§ SUPPLY—considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ [See Page 256.]
§ SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
In rising to ask the attention of the Committee to the item in the law charges affecting the salary of the Attorney General, I think that, whoever else complains of my taking that course, the Attorney General will not complain of it. He cannot but be aware that there have been abroad—if I may use a term familiar to himself—certain charges and allegations against the course which he has pursued, and against others who sit on that Bench and some who sit on this. I am quite sure that there is nothing which the Attorney General would more desire that to meet those allegations and charges face to face, and give his own explanation of them. Now, Sir, I can assure the Attorney General that in what I feel it my duty to say he will hear not one word inconsistent with that estimation for his great ability and his high character which is felt by his opponents no less than his friends. But that is all the greater reason why, in my opinion, a justification and explanation should be offered of certain circumstances to which I now desire to call attention. I wish to ask leave to address certain questions 544 to the Attorney General to which I know—for I have the honour of the acquaintance of the hon. and learned Gentleman—he will answer ex animo. I can assure him that the answers he gives us upon matters of fact within his knowledge will be received by all in this House with implicit credence. It seems strange that it should be necessary to assure any Member of this House that, upon a matter affecting his character, his word will be accepted by the House Commons. But in these recent days it is necessary to make that assurance, because the whole origin of that with which I have to deal—the whole origin of this Special Commission—and all the shameful scandals connected with it, is due to the departure in this House from the noble traditions of accepting the word of a Member of it. If, when the foul and false charge was brought against the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), the House of Commons and its Leaders, mindful of its ancient traditions, had said, "A Member of the House has risen in his place, and stated that the charge is false, and we are bound to believe him," we should not have had all the bitterness which has arisen in this case. When the hon. Member for Cork rose in his place and said that the letter published in the Times of the 18th of April was not his letter, but was forged, hon. Members opposite did not believe him; and they told him that they did not believe him. I do not think that there is a man on the Treasury Bench who does not regret that course. They know now that the hon. Member for Cork spoke the truth, and that, according to the traditions of the House, his word ought to have been believed. I confess that in all that has happened nothing is more miserable, nothing more melancholy than this, that the example should have been set in the manner in which it was set of rejecting the word of the hon. Member for Cork—and the word of the hon. Member for Cork is as good as that of any Member of this House. There are two persons who, in my opinion, must be held specially responsible for what has occurred in that respect. One is the Leader of the House, charged with the conduct of Government business, and the other is a person who exercises a great and deserved authority in this House, who might, I think, have 545 led the House through a different course, and that person is the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington). Well, now, unfortunately, that course was taken, the House of Commons refused to believe the word of its Member, and told him he ought to have gone to a jury. A jury, Sir? What jury? A jury with such a foreman as the Prime Minister? What chance would he have had before such a jury? To what purpose would it have been that the charge was withdrawn; to what purpose would it have been that the forgery of the Times' letters was confessed; to what purpose would it have been that the Court declared that so far as the hon. Member for Cork was concerned the case was closed? He would as certainly have been found guilty as if no evidence had been brought before the Court. Therefore, it is plain that as the hon. Member for Cork has spoken the truth in his place, so he was right in refusing to go to a jury. Then the Government appointed a Special Commission. I have to ask what was the position which the Attorney General occupied before that Commission; indeed, I would ask what position he occupied before that Commission sat. Now, it is said, that the position of the Attorney General is that of a private counsel in a private suit. Assuming, for a moment, that that is so, I would ask how that bears upon the position of the Attorney General? In the first place, I would observe that if the Attorney General was a private counsel in a private suit he was there—in a sense which I will explain directly—as a volunteer. He need not have been counsel for the Times in that suit, and I will illustrate that to the House. There was another Member of this House who held a general retainer for the Times—I mean the hon. and learned Member for Hackney (Sir C. Russell). There were days when holding a general retainer for the Times was an honour to any man in the profession; those days are gone by. But the hon. and learned Member for Hackney declined to hold that retainer. I think I can judge of the circumstances which actuated him in returning his general retainer. He is proud of the nationality to which he belongs. The hon. and learned Member has never been 546 ashamed to confess that he belonged to what I am afraid, under existing circumstances, I must call a despised and hated race. He, at least, was not eager and anxious to appear as the public accuser of his countrymen and their representatives. The hon. and learned Member is not only an Irishman, but a distinguished Member of the House of Commons. He is one of the foremost men in what we are pleased to call the Parliament of a united Empire, where all men are treated alike. To him, at least, it was not a congenial task to be called upon to endeavour to fix the stigma of infamy upon some 85 Members of the House of Commons, constituting about one-eighth of their whole body. To him, at least, a work of that description would not have been a labour of love. The hon. and learned Member rejected the retainer of the Times, but the office which he refused was embraced con amore by Her Majesty's Attorney General. What is the position of the Attorney General? I am sure that no man can say that the office he has thus willingly undertaken he did not perform with the zeal and ability of a man who has his heart in the case; and if 85 Members of the House of Commons, the Representatives of the Irish nation, are not to be marked and branded with infamy, so that they may deserve to be expelled from this House, whose soever fault it may be, it will not be the fault of Her Majesty's Attorney General. Now, I have spoken of the theory of private employment suggested in this case and its bearing upon the office of the Attorney General. I will now ask to be allowed to inquire what is the office of the Attorney General, and what are his duties. The office of the Attorney General is an ancient office and an office of dignity. It is distinguished by the highest salary and emoluments of any office under the Crown. According to the last Return the emoluments amount to about £12,000 a-year, including salary and fees; and, of course, in Committee of Supply it may be asked, "What are the services, and to whom have those services to be performed, for which this salary is granted?" That is surely a fit subject of inquiry. What are the duties of the office of the Attorney General to which this great dignity and this great salary are granted? I think he will agree with me that I define 547 them rightly when I say that his first duty is to advise the Crown and the Ministers of the Crown in all affairs, foreign and domestic—a great and an important duty. During the very short time that I had experience of the office of Law Officer of the Crown I came to know the amount and the importance of the work attached to that office. Then the Attorney General has another duty—viz., to advise this House in all matters which affect the interests and the honour of its Members. That is the second duty of the Attorney General; and he has another duty, perhaps the highest of all. He is the Leader and the example of the English Bar, and the highest guardian of its traditions. These are high and honourable duties, especially the last duty, because upon the manner of its exercise depends in no small degree the spirit and temper of the criminal administration of this country; and it is from the examples of men who have held that office, and the exercise of public opinion upon that office, that the Public Prosecutors of to day differ from the Public Prosecutors of the time of Sir Edward Coke when he prosecuted Sir Walter Raleigh. The Attorney General will not deny that these are functions which ought to be jealously guarded and carefully watched by the House of Commons. The first question I have to ask is, "How came the Attorney General, holding that office to which these duties are attached, to be private counsel in this matter?"—supposing that he was private counsel in this matter of the Commission. How far was that position consistent with the duties which he had to perform? His first duty was to advise the Government and this House in matters of great public interest. Is this not a matter involving the profoundest political consequences both in and out of this House? I would only state in the language of the Home Secretary—in which I freely concur—that this is a matter of the highest importance, and is of the character of a "State inquiry." What can be graver than the impeachment of 85 Members of the House of Commons before a tribunal which is, to say the least, a solecism in the Constitution? What can be graver than a question which so deeply affects the relations between England, and Ireland? If ever there were matters upon which the Government 548 and the House ought to have been advised by the Attorney General, they were these questions which are brought before the Special Commission. The Attorney General began by being counsel in the case of "O'Donnell v. Walter." I will say nothing upon that at this moment, but rather upon the consequences that followed from it. I cannot dissever it altogether, because it was the speech of the Attorney General in that case which was the foundation of the present Commission. The question of the private practice of the Attorney General is, of course, very germane to the question involved in this Vote. I am not sure whether it is not a universal rule of the Civil Service, or one which you have recently made, that the public shall have the full time of those to whom it pays adequate emolument. I am not raising the question now; but this I venture to affirm, that that private practice must be subject to these limitations: it must not be of a character to disable him from advising the Crown and the House of Commons. Let us apply these considerations to the plea that this was private business of the Attorney General in which the public had no concern: I will give this illustration. Supposing that the Foreign Secretary were to be largely concerned in foreign loans on his own account and were to say that that was private business, would it not be at once said that that was a kind of business which was inconsistent with the business which he was doing for the State? In the same way, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer were engaged in private operations of a financial character—I beg his pardon for making the hypothesis—but supposing any Chancellor of the Exchequer were engaged in private financial operations, everybody would say that such business was inconsistent with the position of a Chancellor of the Exchequer. Well, but is it not equally true, in the case of the Attorney General, that his private business is inconsistent with the duties of his office, and does not come within the limits of the private business which the Attorney General ought to take? Consider what is the character of this business. The Government declared from the first that they desired to stand perfectly clear and impartial in this matter. Did it tend to that position in the estimation of the public that this 549 private business should be undertaken by the Attorney General? Was it not, of all others, that which was likely to destroy that feeling and impression? Did it, in fact, produce that impression; and was it intended to convey that impression to the public? In July, 1888, at the time of "O'Donnell v. Walter," this is what the private client of the Attorney General, the Times newspaper, says—These charges against Mr. Parnell have been formulated in open Court by the Head of the English Bar, a man whose eminence, personal, professional, and official, offers an absolute guarantee that in his learned judgment he has the means of proving what he says.That is the way in which the position of the Attorney General was presented by his private client to the English nation. And that was the position that was accepted by the English nation. These forged bills accepted by the Times were endorsed without knowledge by the Attorney General. Who was not deluded by that? It was not the letters alone, but the whole of the charges which were so accredited. My noble Friend the Member for Rossendale having repeated certain charges in "Parnellism and Crime" in this House, was asked upon what ground he made them, and he said—I submit to the House that, having stated what was the source of my information, and what was the authority upon which those statements were made, I was not bound, nor was it in any way necessary for me, to attempt to prove or substantiate the statement that had been made. Had I made the charge on my own responsibility, the case, it seems to me, would have been entirely different; but, having repeatedly pointed out that I was only referring to the statements made in the Times, it appeared, and it still appears, to me that there was no responsibility resting upon me to prove or substantiate those statements.That was the position taken by my noble Friend, and by tens of thousands of other persons. It was taken on the authority of the Times, and was absolutely guaranteed by the official authority of Her Majesty's Attorney General. Was this a private question? I am not arguing here, or objecting that the Attorney General should not appear in a horse case or a running down case. But this was not a horse case or a running-down case. You do not take three Judges from the Bench, you do not have the paraphernalia of a State trial, for such cases. This has nothing of the character 550 of private business. Let us look what was the indictment in the speech of the Attorney General. And this is the first question I will ask him. Did he, or did he not, advise the Government at any time with reference to this matter? He will know that I do not speak strictly by the card. Did he at any time give advice to the Government with reference to this matter before or after the Commission sat? That is my first question to the Attorney General. It seems tome that, whether he answers it in the negative or the affirmative, it is equally difficult to reconcile his position in this case. If he did not, why did he not? If there was a question of this gravity affecting the State, affecting the enemies of the Queen in America, affecting the House of Commons and the honour of its Members, why did he not advise the Government, and why did he not advise the House of Commons? Now, let me point out another thing—the proceeding was one of a character in which the official position of the Attorney General might be, and probably would be, undoubtedly would be, involved. If it happened that it was proved that the documents were forged, who was the person who ought to prosecute the author of the forged documents? Her Majesty's Attorney General, the Chief Public Prosecutor. If, on the other hand, it were proved that there were 85 Members of the House of Commons the associates of criminals and assassins, who is the person to direct the proceedings against them, either out of this House or in it? Her Majesty's Attorney General. By what right did he voluntarily disable himself from performing those duties? We are asked to vote him a salary of £12,000 a-year. When the Judgment of the Commission comes up for review, as it must come up for review, who should advise this House as to the course it should take? Why, the principal Law Adviser of the Crown. Therefore, I ask the Attorney General, did he, or did he not, publicly or privately, directly or indirectly, advise Her Majesty's Government, or any Members of it, in respect to this transaction? Well, if he says he did not, by what right are we, the guardians of the taxpayers, to vote his salary for services not performed? Of course, if services of this kind are abandoned in 551 favour of private practice, the remuneration should be granted by the private employers. I have another question which I will ask the Attorney General. Did he ask the assent of the Government to his employment in this particular case? Did he do it with their knowledge and upon consultation with them, and did they approve of his taking that course? I cannot but think that he asked their assent. I cannot imagine that a man in his position would undertake so fearful a responsibility without consulting his colleagues. I must say, if he did not, he used them very badly, and if he did, then they used the country badly. I come now to the time given up to this business. I venture to think that, in exercising this privilege of taking private practice, it should be exercised with scrupulous regard to the demands of the Public Service. I know how scrupulous in this regard was my able and distinguished Friend the Member for Bury. I know he almost declined private business. If you are to have private business occupying nine months, and which may occupy three months more, what becomes of the service of the State? If that is to go on, you will have to pay your Attorney General by piece work. No, Sir; if we are to vote him £12,000 a-year, we cannot accept the leavings of the time of the Attorney General. And I am sure the Leader of the House, after all that has happened, would not, if he were asked, say that it was a wise, or a prudent, or a proper thing to have the Attorney General conducting these proceedings. But I do not believe this will be the line taken by the Attorney General. He will not say, "This was my private business, and I disabled myself from the service of the Crown." That certainly is not the view of the Home Secretary, who said that this was a State inquiry. What is the tribunal? It was specially created by the Government to inquire into an indictment framed by the Government. The Government determined the whole business from beginning to end, and it is perfectly idle to say this was private business. If the Government gave their consent, then all I have said does not apply, and the Attorney General was quite in his right place, doing the business of his masters; and though we may ultimately have to call the Go- 552 vernment to account if there were anything wrong, there is not a word to be said against the Attorney General on account of his appearance before that Court. If it was, as the Home Secretary said, a State inquiry, if it was a State Court constituted by the Government on an indictment framed by the Government against parties summoned by the Government, of course the Attorney General was quite right to be there. That being so, all that we are entitled to inquire is whether, in that public capacity, the Attorney General properly performed the duties of that public capacity. In that part of the argument there is one consideration which, I think, will satisfy the Committee that this is a State inquiry, and not one between private parties, and that is the mode in which the official evidence was dealt with. When a client retains the Attorney General in a private suit he retains a lawyer of ability and experience; but he does not purchase with him the whole influence and authority of the Government. Therefore, in a private suit, the Attorney General never could have occupied the position and taken the course he did. In a private suit a client has a right to issue subpœnas, but he could not get official witnesses to stay months in London who were required elsewhere. The Attorney General, at least, could not be deceived by the extraordinary theory in regard to subpœnas propounded by the Chief Secretary. If a private client subpœnas my servant, he does not keep him at the Courts for one or two months, but the solicitor, one, two, or three days be fore he is to give his evidence, gives him notice when he will be wanted. That is not the way these men were dealt with, and that fact alone shows that it was not a private suit. But, far more important than that, the clerks of private solicitors do not go into Her Majesty's gaols at their will and pleasure and swear the convicts there. Who ever heard of such a thing in a private suit? I should like to know what provision in our Criminal Law gives a private suitor the right to enter a prison and swear a prisoner at his pleasure. I am not, of course, going into detail in this matter, which we have discussed before; but I can see nothing of the character of a private solicitor in a private suit. It has all the character of a 553 transaction in which the Attorney General was the Public Prosecutor, and had the authority of the Government behind him, but he had not the guarantee that the evidence would be properly dealt with—that when a solicitor went into a gaol to get evidence he would be a proper man under proper restraint and proper responsibility. If this is a public prosecution, as in my opinion indeed it is, then, instead of Soameses and Shannons and Houstons, and people of that description it would have been in the responsible hands of the Solicitor to the Treasury, whom everybody could have relied upon to have dealt fairly with the defendants, and done nothing that anybody could censure. Whether or not this was a private suit, it certainly was not an ordinary tribunal. The question is, what was the character of it? I take the reasonable words, because I believe them to be true, of the Home Secretary. It was a State inquiry, and the position of the Attorney General was what, in military language, may be described as that of an officer in full pay detached for particular service. That I believe was the true position of the Attorney General before this tribunal. But if he was a quasi-Public Prosecutor he was not, in fact, the Public Prosecutor. I use the phrase quasi-Public Prosecutor. What was his duty in that position? There is nothing better known in the administration of the Criminal Law of this country than the condition by which a Public Prosecutor is bound. I say in this country, and I mean by that, in England I remember a remarkable speech which was made in this House by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bury (Sir H. James). It was made, I think, on the Bill to enable a prisoner to be examined. My right hon. and learned Friend said he would vote for it in England, but not in Ireland, and he gave as his reason that the administration of the Criminal Law in England is governed by a moderation and justice in the conduct of a prosecution which are, unhappily, unknown in Ireland. The position of a Public Prosecutor in this country is that of a man who exercises an almost judicial function. The Attorney General, I am sure, will not deny that the Public Prosecutor is not a counsel fighting for a verdict. He is bound to place before the 554 Court the truth, and the whole truth, whether it tends to further the case for the prosecution or to exculpate the accused. Those are the sacred principles by law happily established in the criminal jurisprudence of this country. The prosecuting counsel has, above all things, to take care that the accused should not be taken by surprise; that he should have every opportunity of knowing what in the way of evidence or argument is going to brought against him. And, above all, he is bound to satisfy himself that the evidence he is about to adduce is good, solid, truthful, bonâ fide evidence; and the man who, engaged in a criminal prosecution, places before the Court or the jury evidence in which he does not believe, which he has not taken care to ascertain to be solid and truthful evidence, violates the traditions of the English Bar in respect of criminal prosecutions. Perhaps I may be allowed to refer, without being accused of egotism, to certain circumstances which occurred within my own experience when I was at the Home Office. A case was brought before me of a man who had been tried and convicted, and there was a petition for his pardon. One circumstance that was brought to my knowledge was that there was a witness whose evidence might have induced the Judge and jury to take a different view of the case; that that fact was within the knowledge of the prosecution, and yet the prosecution did not call that witness. I sent for the person who had the conduct of the prosecution, and I told him that in my opinion he had violated the first principles of justice in not calling he witness whose evidence might have induced the Judge and jury to take a different view of the case, and in his presence I drew up a pardon for the prisoner. Those are the principles that ought to govern prosecutors, and the only question that we have to ask is, whether those principles have been strictly observed in this case? Was there fair and complete notice? And here I wish to guard myself—I will speak of nothing in regard to the matters before the tribunal which I consider to be now sub judice—[Laughter from the Ministerial benches]—I will explain what I mean. I do not regard the question of that which relates exclusively to the forged letters as sub judice. That charge has been struck 555 out of the indictment. The Court has declared that nothing they can say or do, that no circumstance that can arise relating to it, can alter that part of the case, and I have as much right to comment on that part of the case now as I shall have ten years hence. I have never, so far as I am aware, commented on what was sub judice. The charge brought against me last night by the Chief Secretary was—no doubt unintentionally—not fair on that point. He said I had commented on witnesses whose evidence would have to be considered by the Commission. I did not intend to so comment, and if I departed from that intention I express my regret for having done so. I never intended to comment on the evidence of any witnesses except those like Houston and Pigott, whose evidence is exclusively confined to the question of the forged letters. [An hon. MEMBER: Le Caron] An hon. Member says that I referred to Le Caron; but I do not think I said more than it was necessary to say with regard to Le Caron. To the best of my recollection I did not. When we are dealing with men like Houston and Pigott I find it very difficult to distinguish in point of equality between the two. The man who bought the forged letters and then burnt the correspondence relating to them is, on the whole, quite as bad as the other man. He had not the same temptation; he is a man who moved, I believe, in the best society, and he has at his back gentlemen possessing great resources, Lord Richard Grosvenor and Sir Rowland Blennerhassett for example, who back up the Loyal and Patriotic Union. A man of that kind who embarks in these speculations in calumny and who is found out is, indeed, in an unfortunate position. I only intend to deal with that part of the case which affects exclusively the forged letters. Now, what was the position of the Attorney General with reference to these forged letters? First of all, as he was bound to do in his capacity as counsel, he vouched the authenticity of the letters. He vouched for them at the earliest period. On July 4, during the trial of "O'Donnell v. Walter," in that speech which, in fact, formed the indictment, he said—The Times will not go back from whatever they have said. They took the greatest possible pains to satisfy themselves about the letter. It 556 was in their possession for months, and the most careful investigation was made into its genuineness, and every possible means was taken to investigate the matter, among others that of comparison of handwriting.I would ask the Attorney General what he meant by "among others?" What were these other means which had been resorted to? Then the Attorney General went on,—Gentlemen, do you think that the Timer has rushed red-hot into the matter without having something before them which they assume to be correct?Then later on he vouched the letters, I think in this House on July 27. The hon. and learned Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong. He said—The whole case which I opened I was prepared to prove, and if I am counsel for the Times again shall be prepared to prove. The evidence is available, if it is wanted,and so on. Well, I assume in favour of the Attorney General that he vouched the evidence, because a Public Prosecutor has no right to prosecute unless he is prepared to vouch the evidence and is satisfied that it is true. If the Under Secretary for India will contain himself I will explain what I mean. No Attorney General or Solicitor General has a right to accuse 85 gentlemen, whether Members of Parliament or not, of foul crime unless he is satisfied with the evidence, and is prepared to prove his case. [Sir J. GORST made an observation which did not reach the reporter.] If the hon. and learned Gentleman dissents from that proposition, I am very glad that he is no longer Solicitor General, and that he has gone to the India Office, for which office no one can doubt his capacity. The Attorney General vouchsafed—as he was bound to vouchsafe—the substantiality of the evidence. Then the next question that I have to put to the Attorney General is this—When did he first know of Pigott as the author and producer of these letters, upon whom the question of their genuineness rested? Then there is another question which I know will seem a strange one to ask. Did the Attorney General know anything of these letters before they were published, and was he ever consulted by his private client, the Times newspaper, as to the wisdom and safety of publishing the first letter? I ask him to answer that question. When was he first informed that Pigott was the person from 557 whom the letters had come, and whether that was what he meant when he used the words "among others?" Now, Sir, Pigott set up a false pretence,—false upon the face of it, and which the solicitor for the TimesI cannot help thinking must have known not to be true—namely, that the reason why Pigott and Houston were not to be mentioned was that they were afraid of personal danger. Now, however, by Pigott's confession, we have it that in his case, at all events, this was not what he was afraid of. What he feared was not personal danger, but his own personal character. That was the only fear that would have kept him out of the witness-box. I wish to ask the Attorney General, and I am very sorry that I did not put the question before, because it might have saved my putting an hypothesis which I have no desire to put—I wish to ask the Attorney General when was he made acquainted with the letter of November 17, in which Pigott declared his own infamy and informed Houston and Soames that if he went into the witness-box he thought his character would be made known, with the result that his evidence would destroy the case for the prosecution? I should have thought that it was the first duty of those concerned to ascertain the character and the credibility of a witness upon whose evidence this foul and monstrous charge alone rested. If an inquiry into his character was not made at first, there was negligence of the grossest kind; but anyhow, whatever may have been the case after that letter of November 17, there could no longer be any excuse for reliance upon Pigott.
