§ SIR HENRY HOWORTH (Salford, S.)
proposed another Amendment—at the end of the Question, to add the words:—And we humbly represent to Your Majesty that, in our opinion, the explanation given by the Government to justify the release of the dynamitards is inadequate, and is calculated to encourage a recrudescence of that form of crime.He said he thought that this Amendment had a gravity and importance which hardly attached to any other Amendment on the Paper. The interest of them all—and this was the question at issue—was the integrity of justice of which that House was the ultimate guardian. By the integrity of justice and its protection several things might 360 be meant. It might mean protection against overt and crude attacks such as were made in ruder days, and which were no longer possible, and which were therefore no longer a danger. Or it might mean protection against more insidious attacks by which justice was made subservient to the exigencies of political strategy. A very profligate instance of this kind was the reopening of the Maamtrasna trials. [Irish cries of "Oh!"] But there were other reasons why this protection was needed which did not involve any moral obliquity, and which therefore perhaps had a more sinister portent. He meant the undue interference by the authorities at the Home Office with the decisions of Courts of Justice, the responsibilities of juries, and with the judgments of Judges. In this country they had secured what no 361 other country had succeeded in securing—a masculine type of citizen to whom they could intrust the jury system of the country. They perhaps had certain racial instincts for the work, but they had certainly trained a class of men who were courageous and who were careful in their judgments, and anything that tended to lessen the sense of responsibility in these men—anything that led them to think that the hand behind the screen, not always with due responsibility, might intervene to dislocate and sophisticate the results of their careful consideration and of their work, might lead to dangers and difficulties which they could scarcely foresee. If juries begin to fancy their work may be revised presently by others, the care and courage they had hitherto shown would begin to fail, and there would be a feeling that their carelessness or want of courage in critical cases would presently be remedied by other hands. This was the particular danger to which his remarks would be chiefly directed. When his right hon. Friend in August last released from prison four persons all convicted of desperate crimes at one moment, and released them at a time when most Members of the House had left London and it was impossible to raise any issue in the House—["hear, hear!"]—there was a certain troubled feeling went over the country, and was reflected in all portions of the Press. He had means of testing this feeling in another way, for he ventured to write two or three letters to The Times on the subject—["hear, hear!" and laughter]—and he received from all parts of the Empire letters from men of consequence and influence, all of them sympathetic, all exhibiting a certain anxiety about the particular course the Home Secretary had deemed it right to follow. Before he addressed himself to the immediate question, there were two personal questions he wished to mention. His right hon. Friend would bear him out when he said that in all the years they had 362 known each other there had never been a breath of personal difference between them. One other personal issue he would mention with another right hon. Friend, who, speaking at Manchester the other day on the course Lord Londonderry and he (Sir Henry) had deemed it right to take, said that what had been done virtually amounted to some imputation on the integrity and honour of his right hon. Friend. He could not possibly understand how such an opinion—
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
What I said at Manchester so far as I remember was that if, after the statement I then made in public, on my honour as a gentleman, anybody repeated that accusation, he would be disgraced by it, and I should not. [Cheers.]
§ SIR H. HOWORTH
said he thought it would be a serious matter—a very serious matter—if, whenever any difference of opinion as to the policy or as to the prudence of a certain public action arose between himself and any of his right hon. Friends who happened to be in positions of great responsibility—if he were to be precluded from criticising that conduct or policy, because he would be charged with making some attack which, in some way, would convey an imputation of dishonour.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I am most reluctant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman's remarks, but I want him to clearly understand I made no criticism on what had passed before I spoke—no criticism whatever; but after the full explanation then made undoubtedly I considered that any person who repeated that I knew there was any transaction in the matter, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, would incur, as I thought, very serious responsibility.
