HC Deb 09 August 1898 vol 64 cc748-59

(Consideration of Lords' Amendments.)

Motion made.

Question proposed— That the Lords' Amendments be now considered.

Amendment proposed— That the, Lords' Amendments be considered this day three months."—(Sir C. Dilke.)


I rise in order to draw the attention of the House to the course which the Government have pursued in regard to this Bill in another place. The course pursued on this Bill is one of the most inconvenient that can possibly be adopted, and one which, if it were applied to other measures, might succeed in defeating the intention of the House and establish a very far reaching precedent indeed. Now, when this Bill was under discussion in this House, a considerable time ago, an Amendment was moved by my honourable Friend the Member for Bethnal Green, which that Gentleman was prepared to support by speech and argument, but he was stopped on that occasion by the representatives of the Government, who called out, "agreed, agreed" to the Amendment, and consequently no discussion upon that Amendment took place. Now, two Amendments have been introduced in another place. One of them is a, mere Amendment of form, which makes no difference whatever to the meaning of the Bill, and is purely verbal; but the other is an Amendment of substance, and it has the effect of knocking out of the Bill the clause which my honourable Friend the Member for Bethnal Green induced the House to put in here. This is a clause dealing, not simply with the matters of this Bill in particular, but dealing with the whole of the Vagrancy Acts. My honourable Friend comes down to this House supported by a majority upon this side of the House, prepared to argue his case, but he is met by the Government, who agree that he has a good case, and no fight is made by the Government upon this point. Then the Government take the Bill to another place, and in another place the very representative of the same Department—the noble Lord who represents the Home Office—who had charge of the Bill in this House, and who assented to my honourable Friend's proposal, which was acceded to by the unanimous decision of this House in its favour, produces a unanimous decision in the House of Lords the other way, and the clause is struck out on the Motion of the representative of the Government representing the same Department which agreed to it in this House. I need not assure the House what the effect of this will be upon our general understanding upon matters of this kind. A Member of this House is met by the Government with courtesy, and he is told that he need not trouble himself or the House with his speech, as they agree with him, and accept his principle; and then, at the very end of the Session, he finds that in another place that verbal agreement with himself has been broken, and the unanimous opinion of the House has been defeated, for, by a unanimous vote in another place this clause is struck out, without a word of explanation to the House. It seems to me that the House ought to mark its disapproval of such treatment at the hands of the Government, and for that reason I beg to move this Amendment.


I do not think that the right honourable Baronet is quite correct when he says that this was done without a word of explanation. There are two Amendments put in by the Lords, and, as the right honourable Gentleman has said, one of them is a purely formal Amendment. But, with reference to the other Amendment, what happens is this. The Bill, as introduced, was a Measure for bringing within the Vagrancy Act of 1828, and subsequent amending Acts, certain persons, whom it appeared to the House very desirable to get hold of and punish by whipping. Now, the honourable Member for Bethnal Green moved a general Amendment to the Bill, by which the original power of whipping contained in the old Act of 1824 would be abolished. Well, Sir this question has been brought before a predecessor of mine in office some four or five years ago, or longer than that, and before my right honourable Friend the Member for Sheffield, who was at that time the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and though no definite promise was made upon the question, yet undoubtedly I understand that my predecessor and the right honourable Gentleman then in charge of the Home Office thought it was not necessary to maintain this power of whipping in the Vagrancy Act of 1824. I said at the time that, so far as I saw, my own opinion was that it was unnecessary to retain this power. Well, Sir, in another place, when this Bill was considered, it was thought, and I was persuaded, that in a Bill which was merely for the purpose of bringing within the Act persons of a particular character whom you desired to prevent carrying on their abominable transactions, that it was not desirable to introduce such an Amendment to the Act of 1824, more especially when the particular occasion on which it is sought to abolish it is one which would not operate for the particular benefit of this particular class. I do not know whether I stated this fact at the time, but it is true that this power of whipping is one which is very rarely used. I believe I am correct in stating that within the last five years there have only been seven cases of whipping, and with the exception of one case I believe they have all been for indecent exposure—an offence which ought to be punished in the same way as other crimes against public decency. In another place it was thought that it was not desirable to introduce a general Amendment to the Act of 1824, and as opposition to that might have imperilled the passing of the Bill this Session, we made this concession. That is where the matter stands, and I said at the time it was an irregular thing to do. I am afraid I was too good-natured towards the Amendment, and to that extent I confess my fault. I was persuaded afterwards that to introduce a provision of that kind was not satisfactory, and I regret that it was not debated when the Bill was before the House. At the same time, I have a great desire that this Bill should pass. I must say that I hope this Amendment will not be pressed, and that the House will be disposed to agree with the Lords' Amendments.

