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THE NATIONAL INSTITUTIONS' i BILL. IMPORTANT INTERVIEW WITH MR. ALFRED THOMAS. M.P. In order to present to our readers a somewhat clearer idea of the general scope and object of the National Institutions Bill, and also to ascertain wiiAt support the Bill i? likely to receive from leaders of opinion in Wales, one of oar represen- tatives waited on Mr. Allied Thomas, who stands chief sponsor for the Bill. and with that genial cordiality familiar to all who have a personal ac- quaintance with the popular member for Ei-.st Glamorgan, he at once offered to give the fullest information on the subject. I see. Mr. Thomas," said the Star representa- tive, "that in your National Institutions Bill yon propose to confer exceptionally large powers on the Welsh Secretary." That is so but if you refer to the Bill yon will see that in a general way these powers are not enacted, they are simply transferred." I am not sure that I follow you quite clearly, Mr. Thomas." Well, you see." the honouable member an- swered with a smile, nearly all those exte*«ive powers that I propose to give the Welsh Secretary are already exercised by the Home Secretary, the II Local Government Board, and the State Depart- ments and it would in no sense be creating new powers it woald simply be placing powers, already exercised, in the hands of a minister whose province it would be to safeguard the in- terests of Wales." But would there be any advantage to Wales in having a separate department for the adminis- tration and control of Welsh affairs Most certainly. Tee Home Secretary, for ex- ample. who is seldom a Welshman specially ac- quainted with the national characteristics and requirements of the Ppricipality is so fully occu- pied with the multifarious and exacting duties of his office that, were he even so disposed, he i* unable to give that time and attention to Welsh affairs which is required for the proper administra- tion of law and order in the Principality." Then I gather from your reply that, in your view, the establishment of a Welsh State Depart- ment would be likely to put an end to many of the grievances of which the Welsh people now justly complain. That is so. There is the very serious matter of the use of the Welsh language in the Welsh courts of justice. The Star has been giving the very deckled opinions of representative Welshmen on & recent legal appointment in Mid-Wales. Now it is my opinion that if we had a Welsh de- partment, with a secretary who understood the re- quirements of Wales, he would see that justice was done." "You think the Welsh Secretary wonld be in favour of having cases tried in Welsh where cir- cumstances required it?" I "I do. The Welsh Secretary would, or ought to. be a Welsh member cf Parliament, and from his position he would know the needs and require- ments of the Principality and the responsibility of his office would almost compel him, independent of party political cast, to secure that, where the English language is imperfectly known, and where Welsh is better understood by the common people, the proceedings in courts of justice should be wholly, or in part, conducted in the language best known to the people. It has always appeared to me to be a gross injustice that the Welsh people should have to submit to the entire legal machinery of the Principality being carried on in the English tongue." Then you think that injustice has frequently been done to Welshmen, in the administration of the law. through Welsh not being used in the law courts V There is no doubt of it. I have heard of quite a number of cases in recent years, cases of the g-rav est importance, when the most serious issues were involved, where it is very hard to believe that what is carelessly called justice was anything but a mockery and a sham. The prisoner and the greater number of witnesses have frequently pos- sessed the mojt meagre and imperfect knowledge of English, sometimes no knowledge of that lan- guage at all, while judge and jury and other ( officials of the court, on whom the issue depends, had no knowledge of Welsh. Can any reasonable man believe that in such circumstances there is not ) frequently grave injustice done. And I have known eases where juries had only the most im- perfect knowledge of the language in which the courts are conducted." But would the Secretary for Wales have power to rule that the proceedings in courts should be conducted in Welsh when circumstances appeared to him to require it ?" I have provided foT that in the National Insti- tutions Bill. And my friend Judge Gwilym illiams has frequently had the courage to con- duct cases in Welsh, even as the law now stands. And I see from the Star last week that my friend Mr. Lewis Morris, as acting chairman of Quarter I Sessions, has frequently taken witnesses' evidence in Welsh." I see you propose a sweeping alteration in the method of appointing magistrates. Would that be likely to improve the present state of things V' "I think it would very considerably. If the Secretary had the appointment of magistrates he would be responsible for the appointments he made in a more direct way than the Lord Chan- cellor is. If he misrepresented Welsh opinions the Welsh members would be able to tackle him on the floor of the House of Commons, and public opinion, by means of the press, would throw light on the administration of the department, and pro- tect III from abuse. And then you must not fail to observe that, under the National Institutions Bill, the Secretary could only appoint magistrates from among the names of persons submitted to him by County and Borough Councils." The chief objection to that