§ Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 13th February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Mr. PRINGLE
At the end of Question Time to-day the House listened somewhat impatiently to two long personal explanations—one by the late Postmaster-General, the right hon. Baronet the Member for East Bristol (Sir C. Hob-house) and the other by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Black-bum (Sir H. Norman). These two personal explanations arose out of a case which had been before the Courts during the past two days, and upon them a cer- 930 tain number of questions naturally arise It seems to many people remarkable that in this case, after it had been opened by counsel for the plaintiffs, the Crown should have immediately agreed to judgment for the plaintiff. The considerations which were brought forward in the Court must have been present to counsel for the Crown, and the documents which were referred to as well as the correspondence must have been available before the case went to trial. In these circumstances it naturally appears strange that it should have been necessary to wait until the case for the plaintiff had been opened before the Crown agreed to the course which was ultimately adopted. There is this further point. In the course of the opening certain allegations were made relating to the conduct of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Bristol and the right hon. Baronet the Member for Blackburn. As these allegations had been made, many people expected that before the case was withdrawn from the Courts an opportunity would be given to the gentlemen affected to present themselves as witnesses in Court so that their version of the circumstances referred to could have been submitted to examination and cross-examination. That course, unfortunately, was not adopted. What has happened is this. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol and my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn have been forced to come down to this House and to make in the form of personal explanations to the House what are clearly ex parte statements. Obviously, that is a most unsatisfactory way of dealing with a question of real public importance. I am not entering into the merits of what those Gentlemen are alleged to have done, or as to whether they in fact did what they were alleged to have done, but obviously the method of personal explanation in this House is the most unsatisfactory way possible by which the matter could be dealt with. We are faced —I think we may assume this to be so—with a prolonged controversy on the matter. The other people affected are not going to rest satisfied that the matter should be left where it was with the statements of both my right hon. Friends. We shall probably see in the Press to-morrow a statement—I do not know—contradicting to a large extent what they have said, and we may in consequence of that be involved in a further course of litigation which I think hon. Members will agree is not in the public interest.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I do not think it is in the public interest that such questions should be the subject matter of pro longed litigation —
§ Mr. PRINGLE
If, as I think was possible, the matter could have been dealt with by the right hon. Gentlemen presenting themselves in Court and thrashing the matter out once for all in the witness box when the case was before the Court yesterday and on Friday last. I thought it right after the statement of my right hon. Friends to say that I would raise this matter on the Adjournment this evening. I thought it right that the Attorney-General should have the first available opportunity of explaining the ground upon which the particular course he adopted came to be taken. We know that there have been many suspicions aroused as a result of what is known as the Marconi mystery. I do not express any opinion as to the foundation for those suspicions, but undoubtedly it would be deplorable in the public interest that that mystery should foe increased and intensified. The best thing in the interests of the Government, as well as of everybody affected, is that here in this House of Commons we should have a public official statement from the Attorney-General of the reason which induced him to adopt the course which he has pursued. I think that my right hon. and learned Friend will welcome this opportunity of stating the grounds of his action, as he will be undoubtedly desirous of having the air cleared on this particular matter. The two questions which require answering are, Why was it necessary to have the case opened at all, if the case for the plaintiffs was so clear that the Government had to give way immediately it was opened? And secondly, having allowed it to go on, Why should it not have been possible for the right hon. Gentleman, whose good faith was affected by the allegations made in the opening, to have had an opportunity of going into the witness box and dealing with the allegations made against them?
