HL Deb 10 August 1885 vol 300 cc1549-57

, in moving that the Commons' Amendments in the Bill be considered, said, that they were not nearly so formidable as they would appear to be from their bulk on the Paper of Business, a large portion of them consisting chiefly of a redrafting of the provisions. A Select Committee of their Lordships' House sat on the subject in 1881 and 1882, and took much evidence. The result was that in 1883 a Bill was brought into that House by a noble Earl not now present (the Earl of Dalhousie). A great deal of discussion took place upon it; but the circumstances of that year prevented the Bill from being considered in the House of Commons, and it was dropped. In 1884 the Bill was again introduced in their Lordships' House and passed; it was sent down to the Commons and considered in some of its stages, but failed to become law. Nearly the same Bill, the offspring of the Select Committee of 1881 and 1882, was this Session introduced a third time in their Lordships' House and was again sent down to the House of Commons, where it had been considered and returned to their Lordships with Amendments which had materially altered the scope of the measure, while, in many cases, they had undoubtedly, to a considerable degree, improved it. For instance, there was a new provision in Clause 2, that no person should be convicted upon the evidence of one person without corroboration. That was an improvement. There was also an Amendment which made drugging a misdemeanour, and another which provided that a boy under 16 on conviction might be whipped. In Clause 5 the age was raised from 12 to 13. Probably the most convenient course would be to deal with the Amendments as a whole and not seriatim. The variations which they made were not so great as appeared at first sight, the most important being one which raised the age of consent from 13 to 16. An attempt had been made to treat this measure as one of the rich against the poor; but that attempt, he argued, was very unjust and unfounded. Their Lordships had investigated this very painful subject, and had, on three separate occasions, sent the Bill down to the House of Commons. So far as this measure was concerned, therefore, their Lordships had done their duty with impartiality as between the rich and the poor. He (Earl Beauchamp) was not one of those who believed that, by legislation, they could do very much to influence the morals of persons, nor did he think that it would produce all the results anticipated by its sanguine promoters. It should not be forgotten that an Act of Parliament would not make those chaste and moral who were unchaste and immoral. If, however, the Bill produced all the results hoped for by those who had promoted it, no one would rejoice more sincerely than he would. He thought there was little chance of their Lordships being able to alter the decisions which had been arrived at by the House of Commons, and therefore he would urge upon them, having regard to the necessity of passing the Bill that Session, not to imperil its object by rejecting any of the Amendments the Commons had made, but, on the contrary, to accept them en bloo.

Moved, "That the Commons' Amendments be considered."—(The Earl Beauchamp.)


said, he thought that their Lordships might well congratulate themselves upon the course pursued in reference to that measure, as well as being the first to initiate legislation upon the subject. For three years in succession it had been considered carefully and deliberately by their Lordships. He preferred very much the structure of the Bill as it left that House; and he found himself in great difficulty in dealing with the Amendments made by the House of Commons, because they went very far indeed, and altered the Law of Evidence in several material particulars. Some of the Amendments made by the Commons were beyond the scope of the Preamble. Others had greatly increased the severity of the Bill, and this severity was calculated to defeat the objects with which the Bill was being passed. He was told that if he moved and carried the rejection of any of the Amendments made by the Commons, he should imperil the passing of the Bill. He would not take the responsibility of doing that, because the Bill contained much that was good, and, therefore, he must content himself with protesting against the Amendments to which he objected.


said, he also wished to congratulate their Lordships and the present Government, as well as the country, on the Bill being within a measurable distance of becoming law; but it was desirable it should be more clearly understood that it was the result of several successive years' labour on the part of their Lordships' House, and that it was not under the pressure of popular agitation that the subject had been taken up by them—first, carefully inquired into by a Select Committee, and then legislated upon. Their Lordships, in truth, might be regarded as the pioneers of legislation on this painful subject. He would say nothing now as to the character and probable influence of the recent agitation upon it, or as to the effect which that might have had in securing the passage of the Bill through the House. He would only remind them that in 1833 and 1884 similar Bills had, after full discussion, been sent clown to the House of Commons in good time, which that House, under the guidance of the late Government, had not found time even to consider in 1883, or to pass in 1884. That House, however, had found time in each of those years to pass, with the support of the late Government, a Bill against pigeon shooting, which, though he had no sympathy with that pastime, he rejoiced their Lordships had rejected as unworthy of the attention of the Imperial Parliament. Happily, this year, the House of Commons had passed no Pigeon Shooting Bill; but had passed this measure, with many alterations, some valuable, others of doubtful expediency. He had received communications from two Judges of great experience about the great danger which boys—especially of the wages class—ran of being seduced by girls older than themselves, though under 16, and then being imprisoned, or else having black mail levied upon them. He had intended to move Amendments to the Bill, but now would not risk doing so. At the same time, he must say he was not sanguine as to the results of the measure, except in protecting young girls from outrage. Wherever they found a population destitute of religious principles or moral convictions, there they were sure to have a great deal of vice and immorality, which Parliament was powerless to suppress, or even materially to restrain. The real work to be done was one much less of less of legislative than of moral reform, and that must be carried on by religious, moral, and educational agencies.


