HC Deb 13 February 1872 vol 209 cc330-46

, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill for the Prevention of certain Contagious Diseases, and for the better protection of Women, said, he rose in pursuance of the pledge given towards the end of last Session by Her Majesty's Government, to explain to the House what had been the result of the consideration they had given to the Report of the Commission appointed to inquire into the Contagious Diseases Act, and to propose a measure which seemed to them suited to meet the evils complained of. He need hardly say that the Government had entered on the subject with great anxiety. They were sensible of the serious responsibility which they incurred; whether, on the one hand, they opposed the wishes of a very large portion of the population, who, however unreasonable their opposition might have been, were backed by many persons of calm and serious habits of thought; or whether they proposed the repeal of the Acts, supported as they had been by far the largest part of the medical, naval, and military profession, as well as by a large part of the population—whatever part they took no doubt the Government felt they incurred a very serious responsibility. He thought he should facilitate explanation of the measure he proposed, if he took a short and rapid survey of the course of legislation on the subject. It was in 1864 that, for the first time, the Government, actuated by a desire to improve the efficiency of the naval and military forces, by removing one great source of disease and weakness, introduced a Bill which had for its object the prevention of contagious diseases in certain naval and military stations. The Act was confined in its operation to eleven naval and military stations. Its main provision was, that on a declaration, not necessarily an oath, to the effect that a woman who was a common prostitute and suffering from contagious disease had been within 14 days within the limits of the district instituted by the Act for the purposes of prostitution, she should be examined, and might be detained three months in a certified hospital. The Act passed in July, 1864. In October the same year the two great military Departments appointed a committee of medical men to inquire into the best means of diminishing the effects of disease in the Navy and Army. In consequence of their Report the Act of 1866 was introduced, which was based on the principle that compulsory examination should be applied to all persons who were living the lives of prostitutes. In 1868 a Committee of the Lords again inquired into the subject, and examined a vast number of medical and other witnesses. Their Report recommended that power should be given by Order in Council to apply the Act of 1866, first to all naval and military stations, and secondly to any locality the inhabitants of which should apply for it, provided there was adequate hospital accommodation, with due provision for moral and religious instruction, and a sufficient police force to carry out the provisions of the Act. In consequence of that Report it fell to his lot to move in that House a Select Committee to inquire into the operation of the Act of 1866, and in consequence of the Report of that Select Committee the Act of 1869 was introduced, which extended to further military stations the operations of the Act of 1866, but did not provide, as recommended by the Committee of the House of Lords, its extension to the civil population. There was no doubt that the proposed extension of the Acts to the civil population led to the agitation which, from that time almost to the present, raged throughout the length and breadth of the land. An association was formed, promoted by medical men, and having many branches all over the country, for the purpose of advocating the extension of these Acts to the civil districts of the country. Then the opposition arose, founded first of all on the opinion that these Acts invaded private liberty; secondly, because they appeared to give legal sanction to prostitution; thirdly, because they tended to promote immorality among men; and lastly, because they had a tendency still further to harden and degrade fallen women themselves. There was no doubt but that these objections elicited the sympathies of large numbers of persons of serious and thoughtful habits, but it was equally certain that many who opposed the Acts dealt in exaggerations and appeals which were calculated to give a false impression as to the manner in which the law was carried out. Statements were made on the authority of persons entitled to little belief, impugning the conduct of those who were charged with the administration of the Acts, and he would appeal to anyone who had read those wild and random charges, and who knew the readiness with which they were received, as to whether he was going beyond the truth in saying that the agitation was due mainly to a monstrous system of perversion and exaggeration; whilst on the other hand no one who knew the facts of the case but would bear him out in saying that the Acts had worked in a most satisfactory manner. It was owing in a great degree, therefore, to that monstrous system of exaggeration and perversion which had prevailed, that popular indignation had been excited against these Acts. However, there could be no question whatever that the public mind had been very deeply moved, and the Government were anxious, on the one hand, not lightly to abandon a course of legislation which, in their opinion, was working very considerable good, and, on the other, that proper inquiry should be made into their operation. They therefore appointed a Commission in 1870, which reported towards the middle of the year 1871. It recommended, by a large majority, first of all, the repeal of the clauses which authorized the periodical examination of women; secondly, it recommended the re-enactment of the Act of 1864 which had been repealed, because its operations were extended by the Acts of 1866 and 1869; but such re-enactment would have returned to the principle of compulsory examination, which the Committee had already decided against; it also recommended that other legislation should be passed—in fact, that the whole of this legislation should be such as might be rendered available by the civil