§ Mr. BILLING
I think it is the duty of some Member of this House to rise and call the attention of the House to the extraordinary statement that was made after Question Time to-day. One right 932 hon. Gentleman, in using this House as a forum for clearing his own character, stated distinctly that during the time that he occupied the position of Postmaster-General the managing director of the Marconi Company produced two letters which were likely to incriminate and ruin his public career, that by arrangement those letters were shown to him, and that a threat—which I do not think any Member who listened to that public statement will consider was a veiled threat— was made that unless the Postmaster-General in his official capacity was prepared to make advantageous concessions to the Marconi Company his negotiations with the German company would be exposed, and he would be politically ruined. The only inference that we can accept from that is that Mr. Godfrey Isaacs, acting in his capacity of managing director of this company, actually blackmailed a member of His Majesty's Government by threatening to expose him by exhibiting certain documents. I think that is an alarming statement to come from an ex-Minister of the Crown, but it is the least alarming part of the statement. What is infinitely more alarming is what the ex-Minister of the Crown does. He goes to the brother of Mr. Godfrey Isaacs, who happens to be the Lord Chief Justice of England, and appeals to him to intercede between himself and the blackmailer so as to have this thing hushed up. What does the Lord Chief Justice do? Arrange an appointment so that this matter may be hushed up. He arranges an appointment with his own brother, who has been blackmailing a Minister of the Crown— according to a statement of the right hon. Gentleman—to see if this matter cannot be hushed up, and when we turn to some of the share reports—I do not know whether I have been misinformed, but it appears that the Lord Chief Justice of England, as Sir Rufus Isaacs, was the holder—so I am informed—of about £10,000 worth of shares in the company concerned, and that the directors of the Marconi Company itself were in many cases the same people who were the directors of what I believe is called the group of the Allgemeine Electricitaets Gesellschaft, which is practically the German organisation. I think it is a much more serious matter than the hon. Member on the other side of the House seemed to suggest. It is not a case of abusing the privileges of this House for clearing the public honour of an ex-Minister, but it is 933 a question whether the Government ought not seriously to consider—as I trust they will—the immediate institution of an action against Mr. Godfrey Isaacs for blackmailing one of His Majesty's Ministers, and, if there is any truth at all in the statement we have heard this afternoon, coupling with that prosecution the name of the Lord Chief Justice for aiding and abetting. The public are gradually awakening to the fact that the whole of this Marconi swindle reflects gravely to the discredit, not only of members of His Majesty's Government but of the Prime Minister himself. Certain papers in this country started, some time ago, a most violent attack against members of His Majesty's Government in connection with their association with the Marconi gamble. I had occasion, some twelve months or fifteen months since, to call the attention of the then Prime Minister to certain statements which were made by public men of great repute at the Queen's Hall, in which they denounced by name certain members of His Majesty's Government as having been closely associated with a scandal which had done a very great deal to involve the Government's position in relation to the successful prosecution of this War. I asked whether it was proposed to bring any action against these gentlemen in question. I was told it was not in the public interest to do it. Then, one of the speakers, being the editor of that paper—the "Financial News "—which has fought right through this War to endeavour to expose the corruption of international finance, continued an attack of such a character as was calculated to rouse action even in such a spunkless, spineless organism as the present administration has led the public to believe they are. What was the result? No notice was taken of it. Question after question was put down in this House, asking whether it was not proposed to take up the gauntlet. Then, some mysterious thing takes place. An hon. Member gets up—I think he has not the reputation of being an attacker of the Government—and puts the same question which many of the hon. Members, who have attacked the Government, have put in the past, and the Leader of the House says: "If any more attacks of this nature take place, we shall take action." But I suggest to the House that the Govern- 934 ment had taken steps to see that no more attacks did take place before they came out into the open. The whole thing—I hope I speak quite frankly—as far as I can see, was a pure political ramp. Why was this case allowed to be stopped, and why was it so suddenly hushed up? So far as I know, the counsel for the Marconi Company in this case was not unidentified with clearing the reputation of a good many politicians when the inquiry took place. The whole thing is hidden again. What are the public to think? When we get into big international undertakings such as this it is not only this country which is involved, it is not only our Allies who are involved, but it is the whole issue on which this War is now undertaken which is involved. If information is the life-blood of the conduct of a successful campaign, surely the most rapid means of transmitting information is of very considerable significance in the conduct of the War. Yet we find that the directors of practically all the wireless combines in the world are practically one group; that in the German group we, have British directors; we have these huge shareholdings, presumably, by members of His Majesty's Government; and, just before this case is to come on for trial, when, I would suggest, one of the most important witnesses to be sub-pœnaed in the case was the Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Beading, he anticipates the possibility, intelligently or by accident, and is appointed the representative of Great Britain, the representative of John Bull, in America. The thing would be a farce were it not so serious, and I appeal to hon. Members of this House not to allow this matter to rest here, and not to be satisfied, with a personal explanation made on privilege. I say that it is the duty of both those right hon. Gentlemen who made those statements this afternoon to repeat them in public, so that their accuracy may be challenged in an open Court of law. I consider that that is the only course they can adopt. To claim the privilege of this House to make allegations of so astounding a character is abusing