§ MR. KEAY (Elgin and Nairn)
I beg-to ask the Under Secretary of State for India whether his attention has been called to the great excitement and apprehension which has been caused in India by the introduction into the Governor General's Council, by Sir Andrew Scoble, of a Bill fixing the ago of consent, in the case of married girls, at 12 years; whether he is aware that puberty very frequently takes place in Indian females before the age of 12 years, while there is no system of registration of births, and consequently no certitude as to the real age of the great majority of the population; whether he is aware that strong resolutions have been passed at mass meetings throughout the Indian Empire protesting against the Bill on the grounds that the European officials responsible for it are ignorant of the injurious effects which it will produce in the social and domestic life of the people, that it will lead to the ruin of innocent families by the fabrication of false charges and put a premium on oppression and extortion by subordinate officials, and declaring that it is a direct interference with native religion and usage, and a clear infringement of the Queen's Proclamation of 1858; whether it is the case, as 248 stated in the Indian Press, that this Bill has been brought in at the request of Her Majesty's Government, in consequence of a single case of brutality by a bridegroom having occurred during the last 30 years; and whether the Government of India will now be advised to withdraw a measure which is viewed with the gravest apprehensions by large masses of the Indian people?
§ MR. PICTON (Leicester)
Before the question is answered I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he is aware or if he has seen a memorandum addressed to the Governor General by 55 lady physicians in reference to a largo number of cases which have come within their own experience, in which they declare in the strongest terms against these marriages?
§ MR. S. SMITH
I wish to supplement the questions which have just been asked by another, namely, whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that the most intelligent class of Hindoos, and nearly all the Mahommedans, are in favour of raising the age to 12 years?
§ *SIR J. FERGUSSON
I have been requested by my right hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for India to reply to this question. The Bill in question was introduced by the Government of India, with a full knowledge of the facts of the case and after very careful consideration. There is no intention of withdrawing it. In regard to the questions of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Picton) and the hon. Member for Flintshire (Mr. S. Smith), I am not in a position to answer them, and if further information is required notice had better be given.
§ *SIR J. FERGUSSON
I think the answer I have given covers the whole of the question. It is impossible to enter into details.