HC Deb 05 March 1903 vol 118 cc1683-4

moved the Second Reading of the Incest Bill. He said that he had no wish to enter into any detailed explanation of this Bill, which dealt with a rather disagreeable subject. He believed there was no objection to its being referred to the Grand Committee on Law. He had been induced to introduce the Bill by the number of such crimes being committed in the rural districts of England, and he did not think that hon. Members would imagine that such crimes should not be severely punished.

MR. HALDANE (Haddingtonshire)

said that this Bill proposed to make criminal certain offences which at the present time were not so. One bad only to read the Bill to arrive at the conclusion that the offences with which it dealt ought to come within the scope of the criminal law. But, on the other hand, the Bill was very comprehensive, and brought in a number of matters which it was very desirable should be carefully considered by the responsible Law Officers of the Government, if it was to be proceeded with. The House should know from the Law Officers what was the view of the Government, and why this matter had not before been brought before them. They all knew that the law in Scotland on these matters was very different from that of England, and that there were certain offences in Scotland which were not only criminal but capital. Yet they knew that it was impossible to make the law operative, and that under these circumstances they were entitled to have some careful consideration on the part of the Law Officers of the Crown before they could say that the criminal law in England should be altered in the direction indicated in the Bill. There were some things which obviously ought to be made criminal offences, but there were others deserving of the closest scrutiny. He was not saying one word against the Bill, which he thought should be passed in some form, but it was a measure which ought to have been introduced and dealt with by the Government. Speaking for himself, he should like to know the views of the Government, and what attitude they proposed to take.

MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid)

said he hoped the Attorney General would give the House the views of the Government on this Bill. It was perfectly true that incest was a criminal offence in Scotland, but it was not now punishable with death. The death penalty was abolished a number of years ago, and the crime was now punishable with penal servitude. He did not think that there had been any convictions of recent years in Scotland under a law which was passed in 1567. At any rate, if a law against incest was to be put in force in England it ought to be put in force by responsible officers of the Crown, and not by private prosecution.


said he did not rise for the purpose of opposing the Second Reading of the Bill. On the part of everyone there must be very great sympathy with the feeling behind the introduction of the Bill; but it was a Bill which required very careful consideration in regard to its provisions. There were many matters which it was most desirous to check, but, at the same time there were cases in which a most laudable and potent desire to check these evils might possibly lead, by methods of administration, to other and graver evils.