HC Deb 08 May 1894 vol 24 cc579-83

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill he now read the third time."

MR. DODD (Essex, Maldon)

said, that as he was not in the House when the last Debate on this Bill took place he should like to state—though he had no intention of dividing the House—that he could not regard the settlement which had been arrived at as at all final. It was proposed to assimilate the conditions in Cambridge to those existing at Oxford, and he would tell the House of a case which occurred at Oxford soon after he left that University. A young lady, 18 or 19 years of age, the daughter of a tutor, went to hear a debate at the Union with her cousin and two other undergraduates. They left early, and at the corner of the Union passage, as the Proctor happened to be in sight, the undergraduates, according to the recognised custom of the day, a custom which enabled them to escape payment of the small fine for being without cap and gown, ran away, thinking nothing of the young lady's position. The Proctor's bulldogs seized the young lady and took her to the prison, asserting in answer to her explanations as to who she was that they knew her well. The prison matron, fortunately, perceived that a blunder had been made and caused inquiries to be instituted, which resulted in the young lady's liberation. If such an experience could happen to a well-dressed young lady, it was obvious that women of the poorer classes must be exposed to even greater danger, and, for that reason, he ventured to do that day what he would like to have done at greater length on the occasion of the Second Beading—to enter a strong protest against the compromise in the Bill.

MR. FITZGERALD (Cambridge)

said, that as he understood the Third Beading of the Bill was not to be opposed he would confine his remarks, not to reply to the hon. and learned Member for Essex, but to a personal explanation on behalf of the late Mayor of Cambridge, Mr. S. L. Young. In his speech the other day the hon. Member for Crewe stated that he had seen more than one letter from Mr. Young stating that the Liberal members of the Town Council had had the opposed clause, to which they objected, forced upon them by the University. Mr. Young was his strongest political opponent, but he was a man of high honour and integrity, and he desired it to be known that he was not acting in the way which might naturally be inferred from the statement of the hon. Member for Crewe. The inference was that Mr. Young, having been an active and consenting party to the arrangement, and having promised his adhesion to the Bill, had written private letters to Members of Parliament asking them to try and defeat the Bill. But Mr. Young was incapable of such conduct, and he had written to him the following letter:— Dear Mr. FitzGerald,—You probably felt surprised at the quotation of Mr. M'Laren from my letter, and you might possibly imagine that the letter was conceived in a spirit of hostility to the Bill. The facts are as follows:—I wrote to Messrs. Hoare and Newnes expressing a hope that they would see their way clear to vote for the Bill; and the extract as to the Liberal Councillors was only a part of a sentence in which I pointed out that the Liberal Councillors did not, of course- approve of the clause, but that on the whole the compromise arrived at was felt by all parties to be the best that it was possible to obtain…. These are the portions of the letter Mr. M'Laren fastened upon. The terms of the letter seem to have commanded themselves so much to Mr. Newnes that he unwisely sent my letter on to Mr. M'Laren. Hence the quotation of mutilated sentences. If you can suggest anything that the Liberal Party can do to help you on the Third Reading, I am sure you may rely on its being done. I am glad to have had this opportunity of making a statement showing Mr. Young was incapable of any such conduct as the hon. Member for Crewe—no doubt inadvertently—imputed to him.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

said, that the hon. Member had fairly stated the case for Mr. Young, and he had no complaint to make as to that, but the hon. Member was somewhat mistaken if he thought that the town of Cambridge was in favour of this exceptional jurisdiction. The town was strongly opposed to these exceptional powers, and the compromise was that the powers should be transferred to the police from the University. It was obvious that with these powers the most lamentable mistakes must occur. That was one of the reasons for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts. In Cambridge there were large shops where shop-girls were employed; and those girls must pass through the streets to their homes late in the evening. While the daughters of the richer classes would not be exposed to the danger of arrest, the daughters of the poorer classes would be; and any constable by some mistake might drag a perfectly respectable girl to the station-house. If the daughters and wives of Members of the House were exposed to this danger, it would not be tolerated for a moment. The law might be desirable for the undergraduates, but it was extremely undesirable for the women of the poorer classes. They most strongly objected, and would continue to object, to that exceptional jurisdiction, so dangerous as it must prove to young women who were obliged to earn their subsistence in shops, and if his hon. Friend divided the House he should support him. It was a most unfair, unjust, and injurious law, and would not be tolerated in any other town than the two to which it applied.

MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

said, the opinion of the town of Cambridge must have greatly changed since he was acquainted with it if it desired this special legislation. The idea of the University always was to maintain this special legislation, while the desire of the town was to get rid of it and place matters on the same footing as elsewhere. He believed these special privileges or powers of the University had created so much scandal and opposition that it had practically become intolerable and could not be maintained. Under these circumstances, the University, as he understood it, had been preparing for some time to do away with the powers which they possessed which were so galling to the town, but in order to secure the keeping up of one part of the system, a provision had been inserted in the Bill under which the University authorities would still have exceptional powers of dealing with women. He could not doubt but what this was the pound of flesh which the town had had to pay to the University for the abolition of its special powers. What he wanted to point out was that the House had nothing to do with these private arrangements between the University and the town. What they had to consider was whether this proposed clause went beyond the law of the land. They maintained that it materially altered the law of the land and placed the women of Cambridge in a position of great disability, that it was a dangerous and injurious piece of legislation, and that as a fact the exceptional powers which the Universities possessed had led to a system of blackmailing both in Cambridge and in Oxford, and made it dangerous for respectable women to pass through the street. He had in his possession a letter from a theatrical manager who stated that when he went down to these towns he had to give a special warning to the female members of his company not to go into the streets alone, so dangerous was it for them to do so. He was by no means desirous of fixing upon the students at Cambridge any charge of immorality. He believed that for the most part they were a body of steady, honourable young men, but there were black sheep among thorn with whom the proctors ought to deal direct instead of running the risk of interfering with innocent women. It was quite possible, he was convinced, to deal with the matter in that way, and he saw no reason whatever why it should be difficult in a University town to preserve the students from the dangers to which they were exposed any more than elsewhere. He began by saying, and would say again, in conclusion that the opinion of the town of Cambridge had greatly-changed since he was acquainted with it if it desired this exceptional legislation.

MR. CALDWELL (Lanark, Mid)

Upon a point of Order, Mr. Speaker, I would ask you, as this Bill is not down by Order, whether it is competent for this discussion to go on if there is an intention to take a Division?


The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Maldon Division, who opened the discussion, expressly said it was not his intention to divide the House. If there is any intention to take a Division the Bill must stand over.

Debate adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Thursday.

Forward to