§ MR. PULESTON
said, that in view of the answer of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War to the Question he had addressed to him a few nights ago, he desired to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance—namely, the withdrawal by the Government of Officers duly appointed to carry out the the provisions of the Contagious Diseases Acts.
§ MR. SPEAKER
asked whether it was the pleasure of the House that the hon. Member be heard; and afterwards called upon those supporting him to stand up in their places.
53 And not less than 40 Members having accordingly risen in their places:—
§ MR. PULESTON
said, that he should not have taken the course he had done but for the great misunderstanding which prevailed in the House and the country as to the effect of the action which had been taken by Her Majesty's Government since the Motion of the right hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) on the subject of the Contagious Diseases Acts had been carried. He wished particularly to refer to the speech made by the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War when that Motion was before the House. The noble Marquess then said that the Government were at variance with one another on this question; but the Secretary of State for War, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the Home Secretary—the three Ministers who alone had the administration of the Acts—were entirely antagonistic to the Resolution. Beading from carefully prepared notes, the noble Marquess went on to say that, whether the Resolution was carried or not, it would make no difference whatever in the carrying out of the Acts. The advocates of the Acts did not ask for their extension. They simply wished them let alone. A great deal had been heard lately in favour of Local Option and Local Self-Government; but in this case, notwithstanding the unanimous wish of all political parties and all creeds in the towns where those Acts were in force for their continuance, they were not to have the option of continuing them. It was said that there was an attempt to make this a Party question. He would tell the House what the Liberal newspapers in the towns affected said. The Western Morning News said that a more disastrous blow at the efficiency of the Army and the Navy had not been struck for years. Opinion in the three towns was, it said, unanimous as to the improvement effected by the Acts; and the sweeping them away, without the substitution of any regulation or legislation, would have a most prejudicial effect on public order and morality in those places. The Western Daily Mercury, also a Liberal paper, expressed the view that the health and the morality of Plymouth and the neighbourhood would suffer severely from the withdrawal of the Act. The inhabitants of the three towns were 54 almost in a state of panic. [A laugh.] It was all very well for the hon. Member opposite to laugh; but he knew nothing about it. The minority of the Members of the Committee all belonged to Associations avowedly established for obtaining the repeal of the Acts; and they utterly ignored the overwhelming evidence given by the witnesses from the subjected districts, who were practically unanimous. The Mayor of Plymouth had just sent him a telegram to the effect that the magistrates at a meeting earnestly protested against the recent decision of the Government. But the serious question for the House of Commons was, whether an abstract Resolution was for the future to have the force of law? There had been no more important question raised on the floor of this House than this, and that from the several standpoints of the working of the Acts, their vital consequence to the garrison towns, and the still greater consequence to this House, and to the country at large, as to whether an abstract Resolution was to be allowed to override an Act of Parliament? He supposed the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War had not changed his mind with regard to the beneficial action of those Statutes. It was remarkable that those who presided over the three Departments of the Government more immediately connected with the working of the Acts were strongly in favour of their continuance, and opposed to the views of the Prime Minister and of the other Members of the Government. It had been stated that the Government had recently discovered that the Acts were of a permissive character, and that, therefore, they had the power to suspend their operation. If that were so, he hoped the Judge Advocate General, or some other Member of the Government, would discuss the question from that legal standpoint. The hon. Member concluded by moving that the House do now adjourn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Puleston.)
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, he was not quite certain what was the object of the hon. Member's speech, for it was impossible that any conclusion could be arrived at by discussion. The 55 Resolution that had been passed by the House could not be reversed that evening; and no definite decision of any kind could be come to. He did not understand that the hon. Member desired to obtain fuller information as to the intentions of the Government than was contained in the answer given on Friday night to the Question of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill). He could not help thinking it was inconvenient that the ordinary Business of the House should be interrupted by a Motion such as this, which did not go directly to any definite object, but was simply a means of expressing the dissatisfaction felt by the hon. Member, and, he (the Marquess of Hartington) did not doubt, by a large number of his constituents, at the Resolution of the House the other night.
§ MR. PULESTON
said, he had moved the Adjournment in the hope that the Government would be able to say something definite which would relieve the intensity of feeling in an important constituency.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, he did not gather that there was any particular point on which the hon. Member desired information other than that which was given on Friday night. The Motion appeared to be made solely to express dissatisfaction with the Resolution of the House and with the action of the Government. The hon. Member said that the working of the Acts had given great satisfaction, because they had produced great improvement in public order and morality. But these considerations were very much beside the question. The Acts were not passed for the promotion of order and morality in certain districts. If that had been their object, why should they have been confined to those districts? Their object entirely was the preservation of the health, as it was hoped, of Her Majesty's soldiers and sailors. ["Hear, hear!" and "No!"] He repeated that the object of this legislation was not the improvement of public morality. If that were the object, why were not the Acts made general?
