HL Deb 21 June 1895 vol 34 cc1627-47

, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said he did not think the importance of the subject with which it dealt would be questioned. He should like to remove a misapprehension which he noticed had arisen from the fact that he was introducing this Bill. It had been supposed he had taken charge of it because it did not altogether meet with the approval of his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, within whose department the provisions of such a Bill would naturally fall. He had, therefore, to state that the Bill was a Home Office Bill, introduced with the full authority and sanction of his right hon. Friend. It was introduced by him in their Lordships' House because it was thought that, being a measure in no respect of a Party character, involving none of those questions which divided Parties, it might well be carefully and deliberately considered there in the first instance. Noble Lords sometimes complained that the Government did not introduce measures in that House, and he did not think they would complain that in the present instance this important measure was first brought to their Lordships' notice. ["Hear, hear."] If ever there was a Bill free altogether from Party aim or origin it was this one. In the year 1891 he called attention to the larger subject of the punishment of habitual criminals, alluding incidentally to this question of habitual drunkards. In 1892 he again called attention to the matter, and suggested that an inquiry should take place into the treatment of habitual drunkards, with the view of determining if any improvement of the law could be devised. He was told the Government had in view the appointment of a Committee; and the late Home Secretary appointed the following as a Committee to inquire into the subject:—Mr. Wharton, M.P. (chairman of the Durham Quarter Sessions), Sir William Guyer Hunter, Mr. Edward L. Pemberton (Assistant Under Secretary for the Home Department), Mr. Murdoch (of the Home Office), and Dr. Nicholson (Superintendent of the Broad-moor Criminal Lunatic Asylum). A Committee composed of these Gentlemen would hardly act in a very revolutionary spirit. After the present Government came into office a Committee was appointed by the Secretary for Scotland to inquire into the broader question of the treatment of habitual criminals, vagrants, and beggars, as well as inebriates. That Committee consisted of Sir Charles Cameron, Lieutenant-Colonel M'Hardy (Prison Commissioner for Scotland), Dr. Farquharson, M.P., Colonel Sir Colin Scott Moncrieff (Under Secretary for Scotland), Dr. J. D. Wilson (Professor of Law in the Aberdeen University), Dr. Sutherland (medical officer of the Glasgow Prison), and Miss Stevenson (a member of the Edinburgh School Boards). This Bill was founded on the recommendation of both Committees, because upon this subject of inebriates there was a very large agreement between the proposals of the Home Office Committee and the proposals of the Scotch Committee. He did not think there could be any difference of opinion as to the magnitude of the evil which was inquired into by those Committees. He doubted whether anyone could be found to say that our present method of dealing with those who were convicted of habitual drunkenness was satisfactory. It appeared that out of 33,000 women who were every year sent to prison for drunkenness 11,000 had not less than 10 convictions recorded against them; and of the men, 16,000 had each undergone not less than the same number of imprisonments. In one of the London prisons there were at the time the return was prepared 105 women who had been committed from 40 to 133 times. One woman had only a week's liberty during 12 months, although all her sentences had been very short ones. Another woman, in the course of a year and eight months, was convicted such a great number of times that she spent 138 days of that period in prison. But these figures did not probably represent more than half the number of times the men and women with whom he was dealing were convicted for drunkenness, because frequently the offenders changed their names, or were taken before other magistrates, or had the fines paid for them, when, of course, they did not go to prison. One woman had 400 convictions against her; but as her husband had paid £200 in fines on her behalf, she must have been 600 times for drunkenness at the police court. And that state of things did not exist in London alone, but in many part of England and Scotland, as was proved by the evidence given before the Home Office Committee and the Scotch Committee. It was certain that our present system of dealing with those cases entirely and absolutely failed. It neither cured nor deterred; and if it did not do the one or the other it failed absolutely for the purpose for which imprisonment was designed. Sir Andrew Clark, in his evidence before the Home Office Committee, put the case very truly when he said that short sentences had only the effect of strengthening the organisation to enable them to go on more drunken bouts when they got out; that in nine out of ten cases there was an orgie on the very day of their escape from prison; and that short sentences were useful for no purpose but the purpose of revenge. The present system had therefore failed. The waste it involved was most serious to contemplate. Every conviction involved the employment of the policeman in effecting the arrest, in appearing before the magistrate, and giving evidence before the magistrate; then there was the conveyance of the prisoner to the prison and the time of the officials of the prison in receiving and in dealing with the case. And all this was gone through over and over again, perhaps 20 or 30 times in the year in respect to one individual, without Society gaining anything or the individual gaining anything, because the only result was an orgie when the release from prison came. There seemed to be a very large agreement of opinion that it was hopeless to expect to do anything with habitual drunkards by means of confining them in places of retention unless they were detained for a sufficient length of time to render the cure hopeful. There was a further agreement that no period less than 12 months was sufficient for such purpose; that if those men and women who were now sent for a few days to prison time after time could be detained for a considerable period—a period very often not more than the total number of weeks they spend in prison—in an inebriate reformatory under healthful conditions, and employed in useful occupations, there would be every hope in a large number of cases of effecting a cure, of causing this drinking craze to cease, and so restoring those persons to Society as useful and not as disgraceful members of it. The Bill dealt with two classes of cases—habitual drunkards who had rendered themselves amenable to the criminal law, and habitual drunkards who had not rendered themselves amenable to the, law. They were entirely different classes, and the Bill proposed to deal with them in an entirely different fashion, and it might be right to deal with one without dealing with the other. He confessed that the part of the Bill by which he set most store, and which he believed would prove most largely useful, was the part which dealt with habitual drunkards who had rendered themselves amenable to the law in respect to drunkenness, or to offences connected with drunkenness. The Bill followed very closely the recommendations made by the two Committees. Of course the question was one of enormous difficulty. He did not for a moment conceal