgh, where there was no previous conviction, no aggravation, no connivance, in my opinion are most decidedly excessive, exorbitant, and extraordinary. They have all those vices, whatever those three adjectives mean—excessive, exorbitant, and extraordinary. They are unknown to the Courts even of England and Scotland. Therefore, they are extraordinary, and in their effect on the people they are excessive, and in regard to both and the smallness of the offence they are exorbitant. And I am bound to state that, because I base my argument distinctly on the Statutes which use these words. Therefore, I have tried to show they are all these. I have no hesitation in giving that opinion, and when it comes to deciding whether they are excessive, who are the people who are the ultimate judges of what is excessive, exorbitant, and extraordinary? Let the men and women of Scotland judge the matter.


I want in a few words to follow the hon. Gentleman in the matter which he has brought forward, not only in the interests of his own constituents, but as a matter of public importance. The hon. Gentleman has, I think, unearthed a rather bad case of Jedburgh justice. If I do not follow him in his doctrine of constitutional law and in his reference to the glorious revolution, I hope that he will not think that it is through any disrespect of him, but it seems to me that this case does illustrate inequality in the administration of the law that we ought to have regard to in this House. It is perfectly true, as he says, that there have been numerous cases of people who have been dealt with for this offence, and some of them rather glaring eases. The brother of the Lord Chief Justice, a few months ago, was fined, I believe, £2, and that was a rather glaring case, where the light was observable a considerable distance. I will Dot say that there was any wickedness in regard even to that case. But that was a case of some danger. There was a case of an hon. Member of the House, about the same time, who, I believe, was fined £1, and there have been other cases in which the fine has been considerably lower than that. I join in the protest which has been made by the hon. Member that poor people in Jedburgh, away from the entrance to the High Court in London, should be fined £15 for a trivial offence of this sort when other people get off so lightly. It is a scandalous case of inequality of treatment as between one person and another, all being entitled to the same treatment according to the law.

But there is a more important question—that is, the conduct of the Secretary for Scotland as the guardian of the interests of the Scottish people. What would have happened in regard to this House had this case occurred in Ireland? You would have had all the Irish party on top of the Secretary for Ireland, and you would have had very ready redress. How is it we do not get the same treatment? I think that these empty benches do explain the position. I heard my hon. Friend say that Scotland was treated badly, that she did not get justice in many ways, and he attributed that, in the speech that he was then making on another topic, to the machinery or lack of machinery. I should rather attribute it to this fact, that there is no cohesion between Scottish Members, and that no pressure is brought to bear upon those who are supposed to be the guardians of the Scottish people, as there ought to be, in a collective manner. I trust that from to-day, having regard to what has happened, we shall exert a little more pressure in some organised way to see that people in Jedburgh and other places in Scotland get something like justice meted out to them.

This is a scandalous case. There is no wickedness or premeditation about this thing. I can quite understand that anybody might do it. I confess humbly that I have done it myself. Frequently when I go home my last act before going to bed is to go to the room where I keep my books and turn on a light to get a book, and I do not pull the blind down, though I suppose that I should be liable to a fine if a policeman happened to come along at that moment, and I should be more guilty than the person who has been championed to-night by the hon. Member for Roxburgh. I hope that something will be done to see that these scandalous fines are reduced. I say without hesitation that the hon. Member has been treated in a rather cavalier manner by the late Secretary for Scotland, who should have treated him with more respect, whose answers to questions I think ought to have been more in detail and more courteous; and I hope that the new Secretary for Scotland will inaugurate his advent to office by a more courteous treatment, shall I say, of the Scottish Members, and a more painstaking investigation into the legitimate causes of the grievances put before him. I heartily support the hon. Gentleman, in the case which he has brought forward.