§ SIR H. HOWORTH
said he had not anywhere made any imputation of any kind—he could not make an imputation—in the House or out of it affecting the honour and character of his right hon. Friend. That character, both in the 363 House and outside the House, was absolutely beyond suspicion. ["Hear, hear!"] He had questioned, and did still question, the prudence of the policy he adopted on a certain occasion—a policy which involved a reversal of the policy of two other right hon. Friends, both of whom had decided on different occasions in a matter closely connected with this particular issue. In no criticism he and his friends proposed to make was there the least thought or hint of causing an issue that involved anything in the shape of a sinister imputation. That was not his motive or purpose, but he did feel that if the Home Office on this and other recent occurrences had intervened with definite authority in a matter decided by a Court of Law after very serious consideration, then it was a matter which ought to be discussed on the floor of the House, and that under any circumstances the matter ought to be discussed after the subject had been matter of comment in the Press, as it was during the autumn, and that it had better be raised from those Benches than from the other side. The particular issue he purposed to raise was the dispensing power of the Home Office in cases where the Queen's mercy has hitherto been introduced to mitigate the sentence of a Court of Law in a criminal case. The intervention of the doctrine of the Queen's mercy was a very old, a patriarchal, way of mitigating hard cases of law, and so long as it was a personal act of the Sovereign—so long as it was the act of King or Queen—to soften certain acerbities of the law there was little or no ground of complaint. But directly it became a vicarious act it became much less gracious, and certain elements of danger and difficulty had become attached to it. The first of these elements of danger and difficulty was that when the exercise of the prerogative of mercy became attached to a political officer he was eventually at the mercy of a large number of outside influences, which it required a man of strong character always to resist. It was extremely indecent that in a number 364 of cases discussed in the Press the political or private friends of prisoners should bring pressure to bear upon the Home Secretary to exercise the powers which he possessed. [Mr. DAVITT: "What about Dr. Jameson and his friends?" "Hear, hear!"] These applications placed the Home Secretary in a position of great difficulty, and his powers, unless limited by very precise rules and to a very small number of peculiar cases, would be very dangerous in the hands of a man who had not the high character of his right hon. Friend. In the particular cases to which he was referring the Home Secretary's action was open to criticism on several grounds. In the first place it was extremely unfortunate that the release of these four men should have taken place at a time when it was impossible that the subject could be discussed in Parliament. [Mr. T. M. HEALY—"No; it was long before the House rose."] The House was undoubtedly still sitting at the time, but the great mass of its Members had left London. It was on August 15 that the Home Secretary announced in the House that he had resolved to release these men, and it-seemed to a great number of people in this country that their release was in curious proximity in point of time to the complacency of certain politicians, who were found to be extremely complacent when the Irish Land Bill was under discussion. [Nationalist cries of "Oh,"and laughter.] All who knew his right hon. Friend knew that he was above suspicion of any kind, but it was a fact that organs of the Press, representing large bodies of opinion, commented on the coincidence to which he had drawn attention. Then he could not think that these cases were cases for exceptional kindness and consideration. The crimes for which the men had been sent to prison were crimes of exceptional gravity. They were so considered by everyone who had referred to them in that House. No one had spoken more severely about them than Mr. Gladstone, and hon. Members opposite had described them in the 365 same strain. When these criminals came out of prison, instead of hiding in corners, ashamed of themselves and objects of shame to their neighbours, they passed from town to town in a sort of triumphal progress, acclaimed by a population demoralised in its moral standards. When men who had committed such crimes were treated exceptionally by the authorities it was an encouragement to people to view the worst of offences as glorious and praiseworthy whenever they were perpetrated from motives which the perpetrators chose to believe heroic. He held that there was exceptional treatment extended to these men. In 1805 there was an average of 4,500 prisoners in the convict gaols of the country. Out of this number there were five prisoners released in 1895 and five in 1896 on the ground of the medical