§ *THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (SIR R. WEBSTER,) Isle of Wight
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong as to the date of the letter. It was the 15th of November.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
There were, I think, two letters—one of the 11th of November and another of the 15th. The statement I am referring to was contained in the letter of the 17th.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
One letter was dated November 11th, and the other, Sandy Cove West, November 17th. That is the letter I am quoting from. Pigott warns the prosecution in it that 558 his testimony will sensibly weaken their case, and that it would do them an injury instead of serving their cause. Now, this was the notice served on the prosecution by the principal witness upon whom the case rested, that he was in his own opinion—the only sound opinion he ever held—undeserving of belief. That was the situation of the prosecution when they had at issue the fame and character, and something perhaps dearer than life, to the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), a fellow Member of this House with the Attorney General himself. Did the Attorney General know of that letter? I must ask the House to consider what are the two alternatives. Suppose that he did not know of the letter. The letter itself was sent to Soames, the solicitor of the Times. It was addressed to Houston. It was one of the letters that Houston deliberately burnt.
§ *SIR R. WEBSTER
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but the particular letter he is referring to was dated the 15th of November. It was handed to Mr. Soames and produced by Mr. Soames.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I am endeavouring to state the case as fairly as I can, and if I have fallen into any error I am sorry for it. I have no desire whatever to act unfairly. Now, it is a very remarkable circumstance in this prosecution that this principal witness was not subpoenaed at the beginning of the case. Why was he not subpoenaed then? It might be supposed that, as he was the principal witness, the first step would have been to subpoena him. The Commission sat in October, and it was not until some way on in November that the subpoena was served. The correspondence with Pigott was in the early part of November, but he was not subpœnaed. Why was he not subpœnaed? If Mr. Soames, having in his possession this letter advertising and notifying to the prosecution that their prin- 559 cipal witness was undeserving of belief—if he suppressed it and did not communicate it to the Attorney General, I have no hesitation in saying that Mr. Soames ought to be struck off the rolls. A more scandalous attempt on the part of a solicitor to deceive a Court in a criminal case and to deceive his own counsel with the object of inducing him to take a course inconsistent with duty and honour it would be impossible to conceive. There is no counsel in England who, in such circumstances, would consent to go on with the case. I must apologize to the Attorney General for making the hypothesis that he knew, as he ought to have been informed, of the existence of that letter and of the character of Pigott. Upon that hypothesis, what was clearly the duty of the Attorney General, or what was the duty of any Public Prosecutor or even of a junior counsel under such circumstances? His duty was to cause inquiries to be made into the character of this man; to test him in every way; to send persons to Paris to sift his story. In point of fact, when you have the principal witness in a case of this kind so shaken by his own testimony as Pigott was, before you produce him you should test his character and see whether he is a witness deserving of belief. That was obviously the duty of anybody charged with a prosecution of this character. If the Attorney General tells me—and I shall be glad to hear him say it—that up to the day he put Pigott into the box he had not heard a word breathed against his character, that would remove the whole of this impression. I could only then marvel that the Attorney General, surrounded by men of every kind from Ireland, having the advantage of junior counsel from Dublin, of Mr. Bolton, the Crown Solicitor, and of Mr. Houston, of the Loyal and Patriotic Union, was not informed. Why, there was not a man from Dublin in that Court who did not know the notorious fact of the infamy of Pigott. If the Attorney General did not know that Pigott was a man not to be relied upon, he was the only man in the Court who did not know it. Mr. Soames knew of Pigott at a very early period, and it is material to know when he informed the Attorney General of what he knew of Pigott. Mr. Soames was asked upon that subject— 560Did you, when you heard what the character of Pigott was, a few days after the O'Donnell v. Walter trial, communicate the information to your counsel?The answer was a very remarkable one, because the O'Donnell and Walter trial was over, and there was no reason why the information should not have been communicated, especially to the Attorney General. The answer of Mr. Soames was—I do not think I had any counsel at that time until after the Commission was appointed.' 'When did you first communicate with counsel?' 'I cannot tell; I do not know.' 'Did you not, immediately after the trial of the O'Donnell and Walter case?' 'My recollection is that I had no communication with counsel at all after the trial of the O'Donnell and Walter case, until after the Bill for the Special Commission had been passed!'But although this information could not be obtained from Mr. Soames, I am sure we shall have it from the Attorney General. The question is—and I am sure the Attorney General will not think it an unfair question—Did he know that this case rested upon Pigott before the Bill appointing the Special Commission passed through this House, and did he directly or indirectly advise the Government or communicate with the Government upon this subject in the interval between July, when his engagement in the case of "O'Donnell v. Walter" was over, and before his engagement on the Commission began? As I said before, I apologize to the Attorney General for even making the suggestion; but if he knew that Pigott was a man not to be relied upon even after the letter of November, I should have thought that any counsel having a case with such terrible consequences depending upon such a witness as Pigott, and not being satisfied with him, would at once have gone to the accused and to the Court, and said, "I have been misinformed; I have been misinstructed; I thought that this was a good and solid charge; but, finding that the witness is not to be depended upon, as a public duty I withdraw the charge against the accused." If the Attorney General, knowing that Pigott was a man not to be relied upon and not having inquired into his character, kept this charge going for months, postponed producing the letters until the latest possible moment, and piled up every item of prejudice against Mr. Parnell under every other charge, it was 561 a course which could only have the effect of weakening the testimony of Mr. Parnell, and of tending, if possible, to accredit the evidence of Pigott. What would then have been the course that would have been pursued? Doubting Pigott, and being informed that he was an infamous man unworthy of belief, the Attorney General could not have put an expert into the box to prove the letters, hoping that they would sustain the evidence of such a man. That is why I want an answer to these question, and I therefore hope the Attorney General will be able to tell us that information with reference to the character of Pigott never came to his knowledge. There is another matter almost as material, because it bears both upon the source from which the Times got the letters and upon the credibility of Pigott himself; and that is, was the Attorney General ever informed, and when, that Houston had burned Pigott's correspondence? Why did Houston burn Pigott's correspondence? He pretended to believe that the letters of Pigott were genuine. Why, then, should he be afraid that his relations with Pigott should be revealed? That correspondence, unless I am mistaken, was burnt when it became evident and apparent that Pigott would have to be called. Quite apart, then, from the letters of November, if Pigott himself had not written to tell what his character was, it was impossible to have circumstances of greater suspicion than that Houston bought the letters, took them to the Times, and then burnt the correspondence. It was like piling Pelion on Ossa. There was every possible accumulation of circumstance in the mind of every man who was acquainted with the facts of the case to convince him that the evidence of Pigott could not be relied upon. It is certain that the Public Prosecutor in this country, knowing such suspicions attached to Pigott, having taken no pains to inquire into his character, could not have put such a witness as that into the box to swear away the character of a fellow-Member of the House of Commons and the Leader of the Irish Party and have avouched him before the Court as a witness of truth. If Pigott, as a tainted witness, had been put into the box for what he was worth, it would have been a different thing, because the Court is 562 informed when witnesses of bad character are put into the box. Otherwise, what would be the chance of an innocent man, if a witness was put into the box upon the assumption that the accused might not have the means of proving that the witness's evidence was not to be relied upon? I have to apologize to the House for the time I have occupied. For many months the great question in this country has been, "Did Mr. Parnell write the letter which was published in the Times?" Well, that question has been answered. We know, and everybody knows, that Mr. Parnell did not write that letter. Since that another question has arisen which has attracted and commanded equal interest, and that is, "Did Her Majesty's Attorney General know the character of Richard Pigott before he put him into the box?" Well, Sir, I think that this is a question which I have a right to ask, and the Attorney General will be the last man in the world to complain that I have afforded him an opportunity of answering it. I hope I have conveyed it in no offensive or disrespectful language. I have endeavoured to avoid doing so. Subject to what I have no doubt will be the satisfactory explanation which the Attorney General will give, I cannot help that there are many men in this House, and many more in the country, who hold the opinion that it is to be regretted and condemned that the Attorney General should ever have been connected with this case. I decline, however, to join in the imputations cast upon the Attorney General for the mean, contemptible, and disgraceful apology which was offered by the Times in Court to the hon. Member for Cork. I know that that did not proceed from the head or the heart of the Attorney General. That outrage upon good sense and good feeling must have been the handiwork of some pettifogging and cozening knave who, having endeavoured to inflict upon a man a mortal injury, had not the manliness to make a reparation corresponding to the offence. I acquit the Attorney General of any art or part in that miserable business. I believe he was the reluctant mouthpiece of a reparation, if possible, more discreditable than the offence. I am sure the Attorney General, if for nothing else, will thank me for affording him an opportunity in this House 563 —in this Assembly of Gentlemen—of making to his fellow-Member the representative for Cork and the Leader of the Irish people a reparation more adequate than that—a reparation worthy of Her Majesty's Attorney General and of himself.
§ *THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir RICHARD WEBSTER,) Isle of Wight
Mr. Courtney, the Committee have listened for upwards of an hour and a half to that which must be regarded as a grave indictment against my conduct, and against the conduct of those associated with me; and yet, if it were not for the duty I owe to those who have trusted me through good report and through ill report, I think I should be disposed to leave the charges brought by the right hon. Gentleman almost without a single word in reply. ["Oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway need not be afraid; I do not expect even courteous treatment from them. [Mr. T. M. HEALY:—Nor have you any right to it.] Another Irish MEMBER: You do not deserve it.] They will, however, hear from me a most distinct reply upon every single point that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned. The right hon. Gentleman began by stating that I should be glad and thankful to him for the opportunity of making a statement to the House. If the right hon. Gentleman had ventured to repeat in the House the charges he has made outside the House, I should have been glad of the opportunity of replying to him. I will admit, that though couched in courteous language, and I believe with every consideration for my feelings in the matter, he has brought across this Table very grave and serious charges against me in the latter part of his speech. But I must say this—that when a right hon. Gentleman in the position of him who has just sat down thinks fit to make charges in the most public manner, imputing to me conduct even worse than that which he has imputed to me tonight, I should, at least, have an opportunity, and I propose to avail myself of the opportunity, of denying and repudiating those charges, and of telling the exact facts with reference to the charges which the right hon. Gentleman has thought fit to make both inside and outside the House. I can accept none of the compliments which the right hon. 564 Gentleman has thought fit to pay me. If I were capable of the conduct he has last imputed to me, all I can say is that I should be a disgrace to the Bar of England, and I absolutely decline to conduct this discussion upon the basis suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, who tried to cover me with compliments in the earlier part of his speech, and then made insinuations against my conduct at the close of it. I believe the right hon. Gentleman wishes me to deal with the substance of the charges, and not to consider for a moment the expressions of friendship he has used towards me, or whether there is any motive for having made them. I must occupy some considerable time, and I believe there are many in this House who think I ought to do so. I shall not spare myself from making my explanation perfectly full and distinct; but I repudiate absolutely and entirely the position which has been thrust upon me, which has been made the basis of the argument of the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) when he says I have appeared in this Commission as the representative of Her Majesty's Government. I have appeared in this Commission, as I appeared in the case of "O'Donnell v. Walter," as the private counsel for the Times. Whether I was right or wrong in assuming that position is a question which, for the present purpose, is immaterial. I am free to admit—and I say it with perfect candour—that I can well imagine that after the considerable length of time this case has taken there may be a question as to whether or not, from a personal point of view, it was a prudent thing to do; but my conduct is to be judged in the position which I will prove I have assumed, and which I occupied from the beginning to the end—namely, that of private counsel, for the Times. I appeared, as the Attorney General is entitled to appear, upon instructions given him in any case in which he thinks fit to accept a retainer. It was necessary for the right hon. Gentleman to assume that the only matter to be discussed, either in "O'Donnell v. Walter" or in the case before the Commission, was the question of the genuineness of the facsimile letters. It was essential to his argument that he should assume that. For, as I will point out, when I come to the 565 gravamen of the charge, it is only by assuming that that was the only fact to be investigated that he could possibly support some of the very serious allegations he has thought fit to make against me. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as anybody that to a great extent my mouth upon every other part of this case is closed. He knows perfectly well that these charges, whether they are grave or slight, have to be examined. I think it was a little unfair—but of that I leave the House to judge—of the right hon. Gentleman to make such insinuations against me across the floor of this House; and I hope the House will pardon me if in repelling them, I do so with some warmth. Probably my speech last July, though it did put an end for the time to the charges brought against me, may have been delivered with such an effort to avoid any appearance of feeling that many thought I did not care about these charges; but I do not think anybody can expect me to deal with this matter without showing that I do feel them. Across the floor of this House the right hon. Gentleman said that, knowing I could not support the forged letter, knowing I could not make that good. I spent weeks and months—
If the hon. Member for Cavan cannot restrain himself, I shall have to invite him to retire.
§ *SIR R. WEBSTER
The right hon. Gentleman said that, knowing the letter could not be supported, I occupied weeks and months in piling up every item of prejudice in order that the character of the hon. Member for Cork might be discredited.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I only said that upon the hypothesis that the Attorney General knew the character of Pigott.
§ *SIR R. WEBSTER
The right hon. Gentleman must make no mistake, and I state it now in order that the House may have the exact facts. I knew of the letter of the 11th of November, which contains the most damaging statement of Pigott, about the middle of the month of December, and I will argue what was my position. The right hon. Gentleman was cheered by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, and their cheers showed that they understood that he charged me with having availed myself of my position to pile up every item 566 of prejudice—not to deal with the merits of the case, or to inquire into the issues which had to be tried—but to pile up prejudice in the hope of supporting a letter which I knew to be forged. That is the indictment which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby has levelled against me—one whom he says he regards as his friend, one whom he has known for a long time, and one who has at present the advantage of representing a profession of which the right hon. Gentleman was once a member. Let the House remember not by listening to my language, but to the language of the Chief Justice of England, what are the charges which are still sub judice, as to which my mouth is closed, as to which I cannot express a shadow of an opinion, because I am only counsel in the case. But when it is said I was piling up prejudice in order to support a forged letter, are there some on that Bench who will hold that opinion when they hear the words of the Chief Justice in regard to the charges which are sub judice? The Chief Justice said—They are accused frankly and plainly of abominable crime, not so much, perhaps, of having been guilty by their own hands, but of having lent themselves to a system which must necessarily be accompanied with crime, and of having personal knowledge of many of the crimes which accompany it. This is in substance what is charged against a number of persons whose names appear in these articles.There is no one listening to me who does not know that, grave as was the accusation in connection with the alleged facsimile letter of the 15th of May, 1882, equally grave, in so far as the bulk of the hon. Members below the Gangway are concerned, were some of the other charges which were brought; and yet, forsooth, the right hon. Gentleman, who is so desirous of disarming me by soft words and compliments, who apologizes in the course of his speech for venturing to put a question to me, although he knew perfectly well what the answer would be to that question, thinks fit to accuse me across the floor of this House of piling up items of prejudice without adducing facts with reference to a case which is still sub judice, in order to eke out a case which I knew to be false. Mr. Courtney, I leave to the judgment—not of hon. Members below the Gangway, but to any honourable man in this House—["Order!" and "Withdraw!" from the Home Rule Benches.]
Order, order! It is my duty to interrupt the hon. and learned Member. He is clearly out of order in discriminating between Members of this House.
§ *SIR R. WEBSTER
again rose, and was greeted with loud cries from the Home Rule Members of "Withdraw!"
I must call upon the hon. Member for South Mayo to retire. [Home Rule cries of "Don't retire! don't go!"]
Order, order! The hon. Member for South Mayo has been so grossly disorderly that, in fulfilment of the powers vested in me, I order him to retire.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
Mr. Courtney, I wish to ask a question upon a point of order. You have charged an hon. Member with disorderly conduct by interruption, and when that Member pledges his word to you and to the House that he never opened his lips, you are going to put the lie upon him before the House—["Order!"]—and, without investigation or opportunity to the hon. Member of making out his case, you hold him guilty of the charge he denies.
§ MR. KILBRIDE (Kerry, S.)
I was sitting beside the hon. Member for South Mayo, and I can positively assure you, Mr. Courtney, that he never opened his lips.
I accept the disclaimer. I think the hon. Member will not disclaim having repeatedly interrupted in a very loud voice, and I warn him not to do so again.
§ MR. J. F. O'BRIEN
I must disclaim it. You have put upon me a charge of disorder which you are perfectly unjustified in making.
Order, order! I have accepted the hon. Member's disclaimer in respect of this specific interruption. But does the hon. Member disclaim having interrupted before?
§ MR. J. F. O'BRIEN
In withdrawing the charge against me, Sir, you repeated it again, and I say you have acted unjustly in doing so.
I think the hon. Member can scarcely have understood me. I accepted his dislaimer of having interrupted in a disorderly manner in this case. I am, however, under the impression, having observed him frequently during this debate, that he has interrupted it on various occasions in a disorderly manner. If he makes a disclaimer of these interruptions, I shall accept that disclaimer also. But I did not understand that at present the hon. Member has disclaimed previous interruptions.
§ MR. J. F. O'BRIEN
I can assure you that I have not committed any interruption whatever beyond ordinary cheering. [Cries of "Withdraw, Mr. Courtney."]
SIR R. WEBSTER, resuming his-speech
I unconditionally withdraw those words in which I unintentionally made a distinction between Members sitting on one side and on the other. I ask you kindly to allow me to point out that I was misunderstood. I was merely mentioning the fact that my observations would not meet with the concurrence of some hon. Members opposite. But I ventured to appeal to hon. Members sitting in other parts of the House whether the right hon. Member for Derby, in making that charge, justified it by one single fact? Did he adduce one single fact in support of the statement that I had availed myself of the opportunity of piling up mountains of prejudice in order to eke out a case which I knew 569 must fail? He asks me whether or not I advised the Government at any stage since the trial of "O'Donnell v. Walter." If he asks a general question, whether I have given advice to the Government upon any point, I absolutely decline to answer, and no one knows better than the right hon. Gentleman that I could not answer that question. But if the right hon. Gentleman means to repeat in this House the charge which he made upon the platform, and which I understand to be the gravamen of the attack which he makes upon me, I have no hesitation in answering him. He stated at Derby, on the 27th February, that I had vouched the authenticity of the letters to the Government, and that if I had not vouched the authenticity of these letters there would have been no Commission at all. I suppose that is the charge which the right hon. Gentleman means to make to-night. For that charge there is not the slightest foundation.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
What I meant by that was this. I read the hon. and learned Gentleman's statement in the House of Commons, and the passage in his speech in "O'Donnell v. Walter" which is actually part of the indictment, and I explained that this was what was offered, and what I understood to be a voucher for the truth of the evidence.
§ *SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
The right hon. Gentleman's memory misleads him. He gave no explanation of any sort or kind. I have the note of the speech before. He me asserted that I had vouched the authenticity of the letters to the Government, and that if I had not vouched it there would have been no Commission. The right hon. Gentleman says so now.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER
Now, for that accusation or charge there is not a shadow of foundation. If the right hon. Gentleman had not forgotten every one of those traditions of which he said so much, and with respect to which he has suggested that I have disgraced my position as Attorney General, all I can say is that he knows as well as anybody that no counsel, whether he represents the Government or a private client, has any right to vouch his private opinion with regard to what he is going to prove in evidence. If he did so, he 570 would be a disgrace to the profession. And if the right hon. Gentleman speaks again, I challenge him to deny that if I had vouched the truth of the evidence in the sense which he meant his hearers at Derby to understand I should have been guilty of grave misconduct, which would have justified the profession in expressing an opinion of me very different from what, I believe, most of them hold at present. Anybody with the most elementary knowledge of the position of English counsel would know that what I meant was that I meant to bring evidence in support of my statements. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to repeat across the floor of this House the charge that I induced Her Majesty's Government to pass the Bill for the Special Commission by vouching for the authenticity of the letters and that I pledged my own personal belief, then all I have to say is that there is not the slightest foundation for the statement. He says that he will accept my repudiation, but I wish distinctly to put the matter right. Since the time that I have been counsel in the case of "O'Donnell v. Walter" no single word has escaped my lips as expressing my own personal opinion or belief on any single issue arising in the case. Let us deal with the next matter. The right hon. Gentleman asks me whether I asked the assent of the Government to my being employed. Does he forget what actually happened in this House? I was employed in the case of "O'Donnell v. Walter," and when it was announced that I was employed, Mr. O'Donnell wrote a letter to the First Lord of the Treasury to ask whether my right hon. Friend considered it right that I should be retained. A similar question was asked in the House, and the First Lord of the Treasury replied that the Government had no right to interfere. Let us see what is the next allegation. It is put in the shape of a question, whether, in whatever capacity I acted, I ought not personally to satisfy myself to my own belief of the accuracy of the statements which were going to be produced in evidence by witnesses? A more monstrous proposition has never been suggested by anybody who knows the position of counsel in England. I say that that is a monstrous proposition, and would never be suggested by anybody 571 who knows anything of the position of counsel at the English Bar. There is not a barrister who has practised at Quarter Sessions six months or a magistrate in this House who does not know perfectly well that not only does counsel not so satisfy himself, but if he were to endeavour to satisfy himself of the credibility of the witnesses except by the papers before him, he would be guilty of gross irregularity. If the right hon. Gentleman, at the time he practised with great success in the Golden Gallery upstairs, had been charged by any counsel with having failed to satisfy himself of the truth of the story which a witness was going to tell him he would have repudiated the obligation with the greatest indignation.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I took great care to draw a very broad distinction between the conduct of civil cases and criminal prosecutions.