them. Presumably, they claim, on the assumption that two wrongs eventually may produce a right, and the fact that the Law Officers of the Crown may have abused their privileges in the law by pre- 935 venting them from giving evidence in the Court, that they are justified, in their turn, in using their membership of this House by making a statement here. If this matter is allowed to rest here it will mean that the prostitution of our public life is complete, that our Government have arrived at such a state that they do not even wish to retain any vestige of trust which they think the public, in their ignorance, still have for them. No, Sir; I only hope that the hour we have at our disposal will give other hon. Members an opportunity of bringing to bear what influence they may have on the Government to insist that this matter shall not rest here, and that out of respect to the dignity of the British Constitution, a successor shall be found for Lord Reading in America pending a complete inquiry into this case, which will also give facilities for him to occupy the witness box in this country. If a secret ballot of our Bar were taken to-day as to their opinion of the Lord Chief Justice's action in connection with this matter, I have no doubt what the result would be. I am not asking the Attorney-General to give an explanation of this case. I am only asking him to say that he will assure this House that his advice to His Majesty's Government will be that whatever steps are necessary for this Marconi ramp to be made public shall be taken, and that no member of His Majesty's Government, no matter how highly he may be placed, will be permitted to use the law and the privileges which are afforded in the interests of justice to shelter himself from public exposure and the ignominy which his action has entailed.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Frederick Smith)
I am so far from making any complaint of the action taken by my hon. Friend who introduced this subject to the attention of the House that I rather welcome, as he anticipated I might, the opportunity he has afforded me of explaining the circumstances under which the recent action brought by the Marconi Company against the Post Office came to an end. My hon. Friend was concerned with two questions each of which might very reasonably be put to a Law Officer of the Crown, in respect of each of which he is entitled to an answer. If I understood his questions aright, they were, in the first place, how was it, when 936 grave reflections had been made upon two well-known Members of this House, one of whom had held the office of Postmaster-General and the other of whom is in an official position to-day, that the case was allowed to end without these two Gentlemen being allowed to go into the witness box in order to make statements on oath as to the truth of the allegations made against them or about them, and to submit themselves to cross-examination in respect of those statements? I think the House-will understand that it is a little difficult to explain a matter of great technicality and complication within a very short space, but I think that I can explain it sufficiently within a reasonably short space. I ought, I think, to begin by saying that the whole of this litigation with refer-once to the particular contract between the Post Office and the company were, of course, of old standing. The House will be generally aware of the circumstances under which I deliberately adopted the neutral phrase "the contract was determined by the Post Office," and as the House is entitled to be clearly informed of the stage in which this controversy was when I became Attorney-General, I will tell hon. Members that when this matter was first introduced to my official attention the company were complaining of a breach of contract and the Post Office were contending that there had not, in fact, been a breach of contract.
The controversy ranged principally round two points. First of all, had there been or had there not been a breach of the contract by the Post Office, or, in other words, had the Post Office without legal justification broke their contract? There was a second point subordinate to the first point. If, in the month of December, the Post Office had broken that contract, had their liability for damages been limited by the circumstances in January when Mr. Godfrey Isaacs wrote and said that there would be a heavy claim for damages by the company, and when the Post Office wrote back and said, "If you take this view, we are still prepared to go on with the contract." The first point was whether or not there had been an unjustifiable breach by the Post Office of their contract? and the second question was whether, if there had been such a breach, the letter written on 21st January saying in effect, "We are still willing to go on with the contract," was sufficient to defeat the 937 claim for heavy damages. There was left a third question. The original contract had contemplated the erection of six stations, but the contract contained a clause which entitled the Postmaster-General to exercise an option in relation to three of the stations. On the view which I took of the contract, and which I am still prepared to defend, the effect of the stipulation in the contract was that the Postmaster-General could at any time, and on payment of compensation, exercise an option in relation to three stations. I think I have made it clear to the House. The first issue was damages or no damages, or had there been a breach by the Post Office; secondly, if there had been a breach, were the damages limited to the period between the date of the breach and the date of the letter in January, in which the Post Office had said, "If you take this view, we will still go on with the contract"? and the third question was were the Post Office compellable in law to pay damages, not merely on the basis of the three stations, but on the basis of the six stations? Let this be clearly understood: I did not advise either upon that contract or upon the breach of that contract. Though I take the fullest responsibility from the moment I became Attorney-General, in fact I had nothing whatever to do, and my colleague, the present Postmaster-General, had nothing whatever to do, with the long correspondence that took place between the Post Office and the company, in which the company were continually asserting their claim upon the largest possible scale, and the Post Office were continually disputing that claim. When I became Attorney-General I saw at once that a most formidable claim was pending against the Government, and one in which damages upon a very large scale were being claimed by the Marconi Company. It was my duty at once to arrive at a conclusion as to where the merits of the controversy lay, and I arrived at certain conclusions, which I conveyed formally— they are on record—at every stage to the Government, as to what their legal position was.