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
replied, that that was exactly what he 56 said. The object was not the preservation of public order and morality in garrison towns more than any where else; it was the promoting of the efficiency of the Public Service, as large numbers of soldiers and sailors quartered in certain towns suffered greatly from the effects of immorality. He did not doubt that the Acts were popular, and that they worked well, as far as the morality and order of the towns in question were concerned; but he could not admit that the principles of Local Option and Local Self-Government, which had boon referred to, applied to this matter in any degree. It must be remembered that these Acts wore administered at a considerable expense to the State. He could well understand that it would be advantageous and popular in a district that some of its police duties for the preservation of order and the morality of its citizens should be effected at the cost of the Consolidated Fund. The popularity of the Acts in certain places was, therefore, not a conclusive argument that those places ought to have the decision of the question whether the Acts should be retained or not. No doubt, their local popularity and efficiency were elements in the discussion of the question; but the decision must be come to on general principles. The House had condemned compulsory examination; and the advantage conferred on a locality by the Acts would not, in his opinion, induce the House to reverse that Resolution. The power of an abstract Resolution as against an Act of Parliament was, as the hon. Member had said, an important question; and he was inclined to agree with him that it could not be held to have the force of law. The Acts gave the Government certain powers; but it was not compulsory on the Government to execute them. There were many such Acts, both with regard to the Government and to local authorities. But, however that might be, Parliament had placed in the House of Commons an absolute power of deciding whether these Acts were to be administered or not, because all the expenses of administration had to be defrayed out of money voted by Parliament. Therefore, it was in the power of the House of Commons, and it must have been intended to be so, to bring the operation of the Acts to a cessation by simply refusing to vote the 57 money necessary for their administration. If the Resolution had been passed in January or February it would have been a question whether the Government ought to take any immediate action in withdrawing the Police Force, as the money for the administration of the Acts to March 31 was voted last year. But they were now in a new financial year; no money had been voted for the Acts, and from the Resolution of the other evening it was exceedingly doubtful whether, if the Government had not made some concession to the strong feeling of the House on the subject, any money would be voted to the Government for their administration. It was, therefore, necessary to consider whether the funds required for the certified hospitals, and the detention of diseased women in them, should be risked; and the Government thought it was not desirable to risk them, and that the most practical course was at once to suspend the periodical examination, which was the only part of the Acts directly condemned by the Resolution of the House. There did not appear to be anything un-Constitutional in that course; on the contrary, what they had done seemed to him to be quite conformable to the Constitution and the law. As to the panic alleged to exist in the towns in question, he would point out that a large part of the good done by the operation of the Acts was of an indirect character, and that the local authorities might retain that advantage by directing their police to exercise much of the control over the houses and women which had been exercised, under the Acts, by the members of the Metropolitan Police. The moral influence of the Metropolitan Police was distinctly apart from their duties under the Acts, and there was no reason to think that a large part of the good done by them could not be effected by the local police acting under the local authorities.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, that his hon. Friend's object in moving the Adjournment of the House was to call attention to what had been done by the Government, and, in particular, to the statement made by the noble Marquess in the course of the debate a few days ago, that, in his opinion, the efficiency of the Army and Navy depended on the continuance of these Acts.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
I said I thought these Acts had contributed to the efficiency of the Army; but it is quite impossible that I should have stated that the efficiency of the Army and Navy depended upon these Acts.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, there was no doubt that the noble Marquess had used the words that the efficiency of the Army and Navy was bound up with these Acts. ["No, no!"] If the noble Marquess was not strong enough, he was sure the Judge Advocate General was in favour of this Bill. There wag no doubt the Judge Advocate General had given the House to understand that the efficiency of the Army and Navy could not be kept up without those Acts.