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

I think, if we had had this intimation at the previous stage of the Bill, there would have been a considerable amount of discussion of this Measure in Committee, but we were all glad to get rid of it, because we understood that the Amendment proposed by my honourable Friend was going to be accepted, and so the Bill was rushed through.


There was only one Amendment, and it is unfair to state that it was "rushed" through.


Now, what is the name of the Bill? It is entitled, "An Act to Amend the Vagrancy Act of 1824." The object of the Bill is that if you have any reason to suspect that certain persons frequent a house, to give power to arrest him because he frequents that house, and if he is supposed to be habitually in the company of certain persons that is sufficient, unless he can prove otherwise, to make him a vagrant. Here are two new principles in the English law, but I do not want to enter into the circumstances of the case. Now, the House permitted these very serious changes to be made in the law because it was expected that some of the clauses of the Vagrancy Act of 1824 would lie amended, and when my honourable Friend the Member for Bethnal Green rose to propose it and to give his reasons, the right honourable Gentleman at once stopped him and accepted the Amendment, and so prevented any discussion at all, and the Bill was got through under these conditions, and my honourable Friend was not allowed to say a single word about it. It was adopted, and the thing was "rushed" through.


It is not fair to say that it was rushed through, for what I did was that I signified that I would accept the Amendment, and it is hardly fair to say that the Bill was rushed through.


Then I say it advisedly that the Bill was rushed through. It is an unsavoury question, but it is a question of personal liberty. It is also a new principle that under certain circumstances you have got to compel a man to prove his innocence, and not to prove his guilt. We know how the Act affecting suspected persons in Ireland failed, and how the so-called village ruffians afterwards came into this House. We know the men who came here and their quality, and we know that they are superior men to those who were here before them in every way. I wish to protest against this practice. Other Governments may adopt the same course under difficult circumstances. I think it is a very bad precedent to allow, and I hope my right honourable Friend will go to a Division because of the action, of the Home Office. If it had been somebody else I could have understood it, but they accept it in this Amendment in this House, and move its rejection in another.

MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)

I wish to remind the House that I brought this question before the notice of the Home Office many years ago when the present Lord Llandaff was the Home Secretary, and Lord Llandaff gave me a distinct promise that he would, upon the very first opportunity which occurred, propose the repeal of this very objectionable provision of the old Act of 1824.


Yes, I have already admitted that.


I can only state the promise that was verbally made to me by Lord Llandaff, and it was in these terms. He said that he could not take immediate action, but he said— Upon the first opportunity we will propose the repeal of this provision of the old Act to which you object. Now, that precise opportunity has occurred in the Bill before the House. The very title of this Bill is alone sufficient to any ordinary mind to establish my case without a single additional word. What is the title? It is "An Act to Amend the Vagrancy Act of 1824." Now, it is the Vagrancy Act of 1824 which contains this objectionable provision, in respect of which the promise of Lord Llandaff was made. If I had desired to create for myself an opportunity which would have exactly met the occasion in relation to which Lord Llandaff made this promise, I could not have invented a better opportunity than that which was afforded by this Bill. I join in the protest of my right honourable Friend below me, that if this kind of thing is to go on, the very basis of all promises will be destroyed—if the deliberate action and promise of a Minister in one House is to be repudiated by a Minister in the other House. Now, Sir, I think it will be convenient that I should explain now—and I shall be very brief—what this Act really is, because, I think, there is some misapprehension.


No, no!


Well, I think there is; I know that there are many Members of this House in favour of the infliction of corporal punishment for certain offences.


Hear, hear!