The first point on which I would lay stress in relation to the point raised by my hon. Friend is that this question concerning the right hon. Baronet the Member for East Bristol (Sir C. Hob- 938 house) and the right hon. Baronet the Member for Blackburn (Sir H. Norman) was of the most secondary character conceivable in relation to the only issues of the dispute as I understood them. Let me make that clear to the House. As these grave matters have been raised, they ought to be quite clearly explained and understood. I will tell the House how it came about that the names of those two right hon. Gentleman were even mentioned in this case. I have told the House that there was an issue as to whether or not the Government was entitled to exercise an option to cancel in relation to the second three stations. Mr. Godfrey Isaacs was concerned in the course of his case to contend that there was no such option. My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General suggests, I might state, it was also intended that the option was exercised once for all. It may be so, but that does not affect the argument I am laying before the House at the moment. That contention occupied much correspondence. It was in the attempt to show that those who were then responsible for the Post Office had not only broken their contract, but had broken their contract under circumstances which showed a de-sire to treat his company with conspicuous lack of consideration, that Mr. Godfrey Isaacs read a letter from the Telefunken Company, in which they stated that the right hon. Baronet the Member for East Bristol, and the right hon. Baronet the Member for Blackburn had, while they were on a visit to Berlin, made certain proposals to the Telefunken Company. Whether or not those Gentlemen had made those statements had, in my clear judgment, nothing whatever to do with anyone of the main issues before the Court. I say, deliberately, that no competent lawyer who followed that case will raise the contention that that matter could have been introduced except as a matter of prejudice. I, as Attorney-General, recognised to the full my duty to afford any protection which was in my power to any Gentleman who had held the high office of Postmaster-General in His Majesty's Government, and, as it was before me in instructions that Sir Charles Hobhouse entirely denied this statement, it was my duty and I intervened. I objected at first technically, but unsuccessfully, to the production of the Telefunken letter at all, because I made the submission that it was prejudice, and thereupon, because I knew this was the 939 statement that the right hon. Baronet desired to make, I said to the Court, "As this statement will obviously be repeated by the Press, it must be made most clear that on my instructions the right hon. Baronet explicitly and specifically denies every one of these statements," and so I did my duty to one who had been my colleague. My right hon. Friend (Sir E. Carson), who conducted the case for the company, assented.
It is suggested by my hon. Friend—I am sure he did not appreciate the point I am now stating—that I, having arrived at the conclusion that, for reasons which I am about to make plain, this case ought to be ended as on my responsibility I ended it, ought to have afforded these two Members of the House an opportunity of being examined and cross-examined upon this statement. Either I was right or I was wrong in my view that the matter ought not to be proceeded with further in the Court at that stage. I shall justify the view that I took in a moment. I can only at this point ask the House to make the assumption in my favour that I was entitled and that I was right in the public interest to end the case as I did end it. If the House makes that assumption in my favour, observe what the suggestion means. It means that I was to continue the case, which would undoubtedly have lasted for a fortnight, involving the expenditure of large sums of public money, allowing all the company's witnesses to go into the box, examining and cross-examining them, and cross-examining Mr. Godfrey Isaacs upon this question, which, in my view, had no relevancy to the issues of the case, and that afterwards I was to call these two Gentlemen on a point which I say, and which no competent lawyer will deny, had nothing whatever, except by way of collateral prejudice, to do with the issues raised in the case. I should have spent thousands of pounds of public money in order to allow these two Gentlemen to attempt to vindicate themselves.