districts throughout the country as well as the naval and military stations. A minority of 7, however, were in favour of preserving in its entirety the principle of examination, and not only of maintaining the Acts, but while amending them in some particulars, of gradually and cautiously extending the operation of the law throughout the country. This minority of 7, at the head of whom was the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) objected to the Report because they agreed with the medical profession that periodical examination was necessary, and that the Act of 1864 was more beneficial than the Acts of 1866 and 1869. He would say a few words as to the results. The Commissioners were called on to report not only on the physical results, but also on what appeared to them to be the moral effects of the Acts. On both points there had been, and still was, considerable difference of opinion. Not denying that there did exist grave objections to the Acts, some occasional incentives to immorality, and that the system of examination might have a hardening influence on women, he might say that the conclusion he arrived at was, that the effect in preventing women from entering on a life of prostitution was so great that the moral good prevailed over the moral evil. When he stated that as his own opinion, he must admit that many persons for whose opinion he had the greatest possible respect entertained a different opinion. Their objections to the Acts were not to be overcome by any advantages which might be pointed out as resulting from them, because they thought them morally wrong. But while there existed in the Commission itself, in the House, and throughout the country, that difference of opinion as to the moral effects of these Acts, he did not understand that there could be any difference of opinion as to the physical advantages they had produced. The evidence both of military and naval medical men was, he thought, conclusive. Since the Acts had been in operation, there had been among their soldiers and sailors a very great and remarkable diminution of disease. The evidence was equally clear that the effect had been greatly to reduce the amount of prostitution; and one of the best, if not the very best, effects of the measure had been to almost entirely put a stop to that most horrible form of vice—juvenile prostitution. In Plymouth and Portsmouth, where a large number of poor children, from one cause or another, had been led into this miserable life, juvenile prostitution had entirely disappeared. In Portsmouth, where last year there had been upwards of 200 juvenile prostitutes, none were now to be found. A great effect had also been produced on public order throughout these districts. The scenes described in some of these seaport towns had been of the most disgraceful character; there was now a marked improvement; order and decency prevailed where there had been nothing but disorder. These facts were present to the mind of everyone, but, notwithstanding, the Commissioners recommended "that exclusive legislation for the purpose of preserving the health of our soldiers and sailors among a civil population was not desirable, and whatever regulations were made should be equally applicable to the whole country." After giving the subject the most attentive consideration the Government had arrived at the same conclusion. They thought it impossible to maintain in certain limited districts and with a large civil population, a system of law that was incapable of extension to other parts of the country. The Government were of opinion that the system of compulsory and periodical examination could not be made the basis of general legislation. He would now refer to the part taken by successive Governments in the matter. It was said over and over again that these Acts had been carried by surprise; but that affirmation was totally unfounded, and it was not the fault of the Government or of Parliament that these measures were not fully discussed. The subject was not of a character to invite discussion, and did not class itself among those more inviting subjects which occupied the minds of those who took an interest in deliberating upon public questions, and the consequence was that this important and stringent legislation passed through the House almost without notice, and without that salutary and beneficial purification which discussion and opposition supplied. That was a great misfortune, for they were most stringent Acts, introducing novel principles, and they were introduced among a population utterly unprepared for their reception. That was the secret of the opposition they had met with. But although the Government were of opinion that the principle of these Acts could not be maintained in exceptional districts, they were of opinion that very much might be done towards the preservation of public decency and order, and for the protection of female innocence. The best results obtained by the operation of these Acts had been that they had cleared the streets of the more hardened and degraded women, and that they had, to a great extent, if not entirely, prevented the degradation of young children. With regard to the former class they did not come within the Vagrant Act, unless they behaved in a riotous and indecent manner; but the provisions of the Police Clauses Act in towns and the Metropolitan Police Act went somewhat further, because they authorized the punishment of those who importuned passers-by, provided it was such as to cause annoyance. Many magistrates held that unless the annoyance were proved by those who had been importuned, they were not justified in convicting; and owing to the reluctance of many persons to give evidence in such cases, that law in many instances became a dead letter. The Vagrant Act had also been interpreted in very different ways. In Liverpool lately it had been applied for the first time with very great vigour, and the result was of a very striking kind. He had before him a report recently issued by a committee of magistrates of the borough of Liverpool, which stated the steps they had taken to put down the more scandalous exhibitions of this kind. It was stated that the number of women convicted under the Vagrant Act up to 1870 varied from 65 to a maximum of 500; in 1871, however, the