said, that while he did not consider all the Commons' Amendments improvements upon the Bill, he would advise the House to accept them en bloc. It was unfair to say that the Bill was the result of recent publications. While he thought that great credit was due to Her Majesty's Government as regarded their conduct in the matter, he must, in justice to the Home Office, say that his noble Friend (the Earl of Dalhousie} and the late Home Secretary (Sir William Harcourt)—and they were thoroughly supported in their resolve by the Members of the late Government—previously to that Government going out of Office had fully determined to carry the Bill long before the publications referred to appeared; and at that time they received but cold support from noble Lords opposite. Seeing the progress which was made with it prior to the publications referred to, he did not think it was now fair to say it was the result of it.


said, the suggestion that the Amendments should be considered and agreed to en blocwas one in which he would only concur because he did not wish to endanger the passing of the Bill. Many of them seemed to him objectionable, and almost all free of importance, and he thought it extremely inconvenient that their Lordships should be obliged to adopt them without any adequate consideration. He must say he had great pleasure in congratulating their Lordships upon having come to the end of this most unsavoury subject. The Bill could not be said to reflect much credit on their House of Parliament; but, to his mind, some of the Amendments in the House of Commons had improved and strengthened it. He complained of the obscenity through which they had been compelled to pass, and that boys and girls of tender years had been allowed to sell such a filthy and obscene publication under the very nose of the police, without the authorities taking any action whatever. Who were to blame for allowing that breach of the law he did not know; but, whoever it was, a very heavy responsibility rested on their shoulders. It might have been a question whether it was right or wrong to prosecute the writer or writers; but he maintained that the same power which swept from the streets the Confessional Unmaskedand the Fruits of Philosophy, works which were comparatively pure to this filthy publication, should have taken action in this matter. He was afraid, however, that some of the provisions of the Bill might lead to a state of things not unlike the odious system of Police des Mœsurs and to wholesale corruption among the Police Force. The temptations which the Bill would place in the way of the police might be greater than they could bear. He remembered that some years ago the whole of the C. Division had to be removed from one quarter of the town to another in consequence of the corruption that prevailed among its members. He hoped the streets would be made passable for decent men and women, and would no longer be flooded with obscene publications. He was glad the House of Commons had struck out the clause giving the police arbitrary power to arrest any man or woman without any complaint having been made against them. He was also glad of the additional powers that had been given against procuresses and disorderly houses where young children were harboured; but he regretted that nothing had been done to clear the streets of young prostitutes, who might accost men or boys, and induce them to become guilty of a misdemeanour, while they themselves would be liable to no charge. Such a state of things must infallibly lead to wholesale extortion, and probably to the utter ruin of many young men who would fall victims to the wiles of these girls and the wretches who would employ them for the purpose. Power should have been given to send these girls to reformatories, instead of leaving them a standing menace to the community. As to the limit of age, he would point out that England was going three years further than any other country in the world. He trusted that the Bill would produce the good results to which their Lordships looked forward; but he could not help thinking that, by making the HOLMES of the poor brighter and more cheerful, and decency and morality more possible in those HOLMES, they would effect more than by any Draconian legislation of this nature.


said, that he could not agree with the noble Earl that the publicity given to these criminal practices had not influenced this Bill. This Bill originated in the evidence of their Lordships' Committee five years ago. That evidence, with the Report, was published under the cover of a Blue Book, which was a damper to the curiosity and interest of the public; but it awakened in those who cared for this odious subject the earnest desire for a more effective and righteous law. The Bill was launched without help from any utterance of public opinion. No breeze of public favour stiffened its sails; it got no welcome in the other House, but met with the cold shoulder. When revolting facts of horrible criminal cruelties on defenceless girls and young children were scattered widely abroad, the compassion and consciences of persons of right feeling were so roused that the Bill returned much strengthened and improved. His noble Friend (Earl Granville) had reminded them that the late Home Secretary was very anxious to have the Bill brought forward; but such was the apathy on the subject, the indifference and general dislike in the House of Commons, that for two years it was stopped. Up to the very moment when the veil was withdrawn from the public eye and they were made aware of the grossly criminal acts that were being carried on in this country, it was thought that the Bill they were consenting to was too strong. Therefore, he said, that unless that publicity had unfolded such a horrible state of things to the public at large there would have been no prospect or probability of their getting this Bill, which seemed now to meet with the approbation of all concerned. Of course, there were parts which they might find fault with; but, on the whole, according to the amount of knowledge they had of the evil, it met with the wants of the present day.