§ Sir F. SMITH
The hon. Member him not really appreciated the point. I thought I was speaking very clearly The judge did not hold that it was relevant except in this sense, that Mr. Godfrey Isaacs, apparently under the impression 940 that it would strengthen his case, sent to the right hon. Gentleman (Sir C. Hob-house) a copy of the letter of the Telefunken Company. No one can exclude for evidence in a case the fact that such a letter has been sent and received, but such a letter is not evidence of a single statement contained in it, and no such evidence could have been given in chief. No one can say that there was evidence which was admissible which affected any one of the issues in the case, and as long as I am Attorney-General I will absolutely refuse to allow a case to proceed for ten days, involving an immense expenditure of public money, in order to allow two Members of this House to make a vindication in a Court which they can perfectly well make elsewhere, to be made at the public expense and after tea days of litigation. When I am told these Gentlemen have made a statement which is protected by privilege here, in the extremely intemperate speech to which the House has just listened, I reply to the hon. Member who has made that extremely characteristic statement, that he also has just made a speech in this House which I gravely doubt whether he will repeat to-morrow removed from the protection of this House. I will ask the House to remember that the main question that is involved to-night is whether I was right or whether I was wrong, at the conclusion of the opening speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson), in taking the course which, in fact, I did take. On that point I shall speak to the House very frankly. I had no responsibility at all, as I have already said, for the original Marconi contract. I had no responsibility at all for the determination of that contract by the Government of the day. I did not give the advice upon which the letter of 21st January was written, and which it was hoped that it might have the effect of limiting the damages which the company could recover. I had taken no pa it whatever in the discussions or the negotiation between the company and the Post Office until I became Attorney-General. I tell the House quite plainly that the view which I formed of a most difficult and complicated case has never varied. I former the view that the Post Office had, without legal warrant or justification, broken the contract, and that they were liable in damages for that 941 breach. On the first occasion on which I was consulted I gave that clear advice verbally in consultation, and I repeated it some time ago in a written opinion. The second question arises as to whether, if I was right in my view, the letter written three weeks after the breach on this hypothesis by the Post Office, in which they announced their readiness to resume the contract, limited the damages, so that those who appeared for the Government could successfully contend that the only damages the company were entitled to were damages for the three weeks of that breach? I clearly again formed the view that it was not possible to advance that contention successfully, and I so advised the Government at the time. I tell the House plainly that very accomplished predecessors of mine have taken a different view. Predecessors of my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General have taken a different view, and had been advised in a contrary sense. I found that there were great masses of correspondence in which, for a long period of time, the opposite contention had been raised, and I found also that an extremely accomplished predecessor of mine in the office of Attorney-General had actually advised upon and drafted the letter of 21st January upon which reliance was placed as limiting the claim for damages. The Government of the day were entitled to claim at my hands two things: first of all, that I should give them my own view as to what the legal position was—that I gave them, and it stands upon record— and, in the second place, that I should advise them as to the course they should adopt having regard to this claim. I advised them that, in my judgment, there had been a breach, that the letter of 21st January was no answer to that breach, and that the Government would have to pay damages. What came next? There was this controversy in relation to the six stations. There, again, I was bound to give perfectly clear advice. I gave it, and I will tell the House what was the advice I gave at the earliest moment. I said "the construction of the contract which is being insisted upon by the Marconi Company is in my judgment ill-founded, and I think there is a technical answer which can be successfuly made by the Government." But I added this: Governments cannot conduct litigation except in one spirit, and that is that 942 Ministers in high positions are given authority to bind those on behalf of whom they act by what they say. That is accepted and relied upon by those with whom they deal.
