§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Stansfeld.)
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK (Whitehaven)
I wish to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they intend to proceed with this Bill to-night, for if they do I will venture to say a more extensive breach of faith I never knew to be committed in this House? Two or three days ago I communicated with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax, and told him that I should be very glad indeed to confine my objection to the Bill to one speech, if he would arrange with Her Majesty's Government to bring the measure on at some hour in the evening when it would be possible for a Member to address the House. He then told me that he would communicate at once with the Prime Minister on the subject. The Prime Minister was communicated with, and a message was delivered to me, in the first place, yesterday morning.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must inform the right hon. Gentleman that if he speaks now at any length, he exhausts his right to speak on the Main Question.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
I rose, Sir, to catch your eye on a matter of Order before the Question was put from the Chair.
§ MR. SPEAKER
It was my duty to put the Question, the Order having been read. No question of Order arose.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
I have been a good many years in this House, and have always understood that when the Order of the Day is called on Questions can be addressed to the Government as to whether at that time the Order should be proceeded with. I have on many such occasions heard questions of this kind addressed to the 1909 Government. If, however, I am out of Order, Mr. Speaker, I humbly bow to your decision. I only wish to remind you that on many occasions I have seen that practice followed; and hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench will agree with that view, I think. I place myself at great disadvantage by rising to address myself to the Chair on the Order for the second reading being called. I do not know whether it is possible for you, Sir, to indicate any mode by which Her Majesty's Government can state their view as to the undertaking they gave myself and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld).
§ MR. SPEAKER
The course to be taken is perfectly plain. The Motion was made that the Bill be read a second time. The right hon. Gentleman, by speaking now, has exhausted his right to speak, unless he continues his speech on the Motion that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
Then, Sir, I shall address myself to the question, under the strongest protest that it is possible for a Member of the House to make. I say again that there was a distinct understanding conveyed to me that this question would not be brought on after half-past 11 o'clock. It was given to me directly from the Prime Minister, in the first instance by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwickshire (Mr. Marjoribanks), confirmed afterwards by the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Arnold Morley), and subsequently, again, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax. All I can say is, that there has been a very great change in this House, and one very much for the worse. If these honourable undertakings are not to be maintained, I think this House will very soon lose its character of being an Assembly of Gentlemen. On the last occasion when this question was discussed, it was not competent for us, having regard to the hour of the evening, to state our objections to the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts; and I, as well as my right hon. and learned Friend the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Osborne Morgan), were very anxious to vindicate our position as Members of the Committee that sat during four years and investigated this question with great diligence, and 1910 showed that, after all, the only result to which we had arrived was precisely in accordance with the views upon which the Governments on both sides of this House had acted in previous years. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) addressed the House the other night, I was very much struck with an observation which he made as to the Prime Minister. I regret very much that the Prime Minister is not now in his place. I regret also exceedingly the cause of his absence. But, notwithstanding his absence, I am obliged to refer very particularly to him, and to remarks which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax made with regard to his views on this question. Now, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax declared that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had said on several occasions that he did not know how these Acts were passed. He said he had not the slightest idea how they had ever been introduced, and how they had been passed here and carried through Parliament. A more extraordinary statement than that it was never my fortune to listen to, because the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1864, when the first Act was passed on this subject, and he must necessarily have had all the Estimates put before him. But in 1866 the Act of 1864 was repealed, and a new Act altogether was brought into the House, which we may well term the principal Act which has governed the action of the Government hitherto on these matters. And then, on the second reading of that Bill, which was brought in by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary—and I suppose he knew something about it, because his name was on the back of the Bill — the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister actually addressed the House, and supported the second reading. He said the object of the Government