HC Deb 23 June 1847 vol 93 cc811-4

House in Committee on the Seduction and Prostitution Suppression Bill.

On the question that the Bill be reported,


said, that he objected to the principle of the Bill altogether. His objection was this, that the House in passing this Bill were travelling out of the real province of legislation into the province of simple morality, and that they were attempting by legislative interference to bring about that which no mere law could ever effect. He objected also to the details of the Bill as well as to the principle. It was proposed to punish the offence in question by imprisonment, "with or without hard labour, in the common gaol or house of correction for any term not exceeding two years." Now, this was almost the largest extent of imprisonment applied to any crime whatever. He considered also that under this Bill any man could be made the victim of the vilest conspiracy.


said, that the objection which had been taken to the measure, namely, that it proposed to effect an object which should be left to the influence of morality, applied to every penal statute for the suppression of crime. He would not enter into details; but if it were fitting to do so, the House would be appalled by the extent to which this crime was carried by agents all over the country; and the victims were chiefly the children of cottagers and artisans.


was of opinion that the Bill would only increase the evil which it was intended to remedy, and moved as an Amendment that the Chairman do leave the Chair.


complimented the gentlemen through whose instrumentality an account of what passed in that House was usually conveyed to the public upon the discretion they had shown in refraining from entering at any length into this subject when it was last under the consideration of the House [general approbation], and he hoped they would pursue a similar course on the present occasion.


was of opinion that much good might be done by the Bill in its present shape, and he would therefore give it his support. He thought that in order to place a Bill of this sort upon a right footing, it was necessary to put the definition of the offence more clearly, and with a better protection to those who might be unjustly accused under its provisions.


said, that in his opinion it was the province of the House to put down every abomination that came under its cognizance, and, therefore, he came with the intention of supporting the measure of the hon. Gentleman opposite; but on a revision of its enactments he had come to the conclusion that it would give facilities to ill-disposed persons to get up false charges against persons who were perfectly innocent of them, and yet afraid to repel them publicly; and taking that into consideration, he thought that the measure was not one that could be safely carried out, however good its intentions might be.


made some suggestions as to the nature of defence which the Bill proposed to give persons accused under its provisions. He observed that the previous immorality of the accused party was necessary to be proved; and how was that to be done? Even though the accused party might be notoriously immoral, still the proof of her misconduct might be wanting, and could not be obtained. He fully concurred in the object of his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham; but if the terms of the Bill were liable to misconstruction, it would certainly induce him to pause before he would sanction the Bill.


was of opinion that the measure would give too much facility to ill-disposed persons to bring unjust accusations against innocent parties, and by which men of position in society and good morals might be placed in a frightful and an indefensible position. He was most anxious to put down, or at any rate to limit, prostitution and seduction; but he must confess that the Bill was calculated to do more harm than good in its present state.


objected to this measure, as throwing upon every man in decent society a risk of unjust accusation, which he did not incur at the present moment. The Bill would not prevent the evil it was intended to remedy, but would give rise to others of a most serious description. Under the provisions of this Act no one would be safe, from the Archbishop of Canterbury downwards — nay, not even the hon. Member for Birmingham himself. What remedy was there provided for the accused? None. In fact the accused was destitute of all means of defending himself, while every facility was open to the accuser. He thought it incumbent on the law officers of the Crown to give their opinion on the Bill before the House.


admitted there was some force in the observations of the hon. Member for Bath; but he thought it would be unfair to the hon. Member for Birmingham wholly to abandon the measure. The course he should suggest was, that the Chairman should report the Bill, and between the present time and the consideration of the report the hon. Member for Birmingham should, with the legal members of the Committee, reconsider the clause, and either omit the second part of it altogether, or otherwise obviate the objections to it.


was quite willing to take the course suggested by the right hon. Baronet; and he certainly thought the clause might be reconsidered with advantage.