magistrates, acting on the direction of the stipendiary magistrate, Mr. Raffles, determined that the act of solicitation was in itself an act which justified the punishment of the offender, and the result was, that the number of women so charged amounted to no less than 3,388, and the change that had taken place in the appearance of the streets was very remarkable. It was proposed to enact by the Bill that any common prostitute who in any public street solicited or importuned persons should be held to be an offender under the Act. The Vagrant Act for that purpose would be extended to Scotland and Ireland. For the first offence, a person convicted under that Act would be held to be a disorderly person, subject to three months' imprisonment; for the second offence, he was considered to be a rogue and vagabond, and was liable to six months' imprisonment; and for the third, he was held to be an incorrigible rogue, and was liable to be committed to the quarter sessions and to be sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment. In the opinion of the Liverpool magistrates the power of committal for a longer period would be useful, as helping to break off the habits which had been formed. The next provision of the Bill was borrowed from a recent clause in the later Poor Law Acts, which enabled the guardians when any paupers within the workhouse were discovered to be labouring under contagious diseases, to detain them until they were cured, and if they escaped they were subject to be taken up and imprisoned again. The Bill proposed to apply the same rule to women of the class referred to when committed to gaol. All such women committed under the Vagrant Act, or generally as disorderly persons, would, if found to be suffering under contagious disease, be liable to be detained in the prison infirmary or in some certified hospital until they were cured, or for a maximum period of nine months. No compulsory examination would in that case be necessary. Besides those who were committed to prison summarily as disorderly women there was a considerable number of women committed to prison for other offences, where the evidence showed that they were leading an immoral life. It was, therefore, proposed that the committing magistrate, in all summary cases where he was satisfied a woman was leading a disorderly life, should certify the fact, and in the event of the prisoner being found to be suffering from contagious disease she would be detained in the same way as the class of prisoners last described. He was not certain that it might not be expedient to extend these provisions still further, and to put prisoners sent to gaol for offences of any kind in the same position with respect to contagious diseases as paupers in workhouses. It was, however, better to proceed cautiously. There were special reasons why women of the class in question should not be permitted to return to their miserable calling while suffering from contagious disease, and, therefore, he limited his proposal to these two classes of cases. The prison surgeon would report the existence of disease, and the report would be sent by the gaoler to the justice, who would make an order for the detention of the patient. The woman thus detained in prison after the term of her sentence might by order of the justices be removed to a certified hospital, but if not sooner cured her detention would not exceed nine months. As an additional precaution, the chief medical officer of the prison infirmary or certified hospital would be required each month to transmit a certificate that further detention was necessary. The justice, however, would have the power of discharging a woman either from the prison infirmary or the certified hospital, although not cured, if he were satisfied she intended to abandon her former life. The expense of sending the woman from the prison to the infirmary, and from the infirmary to the hospital, and from the hospital to her home, would be borne by the prison authorities. He now came to that portion of the Bill specially devoted to the protection of women, the provisions dealing with which could be very briefly stated. The existing law made punishable with penal servitude for life offences of a certain description upon children under 10 years of age, and he proposed to extend the age from 10 to 12. The same offence committed upon a child between 10 and 12 was at present a misdemeanour punishable with penal servitude for 10 years, and he proposed to extend that protection to children under 14. At present the obtaining possession of a girl under 21 by false pretences or representations was a misdemeanour punishable by imprisonment for two years. He knew no reason for limiting these cases to women under 21, and he proposed that the punishment should equally apply when the offence was committed against women of any age. With regard to disorderly houses, the law at present was, that if the landlord of a disorderly house allowed women whom he had cause to believe diseased to frequent his house he was guilty of misdemeanour, and liable to a fine of £20 or six months' imprisonment. The recommendation of the Commissioners, which he had adopted, was that whenever a woman was found in a disorderly house, the landlord, whether he knew it or not, should be liable to the same punishment. After referring to the number of children of tender years who in certain districts became the victims of an immoral traffic which he could only describe as the slave trade, he requested the support of the House in proposing measures of the utmost severity against those who harboured these children. He proposed that the harbouring of children under 16 should be declared a misdemeanour punishable summarily before a magistrate by six months' imprisonment, or, upon indictment, with two years' imprisonment, in each case with or without hard labour at the discretion of the Judge. He also proposed that the parochial authorities should be enabled to prosecute the keepers of disorderly houses without its being necessary that they should first be called upon to act by two ratepayers. He also proposed to make the landlord of a disorderly house liable if he knew it to be kept as such, although he might not be resident in it, and although he might take no part in the management. He