was to have all the assistance which the intelligence and impartial judgment of Parliament could afford. He wished the matter to be examined free from prejudice of any kind; and then, on the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as he then was, the question was referred to a Select Committee, and subsequently the Act was 1911 passed. Then, again, in 1869, a supplementary Act was passed when the right hon. Gentleman was Prime Minister. He was responsible for it, and the whole question, it is clear, must have been before the Cabinet. In 1870 the matter was referred to a Royal Commission, and in 1872 a Bill was brought in—known by the name of Bruce's (Lord Aberdare's) Bill — which especially expressed the policy of the Cabinet; and, finally, in 1883, after the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax was passed suspending the Acts, the right hon. Gentleman brought in his Bill dealing with the hospitals. How in the world, then, is it possible for any Member of the House, especially for the Prime Minister, to say he is not responsible for these Acts surpasses my comprehension and that of every reasonable being. We now come to the real question before the House. ["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Gentlemen who cheer that statement must remember that this point was raised, not by me, but by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax; and the House, I think, will admit that it is only right and proper in me to demonstrate that, in connection with what has been the long-established policy of the House, the attitude of the Government now is another instance of what has been properly described by a Member of their own Party as a "shirk and surrender" policy. In 1867 Lord Aberdare, speaking of these Acts, said there was no one who knew the Acts who would not bear him out that they had worked in a most satisfactory manner. That was the question brought before our Committee. By a very large majority the Committee declared and reported that the Acts had worked in a satisfactory manner. We heard every possible kind of evidence which could be adduced. Our decision was by no means arrived at in a hurry, but after great deliberation, and the Report decided upon was that of the majority. I venture to say that that Report has never been impeached since that time. What the Committee found was that the Acts had worked in a satisfactory manner; and they further went on to say that if the Acts were interfered with in any way, suspended or limited in their operation, certain things would happen. They said there would be a great increase of disease in the Army and Navy; they 1912 said, also, that amongst the unfortunate women to whom the Acts apply there would be a great increase of disease and increase in the intensity of suffering, and, moreover, that there would be a great increase in general immorality. Well, Sir, all these things have come about. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stansfeld) has saved me the trouble of proving the case for the Services—he did it on Tuesday. He abandoned that part of the case; he said, "I give up the hygienic part of the question—I shall not attempt to argue it;" and it was wise on his part to take up that position and abandon the hygienic argument, for he knew that if he did not the facts would be all against him. The right hon. Gentleman, in fact, proved the case. He brought figures before the House which I can confirm, and which show that there has been an increase of 80 per cent in the amount of disease in the Army since the suspension of the Acts, and an increase of from 80 to 100 per cent in the Navy. I will not trouble the House with any further remarks on that point. ["Hear, hear!"] I know that hon. Gentlemen who sit below the Gangway do not like to hear the truth. But we now come to the side of the question which is most interesting to me, and on which I shall be able to state a case to the House—a case which I have not only stated before the Committee, but which I have stated whenever I have had an opportunity of addressing the House on the subject of the operation of these Acts. When the measure was first introduced, I took the opportunity of saying here that I brought on this matter in the interests of the Army and Navy; but that I had also in view the object of endeavouring, if possible, to relieve the sufferings of that unfortunate class who must excite the pity and commiseration of every humane man. Well, the Acts were suspended, and, unfortunately, the anticipations shadowed forth by the Committee have been realized only too surely. There is a diminution in the number of women relieved under this Act from 3,300 to about 1,300, though I am glad to say that during last year the number who presented themselves for relief has been considerably increased. The intensity of disease has increased most terribly—in fact, the figures are appalling. I have access only to the actual 1913 statistics of two of the hospitals — namely, the London Lock Hospital; where there are "Government" patients treated, and the Chatham Hospital. In the London Hospital, before the suspension of the Acts, in the year ending June 30, 1882, there were 464 women relieved; in the year ending June 30, 1884, the number was 207; and in the year ending June 30, 1885, it was 110; and up to the 10th of March of the present year it was 155. The percentage of cases of the worst class has increased from 33 in 1882 to 55 in 1884, and 78.7 last year. As a result of the suspension of the Acts, of the unfortunate women treated in the London Lock Hospital 78.7 out of every 100 are suffering from the worst form of disease. The duration of treatment has increased from 23 days to 61 days, showing how grave the cases are. The Committee said, founding their opinion upon the evidence brought before them, that the