§ SIR R. WEBSTER
There is no such distinction. We are not talking of matters which we do not understand; we are not talking of matters which are not well understood by many Members of this House. I say there is no distinction between the duties of counsel, except this—that counsel ought to make a perfectly full disclosure to the Court of everything which has been communicated to him. But that is not the charge which the right hon. Gentleman really brought against me. Has he forgotten what he said in the debate two nights ago, and what he also said at Derby? Let me digress for a moment to remind the House of the mode of warfare of the right hon. Gentleman. On public platforms—carried away, I hope, by the excitement of the moment—he makes charges of a more direct and much graver character than those he makes in this House, when he wants to make a charge and when he hopes it will go into a certain section of the Press, which is only too glad to turn suggestions into charges. Those who have studied the Press during the last two or three weeks know perfectly well what has happened. What does the right hon. Gentleman do? He gets up in this House and makes his charge in the form of a question. I think I should like, if I were entitled to cross-examine the right hon. Gentleman, to ask him where he got the authority for some of the suggestions which, in the form of questions, were 572 thrown across the floor of the House? Let me give the Committee one instance; and I will ask the Committee to consider what just right I have to complain of the insinuations? The right hon. Gentleman referred the night before last to communications made by officials in order to obtain information of certain facts, and he quoted, I hope and believe by inadvertence, an answer of mine, and stated that every communication by Mr. Soames to officials was made at my request. I corrected him at the time. What did he go on to ask? "Did Pigott see Daly on the suggestion of the Attorney General? Now we know the character of the man Pigott." [Home Rule cheers.] The more you cheer that reference to the character of Pigott, the more grossly unjust is the insinuation made by the right hon. Gentleman. What did he mean when, two nights ago, he put this question to me, "Did Pigott see Daly at the suggestion of the Attorney General?" Has he any warrant for that suggestion? Has any libeller or anonymous correspondent, by letter or by telegram, given him any justification for the suggestion that I had said a single word about Pigott seeing Daly? I cannot imagine a much graver charge can be made against me than that I have gone out of my way as counsel to endeavour to obtain evidence from Daly, and that I have employed an agent who, according to the right hon. Gentleman, to my knowledge was infamous, in order to pay a visit to this man in prison. I say this—that no gentleman, be he right honourable or honourable, has the right to make a charge in the shape of a question, and to insinuate an accusation in the shape of a question, and not be able to say he had no warrant for so doing. Why, what did he say in the next breath? He turned round to hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, always ready to cheer him, and asked—Why did Pigott go to Daly? He went for the purpose of getting Daly to swear away the character of the hon. Member for Cork.If hon. Members below the Gangway cheer that suggestion, how disgraceful is the insinuation made against me by the right hon. Gentleman that I employed Pigott to see Daly for the purpose of inducing him to be guilty of such infamous conduct. I will repeat fully the denial I have already made in 573 the House with reference to this matter; I never heard of Pigott's visit to Daly, or anything connected with it, till I heard it mentioned across the floor of this House, to my surprise. I apologize to the Committee for the length of my remarks, but it shall not be said I have wittingly passed by one of the accusations made by the right hon. Gentleman. He has now stated that I have been guilty of misconduct of a somewhat gross character, or that I took the accused by surprise and so conducted this case as to have been guilty of such conduct as no barrister, no Attorney General, ought to be guilty of without meeting with the censure of this House. Has he read the proceedings before the Commission? Has he followed them? And, if so, does he not know that what he says is as direct an attack upon the Court as can be made? What has happened in this case? The persons charged have been represented by counsel as able as any practising at the Bar. Very early in the case the question of giving the names of witnesses arose, and I stated—for reasons that I am prepared to justify—that, having regard to my instructions as to the intimidation practised upon witnesses, I should decline to give the names. The Committee will scarcely believe from what has happened that that position taken up by me in the ordinary way as counsel was accepted by the Court as being a perfectly proper proceeding, and in order to prevent any injustice being done the Court told the counsel for the accused that if on any occasion they desired it, the witnesses should be detained, and that the cross-examination should be postponed. In several instances that was done; and in more cases than one time has been given for inquiries to be made. This charge, however, is not made against me really; I am afraid it is made in order to discredit the character of the tribunal; at any rate I can scarcely conceive of any other motive. I assert that what I have done in this matter has been done in the light of day, with the sanction of the Commission, and subject to any complaint which the learned counsel for the accused might make against me. The House will judge whether I have given a sufficient answer to the charge which the right hon. Gentleman made against me. 574 The next matter which the right hon. Gentleman insinuated rather than stated was that I had something to do with the solicitors' clerks going into gaols and swearing prisoners. I pass no censure on persons who had to do with getting up the case. It must be remembered that every one of these matters can be investigated. The question of swearing witnesses came up in connection with that wretched man Pigott, and the President of the Commission said he could understand that additional solemnity would attach to a statement by the witness if it were vouched by an oath. The charge made against me is that I had something to do with it; but I had no more to do with it than the right hon. Gentleman himself. The statements were produced in writing, and were subject to the cross-examination of witnesses, as to the manner in which they had been obtained. If this charge is thought to require any denial from me, I give it an absolute denial, and I shall be much surprised if any hon. Member again suggests that in this respect there was anything reprehensible in my conduct. I have dealt with the general charges brought against me, except the very grave one—that I have been guilty of conduct which, as stated in another place, has disgraced the Bar of England, such as was never witnessed in a Court of Justice before, when he said that, although I knew Pigott was a witness not entitled to credit, I subsequently called him as a witness.
§ *SIR R. WEBSTER
I do not understand what is meant by a witness of truth; every witness is primâ facie a witness of truth. I understand making an absolute and full disclosure of the evidence in the possession of counsel. This may be a matter on which the House may expect to hear from me an explanation of great fulness; and, as I take a view absolutely different from that of the right hon. Gentleman, I should like the House to understand the position in which I stand. If I had not put Pigott into the box after the statement I had made on behalf of my clients, I should have been guilty of contemptible conduct. No counsel standing in my position—and here I speak not only for myself, but also for these five gentlemen 575 associated with me, two of them distinguished Members of the Irish Bar—no counsel in my position or in theirs would be worthy to take a brief in a case if, having stated he would make a full disclosure, he hesitated to put a witness into the box simply because that witness, when he was cross-examined, might possibly not prove to be as respectable a man as was at first supposed. Let us have no beating about the bush in this matter. This language was used at Ealing—"The Attorney General knew that that infamous charge was one which could not be supported." If the right hon. Gentleman is not accurately reported—
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I never said so. The report of my speech at Ealing, as the Attorney General knows, was a very short one, and, I have no doubt, incorrect. I have never said, publicly or privately, of the Attorney General that I blamed him in this matter, except on the hypothesis that he knew and believed Pigott not to be a witness of truth when he put him in the witness-box.
§ *SIR R. WEBSTER
I accept, of course, the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that he was incorrectly reported; but it is a little unfortunate for the individual who is now addressing the Committee that this disclaimer of a most distinct charge should not have come before to-night. What is the language of the right hon. Gentleman now? His only charge is that, if I knew and believed Pigott was a man of infamous character, I should not have put him in the box. And then he goes on, in his speech, to say that he hopes I did not know of the letter of the 15th of November, because, if I did know of that letter, I must have known that Pigott was a man of infamous character; and, if I knew Pigott to have been a man of infamous character from that letter, then my conduct was a discredit and a disgrace because I did put him in the box. I do not believe the Committee will think I have stated the right hon. Gentleman's accusations unfairly now. I told the Committee a few minutes ago that I knew of that letter about the middle of December, not having had it furnished to me before because the pressure of other work was such that I had not devoted my par- 576 ticular attention to that part of the case until after the middle of December. Let the Committee just understand exactly what was the real state of facts with respect to the matter. The right hon. Gentleman has thought fit to assume that before Pigott was put into the box he had admitted that the allegation that the letters were genuine was one which could not be supported—that he had admitted that he was a man of infamous character, and that for that reason I knew from the information conveyed to me that the charge was unfounded. Mr. Courtney, there is not one shadow of a foundation for any one of those statements. The Committee will understand—and I ask them to follow each date—that when I opened the case before the Commission I stated that I would undertake to put into the box every witness, so far as I could, who had anything to do with the production of the letters, and if I had retreated from that statement the hon. Member for Cork and hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway could have brought a most serious charge against me. On the 19th of October—the Commission beginning, I think, on the 22nd—Pigott made a statement which will be found set out verbatim in the proceedings, page 3,252, that all the letters were genuine. I am not going to refer to the details, but he stated distinctly that all the letters were genuine. I never heard Pigott's name or Houston's name in connection with those letters until that statement was shown to me by Mr. Soames on the Monday following the 19th of October. The right hon. Gentleman will please remember this has been already proved an oath—I am not making any fresh statement at all—this was sworn in the box by Mr. Soames, who said that he remembered the statement being brought to me, because certain blue pencil marks on the statement were mine, and those were placed there when he took the statement across to me on the Monday after Pigott had made it. On the 7th of November Pigott made a statutory declaration upon oath, in which he repeated that all the letters were genuine. Then he made the statement—I must read the exact language—in a letter which it is supposed ought to have justified me in keeping Pigott out of the box. I will ask the Committee just to follow me, because this is the statement which the right hon. Gentle 577 man says is an admission by Pigott that he was an infamous witness, and ought not to be put in the box. Pigott said in his letter—In such circumstances, if I have to appear—that is, the Times compels me to come forward—I can only repeat that I will do so unwillingly, and with the feeling strong within me that I have been unfairly dealt with.Mind, the Times had the written statement signed by him, and the sworn statement that the letters were genuine.And I would also again warn them of the grave consequences to myself which I have already indicated to you that are certain to follow my appearance in the witness-box. But, above and before all, I would impress upon them that it is my settled conviction that, should I have to appear, the cross-examination would most certainly tend to discredit my evidence in chief.[Cheers.] It is all very well to cheer; but is there any barrister in this House who would venture to say that, having pledged the word of his client to the tribunal that he would produce the witness, he would be justified in saying he would not call him, because the man himself had said his evidence might be discredited? But will the Committee just follow me as to what the real statement was?It must of necessity do so, as I feel utterly unable, from defect of memory and other causes, to refute satisfactorily the many allegations founded on remote events of my career as a National journalist that are now certain to be brought up in judgment against me.What has Pigott's career as a National journalist to do with the matter? It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to toss his head in disdain. He says he knew more about Pigott than I did. I think it is very likely indeed. But what has the career of Pigott as a National journalist to do with the fact I desired to call him for? I say again—I apologize for repeating it—that when the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that that is an admission that Pigott was an infamous witness, that statement is so absurd that the Committee ought to have the matter clearly before it. If, Pigott having sworn to a statement that these letter were genuine, I had declined to put him in the box because I was afraid of his cross-examination, I should be utterly undeserving of ever being trusted by either a private or public client with a brief.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
That was not the point I took. I said in a criminal prosecution, when a prosecutor produces a witness whom he has reason to believe to be a tainted witness, he ought to inform the Court and the accused. I stated at the time that that was done in the case of an informer.
§ *SIR R. WEBSTER
That is not the gravamen of the charge against me, but if it is, it will recoil on the right hon. Gentleman in a few moments. The charge made on public platforms, and in this House, against me is this. It was said to-night, a few moments ago, in my hearing, that Pigott had admitted that he was an infamous witness, and, knowing that, I did not withdraw the charge, but went on examining him. It is alleged that, knowing and believing him to be an infamous witness, by this letter, I still vouched for his truth. That was the charge laid against me. It is not a question of misleading the Court. But when the right hon. Gentleman throws his mud about, hoping that some of it will stick, and that what does not stick will be represented in certain sections of the National Press as sticking, I think he should be a little more careful of his facts. Now, will the Committee listen to this statement of simple dates? I have told the House that I knew of this letter in the middle of December. Before Pigott went into the box—five days before—I put that letter into the hands of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Hackney. So if it was desirable that the other side should know—if they ought to have known—that that man's character was discredited, I myself had given them that information. [Cheers and cries of "Withdraw."] Hon. Members who have cheered me do not want the charges withdrawn. They have been refuted by evidence which cannot be disputed. In the course of Mr. Soames's evidence, which was given some days before the 20th of February, the letter was called for, and I produced it, and handed it to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, before Pigott went into the box, on February 20th. It appears on page 3,044.
§ *SIR R. WEBSTER
The right hon. Gentleman says two months afterwards. The accusation made against me a 579 moment ago was that I did not let the other side know that Pigott was a tainted witness. It was not a question when I found it out, but that I called him, without letting the other side know. Will the Committee believe that, having handed the letter to my hon. and learned Friend who was conducting the case against me, wishing it to be read, he asked that it might not be read until Pigott went into the box! [Sir W. HARCOURT: That is not the point.] I hear the right hon. Gentleman say I do not appreciate the charge. The first charge made against me was that though I knew Pigott to be an infamous witness I put him into the box. Hon. Members must pardon me. I have shown by the letter itself that there is no statement approaching the assertion that he was an infamous witness. There is nothing like it. The only suggestion was that the early events of his career as a Nationalist journalist might do him harm. Then the right hon. Gentleman says I put him into the box without letting the other side know he was an infamous witness, and then, when I have shown that I had given the same materials as I had on this particular point to the other side the right hon. Gentleman says I do not appreciate the charge. I do not know whether I appreciate the charge, but I think the Committee appreciates the charge, and I hope there are some Members of the House who appreciate my statement. I am entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman—it is only common justice to me—that he should not dispute my statement of facts, and if he believes I am not accurate, I am perfectly prepared to give him chapter and verse for every statement I have made. I cannot close the observations I have to make to-night on this matter without expressing my surprise—I had almost said my contempt, but I will say my surprise—that anybody could make a charge against a man who is not in this House, and cannot answer in this House, such as has been made by the right hon. Gentleman against Mr. Soames. I am not speaking as counsel for Mr. Soames; but I do ask those who say they love justice in this country just to remember the position of Mr. Soames. He is not in this House, and cannot answer for himself. [An hon. MEMBER: He is in the gallery.] Mr. 580 Soames has been four or five times in the box, and he has expressed his willingness to give every information no oath as to the way in which the evidence was obtained, and he did state voluntarily that he would prove the whole story as to his connection with Pigott and Houston, and he submitted himself for cross-examination. An hon. Gentleman below the Gangway the other night thought fit to say—we can understand his motive—that he would not believe Mr. Soames upon his oath. That was a specimen of the delicate and refined language to which we have been accustomed in this matter. But the right hon. Gentleman to-night, whose position is one of more authority, but not of more responsibility, says that Mr. Soames is a gentleman who ought to be struck off the rolls.
§ *SIR R. WEBSTER
The right hon. Gentleman cannot get out of the dilemma in that way. He tried to suggest, before I got up, that in order to save my own skin I would say that I never knew of the letter before I put Pigott into the box, and then he would be able to make an accusation with great foundation against the solicitor for the Times.Why, the gravamen of the charge is that Mr. Soames and I, and everybody else connected with the matter, knew that Pigott was a man of infamous character, and vouched him as the witness of truth. [An hon. MEMBER: "Everybody knew."] Everybody knew says an hon. Member below the Gangway. Then I suppose the hon. Member for Northampton knew it. That, Mr. Courtney, may possibly account for certain negotiations connected with the case. I must apologize to the Committee for detaining it, but I referred to insinuations made upon absolutely no foundation by the right hon. Gentleman—insinuations which I really believe in his calmer moments he will regret that he has made. Now, what is the other insinuation he has made against me tonight, unwarranted, and without a shadow of foundation? I will give my answer to him in a moment. He thought fit to ask me this question across the floor of the House, nearly two years after the facsimile letter had appeared, for the purpose, I suppose, of embarassing me by endeavouring to 581 suggest that I was a party to some conspiracy about which we have heard so much, but of which at present we do not see much sign of proof. The right hon. Gentleman went out of his way to ask across the floor of this House whether I knew of the facsimile letter before it was published—whether I was consulted by the Times before it was published. Did he do that out of a desire that I should clear my character? Was he so burning with anxiety that I should clear myself from an accusation which ought never to have been made when he put that question? The Committee will not believe for a single instant that was the object. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me now who it is that suggested to him that I had seen this letter before it was published. I put this dilemma to him—either he had warrant for that and dared not give the name, or else he evolved it out of his inner consciousness for the purpose of endeavouring to suggest the accusation against me. What bearing has it on my conduct in the Commission, or what bearing has it on my conduct in "O'Donnell v. Walter?"
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Will the Attorney General allow me? He is expressing a strong feeling and says I suggested an accusation against him in this matter. Why was the Times newspaper not to consult counsel before they took such a serious step as that of publishing that letter? I think if they did not, they acted even more rashly than I believe them to have done; and why should they not have consulted the Attorney General?
§ *SIR R. WEBSTER
Mr. Courtney, we have heard the explanation—a very convenient explanation, after I have made the suggestion. Will the right hon. Gentleman deny—I will not ask him to interrupt me though I put it interrogatively—that when that question was put across the floor of the House he meant to insinuate that I had vouched for the Times that these letters were genuine? I have made the statement before, and I will be allowed to make the statement again—and the right hon. Gentleman has been kind enough to say that notwithstanding the insinuations he still thinks that my word is entitled to some credit—that I never saw the facsimile letter that appeared in the Times or had anything to do with it; I never saw any of the other letters until I was shown them as counselin "O'Donnell 582 v. Walter," and I never had anything to do, directly or indirectly, with those letters except in conducting the case of "O'Donnell v. Walter" and in conducting the case before the Commission. That statement is sufficiently explicit—it is sufficiently distinct, and I trust and hope that the next time the right hon. Gentleman thinks fit to speak of me upon public platforms—though he may with pleasure, with my full consent use strong language: it does not hurt and does not injure me one bit—still I hope he will have the grace to suggest that some of the charges he had brought forward, some of the insinuations he has made, are without foundation. I do not think that I have missed any of the accusations brought against me by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, except, perhaps, the last. I reserve it until I complete my statement upon the subject—to the closing observations I desire to make. Perhaps I ought to have noticed a somewhat curious comparison between my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney and myself, not to complain of the comparison made on the public platform, as I am quite willing to take it as fair adulation on the one side and fair criticism upon the other. But we are told that the hon. and learned Member for Hackney refused the brief because he was an Irishman. I do not think my hon. and learned Friend will be very grateful for the compliments showered upon him by the right hon. Gentleman to-night: however, that part of the subject is not of sufficient importance to justify me in detaining the Committee. But, to wind up, this was the statement made against me:—I wish to give the Attorney General an opportunity of saying that he had nothing to do with the disgraceful apology of the Times, that it was an outrage on good sense and good feeling, and it was the work of a pettifogging and cozening knave.Mr. Courtney, the pettifogging and cozening knave who is responsible for that apology stands before this House now. The pettifogging and cozening knave who wrote out that apology is the humble individual who has been making this statement, and if he had to do it again he would couch it as nearly as possible in the same words, for he believes that he went to the extremity of his duty, that if he erred at all he erred in acting upon 583 a particular view of the ease, and that the last Member who would complain of him in his calmer moments would be the hon. Member for Cork. But be that as it may—the right hon. Gentleman knew perfectly well who the author was—do not let the right hon. Gentleman think that I am going to be frightened by the very elegant terms of abuse with which he has thought fit to bespatter persons who had to faithfully discharge a difficult and painful duty according to their belief—according to their sense of honour, and of what was due to their client's position. Do not let him think that the use of any such vulgar abuse would make me shrink for one moment from acknowledging in this House, or anywhere else, the part I have taken, and of which I am not ashamed. No, Sir; that is not the spirit which has actuated Members of that noble profession of which I am for the moment the humble representative. Whether they act wisely or whether they act unwisely, whether they do their duty to their clients or go beyond that duty, they are not in the habit of shielding themselves by denying their responsibility, but they are prepared to accept it to the full, conscious that they are simply performing their duty. To deny that responsibility would be conduct of which no honest man would be guilty. I do not know whether I can with any advantage occupy the time of the Committee longer. I will give the right hon. Gentleman one assurance. He said in the beginning of his speech that I must be glad of this opportunity, because for a number of weeks there had been paragraphs in the papers reflecting most gravely upon my conduct and my position. I think I should like to have asked him, if I was allowed to cross-examine him, who was the principal author of those charges? How many of them are merely re-echoes, in less polished but scarcely more offensive language than that used by the right hon. Gentleman at Derby and elsewhere? But I agree that the columns of United Ireland, the Freeman's Journal—and I am afraid I must say the Star—availed themselves of the opportunity of the lead given by the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that I was to be disbarred, and the Benchers ought to take me into consideration, that the Government ought at once to dismiss me to the 584 ranks, and the House of Commons ought to hound me out of the place as a pettifogging and cozening knave. I do not think that even the Star arrived at that climax of expression. I think it was reserved for the right hon. Gentleman. I think that my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary will be almost jealous of me to-night, because some expressions have been used concerning me even more violent than have appeared in those papers with regard to him. I will give the right hon. Gentleman opposite this assurance, and the hon. Member below the Gangway who has something to do with one of these newspapers, that the charges have not occasioned me one single moment's anxiety, one single sleepless moment, or any other feeling except pity for the persons who are so capable of prostituting a position of political power for the purpose of bespattering one who offends them, but who was endeavouring, under somewhat difficult and trying circumstances, to do his duty, both as a member of the Bar and a Member of the House of Commons. But, Mr. Courtney, I will only say this in conclusion—that if the charges that are going to be brought against me on some future day are no worse than the charges which have been brought against me even on the public platform, and in the House of Commons, by the right hon. Gentleman this evening, I believe that what I have gone through in the course of the last four or five months, and the part which I have played, will not be by any means the least creditable part of my career.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
Mr. Courtney, I think I can say why it is that the hon. and learned Gentleman has never been called a pettyfogging and cozening knave, and that is because until we had his own acknowledgment to-day no one thought him responsible for the apology that was offered to my hon. Friend the Member for Cork. Whether the hon. and learned Gentleman will escape from that title in future after what he has said is more than I can answer for. I must say I watched the Attorney General in the course of the trial before the Commissioners for many days and never appreciated his histrionic powers as I did to-night. I ventured to ask how he looked when Pigott was giving his 585 evidence, and one of his learned colleagues said he looked holier than ever. The worse the case the more sanctimonious the right hon. Gentleman looked, and the graver the offence the more pious his appearance. Of all the things he has done in the course of the Commission Inquiry I do not know any thing half so clever or half so dexterous as giving the letter of Pigott to the Member for South Hackney (Sir C. Russell) just five days before Pigott was called The right hon. Gentleman was cognizant of the letter for two months and a half before, and during the whole of this period he never gave the smallest hint to the counsel for the defence, or to the public or the Press, of the existence of any such letter. Five days before Pigott was called his conscience awoke, and he gave the letter to the counsel for the defence. I will tell him and the Committee why he gave up the letter. He gave it because he could not avoid it. He did not give it from a sense of honour or fair play, but he gave it under the hard pressure of necessity and exposure. Why had not the right hon. Gentleman the candour to tell the Committee that the existence of the letter had been sworn to by one of his own witnesses when he gave it to the Member for South Hackney? I will sit down if the right hon. Gentleman can controvert my statement that the letter was not given to Sir C. Russell until after its existence had been sworn to in open court.
