Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding£7,500, 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, 1933, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Lord Advocate's Department, and other Law Charges, the Salaries and Expenses of the Courts of Law and Justice, and of Pensions Appeals Tribunals in Scotland, and Bonus on certain Statutory Salaries.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
This is an increase in expenditure of£7,500 in regard to criminal prosecutions in Scotland. The extra expenditure arises from the Scottish Amalgamated Silks case. The trial lasted 33 days and resulted in the conviction of two of the accused, and two appeals to the Court of Criminal Appeal. The appeals lasted 10 days. I believe that this was one of the largest pieces of litigation of the kind in Scotland. The expenses have been extremely great. On that account there is this Supplementary Estimate. I hope the course of action taken by the legal authorities, and the result of the trial, has justified this additional expenditure.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I desire to raise the question of this Amalgamated Silks trial. I have given notice of my intention to do so to the Solicitor-General, as I understand the Supplementary Estimate is for an additional sum to cover the cost of this trial. In this case 11 persons were arrested in 1931 for forming companies to defraud investors of£802,081. When these 11 persons were arrested, I think I would be safe in saying that the business world was rather startled at the amount of money involved in connection with these alleged frauds. Many of the people concerned came from well-known families 1526 in Scotland and had been connected with the commercial life of Scotland for a very considerable period. They were people of substance and wealth. After these persons had been arrested we were told that the crime was so serious that it would not permit, at the outset, of any question of bail being granted.
One of the circumstances which arose in connection with this case was that Mr. John Gardiner, on the production of a medical certificate, was discharged. It is alleged, by people who have a fairly good knowledge of this case, that prominent Members of this House did a considerable amount of interviewing, and were appealing in connection with Mr. Gardiner when he was released. He is the man who formed a very questionable gas undertaking, in which the Glasgow Corporation had assisted. He is a man of 57 years of age and, to my knowledge, of fairly decent health. I want to know if the Solicitor-General can tell us anything concerning the discharge of Mr. Gardiner. Two other persons were also discharged and the Lord Advocate in a previous statement said that the charges against these two were dropped in order to bring the trial "within manageable dimensions." It seems rather peculiar that men accused of fraud or complicity in fraud should be released for no other reason than to keep the trial "within manageable dimensions." There is no statement that they were not associated with the others concerned in the alleged criminal charges. Then a number of individuals were released on bail—some of£1,000 and various sums like that—and they must have found the money fairly easily.
The accused were sent for trial and one man was discharged from the dock—again on the production of a medical certificate. It seems to me that the judicial regime in Scotland at the moment is pursuing a policy of recognising the production of medical certificates in cases of people of substance and wealth and that such people are being discharged fairly readily on the production of certificates of ill health. Seven of the accused were left and of the seven, two were convicted and sentenced—Alexander Young to three years, and George Todd to six months. These men naturally appealed. I should have said that the man who was discharged from the dock was a member of 1527 the Coates family, a family who have left more millions in Scotland than I care to think of. An appeal, as I say, was lodged by Mr. Young and Mr. Todd— men who had been found guilty of association with a crime involving£802,000— and they were granted bail of£10 on application to the High Court. Yet we had the refusal of the Lord Advocate to release these men on bail at the outset because the crime was so serious. In this case I made the allegation previously and I have never heard any proper answer to it, that the judge took the pressmen into a private room—
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to criticise the judge he must put down a substantive Motion in the House. He cannot do so on the Estimate.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I am going to criticise not the judge, but the Lord Advocate, and I want to show what happened in this connection in order to bring out my point. They asked that the pressmen should not state the amount of bail in this case—a case that had caused a certain amount of anxiety throughout Scotland and had been given a great deal of publicity. It was only after questioning the Lord Advocate in this House that we managed to elicit the fact that these men had been granted£10 bail. In my submission the Lord Advocate in such a serious case ought to have opposed such meagre bail. The Lord Advocate said that these men were penniless—these men who, among them, could raise thousands in the initial stages of the trial and who had many wealthy friends. They were penniless it was said, and that was the reason why they were allowed£10 bail. The result of the appeal was that one of these individuals was discharged and Todd, I think—I am open to correction— got six months.