§ THE JUDGE ADVOCATE GENERAL (Mr. OSBORNE MORGAN)
explained that what he did was to give the figures showing the extent to which the efficiency of the Army and Navy was affected by the operation of these Acts.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, it appeared to him that the noble Marquess and the right hon. and learned Gentleman were anxious to imitate the course sometimes adopted by the Prime Minister with far greater skill, of informing the House that the expressions which fell from them were totally misunderstood. The noble Marquess did not seem to be aware that the Business to be discussed that night was the Navy Estimates; and, therefore, this was a most excellent night to bring on the topic on which the efficiency of the Army and Navy depended. His hon. Friend's Motion had had one result—that of enabling the House to hear the noble Marquess making two speeches—one speech the other night strongly in favour of the Acts, and one that night strongly against them. It was only another instance, to his mind, of the infinite squeezability of the Whigs, and also that the noble Marquess was one of those who, according to the President of the Board of trade, "neither toil nor spin," but who was, nevertheless, ready to swallow any amount of stuff which the Radical Caucus offered to him, and, rather than he should get into a row with the right hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) and the Birmingham Caucus, the Army and Navy of England could go to ruin. He was prepared to maintain, that it was a snatch vote. He 59 did not know that 99 per cent of hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House had the slightest idea that the Government would have taken the line they did. No intimation had been given that the Government were going to treat this as an open question; and he ventured to say that upon an administrative Act of such importance no Government was ever known to have adopted such a line as they did. What did the Prime Minister do? He retired from the House at 11 o'clock, having selected a respectable Conservative borough Member who would fill the office of pair; but, curiously enough, that pair had never appeared in the public journals. It was simply a snatch vote, and numbers of hon. Members would have come to the House to prevent it had they suspected the policy of the Government. Since that vote was taken the noble Marquess had said that it was useless to enforce the Acts because the House would not vote the money. But how did the noble Marquess know that, and why need he have been in such a hurry to show that he had no opinions of his own, but was influenced by Birmingham and the Caucus? The whole administration of the entire law depended on money voted by Parliament; and if an abstract Resolution were carried on matters relating to the Courts of Justice, would the Home Secretary suspend the action of the Courts on the ground that it was useless to ask for the money? It was monstrous that an abstract Resolution, carried by a snatch vote, should supersede the law of the land, without the other House of Parliament being consulted, and that the Government should abandon the law for fear of the right hon. Member for Halifax and his sentimental agitation. The fact was, and it was becoming clearer every day, that Her Majesty's Government had not the confidence of the House of Commons [Ironical Ministerial cheers.] All he could say was, that on the important question of faith and morals Her Majesty's Government had not the confidence of the House of Commons. How could they have the respect and confidence of the House, when they presented such a pitiable sight of administrative tergiversation?
§ MR. MOSS
said, there could be no doubt the House and the country had been taken by surprise. Public feeling 60 in Winchester, where the Acts had been operation for many years, was strongly in their favour, and he had never heard a single complaint of the manner in which they had been enforced; and he knew, on the other hand, that they had been the means of restraining many women from entering on an immoral course of life. If each locality had its option in the matter, he ventured to say they would all adopt the Acts without exception. No doubt, they were passed originally for the protection of the Army and Navy; but they had also very greatly benefited the civil population of the places where they were carried out. He trusted that the Government would reconsider the matter, and would not allow the new Act to be so permissive as the House was at present told it was likely to be.
§ DR. FARQUHARSON
, however much he personally deplored the result of the recent division, would not at this moment offer any factious opposition to the course of the Government. In fact, he felt strongly convinced that the Government had acted only as they were impelled to do by the large majority of the House of Commons; and he must reserve any opinion he might have to offer for a future stage when the Estimates were under discussion.
§ MR. EDWARD CLARKE
said, that the speech of the Secretary of State for War made it almost imperative that the debate should be prolonged, because he had asked what was the object of taking the present course. The first object was to enter a strong protest against the action which had been taken, not in obedience to a decision of the House, but to a vote of 180 Members, many of whom differed in important points from one another. The result had been arrived at by surprise, and the current of the debate was almost wholly unexpected by those interested in the subject. It was scarcely possible, after hearing the speeches of the Judge Advocate General and the noble Marquess who was responsible for the efficiency of the Army, to expect that at the last moment they should hear a speech from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in which he tossed aside the opinions of all those of his Colleagues who were immediately responsible in the matter. The right hon. Gentleman's speech also pointed to a future occasion on which the de- 61 liberate judgment of the House should be invited on the matter; he spoke of the Bill of 1872 as one which would have modified for the better the operation of the Acts; and he practically suggested that the effect of adopting the Amendment would be to give the House an opportunity of discussing the matter. If the statement in the Plymouth papers was correct, he could not understand this speech of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War. Unless that statement was deliberately untrue the Government had interfered with portions of the Act over which they had no jurisdiction at all. Great advantage in the administration of the Acts had been found in the employment of careful and responsible officers of the Metropolitan