recommendations of the gaol doctors. But out of the entire category of nine dynamite prisoners, four were released in one year and at one time, leaving five in prison. This was one of the elements in which there was a distinct difference made between the one class of crime and the other. If a choice had to be made it was surely to be made in the interests of men who under some momentary impulse or capricious associations had committed crime, rather than in the interests of men who had prepared and elaborated infamous designs to destroy large towns and the people who inhabited them. But that was not all. The fact that these men had friends and political allies outside had led to the appointment of one commission of doctors after another—["no, no"]—until there had been five commissions inquiring into the condition of these men. ["No, no."] There was here a distinct and very different method of treatment in the case of those criminals from that which was adopted in the case of the ordinary criminals. It was somewhat noteworthy that we had not in this country doctors who were specialists appointed to make periodical visits to all prisoners reported to them 366 by the ordinary gaol doctors, and whose duty it should be to examine and report irrespective of any outside pressure. As to the medical condition of these prisoners, he was bound to say that he could not quite understand the theory on which his right hon. Friend based his action. Hitherto, he believed, this special intervention had been limited to those cases where a man's death was imminent; otherwise the ordinary course in all cases of long sentences was to make a quinquennial examination in regular order, and to make in those cases where good conduct could be alleged, a reduction of the sentence. The exceptional intervention of the Home Office only arose in cases of imminent death. ["No, no."] He made that statement on the high authority of Sir Edmund Du Cane.
§ SIR H. HOWORTH
said that hitherto it had not been the custom to release a prisoner because he happened to have gone out of his mind. The proper place for such a prisoner was Broadmoor. ["Oh, oh."] The country had provided a special place and a special method of treatment for prisoners who lost their reason. Why, then, should two prisoners who were lunatics be turned out into society when the proper place for them was Broadmoor? But was it certain that these men were mad at all? ["Oh!"] The evidence was of the strangest character. They had had the reports of four doctors on four different occasions, in addition to those of the medical inspector of the gaol; and every one of them testified that these men were shamming madness. And, when his right hon. Friend came into office in February of last year, he reported in that House that he had put the case specially before Dr. Maudsley and Dr. Nicholson, and that these two specialists had both reported to him that these men had been shamming, and that they had not suffered in any way, either mentally or bodily, during the years of their 367 incarceration. Dr. Maudsley, he understood, made a fresh report in August last in conjunction with another medical officer, and ill this he had reported in a sense which at present he could not gauge, because the report had not been published. But if it was on the testimony of Dr. Maudsley that these men were released from prison, they had the evidence of these last three days in the House of Commons, when one of these four men—Daly—was actually sitting underneath the gallery after having had triumphal processions in different parts of Ireland—[Nationalist cheers]—and being the hero of one banquet after another, and making speeches which in the Irish papers occupied three columns ["Hear, hear,"from the Nationalists.] Yes, hon. Gentlemen cried "hear, hear," but the only justification for the release of the prisoners was that they were either mad or on the point of death. What was the value of Dr. Maudsley's report when he was completely at issue with the reports of all other Commissioners who had examined into their condition in the course of the last nine or ten years? Who was to say that these men who shammed madness so well were not shamming at this moment, and that they had been released on the testimony and by the advice of a doctor whose judgment had been proved to be utterly worthless by the presence in this House of the individual on whom he passed judgment? [Cheers.] He complained very much of the reticence of his right hon. Friend in this matter. The American papers of the last seven months had been full of the vilest and most abominable imputations against the predecessor in office of his right hon. Friend, and against the gaolers and doctors and other officers. "Bloody Asquith"—[laughter]—was a heading that occurred continuously. "The Ruffian Asquith "—[laughter]—was another prominent headline, [Interruption from Nationalist members.]
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must ask hon. Members to give the hon. Member who 368 is addressing the House a fair and proper hearing.