That was the result of the great trial involving about a dozen people. It was watered down by the production of medical certificates and in various ways and in the end we get one man convicted and sentenced to six months' imprisonment. As to the cost of the trial, in reply to a question which I asked on 1st November, 1932, I was told that the estimated cost was£22,500. I do not know whether that is the complete cost 1528 or not. At any rate, the legal people seem to be the only people in the country who have got any satisfaction out of the trial. It was like a good race meeting for the bookmakers, was that silks trial at Edinburgh, in its effects on the legal fraternity. Probably we ought not to grumble because business was very dull in the legal world at that time and they had to get briefs from some quarter. There were two men discharged— Coates and Gardiner. The Lord Advocate stated that they could be brought up again at a future time if the Crown so decided. Now Coates and Gardiner were people of substance who have been involved in companies with millions of capital. I want to know now, have the Crown dropped all intention of bringing these people to trial, or was the production of the medical certificates similar to the case of shoplifting last week, and simply an excuse for allowing these people to get out of their obligations and not to stand for their trial?
I am bound to assume that in the case of people who are associated with a crime of this description. I know what happens in ordinary working-class life. If a person is not able to attend through illness at the rent court, when there is a case against him, he is brought up again the following week and has to stand his trial. I want to know if the production of medical certificates is part and parcel of the policy which is being pursued by the Lord Advocate and the Scottish Office in order to allow people of substance to evade their responsibilities. The history of this trial from beginning to end has been of a most suspicious nature. The number of defendants has been watered down, like the 10 little nigger boys, until only one is left. They all seem to have got through the sieve prepared by the Lord Advocate and the Scottish Office. The consideration that has been given to these company promoters has been rather interesting, and it is having a very bad effect outside. The law ought to be classless. It ought to operate against rich and poor with an even balance. Hon. Members are not to take it because there is not an expression from a large number of people in this Committee, that public opinion outside has not been rather suspicious in connection with this trial. I, 1529 myself, have come across a considerable number of people who thought that the way in which this trial was handled from beginning to end was a public scandal. Either there was no case against these men, in which case they ought never to have been brought to trial, or else the trial was so badly handled that they managed to evade the charges against them.
The production of the medical certificates; the secrecy as to the amount of bail; the individuals who managed to escape the net of the law—all has contributed to the general suspicion that everything has not been well in connection with this case. I do not want to go on hammering at this question unnecessarily. I simply raise the question because I raised it previously. I think we are entitled to a better explanation than that which we received from the Lord Advocate previously. The Lord Advocate simply came down here with anger and a certain amount of malice, if I may be permitted to say so, against the Members who raised the matter as if they had no right at all to do so. We are entitled to raise a matter of this description and I would like to know what explanation the Solicitor-General has to give of the release of Gardiner and the discharge of Coates; whether these medical certificates will absolve them for all time from standing trial and whether the two men who were discharged in order to keep the case "within reasonable dimensions," are to be permitted to evade their responsibilities and are not entitled to stand their trial? As far as the expenditure of public money is concerned, there has been wasteful expenditure on a trial that has not in any way given confidence to the outside public who are watching the operation of the law. I ask the Solicitor-General to give us his explanation of the happenings in connection with the trial.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ The SOLICITOR - GENERAL for SCOTLAND (Mr. Normand)
It is a matter of great regret to me that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate is prevented by illness from being here to-day to reply to the attack which has been made upon him, and which he could have repelled, I am certain, with far more force than I am capable of in replying to it. I have considerable difficulty in answering some of 1530 the details which have been raised by the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) because it so happens that when these proceedings were first instituted I was counsel for one of the accused. Accordingly, when I was appointed to the office which I at present hold it would have been improper for me to have acted for the Crown as I had already been in confidential relationship professionally with one of those who was being prosecuted. Therefore, I have no intimate personal knowledge of the case such as I should have had in ordinary circumstances.
I am at a loss however to understand what precisely is the charge which is being made. Is it that this prosecution has been undertaken, and money spent upon it, when no prosecution at all ought to have been undertaken, or is it that some people have not been prosecuted who ought to have been prosecuted? The suggestion was made that there had been some differentiation in favour of those who were well-to-do and that others who were less well-off had been placed on trial. For that suggestion there is no shadow of reasonable ground whatever. The name of Mr. Coates was mentioned as one of those who had been allowed to slip through the net. The hon. Member for Shettleston knows as well as I do that two brothers of that family were charged; that both were put upon their trial; that one of them was taken ill during the trial; that it was necessary to continue the trial in his absence through illness; that his brother remained charged and was submitted to the verdict of the jury who found the case against him "not proven." As regards the member of the family who took ill the Lord Advocate did not desert permanently the case against him, but only deserted it for the time being until the upshot of the trial could be seen.