said, he quite concurred in the remarks that had been made by his noble and learned Friend (Lord Fitzgerald), and, like him, would not endanger the Bill by moving the rejection of any of the Amendments. At the same time, he could not refrain from saying that in his opinion it contained many questionable matters. It was undoubtedly the fact that it had its origin in the Lords' (Select Committee; but he thought their Lordships could scarcely recognize their child in its present shape. Their Lordships most carefully considered the measure; but it was an unfortunate circumstance that the considerations that had influenced their Lordships in some of the conclusions to which they arrived seemed to have been lost sight of in the House of Commons. No one could say that the clause making it a misdemeanour to induce a woman by false pretences to gratify a man's wishes, had any tendency to promote chastity. Under that clause, a woman, who knew that she was about to consort unlawfully with a man, might, nevertheless, afterwards prosecute him for having obtained her consent by false representations, such as the promise of a note or sovereign which should subsequently be shown to be bad. In such a case, the woman would know that she was a party to an immoral act, and had made a bargain for the possession of her person. In their Lordships' House that clause was framed so as only to apply to cases like that of a sham marriage, in which the woman was quite innocent. He was sorry there was not time for a conference between the two Houses, in which the reasons which had induced their Lordships to take the views they had taken could be stated. There were improvements in the Bill as it stood; but there were also faults, and it was a pity there was not time to consider them.


said, as to the alteration of the age of consent, it was very remarkable that statistics showed that, while the number of marriages of persons below 16 was only about 26 in the year, those of persons above 16 might be counted by hundreds, and those of persons above 18 might be counted by thousands. It was only right that if the father, mother, master, or guardian of a girl abused their power over her, they should lose it. It had been said in the course of the debates upon the Bill that no one quitted a prison after two years' imprisonment, without being shattered in body and mind; but if the maximum punishment was two years' imprisonment, their Lordships ought not to assume that it would be always inflicted. With reference to the commission of the offence for which that punishment was assigned, had no one a word to say about the poor girl being shattered in body and mind? There was no reason to suppose that the Judges would misuse their discretion in the imposition of punishment. He was very glad that the noble Lord opposite (Lord Mount-Temple) had borne his testimony in favour of the Bill as a useful and admirable measure, and he hoped that it would do something for the punishment of those who committed outrages upon young persons.


said, that the Bishops were interested in this question, as the natural guardians of the morals of the people. He was speaking for all his rev. Brethren, when he said that they were most anxious that the Bill should pass their Lordships' House; and he believed, whatever faults might be in the Bill, it was calculated to do a great deal of good, and it would be a great blessing to the country. It was said, truly, that you could not make people moral or chaste by Act of Parliament; but a great deal might be done to prevent things which were immoral and unchaste. Everybody who had taken any part in trying to promote morality, knew that they were met at every corner by difficulties which had been spoken of in the course of the debate. And though they could not make people moral by Act of Parliament, they could do a great deal to put obstacles, in the way of prevention, of persons, who were trying, with all their hearts and minds, to promote immorality, from succeeding in their efforts. He felt very strongly what had been said by the noble Earl (the Earl of Milltown) that the obscene literature referred to was doing an infinity of mischief—mischief which could never be undone. Nevertheless, they must all rejoice that the mind of the public had now been opened to the extraordinary evils which prevailed, and which threatened to make England, in some respects, the most degraded country in Europe. He alluded to the terrible seduction, and worse than seduction, of young children. Living in a diocese in which there were more naval and military stations than in any other part of the country, he happened to know how terrible was the condition of the streets of those places, especially in connection with this prostitution of infants. Unless they took some step to prevent the continuation of the evil, this country, which had hitherto prided itself upon being more moral than any other country in Europe, would expose itself to the taunts of the civilized world.

Motion agreed to: Commons' Amendments considered, and agreed to.

House adjourned at Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.