I desire to say a few words in support of the appeal made by my colleague from the Border. We share the Border between us, and therefore I have a friendly feeling towards the hon. Gentleman who introduced this subject. My county is next to his, and the people there might be treated in the same way. I think we are greatly indebted to him for having brought this matter forward, for it is one of public interest. My hon. Friend comes to this House with many years of long experience, particularly in the exercise of very high judicial functions, and therefore his opinion is entitled not only personally to great weight, but also because, of his historical references of a very interesting and very forcible character. I do not propose to follow him in those references, interesting and valuable though they are, but they have a bearing upon this question of penalties which cause it to become a matter of public interest. I support him because it is a subject which concerns the administration of evenhanded justice, to which we all attach the utmost importance I would refer to a little incident which shows how incumbent it is upon us to be careful to act fairly in cases of this kind. About a month ago the highest law officer of England was the subject of a Bill to relieve him from penalties amounting to something like £140,000. I do not for a moment suggest that the highest law officer of the Crown was guilty of anything more than these persons were guilty of—a little ignorance and a little carelessness—but we in this House were occupied for some time in going through the whole machinery of a Bill to relieve that right hon. Gentleman of the consequences of his action, owing to his lapse of memory or whatever it might have been. Here we have people in humble circumstances, who are not in the limelight at all, and who are following their ordinary avocations in their own neighbourhood, and now that the matter in which they are concerned has been brought before us, we ought, as far as we can, to mete out evenhanded justice, and not let it be felt that a man highly placed like the Attorney-General can be relieved entirely of all the consequences of that which might have had very serious results if he had not been so relieved, while poor people are subjected to what I cannot help thinking is unjust inequality, which ought not to exist, compared with the justice administered to other subjects of the Crown.


I want to support my hon. and learned Friend with whom I was associated before on this particular point. I think that the fines that were exacted in these particular cases were wicked, in fact they were monstrous fines, and I think that the ex-Secretary for Scotland did himself an injustice in not taking the matter up and having those fines reduced. I am extremely sorry to know from my hon. and learned Friend in front of me that the present Secretary for Scotland has also refused to reopen this particular matter. I would suggest to him that if he wants a popular reception in Scotland he had better go to Jedburgh, and he will there find what the people of Scotland think of any Minister who refuses to take up a matter of this kind. It is common knowledge that a Member of this House was fined only a short time ago for not having his blinds drawn. Here we are dealing with humble people in Jedburgh, and I hope if my hon. Friend does not get satisfaction that he will divide the House.


As this matter occurred in the time of the previous Secretary for Scotland, and as I have some personal knowledge of the facts, perhaps I may be allowed to reply to the Debate. The subject was introduced by my hon. and learned Friend behind me in an interesting speech characterised by all the ingenuity and learning which we associate with him, and I should be the very last to deny the authority which he has to speak on subjects such as that which is now before the Committee. My hon. and learned Friend referred to the Declaration of Eights. I very respectfully doubt whether that document, for which I have, needless to say, the most profound respect, has any real bearing upon the question which has been raised to-night. That was a document dating back to the time of James VJLL It was a declaration which contained a protest against the power which had been usurped by the King. It was a protest, as I understand it, made by the estates of the Realm against the authority which His Majesty had usurped. The document set forth that he had asserted absolute power to annul all the laws, and to impose exorbitant fines. Therefore it was set forth that the imposition of extraordinary fines is contrary to the law. But to appreciate the document aright depends upon the circumstances in which it was written, and those circumstances, as I say, were that it was a protest—and my hon. Friend will not deny this—made by the constituted estates of the realm against the power which had been usurped by His Majesty. What bearing has that upon this question which turns upon the administration of the law as authorised by Parliament? I beg my hon. and learned Friend to remember that in administering the law under the Defence of the Realm Regulations, the sheriff, if he had so pleased, was empowered by Parliament to fine these people not only £7 10s. or £10, as the case might be, but he was authorised by this House, if in his discretion, and looking to the circumstances of the particular case, he thought fit to do so, to do what?—he was entitled to impose a fine of £100 with imprisonment, with or without hard labour, and the forfeiture of goods. That was the law which the sheriff-substitute had to administer. I want the Committee to put to themselves this question: How are you to arrive at the conclusion that this fine was exorbitant or excessive, to use the adjectives which my hon. and learned Friend has used, if, in point of fact, the sheriff-substitute had the power to impose infinitely more severe penalties than he did? So far as I can see, the bearing of the Declaration of Rights on that particular question, if I may say so, with the greatest respect to my hon. and learned Friend, is somewhat remote. Then he went on to say, and I do not think—


The grievances were not caused directly by the King in the imposition of fines, but by his Ministers and judges, and many of them were abolished afterwards in Scotland, as well as in England, by Acts of the Parliament. Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to say, in cases where there is no aggravation, and there is little or no money to pay the fines, that the limitation against excessive fines is to disappear, so that the sheriff can impose fines of £100 for this very common little offence, and make the Jedburgh jurisdiction altogether different from that of any other part of the Kingdom?