The question of the six stations, I may tell the House in the most untechnical language at my command, is this: It was originally contemplated that six stations-should be constructed, but it was felt, and reasonably felt, by my right hon. Friend, whom I am glad to see here, himself a former Postmaster-General, and most wisely felt, that while there was an immediate intention of proceeding with the first three stations, there was no such immediate pressure in relation to the second three stations, and it might conceivably be the case that some new and unsuspected development of science would render it unnecessary or unwise to accept the Marconi plans in relation to the second three, and therefore he, in my judgment, most prudently declined to bind himself in relation to the second three stations, and retained an option under the contract, and under the terms of the contract, in my view of that contract, he left himself an absolute discretion at any point to withdraw in relation to the second three stations until the moment of completion, merely paying compensation on the ground of proper expenditure by the company. That is the contract, but it was undoubtedly true that in the negotiations between my right hon. Friend and Mr. Godfrey Isaacs my right hon. Friend quite rightly and prudently confining himself to what was the real matter of importance to the Post Office, made this observation, and this is on record in a memorandum which was preserved of the negotiations:The point is that, though Mr. Marconi regards it as a. most unlikely event, if there is some epoch-making invention which may prove itself so obviously better than what is now existing, that it would clearly be desirable for the Government to adopt it for the other three stations, or perhaps the whole six, we shall be bound to you for the first three, but I think that if such an improvement be clearly established and such an epoch-making invention were made it would be right that the Government should preserve a free hand.Most plainly I say then, on the faith of a Cabinet Minister who entered into that negotiation with the company, it was the intention of the then Postmaster-General that the option in relation to the second 943 three stations should only be exercised if some epoch-making invention developed in the interval.
Now a very difficult question arises, and I deeply regret that I have to be so technical in speaking to the House. A legal question of great complexity arises as to whether or not, even if the option were to be properly exercised by the Government as defined by the contract, that option ever had been asserted at all. I may tell the House that my own view is that even if the terms of the option were to be construed in the terms of the contract and not in the terms of the negotiation which I have just read to the House, that there never had been in fact such exercise of the option at all. I might have dealt with that situation in one of two ways. I might have said to the representatives of the Marconi Company, "I will settle this case with you if I can." I tell the House plainly that, in the public interest, I tried to settle the case, and I only ceased to try to settle the case when it became clear to me, in my judgment, that the company were claiming what was a wholly excessive sum by way of damages; and it was only after repeated discussions, in which I gradually satisfied myself that no compromise existed between the view taken by the company on the one hand and by myself and my technical advisers on the other hand as to the sum properly to be paid to them, it was only then that the negotiations ceased. In the meantime all the time the case was approaching trial. When these negotiations broke down I was confronted with two alternatives, and two alternatives only. The one was that I should abandon privately every legal contention that had been raised for three years by the Post Office, and that I should say to the company: "I will go to arbitration, sub süentio, I will agree that the contract has been abandoned; I will agree that the letter of 21st January has no legal force; I will agree that the contract must be construed, so far as damages are concerned, in relation to six stations instead of the three; and you may go to arbitration on the basis of the complete abandonment of the legal contentions raised for three years by the Post Office." I advised the Government, I tell the House quite plainly, that in my judgment none of these contentions would in the event be 944 successfully sustained. But I had also told the Government that predecessors of mine had taken a different view, and that they had argued in official correspondence, over a considerable period, one or other of these contentions. I told the Government that there was much that could be said for the matters raised, although I never concealed my views as to their non-success. What was the right course, in a most difficult matter for the history of which I have not the slightest responsibility, for a Minister in my position to adopt? I say without hesitation at all that it would have been impossible for me to have agreed to the abandonment of these points, some of which had actually been raised by the industry and ingenuity of my predecessor. I would invite the House of Commons to consider what would have been said to me supposing without any discussion in public at all, without guidance from the observations made by the very acute judge who considered the case, and had tried the case and said that the Marconi Company can be legally bound in regard to that which my predecessors had insisted upon, and you can take your reference on your own terms. I should like to know what we should have heard then about the many suspicions to which my hon. and learned Friend referred, without any offensiveness, but he did speak of the many suspicions. I think I can hear the speeches that would have been made, but I assert in my own interest, that for my own reputation, I was entitled to insist upon a public statement in Court on the grounds I had taken. That statement was made in open Court for two days, and the whole of the correspondence in this matter was read by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Trinity College, Dublin, and we had the advantage of ascertaining very clearly what were the views which that extremely acute and industrious judge who heard this case, formed on every one of those points. I had, at least, the partial professional satisfaction of discovering at a very early stage that the learned judge had formed a view which agreed precisely with my own, but which did not agree so precisely with some of the views of my predecessors. It has been said that the learned judge formed his view on an ex parte statement, but I would remind the House that it is not the case of a judge forming his view on an ex parte statement, for this is a case where an experienced judge, who had all 945 the documents read to him, and who, after hearing all the documents read to him, formed the view that, on the whole, he thought I was right. I say this, choosing my words deliberately, that on every one of the main points of the case the learned judge showed that he was distinctly adverse to the contentions of the Crown. I agreed with the learned judge. I always have agreed with him. It would be very easy for me to go on for a fortnight, earning very considerable fees and arguing this case against my own convictions, and spending, I suppose, thousands of pounds, and, if I had done so, there would have been no discussion in this House and no comment.