effect of doing away with the Acts would be to increase juvenile immorality. Well, from the 1st of October, 1885, to the 10th of March this year, out of 80 women 44 have been under 20 years of age, and there are some in hospital now as young as 13 and 15. The statistics from the Lock Hospital at Chatham giving the ages of patients admitted during the months of January and February of the present year show the same results. There are a large proportion of cases of secondary disease, and the symptoms in many of them are described as very severe, as is also the case in regard to many of the primary ones. Out of 53 women admitted there during the past two months no less than 25 are under the age of 20. Nor is that all. Formerly, these hospitals were happily instrumental in affecting a large number of reclamations; but there is a great decrease now, and naturally, because up to the end of last year the young women did not commence to come in. During the past two months the number who have entered the hospitals in both these places has been very considerable; and it has proved beyond a doubt the increase of immorality amongst juveniles. Of course, when we know that it is only the juveniles who take advantage of these hospitals, it is obvious to everyone who can put two and two together that the prostitution of these towns is very much increased. 1914 The question, then, obviously arises, How is it possible to do without compulsion? The only chance of getting these women really relieved is by keeping them in the hospital until they are cured. I understand the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax to maintain that we should give up the question of compulsion. Well, of all the people in the world to argue against compulsion I think the right hon. Gentleman should be the very last, seeing that during his last tenure of Office he was President of what is now called the Local Government Board, at the time when the Act of 1867 was in force, under which all the women who entered the hospitals afflicted with this unfortunate disease remained in them until they were cured. I do not wish to bring any charge against the right hon. Gentleman; but I must say it seems to me that when he is on the Treasury Bench he is of one opinion and when he sits below the Gangway he is of another. If he goes back to the Treasury Bench—and I, for one, should be glad to see him there—he will perhaps revert to his original opinion. I do not desire to go into the merits of this part of the case, because I think the case entirely established. There have been no arguments against the Acts except the sentimental arguments used by the right hon. Gentleman. In the matter of statistics the Minister for War entirely concurred in all the statistics brought before the House in the Papers. We have a right to ask why there is this change on the part of the Government? There is no change in the opinion of the country; there is no change, so far as I know, in the opinion of the clergy of the country on the subject. I have a letter written to me by a dignatary of the Church of England, who allows me to use his name—the Rev. G. E. Jelf, rector of Chatham. Writing from Rochester, under date March 16, he says—Since the suspension of the Acts, it has been observed by persons well qualified to judge—(1.) That there has been a great increase of juvenile prostitution. During the present year (1886) there have been admitted into our Lock Hospital 53 patients, of whom 12 were 19 years old, five were 18, four were 17, one was 16, one 15, one 14, and one 13. Last January I had to visit there a young parishioner of mine, a child of 12, who had sinned with four different persons. (2.) That more illegitimate children than before have been born within the last two years. (3.) That physical disease in the worst 1915 form has greatly increased, (4.) That solicitation by women is much more frequent. (5.) That many of the more respectable girls are not deterred from evil or from dangerous ground as there were formerly. We, in Chatham, are working in the thorough conviction that men are often the greatest offenders; and it is not forgotten that the sentence of Divine retribution falls even upon the human body. But we ought surely to remember also the physical sufferings of the victims of the cowardly and selfish wickedness of men, and to keep open, with large subsidies from Government, the hospitals which, with the help of female doctors and other Christian women, may now tend to the bodily cure and moral reformation of our poor fallen sisters.Thereupon he asks that the Acts shall not be modified or repealed. I will go further, and will ask, have any of the Roman Catholic clergy changed their opinion? The Roman Catholic clergy who attended the hospitals in Cork gave very strong evidence in favour of the Acts, and I have not heard that they have ever changed their opinions—I do not believe that they have done so. I should very much like to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir William Harcourt) whether he has changed his opinions on this subject? I should like him to rise in his place and say that he has done so; and, if so, on what grounds? Then I see the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary (Mr. Childers), who has gone almost all the rounds of Cabinet Offices in Her Majesty Government, and who, although opposed to compulsory examination, on April 20, 1883—not three years ago—delivered himself in these terms—He thought the Acts had resulted in a diminution of disease.… and in reducing the element of juvenile prostitution that was the curse of certain towns…… Looking at the benefits which had resulted..… he should regard it as the greatest of all misfortunes if they were to go back from it."—(3 Hansard,  852.)
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. CHILDERS) (Edinburgh, S.)