§ SIR H. HOWORTH
said that these phrases might arouse laughter on the other side, but when they were accompanied by phrases involving flattery to officials who happened to sit on the Ministerial side at present, and for whom they all had the highest respect, he could not help feeling that these phrases were rather a shame to the Ministerial side which they could by no means be proud of. He and his Friends felt that the right hon. Gentleman opposite when in office was cheered very loudly from the Unionist benches for his courageous conduct—doubly courageous considering the pressure behind him. [Ministerial cheers.] That pressure was far greater than any which could be felt by the present Home Secretary; and he and his Friends did not like to think that this reversal of the decision of the right hon. Gentleman opposite might have the very painful result that no future Liberal Home Secretary would dare to face the responsibility and difficulty of resisting pressure from behind, because he would be told that others would do what he had been courageous enough to refuse to do, [Cheers.] Not only ought the predecessors of the present Home Secretary to be considered, but the officials of the gaols also. They had been denounced in shameless language—[cheers]—and had been accused of the basest cruelty. If those charges were true, the prison officials ought to be removed from their offices. If they were not, then the natural guardian and protector of the officials—the Home Secretary—ought immediately to give an answer which would be complete—an answer based on the documents in his hands proving the whole of the charges to be utterly slanderous. [Cheers.] He could not understand why there should be any hesitation about publishing the doctors' Reports in these cases. In a Court of law, where a doctor was called to prove anything his evidence was published. Over and over again in 369 the Blue-books doctors' Reports had been published. The doctor was acting in a perfectly responsible manner; he was paid a fee for his opinion, and in these critical cases—it was not necessary in ordinary cases—where special Commissions of Inquiry had been appointed and where a great deal of public discussion had taken place, the doctors' opinions ought to be published. This might seem a small matter if it were limited to the case of the four dynamiters. But there were other cases where public opinion had been inclined to the belief that the benevolence of the Home Office had been a stain upon the previous traditions of that office. Though it might be quite right now to have a kind of Star Chamber on a small scale, whose inquiries and decisions were secret, and based on secret evidence, and whose duties were to revise the findings of Judges and juries arrived at in open Court, face to face with the witnesses and the evidence, yet it might be that seeds were being sown which would presently have bitter fruit when some one, without the high character and antecedents of the present Home Secretary, occupied his office. For that reason many felt that it would be very expedient if some Royal Commission were appointed to inquire into the whole system, under which the supervision of ordinary criminals was now conducted by the Home Office officials. It would be a good thing if some set of rules were drawn up by which the personal equation of the Home Secretary for the time being should be restricted. He had tried to show why the exercise of the Home Secretary's judgment in this particular case had not been satisfactorily explained to those who looked with great suspicion upon the interference with the ordinary course of justice by the Home Office. He hoped that he had not said a word which would imply that the integrity of the Home Secretary was questioned in any way. They differed from the judgment of the right hon. Gentleman in the matter, and 370 they would continue to differ from it; but it was due to himself to repeat the protest he had made at an early stage of his speech, that in raising this discussion he meant to cast no imputation on the, Home Secretary. If there was any word or expression of his that bore any other sense he hoped it would be cancelled.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down ended his speech by expressing the hope that, if any phrase of his was regarded as an imputation upon my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, that phrase might be erased. Sir, the whole speech of the hon. Gentleman, from the first to the last word he tittered, was not merely an imputation upon the judgment of my right hon. Friend—which he was perfectly at liberty to call in question—but it was an imputation upon the honour, not only of my right hon. Friend, but of every man that sits upon this Bench. [Cheers.] I shall leave my right hon. Friend on a subsequent day—for this Debate will not, conclude to-night—to deal in detail with the statements of the hon. Gentleman; but I cannot allow what the hon. Gentleman