If the hon. Member suggests that the member of the family whom he has named should now be put on trial, after his brother, who was in exactly the same position, has been found not guilty—if the hon. Member resorted to a suggestion of that sort, I am sure that nobody could be much impressed by his criticism. Another point raised by the hon. Member was that the Lord Advocate had not proceeded against every one of those originally charged. It is true, I think—I 1531 have not got exact knowledge of the numbers—that originally some 11 persons were charged, and the trial proceeded actively against eight. Is it suggested that those three persons were not prosecuted because they were better off than those who were? The question will not bear a minute's examination. Those three persons were let off from prosecution on perfectly good grounds that satisfied the Lord Advocate. In the first place, I believe that one of them was very gravely ill, and I believe that if it had been necessary to wait for his recovery, the trial might have been quite indefinitely postponed and might never have taken place at all.
As regards the others, in every such case the prosecutor necessarily has to exercise discretion about whom he is to bring to trial. He has to consider the evidence which the preliminary investigation has disclosed, and he has to make up his mind who are the persons who are pointed at as guilty by the evidence at his disposal; and it would be impossible for one to conduct the criminal administration of the law in Scotland if it were to be supposed that everybody originally charged must be brought to trial. In this particular instance those were brought to trial whom the Lord Advocate considered were those who were most pointed at by the evidence. The result was that two of them were convicted, and as regards the remaining six, the jury found the case not proven. There has never been any suggestion that any of those who were not brought to trial were in any worse position at all events than those whom the jury found not proven guilty of the offences charged.
The last point made by the hon. Member has even less substance in it than those with which I have already dealt. He said that originally bail was fixed at a large sum of money, and I believe that to have been the case, but that after conviction bail was fixed at a comparatively trifling sum in the case of the two men who were liberated pending their appeal. That is perfectly true, but, in the first place, bail after conviction is not a matter for the Lord Advocate at all, but for the court. The court fixes the bail. In the second place, these two men were men whose entire money had 1532 been spent in the conduct of their defence, and they had no more money with which to find bail at the time when they were convicted. But what is most important of all is this: The purpose of bail is to secure the men's presence when the appeal is called in court. There are, of course, other means open to the Lord Advocate than the mere finding of bail to secure that result, but the point is that the men turned up, and, therefore, there can be no question at all as to whether the bail was or was not adequate. The fact is that the purpose for which bail exists was fulfilled. The men were there when the appeal was called, and they answered their names; and they now have either undergone or are undergoing sentence. There can, therefore, be no reasonable complaint against the Lord Advocate in connection with the matter of bail.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
The point in connection with bail is this: You do not suggest that the Lord Advocate or his representative was not present at the fixing of bail. I claim that the Lord Advocate was a party to the suppression of the amount of bail, and that he was there when the Press were invited not to publish it.
§ The SOLICITOR - GENERAL for SCOTLAND
I am certain that neither the Lord Advocate nor any judge had anything whatever to do with any efforts to suppress the amount of bail. In conclusion, I wish to repudiate, in the most emphatic terms, the suggestion that the administration of justice in Scotland is open to suspicion by any reasonable man or the assumption that a man who is well off will receive more favourable treatment than anybody else.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I am glad to see the Solicitor-General for Scotland taking part in this Debate, for one thing alone, and that is that it has brought out from him a fire and a heat which I have never witnessed before from him in his public life. He was very much annoyed with my hon. Friend the Member for Shettle-ston (Mr. McGovern) because he dared to suggest that the Lord Advocate's Department in Scotland is not as it should be. I do not know how far the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree with me, but he may be worse with me 1533 than he was with the hon. Member for Shettleston, because I want to say, quite frankly, that I believe sincerely that the Lord Advocate's Department, presided over by the present Lord Advocate in Scotland is, I am certain—and I want to repeat this—corrupt at the present time. I am certain that the Lord Advocate's Department presided over by the man in charge at the moment is corrupt. I am not going to proceed with it, because he is absent, but as soon as he comes back I will be prepared to face him in this House of Commons and to say that his Department is corrupt, and that he himself is not capable of conducting his Department in a way that any business man would allow his department to be conducted.