§ *SIR R. WEBSTER
Mr. Soames had, long before, in his evidence in chief, offered to produce every single scrap of writing that had passed between him and Mr. Pigott, and before one single question had been asked him by Sir C. Russell.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
That was not my point, and the hon. Gentleman is not so stupid as not to see it is not. My point is that the surrender of that letter, which the right hon. Gentleman gives as a proof of his sense of chivalry and honour, did not take place till the existence of the letter had been proved and revealed in open court, and until Sir C. Russell had called for it. And yet when I have thus exposed the real reason of the chivalry, honour, and fair play of the right hon. Gentleman, notwithstanding the exposure, he is looking as sanctimonious as ever. 586 I think if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby had done nothing but elicit from the lips of the Attorney General the two confessions—first, as to the authorship of the miserable apology, and, secondly, as to his knowledge of the existence of Pigott's letter in December—the debate would be fully justified, also the main charges brought against the hon. and learned Gentleman. The hon. and learned Gentleman saw in the middle of December this letter of Pigott, and yet he said he did not know that Pigott was infamous, and he had the face to tell us that the letter of Pigott did not acknowledge his infamy. Pigott wrote saying that he feared if he were placed in the box his political antecedents were such that his evidence would be broken down on cross-examination. There is another letter in which Pigott said—I am bound to again warn them that my testimony will be so sensibly weakened in cross-examination as to seriously injure, instead of serving, their case.What did Pigott do? He called attention to the fact that his career as a Nationalist journalist might be raked up. "What had I to do with that?" says the Attorney General, "and what had that to do with the facsimile letter?"—for he still calls it the facsimile letter, and refrains from using honourable and manly words when dealing with this foul and false charge. The "alleged facsimile letter," is his delicate phraseology for a thoroughly exposed, wicked, and malignant forgery. I will ask the Attorney General before this debate closes to have the manliness to stand up in his place and declare, without limitation and without circumlocution, that he now confesses that each and every one of the letters attributed to my hon. Friend by the Times, and supplied to them by Pigott, was a forgery, in order that the Prime Minister may be prevented from taking advantage of the lame apology—the intentionally lame apology—of the Attorney General, to give a new life to these wicked and horrible charges. What had Pigott's career as a Nationalist journalist to do with the letters? It had this to do with them. During that career he had been convicted in the public Press of Ireland of having committed the same offence. Take the notorious letter to Mr. Egan. Pigott 587 wrote to Egan saying he had a certain document of a damaging character. He did not quite believe it himself, he said, but he was offered £500 to publish it, and he was so tempted by this offer that he was afraid he would have to publish the document, though he believed it to be false, and damaging to the Land League. This correspondence was published in the Freeman's Journal, and it exposed Pigott to the world as a blackmailer, a begging letter writer, and a forger. The forgeries of the Times and the forgeries with which Pigott threatened Egan were practically the same kind of trick, and yet the hon. and learned Gentleman, with his sanctimonious air, asked the House what had the antecedents of an Irish Nationalist journalist, a forger, and a blackmailer to do with the case of the forged letters in the Times? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby would repudiate having cast any doubt on the justice of the Special Commission, but the Attorney General has himself cast an undeserved stigma on that tribunal. The Attorney General has sought to make the tribunal responsible for his own conduct, but which the Commission most emphatically condenmed. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman deny that the Court has been constantly fretting at his conduct of the case? Does he deny that the President asked him to advance with his case, that he over and over again signified that the hon. and learned Gentleman was very slow in coming to the point? He has sought also to make the President responsible for the withholding of the names of the witnesses. Can the hon. and learned Gentleman say that the President told him to withhold the information? The hon. and learned Member for Hackney protested constantly against the manner in which the Attorney General conducted his case, but the President said he could not interfere with the hon. and learned Gentleman in the matter. Then as to the information given to the defence. For two months the Attorney General allowed this charge to hang over the head of the hon. Member for Cork. Did the hon. and learned Gentleman believe the letters to be genuine; did he know them to be forgeries? Any one who took the trouble to inquire into the character of the blackmailer Pigott 588 years before, and could still believe the Times letters genuine, must have been either very innocent or most dishonest. I charge the Attorney General with postponing the case of the letters. I watched the hon. and learned Gentleman very closely. Whenever there was a reference to the letters in Court an air of attention and expectation immediately took possession of every one present, there being a desire to get at the gravamen of the case. No one cared about the ancient history which was well known to the Tory Government when they were the allies of my hon. Friend the Member for Cork, and when, through Lord Carnarvon, they were ready to hand over an Irish Parliament to him. On those occasions the Attorney General usually said that "he might be able to produce the letters next week," that "he would not enter into any engagement," but that "if he could produce them he would." The fact is that the Attorney General shirked bringing up the letters as long as he could; he did not bring them up one moment sooner than he was forced to do. Why? Because he did not believe in them. He has been convicted by his own conduct of treating my hon. Friend most unfairly, by allowing to hang over his head for months a charge of sympathy with murder long after it was known that that charge was a foul, vile, and discreditable calumny. What would have been the manly course for the hon. and learned Gentleman to have adopted? Why, he must have known or suspected that Pigott was a perjurer and forger, and he should have got up in Court, and said, "Since we have brought this charge against the hon. Member facts have come to our knowledge that make us now suspect that it is a vile and wicked invention." If the hon. and learned Gentleman had been engaged in a private case in which his vision was not obscured by professional considerations and political passion, I am sure he would have been the first to accept the canon hitherto accepted by all English gentlemen, that when one finds he has misrepresented another the apology he offers is in proportion to the offence he gave. The Attorney General's withdrawal of the charge should have come at the very first moment he was doubtful of its justice. This would have been the course taken by a man of honour, and I deny that there is one code of 589 private honour and another code of professional honour. How, then, does the Attorney General explain the delay of months which took place, when he must have known the charges indicated by the letters were false? He says he was bound to put Pigott in the box. Yes; but he was also bound to have done so with a statement that he did not believe his evidence. But the hon. and learned Gentleman did not give the Court the smallest intimation that he did not accept every word of his testimony as gospel truth. He speaks of the five days' notice he gave, but at the same time he has not even alluded to the fact that he tried to put the experts into the box before Pigott was called; and not only did he try to put the experts into the box, but he actually did get one of them into the box, and it was only owing to an untoward circumstance in connection with one of his witnesses, and that in obedience to the pressure of the Court, which he resisted as long as he could, that he was compelled to go to the case of Pigott, and made to desist from still further bolstering this fabric of lies; and this is the chivalrous and generous Gentleman who absolutely went out of his way in the almost feverish eagerness of his desire to be fair to the defendants—this is the chivalrous and generous Gentleman who had to be almost kicked into going into the case about the letters. I will say nothing about Mr. Soames. I do not care a pin about Mr. Soames. If the Times newspaper retains his services as its solicitor it will never see another centenary, even if he lives to be as old as Methuselah. The hon. and learned Gentleman skipped very lightly over what I think the most serious part of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby's case—namely, his relation as Attorney General and also as a Member of the Government to the whole business. The Attorney General reminds me of a character in The Mikado, and ought to be called "Pooh-bah." Pooh-bah occupied several positions, for he was not only First Lord of the Treasury, but also Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord High Chamberlain, and I am not sure whether he was not likewise Secretary for the Colonies, and thus he could make application as Pooh-bah to the Chancellor of the Exchequer as Lord High Chamberlain, while as 590 Lord High Chamberlain he could make application as Pooh-bah to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In the same way we never seem to know when the the hon. and learned Gentleman is counsel for the Times, or when he resumes his character as Attorney General. Now, I am about to put a very plain question to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I will ask him, did he frame the reference to the tribunal which was to try the case in which he acted as counsel? Had he any part in framing the terms of the reference to the tribunal by which his own client was to be tried?
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
None whatever? Did he not attend when a Cabinet Council was about to take place at which the Commission Bill was to be considered?
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
Then I am sorry to say that the Tory organs are almost as inaccurate as the Attorney General. But I would ask him, did he never see the Bill before it was introduced to this House? Ah! what a blessing cross-examination is—
§ *SIR R. WEBSTER
I beg pardon. The hon. Gentleman may think the observation very clever, but I would remind him that I stated to the House last Session that I had seen the Bill before it was introduced, but that I had nothing to do with its preparation.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
The hon. and learned Gentleman says he saw the Bill; let me ask him, did any of the counsel for the defendants in the coming inquiry see the Bill? Nay, I will press the point a little further. Why did the Attorney General see the Bill? because honour and fair play ought to have kept that Bill as secret from the hon. and learned Gentleman as from anyone in the world. I wonder if the old friend of the First Lord of the Treasury also saw the Bill. Was my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), who was to be tried on a charge of participation in murder shown the Bill? Was the Bill shown to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Sir C. Russell)? Let the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General explain it as he will, I denounce it as a part of the foul parti- 591 zanship of the Government that they allowed the chief counsel for one of the parties in this great State inquiry to see the terms of a Bill which was to establish a tribunal before which the parties were to appear, and offered no such facility to those who represented the other side. I would ask the hon. and learned Gentleman, who was it that chose the tribunal before which his client was to appear? Is it true that the chief counsel for the Times selected the tribunal which was to try the case? I demand an answer to this question, and I will sit down immediately if the hon. and learned Gentleman will give me an answer. Does he deny it? He does not deny it. He cannot deny it.
§ *SIR R. WEBSTER
I protest, Sir, against this mode of addressing the House; and I appeal to those who are better acquainted with the House than I am. I say there is not a shadow of foundation for the suggestion just made; and I will add that I shall decline to notice any insinuations of this kind.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
I do not deal in insinuations, and will now put before the Committee some facts which the hon. and learned Member cannot deny. The Attorney General was asked by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for South Hackney whether the Government intended to follow all the precedents in such cases, and to give the fullest opportunity for consultation with regard to the names to be selected. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General deny that? Was he asked that question or was he not—aye or no? When the hon. and learned Gentleman was supposed to be pressing the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby very hard in the speech the hon. and learned Gentleman has just delivered, the whole of the cheering occupants of the Benches opposite shouted "Answer, answer"; but the Attorney General, when I ask him to answer, says neither "aye" nor "no." Well, what happened? The Attorney General told the hon. and learned Gentleman he would consult the First Lord of the Treasury—
§ *SIR R. WEBSTER
I must say that for these suggestions made by the hon. Gentleman there is not the slightest foundation. There is no foundation for the statement that any such communication was made to the hon. and learned 592 Gentleman the Member for South Hackney. The communication was as to whether the names were going to be put into the Bill before it was printed or not.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
That is exactly the point—were the names to be put into the Bill; and that meant, were the members of the Front Opposition Bench to have an opportunity of discussing the names. I tell the hon. and learned Gentleman he will not be able to wriggle out of this. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) made the statement that the leaders of the Front Bench on this side of the House had not been consulted with regard to the names. I will say nothing in reference to the learned Judges who have to try the case. So far as I can see, they are giving the most serious attention to the whole of the proceedings. But here is the point. I do not know whether it was the Attorney General who selected the Judges, or whether they were selected by the Lord Chancellor. Of course, the hon. and learned Gentleman does not mean to say that they volunteered to undertake a work which the President of the Commission compared to their being tied to the stake, so heavy was the labour and so tremendous the responsibility. Well, I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman were they selected by the Lord Chancellor? If so, he is a Member of the Government that stood to win or lose by the result of the case then about to be inquired into, and we are brought face to face with the astounding fact that the Government, which was about to try its political opponents on a charge of participation in murder, actually constituted the very tribunal by which the charge was to be investigated, its principal law officer being at the same time chief counsel for the accusing party. I do not think the judiciary of this country, whose past is full of great and noble traditions, can show a parallel to this. I put it to the Government, why did they not show some respect for the traditions of that institution whose independence and honesty—whose most sacred principles—have been subjected to a strain which no one who is proud of the honour of his country would have consented to impose? I come, now, to the last point. The hon. and learned Gentleman has 593 avowed the authorship of the apology. I confess that I should not have believed the statement if I had not heard it from his own lips; and I will venture to make this prophecy, that to-morrow his confession will be the cause of reaction, not merely among the political opponents of the hon. and learned Gentleman, but among many of his friends also. Let us see what were the terms of the apology:—My Lords, under the circumstances, it seems to us that the course we ought to take is clear, and, believing that we are merely doing our duty, I now, on behalf of those whom I represent, ask permission to withdraw from your consideration the genuineness of the letters that have been submitted to you, the authenticity of which is denied.The hon. and learned Gentleman does mot even say they are forged, but commits himself simply to a negative instead of a positive statement—With a full acknowledgement that after the evidence that has been given we are not entitled to say they are genuine.They may be genuine; probably they are genuine, as the Marquess of Salisbury still asserts, and as all the Primrose Dames alleged at the Kennington election, and as, I have no doubt, they are now saying at Enfield, after the friendly lead of the Marquess of Salisbury and the hon. and learned Gentleman. They may be genuine—probably they are; but "we are not entitled to say they are genuine." This is a scurvy and miserable pretence which the hon. and learned Gentleman now describes as the very uttermost limit which even his generosity could assign to what he put forward as an apology. Then, the hon. and learned Gentleman continued—My Lords, it is possible that any expression of regret made by me in making this statement may be misinterpreted. Those whom I represent request me to express their sincere regret that these letters were published. That feeling, which most truly exists, will, at the proper time, be more fully expressed by them."The proper time" came the following morning—when the Times newspaper thought it had more fully expressed sincere regret when it embodied the statement of the Attorney General. Now, Sir, the charge is that my hon. Friend made a communication as to the Phoenix Park murders. What was the charge against my hon. Friend (Mr. Parnell)? That he expressed regret for 594 the murder of Lord Frederick Cavendish, from motives merely of expediency and prudence—a murder which caused deep and heartfelt grief in Irish hearts all over the world. I have been told by some of my countrymen in America that tears were shed in Irish homes three or four thousand miles away because of the melancholy and tragic death of Lord Frederick Cavendish. My hon. Friend was represented in this letter as not sympathizing with the feeling aroused universally when this honourable, generous and worthy official, who sent a message of peace and friendship and conciliation to the Irish race, met with an end so tragic. My hon. Friend is represented as regretting the accident, and, at the same time, expressing approval of the murder of Mr. Bourke. Here is a charge of complicity. Mark, that is not the only letter. There is the other—"It is time to make things hot for old Forster." What does that mean? I do not mean to say that was the charge made by the Attorney General, because there is a great deal of difference between the charge made by the Attorney General and the charge made by the Times in leading articles. It was very considerably cut down and sub-edited by the Attorney General in his speech. This charge of sympathy with murder, privity to murder, complicity with murder, encouragement to murder, is said to be fully withdrawn—withdrawn with a superabundance and excess of generosity, when the Attorney General says, "Those whom I represent request me to express their sincere regret that these letters were published." Well, I should say the regret is of a very different kind. I have not the smallest doubt there was very profound and very sincere regret on the part of the Times newspaper when the letters turned out not to be true. The hon. and learned Gentleman describes the apology as sincere and full. Well, I do not call an apology sincere and full, which leaves room for misinterpretation. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman said "We are not entitled to say the letters are genuine," did he or did he not mean that the letters were forged? Let us have a plain answer to that question. Let there be an end to this reign of lies. Let us have a full, explicit, and candid statement from the hon. and learned Gentleman, so that the 595 Marquess of Salisbury shall not have any opportunities of speaking of these letters being involved in a mist; or that the Chief Secretary shall he able, as he did last night, to ask us why we were not able to answer for the appearance of Pigott in the box. I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman will not like to give a full and ample apology, and to give a full and ample statement with regard to these letters, which would spoil the trade of the Primrose League. It might actually influence some elections; it might expose the matter in such a way that it would be appreciated by the dullest Tory, even by the hon. Member for the Loughborough Division, who, I observed, last night nodded his head when there was some expression of doubt from some part of the House as to whether all the letters were forged or not.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
You say your apology was complete. It was not complete enough for the hon. Gentleman; for it was so meagre, so indefinite, so negative, that you have left the hon. Gentleman the loophole to say that some of the letters, all of which you know to be forged, may not be forged. This is the full, and ample, and generous apology which the learned Attorney General has given. Well, Sir, I looked forward with some considerable anxiety to what the Attorney General would say here to-night. I will not say I was anxious. I should have been glad if I could have had a much higher opinion of his conduct in this case than I am unfortunately driven to entertain. But, Sir, having listened of his apology and his defence—that very able and dexterous defence—I must say that it has only confirmed my very worst impressions, and that it has piled Pelion on Ossa to the proof which already existed of the unfair manner in which the learned Attorney General conducted the ease. If the hon. and learned Gentleman had been Crown Prosecutor in a criminal trial, I am sure he would have cut off his right hand rather than do the deeds into which he has been betrayed by Party passion and political interest. I do not know whether it is so or not, but I think myself he had to be scourged almost to take up the case of the prosecution. The hon. and learned Gentleman laughs at that 596 observation. Well, perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps he took up the dirty work willingly. This case will be heard of as long as English history lasts. The prominent antagonists in it will live, not, perhaps, from their own importance, but from the cruelty of suffering on the one hand, and the depth of infamy on the other; and I believe that future generations of Englishmen will look back with sorrow and surprise to the part the Attorney General has taken in it.
§ *SIR JOHN LUBBOCK (London University)
I do not know that I have ever intervened in one of these debates, nor do I now rise to discuss the question raised by the right hon. Member for Derby. I wish, however, to make an appeal to hon. Members beyond the Gangway and below me, and, at any rate, to enter my own protest courteously, but still strongly, against the continuance of this debate. Let us get on with the business of the country. We have now begun a discussion to-night; we had a long debate last night; and in the form of questions we have had a rambling debate almost every night lately, practically on the proceedings before a judicial tribunal now sitting. This I cannot but regard, in the first place, as a very unfortunate waste of the time of the House. There are a great many important subjects, many Bills anxiously looked for by the country, but these discussions put them off almost indefinitely. But, further than that, though, no doubt, hon. Members are technically in their right, still I cannot but regard—and I believe the country regard—these debates as highly inconvenient and constituting a very unfortunate precedent. The hon. Member who has just sat down spoke courteously of the Commission, but there have been other speeches which, even if not so intended, certainly appeared as if they were attacks upon the impartiality of that tribunal. Against speeches which are made in the country, the judges may and can protect themselves. But we have in this House great privileges—and very properly, Sir, and that makes it all the more desirable that those privileges should not be strained or abused. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby drew a distinction between that part of the case which was still before the 597 Commission and that part relating to evidence which has been withdrawn; but in other speeches he dwelt upon the matters which are still under the consideration of that tribunal. I am not now, however, going to adopt the course I am deprecating, and I have risen simply to express a hope that we may be allowed to go on with the business of the country, and take up those other matters which we have been sent to Parliament to carry through. I am sure we are all jealous of the character and dignity of the House of Commons, and not less hon. Members below the Gangway thnn in other parts of the House, and I fear that, if we go on as we have been doing of late, we shall do much to lower and impair the dignity of the House, both as a business-like Assembly and as an impartial tribunal. I appeal to hon. Members not to continue a discussion which is a wanton waste of public time, and which looks like an attempt to discredit the Commission, and not to set the unfortunote precedent of discussing a question now under investigation by a judicial tribunal.
§ MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)
The hon. Baronet (Sir J. Lubbock) not only expressed his personal opinion that the statement—the very elaborate and ingenious statement—of the Attorney General was satisfactory to him, but took upon himself to speak in the name of the country. I notice that certain Members of the House, especially Unionist Members, are very apt to speak in the name of the country, and yet show the most profound disinclination to take the verdict of any constituency, even of such a constituency as the University of London which the hon. Baronet represents. Now, the Attorney General has in his speech followed the tactics which the whole party opposite have pursued from the very commencement of this unfortunate and miserable business; it is a watertight compartment policy—one old friend goes to another old friend and no one is responsible for what any one else does. The Attorney General did not deal with the charges made against him as a whole, but as if each was distinct and had no bearing with any of the rest. I understand the question to be whether the Attorney General has abused his position as Attorney General and at the Bar, and done so in a manner 598 which calls for an expression of the condemnation of the Committee. We are not engaged in questioning the proceedings of the Commission, in discussing matter under consideration by the Commission, but we are engaged in discussing the conduct of the Attorney General as Attorney General and as Counsel for the Times in relation to one or two matters upon which the Commission has already expressed a very strong and definite opinion. The Attorney General commenced his speech by stating that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby had assumed that the charge as to the forged letters was the only one contained in the Attorney General's speech. I do not think the assumption was at all warranted. It was the main charge, it was the heart of the whole charge, and more than one Member sitting opposite expressed that view very publicly at the time when the Tory party had some hope that the main and principal charge would be brought home to the hon. Member for Cork. I can quite understand they do not take that view now. Their sole object at present seems to be to deny their own speeches and to disassociate themselves as much as possible from their own friends and allies. In my opinion the principal charge against the Attorney General amounts to this, that he, acting as the prosecutor in a criminal prosecution, because the proceedings before the Commission amount to criminal prosecution, permitted his clients to attempt to support their charges by perjury, by fraud, by forgery, and by subornation of perjury; and, at a time when if he knew anything he must have known that the Times was supporting its case as to the forged letters by such means, he deliberately shut his eyes to the facts, and continued to hold his brief for the Times. I will assume for the moment that the hon. and learned Gentleman is the most innocent of men. I will assume that at the time he held his brief in the case of O'Donnell against Walter, he did not pledge his personal credit; but it will be within the recollection of every Member of the Committee that in his statement in that case the hon. Gentleman stated positively and distinctly—say, if you like, from his instructions—that the Times had used every possible means and applied every possible test to discover whether the letters were authentic 599 or not. The first inquiry I make is, when he made that statement in Court, had he in his brief materials justifying the statement? The hon. and learned Gentleman has told us that when the crisis was reached he felt it his duty to lay before the Commission every particle of evidence he had relating to the letters, and that that was his justification for putting on the table a man whom he must have known, or must strongly have suspected, had intended and did intend to perjure himself. If the Times had no other evidence as to the genuineness of the letters than the bare and unsupported evidence of Pigott, how did it come to pass that this experienced counsel, the leader of the English Bar, stated that the Times had used every possible means to test the authenticity of the letters? Either the statement was made without a particle of foundation, or else the learned Gentleman has not done what he said he would do—laid before the Commission every particle of evidence in his possession bearing upon the history and authenticity of the letters. I cannot assume for an instant the Times briefed him piecemeal; he must have had the facts before him in the first instance or not at all. I cannot conceive that a man of his position and eminence at the Bar would allow himself to be bottle-fed day by day with his facts. But in November, at any rate, the Attorney General had a statement from Pigott which, read between the lines, clearly showed Pigott feared cross-examination; indeed, he said if the Times depended upon his evidence he could prove nothing. With these facts before him the Attorney General must have seen he could not hope to prove to the satisfaction of the Court that the letters were genuine. When he got Pigott's letter in December, had he in his brief a particle of evidence that the Times had made the least attempt to test the authenticity of the letters? If he had he was bound to produce it. If he had not it, why did he not go to the Times and say to them, "You have retained me with the assent of the Government; upon my instructions I made a statement in Court some months ago; I now find from my brief there is not a single iota of evidence beyond the statement of Pigott; you have put a lie into my mouth, and I 600 decline to act further for you?" That would have been an honourable and upright course to adopt, but from his statement, it does not appear he knew Pigott was a broken reed; he did not make any inquiry as to whether the Times had anything to substantiate the statement he made months before. The hon. and learned Gentleman said tonight that he could not vouch for the authenticity of the letters. I agree with him in a limited sense. He practically pledged his credit as an officer of the Crown, and as the Leader of the English Bar, that the material in his brief was sufficient to entitle him, as a prudent and experienced counsel, to say that he could prove the truth of the letters. I think I am entitled to assume that some time in December the Attorney General had full notice of the fact that the Times had put a lie in his mouth. Still he remained counsel for the Times. He says it is not the duty of a counsel to satisfy himself as to the reality or truthfulness of every witness he calls. That is undoubtedly true; but the hon. and learned Gentleman ought to have gone on to say there is a grave and serious distinction between the position of a counsel for a prisoner or accused, who is bound to use every reasonable and honest endeavour to rescue his client from peril and danger, and the counsel for the prosecution. The latter is practically charged with the fair and just execution of the criminal law, and is bound only to use the most scrupulously honourable weapons for the purpose of obtaining a conviction; he is bound to assure himself that in his instructions he uses no indirect, no disgraceful, no dishonest instruments. In view of what has happened in this case, I do not think the Attorney General made any attempt to satisfy himself that those who instructed him had done anything to test their case. From witness after witness whom the Attorney General called it appeared that letters were burnt, and evidence of the most material and valuable character got rid of. Yet, in face of all these facts, the Attorney General continued to struggle on in this desperate case. Once he was siezed with the knowledge of the fact that the Times had undertaken a hopeless case, and acted in a disgraceful and dishonourable fashion, it was the hon. and learned Gentleman's duty to disassociate 601 himself from the attempt to obtain the conviction of his political opponents by such means. The Attorney General took to himself great credit that he produced to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hackney (Sir C. Russell) Pigott's letter five days before Pigott's examination. On examination, however, it turns out that instead of spontaneously and generously offering the hon. and learned Member for Hackney the letter, the letter was forced out of him. The solicitor for the Times having mentioned the existence of the document, the counsel for the accused was entitled to see it. Yet the Attorney General elicited cheers from the crowded benches behind him by implying that he gave, as a matter of courtesy, what was dragged out of him by the exigencies of the case. Now I come to the last, but I think a very grave, portion of the indictment made against the hon. and learned Gentleman. When it was proved that the letters were forgeries, any fair, not to say generous, opponent, would frankly and freely have submitted that part of the case to the judgment of the Court. But what course did the Attorney General adopt? He applied to the Court for permission to withdraw from their consideration the question of the genuineness or the authenticity of the letters. He did not say "I consent that judgment should go against me on this point." No, he said, "Now we have failed to prove anything, would you be so good as to allow us to withdraw this question from your consideration?" He did not withdraw the letters on the ground that it was proved pretty conclusively that the letters were forgeries, not on the ground that the Members implicated had expressed their willingness to go into the witness box and swear the letters were forgeries, but on the ground that the evidence up to the point given by the hon. Gentleman's allies and clients was not sufficient when viewed by the strict and harsh rules of law to entitle him to call upon the Court to find the letters were authentic and genuine. Nothing more disgraceful can well be conceived, and I do not believe there is another counsel at the Bar who would have done anything under such circumstances but pray the Court to then and there 602 pronounce judgment on the letters. Did the Attorney General express regret to the hon. Member for Cork, who had been slandered and traduced on every Unionist platform and by every Primrose Dame in England? Did he express regret that the letters had been used at every election against the Home Rule candidates? Not a bit. Did he express regret to the hon. Member who for such a length of time had laboured under horrible imputations? No. He simply expressed regret that the letters had been published, not that they had been bought by the Times, not that they had been used in private circles for months before they were published, not that they had been used on the morning of the Division upon the Second Reading of the Crimes Bill, not that they had been the foundation upon which "Parnellism and Crime" had been built, but simply and solely that they had been published. The statement in the Times itself simply amounted to an expression of regret that they had failed to prove the letters, not that they had recklessly published them, or that they had used them so unscrupulously against their political opponents, I am sorry to use anything like strong language against any opponent, but I must express my sincere and profound conviction that there is not another counsel in England who would adopt the dishonourable, the shabby, and the heartless tactics which have been adopted in this case by the hon. and learned Gentleman who represents Her Majesty's Government and the Times at one and the same time.
§ *MR. DE LISLE (Leicestershire, Mid.)
Perhaps I may be permitted to make a few observations upon this grave and unfortunate subject. I regret the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, in opening the debate, did not show us exactly what be was driving at by moving the reduction of the salary of the Attorney General. The last speaker has, however, put the question very plainly: it is, briefly stated, whether the Attorney General has abused his position of Attorney General in the fulfilment of his duties as counsel for the Times. Amongst other things, the hon. Member for Kilkenny (Mr. Chance) complained of the manner in which the Attorney General withdrew the letters from the consideration of the Court, 603 and that the hon. and learned Gentleman ought not to have asked permission to withdraw the letters, but should have asked the Commission to sit in judgment upon them. I suppose the Royal Commissioners will in due course pronounce very decidedly upon the letters, and so far as I understand the matter the Attorney General has shown no desire to evade the question of the letters, in fact, he has invited the condemnation of the judges on that portion of the evidence. Some of us think it would have been better if the withdrawal had not been made so promptly, because in our opinion there were many incidents in connection with that portion of the evidence which we should have liked to have seen entirely and absolutely cleared up. Personally, in speeches delivered in my constituency and elsewhere I have never said I believed in the letters; on the contrary, I have always said I thought it would be impossible to prove them to be genuine even if they were genuine.
Order, order. The question before the Committee is not the opinion of the hon. Member but the action of the Attorney General.
§ *MR. DE LISLE
I think I shall be in order, however, in saying in reply to the attack upon our integrity by the last speaker, that when we on this side of the House voted for the appointment of the Commission we then voted sincerely and absolutely in the interest of truth and justice.
The question before the Committee strictly relates to the action of the Attorney General.
§ *MR. DE LISLE
It seems to me, Sir, that the Debate has travelled very far beyond the immediate action of the Attorney General; but I will say at once I don't think the Attorney General has in any way forfeited the confidence of the Government or of the House because, when certain portions of the evidence broke down, he did not there and then throw up his brief. The Attorney General was engaged, as I understand, in proving the truth of the allegations contained in "Parnellism and Crime," and, therefore, I think I shall be in order in quoting the concluding portion of the first series of articles, which seem to sum up very well the charges:—We suspend our studies of Parnellism. They do not affect to be complete. They are made on a cursory examination of a small portion 604 of the published evidence. They have, however, revealed nearly all the chief members of the first Home Rule Ministry—Mr. Parnell himself, Mr. Justin M'Carthy, Mr. T. P. O'Connor, Mr. Sexton, Mr. Arthur O'Connor, Mr. Healy, Mr. Biggar, the Messrs. Redmond, Mr. William O'Brien, and Davitt—in trade and traffic with avowed dynamiters and known contrivers of murder. Ample materials for a fuller treatment exists in the files of Irish, American, and English newspapers. But there is other evidence hitherto unpublished. As Lord Spencer told the Ulster Loyalists on Waterloo Day, the year before he deserted them, 'We have yet to deal with crime undiscovered, secret conspiracy, and threads which must be unravelled.'It seems to me our discussion is really premature; the case is sub judice, and I cannot conceive what respect for the law and the Courts of Justice, and for the traditions of this House, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby can have when he starts a debate of this kind. Unfortunately, an attempt has been made to make the whole of this question of Parnellism and Crime depend upon the fact whether these letters are genuine or not. If the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) had been present, I should have asked him why, when he was speaking to-night and making an attack upon the Commission itself, and only indirectly upon the conduct of the Attorney General, he did not repeat the charge which appeared on the 21st of March in a newspaper of which he is presumably the editor—a charge of base conspiracy to procure what he knew to be false and perjured evidence? Perhaps I may point out that amongst the charges in "Parnellism and Crime" not yet decided, but of which the Attorney General, in the prosecution of his duty, will do his utmost to ascertain the truth or faltehood, namely, the charge against the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool. It occurs in the first issue in Parnellism and Crime—and is as follows—
I think the hon. Member is very unnecessarily extending the scope of the debate by entering into that branch of the argument.
§ *MR. DE LISLE
I bow to your ruling, Sir, and will simply say that in my opinion the Attorney General has so far conducted this case, not only with the utmost regard for his political opponents, but in a manner which will 605 add everlastingly to his fame. When the inquiry comes to an end, I shall he delighted if every one of the charges have been proved to be as groundless as the charges with regard to the letters. I feel that the attack made on the Attorney General by the hon. Member for Derby will certainly redound to his everlasting shame. He has held high office as Irish Secretary and Home Secretary, and knows perhaps better than any man in the country whether the main charges are true or false.
§ MR. J. REDMOND (Wexford, N.)
Mr. Chairman, the Attorney General, at the close of his speech, expressed a feeling of pity for those who had prostituted, in his opinion, their positions for party ends. I think the feeling of pity in that regard was not confined entirely to the hon. and learned Gentleman's breast. I think a feeling of pity was felt very generally in the House for the hon. and learned Gentleman himself as the spoke. To me it was a pitiful spectacle to see the leader of the English Bar obliged to come to the Table and make the kind of apology for his conduct—in a great State inquiry of this kind—which the hon. and learned Gentleman was constrained to make to-night. Now, I desire to follow, as far as I can, the moderation of the tone of the speech with which the subject was introduced to-night. ["Oh, oh."] Yes, if there was one thing more remarkable then another in the two first speeches in the debate, it was the contrast between the moderate and judicial tone of the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Derby, and the tone of heated passion with which the Attorney General addressed himself to the accusations. I submit that, with reference to many of the charges the hon. and learned Gentleman's defence has been a futile and absurd system of evasion. The Attorney General mentions that he had an absolute right to take a brief on behalf of the Times. The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Derby, did not say the Attorney General had no technical right to take a brief for the Times, but what he did contest was, that the Attorney General had any moral right to take that class of business which, by its character and the time which it involved, incapacitated the Attorney General from the fulfilment of the duties which he owed to the State. 606 The very first question asked of the hon. and learned Gentleman was, did he or did he not advise the Government, of which he is Chief Law Officer, as to the Special Commission Act when it was introduced in the House? If he did not advise the Government in that matter, then he abdicated his functions; on the other hand, if he did advise the Government in the matter, we have the spectacle of the Law Officer of the Crown advising the Government as to an inquiry in which he was to take a leading part on behalf of the accusers. The Attorney General says that this is a private inquiry. The Home Secretary, who had charge of the Special Commission Bill during its passage through the House, said last night that, so far from this being a private inquiry it is a State inquiry into the conduct of the enemies of the Queen, and I think one of the admissions of the Attorney General himself goes far to show that this is not an ordinary private inquiry. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby asked the Attorney General whether, before taking his brief, he had obtained the assent of the Government, and the hon. and learned Gentleman's reply was that he had. Are we to understand that before taking a brief in some ordinary commercial case in the Courts the Attorney General has to get the consent of the Ministry? No, Sir, the Attorney General asked for the assent of his colleagues, and obtained it, because this is a great State inquiry. Now, the real charge appears to me to be this. The hon. and learned Gentleman knew that Pigott was the source of the letters. Why, when he knew that, did he not in his position as counsel order adequate inquiries to be made into the character and antecedents of the witness upon whose testimony alone the letters depended? Did he satisfy himself that he could by evidence which was in his brief prove the allegations about the letters? When, having been of opinion that the evidence placed before him entitled him to say that he could prove the letters, did he subsequently come into possession of facts that caused him to alter that opinion? We know what was his opinion in July, 1888. Speaking on this matter, he said every possible means had been taken to test the authenticity of the letters; among other means, a comparison of handwriting 607 had been used. In that same month of July, writing upon the result of the O'Donnell v. Walter action, the Times said the charges rested no longer on the statement of a newspaper, but that they now "rested on a solemn statement in Court of the Head of the English Bar," and that the official character of the right hon. Gentleman afforded "an absolute guarantee" that, in his learned judgment, he could prove the charge. The Attorney General used even stronger words in this House. Speaking on July 4, 1888, he said this—The whole of the case which I opened I was prepared to prove, and, if I am counsel for the Times again, I shall be prepared to prove. Evidence is available whenever it is wanted.Now he is indignant because the right hon. Gentleman (Sir W. Harcourt) stated that the Attorney General vouched for the letters; but I am justified, after these statements at the outset, from the statement in the Times, and from his statement in the House, that he had evidence to prove the whole of the case—I am justified, in the face of these statements, in asserting that he did vouch for the authenticity of the letters. Of course, we quite understand the distinction drawn by the hon. and learned Gentleman as to the opinion of counsel; of course, in saying he vouched for the letters, I do not mean to say he was expressing his personal opinion that the letters were genuine. Do not let me be misunderstood—that would have been an improper and unprofessional thing to have done; but he did vouch that, in his opinion, as one of the oldest and best-trained lawyers at the English Bar, an opinion given with the information before him, the evidence would be sufficient to prove the letters. Then, I say, is it not a dishonest subterfuge for Members to play on the word "vouch"? Though he repeatedly said, in and out of the House, he had evidence to prove the letters authentic, he now says he did not vouch for the letters, and the right hon. Gentleman is mistaken in saying that he did. That was his position in July. How long did that state of mind last? I am quite sure that when the Attorney General made his statement in July he believed his evidence, and thought he was in a position to prove the authenticity of the letters; 608 but how long did he remain in that position? There is another question he has not answered. When did he first hear of Pigott as the source of these letters? I understand him to say that it was in the middle of December he first saw the letters of November 19th—
§ MR. J. REDMOND
I am glad to know that at the date of the opening of the Commission he was aware that Pigott was the source of these letters. I do not know whether the Attorney General will favour the Committee again on this subject before the Vote is passed, but I think many Members will be interested to know what steps the hon. and learned Gentleman advised his clients to take as soon as he heard that Pigott was the source of these letters. Did he order his solicitor to institute any inquiry into the character and antecedents of Pigott? He heard in October that Pigott was the source of the letters, but he only heard in the middle of December that Pigott had written the letter of November 17th, in which he stated he should break down under cross-examination. Did he before he had that letter cause any inquiry to be made into the character of Pigott? Did he ask Mr. Soames why the letter of November 17th was kept back from him for a month? Did he ask Mr. Soames if he had made any inquiry into the antecedents and character of Pigott? If not, why not? The Attorney General has not informed us when he learned for the first time that Houston—one of the gang of conspirators—had destroyed the correspondence between himself and Pigott? When he heard the correspondence had been destroyed, immediately after Houston was subpoenaed by the hon. Member for Cork, did he then know that Pigott, the source of the letters, had a character of the very worst kind? Knowing Pigott had said his evidence would break down, did he, because of that letter, alter the opinion he held in July, that he had sufficient evidence to prove the authenticity of the letters? I have to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman another thing. He alluded to the statement of Pigott, made, I think, on October 19th, to show that he was in possession, or his solicitor was in possession, of a statement from Pigott that 609 the letters were genuine. Now, unless I am greatly mistaken, that statement of Pigott was made immediately after he had been accused by my hon. Friend the s Member for Cork, at a personal interview, of being guilty of forgeries on certain banks in Ireland in certain commercial matters. Did the Attorney General know when the Commission opened of this statement of Pigott's, and of this accusation, and if so, did he order any investigation to be made? Ah! we have the evidence of Mr. Soames, who was asked—When you saw the statement of Pigott, and knew that he was accused of fraud in commercial matters, did you institute any inquiry?Mr. Soames, on examination, had to admit that he did not order any investigation to be made into the truth of the allegations of forgery against Pigott, that he did not apply to the banks which it was alleged Pigott had swindled by forged documents. In fact, Mr. Soames, in the innocence of his heart, and acting on the instructions of the Attorney General, accepted the statement of Pigott that the accusation of forgery by the hon. Member for Cork was untrue. The Attorney General thinks we object to his having put Pigott in the box, but it seems to me nobody has made that accusation, and it would be an absurd one to make. Of course, he was obliged to put Pigott in the box; he knew that if he did not do so we would. He knew that, as a matter of fact, we had subpoenaed him before the Times subpoenaed him at all. But that is not our accusation; our complaint is not that he did put Pigott in the box, but that he did not put him in the box long before. What is the position in which the Attorney General stands in reference to the letters? He had stated, and he acted on his belief, solemnly expressed, or his responsibility, that he could prove them by sufficient evidence in his possession. In December, at latest, he learned that the evidence on which he made that statement was unreliable. What did he do in December? He either inquired fully into the character of Pigott and the character of his evidence, or he did not. If he inquired fully into the matter through his solicitor, then he must have known long before Christmas that the whole story about the letters was an infamous concoction—a foul conspiracy on the part of a number of men—and that the allegation about 610 evidence of the letters could not be maintained. If he did not inquire, his position is still more humiliating to him. On his responsibility he stated he could prove the letters, yet what did he do? This is my accusation against him. As soon as he found that the evidence on which he relied was tainted, that moment, in common fairness to us, in justice to the whole community, he ought at once to have put Pigott in the box, and have passed over the interminable reading of speeches and extracts from the Irish World and other papers. No; his statement that he could prove the letters was allowed to remain on the public mind, and the Times was allowed to continue to say that the official character of the Attorney General was sufficient guarantee of the absolute authenticity of the letters. He did not say that it had come to his knowledge that the evidence on which he relied was tainted and unworthy, he continued to allow these calumnies to be spread abroad, he continued to allow his own calumnies, as they turned out to be, as to the evidence on which he relied, to remain on the minds of the people, putting off to the last possible moment the investigation of the case as regarded the letters. My accusation is not that he did put Pigott in the box, but that he did not put him in the box the moment it became apparent that this part of his case could not be sustained. When he came to that opinion, every moment of delay was cowardly and criminal. The Attorney General complains that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby accused him of putting off investigation while he piled up a mass of prejudice against the hon. Member for Cork, but what else was the meaning or, at any rate, what else was the effect, of the delay in entering on the case of the letters? He cannot say it was postponed because he lad to follow the regular course of the case, because everybody who has paid he most cursory attention to the conduct of the case, knows that nothing could be more irregular than the manner in which the Times counsel jumped from one part of the case to another, and knows that he deliberately put off investigation, because it had come to his knowledge that the evidence on which he had promised to prove the letters was tainted and not to be relied on. In self-defence 611 the hon. and learned Gentleman refers to his duty to support the indictment, and he quoted the words of the Lord Chief Justice as to the character of the indictment. He said, I think, in justification for putting off the letters that after all this was not the gravest allegation; grave, he said, as was the charge in regard to the facsimile letters, equally grave were the other charges. Now let me call attention to words used in the House last year. In July, 1888, the Attorney General speaking on the Commission Bill said, referring to the alleged Parnell letters of May 15, 1882, in which Lord Frederick Cavendish's death was alluded to as an accident:—The most important issue in the case is whether that letter was signed by the Member for Cork or not.I do not think anybody will contend for a moment that there was any pretence that this was not the real charge in the whole series of libels until from one source and another the Attorney General and those who acted with him began to find out they had probably been a little misled, and that the evidence on which they were relying was not so perfect as they thought. What did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) say?—I agree with the hon. Member for Oldham that the letters constitute the principal part, if not the gravamen, of the charges, and no inquiry would be satisfactory that did not give a principal place to inquiry into the authenticity of the letters. If it can be successfully shown that these are forgeries, all the rest of the case, whatever it might be, would be so prejudiced, that I very much doubt if people will pay much attention to it.Then, in another speech, the same right hon. Gentleman said—If the Times fails to sustain its principal charge—that is, the letters—I do not think much importance will be attached to the other charges. Any attempt to put aside this principal charge, or not to put it in the forefront, will redound to their discredit. I do not think hon. Members need fear in the slightest degree that this charge can or will be avoided.I have attempted to show that the claim of the Attorney General now, that he did not go into the letters at first because they were not the principal charge, is not an honest claim—is not one that can be supported against the evidence of his own words, as spoken in this House last year. I could not help feeling very much touched by the eloquent descrip- 612 tion given to-night by the right hon. the Member for Derby of the spirit in which the criminal law is administered in this country, and I could not help contrasting it—as, indeed, he did himself—with that spirit which animates the administration of the law in my country. The right hon. Gentleman said that the object of Crown Prosecutors in England was not to convict but to elicit the whole truth, and not to take the defendant by surprise. Unfortunately, that has not been the course which has been adopted by the Attorney Genernl in the conduct of this case of the Times. The Attorney General has alluded to the fact that two members of the Irish Bar are associated with him. I am not going to say a word against the Irish Bar as a body, but I am sorry to have to say this, that these two members of the Irish Bar who are engaged in the case are men who are chiefly remarkable as Crown Prosecutors in Ireland, and I am sorry to have to say I fear their connection with these English colleagues in the case they are conducting has had the effect of imparting into the conduct of the case the evil traditions which guide Crown Prosecutors in Ireland, inducing the desire rather to gain a verdict as if they were engaged in an ordinary civil case for a client than to elucidate the full truth, and not drive anything hardly or unfairly against the defendants. The Attorney General says he did not take us by surprise, and with an affectation of candour which was so shallow, so superficial, that I do not think it deceived anybody, and certainly did not deceive those who are acquainted with the proceedings before the Commission, he said—This letter, which has been so much referred to, I myself handed to the hon. and learned Member for Hackney.But he forgot to say, what it would have been candid to have said, that the manner in which this letter was produced was not by the Attorney General handing it over to the counsel for the Irish Members; he gave it when it was mentioned in the cross-examination of Mr. Soames or Houston, and after the hon. and learned Member for South Hackney had called for the letter, and the Attorney General was obliged to hand it over. I ask the Attorney General why, if he wanted to be straightforward with his 613 opponents, if he wanted to act in the spirit of Crown Prosecutors and men of his position in this country, did he wait until the letter was demanded in the course of cross-examination? Why did he not hand it over the moment he received it from Mr. Soames? The Attorney General, I say, has pleaded guilty to the graver charges against him. He knew in October that the hon. Member for Cork had accused Pigott of frauds on certain named banks: he knew that on November 17 Pigott had written to the solicitor to the Times saying that his evidence would break down. He knew all this, and yet he persevered with this part of the case, and, in admitting that, I say, he entered a plea of guilty to the gravest of the allegations made against him to-night. But he pleaded guilty to another. I may say—nobody will think it an impertinence on my part—I really did feel sorry when the hon. and learned Gentleman stated at that Table that it was his hand which wrote the apology as it is called. It was a half-hearted, cowardly apology. It was the apology of a man who, if he had dared, would not have made an apology at all. It was the apology of a man who, if he had dared, would rather have taken up the position that Lord Salisbury has taken, that the letters, though not proved genuine, might be genuine after all. The Attorney General has been the means of doing a terrible wrong to Members of this House, and through them to the people of Ireland. He has been the instrument of spreading, of keeping alive a series of atrocious libels, and when these were proved to be slanders and libels, and he had to acknowledge it, he had not the courtesy, or the manliness, or the courage to make an honest apology for having done a wrong to his fellow-Members in this House. Exactly what was foretold when the Commission Bill was passing through the House has happened. I remember very well indeed speaking in the course of our discussions; and when I said we feared that by enlarging the scope of the inquiry, the specially allegations against the hon. Member for Cork and certain other Members would be given the go-by—would be relegated to the background—I was answered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), who said— 614The hon. Member appears to fear that as the Bill is drawn the Commission will be drawn away from the investigation of the serious charges brought against him and his colleagues, and will be led over the whole field of Irish organization and Irish crime, and in this way a fair issue will be conceded. I put it to the House whether the hon. Member is not raising a bugbear in this matter? Supposing what he fears were actually the case, that the Commission were to be led into what is, by comparison, at all events, unimportant and irrelevant matter, it seems to me no vindication would be more complete than such a course as that.That is exactly what has been done As we foretold, this inquiry has been spread over the whole field of Irish organization and Irish crime, and the specific allegations have been given the go-by. The inquiry as to the letters was delayed until the accusers could avoid it no longer. What about other charges almost as grave? I may mention, for example, the charges made against myself. Grave charges were made against me by the Times, and some of them I exposed last year, challenging the Times to go into the evidence. But the Times has closed its case, and has not mentioned these accusations, or anything in connection with them. In spite of all this, in spite of the tactics of the Attorney General, in spite of what I do not hesitate to call the cowardly, criminal conspiracy of those who are around him, if not under his control, the truth, in spite of all, prevails, and I, for one, thank God for all this, because I know how much, in England, depends on how these issues are disproved before the Commission. It is not merely a question of our character—we care little for that, except so far as the allegations affect the cause we have at heart. Mr. Courtney, you, and many others, will remember the time when, years ago, we sat here, and accusations of the foulest character were hurled against us by different Parties in the State. [Laughter.]Well, I do not see that there is any secret about it; I do not see there is any reason why hon. Members opposite should laugh. The past may be forgiven, and even forgotten, except for the record of history, which will show that we have been assailed as foully in the past as now; and as we have lived down these accusations in the past, so we will live them down again. So far as our own country is concerned, our characters in the eyes of those who 615 know, trust, and honour us cannot be injured by such charges any more than by the idle wind. But we recognize that there may be evil consequences to the cause we have at heart from the system of vile calumny by which we have been pursued by unscrupulous enemies, and that the exposure of such a system will hasten the day when peace and contentment will reign in Ireland, and when, forgetting the past, Ireland will be united to this country by the bonds of friendship and goodwill. I beg to move that the Vote be reduced by £1,000 in respect of the Attorney General's salary.