Police. Not a single instance of abuse had been discovered even by the vigilant opponents of the Acts; and yet the services of the officers of the Metropolitan Police were to be dispensed with, and in their place local police were to be employed, who might be subject to local influences, and exposed to imputations which would seriously interfere with the efficiency of the Acts. He ventured to say that not one of the 19 Members who were directly representative of these places would get up and say that he represented the opinion of even the substantial minority of his constituents by opposing these Acts. Speaking in the presence of his hon. Colleague (Mr. Stewart Macliver), he would say that the people of Plymouth, the ministers of religion, magistrates, and those who were charged with the administration of justice were all of one accord, to whatever political Party they belonged, as to the benefit of these Acts. The noble Marquess had said that the Acts had not been put on the Statute Book for the protection and orderly behaviour of the towns, but for the protection of the Army and Navy; but why should not both objects be effected? It was not because 180 Members, in a haphazard division upon an abstract Resolution, supported the Motion that Government should take the course they now proposed to do. If the case were to be brought forward again with due notice, the result would be very different. If it had been imagined that the Resolution would have produced the disastrous effect now contemplated, there would have been, not a 62 majority in its favour, but a substantial majority against it. Therefore, as the Acts were on the Statute Book, it was the duty of the Government to carry them out until they were repealed. Parliament never intended to leave it at the will of a Secretary, or of two Secretaries, of State whether the Acts should be enforced or not. It was the duty of Her Majesty's Government to let the Acts stand, and the Estimates come before the House in the original form, and in that way to give the House an opportunity of expressing a definite opinion on the question.
§ MR. STEWART MACLIVER
said, the representation made by the last speaker with respect to the public feeling of Plymouth was quite correct. Without discussing the merits or the demerits of the Acts in the abstract, he would only say there was a large preponderance of opinion in favour of continuing them. He had just received a telegram from the Mayor of the town saying that at a meeting of magistrates an earnest protest had been made against the repeal of the Acts, and a hope expressed that he would support in the House the views of the meeting.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
said, he felt compelled to make a few observations upon the subject before the House, as he represented the largest town (Portsmouth) affected by the Acts under consideration. He wished to know how it was that if the whole operation of these Acts hinged upon compulsory examination and the employment of the Metropolitan Police Force in the administration, the ordinary police were also employed? The real question, however, they had to consider was, whether Acts of Parliament which had been in force for 16 years should be abrogated by a Resolution which had not the support of more than one-third of the Members of the Whole House—Acts, the beneficial effects of which had been acknowledged, not only by the Judge Advocate General, but also by the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the Home Secretary. As regarded the Prime Minister—the real Prime Minister was the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain), in whose presence they could not say their souls were their own; but the right ton. Gentleman who was the nomi- 63 nal Prime Minister retired from the House during the discussion, and left the question to drift where it might. He had received a letter from Admiral Chads, stating that, in that gallant officer's opinion, the abolition of compulsory examination would deprive the Acts of their efficiency; that the inhabitants of Portsmouth were convinced that the Acts had had a beneficial effect, and that the power entrusted to the police had not been abused. The operation of the Acts, it should be borne in mind, had resulted in the reclamation of many women. The Vicar of Portsmouth, a Liberal in politics, had deposed in evidence that, in 1877, 52 girls were sent to their homes from Portsmouth; in 1878, the same number were sent home; and in 1880, 44 were sent home, and 83 were sent to their friends. The noble Marquess and the First Lord of the Admiralty had issued orders for the immediate abolition of the operation of the Acts. Before that was done, he thought the Government might have passed the measure for the better protection of young persons. There had been precipitancy in this matter, for which it was difficult to account. The change in the action of the noble Marquess that night was most extraordinary. The noble Marquess always handled a question in a conscientious manner; but when he found that there was a majority against him he turned round in a way which was not statesmanlike, and which was unworthy of the high position which he filled. In the name of his constituency he protested against the precipitancy which the Government had shown in this matter.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he had no desire to enter into the merits or demerits of the subject; but he wished to protest against the precipitancy of the action of the Government. They had had Acts of very great importance in force for 16 or 17 years, and these Acts had been repeatedly discussed, not only in that House, but before Commissions and Committees, and had caused a good deal of sensation generally. Yet, acting upon a single vote given on a Resolution, the Government at once set aside the whole of the substantial part of those Acts. It did seem to him that, considering what an Act of Parliament was, how much thought was given to it, and how many opportunities had been 64 devoted to the discussion of its details, a little more time, and care, and formality wore required than were afforded by the passing of a single Resolution. If the Government were of opinion that, in consequence of the recent vote, or in consequence of opinions of their own, it had become their duty to modify the law, they ought to have submitted a Bill to Parliament, or, at least, they should have submitted their Estimate for the administration of the Act as it was framed before the Resolution was passed. He thought it was a matter which ought to be noticed, not as regarded that particular subject, but as regarded the principle involved in the action of the Government in setting aside an Act of Parliament upon the mere passing of a Resolution of the House.