Let us be quite frank about this. Men come down to this House of Commons and lay down laws for the unemployed—I do not object—they lay down strict measures, they lay down the enforcement of law and decree, and they state that certain things are to be done, and if those things are not done, people are dealt with in a very severe fashion. Presiding over that office to-day—everyone in this House knows it—[An HON. MEMBER: "What has this to do with it?"] If it was the hon. Member's money that was being spent, if he was running a business, he would not tolerate the conduct of the Lord Advocate for 10 minutes. I say this to this House of Commons, that I have as much right to be careful in my spending of public money as I have to be in the spending of my own, and I have no right to see public money spent when I know that in my own business I would not tolerate such conduct. It is no use the Lord Advocate getting vindictive, nor the Solicitor-General for Scotland, because every decent man in this House must be indignant about the Department.
Take the facts of the case. This case was originally begun with the arrest of 11 persons. When last I tackled the Lord Advocate on it, his defence was that he had undertaken this task, that it was difficult, and that if it were under taken properly, it would result, so far as the business world of the City of Glasgow and the rest of Scotland was concerned, in at least its cleanness being safeguarded in the future. If that was the theory behind this prosecution, then I am afraid they have lost. Let us face 1534 the facts, and never mind any heat. Eleven men were arrested and charged on indictment, and three of them were liberated; and, mark this, one was liberated on the ground of ill-health— John Gardiner. It is said by the Solicitor-General for Scotland that if he had not been liberated, it might have delayed the trial. That is a solicitude for the rich that is never shown for the poor. As a matter of fact, it was known in the City of Glasgow at the time when the trial was going on that he was not ill.
What was the evidence taken for sickness? A doctor's certificate. If I go to the Employment Exchange, as I frequently do, what have I to do? A doctor who gives evidence has to go before the Court of Referees and be examined. Here the doctor's lines are put in. No doctor is examined on oath; no doctor is brought to the court and asked to swear a solemn oath to his statement. No, the line goes in, and no man is examined in the box as to its correctness or otherwise. It is sent to the Lord Advocate, that earnest, sincere, deep thinker, and he is the sole custodian, not the Solicitor-General for Scotland. If it were the Solicitor-General, I would trust it more, because, whatever the Solicitor-General may have in the way of faults, I do not know any that he has got. I only know that in his politics he has been clean. That is not to be said for the other man, and everybody in this House—why be mealy-mouthed about it?—knows it. If a man can conduct his political affairs as that Lord Advocate has done, you cannot entrust him with a question of justice and public prosecution.
I will wait till he comes back and say the things; and everyone in this House knows them, and knows that with his own private money he would not tolerate them. Every Scottish Member knows it. Why is there not a single King's Counsel present to-day? There has never been a time when there were so many Conservative barristers and King's Counsel in this House as there are at the present time, yet there is not one of them present now. I know what the reason is, and everybody in this House knows. It is that they are decent fellows and do not want to interfere with their political future at the Bar, but they do not want to be involved in anything that 1535 may be wrong, so, being decent fellows, they stay away. That is the reason.
These three men get off, one of them without any evidence at all, except the so-called medical evidence. It is said that he was in a nursing home in Edinburgh. I do not deny it, nor do I deny that he was under medical attention. There is a High Court sitting at Glasgow to-morrow. I do not know whether it will be different from the other High Court, but I expect that it will be the same. I have watched men stand their trial—miserable, underfed men. I have watched a man being tried who, I am certain, had not had a decent meal of meat for years. He was charged with an offence against the other sex. Everything about the man showed that he needed a doctor, but he had to stand his trial. Gardiner was more fit to stand his trial than that man was, and everybody in Scotland knows it. Gardiner was implicated in a gas contract in the city of Glasgow, and the corporation were involved in it. Everybody knows the history at the background of it. The Order Paper frequently contains questions about a man getting his unemployment benefit, and Members want to inquire to the last detail. When a rich man is involved he is discharged and there is indignation if you say a word about it in the House of Commons.
A doctor gives a certificate on his soul and conscience, and he stakes his reputation on it.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Even if he does that, he has his duties as a citizen and he should be examined on his medical evidence. When a doctor under National Health Insurance gives his certificate that a man is sick, he does it upon his soul and conscience, but it is not taken as final and the man has to go to the regional doctor. The bail in this case was fixed at a certain amount. The Solicitor-General knows that before the fixing of bail, the authorities are consulted. I am not criticising the judge who fixed the bail. A judge has to be sure of certain things which he cannot 1536 get to know except by consultation with the prosecution. He has to be sure that it is reasonable to believe that a man will stand in the dock when he is called and that the ends of justice will not be tampered with by the accused. How is a judge to know that unless he consults the prosecution? The fact of the matter was that the bail in this case was accepted by the Lord Advocate and agreed to by him. No opposition was taken to it. The thing that makes every one of us wonder is this. Here was a public question in which everybody was interested, and yet the Press never stated the amount of the bail. Wealthy men were standing their trial; certain of them were convicted and bailed. This bail was fixed, and not a single newspaper in Scotland published the terms of the bail. The reason was that the Press were asked not to publish the details.