§ Sir F. SMITH
I took the responsibility of saying that I would not allow the case to go on the moment that the public had been informed of the circumstances under which the legal contentions of the Post Office had been put forward. Here are the observations made by the learned judge who heard the case, after three days in which he displayed the greatest industry, and it will be universally agreed that there is no shrewder judge on the Bench:I think that the Crown are acting with great propriety in taking the course which has been announced by the Attorney-General. The case is one of great intricacy; and it has involved many difficult and complicated questions of law. If it had proceeded, a great body of facts and documents would have called for consideration, but, as the result of the very full and lucid statements by Sir Edward Carson in opening the case, certain important points emerge, and, in my view, have emerged in favour of the petitioners in this case. I think it right to say that in my view the Attorney-General has acted wisely and properly in the assent that he has given to the points that have been made by Sir Edward Carson. But for the most full and most useful discussion which has taken place in Court during the last two days the points as they are now understood would not have emerged in so clear and concise a manner. In my view, that which has taken place in Court will be of the greatest possible utility to the gentleman who has to determine the question of damages in the future.I would rather have the opinion of the learned judge as to the usefulness of those proceedings than the opinion of any one who has not been called upon in a judicial capacity, to give the attention and the industry to this case which the learned judge gave. I will only make a very brief observation with reference to the speech which has just been addressed 946 to the House. I am amazed that any Member of this House, and I do not believe any Member of this House but one would do so, should, at the moment when the Lord Chief Justice of England is engaged on behalf of this country in work which our Allies in America approve of and appreciate, have chosen such a time, and behind his back, to make this cowardly attack on his reputation.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
In the two minutes which remain perhaps the House will allow me to say a very few words with respect to this matter. As I was the Postmaster-General who was concerned in the original making of the contract, I regarded that contract, and I still regard it, as a remarkably good bargain for the State. It was confirmed by Parliament, and it provided, in my view— I refer to something said to-day by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Sir H. Norman) —for complete State ownership and control of the stations concerned. The contract was not determined by me; it was determined by my successor, owing to conditions that had supervened on account of the War. I have not been able refresh my memory by references to any of the papers and therefore I am not in a position to comment upon what the Attorney-General has said with respect to the option of the second three stations which appears to have been made a point of this case. But my recollection is that always it was assumed that the Post Office had the right of proceeding or not, as it chose, with the second three stations. That was clearly understood by all parties. [An HON. MEMBER: "On certain terms."] Yes, on certain terms. But there was no obligation at all to proceed with the second three stations. If it were decided to proceed with them, if conditions arose which made it desirable, then indeed there was an understanding that except in very exceptional circumstances they should fall into the general contract and be erected by the Marconi Company. But there was no obligation to erect them at all. The phrase "an epoch-making invention" was, I believe, a quotation, so far as I recollect, from words used by Mr. Godfrey Isaacs or Mr. Marconi, or my phrasing of what they had put forward. It was not a phrase of mine, and I do not think it excluded other possible considerations. Those are the only points I have time to 947 make to the House, but perhaps I may say in conclusion that if this matter had not been the subject of great controversy in Parliament and elsewhere, and had not been surrounded by a miasma of suspicion owing to circumstances for which I was not personally in the smallest degree responsible, and if only those stations had been erected, as I originally intended, in 1910 or 1911, and as the Committee of Imperial Defence desired they should be erected at that time, I believe this nation 948 in the War which has since intervened would have found itself provided with an invaluable means of international communication.
It being one hour after the conclusion of Government Business Mr SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 13th February.
§ Adjourned at One minute after Eleven o'clock