has said to pass for one moment without stating on my own behalf and on behalf of the Government that I regard the imputation he has deliberately thrown upon us—by insinuation, perhaps, more than by direct statement, but insinuations that could not be mistaken in any part of the House—[cheers]—that I regard those imputations as utterly unworthy of a Member of the Party to which he belongs—[renewed cheers]—and that either we who sit upon this Bench are unfit to lead the Party any longer, or else he himself would have found some difficulty in following us. [Irish cheers.] The hon. Gentleman, from beginning to end of his speech, has either stated or insinuated in unmistakable terms that the action of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in releasing the four dynamiters in August last was dictated, not by his duty as 371 Home Secretary, but by his interests as a politician. ["Hear, hear!"] He has stated, or he has insinuated, that my right hon. Friend has started a new principle of policy in the Home Office. He has stated, or he has insinuated, that my right hon. Friend has constituted himself, for the first time in the history of the Home Office, a kind of court of appeal—[cries of "Star Chamber"]—yes, "Star Chamber"; that was the phrase of the hon. Gentleman—that my right hon. Friend has constituted himself the chief of a secret court, or Star Chamber, whose deliberations are carried on far from the public gaze, and whose verdicts are given, not in consonance with justice or with the criminal law of the country, but in order to serve the particular Party ends of a particular Party at a particular moment. ["Hear, hear!"] I do not know whether he thought the head of that Star Chamber acted or did not act in concert with his colleagues. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman supposed that my right hon. Friend said to himself in the secrecy of his chamber—It may help the Government to let out this man or that man, and I will do it without consultation with my colleagues,or whether, on the other hand, he supposed my right hon. Friend came to the Cabinet and said—It may be desirable at the present moment to conciliate this section or that section of our political opponents, and I think I could so manipulate medical reports that a plausible case might he made out for a release, and if my colleagues think it desirable I am ready to carry it out.I know not which of these hypotheses is accepted by the hon. Gentleman. But rue of the two must be accepted by him. Either he thinks my right hon. Friend is utterly unworthy of the place he occupies, or he thinks my right hon. Friend is one of the band of conspirators who are perfectly ready to sell the honour of their country for a temporary 372 Parliamentary triumph. [Cheers.] Sir, let me tell the hon. Gentleman that so long as he confines himself to an attack upon the administrative ability of my right hon. Friend, whatever else we may have thought of hint, we should not think that he was going beyond the bounds which ought to limit Parliamentary criticism, even Parliamentary criticism that comes from those who are opposed to us in polities. ["Hear, hear!"] Put when he attacks, not the prudence or the discretion of a particular Minister, or the prudence or the discretion of the Cabinet as a whole, but their honour as politicians and as men, then, in my judgment, he oversteps the limits. [Cheers.] I will only content myself to-night with one statement, for the time is brief, and I do not mean to discuss the medical reports as to the health of this criminal or that criminal. Let me only conclude by saying that my right hon. Friend never consulted his colleagues upon the decision which he came to, and that the invariable tradition of the office to which he belongs is that such decisions should be taken upon the authority of the Minister, and upon his alone. [Cheers.] I believe my right hon. Friend was actuated by a sound discretion in the matter, but that whether he was right or whether he was wrong he initiated no new practice, he started no new principles, but he followed with undeviating fidelity the traditions which have regulated the great office of which he is head, not for one Ministry, nor for two Ministries, but for generations. Sir, that statement which I make now to the House I have made in public before, and that statement was before the hon. Gentleman before he uttered the words to which we have listened. ["Hear, hear!"] I have no hope that by repeating those words I shall affect his judgment or the judgment of any other man, if another man there be who is ready to follow him in the line of argument which he has adopted to-night; but I am con- 373 vinced that, speaking as I do not merely to friends, but to opponents, there is not a man in this House except the hon. Gentleman who is not prepared to accept with absolute credence the statement which I have now made upon my honour as a Minister of the Crown. [Loud cheers.]
MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
thought it was matter for regret that his right hon. Friend had imported into the discussion a warmth which was scarcely called for by the speech to which he responded. He had listened very carefully to the remarks of his hon. Friend behind him, and if he were to criticise them he should say that with a reiteration, which was, he thought, uncalled for, he had not in any shape or form made any attack upon the Home Secretary except in respect of his judgment. [Laughter.] His hon. Friend made no attack upon the right hon. Gentleman's character or honour. The Home Secretary had explained his own view of the situation on more than one occasion, and he had placed these prisoners in a category which they had never been in before—that of political prisoners.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
said he was very glad then to have an opportunity of enabling his right hon. Friend to give a more emphatic contradiction to the statement contained in "Hansard "(page 415) to the effect that on February 14th, 1896, he said that the ground upon which hon. Members had asked for this amnesty was because it was sail that these men were political prisoners; that he was willing to admit that a distinction might properly be drawn between political and other prisoners; and that he 374 was willing to admit that these men might be properly regarded in the light of being political prisoners because they Were tried under the Treason Felony Act. If that was not putting them in the category of political prisoners he should like to know what was. Doubtless, from what his right hon. Friend had said that report was inaccurate—[laughter]—but it had been in the library of the House for 11 months, and he thought his right hon. Friend should have taken some public opportunity, other than that of an interjection in the course of the present Debate, of contradicting that statement of "Hansard." His right hon. Friend the Home Secretary also said, on August 16th, 1895 (page 223 of "Hansard") that he was not going to argue whether these were political prisoners or not, these men were tried under the Treason Felony Act—a statement which was nearly upon all fours with that to which he had already referred. He protested against the notion that Members were to be debarred from expressing their honest opinion upon the public acts of a Minister because he happened to be a political associate. He contended that prison doctors were likely to be more reliable authorities upon malingering than the most eminent private practitioners.
§ SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY
said that, in the ease of the four prisoners, the report upon which he acted, in the first instance, was that of the Chief Medical Inspector of Prisons. He was so impressed by his report that he thought it should be strengthened by the highest medical opinion.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
said the Home Secretary seemed to think that when a prisoner was suffering from insanity his duty was to let him loose on society. If these men were insane, they should have been sent to Broadmoor, especially if their insanity took the form of homicidal tendency. No one would question the motives of the right hon. Gentleman, but his judgment was 375 seriously questioned. When they were brought to his knowledge he always contradicted the sinister rumours rife throughout the country during the recess in consequence of the apparently unaccountable release of these prisoners. It was rumoured that the policy of the Government had changed, that they had thrown over their own supporters, that they had flung to the winds their obligation to the owners of land in Ireland, and were now going to kill their foes with kindness, and were going to rely for support on the representatives of what were called the bulk of the Irish people. The failure of justice at the old Bailey was associated with a general tendency of that kind. He thought his hon. Friend was justified in making the statement he had. What was the line the House of Commons ought to take in this matter? He hoped he had already enabled the Home Secretary to withdraw from "Hansard" what was a very ugly blot upon its pages—namely, the endorsement, for the first time by a responsible Minister of the Crown, that persons who flung dynamite, right, left and centre, amongst innocent persons were to be thought guilty of a political crime. He hoped also, the House of Commons would allow no doubt to remain on the public mind that this must not be done again. He confessed having grave doubts whether they should not find, under some pretext or other, more of these dangerous persons let loose on society. What was the ground the Home Secretary took now in resisting the demand for further releases? His right hon. Friend, instead of saying that he had already burned his fingers by listening to the Gentlemen opposite, and that he had no wish to have a repetition of his recent experiences—did what? He said only two days ago:It has been a very great source of regret to myself that I have not been able to see my way to recommend the exercise of Her Majesty's prerogative of mercy towards these treason-felony prisoners now in Portland. I 376 am afraid I am not able to give any assurance at the present moment that would be entirely satisfactory to hon. Gentlemen opposite.If that was the spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman approached his duties, they did not know what day they might not hear that a further consignment of criminal lunatics had been let loose on society. He thought the thanks of the House were due to the hon. Member for Salford for having brought this question in a temperate manner before them.
§ On the Motion of MR. MICHAEL DAVITT, the Debate was adjourned till Monday next.