arrangement would. I supposa. Mr. Thomas, be that it would be placing the magistracy almost directly under the C introl of the people. For if the County Councils did not send in the names of gentlemen, in public favour, for the appointment, the electors would toon send representatives to the County Councils who would secure the appointment of magistrates according to their desire." l> No doubt in some quarters the objection you speak of would be raised, but to my mind that is not a sound objection and the principle of popularly-elected magistrates has prevailed in Scotland for many years." Is that so Yes the borough magistrates in Scotland are elected by popular vote. The Scotch bailie is erroneously supposed simply to correspond to an alderman in this country. That is not quite the case. A bailie is elevated to his position much in the same way as an alderman, but he discharges the duties of borough magistrate, sitting on the bench and administering the law. The Scotch bailie possesses jurisdiction by common law as well as by statute. The criminal jurisdiction of the bailies of Scotch boroughs extends to breaches of the peace, drunkenness, adulteration of articles of diet, petty thefts, and other olfencss of a. less aggravated nature." And are the people of Scotland satisfied with the manner in which justice is administered in police-courts ?" It is generally admitted that law is ex- ceptionally well administered in all the Scotch courta." Is there much lingual difficulty in Scotland Nothing like to the same extent as in Wales but in the Western Highlands of Scotland Gaelic is the language of the people, and their knowledge of English ia, in some districts, very limited, but as the Scotch judges are natives of the country, the difficulties we meet with in Wales seldom arise in any part of Scotland and should they arise, the Secretary for Scotland would see that the matter was put right. We all know what splendid service my friend Sir George Trevelvnn rendered to the Highland Crofters when he filled the office of Sec- retary for Scotland. I believe we would reap great advantage from the appointment of a Secretary for Wales. And if we could carry that point, it would establish once and for ever the claim of Wales to be recognised and regarded as a distinct nation, with rights and privileges equal to those of Scotland. That is the chief object in the National Institutions Bill." "But do yon think the Welsh people will be satisfied with anything short of Home Rule in the sense and to the extent that the Irish demand it ?" I have the best reasons for saying with con- fidence that the Welsh people would, in the mean- time, at least be satisfied with the provisions of the National Institutions Bill. That Bill would give us immense advantages over our present position, and would, in some important respects, place us far ahead of Scotland." Do I understand you to say that this Bill of yours would give us as large powers as what Scotland enjoys ?" Certainly. In a most important respect it ^uld secure to us very much larger powers than wha!"1 Scotland now possesses." la '-what direction is that. Mr. Thomas ?" In {-his direction I propose to create a National-,Council in Wales, with important and responsib^e functions. Now, in Scotland there is no such 2vati°n"l Council, with any authority for dpalinrr wi^ important matters, and would be dealt withi Welsh National Council. If you refer to th<* ^^h National Institutions Bill you will see provided that the National Council sh;Hl power 1 To riak'c from time t. time standing orders for the regalation of their meetings, proceedings, and business, and vary and revoke the same. So far as not regulated by this Act or by standing orders, pro- ceedings, shall be held, carried on, and done as directed by the Local Government Act. 1888, with reference to a county council so far as the same shall be appli- cable. 2. To discuss and inquire into such matter as they shall deem of common interest to Wales. 3. To inquire into the management of the Crown Lands in Wales, and especially with reference to the provision made thereon for allotments and housing of the working classes, and also as to the provision made for asserting the rights of the Crown as to foreshore, waste and common lands, and mountains, and minerals, and for securing the reversion of the Crown in any land, and money representing land, entailed under thirty-fourth and thirty-fifth Henry the Eighth, chapter twenty, and as to sales of land and fee farm and quit rents belonging to the Crown in or arising out of land in Wales. 4. To apply for a Royal Charter for a University for Wales to comprise the following colleges:—The ¡ University College of Wales, Aberystwith; the University College of North Wales, Bangor; the University College of South Wales and Monmouth- shire, Cardiff. And it shall not be necessary to lay such application or a copy of the Draft Charter before Parliament. 5. To establish a National Museum for Wales, to apply for a charter of incorporation of the same and ao apply to Parliament for an Act to enable the trustees of the British Museum, situate in Blooms- bury, in the county of London, to give to such museum for Woles any books, manuscripts, works, objects, or specimens, which in the opinion of the said trustees especially concern Wales or the Cymric race. 6. To introduce into Parliament such Bills as they may think necessary for raising funds for the purposes of such University and National Museum. 