I fully recognise and understand the position of the honourable Gentleman, but there are certain circumstances and particular features in this case which ought to induce the most confirmed champion of the lash to vote with me on the present occasion. Now, what are those reasons? In the fewest possible words I will point them out. First of all, there is the jurisdiction of quarter sessions. Now, the exceptional and peculiar jurisdiction of that court in this instance is the only case known to our law in which magistrates can inflict corporal punishment upon adults without the intervention of a jury as to the facts. Now, that is a most extraordinary thing. In all other cases you have, in the first place, the verdict of the jury as to the facts, and it is only even in the High Court, upon their finding, that the judge has power to order the prisoner to be flogged. Mr. Speaker, if I may say so, I think it is monstrous that at this time of day magistrates should have the power of inflicting this degrading form of punishment without the intervention of a jury. It is quite true that this Act is very rarely put into operation. It is generally regarded, and rightly regarded, by quarter sessions throughout the country as obsolete, and there are only two or three who apply it. I think we are all agreed now that it is the certainty and not the severity of punishment which prevents the commission of crime, and I ask what possible good can be inflicted by punishment which is thus irregularly and capriciously inflicted. Then, Sir, the right honourable Gentleman said that this punishment was inflicted for a particular kind of offence to which I need not more specifically allude. Well, Sir, that is quite true. Here, again, the capricious way in which punishment is inflicted absolutely prevents any public good being served by the infliction of the punishment. For instance, I find that taking the year 1895—tke last for which I have the figures—there were no fewer than 1,265 persons who were convicted of the offence to which the right honourable Gentleman alluded, and of that number only one was whipped. When punishment is inflicted in this capricious manner, what earthly good can be done by it? Sir, there is another consideration which ought not to be left out of sight in this matter. All persons who have devoted any consideration to the study of mental diseases in connection with medical jurisprudence know that this particular offence which has been mentioned is an early symptom of insanity, and there is a great danger that magistrates should order some poor insane wretch to be flogged. That is not a fanciful danger. It occurred comparatively recently. Twelve months ago the Derbyshire Quarter Sessions, under this particular provision which I am now asking the House to repeal, ordered a poor, insane wretch to be flogged, and it was only the humanity and the intelligence of the medical officer at Derby Prison that prevented that scandalous punishment from being inflicted. I say, then, that this is a practical question, and that although the cases are very few they may produce very great scandal, and we ought, therefore, to repeal the clause. Mr. Speaker, in conclusion, I will only ask the House very respectfully to remember the long line of instances which ought to warn us against assenting to the Motion which is now before the House. Whenever this House has sought to miti- gate the severity of He criminal law, it has met with opposition from another place, from the time when, again and again and again, they threw out a Bill sent up by this House to abolish capital punishment for stealing. I say this instance ought to warn us against being guided by the advice which comes from another place, and I shall therefore join my right honourable Friend if he goes to a Division against the Motion which is now before us.

Sir W. FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)

I should like, Mr. Speaker, to say a word or two on this matter. I was very disappointed when the right honourable Gentleman opposite frankly admitted the whole of the charge made by my honourable Friend below the Gangway [Sir C. Dilke] when he proposed to do his best to rectify what has occurred in another place. What are the facts? An Amendment is moved by an honourable Member, and accepted by the Home Secretary. Then another Minister, in another place, strikes out that Amendment, and the right honourable Gentleman comes down to the House, not prepared to put himself in the same position he was formerly in, but to allow an alteration to be made, which was carried, not merely by this side of the House, but by the unanimous consent of the House and of the Government. Now, I submit, Mr. Speaker, that that is an indefensible attitude for a responsible Minister of the

Ambrose, W. (Middlesex) Clare, Octavius Leigh Goschen, Rt. Hn. G. J. (St. G'rg's)
Arnold, Alfred Cochrane, Hon. T. H. A. E. Goschen, George J. (Sussex)
Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John Coghill, Douglas Harry Gray, Ernest (West Ham)
Bagot, Capt. J. F. Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse Greville, Captain
Balfour, Rt. Hon. A.J. (Manc'r) Compton, Lord Alwyne Gull, Sir Cameron
Banbury, Frederick George Cook, Fred. L. (Lambeth) Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord G.
Bartley, George C. T. Curzon, Viscount (Bucks) Hanbury, Rt. Hon. R. W.
Barton, Dunbar Plunket Doughty, George Hardy, Laurence
Bemrose, Sir Henry Howe Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers Heath, James
Bethell, Commander Drucker, A. Henderson, Alexander
Bill, Charles Duncombe, Hon. Hubert V. Hornby, William Henry
Blundell, Colonel Henry Fellowes, Hon. A. Edward Hozier, Hon. J. H. C.
Bond, Edward Fergusson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Manc'r) Hubbard, Hon. Evelyn
Brassey, Albert Finlay, Sir R. Bannatyne Jenkins, Sir John Jones
Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John Fisher, William Hayes Kenyon, James
Bullard, Sir Harry Fison, Frederick William Lafone, Alfred
Butcher, John George Folkestone, Viscount Lawrence, Sir E. D. (Corn.)
Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lancs) Forwood, Rt. Hon. Sir A. B. Lawrence, W. F. (Liverpool)
Cavendish, V.C.W. (Derbysh.) Fry, Lewis Lawson, John Grant (Yorks)
Cecil, Evelyn (Hertford, E.) Garfit, William Lea, Sir T. (Londonderry)
Chaloner, Captain R. G. W. Gilliat, John Saunders Llewellyn, E. H. (Somerset)
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J.((Birm.) Godson, Sir A. F. Llewelyn, Sir D. (Swansea)
Chamberlain, J. A. (Worc'r) Gordon, Hon. John Edward Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R.
Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir J. E. Loder, G. W. E.