The right hon. Gentleman has read only a detached fragment of the speech. He has only taken one sentence, and has not read the context.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
I should like the right hon. Gentleman to rise in his place and say what he did say. Does he still think that there has been a benefit? Then there is another Minister whom I regret not to see in his place, and that is the right hon. Gen 1916 tleman the Vice President of the Council on Education (Sir Lyon Playfair). Now, no man spoke more strongly in favour of these Acts in this House. In 1882 he made a most convincing speech on this subject. He is not here tonight. I should have liked him to have got up in his place to-night and have said what he thinks. I know very well that he has not changed his opinions; but the right hon. Gentleman represents an University constituency in Scotland, in a county where so much fanaticism and superstition prevails that he is obliged to give up his advocacy of these Acts. I refer to him as a scientific man who has studied this question, and if the right hon. Gentleman will get up in his place and say that he has altered his opinion on this matter—that he is not in favour of the Acts—then I also will abandon my opposition to their repeal. Then, again, there is the noble Marquess the late Leader of the Liberal Party (the Marquess of Hartington). I am sorry to say that he has gone, too; but no Member has ever spoken more strongly in favour of these Acts than the noble Marquess. He, also, stuck to them, and he parted with them with the greatest pain, as he informed us. I regret exceedingly that none of these right hon. Gentlemen are in the House. I do not refer to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Osborne Morgan), because I know he is persuaded; but I hope he will have an opportunity of rising in his place. Is it not clear from what I have said that it is not from conviction, but from political exigency, that right hon. Gentlemen opposite have changed their opinions. I can explain the reasons for this, because I have had personal experience on the subject. In the first place, it is from superstition; secondly, from ignorance; and, thirdly, from falsehood. The superstition is this. A large number of Nonconformist Ministers think that these diseases are a punishment for wicked men; and I may add that the late Mr. Henley, and the hon. Member for the City of London (Sir Robert Fowler), shared that opinion. There is one hon. Member, and I do not know if he is in the House, because I do not know him by sight. I mean the hon. Member for the Holmfirth—or something of that sort—Division of Yorkshire (Mr. 1917 H. J. Wilson), who stated at a meeting in February last, and at which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) was present, that these Acts were the works of the devil, and added that he did not want any substitute for the devil. He went on to say—How long halt ye between two opinions. If you are determined that this thing is necessary, and is to go on, why don't you call the devil to your help and exert yourselves actively and spread it throughout the country and the entire world.Well, Sir, I am not acquainted with this person, nor do I know where he is to be found. All I know is this, that there are good devils and bad devils, and if a good devil were to relieve these unfortunate women and to induce them to lead a better life, I should say he was much better company than the hon. Member for Holmfirth. Then, as regards ignorance, I once asked an hon. Member whether he had ever read these Acts, and he said, "Oh, I dare not; I could not allow myself to do anything so wicked." Then we come to the question of falsehood. There are certain Societies which subscribe large sums of money, and circulate a paper, to influence public opinion against these Acts. They have collected £8,000, which has been spent in a printing office in Paternoster Row, which circulated leaflets, &c., containing the grossest misrepresentations. It is deplorable that this should be done, and I shall make that clear to the House in a minute that it is so. Now, Sir, there are a great many of these Societies. I shall only refer to two of them. There is the Society called the "City of London Society," for the repeal of these Acts. I do not think my hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir Robert Fowler) has fallen so low as to belong to it; but it is presided over by Mr. Samuel Morley. I am only sorry for Mr. Samuel Morley's reputation in presiding over this Society. In a pamphlet issued by this Society called Seven Reasons for the Repeal of these Acts, on page 5, is to be found this paragraph—Who can wonder that women, driven to desperation, should have again and again terminated their lives when confronted with such a tribunal, and that maidens, innocent of a knowledge of the very terms used for their entanglement, have been placed on the registers of infamy, deprived of their natural liberty and 1918 subjected to the outrage perpetrated under the Acts.And the word "maidens" is in italics. Now, I called the attention of Mr. Samuel Morley to that statement some years ago, and asked him in a letter why he gave the sanction of his name to a statement which was absolutely false? ["No!"] I say absolutely false. It was proved to be false. I appeal to my right hon. Friend whether that is not so; whether it was not, because there was no evidence given before the Committee in support of these allegations. I wrote to Mr. Morley on this matter, and pointed out that his reputation depended upon his inquiry into it; but he wrote me a letter to say that he had not time to attend to me. Although my letter was written in 1883, Mr. Morley has never withdrawn that statement, and it is now published and sold in this paper—in fact, I bought this copy only a few days ago. Well, I say that this is a most misleading statement, and is published and circulated throughout the constituencies, and the minds of the electors, who do not take the trouble to investigate matters, are thereby influenced. On the Committee connected with the publication of this statement there are the names of a number of eminent men. I am not going to read them; but there are Queen's Counsel, Members of Parliament, Aldermen of the City of London, and others, and it is perfectly scandalous that those who are responsible for these