Motion made, and question proposed,
That the Item of £12,000 for Law Charges, England, he reduced by £1,000, part of the Salary of the Attorney General."—(Mr. John Redmond.)
§ MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
No one on this (the Ministerial) side of the House has ever complained of the policy which hon. Gentlemen opposite think it right to pursue. What we have complained of and will complain of again is the methods by which that policy has been pursued. Hon. Gentlemen say that their characters have been assailed. My reply is that when charges of a most grave and serious nature were made against them, when month after month they declined to take the steps open to them—["Oh!"]—I suppose they share the opinion that before a jury of Englishmen—[Interruption and cries of "Salisbury!"] May I request the hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. Redmond) to spare me the discourteous interruptions of which he is more usually guilty than any other Member in the House? I appeal to hon. Gentlemen on that side and in every quarter of the House whether Gentlemen on the Ministerial side are perpetually and habitually trying by interruptions to interfere with the speeches and statements of Gentlemen on the opposite side.
I am sorry again to have to address the hon. Member. He must restrain himself and not interrupt.
§ MR. W. REDMOND
Perhaps you will allow me, Sir, on the point of order to say that nothing was further from my 616 intention than to interrupt; but when the right hon. Gentleman accuses me of interrupting him, let him remember that he interrupted me.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
The hon. Member in making an accusation against the Attorney General—("Question," and interruption.) This is another instance of the chivalry and courtesy with which Members on this side are treated. An accusation has been just now made against me, and hon. Gentleman seek to deprive me of an opportunity of answering it. The hon. Gentleman last night made a charge against the Attorney General—("Order.")
If the right hon. Gentleman will show a better estimate of the relative value of things, the debate will be more orderly.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I accept with gratitude your suggestion, Sir. In the heat of the moment I was replying to charges which are absolutely unworthy of it. The hon. and learned Gentleman who last spoke, who charges us with assailing the character of himself and his friends, knows that when those charges were made against hon. Gentlemen this House gave them the fairest tribunal in the world to enable them to disprove the charges. At the close of his speech the hon. Member said he regretted to hear from the Attorney General that he was the author of the apology made by the Times; he also said that Lord Salisbury had hinted, or more than hinted, that though the letters were not proved to be true, he believed that they were. Well, I think that in all probability, so far as the Attorney General is concerned, he knows how to guard the interests intrusted to him better than the hon. Gentleman, and I believe it totally and absolutely untrue that Lord Salisbury ever made any statement which could be twisted into such a construction. On the contrary, Lord Salisbury, so far as I know, has given advice which I hope the House of Commons will follow—namely, that it would be far better to express no opinion or judgment on the question until the Judgment of the Court is pronounced. There were two statements of the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) in which I cordially concur. The one is that th Attorney General is greatly indebted to him for provoking this debate, and the other that the Attorney General must 617 be regarded as the adviser of the House of Commons and the guardian of its honour. That is true. We regard the Attorney General as a man of great courage, ability, and undoubted power, which he has fully and conclusively proved to-night. We regard him as the typical representative of an honourable profession, and we are proud to be associated with him on this side. We regard it as a privilege, and nothing less, and it is regarded as nothing less by every Member of the Bar in England. Nothing is more remarkable than the contrast between the fury and the fire with which the right hon. Member for Derby has spoken on previous occasions, and the bated breath with which he addressed the House to-night when he made his observations on the Attorney General. The chilly reception on his own side contrasted strongly with the rapturous cheers with which the reply of the Attorney General was greeted, and which were not limited by any means to the Ministerial side of the House. There were many Gentlemen opposite who rejoiced to see the manner in which the Attorney General defended himself against the charges of the right hon. Member for Derby. I do not think hon. Members opposite will be grateful to the right hon. Member for Derby, under whose leadership, in the absence of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), they have been landed in as pretty a mess as, I think, I ever remember a political Party ever getting into. The right hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that on this side of the House we listened with the utmost satisfaction to the castigation he received, which no Member of the House ever more thoroughly and richly deserved. In this exordium I was mainly anxious to express the estimate we, on this side of the House, hold of the Attorney General for England, and I might now very well resume my seat; but I ask the permission of the House to intervene for a moment longer, as there are one or two other things I desire to notice. The right hon. Gentleman said that the speech of the Attorney General in the case of "O'Donnell v. Walter" was the foundation of the whole of the charges alleged against hon. Gentlemen opposite. It was nothing of the kind. The right hon. Gentleman has a most convenient memory. The 618 right hon. Gentleman says one thing in the House of Commons and another out of it. At Ely this is how the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the Commission. He said—They might drag it on as a matter of antiquarian research, but the whole of the ridiculous rubbish was as dead as Julius Cæsar. But for the forged letters there would never have been this Commission of Inquiry.The Committee should remember that this matter of antiquarian research forms by far the largest part of the charges and allegations. The right hon. Gentleman—and nobody knows it better than the right hon. Gentleman himself—was the founder and author of the whole of these charges. I myself heard the right hon. Gentleman say, speaking of the hon. Member for Mayo in this House, the doctrines of the hon. Member for Mayo were the doctrines of treason and assassination. The right hon. Gentleman said more; he said that he knew that these were the doctrines of the Land Leagus. How did the right hon. Gentleman know it? "Because in my position, as responsible for the peace of the Queen's dominions, it was my duty to know it." As the right hon. Gentleman is so fond of cross-examining Members of the Government, I will myself claim the right of cross-examining the right hon. Gentleman, and I should like to ask him this question, upon which no light has yet been thrown as far as I am aware—How did the right hon. Gentleman know? He stated in this House, on his authority as a Minister of the Crown, that the doctrines and practice of the Land League were those of treason and assassination, and that the hon. Member for Mayo was their expounder.
I do not see how this is applicable to the reduction of the salary of the Attorney General.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I, of course, bow invariably to the decision of the Chair, and I can only say that this affords another illustration of the extreme inconvenience and the extreme unfairness of the methods pursued by the right hon. Gentleman. I think I am justified in saying that the only way of getting out of the difficulty and arriving at the truth with regard to these matters is that the right hon. Gentleman himself should take the earliest opportunity of going into the witness-box before the Commissioners and recanting upon oath 619 —if he believes them to be untrue—the monstrous calumnies and libels he has uttered against hon. Members opposite. As I am debarred by your ruling, Sir—in which I heartily concur, and to which I most readily submit—from proceeding furthur in the cross-examination of the right hon. Gentleman, which, I think, might have resulted in some most interesting discoveries, I will not venture further to prolong the debate. I do not think anyone on this side of the House can object to the course which the right hon. Gentleman has pursued on one ground, for I believe that nothing which the right hon. Gentleman could have done could have conferred greater advantage upon us as a Party. None the less do I myself deplore it; I confess I have witnessed the whole of the proceedings in the House for the past few days with nothing but pain, because I regard them as proof of a most serious decadence in the morals and practice of the House. We have been engaged for three days in discussing the proceedings of a Commission, the evidence before which is only half completed, and on which the Judges themselves have issued no Report and expressed no opinion. I maintain that this is a breach of the propriety and decorum of the House of Commons and of its best traditions, and utterly repugnant to all sense of fairness.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
I would suggest that when right hon. Gentlemen opposite complain that hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House are wasting the time of the House, they might save time by refraining from these extracts from the past history of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby. It is as absurd to complain of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby as he now is, because he was different at another time, as to complain of St. Paul because he was once Saul and a persecutor of Christians. Every Gentleman on the opposite bench, and almost every Gentleman upon the front Opposition bench, has been tarred entirely with the same brush as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, and dozens of times I have myself voted with Mr. Joseph Cowen alone with the Irish Members. I have never been able to understand 620 why one gentleman should be singled out for attack, seeing that at the time of which Members opposite speak the whole Party on these benches had not seen salvation. I congratulate the Attorney General, and I do it sincerely, upon his effort as a forensic effort; but it was addressed to hon. Members opposite, whom it is unnecessary to convince, because they were already prepared to vote with him. I want, however, to say a word as to one or two statements of the hon. and learned Member. The hon. and learned Member explained how he had handed the letter from Pigott to the counsel for the defence; but it has been already shown that the letter was called for in Court and put in by Mr. Soames, and that it was absolutely necessary for the Attorney General to hand over this letter to the counsel for the defence; therefore he cannot come here and pride himself as one of the noblest of human beings. But there is another letter which was only produced after Pigott had disappeared, a letter dated May, 1887, from Pigott to Houston, in which Pigott said—You may take it, therefore, as certain that any proceedings of any character that rely for success upon my testimony will fail.Houston was acting as the agent of Mr. Soames, and Mr. Soames was the solicitor of the Attorney General; and I suppose that the Attorney General asked to be shown that letter. Therefore, we may take it that the letter was known to the Attorney General. Then there was the sworn statement of Pigott made to Mr. Shannon. But did Mr. Soames tell the Attorney General under what circumstances that sworn statement was made; that Pigott wanted to have £5,000 in order to appear, and that the reply was that the Times would not see him ruined if he told what he knew?
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Well, the truth. But would the Times have paid him for telling the truth if he had lived? I do not think that was revealed to the hon. and learned Gentleman, or, if it was, surely he ought to have asked on seeing the letter, "Have you made any sort of inquiry into the character of this man?" No sort of inquiry was made into the character of this man, and yet if Houston had asked any human being 621 in Dublin, or if the Attorney General had consulted the authorities at the Castle, he would have heard who Pigott was. Did the Attorney General know that letters of this nature had been offered to a former Secretary for Ireland, who had inquired of the officials who Pigott was, and then refused to have anything to do with him? He inquired who Pigott was, and said he would have nothing to do with him, and the right hon. Gentleman would have been wise if he had followed that example. The plain fact is the Times had not the remotest intention of calling either Pigott or Houston. They intended to put Mr. Macdonald into the box, and he was to have refused to state from whom he had received the letters, after which the experts were to have been called in to speak to the authenticity of those letters. There is ample evidence of this, as will be seen when we remember when it was that Houston and Pigott were subpoenaed. This was not until Mr. Lewis, on behalf of the defendants, had subpœnaed them both. It is very curious to notice the revelations we get from that Bench. If the Attorney General is accused, he says he knows nothing of these things; if Mr. Soames is accused, what is the answer we get then? Why, the Attorney General gave it to night. He says it is perfectly monstrous and wicked to accuse Mr. Soames, because he is not a Member of this House. What we want to elicit from this species of Vehmgericht that has been inaugurated is, what responsibility we can fix to each particular person in this case. The hon. and learned Gentleman has complained that I said I would not believe Mr. Soames upon his oath. Well, I would not. What was it that Mr. Soames said about Pigott and Houston? He began by saying that he found from whom the letters had been bought in September, 1887. Then he said he knew the summer before the trial. Why could he not have said, having been in the box 13 different times, when it was he knew, or found out, or learned that Pigott and Houston were the authors of those letters? The truth is that Mr. Soames made a distinction between knowing the thing as a solicitor and knowing it as a private individual, just as he made a distinction between the counsel for the defence and Sir Richard Webster. We who are not lawyers cannot follow these 622 distinctions; we take a man as one and not as two or three individuals; but here we have first the Attorney General, then, not the Attorney General, but the counsel for the Times, and then, merely Sir Richard Webster. We are unable to divest him of his position as Attorney General, nor can he divest himself of the character for a single moment. The hon. and learned Gentleman was indignant at the charge that he had postponed the letters until stronger evidence had been called; and if this had been really a private case, there would have been nothing wrong in his so doing. The Attorney General wanted to do the best he could for his client, and thought it good policy and good tactics to put forward a series of strong points that might injure Mr. Parnell and the other defendants, and do away with any reliability upon their evidence when they should go into the box, as they had said they would, to swear they had not written the letters. I do not understand why the Attorney General was so indignant, unless it was that although he says the suit was a private suit, he knew it was a public suit. The hon. and learned Gentleman had the Home Secretary sitting by him, and the right hon. Gentleman would have told him that if he had so dealt with it as a public suit it would have undoubtedly been most improper, the more so considering his position as Attorney General and as a Member of Her Majesty's Government. Again, the right hon. Gentleman protested against the charge that he would not give the names of witnesses, and that he had sheltered himself behind the Court. But what really took place? The counsel for the defence asked that the names of the witnesses should be given to him. The Attorney General protested against this, and the Court said it could not interfere and compel the names to be given. Was that the action of the Court? No; it was that of the Attorney General exercising his extreme rights. And how did the Attorney General proceed? Why, he dodged about from county to county, calling four or five witnesses from one and then taking evidence from another, so that the defence could not follow him. They did not know beforehand from what county witnesses were going to be called, nor from what particular part of 623 any county; and consequently, were unable to arrange for such inquiries as were necessary for purposes of cross examination. I will give an instance. There was one man who confessed to stealing money on policies of insurance and that witness's character was utterly smashed up. When, however, he was put into the box by the prosecutor, there was no idea of telling the counsel for the defendant what this man was. He might have been one of the most virtuous of the human race; but that very morning it happened, by a mere chance, that some information was received respecting him, and this was used by the counsel for the defence in order to destroy the value of that man's testimony. Then take the case of Le Caron. Why did they not give his name before? The Chief Secretary for Ireland has said that Le Caron is a man against whom nothing can be urged, because he was not cross-examined. But I would ask, how can you cross-examine a man who is suddenly sprung upon the Court from America? I would recommend the Attorney General not to get into a fool's Paradise about Le Caron. They will find that they and their Mr. Anderson, who gave a certificate of the truthfulness and integrity of the man Le Caron, are altogether in the wrong box before we have finished with Mr. Le Caron, unless I am exceedingly mistaken. Now, Sir, the Attorney General and other Gentlemen on that side of the House have indulged in insinuations against me. Generally, when hon. Gentlemen on that side are talking about this matter, they turn upon me, sitting here in a quiet way, and depict me as a sort of viper. The Attorney General said he supposed I had entered into negotiations with Pigott because Pigott was a scoundrel. Well, of course I did. It was precisely because I thought him a scoundrel that I took the course I did with regard to him. I wanted to know why he was at the bottom of the forgery, and I wanted to get from him some good and solid account of what had taken place. The hon. Gentleman opposite has asked why should you not address questions to me about Pigott instead of to Gentlemen on that Bench? I do not wish to waste the time of the House, but I should be glad to answer every question they may be good enough to put. If they ask 624 questions of me, they will find me as clear as crystal and as pure as gold. Well, Sir, it was the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary who said why did not I have Pigott arrested when he had confessed himself to be a forger and perjurer? But what was I to do? Was I to walk into the streets, and say to the first police officer I saw, "Here is a man who says he is a forger and perjurer; arrest him!" The right hon. Gentleman knows that that would be impossible; but I would have had the man watched, and I would have taken care that he should not have gone away, if I had known he was not being watched by the Government. I knew, however, that two members of the Royal Irish Constabulary Force were in his hotel. Could I for a moment have imagined that those two policemen were put on by Mr. Shannon, and that he was not being; watched by the Government, but by Mr. Shannon, I should have had him watched; and I have no doubt Mr. Lewis would have done the same, but we both imagined from the fact that there were two police constables at his hotel that he was being watched by the Government. Why did not the right hon. Gentleman ask why Mr. Shannon did not have him arrested? Mr. Shannon had his two policemen on the spot; he had confabulations with him, and what did he do? Why, he got him to make a statutory declaration; and my belief is that Mr. Shannon encouraged him to go away. Why should he have got him to make a statutory declaration if he had imagined Pigott would have appeared on the following Tuesday in the witness box? In that case, where was the necessity for the declaration? Pigott told me he was sent to me to give me opportunities for obtaining certain papers that were in his house. But Pigott sent a telegram to his servant in Dublin to destroy all the compromising papers that might have passed between him and Houston in the negotiations. Is not that sufficient, and ought not the insinuations to be directed against Mr. Shannon and not against me? Pigott then goes to Spain, and immediately afterwards telegraphs back, not to me, but to Mr. Shannon, and says—"Here I am; send me what you promised me." This being so, I think the Home Secretary would do well not to indulge in insinuations against me. The Attorney General has 625 denounced my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby because he disapproved of the apology that was tendered by the Attorney General in Court on behalf of the Times. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby did use strong language with regard to that apology, and I hope he will not withdraw one word of it. Every single word he uttered was justified; and the Attorney General thinks he has answered my right hon. Friend when he says, "I am the author of the apology." The rapturous cheers which burst from hon. Gentlemen opposite at this extraordinary argumentum ad hominem were perfectly astounding. I do not care whether the Attorney General, or Mr. Soames, or the Times, or Mr. Walter did it. I say that the apology was a most disgraceful and sneaking apology. I go further, and say that that apology was not a frank confession or admission that the letters were forgeries. It evaded this, and implied that some of them were forgeries. What did the Attorney General say today? He said he went to the extreme limit of his duty in the language he had used. What does that mean? Does it imply that the Attorney General is prepared frankly to admit that these letters were forgeries or does it not? He said he went to the extreme limit of his duty in the language he used. Really we ought to understand this. Did the hon. and learned Gentlemen fully and absolutely admit that these letters were forgeries, one and all, or did he not. [Ministerial cries of "No."] Then listen to what the Court said—the Court appointed by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and consisting of three eminent Judges. These Judges have declared them, one and all, to be forgeries. Gentlemen do not understand that. The counsel for the defence were prepared with many and many other proofs. These proofs were stopped by the Court, because the Court said they were already proved to be forgeries. ("No.") Some Members of this Souse are absolutely shouting "No;" they do not believe they were forgeries, and they will not admit it. What justice can any Irishman expect when we are told that we waste time in this debate? I say we are justified in having occupied the three days by having got this fact from Gentlemen opposite, that they dare not say that my hon. Friend, and the friends of my 626 hon. Friend, the Member for Cork, forged those letters. They will not say that. The insinuation is—only the courage is wanting to assert it—that some were not forged. What is the real truth about the whole of this investigation? Hon. Gentlemen opposite thought that they were sure to win. They thought that success would cover over means the vilest and most contemptible. They were all friends together. I really do not know where one began and the other ended. We had Mr. Walter, the friend of the First Lord of the Treasury; we had Mr. Macdonald, Mr. Anderson; then Mr. Pigott visiting Daly as a private friend; and then Mr. Attorney General; but whether Mr. Attorney General stands at the top, or Mr. Pigott at the bottom, I do not know. But this I know, that when anything occurs in the case, one always throws it upon the shoulders of the other; yet the fact remains that this body of friends were banded together to prove to the country that the forged letters were written by my hon. Friend behind me; and now that the verdict of the Court is delivered we have gentlemen like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London—for I heard him "Sir Robert Fowler indicated assent] say "No." Why has not the right hon. Gentleman the courage to get up and say it? I will tell him why. Because then it would be absolutely necessary, even for Gentlemen on that side of the House, to vote that there had been a breach of privilege; the right hon. Gentleman would be removed from the Bar, and he would be punished according to the rules of the House, and according to the contrition which he showed. I challenge any Gentleman on that side of the House, not to evade his responsibility by crying "No, no," and that sort of thing. I challenge any man there to get up and to say that which in reality they assert by crying "No, no." Many Gentlemen on that side will think that they are wanting in a vestige of courage to say it. We are told that we ought to submit a Vote of no Confidence to those hon. Gentlemen opposite. No; we do not go from Pontius to Pilate. [Laughter.] I apologise to the [earned Gentleman—from Pontius Pilate to Caiaphus. We want to appeal to Cæsar. Blame us as much as you like about obstruction in this part of the 627 House, you may depend upon it that we intend to do our best in the House, just as we are doing our best out of the House, to force you to dissolve. We do not treat it as alone a political question—we consider it a question which concerns the honour of the country. Gentlemen who have made such base and such calmunious charges against our colleagues here, Gentlemen who now in defiance of the decision of a Court of law, maintain those assertions, should be at least driven from power, and the people should have the right to decide at once whether they will be there any longer as their rulers.