Crown to take. We have not discussed the subject at length, because there are certain unsavoury matters connected with it; but, on the question of the infliction of corporal punishment, the right honourable Gentleman assents to an Amendment unanimously adopted by this House of Commons, and then allows that Amendment to be negatived by another place. Well, I do not think that that is the manner in which the House of Commons ought to be treated by a responsible Minister of the Crown. I feel bound to say that I shall go into the Division Lobby, and vote against the proposal, and I shall vote also for the postponed consideration of these Amendments, is moved by my right honourable Friend below the Gangway. If the legislative work of the House of Commons is to be carried on so as to maintain the respect of all parties it must, be carried on in a spirit of good faith. I do not, however, think that we have been treated as we ought to have been.

MR. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvon, Eifion)

said he also joined issue with the right honourable Gentleman upon the position he had taken up, and should support the Amendment.

Question put— That the word 'now' stand part of the Question.

The House divided:—Ayes 115; Noes 39.

Long, Col. C. W. (Evesham) Newdigate, Francis Alexander Sturt, Hon. Humphry Napier
Long, Rt. Hn. W. (Liverp'l) Penn, John Thornton, Percy M.
Lorne, Marquess of Pierpoint, Robert Tollemache, Henry James
Lowe, Francis William Platt-Higgins, Frederick Tomlinson, W. E. Murray
Lowles, John Pollock, Harry Frederick Vincent, Col. Sir C. E. H.
Lyttelton, Hon. Alfred Purvis, Robert Webster, Sir R. E. (I. of W.)
Macartney, W. G. Ellison Ridley, Rt. Hon. Sir M. W. Welby, Lt.-Col. A. C. E.
Maclure, Sir John William Robertson, H. (Hackney) Williams, J. P. (Birm.)
McArthur, C. (Liverpool) Scoble, Sir Andrew Richard Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R. (Bath)
McKillop, James Sharpe, William Edward T. Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. S.
Massey-Mainwaring, Hn. W. F. Simeon, Sir Barrington Young, Commander (Berks, E.)
Mellor, Colonel (Lancashire) Sinclair, Louis (Romford)
Milton, Viscount Skewes-Cox, Thomas TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Monk, Charles James Smith, Hn. W. F. D. (Strand) Sir William Walrond and Mr. Anstruther.
Morton, A. H. A. (Deptford) Stanley, Lord (Lancs)
Murray, Rt. Hn. A. G. (Bute) Strauss, Arthur
Allen, W. (Newc.-under-Lyme) Gedge, Sydney Roberts, J. B. (Eifion)
Barlow, John Emmott Greene, H. D. (Shrewsbury) Spicer, Albert
Bayley, T. (Derbyshire) Haldane, Richard Burdon Steadman, William Charles
Birrell, Augustine Hazell, Walter Strachey, Edward
Bolton, Thomas Dolling Jones, W. (Carnarvonshire) Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)
Brigg, John Kilbride, Denis Williams, John C. (Notts)
Broadhurst, Henry Lewis, John Herbert Wills, Sir William Henry
Caldwell, James Lough, Thomas Wilson, J. H. (Middlesbro')
Cameron, Robert (Durham) Macaleese, Daniel Woods, Samuel
Clark, Dr. G.B. (Caithness-sh.) M'Ghee, Richard
Clough, Walter Owen Maddison, Fred. TELLERS FOR THE NOES— Sir Charles Dilke and Sir Walter Foster.
Cozens-Hardy, Herbert H. Molloy, Bernard Charles
Curran, Thomas (Sligo, S.) Palmer, Sir C. M. (Durham)
Dillon, John Pickersgill, Edward Hare
Doogan, P. C. Provand, Andrew Dryburgh

Question put. Question put.

The Resolution that the Lords' Amendments be considered was then agreed to.

Question put— That the Lords' Amendment on page 1, line 24, to leave out sub-section 4, be agreed to."—(The Secretary of State for the Home Department.)

Agreed to.

