HL Deb 09 April 1886 vol 304 cc1151-4

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that he regretted to inflict himself upon the attention of the House a second time, more particularly as this second duty he had to perform was one which in its subject and details was singularly repulsive to all. But while apologizing for asking the indul- gence of their Lordships, he might congratulate them, or at least express a hope, that this debate might not be one of a protracted nature. For when they passed in review the history of the action of the community in regard to these Acts, and considered the action of the House of Commons in regard to these Acts, they found that opposition was emphatically pronounced in regard to them some years ago, and that that opposition had gone on increasing in its course and vigour until he might say practical unanimity of opinion as to these Acts was visible. He might almost say that this question had ceased to be a Party one, and he was encouraged in that belief when he looked at the Division List of the Commons of the other day, and found that many prominent Members of the Tory Party voted in favour of Mr. Stansfeld's Motion, which seemed to him to point to this—that some pledges might have been exacted by Conservative constituencies of opposition to these Acts. In the last two years, since June, 1883, the opposition to these Acts had made giant strides, chiefly, he might say without fear of contradiction, owing to the energy and earnestness of the President of the Local Government Board; and whether their Lordships agreed with him or not, they could not but admire the sincerity and persistency with which he had pursued what he believed to be the right course in regard to these Acts. He carried a Motion in the Commons in 1883 against them; the majority was 72. The opponents of these Acts, gaining courage, persevered in their endeavours under that able leadership; and the other day, on a similar Motion being brought forward, the majority was increased from 72 to 114. But by the majority in 1883 the principle of the Acts was virtually doomed, and compulsory examination was done away with, and an alternative scheme, voluntary examination, was proposed, so that women should be kept in hospital till they were cured of their maladies. But this Bill was never read a second time; and, after all, although the principle of the late Acts was disallowed in this Bill, there would have been a power of compulsory detention, and a knowledge of that power in the hands of those who might abuse it, who might use it in an arbitrary if not in an unjust way, was contrary to the idea of the liberty of the subject. There could be no half-measure; either they must have the matter compulsory or voluntary. The original principle of the measure being abrogated, it seemed of no use to keep such a measure on the Statute Book; and if it was not to be carried out energetically in its entirety, it was unfortunate that such a measure should be on the Book merely to be a dead letter. In asking the House to repeal these particular Acts he did not say that the only method of prevention was abolished. He had great hopes and faith that Local Bodies, now so jealous of Government interference, would undertake the duty, which ought to be their first duty, of providing for the morality of their streets and the health of their inhabitants. In undertaking that duty they had the support of the State, and, what they might consider of more importance, the hospital Votes had been left in this year's Estimates. Good works without number were undertaken by philanthropic bodies and individuals. He saw no reason why they should not extend their good offices in that direction. He might be asked what he thought of the Motion he made in regard to the Army, and whether quâ the Army he thought that it was advantageous to repeal the Acts. He would say frankly that he did not, as matters stood at present; but he did not think that a departmental opinion should carry an official away, but that he should consider the question as a whole and on the broadest views. Besides this, he was bound to say that, considering the smallness of the number of the Army in proportion to the rest of the community, he did not see how Her Majesty's Government could propose and advance legislation in regard to which the bulk of the community was strongly opposed to them, and which on many grounds presented itself as abhorrent to one's feelings and subversive of one of the first principles of our Constitution, more especially as he believed it was well within the power of those localities where soldiers were quartered, and certainly it was their duty, to endeavour to make such regulations as should provide against the evils they acknowledged, seeing how such localities benefited by the presence of the troops. In fact, these Acts existing only by popular consent, and that consent not only having been withdrawn, but expression having been made of severe condemnation, and the House of Commons having endorsed that condemnation twice, he trusted their Lordships would accede to the Motion he now proposed that this Bill be read a second time.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Sandhurst.)


said, his belief was that the effect of these Acts upon young women and girls had been of a most beneficial character, many hundreds having been rescued from a miserable existence and restored to their families, when discharged, through the influence of the matrons of the hospitals. He quite agreed, however, that when Acts of Parliament ceased to be operative it was better that they should not remain upon the Statute Book; but he could not help feeling that in many cases the repeal of these Acts would have a most deleterious effect, and would tend largely to increase juvenile prostitution, and to cause misery to those not yet in being. It should not be lost sight of that the clergy and the population of those places where these Acts had been put into force had been strongly in favour of them. It was right that he should say these few words on this subject, because while admitting that the character of the Acts was in itself objectionable, yet he felt that their effect was moral. He quite agreed, however, that in the circumstances of the case it would be absurd to offer any opposition to the second reading of the Bill. In his opinion the Local Authorities ought to be required to maintain some form of lock hospital for the reception of the unfortunate creatures dealt with by the Acts now about to be repealed.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.