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
Mr. Courtney, I did not intend to intervene in this debate to-night, and I only do so now in a very few words, and for a specific object and purpose. I was not tempted, Sir, to intervene in this debate by the more than equivocal language used by the Leader of the Conservative Party in this country, and the head of Her Majesty's Government when addressing a public meeting the other day. What Lord Salisbury then said will have to be left to the judgment of the country. If he, as the Leader of his party and the head of the Government, chooses to pin any relic of his faith to any one of these letters, the punishment and the consequences will be upon his head and upon the head of his supporters. But, Sir, in the language of the Attorney General to-night, and in the shouts of some of his supporters, there has been some faint echo of Lord Salisbury's language—I am happy to say for the credit of this House only a faint echo. The hon. Member who has just spoken asked whether there was anybody in the House who still believed that the facsimile letter, or any one of these letters, had not been disproved. The Attorney General said that he went to the very verge of his duty—to the very extremity of his duty—in withdrawing these letters, because they felt that they had no longer any proof of them. What then happened? After they had bean withdrawn I was put into the box, and I testified on oath that I had not signed, written, authorized the writing, authorized the signature, or ever heard of any of these letters before they were published. That testimony the Attorney General listened to, and he did not venue to put to me a single question. He 628 is a lawyer; he knows the rules of law, though perhaps not of conduct. But I understand that as a lawyer he was bound by his reception of evidence and by his failure to cross-examine me—I mean that he was bound by my evidence. Is that true or is it not? Was the hon. and learned Gentleman, having listened to my testimony with regard to these letters, and having failed to cross-examine me upon that testimony—was he bound by that testimony there or was he not? And if he was bound by it there, why is he not bound by it here? And why was his Leader not bound by it when he treated these infamous productions as matters that were still in doubt? Well, Sir, I have risen for the purpose of asking this question of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Is there any one of them who will get up in his place, or sitting in his place, by a shake of his head or a nod, or a word, will venture to say he believes that there is any doubt whatever as to the forgery of these letters which have been alleged to have been written and signed by me?
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (interposing)
said: Mr. Courtney, I rise to a point of order. I beg to call the attention of the Committee to the fact that it was evident to the whole Committee that the question was asked by my hon. Friend the senior Member for Northampton whether any Member in this House still doubted that the letters attributed to my hon. Friend the Member for Cork were forgeries. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London by signs patent to everybody in this House signified, and many others signified, that they did. If you, Sir, rule me out of order I resume my seat. The hon. Member for the City of London, who now seems to assent to my statement, signified he still was prepared to say that some of the letters attributed to my hon. Friend were genuine. I call upon him to withdraw that statement, or—(after a pause) Coward!
Order, order! The incident of the question put by the hon. Member for Northampton occurred some time ago, and there were no doubt responses made which I need not characterize. The hon. Member for Cork afterwards rose 629 to make his statement, and he invited any hon. Member to make a declaration or a sign of that character. To that there was no response. With that the incident closed. Now I must call upon the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool to withdraw the word which I heard him use.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
After your condemnation, I have not the least objection or hesitation in withdrawing the expression.
§ *SIR HENRY JAMES (Bury)
Sir, a Resolution was passed in this House in the month of June, 1858, which declares that no Member is entitled to take any part in any discussion arising, directly or indirectly, out of any matter in which he has been engaged as counsel. I believe that it was the desire to carry out the spirit of that Resolution that has led my hon. and learned Friends who are Members of the House, and also Members of the English and Irish Bars, and who have represented interests hostile to those which I have advocated before the Commission, to take no part either by word or by vote in this debate. I should ill repay that conduct, which appears to me to be worthy of recognition, if I were to throw myself into the debate in any ordinary sense of those words. But I ask the Committee to allow me to occupy their attention for a very few minutes while—within the limits of what I wish to call a personal explanation—I deal with those matters with which I am personally connected. I am very sensible of the great and, I fear, unmerited courtesy which my hon. Friend the Member for Derby has extended to me in his speech this evening, and I shall endeavour to speak of my right hon. Friend in the same courteous tone. I am bound to take part in this discussion for one reason which is not entirely personal to myself. The charge made against the Attorney General is a charge made against him as counsel conducting the interests of the Times newspaper. There have been, and are still, six counsel to whom the interests of that newspaper have been entrusted. Four of them are absent from this House. They are men who are dependent upon their profession, and dependent upon the position they hold in that profession; and they are subjected to the same charge as the Attorney 630 General. It is scarcely to be treated as a matter of degree; if charges are made against the Attorney General of dishonourable conduct while taking charge of the interests of the Times, those who are his colleagues are charged equally with him. ["No, no!"] I hear a voice say "No;" but I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Longford will say that they are. And for this reason. If the Attorney General has committed one dishonourable act, or has taken one dishonourable course, even if he took the primary responsibility, those who are associated with him, can and ought to dissociate themselves from any further dealing or responsibility, so long as they think he has acted in a dishonourable or improper way. On the part of these four absent men, I am requested to say that they stand or fall by the course which the Attorney General has taken. They will dissever themselves from nothing that he has done; and now, watching all that he has done, they claim that, if the House passes this vote for the reduction of the salary of the Attorney General, the censure shall not rest upon him alone, and one and all declare that they will stand by his side, and ask to share in his condemnation. If it had been said that the Attorney General should not engage in private practice, I and my colleagues would not have had anrthing to say to that; and if it had been suggested that he should not, in the exercise of his discretion, have taken any particular brief, that is not a question which we need have entered upon; but when the charge is, in the language of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, that the Attorney General has acted in an unbecoming manner as an advocate, and when instances are given of that conduct which is termed dishonourable and discreditable to any member of the Bar, those who are the colleagues of the Attorney General will immediately protest. That portion of the charges which were contained in the earlier part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General has answered, and I need not, therefore, refer to them. But I wish particularly to address myself to the gravamen of the indictment which, I think, was 631 contained in the latter portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. And let me first say that this is an inconvenient tribunal to submit the decision of professional conduct to. In the first place, if the Attorney General has behaved discreditably or dishonourably, the Commission which is sitting had and has the opportunity to check, and censure, and condemn, and would condemn; but beyond that everyone of us, my colleagues and myself, are subject to a Court of discipline, which is such that, if it errs at all, it is generally on the ground of severity; and if there has been one act of the Attorney General's which has been so discreditable to him that a Vote of Censure ought to be passed upon him by this House, the Court of discipline to which I refer would be the first to pass censure after full investigation, and make him bear the penalty of his conduct. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney is a member of that Court of discipline, and if he, who has heard every word uttered by the Attorney General in this inquiry, if he has the slightest reason to say that dishonourable and discreditable conduct has been indulged in, if he can, upon his own authority, charge the Attorney General with having deviated from his duty, and there is an impartial Court and a certain tribunal to deal with the matter. But, Sir, the right hon. Member for Derby has made certain charges in this House. His first charge against the Attorney General, as I understand it, was that when he had learned that the witness Pigott was a man whose character would not bear investigation, he ought to have risen before the Commission, and said, "I withdraw the charges and acquit the accused." Those are the words of the right hon. Gentleman. I will see presently how he minimised them. That was the charge, and it is a charge against every counsel engaged with the Attorney General. The right hon. Gentleman says it was our duty after consultation to rise before the Judges and say:We withdraw the charge; we adjudge these letters to be forgeries, and we ask you to acquit the accused.I think I am right in stating that that is the first charge in this indictment. Let us examine it. I am afraid that 632 many hon. Members of this House will not understand the position so well as hon. Gentlemen who are members of my profession. But what is the position of affairs? The Commission was appointed by Statute to investigate these matters, including the authenticity of the letters, and bear in mind before the Commission the admissions a witness with respect to his past life would be made the subject of severe cross-examination. That being the case, my right hon. Friend affirms that we, the counsel for one of the parties, ought to have sat in judgment upon this man and said,We will not allow him to go into the witness-box; we will withdraw him from the position in which he would have to answer questions, there shall be no cross-examination, and we will leave the public for ever in doubt whether these letters were forgeries or not.That, Sir, was a course which it was not possible for any counsel to take. It was a course we never could pursue, and the Committee will see the reason for it. What should we have been doing? We should have been sending a witness away, with the result that the full and complete truth could never be known. We should have been asking that our judgment should be accepted instead of the judgment of the Court. What would the hon. Member for the City of Cork have said in his own interests, and in his desire to show, as I think he has shown, that he had not written these letters—what would he have said if we had withdrawn the witness from whose mouth it is alleged that the hon. Member was to extract the admission that the letters were forgeries? The first persons to protest would have been the hon. Member for the City of Cork and his immediate friends. They would have had the right to say, "This course shall not be pursued." If, then, the Attorney General had taken that course, he would have been rightly arraigned in this House and elsewhere. It would have been said of him that he sent this witness away to prevent disclosure. The course would be one which public opinion would never have tolerated, and which no counsel would have attempted or dared to take. What would it have involved? It would have involved the assertion that in our judgement based upon the mere statements contained in two letters of discreditable as a Nationalist journalist, this man had 633 beeh guilty of forgery. We should have been sitting as judges upon this man, and virtually have sentenced him to penal servitude for life as a forger. But even to that man, as to the most guilty, justice is due. We have no right to act as his judges, and say, "Because this or that letter has been written you are guilty." Yet the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman is that we ought to done all this; that the Attorney General should have said, "I withdraw the charges and acquit the accused."
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I beg your pardon for interrupting you, but allow me to point out that you might have called him at once.
§ SIR H. JAMES
I will deal with that in one moment. When the right hon. Gentleman is attacking the character of men to the death, he thinks little of minimizing the atoms of his charge, and shifting them from a principle down to a date. I trust that my right hon. Friend, instead of indulging in gestures and interruptions, will be good enough to understand that a principle remains the same whether it is to be applied in October or December. I am asking whether at any time counsel, whose judgments must be fallible, ought to have sat in judgment upon this man and convicted him of being a forger? Upon what grounds were we to say this? The right hon. Gentleman says you knew from his letter this man says his cross-examination would be injurious to his evidence in chief. And the hon. Member for Northampton elicited loud cheers by reading part of Pigott's letter of May 22; but the hon. Member omitted to read the context, which is—I wish you to understand that, if called upon to give evidence, I shall refuse, no matter what the consequence may be.Then the writer went on to say that in those circumstances it was certain that if the proceedings relied for success upon his testimony the case would fail. The attitude of the man was that he would not go into the witness-box at all, as he did not wish to reveal certain information. Then he said, "My character as a Nationalist journalist in the past will not bear investigation," and it is because the Attorney General and his colleagues did not upon those statements, and those statements only, rush to the conclusion that the man 634 was a forger and ought to be handed over to justice that we are now charged with dishonourable conduct. I cannot conceive that any person who knows the duty of a counsel, or any one would wish that we should act unfairly to any man, however lost he may be to a sense of right in his conduct, and that we should possibly have acted in the manner in which my right hon. Friend suggested. I will go further, and I say now that if Pigott had gone to any advocate and said, "I have forged these letters, what am I to do?" the answer would have been, "Go into the box and say you have done it, and then take the consequence of your assertion." No counsel would have told him not to go into the box, and not to prove the innocence of the accused. Well, Sir, strangely enough, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, with all his great experience, suggests that the proper course was, that this man should not have been given—by the advocates of the Times—an opportunity of giving evidence.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I never said that Pigott should not have been put into the box. I always thought that Pigott should have been called, but his proper character ought to have been stated to the Court. If it was thought proper that the truth should be known, Pigott should have been called, and he should have been called as soon as it was known that he was untrustworthy, and the Member for Cork ought not to have been kept for two months under the charge of having written the letters.
§ SIR HENRY JAMES
This is the fifth time my right hon. Friend has referred to the question of time. My right hon. Friend cannot and shall not escape. When he charged us with dishonourable conduct my right hon. Friend should either stick to his charges or withdraw them. My right hon. Friend said distinctly that the duty of the Attorney General was to rise in Court and say, "I withdraw the charges and acquit the accused;" and now he says that, having withdrawn the charges and acquitted the accused, we were afterwards to call Pigott to support the charges. I tell my right hon. Friend that that statement of his will be received with derision tomorrow morning by the whole of the profession who know the late Solicitor 635 General. Now, Sir, I will take my right hon. Friend's view, with all his great professional experience as a law officer of the Crown. I can see him as a law officer of the Crown rising and saying to the tribunal, "I am going to call a witness, and I ask the tribunal to determine whether what he is about to say is true or false. You are judges of the facts, but I tell you that the witness is a man of bad character, that we do not believe a word he says, and we will tell you that you ought not to believe him." That is the second proposition by virtue of which my right hon. Friend charges the counsel for the Times with grossly dishonourable and disreputable conduct. The third charge of my right hon. Friend is that it was the duty of the Attorney General personally to have made inquiries as to Pigott's character and antecedents. That is not quite compatible with his previous argument that the letters disclosed so much that no inquiry was needed, and that on the strength of the letters the charges ought to have been abandoned. My right hon. Friend now says that, as the letters did not disclose enough, the Attorney General ought to have added to them by a personal inquiry as to the antecedents of Pigott. My right hon. Friend has acted as counsel in many cases; has he ever made inquiries, as counsel, into the antecedents of any witness he might call? He may have done many things in Party struggles and for political purposes, and surely one who so nearly approached the head of the English Bar should not have resorted to such an argument as this—and when my right hon. Friend was a practising Member of the English Bar he would not have used such an argument as this—which he knows every member of his profession will hear of with astonishment. These are the charges on which, as far as professional conduct is concerned, my right hon. Friend attacked the Attorney General. He attacks him for not making this communication. I am not going to make any observation as to whether Mr. Soames offered the information which the hon. and learned Member for Hackney appears to have received at some time. I am glad to gather that my right hon. Friend had no communication with the Member for Hackney, and I tell my right hon. Friend that 636 the character of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney will rise higher to-morrow when it is learnt that he, neither directly nor indirectly, has taken any part in bringing this charge against the Attorney General I am happy to think that whilst my hon. and learned Friend knew how to gain a victory—and he did gain one—his conduct will bear contrast with that of his colleagues who do not seem to know how to use it. I am not about to make any appeal to the Members of the House. I am glad to know that this arraignment is to be followed by a verdict. Late in the evening a motion has been made to reduce the Vote, and consequently there will be a Division. I am making no appeal to the Members of the House, but there are some Members of the profession of the Attorney General sitting behind me. [Mr. A. MORLEY: Hear, hear.] The late Secretary to the Treasury ironically says, "Hear, hear." There are many ways in which the honour of our profession may be maintained, but there is not one of our profession who does not know that we have never had a leader who has been more desirous of truthfully doing his duty than the man who has been attacked to-night. I ask the members of the profession to show my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General no favour to-night. Let them all vote according to their belief. Is there one of you who believes the suggestion that the Attorney General is a cozening knave? Is there one of you, true Liberals as you may be, who does not deplore that Party exigencies have driven this question so far?
