HL Deb 24 June 1892 vol 5 cc1853-4


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a Bill which passed the other House after consideration by a Select Committee. Two Bills were introduced into the other House, by way of dealing with the case of witnesses who were threatened that they might be damnified by reason of evidence they had given, or might give, before a Committee of either House, or a Royal Commission, or a Public Body of that description authorised to conduct an inquiry. There exists, of course, a mode of punishing such an offence by treating it as a contempt of the House; but it was felt generally, in the other House, that that was not a satisfactory or adequate mode of dealing with the offence; and, owing to incidents which took place there, and which brought the subject to the notice of the House, two Bills were introduced, one from the Conservative side and the other by Sir Charles Russell; both these Bills were referred to a Select Com mittee, which reported in favour of the Bill in the form in which it is now before the House, and in which it passed the other House with general assent. The Bill makes it an offence to intimidate witnesses, or to threaten them with a penalty, or to inflict penalties upon them in respect of evidence they have given, and it provides a machinery for compensation to a person who has been injured unlawfully in that respect, and makes the offence triable by a Court of Summary Jurisdiction unless either party requires that the case should be sent to the Sessions or Assizes, in which case the person is to be permitted to be tried by jury. It was felt in the other House, and I think your Lordships will feel, that the Bill supplies a want. It is obviously not right that, when an Inquiry has been ordered by this House, or the other House, or by any Public Authority, persons should be debarred, through fear of consequences, or threats of unpleasant consequences, from coming forward, freely and fully, to give the information which it is desired to elicit in the public interest; and I think your Lordships will agree that the method of punishing by bringing the parties to the Bar, and punishing them for contempt—and it may be by imprisonment—is not a mode that is altogether satisfactory, but for which it would be very desirable to substitute such a procedure as that provided for in this Bill. Under those circumstances I trust your Lordships will see your way to read the Bill a second time.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Herschell.)

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.