proposed further to give the landlord power summarily to determine the tenancy of a disorderly house, whatever the terms of the lease might be. The last provision of the Bill referred to common lodging-houses, the keepers of which would be deprived of their licences and subjected to punishment if they knowingly permitted them to be frequented by persons of immoral life. The greater part of these provisions were founded upon the recommendations of the Commissioners, and some had been suggested by an examination of the general law. He was not without hope that the effect of this stringent legislation might be to prevent the corruption of young persons, and at the same time to provide guarantees which did not now exist for public order. It might be asked why he did not extend this legislation to the whole country without interfering with the operation of Acts which were admitted to be doing much good. His answer was, that it was impossible to maintain laws which had not the sanction of public opinion. There was no wiser maxim than that of Burke—that legislation should not force, but should follow public opinion. At present public opinion had been rather forced than followed in this legislation. For his own part, he held that there could be hardly anything more mischievous than the continued agitation upon this subject. He passed no reflection upon anyone, but any good which might have been produced by these Acts could hardly counterbalance the demoralization and mischief which had been caused by the agitation against these Acts. The Government had seen with grief and sorrow how much the reserve and delicacy for which the women of our population were so distinguished had been broken through by these discussions, and a continuation of this agitation could not but produce the most disastrous results. If these evils were to be cured or greatly diminished, it could only be done by voluntary agency—by the active efforts and zeal of benevolent persons. These efforts, however, there could be no question, would be chilled and repressed so long as Acts of Parliament existed from which the public conscience revolted. These were the proposals of the Government. He confessed that for himself he had arrived at these conclusions with great reluctance; but he believed that if these Acts were passed they would form the basis of useful experience, and that if in the proposed Bill the meshes were made somewhat larger, the net itself would have a wider sweep. Nobody could for a moment suppose that if legislation such as was adopted in 1866 and 1869 were proposed at the present time, it would be accepted without objection in Parliament; and that being the case, and there also now being much, though unreasonable, opposition on the part of many good and excellent persons to legislation which then passed, it would not be wise to agitate the country by proposing similar enactments. It was now proposed to lay such a basis of legislation as would obtain the support of the country; and then, as they gained experience, they might make a strong endeavour to enlist a united action for the purpose of diminishing the evils of which they were all sensible. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department ought to be the object of the sympathy of the House, because it was his cruel fate to propose the repeal of Acts which he believed to have been highly successful. Fortunately for the British public the Commissioners appointed to investigate the matter did not agree with the right hon. Gentleman, for they recommended the repeal of the Acts of 1866 and 1869, and although the Report recommended the continuance of the Act of 1864, yet the majority of the Commissioners dissented from what he (Mr. Bright) considered an infamous Act. The right hon. Gentleman said the great balance of medical testimony was in favour of the present Acts. He did not know on what authority the right hon. Gentleman made that statement. There was a memorial of some medical men of London, who moved in high society, and were a class not the most likely to be consulted as to what was the best legislation for the poor people of this country. The hon. Member for Liverpool had presented a Petition, signed by 107 medical men of that town, against these Acts; and he had in his hand a protest against the Acts, signed by 572 medical men of great respectability in their profession. The right hon. Gentleman commenced his speech by attacking those who advocated the repeal of the legislation referred to, by remarking that they had been guilty of great misrepresentation and exaggeration; but had its defenders not been guilty of exaggeration and misrepresentation also? There had been ridiculous stories from Devonport and other places, and the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) had on a former occasion shown that the official statistics were erroneous. The right hon. Gentleman also spoke of the altered character of certain towns through the operation of the Acts, and of the diminution which had occurred in the number of young prostitutes; but were there no other means to effect those objects other than by legislation which caused great scandal? Though the right hon. Gentleman expressed an opinion that the time would come when public opinion would support that legislation, it was to be hoped that the time would never come when the women of England would submit to legislation of so degrading a character, which could only be passed by a Parliament in which women had no representation. He (Mr. Jacob Bright) admitted that the repeal of the existing Acts would be a considerable gain, although a highly penal Act was to be substituted for them fraught with great injustice and inequality. There were provisions in reference to the behaviour of persons in the streets; but these provisions were to apply only to women, though it was well known that men also were guilty. The same observation applied likewise to diseased vagrants and paupers, and the power to detain them. That would apply to women only, whilst the men would not be interfered with. Although he thanked the right hon. Gentleman for proposing to alter the existing legislation, yet he could not conceal from himself that there would be considerable opposition to the present measure, owing to its one-sided character.