said, that the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman and of other Members had shown that there were considerations of great importance involved in this subject, not merely with regard to the merits of the Acts, but with regard to the conduct of the Government. He was anxious that the pledge given by the Government with regard to the discussion of the Estimates should not be frustrated; but points had been made in the discussion which he could not pass without notice. He felt, in the first place, that it was an exaggeration to describe the vote which the House had lately come to as a snatch vote. It had been said that the number of persons by whom this matter had been decided amounted to less than one-third of the strength of the House. He should like to know what number of questions, in the course of a Session, were decided by a greater number than one-third? In 19 out of 20 of the cases in which divisions took place—perhaps in 49 out of 50—the majority was not greater than the majority which had decided this question. Then it should be remembered that the Members who paired upon this subject, and who declared their opinion just as much as if they had voted, when added to the number of Members who did vote, brought that number up to a moiety of the whole House. The vote was not an insignificant one so far as the very considerable majority by which it was agreed to was concerned, nor was it an unexpected vote, for the question had been before the House for years. He 65 would, therefore, dismiss from consideration any question as to this having been a snatched vote? With respect to local sentiment, which had been so strongly insisted upon, he did not at all doubt that the balance of opinion in those towns was in favour of the system that had existed; but it was a remarkable fact, if local sentiment was so overwhelming and so overpowering, that not more than one-half, or rather less than one-half—eight out of 17—of the Members representing these constituencies should have taken part in the division. That did not look like overpowering local sentiment. He did not deny the existence of local sentiment; but he could not agree that the Executive Government ought to be guided by that sentiment. With regard to the division of opinion in Her Majesty's Government, he was not aware that any Member of it held extreme views. For his part, he had not always voted against the Acts, nor had his noble Friend always voted in their favour. That the Government should be divided in opinion on an administrative question was, no doubt, a matter of considerable inconvenience; but some consideration ought to be shown them under the circumstances. It should be remembered that the majority of the Members of the present Cabinet were parties to a Bill which they introduced into the House, and which went the whole length of abolishing compulsory examination under these Acts. Therefore, it could hardly be a matter of surprise if some of the Ministry thought it necessary to act according to their opinions on this question. Most unfortunately, though from the very best motives—from the desire to prevent public discussion on a subject not fit for proper discussion—these Acts were passed almost without the knowledge of anyone. He was a Member of the Government at the time they were passed; but he did not know how they passed, or by whom they were carried through the House.
said, that there was, at any rate, no discussion in the House and no collective Resolution of the Government upon the question, nor was there any opportunity of informing the public mind; and it was the obscurity 66 with which the Bill was agreed to, combined with the extreme novelty of the subject, which had led to what was a very inconvenient state of things, and one which he hoped would not recur. It had been suggested that the Government should submit the Estimate as it was framed before the Motion was carried. Had the effect of that proposal been considered? Had it been considered that the Government, as a body, would have to do a collective act against doing which a number of the Members of the Government had voted, and which would reverse a decision of the House solemnly arrived at? If there was any one act done by a Government which was more a collective act than another, it was the submission to the House of Commons of the Estimates necessary to carry on the Services of the year.
§ MR. PULESTON
observed, that in the debate on the Motion the noble Marquess had expressly told them that, if the Resolution passed, until an Act was brought in to repeal the Acts they they would continue to be carried out.