I am not against the fixing of the sum of£10, for I agree with low bail as humane justice. The hon. Member for Shettleston stood his trial. Whatever may be said about him he is a Member of Parliament and has a public position. On the case that was against him, the maximum sentence was three months. He was not accused of a crime in a sense that stealing is a crime; it was for leading a riotous mob. What was his bail? It was£25, and they originally asked for£100. I know the case of a girl of 14 who had never been in trouble before, and her bail was£10. If the case about which I am speaking were an isolated case, one would not be so annoyed, but it is running through the whole sphere of Scottish justice. Everywhere there is a feeling that class justice is being meted out in Scotland. I came across a case the other week of a man who was knocked down in Charing Cross, Glasgow, by a man who was drunk when in charge of a motor car. The man was seriously injured and the driver, who pleaded guilty, was fined£25. That is the case of a rich man. On the same day a poor man, for "doing" the parish council, was given six months' imprisonment.
The hon. Member is now going outside the terms of the Estimate. The general administration of justice in Scotland, if it can be raised in Committee of Supply at all, should be raised on the main Estimates.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I was only showing the feeling that is running throughout Scotland at the moment. This is not an isolated case, and the conduct of this case did not redound to the credit of the Lord Advocate.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Skelton)
May I intervene to say here and now that, in my view, it is most unfortunate that these attacks upon the professional conduct of the Lord Advocate should be made in his absence through illness? I do not propose to reply to them, but I wish most emphatically to register my protest.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I would remind my hon. Friend that we are not responsible for bringing this Estimate before the Committee to-day. It has been well known to the Scottish Law Officers that on the appropriate occasion we proposed to deal with this matter, and, if the Government deliberately bring forward an Estimate affecting one of their Ministers when they know that he cannot be present, they can have no grievance against us.
§ Mr. SKELTON
May I point out, what the Committee is well aware of, that this Supplementary Estimate, like others, must be passed before March? I should like to repudiate the suggestion of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) that this Estimate was intentionally put down because it was known that for health reasons the Lord Advocate would be absent. I merely repeat my protest against the observations and language which the hon. Member, when he sees them in cold print, will agree are of the most severe kind to be made against an absent Member.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
All this indignation leaves me cold and tempts me to say more. Everybody who sits on the Government Bench knows that what I say is true. Everybody who sits on the Opposition Bench and on other benches knows it.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I speak for all Members on this Bench when I say that nobody would seek to limit the activity and violence of the hon. Gentleman. I have made my protest, and I do not intend to repeat it. It stands for the rest of the speech.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
I and my colleagues would not be afraid of any- 1538 thing the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) might say about us on these benches.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I am stating the point of Order. The statement made by the hon. Member was that Members on the Government Front Bench knew that he was not afraid to speak out his mind with regard to Members on that Bench and to Members on this Bench.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
What I am quoting is in the memory of the Committee—that the Members upon this Bench knew the same thing.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I was waiting for the point of Order. The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) will accept any challenge except the challenge in Govan that I have given him already.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I am not charging him. I am actually making a statement. It is not a charge. It is the truth.
The hon. Member must withdraw. That is the same thing. I am sorry, but I must insist on his withdrawing.