observed that he had not expected to hear that no laws of any kind ought to be enacted to lessen a crying evil, lest they might infringe the liberty of those who practised it. He thought there was a defect in the proposed Bill, if it was intended that a diseased vagrant committed to prison should be liberated on giving evidence of an intention to relinquish her immoral life; and, in a sanitary point of view, he should protest against the liberation from prison or hospital of a person notoriously diseased. One strong fact, which was proved before the Committee of 1869, was, that when a ship came into harbour to be paid off, bevies of half-cured women at once left the hospital. The hon. Member who had spoken last (Mr. Jacob Bright) talked of the unfair difference which was made between the two sexes; but the parallel could scarcely be called a just one, until it was shown that men in the state to which he was referring were found plying for hire at the corners of the streets.


said, there was no denying that the Acts which it was proposed to repeal had been productive of the most beneficial results in checking the spread of a disease which, from time to time, had well nigh decimated the population. Indeed, the united efforts of the various religious societies throughout the country had not done so much good in that direction in ten years as had been effected by those Acts during the three years they had been in operation. In the borough he had the honour to represent, the only complaint which had been made was that a sufficient opening was not afforded to those who were most anxious to return to profitable labour; and he must express his extreme regret that anything in the Bill under discussion should tend to a relaxation of the force of previous legislation, although in those provisions of it which would protect children against leading a life of prostitution he entirely concurred.


said, that he looked with dread at the prospect of doing away with the wholesome legislation of recent years. Though he could not say that he perfectly understood the nature of the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, it was the earnest desire of himself and of those with whom he had been acting, that the Act of the present Session should be final—whether it was a satisfactory one or not. They intended to do their best to make it as satisfactory as possible; but be it what it might, it would be best that its effect should be ascertained by the experience of some years, rather than that this painful subject should still be kept as a subject of undesirable controversy before the public.


, having taken an active part on the Commission which sat on the subject, said, he could not help adverting to the impression which had been made on his mind by the evidence which had been given before it. He must do justice to the candour of his right hon. Friend's (Mr. Bruce's) speech, but he could not help, at the same time, sharing in the sympathy which was felt by the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Jacob Bright) for the position of a Minister whose opinions lay one way, while the legislation which he proposed went another. The course adopted by the Government on a subject very painful in its details, but deeply important to the health and welfare of the people, was, he thought, at once timid and unworthy. He looked upon it as a triumph of prejudice and clamour over reason and truth; nor did he believe it possible for any one who had heard or read the evidence taken before the Commission to come to any other conclusion. Nobody could have sat on the Commission without seeing very clearly the influences which were brought to bear on its proceedings, and he might add that the results at which it arrived were very different from those which were at the commencement of its deliberations intended. He must once more record his regret at the timid and unworthy course to which the House was now asked to assent.


said, he must also enter his emphatic protest against the course which the Government had thought proper to take on the subject. It was at once an irresolute and an unfortunate course. The hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Jacob Bright) was very fond of fine words, and he had not hesitated to speak of the Act of 1864 as an infamous measure—a sort of phrase which it was very much in fashion with rhetoricians to use when they did not understand what they were talking about. With such persons everything they did not approve was as black as his Satanic Majesty; but he was not one of those who chose to be considered a party to an infamous Act, for it was he (Sir John Trelawny) who in Committee of Supply had first asked whether it was not possible to do something in connection with the subject. And if the hon. Member would only take the pains of inquiring into the results of the Act which he condemned, he would find that it was perhaps one of the most beneficial measures which had ever passed through Parliament. The hon. Member could not have read the evidence, and the reports of the doctors, for if he had it was clear the highest class of evidence had no influence on his understanding. [Mr. JACOB BRIGHT: I have read them.] Then the hon. Member's case was so much the worse, for the hon. Member could learn—which it was clear he had not done—from those reports what lamentable results were brought about owing to women being allowed to leave the hospitals before they were cured. A witness was asked before the Commission whether she would not take charge of a miserable child, if she had the power of doing so, and endeavour to cure her; and the answer was, she thought she would; while to the question whether she would keep her till cured, the reply was also in the affirmative. If you detained any woman till she was cured there was to that extent an interference with the liberty of the subject, and you also made vice easy by discharging her cured. The persons, therefore, who took that line were out of court, and gave the lie to their own theory. If a woman were charged with an offence against the law by soliciting in the streets, you had not only the right to cure her, if diseased, but in common humanity were bound to cure her. Yet the hon. Member dared to say that such legislation was infamous, and called its supporters the enemies of women. He began to think that this was one of the cases in which the Ballot was wanted in that House, to protect Members who were too timid to vote as they really thought upon this subject. There were six questions—he would not specify them—upon which it would be a good thing if secret voting prevailed in the House of Commons, and he regretted that the Government were adopting so weak and timid a course in proposing to repeal these Acts.