believed that it was perfectly true that the noble Marquess had said that. Undoubtedly, he described the general principles upon which the Government ought to act. But the application of those general principles must depend upon the particulars of the case. He thought that he had shown that, the submission of the Estimates being a collective act, the Government, if it had submitted the original Estimates to the House of Commons, would have been carrying out what Members of the Cabinet disapproved—the compulsory examination under the Acts—and would have been contradicting and reversing the decision of the House of Commons. The Government could take no such course. With regard to the notion that it was the duty of the Government to let everything go on until a Bill was passed altering the present law, what did that come to? His noble Friend had pointed out that the constructors of these Acts had deliberately and advisedly left it in the hands of the House of Commons to determine whether, year by year, Votes should be provided by means of which the Acts should be administered, or whether they should be withheld, the effect of which would be to reduce the law to a dead letter. That construction 67 of the Acts did not express the will of the House of Commons, but of the Legislature, which had thus left the House of Commons to determine what course should be taken respecting the carrying out of the Acts. It must be taken that the Legislature intended that the operation of the Acts should depend upon the will and judgment of the House of Commons. He would admit, however, that the principle was not of universal application. The contention of the Opposition was that a Resolution having been passed by a large majority of the House, declaring against compulsory examination—a Resolution having been passed expressing the will of the House—the Government ought to have spent the money of the people in administering Acts condemned by that Resolution. [Mr. E. H. PAGET: Until you had brought in a Bill.] Until they had brought in a Bill, they were without the authority of Parliament to spend money raised by taxation from the people, for purposes directly condemned by a Resolution of the House of Commons. That was a doctrine in which he thought the hon. Gentleman had surpassed almost anything he had heard from that quarter of the House for a considerable time. The Government would be prepared, as soon as they could, to bring in a revised Estimate and submit it to the House. He believed they had a Vote of Credit for three months; but he was bound to say he thought it would be felt by all that a technical point of that nature ought never to avail against any matter of principle involved in the Estimates. That would be fatal to all Votes of Credit. Certainly it was the distinct and undivided opinion of the Government that they could not, without the authority of the House of Commons, spend this money in exercising a power made discretionary to them by the law. That, in their opinion, would be a course quite impossible. They were compelled to believe that the majority in favour of the Resolution expressed the view of the House of Commons. The hon. Gentleman said he was perfectly certain, if there had been full notice, and it had been supposed that the Government would take some strong course in reference to the Acts, the result would have been different. The fact was, full notice was given; and as to the course of the Government, why was it 68 to be supposed that the President of the Board of Trade was the cause of it when the right hon. Gentleman was not a Member of the Government which, brought in the Bill of 1872? There had then been no manifestation against these Acts, and that Bill was acceptable to the friends and the opponents of the existing Acts. This was not a question of arresting the operation of the law simply because there was a vote of the House of Commons. The language of the law was that the Government might I make certain payments essential to the administration of the Acts; but it was admitted that it was not compulsorily made; and the centention of the hon. Members opposite was that the Government ought—in face of the Resolution passed by a large majority—not only to have proposed an Estimate, but ought to have continued the exercise of their discretion, which was dependent entirely on money which they had a right to believe the House would not vote, and also to exercise their discretion in the employment of officials whom they had a right to consider it certain the House of Commons would refuse to pay for. If it was the judgment of Parliament that this proposition was tenable—that such a course of conduct could be supported on Constitutional grounds—then the Government were wrong; but they believed that was an opinion which would not, and could not, be sustained on any side of the House.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
I have listened from the first to the last of the right hon. Gentleman's speech (Mr. Gladstone's) with great attention, and never was more disappointed than I am now. I admit that he did perfectly right when he paired the other night and went away from the House. No one will grudge him taking all the rest in his power; but he is wrong when he says the House was perfectly aware of all the circumstances of the case, and knew that the Government were divided on this question.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
If the right hon. Gentleman did not say so in so many words, he implied it. Until the Judge Advocate General rose in his place, no one knew the course the Government were going to take. It astonished the whole of the Conservative 69 side of the House. Then the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War rose in his place and stated that the three Most responsible Ministers in the Cabinet, who had control of these matters—namely, himself, as representing the Army; the noble Earl in "another place," the First Lord of the Admiralty (the Earl of Northbrook), as representing the Navy; and the Home Secretary, were all in favour of these Acts, I say it was an extraordinary statement for the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Judge Advocate General to have to get up and say that the Government were divided on this question.
