HL Deb 03 March 1914 vol 15 cc357-60

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.


My Lords, in moving that the House resolve itself into Committee on this Bill, I desire to make a short personal explanation. In commenting, in the course of the speech which I made the other day on the Second Reading, upon the practice of a money-lender who is in the habit of issuing forged testimonials, I suggested that the Public Prosecutor ought to have taken action, and in a moment of what I suppose might be termed rhetorical exuberance I made use of this phrase— What is the use of passing Acts of Parliament and having Public Prosecutors if in cases of this kind no interference takes place. I submit that this was obviously a rhetorical exaggeration of small importance, and I should not have thought it was worth any particular notice, but I am given to understand that it has caused grave offence and constitutes a serious aspersion upon the Public Prosecutor and his Department.

That being so, I desire frankly to express regret, and all the more so because I have myself benefited in the past by the assistance of the Public Prosecutor. I admit that I am under certain personal obligations to him, and I am also aware that in many money-lending cases he has shown considerable activity. The fact is that I committed the not uncommon error of interpreting an Act of Parliament in what I thought was its obvious sense. I thought that the course which should be taken in consequence of the wording of this particular Act was perfectly clear; but now I am given to understand that the Act is by no means so simple as it appeared to me and would presumably appear to other laymen, and that there are considerable difficulties in taking advantage of it. I suppose that everybody, here or elsewhere, who makes a speech either forgets something that he wanted to say or interpolates something he did not intend to say, unless he adopts the precaution, which is frequently taken here, of having the whole speech written out on paper beforehand and then reading it much as one would a lesson in church or an essay addressed to the Social Science Congress or some body of that kind. But I confess that personally I consider that it is attaching undue importance to unofficial members of Parliament to seize upon an expression in a speech and attribute such enormous importance to it. However, I have thought it right upon this occasion to express regret. In conclusion I only desire to observe that if any high legal official or anybody else chooses to express, either in a burst of forensic indignation or under other circumstances, any doubts as to my utility, I should bear the charge with absolute equanimity. All that I desire to point out finally is that this proves most emphatically in my opinion that the Money-lenders Acts are badly in need of revision and amendment.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Newton.)


My Lords, I should like, with the permission of the House, to say one or two words. Feeling some jealousy for the reputation of the Department of which I had the honour for many years to be at the head, I was somewhat concerned on reading the statement which the noble Lord made the other day, and I took steps to inquire as to the particular case to which he alluded, and having investigated it I do not think that it is a case in which either the Act of Parliament or the Director of Public Prosecutions is to blame. The obstacle to a prosecution was that there was neither evidence, nor a prosecutor to put into the box. I do not want to labour it, but I hope it will be accepted by the noble Lord that, as a matter of fact, there could not have been a prosecution in the particular case to which he referred.

In this instance my noble friend, having ascertained that what he had said had given pain and was not altogether well founded, has, as any one who knows him would have expected, frankly withdrawn the statement. But this matter goes a little deeper than the noble Lord has put it. The noble Lord said that he should not mind what was said about him, but he is in a different position from that of a public servant. A public servant has no opportunity of replying at any time to a statement of this nature, and by the rules of the Service he is most properly precluded from writing to the newspapers or giving interviews. There is no doubt that such observations in Parliament do give pain, perhaps less to the head of the Department, who can hold his own better, than to those under him, who feel the slur and know that it cannot be publicly met. There is another aspect of this matter. I was not at the time head of the Department. But there was for a period of a year or two what one might almost call a pre-concerted attack on the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions soon after its institution. These attacks were made generally in Supply in the House of Commons, when there was no opportunity of replying, and the effect was that the attack grew like a snowball. When the Press noticed these things they always referred back to the attacks in Supply about this, that, and the other, until they made what appeared to be a serious case out of a number of small items, each one of which could have been dealt with at the time had there been an opportunity. Therefore I think any one who speaks in Parliament ought to remember the fact that a public servant has no means of replying; and if there is an intention to attack a public servant, some notice should be given so that the Minister more or less in touch with the Department might be enabled to give an explanation. I do not remember attacks having been made in this House, but I recollect attacks elsewhere which are to be regretted. It is because I feel rather deeply as an old public servant the reputation of the Department in which I have served that I have occupied your Lordships' time by making these few observations.


My Lords, what the noble and learned Earl has just said makes it unnecessary for me to add more than a few words. I think the noble Lord in charge of this Bill has acted wisely and handsomely in disclaiming any notion of making a criticism on the individual action of Sir Charles Mathews. The points to which I should take exception in what the noble Lord said are quite other. I think he is too modest about his own importance in connection with this great question; and I think, further, that he is too sanguine that Acts of Parliament are just as plain matters as the public are apt to take them to be. The position of the Public Prosecutor is a very difficult one. He has to consider all sorts of circumstances of which outsiders know nothing, and everybody who knows Sir Charles Mathews is aware with what conscientiousness and public spirit he enters into the discharge of his duties. The task is, as the noble and learned Earl has just pointed out, a difficult one, and we are bound to repose considerable confidence in the official entrusted with it and regard him as possessing considerable latitude. I am glad that the noble Lord has said what he has, because it is quite plain that he meant to cast no reflection at all upon the action of Sir Charles Mathews.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Bill reported without amendment, and to be read 3a To-morrow.