§ The hon. Member withdrew accordingly.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
What I said was that everybody knew to be true what I was saying about the Lord Advocate. On the question of this trial, there is no doubt that the minds of all decent folk in Scotland are very much perturbed. The Under-Secretary is annoyed with me for making statements in the absence of the Lord Advocate, but he knows as well as I do that I raised the question when he was here, though at that time we were limited in our discussion. If he agrees to withdraw this Estimate now, I will repeat what I have to say in front of the Lord Advocate. The Solicitor-General knows quite well that I would have preferred that the Lord Advocate should be present. I do not want to put the Solicitor-General in an awkward position. I know that he is not the responsible person, and that it is rather unfair to put him in his present position, but I have been left no option. It is the Government who have brought forward the Estimate to-day, and not me. If the Estimate is withdrawn I will withdraw anything I have said, and reserve it for the next occasion, but the Government cannot present their Estimates and then blame us for making speeches at the time they have chosen. The last time I raised the question we were told that an appeal was being heard, and now it is this affair which intervenes. I leave the matter where it is now, but I say quite frankly, on behalf of those for whom I speak, that we on this bench, so far as our strength will permit will vote against this Estimate.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
I know nothing of the merits of the case which the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has raised, but I listened to him with interest, and I am sure that every Member, in whatever part of the House he sits, attaches as much importance as he does to the equal administration of justice among all classes of people in Scotland. But I must say that I listened with astonishment to his attacks on the Lord Advocate. He waved his hands in the direction of myself, and I do 1540 not know whether he wanted to include me when he said that everybody in Scotland knew about a certain case, but for my part I had not the faintest glimmering of an idea as to what he was referring. I worked with the Lord Advocate in intimate co-operation for a number of months, and I greatly admired the high sense of justice which he always showed in every matter of which I was cognisant. I am convinced that in these matters he would wish to do justice as between citizens in different circumstances, and I cannot believe for one moment that these allegations which the hon. Member has flung about, without, as far as I can see, bringing any facts to justify them, have the slightest foundation.
He referred in particular to the question of bail. I am not a lawyer, and I cannot speak with any first-hand knowledge of these questions, but I have had to look into similar questions in the past, and I know for a fact that bail is not fixed by the Lord Advocate, but by the court. It is the responsibility of the court that bail is fixed at a sum which is sufficient to guarantee the presence of the defender, and in this particular case, though, as I say, I know nothing of the circumstances of the case, the defender did turn up for trial, so I cannot understand what the complaint of the hon. Member may be. I very much hope that he and his friends will reserve their criticisms of the Lord Advocate until he is able to be present. It is the general view in this House that if there is any matter upon which an hon. Member feels as strongly and as sincerely, I have no doubt, as the hon. Member for Gorbals does, which affects the honour of a Member of this House, that he should give him warning it is to be raised.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
But we know that the Lord Advocate is ill. He has not turned up because he did not choose to appear when the Estimates were to be discussed. We know perfectly well the reason why he is not here, and I very much hope that any further discussion will be adjourned until he is. I would like to say, from my personal knowledge of the Lord Advocate, that I feel convinced that the suspicions of the hon. Member for Gorbals are groundless.
§ 8.6 p.m.
I wish to intervene for a minute only to say something arising out of one or two remarks made by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). I happen to be a very old friend of one of those who were originally arrested in connection with the Silks case. With regard to the charge, if I understood the hon. Member correctly, that the bail fixed, by whoever it was fixed, was in inadequate sums, I venture to say from my own personal knowledge that the bail demanded was in very adequate sums indeed. I am not absolutely certain of the figures, but I fancy the amount of the bail was£1,000 each.
The hon. Member for Gorbals roused himself to a fever-heat of passion about the inequalities in the proceedings in connection with the Silks case. What I am going to say about that case is that those who were interested in the matter in Scotland were naturally very resentful that they had been landed, as many of them were who could ill-afford it, in the position in which they eventually found themselves; but with regard to the administration of justice in that trial, I am going to stand here, and I have behind me the full weight of support of those in my constituency who suffered, and make bold to say that they were perfectly satisfied with the course that justice took, and certainly with the amount of bail that was demanded originally on behalf of the 11 men arrested in connection with the case.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I do not wish to delay a Division on this Supplementary Estimate, but there is an important point which ought to be in the minds of hon. Members when they cast their votes. A certain provision was made for law costs in Scotland. We are living in a period when the most stringent economy has to be observed, yet now the Scottish Law Officers come to ask for 50 per cent, more than was estimated would suffice for law charges in Scotland for a year, and all arising out of one trial, a trial which originally involved 11 men, and, according to the hon. Member who has just-spoken, all honourable men.
The hon. Member must not put words into my mouth. I never 1542 dealt severally with the men originally arrested.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I do not wish to misrepresent my hon. Friend, but he assured us from his knowledge of the men—
No. I would like to make this point absolutely clear, because we are dealing with a matter which aroused great public attention, and in some quarters indignation, at the time, and we must be absolutely clear. What I said was that one of the men originally arrested was a very old friend of mine. I have known him since I was a child, and he has known me before I could remember anything. I said in connection with him that I knew the details of the case and the sum demanded. I think the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) will agree that that was what I said. My friend was the first to be liberated.