§ THE JUDGE ADVOCATE GENERAL (Mr. OSBORNE MORGAN)
I did not say that. I said I had personally no mandate to speak for the Government.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
We immediately inferred from that that the Government were divided upon the question. Whatever the right hon. and learned Gentleman may have meant, that was the way it was understood in the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has stated clearly that the Estimates are the collective view of the whole Government, and must be voted for by the whole Government. He also stated that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) had this Notice down on the Paper for weeks before it came on. But the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government must have known perfectly well that that Notice was upon the Paper when the Estimates were introduced into the House; and if the Government were divided in opinion regarding this subject, he ought to have been prepard to say that he would withdraw this particular Estimate, the Government having changed their mind regarding these Acts. Year by year the Estimate for carrying on these Acts has been brought in and passed with the entire consent of Her Majesty's Government; but what did they now find? The right hon. Gentleman, who was now Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Childers)—although when he was Secretary of State for War, and when this Estimate came on year by year and could be called in question every year, he was one of those who signified, by his vote and voice, that he approved of these Acts—got up the other night and said his view was that a certain portion 70 should be carried out, but not the whole of them. This he did, although his noble Colleague (the Marquess of Hartington) declared that they were an absolute necessity to the Army. On such questions we have a right to expect that the Government should know its own mind; and if it is their opinion that those Acts ought not to be carried out, they ought to have the courage of their opinions, and tell us so. I go further than that, and say the House was taken by surprise, and that the right hon. Gentleman knows it was taken by surprise. I do not know whether there was a Whip out on the other side. Perhaps it was a very strong Whip, and perhaps it was a Government Whip; but we had no Whip whatever. We did not know the Government had altered their opinions; and we believed the law was perfectly safe in the hands of the Government, and that they would support what they had hitherto supported. Into the merits of these Acts I do not propose to go, except to say this—that I have had many communications on the subject, and I think the people over whom they are exercised are the best able to give an opinion on them. The Metropolitan Police, who have carried out these Acts, have done their duty with admirable discretion, and the Acts have been administered to the great benefit of the towns where they have been exercised. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that it was an evil precedent for the Government to be divided upon an administrative question of this kind. If it is an evil precedent, surely we have a right to know of the fact, and the Government ought to take the responsibility of getting these Acts repealed. Nothing of that kind has taken place. I admit that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) has always consistently advocated the repeal of these Acts; but we were never for a moment allowed to suspect that the Government, without going into the merits of the question, and merely because they believed a large section of their supporters would vote against them if they supported these Acts, would follow in the wake of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax, and without bringing in any Bill to repeal the Acts would stop their operation. The Prime Minister admitted the justice of the remark of an hon. Member. He said how much, 71 more satisfactory it would be if we had only time to bring in a Bill—he admits that a Bill ought to be brought in—to repeal the Acts. But he cannot wait for this, he cannot even wait until the House of Commons has had the Estimate before it; he must at once withdraw the police, who alone are able to carry out the delicate provisions of these Acts. He thereby places, I venture to say, the Goverment in a false position before the House and before the country.
§ COLONEL MAKINS
remarked, that it was by no means usual for a Government to give immediate effect to abstract Resolutions, and an example might be seen at once in the case of the proposal to establish 6d telegrams. When the Motion in that instance was carried, the Government did not at once promise to give effect to it, but agreed to bring in a Bill in due time. So, it was rather strange that the Government were putting this Resolution into force as soon as ever it was passed, instead of waiting to deal with the question in well-considered legislation.
§ MR. T. C. BRUCE
said, that his constituents at Portsmouth were almost unanimously in favour of the Acts, and that opinion was hold most strongly by those who had the best moans of judging as to their effects. He was surprised that the Government should have taken advantage of a chance division practically to put an end to their operation.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, he could not allow this debate to close without expressing his very deep regret that the Government had thought it right to take the particular course they had done. He deplored the necessity for measures of this kind; but he satisfied himself, before he would consent to administer them, that they were necessary, and conducive to the cause of religion and morality. He was convinced they had been most beneficial to the unfortunate women themselves. The mischief that had already been done by the action of the Government was of a most grave and serious character, and had produced feelings of consternation and alarm in the towns most interested. If the Government had come to the House and had said that, having based their Estimates on the faith of the continuance of an Act of Parliament, they would be bound to administer that Act until it had been repealed or modified, he be- 72 lieved even the opponents of these laws would have been satisfied. There was yet time for the Government to reconsider the question, and he hoped they would give it their earnest attention.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he had read through the whole of the evidence which had been published as to the effect of the Acts, and he had come to the conclusion that they were absolutely essential to the welfare and morality of the districts to which they applied. Though, as a rule, an opponent to the principle of Local Option, that principle was rightly applicable to that case, as all the towns affected after long experience were strongly in favour of the Acts. The Resolution of the House was not equivalent to an Act of Parliament, and as long as an Act existed it ought to be enforced. Until an amending Bill was brought in and accepted, the Government were bound to administer the law as it stood, and to refuse to do so was to cease to become Ministers, and to place the Ministry above the law. It was not for the Home Secretary to shirk his duty by withdrawing the Metropolitan Police, who had acted with so much judgment that there had been only two ridiculous complaints, and these had collapsed on investigation. It was mere political cowardness to act as the Government had done, and he could not help saying that he considered their shilly-shally conduct in connection with those Acts most contemptible. [The hon. and learned Member was proceeding to comment upon the course taken by the Government in appropriating for Government Business a private Members' night, and thereby preventing a discussion from taking place upon the Vaccination Acts.]