things, by allowing the use of their names, do not take the trouble to see that the statements sent out are true. Then I will take another Society. It is called the Working Men's National League, and it has a National Council, upon which appears the name of the hon. Member the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Broadhurst). The names of the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Joseph Arch), and the hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Durham (Mr. William Crawford), also appear upon the Council. Of course, I have no objection to Members of Parliament and others forming themselves into these Societies if they will only stick to the truth in what they publish; but they ought not to publish false and scandalous publications which are wholly devoid of truth. The Working Men's League have published a 1919 pamphlet giving a selection of cases illustrating the working of the Contagious Diseases Acts, no less than 14 of these cases are enumerated; and I say with deliberation, as a Member of this House, without hesitation, and without the fear of contradiction, that every one of those 14 cases was absolutely false. There was only one of them brought before the Committee. That was the first case that was investigated by the Committee, and the judgment of the Committee against it is to be found in the Report. When it was found that the first case would not hold water, the other 13 were not brought before the Committee; and yet the Working Men's League, upon the Council of which there are three Members of Parliament, continue to publish this scandalous publication, which is a disgrace to anyone of common honesty and propriety. I do not see the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Broadhurst) in his place; but if he were I should make an appeal to him, either to withdraw from the Society or to withdraw the circulation of this pamphlet, or, at all events, if he will not do that, that he will give up his place in the Government. If the Members of Her Majesty's Government are to mix themselves up in these matters, it seems to me to be a very bad day for us, and they ought at least to be careful that nothing is circulated in their names. I wish to show how these things are done. I had the honour to be selected by these Societies as the one candidate they wished especially to put out of Parliament; I was fixed upon as the victim, because of the honest and independent support that I have given to these Acts. Accordingly these Societies spent a large portion of the £8,000 they had collected from the public in trying to turn me out of my seat. They sent down six lecturers to my constituency, who remained there six months; there were three males and three females. I will give you the names. There was Mrs. Ormiston Chant, Mrs. Stewart, and Miss Whitehead; and the males were Mr. Marshall—the notorious Mr. Marshall—Mr. Wynn, and Mr. W. Morkey, and they endeavoured by the circulation of these false publications to poison the minds of the labouring classes against me. I do not know how much money they spent in contravention of the spirit 1920 of the Corrupt Practices Act; but they plastered the walls with expensive posters, and made a house to house canvass, and distributed many of these publications in order to influence the opinion of the electors. But I held meetings also, and stated facts, and the result was that they had to retire in shame, while I was returned by a majority nearly double that which I had the honour to receive at the previous election. So it would be everywhere if the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) had only had the courage to stick up for these Acts; but they will not meet this question as it ought to be met, and they prefer to gain the votes of a small, fanatical, and superstitious, but very active section of society who opposed these Acts. These people are very active, and are continually presenting Petitions to Parliament; but the average elector does not take the trouble to inquire into the benefits of the Acts. It seems to me that if we are going to argue this question from sentiments of sentimentality, the very first thing that we ought to do is to get at the truth. These misrepresentations ought not to be made, and if a man made them he ought to be repudiated by his fellow-men in whatever position in this House he sits. The system, of which this legislation forms the basis, presents the only means by which to effect the relief of a certain portion of suffering humanity. I do not believe these unfortunate women can be relieved in any other way. I was surprised by the contention of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman). I know his difficulties, because he is a Scotch Member, and he has to undergo what they call "heckling;" but I was surprised that he could have got up in this House and suggested that the hospital work hitherto provided for out of the public funds might be continued by local effort. The suggestion was worthless, for the experiment has been tried and has failed. There are only two hospitals which are retained by the Government—Chatham and Colchester—the others are all subsidized; but how can you throw on Chatham the expense of a hospital which receives women from Dover, Sheerness, and many other places. Does the right hon. Gentleman suppose that 1921 the Local Government Board, or anybody else, could throw the burden of these people coming from a distance on to a particular locality? The only Institution we have in this great Metropolis can hardly make both ends meet, and it is merely kept on its legs by the grant it gets from the Government. To show the good moral effect of the system which the right hon. Gentleman now proposes to bring to an end, I may mention that the large hospital at Chatham alone in 14 years has reclaimed 835 women; and yet this humane Government, which is under the thumb of the Radical Party below the Gangway, are going to do away with the means by which such good results have been brought about, in order to catch a few votes at the elections. I shall move now, Sir, that this Bill be read a second time upon this day six months; I do so not only in consideration of what I have advanced—I do so because I am not shaken in my faith; and I, for one, am not influenced by the mere fact of the health of the Army and Navy, but for the welfare of these unfortunate women.