observed, that the Amendments which had now been objected to, had been agreed to in the Committee nemine contradicente; and he hoped that if this clause were to be expunged, the Bill would be rejected altogether. There were, it was evident, considerable doubts in the minds of hon. and learned Gentlemen as to the effect of such a clause, and, under those circumstances, the House, he thought, would not be justified in making such a measure law.


considered that the difficulty raised by the hon. and learned Member for Bath might be got over if the offences contained in the Bill were taken out of the jurisdiction of quarter-sessions, and were referred to a higher tribunal.


would accede to the proposal of the right hon. Baronet, and reconsider the clause. He would not consent to the omission of the clause: if any alteration were made, it would be of such a nature as to preserve the integrity of the Bill. With respect to what had been said by the hon. Member for Finsbury, he might observe that the hon. Member had himself introduced that Amendment which was now considered to be the most objectionable portion of the Bill; and it was his (Mr. Spooner's) opinion that the object of the hon. Member had been solely to frustrate the attempt at any legislation in this direction.


The hon. Gentleman had no right whatever to impute motives. The House would be surprised to learn that the Amendment referred to had been drawn up by one of the hon. Gentleman's own Friends, had been put into his (Mr. Duncombe's) hands by the hon. Gentleman himself, and had been merely adopted by him (Mr. Duncombe).

On the question that the Chairman do leave the Chair, the House divided:— Ayes 26; Noes 81: Majority 55.

List of the AYES.
Buller, E. Plumridge, Capt.
Denison, E. B. Reid, Col.
Duncombe, T. Repton, G. W. J.
Ferguson, Col. Ross, D. R.
Forster, M. Thornhill, G.
Henley, J. W. Trelawny, J. S.
Hildyard, T. B. T. Trollope, Sir J.
Hornby, J. Williams, W.
Houldsworth, T. Wodehouse, E.
Hudson, G. Wood, Col. T.
MacKinnon, W. A. Yorke, H. R.
Moffatt, G.
Mundy, E. M. TELLERS.
O'Brien, C. Berkeley, hon. C.
Pechell, Capt. Roebuck, J. A.
List of the NOES.
Adderley, C. B. East, Sir J. B.
Ainsworth, P. Esmonde, Sir T.
Allix, J. P. Evans, W.
Antrobus, E. Ewart, W.
Archdall, Capt. M. Farnham, E. B.
Arkwright, G. Fielden, J.
Arundel and Surrey, Earl of Fellowes, E.
Fitzroy, hon. H.
Austen, Col. Floyer, J.
Baillie, W. Forbes, W.
Bankes, G. Fuller, A. E.
Barkly, H. Gladstone, Capt.
Barrington, Visct. Gore, M.
Bodkin, W. H. Goulburn, rt. hon. H.
Boyd, J. Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.
Bramston, T. W. Grogan, E.
Broadley, H. Hamilton, G. A.
Buck, L. W. Hamilton, Lord C.
Buller, C. Harris, hon. Capt.
Burroughes, H. N. Hatton, Capt. V.
Cabbell, B. B. Heathcote, J.
Cavendish, hon. G. H. Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J.
Chaplin, W. J. Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H.
Dodd, G. Jones, Capt.
Lefroy, A. Rolleston, Col.
Mackenzie, T. Round, J.
Manners, Lord C. S. Rutherfurd, A,
Manners, Lord J. Sandon, Visct.
Marshall, W. Seymer, H. K.
Maule, rt. hon. F. Seymour, Lord
Miles, W. Shaw, rt. hon. F.
Monahan, J. H. Sheppard, T.
Morris, D. Smith, rt. hon. R. V.
Morison, Gen. Tanered, H. W.
O'Brien, A. S. Tollemache, J.
O'Brien, J. Tufnell, H.
Packe, C. W. Turner, E.
Palmer, R. Vivian, J. H.
Patten, J. W. Walpole, S. H.
Pennant, hon. Col.
Prime, R. TELLERS.
Rendlesham, Lord Spooner, R.
Rice, E. R. Pakington, Sir J.

Bill reported.

House resumed.