§ Mr. MAXTON
If I did not misunderstand the hon. Member, that was his first statement; but at the winding-up he took the responsibility, speaking not merely for himself but for his constituents who had lost money, of saying that he believed that everything was fair, square and above-board. I want to point out this aspect of the matter. We as a Committee are considering an expenditure of several tens of thousands of pounds for the bringing to trial of 11 honourable men—honourable at least to this extent, that they could be released on£10 security. They were charged with cheating the public out of several hundreds of thousands of pounds. That was the charge the Law Officers of the Crown brought against them. Now we are told that at a subsequent stage, before their innocence had been proved, they were so honourable and honest that£10 was sufficient.
May I intervene once again? I want this to be made perfectly clear. The point I was going on was the original arrest of the 11 men, and the sum demanded in respect of their bail, and I think it was£1,000.
§ Mr. MAXTON
My hon. Friends were only challenging the administration of the Law Officers in respect of the fact that at a subsequent stage they had allowed two of these men, who had previously been regarded as requiring£1,000, to be liberated on£10 bail.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL for SCOTLAND
I must again point out that the Lord Advocate did not fix the bail. He had nothing whatever to do with fixing the bail. After conviction bail is a question for the court. The court fixed bail. No doubt there are other means, apart from the question of bail, which the Lord Advocate can take to secure the presence of a convicted person at the place of appeal. Whatever means were taken I do not know about them personally; but the bail, or the bail and the other means combined, were effective, and I am at a loss to know whether the hon. Member is going to suggest that a higher bail should have been fixed than was found to be effective.
§ Mr. MAXTON
No, I am only concerned here to show that in the whole handling of this case from start to finish there was very bad management. They found it was necessary to demand£l,000 bail from men who were innocent, but when the men were guilty£10 was quite sufficient. The Law Officers dragged into the net of the law 11 men, but in the course of the protracted trial which followed one was released about every week, before they came to trial at all. We used to open the newspapers from time to time and find that another of the 11 men had got off. Sometimes it was on account of ill-health; the next time it would be because there was an insufficient case. And so it went on, until at the wind-up the Crown, out of their 11 arrests, secured one and a half convictions. And that has involved us in an expenditure of 50 per cent, more than we had calculated for the total law expenses in Scotland. That is what we are discussing here. I put it that not only were the Law Officers responsible for the prosecution, but they were 1544 responsible for the arrests—for deciding that there was a prima facie case to justify bringing these men to trial and subjecting them to the obloquy of arrest. Then they themselves admitted, as the weeks went on, that there was no case against this one, no case against the next one, no case against the other one; and finally the judges decided that there was only a very trivial case against one and a half, or rather, two. Two in the first court, and one of those got away on appeal.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL for SCOTLAND
Neither of them got away on appeal, and the judge did not consider it a trivial offence. On the contrary, the Lord Justice Clerk, who tried the case spoke of the great gravity of the offence and of the necessity of dealing with it in order to vindicate justice in the commercial life of the country.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I hope that the Solicitor-General for Scotland is not going to get out of it on a quibble. The Court of Appeal reduced the sentence. The whole thing is quite discreditable. I am not going to allow the Solicitor-General for Scotland to get, away by merely raising righteous indignation because the Lord Advocate is not here. I believe that we observe all the courtesies of the House. The Government knew what they were doing when they brought this Estimate here to-day. The Lord Advocate, on various occasions when we have had to deal with matters arising from his Department, has never taken the trouble to deal with the merits of the case. His parliamentary method has always been to impugn the honour or the honesty of the persons who raise something affecting his Department. He 1545 does not observe the ordinary courtesies of the House, nor has he tried to perform the duties that a responsible Minister ought to perform. He is outside the ordinary rules and regulations. I do not want to carry that aspect of the matter beyond the reasonable scope of a Supplementary Estimate. The Solicitor-General for Scotland may be perfectly certain that the knowledge that he has and that we have will finally percolate through to the people of Scotland, and that steps will be taken to put Scottish law administration on a footing where it can command respect instead of contempt.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Sir PATRICK FORD
I intervene only because I am a little in doubt as to the purpose of the hon. Member for Bridge-ton (Mr. Maxton) in his speech. He seems to take two rather contrary lines. First of all, he objects to the£10 bail on appeal, and then he objects altogether, apparently, to money being spent on the prosecution because the people charged were not convicted. I do not think that there is anything very serious in the charge that he brings against the administration of justice, because it is one thing to say that there is prima facie evidence, and it is another thing to have it proved. According to his theory, if there is prima facie evidence you do not need to go on with the trial. There was quite enough evidence to suggest that there were very grave misdemeanours by the people who were charged, but if on proof it turned out, either because of
§ legal technicalities or for some other reason, that they were not guilty, that did not absolve the Law Officers from seeing that those people were brought to trial on prima facie evidence sufficient not to condemn them, but to see that the matter was sifted and as a warning to all people engaged in commercial enterprises of that kind that the law has its eye upon them, and that they must be above suspicion on those matters.