I hope I shall be allowed to deal with the two points separately. So far as the first point is concerned, I quoted from the document on which he relied, and that purports to be a protest against the power usurped by the King. So far as the second point is concerned, I hope to come to the precise circumstances under which these fines were imposed. I submit that the Declaration of Rights, important as it admittedly is, has no relevant bearing on this question. The hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say that there is no appeal in this matter. I venture to think he has not made out that proposition. If he will look at the Summary Jurisdiction Act of 1908, he will find that it is there provided—I say nothing about what the law was before that date—that the Supreme Court in Scotland—that is the High Court of Justiciary—can reduce any fine imposed by an inferior Court. That being so, I do not think he has made out the proposition that there was no appeal, a statement which he reiterated on two occasions. He went on to say that the fines were, under the circumstances, excessive, and he complained, and so did my right hon. Friend (Mr. Barnes), that the former Secretary for Scotland had not taken up or inquired into this matter and dealt with it courteously. I most emphatically repudiate both suggestions. My right hon. Friend took up the matter with the very greatest care, called for full reports and considered those reports. So far as courtesy is concerned, I think the answers which he gave in this House—whether my hon. and learned Friend was satisfied with them or not is quite another question—were characterised by entire courtesy.


I did not complain.


I did not refer in this respect to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I was referring to the right hon. Gentleman sitting behind (Mr. Barnes) Let us come to the circumstances of these particular cases. The very fullest information was called for and obtained by the Scottish Office in the matter. What were the facts about these Lighting Regulations? I must protest at once against the suggestion that a breach of these Regulations is a trivial matter. That was said in the course of the Debate, and I was surprised to hear it said especially when we read that only last night on the South-East Coast of Scotland there was a Zeppelin raid. These are not Regulations which are to be lightly treated or regarded as Regulations which can be disobeyed without any serious consequences being entailed. I protest against that theory at once, and emphatically. The situation was this: in the particular district with which we are concerned—and no one has a higher respect for that district than I have; I have visited it with my hon. and learned Friend on, I think, more than one occasion—it is perfectly certain that there was considerable carelessness in the observance of these Regulations before these charges were made, and very considerable laxity, of which complaint was made. Not only were these Regulations not properly observed, but the very persons who were charged in these particular cases with breaches of them had been specifically and repeatedly warned with regard to their breach of the Regulations, and it was under these circumstances that the fines of which complaint has been made were imposed. They were imposed in a locality where these Regulations were not carefully observed, upon persons who had been repeatedly warned of the serious consequences of breaking the Regulations, and they were imposed for a breach of Regulations which are essentially important in their observance.

10.0 P.M.

The learned sheriff has made a report on the subject. I am not sure that it is usual to go into these details on the question of the exercise of the prerogative. I venture to say parenthetically to my hon. and learned Friend, who is a great judge of constitutional matters, that it seems to me that it is a novel and undesirable doctrine that the exercise of the prerogative should be the subject of discussion in this House. It is rather a new idea, and I think it has been depreciated when tried before. However that may be, the circumstances are these: that a full report was called for from the sheriff. The sheriff reported that all relevant considerations bearing upon this matter were before him when the sentences were imposed. Since those sentences were imposed the result has been shown to be most salutary in this particular locality, and the observance of the Regulations has been infinitely better than before. To suggest that there was any partiality or respect of persons, or that heavy fines were imposed because the person charged was poor or in humble circumstances is quite idle and grotesque. The circumstances were considered quite apart from the financial or social position of the persons. It was partly as a punishment and partly as a deterrent. Those were the two considerations which entered into the amount of the penalty, and it was after full consideration of all these matters and of the surrounding circumstances that fines were imposed. I may say that I am not in the least surprised that my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland should have declined to interfere with the discretion of the sheriff in deciding a matter well within his competence, after full consideration of all the circumstances bearing upon this matter.


I listened with the closest attention to the account which the right hon. Gentleman has just given us of the action of the late Secretary for Scotland in refusing to modify the very severe penalties imposed in Jedburgh for certain breaches of the Defence of the Realm Regulations. I must, in the first place, demur to the novel doctrine of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that it is not only unusual but almost improper to have any discussion in this House on the exercise by the responsible Minister of the prerogative of mercy. I think it is well within the recollection of all Members of this House that on very many occasions this matter has been the subject of debate, and sometimes of serious controversy in this House. The present Secretary for Scotland has been in this House since the year 1894, and if be carries his mind back to that Parliament he will remember that the present Prime Minister had to meet long and sustained criticism in regard to his exercise of the prerogative regarding the dynamite prisoners.