, as a Member of the Royal Commission, would venture to say to the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) that he (Mr. Rylands) had given the most careful attention to the evidence of the Royal Commission, and that the conclusion he had come to was exactly the opposite to that of the right hon. Baronet. When the Commission met, the majority of the Members had a foregone conclusion in favour of the Acts as they at present existed. He (Mr. Rylands) had led the forlorn hope in the opposite direction, and in the end the large majority of the Members were compelled to own that their views had undergone a complete change. The truth was, that many of the facts supposed to be favourable to the Acts turned out to be no facts at all, when closely examined into; and advantages had been exclusively attributed to the Acts which were really owing to other and very different causes. Improved police orders and improved regulations in the Army and Navy had done more, in the five years preceding the Acts, to diminish the evil aimed at, than had been accomplished by the Acts themselves. He was convinced that the course taken by the Government would be fully supported by public opinion.


said, he must bear testimony to the beneficial effects of the operation of the Acts in the communities to which they applied. The case of the poor girls who were lured into houses of infamy was most pitiable before the Acts were passed. Once there, they seldom escaped from them, except to their graves. Those ladies who took so much interest in their fate assumed a deep responsibility. They took these persons under their protection, placed them for some time perhaps in a reformatory, where they were left to ennui, and told if they did not reform, they would go to a place which he would not name. But how differently were they treated under these Acts. They were sent to an hospital, where they had the best medical attendance, received the kindest treatment, and frequently sent home to their friends. He believed it was a fact that 38 per cent of these unfortunate young women were rescued from a life of shame, and he considered the Acts in question Christian Acts. He strongly condemned the conduct of those persons who had endeavoured to inflame the passions of the people against Acts from which, in his opinion, so much benefit resulted. To yield to the agitation on this question would show the greatest cowardice on the part of the Government.


said, that the statements of the hon. Baronet the Member for Portsmouth (Sir James Elphinstone) were calculated to mislead the House and the country; for it was an undoubted fact, derived from the Reports of Commissioners and Committees, that quite as many, if not more, fallen women were reclaimed in towns in which the Acts were not in operation, as in those in which they were.


said, he shared in the views of the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken (Mr. Henley), and was surprised to have heard the unmeasured and indecent terms in which the hon. Baronet the Member for Portsmouth (Sir James Elphinstone) attempted to malign those praiseworthy women who were devoting all their energies to obtain the repeal of Acts which they considered degrading to their sex. In the borough which he represented (Chatham), and where the Acts were in operation, their effect as a remedial measure was quite in opposition to the hon. Baronet's experience; and although the opinions of the boroughs were not unanimous, there was a great preponderance in favour of a repeal of the present Acts. They must remember that they were legislating for women who had no opportunity of making themselves heard, except through the disinterested efforts of those of their own sex who had taken up their cause. When the Government were blamed for this measure, he asked whether no account was to be taken of the feelings of the country? It was undeniable that the working classes to a man were in favour of the repeal of these Acts; and, even in a sanitary point of view, he doubted their efficiency. He believed his right hon. Friend. (Mr. Bruce) would effect great good in repealing these Acts, and passing a Bill for the greater protection of women.

Motion agreed to.

Bill for the Prevention of certain Contagious Diseases, and for the better protection of Women, ordered to be brought in by Mr. Secretary BRUCE and Mr. WINTERBOTIIAM.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 42.]