§ MR. PULESTON (Devonport)
I beg to second the Amendment. I do not desire to put the House to the trouble of a division, and I do not desire to detain the House at this late hour. What I want to ask the Government is whether they will get some thoroughly reliable evidence as to the state of these hospitals? In my constituency they are in a state of consternation. In consequence of the conflicting statements which have been made in regard to the intentions of the Government, they are in a state of chaos, and there is a state of things existing there at present such as has never been known before. Their streets have changed entirely, and it is due to the country that we should know what is going to happen. It is impossible to believe that right hon. Gentlemen who, a few months ago, expressed themselves so strongly in favour of these beneficial Acts—it is impossible to believe that in so short a time there has been anything to change their opinion. On the contrary, we had from the Secretary of State for War (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) the most startling evidence in support of these Acts, and we had previously the support of the noble Marquess the late Secretary of State for India (the Marquess of Hartington) and the right 1922 hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. No one could have been more eloquent than hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite in favour of the maintenance of these Acts, and nothing could have been stronger in their support than the Report of the Committee which for years took such pains to thresh out this matter. But the Acts have been suspended, and I care not very much whether this Bill is carried or not, because the Acts are practically a dead letter; and therefore it is hardly worth while—it would be absurd—to trouble the House with anything like a long debate and a division on the matter. The Acts are to be repealed, by yielding to the clamour of a maudlin sentimentality. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) and his Friends have very little knowledge of the way in which these Acts are worked in garrison towns. In places like Devon-port and Portsmouth, the result of the beneficent working of these Acts has been exceedingly good, not only from a hygienic point of view, but in preventing juvenile prostitution, and in making the towns decent to live in; and surely the almost universal opinion of the population of those places should have some weight. Surely we are entitled to the same credit for sincerity as we are willing to give to those who oppose us; but, instead of this, leaflets are circulated of the most scandalous kind by the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. James Stuart) and some other Members and their clients who know absolutely nothing whatever about the matter. I wish to say—in reference to the Societies which publish these statements and the publications which they issue—that, in my opinion, no more honourable man ever sat in this House, and I am sure that no one would more sincerely regret any inaccurate statement, than Mr. Samuel Morley, and I regret the remarks just made by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) in reference to that gentleman. Before sitting down, I wish to appeal to the Government to give us some assurance that will satisfy the people of the districts, such as the one I represent, to avoid the cruelty which will arise from the policy which has been advocated here in regard to the hospitals, and that they will save us from that by dealing with the matter in the spirit of the 1923 Amendment which the hon. Baronet (Sir John Kennaway) moved the other day. It simply called for the maintenance of the hospitals, not only in the interests of the Service, but in the interests of the garrison towns, the military, and the younger members of those districts—the young women particularly—and I think the Government ought to state plainly what they mean to do in regard to those local hospitals.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Cavendish Bentinck.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT) (Derby)
I do not rise for the purpose of prolonging this debate. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has practically admitted that this matter is already decided, and he said that he did not think it worth while to divide the House. I rise principally to make an explanation to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) as to the time at which this Bill has been brought on. I entirely concur with him that it would be exceedingly discreditable if engagements entered into in this House were not properly carried out. Well, the Government did all they could to adhere to the understanding that was entered into. The engagement was that we should adjourn the other debate at 11 o'clock, or thereabouts, and we have honourably fulfilled that engagement as far as we are able. Everybody knows that the Government cannot control the Business of the House when an hon. Member is speaking; and it will be in the recollection of the House that at 11 o'clock an hon. and gallant Member was speaking, and his speech was prolonged by circumstances over which we had no control. After he had finished, we took a division, and then this Bill was immediately brought on. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be satisfied that we did all in our power. Now, the right hon. Gentleman was very severe on the attitude which the Government have adopted in reference to this Bill. I think he will admit, as well as the hon. Member who has just spoken has admitted, that this matter has been settled 1924 by the previous action of the House, and by the strong opinion entertained upon it, not only on this side of the House, but on the other side also. This, I think, is clearly shown by the conspicuous absence of every Member of the late Cabinet from the Front Bench opposite. I do not see a single Member of the late Cabinet in his place to oppose the repeal of these Acts. Well, I have, therefore, no hesitation in stating in a single sentence what are the grounds on which I think the repeal of these Acts is necessary. Two years ago, or three years ago, by an overwhelming majority in this House—which no attempt has been made to reverse in either this or the late Parliament—the practical operation of these Acts was suspended. Well, Sir, it is a bad thing, and I think everyone will be of that opinion, to keep alive Statutes which you do not intend, and which, in point of fact, you cannot bring into operation. That is the reason why these Acts are to be repealed, almost without opposition. There is one question which my right hon. Friend (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) desired me to allude to—that is with regard to the hospitals. If he will examine the Estimates for the present year, he will see that the Government have considered what was best to be done in the circumstances by allowing the Votes to remain in the Estimates until the matter has been further considered. I think that is a sufficient answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.