I thought the hon. Gentleman was referring to the prerogative of mercy in relation to the Defence of the Realm cases, and not to the more serious cases.


I fancy that my right hon. Friend did not hear the contention of his colleague the Lord Advocate, who, I think rather unfortunately, deprecated discussion in this House of the manner in which this prerogative is exercised. I think it is one of the great privileges of this House that it is entitled to do this, and it is well for the administration of justice in this country that we should have full opportunity of doing it whenever any hon. Member thinks that a primâ facie case has been made out for interference. I think there was a case for interference in this particular instance. I think the fines imposed were altogether out of proportion to the offences committed. There have been many other cases of similar breaches of these Regulations in other parts of the country. I have no doubt some of them have been quoted. Only last week an hon. Gentleman—he is not yet a right hon. Gentleman; I suppose he will be in time—who sits on the Front Bench was fined 5s. He is a Minister in the Department that is very largely concerned in the administration of this particular Act. He ought to have known the law. These men, we are told, had been warned. Here was a man who should not have required to be warned at all. He ought to have known all the Regulations. Yet in spite of that he gets off with a paltry fine of 5s. I am surprised that the Lord Advocate should take the view that the financial position of the accused person is not a matter that should be taken into consideration in fixing the penalty.


I did not intend to suggest that. I said that it was not in respect of the fact that these were humble people that a fine of that amount was imposed.


It is precisely because of their position and their financial resources that we regard these fines as extravagant. Had it been an Under-Secretary enjoying a salary of £1,500 a year we should have said that a penalty of £15 was practically negligible. But for a man in humble life, earning perhaps 30s. a week, a fine of £15 is surely a very excessive punishment to impose. It is solely because of the disproportion between the fines and the financial resources of the guilty parties that we protest against their imposition. When the Regulations giving wider latitude in relation to these penalties were framed I thought the larger penalties were intended to strike in cases where it might be said there was treasonable intent; in other words, that where, for example, there was anything in the nature of signalling the higher penalty should be imposed. But where, on the other hand, there was no mens rea and it was simply a matter of negligence a much less heavy penalty would meet the circumstances of the case. It is, I believe, mainly upon these grounds that my hon. Friend (Sir J. Jardine) has repeatedly raised the question in the House, and I think he has been wise in bringing it forward on this occasion. If as a protest against the harsh official attitude that has been taken up he sees his way to divide the Committee, I shall certainly support him.


A question of constitutional law and practice and another of constitutional history have been raised as regards the Royal Prerogative. As I have always understood the matter, the question of the exercise of the Prerogative is for the Grown alone. The only question with which this House can be concerned is in regard to the action of the Minister whose Department is concerned in advising the Crown whether or not the Prerogative should be exercised. As regards the actual exercise of the Prerogative, we have no right of interference. With regard to constitutional history, I confess I was rather startled when the hon. and learned Member opposite (Sir J. Jardine) attempted to draw an analogy between the class of fines referred to in the Petition of Right and the class of fines with which we are dealing here. If I remember my history aright, the class of fine referred to in the Petition of Right was really a form of taxation, and not a penalty imposed for an offence or anything of that kind. The analogy is an entirely false one. In any event, it seemed to me to have very little bearing. As regards the question of the Minister advising the exercise of the Prerogative, as far as my knowledge goes that advice has never been given or suggested to be given where any other remedy for redressing the grievance was open to the subject. I entirely agree with the Lord Advocate that there was another course open to these people, namely, to take an appeal to the High Court of Judiciary under the Summary Jurisdiction Act, in which they could have raised this point, and this point alone, of the heaviness of the fine. It may be that the time for that has gone by and that it is too late for them to do so. If that be so, there might well arise a proper occasion for suggesting the exercise of the Royal prerogative.

I must confess that until I heard the statement of the facts by the Lord Advocate I was impressed not only with what seemed the grave unfairness of the decision, but also with what seemed to be the complete innocence of the parties. It seemed to be a mere slip of the memory, or pure carelessness, or something of that kind. On the latter point the matter has undoubtedly taken a totally different appearance from the facts as stated by the Lord Advocate. These people, among others, had been repeatedly warned. Undoubtedly this is a serious offence and one which might as late as last night have caused trouble even in this particular part of Scotland. We do not know exactly the district over which the raid took place, but it is obvious that it was not 100 miles from Jedburgh. I do not think it is 100 miles from Jedburgh to the coast. I am not now giving a legal opinion, but if I had been asked by these people whether I thought an appeal should be taken to the High