7. To assert the right of the public to the use and enjoyment of any waste or common land, foreshore, or fishery, and to access to mountains and waterfalls, rivers, inlets of the sea. broads and village greens, and open spaces, highways and footpaths, wherever in Wales, ill the opinion of the National Council, such rights exists, with power to pay the costs of defending any legal proceeding, civil or criminal, which has been brought against any person for exercising such right, or with the view of disproving the existence thereof, or which would, if decided against such person, in the "pinion of the council injuriously affect such right or be evidence that no right existed. 8. To pass Bills in the nature of private Bills for the purposes in Wales mentioned in the second schedule hereto, having such clauses as shall at the period of the passing thereof be usual in Acts of Parliameut passed for the like purposes, with the con- sent of the secretary. Such Bills shall have no force or effect until approved by the secretary, but after such approval they shall have the force of law. The consent of the seeretary to any Bill shall be con- clusive evidence that the clauses introduced therein are within the power hereby given. For the purposes of such Bills the National Councils and any committee appointed by it for dealing with Bills shall have ail the powers, jurisdiction, and authority now possessed by a select committee of either House of Parliament for the like purposes, including power to summon and examine on oath witnesses to require production of books, papers, and documents, and to award costs and to fix fees for private Bills. 9. To make from time to time standing orders for such Bills and vary and revoke the same but so that such standing orders give protection to the dwellings of the labouring classes which in the opinion of the Secretary for Wales shall not be less than that pro- vided for by the standing orders of the House of Com- mons for the time being in force. 10. To confirm Provisional Orders made by the secretary. 11. To appoint committees with such powers and duties of the National Council delegated to them, and subject to such regulations as the National Council may from time to time determine. Thus yon will see that the powers of the National Council are very large, and the creation of such an autherity would be of immense import- ance in Wales. It would, as I have already said, place ue far ahead of Scotland, and would secure an amount of justice to Wales that would be of the highest advantage." But is there not a danger of your Bill in- terfering with the progress of Disestablishment." I have seen that hinted at. But it is a false alarm. The Disestablishment question so far from suffering from the promotion of the National Institutions Bill would, in my opinion, derive advantage from it. And he would be a dull observer of the times who did not perceive that Disestablishment is safe. It is only a ques- tion of time. At the genera] election, whenever that takeo place, we shall have a considerable Liberal majority, and as the Liberal party is pledged up to the hilt to Disestablish the Church in Wales the next Parliament will tackle that question. But if we are wise we will not rest content with the Disestablishment of the Church in Wales. There are many other questions requir- ing attention there are many grievances de- manding redrets, and now is our opportunity for pressing the matter forward, so that the Liberal party may see that we are in earnest and be pre- pared to meet our demands when the opportunity I comes." Do you think the Liberal party are likely to support the National Institutions Bill l If the people of Wales support it, there is no fear of the Liberal party. It is a question for the Welsh people. If they are in earnest, the pro- visions of the Bill will soon be accepted." visions of the Bill will soon be accepted." I see you propose to set up a Welsh Educa- tion Department. What is your object in making that provision ■ I believe if we had an Education Department for Wales, the educational aifairs of the Princi- pality would receive much better attention than they do at present." Now, Mr. Thomas, I forgot to ask you earlier, but would you mind telling me your reasons for electing your National Council in the manner you propose, instead of electing it directly from the people ?" •• My chief reason is to avoid expense. Public elections are very costly. My iriend Mr. Herbert Lewis, chairman of the Flint County Council, told me some time ago that the first election of a County Council for Flint cost something like £90." "I saw from the report of the Llandrindod Conference that another conference was to be held to consider the details of the Bill. Where and when do you propose to hold the next con- ference ?" I am not decided yet, but I am strongly advised to have the next conference in Cardiff, about the beginning of December." Would the creation of the office of Welsh Sec- retary, a Welsh Education Department, and so forth, not entail extra expense on Wales ?" Not at all. The cost of these offices would be defrayed out of the Imperial Exchequer." "How hae your Bill been received by the lenders of opinion in Wales ? Is hie been received almost with enthusiasm, certainly beyond what I had a right to expect." So that up to the present you are perfectly satisfied with the reception of the National In- stitutions Bill ?" I am more than satisfied and I have taken moans to ascertain the opinion of persons repre- senting public opinion in all parts of Wales. The opinion of Wales is, I believe, entirely with me, and I am confident of the ultimate success of the measure." Our representative would have asked fur- ther questions respecting the Bill, but other pressing business demanded the attention of the honourable member so thanking Mr. Thomas for his courtesy our representative left.