MR. J. MORLEY (Newcastle)
We, on this side of this House, listened to the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend (Sir H. James) with special interest on the occasion, because ha spoke on behalf of a profession of which he is himself a very distinguished ornament. Into the controversy as to professional conduct, it would not be proper for me, a mere nominal member of the profession, to enter; but I am constrained to state that Sir Charles Russell ["Order"]—the hon. and learned Member for South Hackney— 637 authorizes us to say that he is entirely in accord with the action we have taken. [Hon. Members:—Where is he?] The Chief Secretary for Ireland asks—"Where is he?" [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR:—No; I did not.] This is not only what he authorizes us to say, but it was what he has repeatedly said in the Court before the Judges. How many times has he complained of the way in which the Attorney General has presented the case? Again and again he complained of the unprofessional way in which the case was presented. ["No."] I repeat that again and again the hon. Member for South Hackney complained of the want of fairness which characterized the conduct of the Attorney General. But we are not here to-night to settle the etiquette of Inns of Court. We have had a very exciting debate, and we had some painful incidents. We had the incident with reference to the hon. Member for Mayo. I shall give no opinion on that, but I am disappointed at the impatience shown by hon. Members opposite, who are, after all, Englishmen, with hon. Members below the Gangway who are the accused persons. Surely after nine years, during which time they have been labouring under these accusations, it can not be wondered at if they give way in the excitement of debate to a little impatience. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division (Mr. Chaplin) said that the speech of the right hon. Member for Derby was received in a chilly manner on this side of the House, and he contrasted that chilliness of manner with the rapturous cheers with which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite received the apologia of the Attorney General. Yes; but the whole point of the debate turns on one incident—when the hon. Member for Cork challenged his opponents to show even by gesture that they believed the forged letters, 638 which the Attorney General euphemistically calls even now the facsimile letters were written by him. I regret to say that the hon. Member for the City of London, who has now disappeared, and who was prominent in this matter previously—even he made no sign under that challenge; and I am glad to notice that under the challenge of the hon. Member for Cork we all admitted that there is no answer to the challenge. Apart from that we need not go behind the manly and straightforward declaration of my right hon. and learned Friend (Sir H. James) that nobody believes—except the Prime Minister—that my hon. Friend could possibly have written those letters. The Attorney General read a passage from the charge of the Lord Chief Justice in "O'Donnell v. Walter," the drift of which was that there were other charges still pending of a character equally serious as the issue of the letters. Is there one of those charges which was not brought before the House in January or February, 1883, by the late Mr. Forster? There is not one, and yet, although the hon. Member for Cork was under those charges, Lord Carnarvon and the Tory Party went into a confederacy with him. ["No."] You may say "No," but Lord Carnarvon will not say "No." ["Yes he will, he has denied it again and again."] I do not wonder at your anger when this is mentioned. Hon. Members opposite will not deny that their own Viceroy went twice and had interviews with the man who was labouring under those very charges which the hon. and learned Member said were so much more serious than the forged letters. For my part I should have liked to avoid a violent personal issue of this kind, and I am not desirous of finishing this debate in a spirit of personal opposition to the hon. and learned Member beyond what the necessities of the case demands. 639 But I have said, on a platform, not long ago when I had the honour to sit side by side with my hon. Friend the Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), that the apology in the Times was mean, shabby, and unmanly, and I must say nothing has amazed me more, considering the estimation in which I was glad to hold the hon. and learned Gentleman, than to find that he, after all, was the author of that mean, shabby, and unmanly apology. Remember what the circumstances are. A Member who has held an important position in this House has a very grave charge made against him, so grave that the right hon. Member for West Birmingham said it was the charge, and if that charge was disposed of all the rest would be of no consequence. My right hon. Friend said on the 1st of August, 1888—If the Times fails to maintain its principal charges, I do not think much importance will be attached to the other charges. Any attempt, as it appears to me, on the part of the Times to put aside those principal charges, or not to put them in the forefront, will redound to their discredit.—the forefront meant about the 66th sitting—I don't think the hon. and learned Gentleman need fear in the slightest degree that the charges against himself and his colleagues can be or will be ignored.Remember the situation in which the apology was tendered. The hon. Member for Cork had a charge brought against him which would have damned him in his political career if it had been proved. That charge was withdrawn after it had hung over the hon. Member for months and years, and this is what the Attorney General said—I now, on behalf of those whom we represent, ask permission to withdraw from your consideration the question of the genuineness of the letters which have been submitted to you, the authenticity of which has been denied with a full acknowledgment that after the evidence which has been given we are not entitled to say that they are genuine. My Lords, although it is possible that any expression of regret made by me in making this statement may be misinterpreted"—what ungenerous language—"those whom I represent request me to express their sincere regret that those letters were published.Now, if we want a measure of the shabbiness, meanness, and unmanliness of the 640 apology, we find it lower down in the column where the Times itself expressed its own view of the extent to which their calumnies had been found out. I commend these words to hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is their own oracle speaking—Mr. Parnell having in the witness-box stated that the letters attributed to him were forgeries we accept in every respect the truth of that statement. This expression of regret we need hardly say includes also the letters falsely attributed to Mr. Egan, Mr. Davitt, and Mr. O'Kelly.If I want any justification for a vote showing disapproval of the conduct of the hon. and learned Gentleman, I should find it in the fact that after the charge was withdrawn by the authors of it, he had no more to say—not a word of regret to express to the hon. Member for Cork—than the poor words I have just read to the House. Now, there are one or two points raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby which were not touched in the least degree by the hon. and learned Gentleman. In the first place, he made no attempt to answer the position taken up by my right hon. Friend—that he ought never on any account to have placed himself in a position which disabled him from acting, as he might have been called upon to act, as Public Prosecutor, either against the proprietors of the Times or against Gentlemen below the Gangway. That is a most important, a vital proposition, going to the root of the Vote to-night; but on that the hon. and learned Gentleman had nothing more to say than that possibly his conduct might not have been altogether prudent. It was much more than that. It was a grievous error of judgment, and it is for that error of judgment, among other things, that I am going to vote for the reduction of the hon. and learned Gentleman's salary. With reference to the conduct of the hon. and learned Gentleman in the matter of Pigott, as 641 we now know, he knew for the first time of Pigott's letter in the middle of December. That letter he kept in his own bosom, so far as the Court and opposing counsel were concerned, for a period of two months and a-half. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bury seems to think it would have been very unfair if there had been any premature declaration of the existence of the document; but my right hon. Friend seems to forget that during those two months and a-half the hon. Member for Cork was lying under this charge, a charge which my right hon. Friend has to-night fully and manfully withdrawn. Supposing Pigott had said to Mr. Soames, "I am a forger," would the hon. and learned Gentleman then have felt bound to go on with the case on the footing on which it then stood? Pigott did not say that; but what he said was enough to have caused the Attorney General or Mr. Soames, or anyone else concerned on behalf of the Times, to at least set inquiries on foot as to the character of their chief witness. I happen to know—I suppose most of us do—that the correspondent of the Times in Dublin is a certain Dr. Patton, editor of the Dublin Express, so that the readers of the Times get their Irish news through the editor of the high Tory and Orange organ in Ireland. Those concerned for the Times had nothing to do but to send a telegram to Dr. Patton, who knew every particular as to the character of Pigott. I have been a journalist, and I know perfectly well, from my own experience, from attempts of Pigott to have relations with me—(a laugh)—Oh, not sinister relations, although I have no doubt Pigott would have written me a Nationalist article, or have forged, if you please, a document discrediting the Nationalist party, if I had been as credulous as Mr. Macdonald. I knew that there was no man in Dublin whose 642 character was more notorious. That is really the gravamen of the charge made by my right hon. Friend—that having Pigott's own assertion that he could not go into the box, the hon. and learned Gentleman, and those concerned for the Times, took no trouble whatever to find out what manner of man he was. If they had taken any trouble in that direction they would have found that the whole of their fabric rested on a foundation that was absolutely rotten. Again, the hon. and learned Gentleman never dealt with the challenge of my right hon. Friend to explain his statement on July 4 that the authenticity of the letters had been tested by experts and in other ways. The hon. and learned Gentleman has the chance even now, but up till now he has never dealt with the point. He has never explained in what other way he meant the Times had tested the authenticity of the letters.
MR. JOHN MORLEY
I am amazed that the hon. and learned Gentleman should plead his mouth was closed. This really sheds a most extraordinary light on professional etiquette. Are we to understand that supposing he knew that Pigott was a forger his mouth was closed? My point is this—he said the Times had tested the authenticity of the letters by the examination of experts, and in other ways. Well, what privilege of counsel is there when I ask "What were the other ways?" Are we to understand that he was at liberty to tell the country that the letters had been tested in other ways and yet was not at liberty to say what other ways had been resorted to? We needs must ask ourselves what "other ways" were resorted to; we ask ourselves was the Attorney General justified by any sort of canon of professional etiquette, or in any way, in putting for 643 ward the statement that other tests were resorted to, when it appears, as a matter of fact, other ways had not been resorted to. I will not keep the Committee any longer, but I think my assertion is true, that the most important articles in the charge made by my right hon. Friend have not in the slightest degree been met by the Attorney General. One point which you thought he had made, and the only point, was that he had given either a copy or intelligence of the existence of Pigott's self-abnegating letter, but that point loses significance when you remember this was done only after Mr. Soames had in his evidence alluded to the existence of this letter, and my hon. and learned Friend (Sir C. Russell) had called for its production. That is the only point made on which you exultingly thought he had scored. As I have said, I had no intention of taking part in this discussion, and I am only using unpremeditated words. I feel our discussion of to-night and the three days' controversy to which it is the temporary and provisional end, will be followed by many other discussions, until we bring you face to face with those who have the right to pronounce judgment upon all this. This marks a very important stage in a long controversy I have watched the controversy very closely and vigilantly before I came into the House and since I have sat here The first vote I ever gave in the House, I gave in support of a Bill brought forward by the hon. Member for Cork—I think there were 53 or 55 of us in one lobby—and from that date, which is exactly six years ago, there has been no pause in the movement, which has been all in one direction. We were 55 then, we are now six or seven times as many. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary knows as well as I do that there has been no pause or check in the flow of the stream, and the 644 tide is rising swiftly. The discussion we are upon to-night affecting the character of my hon. Friend the leader of the Irish Party has by the admission of the hon. and learned Member for Bury (Sir H. James) cleared aim from one of the most damaging charges ever made against him, and shows we have turned one of the sharpest corners in our long and arduous journey. I wonder you do not see it. I wonder that hon. Gentlemen, instead of indulging in passionate cheers, where any hope is held out to them that possibly some shred or fragment of the charges made against my hon. Friend may prove to be true—I wonder they do not ask themselves whether they are not fighting a hopeless battle, and whether it would not be better for the interest of unfortunate, distracted Ireland, and for this unfortunate and rather distracted House, that they should face the facts, that they should abandon this mood of fierce, bitter political passion against those who are our colleagues, and whom you insist on retaining as our colleagues; and whether it is worth while for you very much longer—I would give you as much time as is necessary to save your political honour—whether in your hearts you believe it is possible for you much longer to persist in the unfortunate course upon which you have embarked. Whatever the result of the division may be—and for my part I do not care in the least about it—[Laughter]—no, I do not care about the division—[Laughter]—hon. Gentleman need not laugh very hilariously at that, because, as I said the other day, and say it now—not in a, harsh, offensive sense—the division will be won by a fraudulently obtained majority. I feel sure that if we are here—we shall not all be here, I hope—six years hence, those of us who are here will find, looking back, that this debate, which clears the character of the hon. Member for Cork and his friends, marks the point of the decisive and final advance.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir EDWARD CLARKE,) Plymouth
I hope before the division is taken the Com- 645 mittee will indulge me with a few minutes and allow me, more for the sake of the personal and professional relations between myself and my hon. and learned Friend than for any necessity for defending him against this attack, to associate myself with him in defence. In the speech we have just listened to there were, I think, certain premeditated sentences that have done duty elsewhere, although they found their way into the peroration of that unpremeditated speech. In that speech there was very little that touched the question we are debating. The right hon. Gentleman charged my hon. and learned Friend with being mean, shabby, and dishonest in framing the apology for the Times, and we have been treated again to suggestions which I thought had been absolutely demolished, not only by the Attorney General, but by the hon. and learned Member for Bury, of a conspiracy to suppress what had taken place in regard to Pigott; but what more was there in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman? He wandered off into all sorts of topics, and revived that which I had thought was the almost forgotten fable about Lord Carnarvon and the confederacy with the Conservative Party. Is it necessary once more to remind him that when these allegations about a confederacy between the Conservatives and the Irish Party were first set on foot, not only a letter was written by the late "Whip" of the Conservative Party, denying that any such confederacy existed, but a letter was also published by the hon. Member for Cork denying in the most emphatic terms that any such confederacy existed. Yet the right hon. Gentleman attempts to quote and give back to public currency, as if it were accepted truth, this statement of a confederacy with Lord Carnarvon and the Tory Party.
MR. J. MORLEY
I never said that I was extremely careful to limit my proposition to this, that Lord Carnarvon met twice, and had an interview in a room with, the hon. Member who is the 646 subject of these charges, which I say is important.
§ *SIR E. CLARKE
I though I heard a statement as to the Tory Party. I accept at once in all completeness the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, but what does the accusation come to? Does he suggest that it was discreditable for Lord Carnarvon to have met the hon. Member for Cork? I am going to put a perfectly fair interpretation upon his words; he does not say it was discreditable on the part of Lord Carnarvon to meet the hon. Member, but he said there was some inconsistency, because it implied a suggestion that Lord Carnarvon made those proposals to the hon. Member for Cork which Lord Carnarvon has again and again in specific terms denied.
§ *SIR E. CLARKE
The right hon. Gentleman says the House should view with leniency and indulgence the exhibition of strong feeling on the part of Irish Members, and I quite agree it is impossible that they should be subject to charges of this kind without being entitled to express strong feeling; and he says that there is all the more excuse and justification for that exhibition of feeling, tumultuous and occasionally turbulent as it may have been, seeing the accusations to which they have been exposed for nine years.
§ *SIR E. CLARKE
I will not pin the right hon. Gentleman to nine years, seven is quite sufficient. I forget what date it was in 1882 when we heard the right hon. Gentleman (Sir W. Harcourt) make his accusations across the floor of the House against his present allies. Take it as seven years, and during the greater part of those seven years, who are the men who have made the bitterest and most violent accusations against hon. Members below the Gangway opposite? If the right hon. Gentleman the Member 647 for Newcastle waits to find a catena of phrases—a whole magazine of vituperation against Members below the Gangway—he has only to ask the right hon. Member very near him to lend him that treasured volume in which, no doubt, some friendly hand inserts the speeches made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby. This is no mere tu quoque. If the right hon. Gentleman says these accusations have existed for seven years, it is only fair we should hand over to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby the greater portion of the credit of exciting the present feeling. How curious is the debate now taking place! Does the Committee quite realize what is being done? The hon. Member for Wexford has proposed a reduction in the salary of my hon. and learned Friend, and he was supported in anticipation by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. T. P. O'Connor). Both these hon. Gentlemen are being prosecuted by the Attorney General; they are being prosecuted in this sense, they are defendants in an action in which the Attorney General is appearing in circumstances he has explained to the House, as counsel for those who are putting their case before a judicial tribunal that has been formed for the purpose.
§ *SIR E. CLARKE
I am going to deal with that in a few minutes. As a matter of fact, there has been established a great judicial tribunal, and to that tribunal has been handed over for decision matters which, however they may ultimately be decided, are no doubt of very great importance. No decision has yet been given on any single point of the accusations. This tribunal decided in what way the inquiry should be conducted; decided to call upon those who had made themselves principally responsible for the accusations to be inquired into to formulate their 648 statements, and bring forward their witnesses in the first instance. This tribunal decided that the names of those who were charged should be given, and there is a list of names in this book of those who are included in the charges and allegations. Among these names are those of the hon. Members for Wexford and for the Scotland Division of Liverpool.
§ *SIR E. CLARKE
The Report of the proceedings before the Royal Commission. These two hon. Members propose to reduce the salary of the Attorney General. But this is not all. We have had a speech from the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), who has been flitting hither and thither to-night. He came in, made his speech, and departed; and I will say no more than this, that he has been under the consideration of the tribunal, and so far as we know he continues to be under the consideration of the tribunal now. I confess when I heard him talk about evidence and cross examination, it did occur to me that many of us would like to cross-examine the hon. Gentleman to get an explanation of certain transactions in relation to this inquiry. Another speech there was from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, who, I persume, is going to give evidence before the Commission, because a piece of evidence has been given before the Commission affecting him. He took the opportunity—I suppose it is a privilege of his great position—to write to the newspapers denying the statement made by a witness; but that statement was made on oath before the Commission, and the Commissioners, before they can consider it denied and refuted, must undoubtedly require the right hon. Gentleman to give his evidence. I confess I have listened with great amusement to the right hon. Gentleman—amusement tempered with 649 a little indignation—as he referred to various matters in his speech. He continually talked of the "man Houston," and mentioned him by name. After speaking of the "miserable wretches" with whom the Attorney General had had to deal, he denounced Houston for having burned correspondence. Well, he will have an opportunity of denying the statement made on oath, that in 1883 he advised or suggested the destruction of certain documents about the Kilmainham Treaty.
§ *SIR E. CLARKE
The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. The statement was denied by him in a letter to the newspapers, but the statement was made by Captain O'Shea early in the course of the proceedings before the Commission, that in 1883, when there was talk of a Committee of the House to inquire into matters connected with the Kilmainham Treaty, the right hon. Gentleman said the documents were to be, or had been, destroyed.
§ *SIR E. CLARKE
The name of a more illustrious person even than this right hon. Gentleman was mentioned as having been consulted. I am only pointing out the peculiar position of those who are making these accusations against the Attorney General, and I ask the Committee to note the way in which these accusations have changed their form from time to time. First, the accusation was that the Attorney General ought not to have taken the brief, and my hon. and learned Friend in his speech has answered that accusation. ["No!"] I do not say he has answered it to the satisfaction of hon. and right hon. Gen- 650 tlemen opposite; my hon. and learned Friend would need miraculous power to do that; but he has explained, and it is perfectly clear that before this became matter for a Special Commission, he held a brief in the private action of "O'Donnell v. Walter," and so became cognizant of all the proceedings in respect to which the Commission was set up. When the Commission was established, is it to be supposed the Attorney General was not entitled to appear for his former clients, who were putting forward the same charges as they had made through his mouth, and supporting them by the same evidence as had been communicated to him? I express no opinion as to the wisdom of the decision he came to, but it cannot be said that there was anything inconsistent with professional honour or political duty in taking the brief. It is suggested that doing so prevented him from doing the work of the Government, and on this I have more right to speak than any man living. I am associated with the Attorney General in the greater part of his official work, and I can testify to his amazing capacity for work—a capacity for work surpassing that of any man I have ever met in my professional career. There never has been the slightest delay in undertaking and discharging the work that had to be done for the Government, and at this moment there is not on my table, nor I believe on that of my hon. and learned Friend, a single set of Government Papers on which our opinions have been asked and not given. Throughout there has not been any interruption in the Court work or advising work of the Attorney General. I do not say that all men could have done this, but exceptional capacity for work on the part of my hon. and learned Friend has accomplished it. Another accusation is not so much against the Attorneys General as against the Government. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir W. Harcourt) was anxious to refer to this as a State inquiry.
§ *SIR E. CLARKE
The words "State inquiry" were a quotation. When the Commission Bill was before the House I described it as not a judicial tribunal set up to decide between two parties, but a Court of Inquiry set up to inquire into matters of great importance to the State. Now, the right hon. Gentleman says the Court was formed by the Government, the indictment was framed by the Government, and the parties were summoned by the Government. Now, there is no foundation for these statements at all. The Court formed by the Government? It was submitted to the judgment of the House. We know perfectly well that the right hon. Gentleman, in a speech made at Derby the other day, said the Court consisted of "Judges of the highest and most dignified impartiality." Yes; we will remind him of that by-and-bye, if the decision of the Court should not be quite to his taste. The Government did not frame the indictment; that was framed by the parties whom the Commission called upon to state their specific charges, and with the charges or the persons named the Government had nothing to do. Throughout, the position of the Government has been a steadily impartial one. The right hon. Gentleman had an opportunity of discussing the formation of the Commission and the powers to be given it. Full powers were given the Commissioners to deal completely with the matters before them, and I absolutely decline to discuss anything that has taken place before the Commission in reference to the charges or even to the letters, which were not part of the charges so much as part of the evidence upon which those charges were to be sustained. ("No.") This is not said to-day for the: first time; it has been said through out. Even upon the letters the Court has expressed no opinion whatever, and I wait until that opinion is expressed. I must say, however, I am extremely glad this discussion has taken place, and 652 especially for the sake of my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General. Although he may not have felt the strain and pressure of accusations of this kind, yet those who have been associated with him for years in professional and political life, as well as in personal friendship, have felt for him; and they have looked forward with great anxiety to this discussion, in the hope it would come quickly before the House, and satisfied that he would give a triumphant and conclusive answer to the charges made against him. Under the fostering influence of speeches from below the Gangway, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby is recovering a little from the pitiable condition to which he was reduced by the reply of the Attorney General. Those who have been in this House will never forget the way in which, when my hon. and learned Friend was answering him, the right hon. Member for Derby interposed and shifted his charges, trying to minimize the meaning, and explain away the terms he had used. We on this side of the House are very glad indeed that an opportunity has been given for this discussion and this vindication, and I almost envy my hon. and learned Friend that he has had, in the hearing of so many of his fellow Members, and, I believe, to their absolute and entire satisfaction, an opportunity of clearing away the calumnious accusations which have been made against him.
*MR. A. STAVELEY HILL (Staffordshire, Kingswinford)
After what has fallen from the learned Solicitor General, I feel bound to say that I hope it will be clearly understood that my vote to-night will be given with the most thorough accceptance of the statement of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cork that the letters are rank forgeries.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (North Longford)
I rise, not to prolong the debate, but rather to make an appeal to my hon. Friend the Member for Cork and to my colleagues. Out of the entire ranks of the Conservative Party opposite only one gentleman has risen to express 653 his opinion that the letters were forged, and by implication his condemnation of the methods used against my hon. Friend the Member for Cork. The learned Solicitor General, who has just sat down, said he could not accept the withdrawal of these letters as anything definite; he suggested that they were only shaken in proof. The Leaders of the Unionist Party, who started the Commission last year, have not one word to say, and the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale, the main pillar of the Government, lies silent to-night like a pike at the bottom of a pond, from which he never emerges except when some favourable occasion is given of coming to the assistance of the Government. Now, Mr. Courtney, my words will be very few, and they will be addressed to my fellow countrymen. This is the first assembly of Gentlemen in the world. These letters are put forward as an accusation involving the grossest and most fearful charges. The learned Solicitor General thinks lightly of them now, although he said on the 23rd July, 1888, that in a civil action, if the libel were proved against the Times newspaper, any jury would give most ample damages for the injury—damage sufficient to satisfy the instinct of revenge as well as that of cupidity. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham said that these letters constituted the gravamen of the charge, and if they were shown to be forgeries, the rest of the case would be so prejudiced that the public would not pay much attention to it. Now, Sir, if anything has been proved as plainly as that two and two make four, it is that the letters were forged, and yet the first nobleman of the land he Leader of a party of Gentlemen, not of a party of raparees and rapscallions such as that to which I myself belong, alleges that these letters may still be treated as authentic, and to-night an ex Lord Mayor, who is always put forward as a representative of the Party, has given 654 his adhesion to that statement. If that is the line the First Assembly of Gentlemen in the world takes, what hope of justice have the Irish Members in minor matters? What is the use of our going on any further with this Commission, if now, when the letters have been proved to demonstration to be the basest forgeries, you for Party purposes by your Leader, the Prime Minister of this country, and by your Solicitor General take up this line? And this, I repeat, is the First Assembly of Gentlemen in the world. I do not doubt that before another month has passed, just as Lord Salisbury has declared that these letters may still be genuine, some Conservative Member will come forward and say that the letters have been conclusively proved, and that Pigott has been assassinated in Madrid by an emissary of the hon. Member for Cork. I have a precious relic at home; it consists of my warrant of imprisonment. All I can say is that so little do I care for what the verdict of your Commission may be, that the first thing I propose to do, if I succeed in getting a certificate of acquittal or indemnity, will be to put it under the kitchen grate. Now that the Times case is closed, and Irish Members know the worst to be said against them, now that emissaries have been brought from America and the prisons have been emptied of all the perjury and forgery they contain, I appeal to my hon. Friends whether they should not wash their hands of the business, and let their carefully selected tribunal make its Report? Let your Prime Minister and your Attorney General say against us what they please. I have never cared one twopence for the Times charges. I have never read "Parnellism and Crime," and I never intend to do so; but I think that, considering the attitude which has been taken up with regard to our proof of innocence, the dignified attitude for my countrymen to take up, and for their Representatives in the English Parliament to assume, standing independently before the world in regard to these matters, should be one of contempt. That will be my recommendation to my hon. Friends, and that, at all events, is the attitude which I shall take up as far as I am personally concerned. Our treatment by the Attorney General is 655 exactly what I expected from him; the attitude of the Government is exactly what I expected from them and the action of the noble Lord, the private friend of Houston, was exactly what I expected from him. And as to those men who imagine that we are fighting this fight for Ireland for the sake of a few years or a few days, or for the sake of our private characters, let us leave them to their fond imaginings. Let us go on as our forefathers went on. You who slandered John Mitchell and Smith O'Brien; you who employed that dirty, filthy newspaper, which has betrayed all its traditions; and you who slandered Robert Emmett in his grave; you who slanderd Wolfe Tone; you who put poison in the wine cups of the Irish chieftains, go on—go on with your slanders and moral assassination, go on and do your worst. We, Sir, standing safe in the confidence and faith of our fellow countrymen, will go on raising up the flag of the Irish nationality, and will keep it aloft untarnished, whatever may be the issue of this struggle.
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 206; Noes 286. (Division list No. 38.)
§ Original question put and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported upon Monday next.
§ Committee to sit again upon Monday next.