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Puleston) has moved the adjournment of the House for the purpose of calling attention to the Contagious Diseases Acts. The hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. War-ton) is bound to confine himself to that question.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he was only seeking to explain himself, but he would bow to the ruling of the Chair.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
observed, that if the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Puleston) needed any justification for bringing forward the matter, it was to be found in the remark- 73 able speech of the Prime Minister who, in taking up the cause of the repealers of the Acts, had selected from their armoury the weapons which they had been using of late years. It was surprising to him to hear it said that the original Act was passed sub silentio, seeing that the Bill was twice referred to Select Committees, and that there was afterwards a discussion in the House, followed by a division. However, now the main point was the attitude of the Government in the recent debate. The sense of the House was not taken, because the Opposition had no knowledge of what the views of the Government were. He desired to direct the attention of the Prime Minister to an answer he had given to a Question in the House, for that answer showed that the Judge Advocate General did represent the Government on the recent Committee. Having himself been a Member of the Government when the Committee was appointed, and being placed upon it as a Member of the Government, it was his duty to prepare the evidence and to see that the case of the three Departments —the War Office, the Admiralty, and the Home Office—was properly put before the Committee. If he had not conscientiously believed that the Acts were justifiable, he should not have taken that course, and he should have resigned his place on the Committee. In reply to a Question, the Prime Minister said that the Government were originally parties to the arrangement under which the First Commissioner of Works was placed upon the Committee, that in a certain sense he represented the Government, and in the same sense the Judge Advocate General represented the Government, for the purpose of assisting the proceedings of the Committee, but by no means in the sense of representing any official opinion, which the First Commissioner never represented. That might be true as regarded the First Commissioner, because he was on the Committee in 1879–80, and after the Dissolution and the change of Government, he was re-appointed, but the Judge Advocate General did represent the Government, and the evidence of I that was what he said and did, the course he pursued, and the efforts made to secure that the Departments were properly represented in the evidence which was adduced. After the Com- 74 mittee had agreed to its Report, on the 19th July, the right hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) brought forward his Motion for the repeal of the Acts; and in the debate the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that it would be the duty of Government to study the Report and the evidence, and to consider what course they would recommend the Government to adopt. That was nine months ago. What had the Government been doing since? Had they followed the course thus indicated? If they had intended to propose the repeal of the Acts, or what was tantamount to it, it was not their duty to take the House by surprise, as they did in the recent discussion. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had not changed his mind on the subject; but if that were so, he supposed it was the only subject on which he had not changed his mind. The other night there was a great banquet at the Aquarium, at which the future of the Liberal Party was discussed. ["Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not confining himself to the question before the House.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
observed, that he was going to make a citation from the speech of the hon. Member for Newcastle—that was to say, the new Member (Mr. John Morley)—in which he spoke of these Acts as being a connivance by the Government at a state of immorality. He wondered whether the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War agreed with that? He was unaware whether the noble Marquess was present at that banquet; but if it were true that the maintenance of these Acts had been a connivance at immorality, on the Benches opposite they would find those who were the connivers, and the greatest conniver of all was the Prime Minister, who had just left his place. The House was never more surprised than when the Judge Advocate General said he had no mandate to speak on behalf of the Government, and when it was afterwards stated that the Government treated this as an open question. The division was a snatch division and an unfair one, because they had no indication whatever what the Government were going to do. Under these circumstances, they had cleared the ground a good deal as regards the future. They had seen the 75 Government halting between two opinions, and finally deciding to go against that which for the last 15 or 16 years had been acknowledged on all hands to have conferred the greatest possible benefits. It was high time that Members of the House should think a little more for themselves, and take care that the present Government did not set about the abrogation of some of those measures which had been of lasting benefit to society.
§ THE JUDGE ADVOCATE GENERAL (Mr. OSBORNE MORGAN)
said, he wished to explain, as briefly as possible, what had been his position on the Select Committee, as that position had been somewhat misrepresented and misunderstood. In July, 1880, his right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for War (Mr. Childers) had requested him to join the Committee, not for the purpose of officially representing the Government, but in order to watch its proceedings, and, if possible, assist in its investigations. His right hon. Friend at the time informed him of his own views on the subject, which were exactly those expressed in his speech the other night. But on the evidence which came before the Committee the case for the Acts appeared to him so overwhelming—on this point he could not retract a word which he had uttered in his former speech—that he was forced to bend to it, and he so informed his right hon. Friend, and even requested him to relieve him from the duty of further attendance on the Committee. And it was only on the express understanding that he was to be left perfectly free and unfettered that he consented to remain a Member of it.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.