Ambrose, W. (Middlesex) Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry Godson, Sir A. F.
Arnold, Alfred Clare, Octavius Leigh Gordon, Hon. John Edward
Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John Cochrane, Hon. T. H. A. E. Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John E.
Bagot, Capt. J. F. Coghill, Douglas Harry Goschen, Rt. Hn. G.J. (St.G'rg's)
Balfour, Rt. Hon. A.J. (Manc'r) Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse Goschen, George J. (Sussex)
Banbury, Frederick George Compton, Lord Alwyne Gray, Ernest (West Ham)
Bartley, George C. T. Cook, Fred. L. (Lambeth) Greene, H. D. (Shrewsbury)
Barton, Dunbar Plunket Curzon, Viscount (Bucks) Greville, Captain
Bemrose, Sir Henry Howe Doughty, George Gull, Sir Cameron
Bethell, Commander Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord G.
Bill, Charles Drucker, A. Hanbury, Rt. Hon. R. W.
Blundell, Colonel Henry Duncombe, Hon. Hubert V. Hardy, Laurence
Bond, Edward Fellowes, Hon. A. Edward Heath, James
Brassey, Albert Fergusson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Manc'r) Henderson, Alexander
Brodrick, Rt. Hon St. John Finlay, Sir R. Bannatyne Hornby, William Henry
Bullard, Sir Harry Fisher, William Hayes Hozier, Hon. J. H. C.
Butcher, John George Fison, Frederick William Hubbard, Hon. Evelyn
Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lancs) Folkestone, Viscount Jenkins, Sir John Jones
Cavendish, V.C.W. (Derbysh.) Forwood, Rt. Hon. Sir A. B. Kenyon, James
Cecil, Evelyn (Hertford, E.) Fry, Lewis Lafone, Alfred
Chaloner, Captain R. G. W. Garfit, William Lawrence, Sir E. D. (Corn.)
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. (Birm.) Gedge, Sydney Lawrence, W. F. (Liverpool)
Chamberlain, J. A. (Worc'r) Gilliat, John Saunders Lawson, John Grant (Yorks)

Question put. That the House agree with the Lords' Amendment to leave out clause 2."—(The Secretary of State for the Home Department.)

The House divided:—Ayes 117; Noes 40.

Lea, Sir T. (Londonderry) Milton, Viscount Smith, Hn. W. F. D. (Strand)
Llewellyn, E. H. (Somerset) Monk, Charles James Stanley, Lord (Lancs)
Llewelyn, Sir D. (Swansea) Morton, A. H. A. (Deptford) Strauss, Arthur
Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R. Murray, Rt. Hn. A. G. (Bute) Sturt, Hon. Humphry Napier
Loder, G. W. E. Newdigate, Francis Alex. Thornton, Percy M.
Long, Col. C. W. (Evesham) Penn, John Tollemache, Henry James
Long, Rt. Hon. W. (Liverp'l) Pierpoint, Robert Tomlinson, W. E. Murray
Lorne, Marquess of Platt-Higgins, Frederick Vincent, Col. Sir C. E. H.
Lowe, Francis William Pollock, Harry Frederick Webster, Sir R. E. (I. of W.)
Lowles, John Purvis, Robert Welby, Lt.-Col. A. C. E.
Lyttelton, Hon. Alfred Ridley, Rt. Hon. Sir M. W. Williams, J. P. (Birm.)
Macartney, W. G. Ellison Robertson, H. (Hackney) Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R. (Bath)
Maclure, Sir John William Scoble, Sir Andrew Richard Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. S.
McArthur, C. (Liverpool) Sharpe, William Edward T. Young, Commander (Berks, E.)
McKillop, James Simeon, Sir Barrington TELLERS FOR THE AYES— Sir William Walrond and Mr. Anstruther.
Massey-Mainwaring, Hn. W. F. Sinclair, Louis (Romford)
Mellor, Colonel (Lancashire) Skewes-Cox, Thomas
Allen, W. Newc.-under-Lyme) Doogan, P. C. Spicer, Albert
Barlow, John Emmott Foster, Sir W. (Derby Co.) Steadman, William Charles
Bayley, T. (Derbyshire) Haldane, Richard Burdon Strachey, Edward
Birrell, Augustine Hazell, Walter Stuart, James, (Shoreditch)
Bolton, Thomas Dolling Jones, W. (Carnarvonshire) Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)
Brigg, John Lambert, George Ure, Alexander
Broadhurst, Henry Lewis, John Herbert Williams, John C (Notts)
Caldwell, James Lough, Thomas Wills, Sir William Henry
Cameron, Robert (Durham) Macaleese, Daniel Wilson, J. H. (Middlesbro')
Clough, Walter Owen M'Ghee, Richard Woods, Samuel
Cozens-Hardy, Herbert H. Maddison, Fred.
Curran, Thomas (Sligo, S.) Molloy, Bernard Charles TELLERS FOR THE NOES— Mr. Pickersgill and Dr. Clark.
Dalziel, James, Henry Palmer, Sir C. M. (Durham)
Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles Provand, Andrew Dryburgh
Dillon, John Roberts, J. B. (Eifion)