§ When it came to the matter of appeal, the complexion of the case was altered and there was no likelihood of those people "skipping their bail" to use a slang phrase. To waste the time of Parliament time after time, as the hon. Member for Bridgeton and his friends have done, in flogging the dead horse of this case against the Crown Officers, which amounts to nothing at all—
§ Sir P. FORD
—is not in the interests of Scottish justice or of the Scottish people at large. I incline to think that while it is very wholesome for the Government and for the Law Officers to know that they have intelligent and active critics, the critics are rather undermining their own position when they insist upon frivolous charges like this. I hope that this is the last time we shall hear of those charges.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 178; Noes, 2.1547
|Division No. 49.]||AYES.||[8.22 p.m.|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds,W.)||Clarry, Reginald George||Glossop, C. W. H.|
|Albery, Irving James||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Gluckstein, Louis Halle|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Cook, Thomas A.||Goff, Sir Park|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Cooke, Douglas||Goldie, Noel B.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry||Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd, N.)|
|Atkinson, Cyril||Craven-Ellis, William||Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Crossley, A. C.||Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.|
|Banks, Sir Reginald Mitchell||Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Hales, Harold K.|
|Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell||Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C.||Hamilton, Sir R. W.(Orkney & Ztl'nd)|
|Bernays, Robert||Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery)||Hammersley, Samuel S.|
|Blindell, James||Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry|
|Boulton, W. W.||Dickie, John P.||Harris, Sir Percy|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Duncan, James A.L.(Kensington, N.)||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Edwards, Charles||Haslam, Sir John (Bolton)|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Elmley, Viscount||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsford)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller|
|Burghley, Lord||Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)||Hopkinson, Austin|
|Burnett, John George||Ford, Sir Patrick J.||Hore-Belisha, Leslie|
|Cadogan, Hon. Edward||Fremantle, Sir Francis||Hornby, Frank|
|Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley)||Fuller, Captain A. G.||Horsbrugh, Florence|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Ganzoni, Sir John||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)|
|Castle Stewart, Earl||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Hume, Sir George Hopwood|
|Clarke, Frank||Gillett, Sir George Masterman||Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)|
|Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)||Normand, Wilfrid Guild||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.||Nunn, William||Smithers, Waldron|
|Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||O'Donovan, Dr. William James||Somervell, Donald Bradley|
|Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Parkinson, John Allen||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose)||Percy, Lord Eustace||Soper, Richard|
|Kerr, Hamilton W.||Petherick, M||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Kimball, Lawrence||Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilst'n)||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.|
|Kirkpatrick, William M.||Powell, Lieut-Col. Evelyn G. H.||Stourton, Hon. John J.|
|Knight, Holford||Procter, Major Henry Adam||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)||Ramsay, Alexander (W. Bromwich)||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Thorp, Linton Theodore|
|Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Levy, Thomas||Reid, William Allan (Derby)||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Lindsay, Noel Ker||Remer, John R.||Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)|
|Mabane, William||Rentoul, Sir Gervais S.||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.||Wallace, John (Dunfermilne)|
|Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Robinson, John Roland||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|McKie, John Hamilton||Ropner, Colonel L.||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Magnay, Thomas||Rosbotham, Sir Samuel||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Maitland, Adam||Ross, Ronald D.||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir John S.|
|Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Runge, Norah Cecil||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot||Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffield, B'tside)||Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour-|
|Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Russell, Richard John (Eddisbury)||Wells, Sydney Richard|
|Marsden, Commander Arthur||Rutherford, John (Edmonton)||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|Martin, Thomas B.||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)||Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)|
|Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale||Selley, Harry R.||Withers, Sir John James|
|Moreing, Adrian C.||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.)||Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'oaks)|
|Morrison, William Shephard||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Muirhead, Major A. J.||Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Munro, Patrick||Skelton, Archibald Noel||Mr. Womersley and Dr. Morris-Jones.|
|Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Slater, John|
|Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Smith, R. W. (Ab'rd'n & Kinc'dine.C.)|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Maxton, James||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Mr. Buchanan and Mr. McGovern.|