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Life Jottings of an Old Edinburgh Citizen
Chapter Thirty-Five


THE formation of Lord Salisbury's Government in 1885 caused my resignation of the Deanship, as he did me the honour of nominating me to the office of Lord-Advocate, which I held, with a short interval, from July 1885 to October 1888. I was elected to represent the Universities of Edinburgh and St. Andrews in the House of Commons, and held the seat without opposition on resuming office in 1886 after the short Parliament of that year.

It was a stiring time, when the first Home Rule Bill of Mr. Gladstone was brought forward and discussed and voted on. Although not directly connected with Edinburgh, I may venture to relate a few incidents of that eventful year known only to myself, as they may be held to have a historic interest. During my short period of parliamentary life, I enjoyed the hospitality from time to time of Sir Francis and Lady Jeune, afterwards Lord and Lady St. Helier. Like myself, she came from the Highlands, and her kindness to me has been unbounded even down to today. The house was the salon where the great in politics and in art pictorial and literary and dramatic, were gathered together. I remember well an incident one evening when the first Home Rule Bill was the engrossing topic. Mr. Chamberlain and I came opposite one another in the crush at one of her ladyship's "At Homes," and we had some conversation, which I shall not quote, and will only say of it chat his share was emphatic, expressed in his own clear-cut style. Only one expression I will repeat. As we parted, he looked over his shoulder at me, and with a twinkle through his monocle, said: "Strange bedfellows!" Another incident at a rout comes up to my memory. It was at the same time. Lord and Lady Dalhousie—he being then Secretary for Scotland—gave a great reception at Dover House. I happened to be passing along a passage, when my progress was checked by the crowd, and I found myself in front of Mrs. Gladstone, who was in conversation with Mr. Parker, M. P., who had formerly been Mr. Gladstone's secretary. I heard him say, evidently in sequence to a suggestion from her, that Mr. Gladstone had been for a long time contemplating Home Rule with favour: "Well, yes, yes, perhaps so, perhaps if one looks carefully into his previous utterances one can find traces of it,' and then with a sudden rapid burst: "but it did come rather suddenly, didn't it?" Those who remember Mr. Parker and his mode of speech will appreciate the jerkiness, which cannot be given in cold print. I only heard part of Mrs. Gladstone s reply: "Oh, well, yes, and that is what dear Herbert says, that we must not be angry with people who have got a shock." I heard no more, as at the moment I was able to move on. I was no eavesdropper, and could not help hearing what I did. One could not have repeated this conversation publicly, but after more than a quarter of a century, and the speakers, and he of whom they spoke, being dead, I hope that as an incident of past history of an important political crisis, I do not do wrong in revealing it. When Lowell's letters were published after his death, several years later, I could not help putting together Mr. Parker's "rather suddenly" alongside of Lowell's pithy saying, in a private letter to a friend m America: "Mr. Gladstone is a man who has a marvellous power of improvising lifelong convictions."

Little did I think that I would ever be in the same lobby close to Mr. John Bright. It happened in the division on the Home Rule Bill, and as we crowded in with the Noes, I was wedged up close beside him. Some one made his way through the press till he was near to where I stood, and said to Mr. Bright: "We are :n a majority," and he replied—I hearing his voice for the first time, and in the shortest speech he ever made—"That's right. He spoke in a calm, unexcited tone. It forms a remarkable little bit of history, which no one heard except the member who brought the message and myself. Who would have believed six months before that, day, that he would feel himself compelled to join his old opponents in the lobby, and would express satisfaction at the defeat of his quondam leader, with whom he had worked m harmony for more than a quarter of a century?

The constituency I represented kept up my direct association with Edinburgh, and I feel at liberty to refer to one piece of work I was able to accomplish, and which l quite out with the region of party lines. I had for many years been impressed with the thought that while the Scottish system of criminal jurisprudence was excellent, efficient for the detection and punishment of crime, and eminently fair to accused persons, yet that in many respects the procedure was cumbrous and expensive, the forms being so complicated that objections to the relevancy of indictments were very numerous, and often successful, thus causing delays and additional and unnecessary expense. I introduced a Bill to amend and simplify procedure. It was necessarily a bulky Bill, containing seventy-seven clauses. My friends on the Treasury Bench smiled pityingly on my parliamentary youthful enthusiasm. My colleague Webster, the Attorney-General, took the Bill out of my hand and made a show of weighing it, saying: "My dear Lord-Advocate, you have no more chance of getting that through than of paying off the national debt by a cheque on your banker." It was not surprising that he should think as he. did, seeing that he himself had an English Criminal Code Bill, quite as long as my Procedure Bill, which he was in vain struggling to carry through its three readings. So far as I know, though twenty years have passed since then, it has never been successfully proceeded with.

When Bills are down upon the paper and are not reached at a sitting, the practice is that, before the adjournment, the clerk at the table reads off the titles, and the member in charge of a Bill names a day for which it is to be put down. The determined ones always put their Bill down for the next sitting. In those days, it was a very rare thing that there was an adjournment before midnight. Accordingly, "This day" was the member's reply when his Bill was called. How many times, amid the covert smiles of my colleagues, I said "'This day, I cannot say, but they were not a few. Suddenly, one evening, a whip came rushing to my room for me. A Government Bill relating to Ireland was being pushed forward, and the Nationalists in protest rose and left the House, with the result that the Bill passed through its clauses in a few minutes, and the way was opened for my Criminal Procedure Bill. I hurried in. As no one had expected it to come on, no one was prepared with amendments, and as good luck would have it, the next Bill was a Scottish Licensing Bill, which the opposition Scottish members were desirous to push through committee, and therefore they gave me very little trouble. My seventy-seven clauses went through in a little more than an hour and a half, and though amt with hunger, having had no dinner, I left the House to get a morsel of food, with a very elated heart. My secretary, Mr. William Mure, told me, when we met next day, of his astonishment when he opened his Times and found that, without his attendance, the bulky Bill had gone through.

All I shall say of the Act, which my Bill soon became, is that its success has exceeded my most sanguine expectations, and it will give an idea of the very marked simplification it introduced into the procedure of the criminal courts, if I mention that in the first year of its being in force, the printing bill of the Crown Office was diminished by no less a sum than 1 550 per annum. It is generally admitted that it has worked well, and has reduced compilication in procedure to a minimum. If it were not my own bantling, I might say more, but I refrain. I shall only add that my Front Bench friends who jeered at my sanguine hopes, were the first to congratulate me on my good fortune.

Speaking of this mode of placing Bills on the paper at adjournment, recalls to me a scene which took place, in which the abnormally long and abnormally broad Major O'Gorman figured. On a certain night, the clerk was called on to read out the Bills on the paper, the. hour being just about midnight. An Irish colleague of the Major's pulled his sleeve, and said: "Meejor, dear, I can't be sure when he caalls me Bill whither to say his day or to-morrow." "Ah, me boy," said the Major, "I'll soon find out that for ye." He rose up, and pulling out a veritable turnip of a watch, he shouted in stentorian tones: "Mr. Spaker, sor, I'm raather in a muddle; would the Right Ahnarable jintleman tell us whether it's laste night or temorry maarnin'?"


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