that. But after an inquiry had taken place at the instance of a public Department into a question such as this, and when a reform was almost universally admitted to be desirable, if they proposed legislation, at all, it was expedient to give the House the opportunity of considering the proposals that had been made by those who inquired into the matter. The Bill, therefore, followed in the main, with some slight modifications, the proposals upon which the two Committees had agreed. With regard to those persons who were convicted frequently of offences connected with drunkenness, and who were habitual drunkards, it was proposed to substitute a lengthened detention in an inebriates reformatory for the constant short imprisonments which were now the only remedy of the law. He thought anything short of that would be absolutely useless. The proposal of the Bill, therefore, was that an habitual drunkard, who had been repeatedly convicted for drunkenness, should be detained in an inebriate reformatory for a period of not less than 12 months. No one would say that 12 months' imprisonment under the ordinary conditions of imprisonment should be imposed even for repeated drunkenness. But to deal with habitual drunkards in an inebriate reformatory, in which the object was by a lengthened period of detention to effect a cure, was, it appeared to him, a different matter, and one which would not shock any sense of justice or propriety. That was a principle already recognised in the case of offenders of youthful years. Lads and girls were sent to reformatories for lengthened periods, not as a punishment for the offences they had committed, for such punishment in such cases would be outrageous, but to save them from lives of misery and crime. It seemed to him the application of that same principle was perfectly just in the case of habitual drunkards, that it would be the most merciful course for them as well as the most advantageous for the community, to detain them for a long time in a reformatory where they would be kept away from the opportunity of drink, and so in most cases be cured of the curse of drink. He should point out that the maximum period of five years mentioned in the Bill was an error. It should have been three years. The Scottish Committee proposed a maximum period of two and-a-half years. But that was a question of detail, and he need not enter into it now. The only principle involved was that the period should be sufficiently long to be useful for the purpose of a cure. The Bill related to those who were habitual drunkards, and the definition of habitual drunkards, with the variation he would mention shortly, was taken from the Habitual Drunkards Act now in force. With regard to those who had not rendered themselves amenable to the law, the Bill contained provisions which no doubt were of a serious and stringent character. At the present time there might be detention in a retreat, but it was a voluntary detention. The Bill proposed to permit detention to be obtained compulsorily by an order of the court in the case of those who were habitual drunkards. The application might be made either to the County Court or to the High Court. If made to the County Court, an order made might be appealed against to the High Court, therefore it might be said that, except by order of the High Court, no person could, in the last resort be subjected to a detention in a retreat under the provisions of the Bill. The Bill proposed that the minimum of detention should be 12 months and the maximum two years, but there was further provision, that during the time of detention the person detained might be allowed at large in order to ascertain whether the time had come when he might be safely let at liberty. The Bill also proposed, following the recommendations of the Committee, that the court should have power to appoint a person to take charge of the property of the person in retreat, if thought fit, during the time of detention. There were, no doubt, very great powers conferred on the court, but he did not think they were powers that were likely to be abused. As he had said, he admitted that the proposal to introduce compulsion in this way was a very serious one. He, however, could not think that it was one which, if the evil be serious enough, could not be trusted. No one who had studied the subject at all could fail to be aware of the many cases in which habitual drunkards were a curse to themselves and to a large circle surrounding them; he supposed there was hardly one of their Lordships who did not know of such cases. It was, of course, right to consider whether there was a risk of persons being detained who ought not to be detained. If there be not sufficient safeguards, if the provisions be too stringent on the one hand and not sufficiently guarded on the other hand, not only the Government, but every Member of it would be only too happy to consider any suggestion which would bring the Bill into harmony with the opinions and views of their Lordships and the other House, and at the same time meet the gigantic evil which existed. The idea that compulsion was expedient did not rest upon the opinion merely of the two Committees. Before the Home Office Committee there were placed the remarks of a number of boards of guardians all in favour of compulsory detension, and there were many representations of Justices of the Peace in the same direction. The question really was whether there was any reasonable prospect of a cure in cases of habitual drunkenness by means of detention. On that point, it seemed to him the evidence was very strong, although it was necessarily limited in its character. In the first place he would call attention to the memorial of a number of eminent medical men, which was presented to the Home Office Committee, on whose report this Bill was largely founded. That memorial was signed by medical men of the highest eminence, including Sir William Jenner and Sir Henry Acland. A number of the most eminent medical authorities—among them Sir W. Jenner, Sir H. Acland, Sir R. Quain, Sir R. Reynolds, Sir J. Erichsen, Sir W. Savory, and Sir J. Paget—had signed a memorandum expressing an earnest desire for the compulsory restraint—with all proper safeguards—of those men and women who could not control themselves in this direction; and expressing the opinion that much good might be done if compulsory detention could be enforced for a sufficient time. These medical authorities must come in contact with a great number of these unfortunate people, being consulted by the friends and relations, and their opinion was of great weight. There were called before the Committee some of those who had been concerned in keeping retreats or in managing them. Under the present system, of course, retreats had not a fair trial in any inquiry as to the percentage of cures, because some of the inmates left before they had been in retreat for any length of time. But one witness before the Committee was able to speak of 30 per cent, of cures, and another of 35 per cent., excluding those who might have been cured, but about whom there was no certain information. In a Scotch retreat, which had been open since 1876, of the 190 persons who passed through it, 78 were completely reformed. There were seven persons who had remained in this retreat for two years, and out of those seven five were completely cured. That was much larger than the general proportion of cures, and showed that in certain cases a lengthened period of detention was the only hope. One case which was mentioned was that of a colonel's wife, who had been 22 months in the house, and whose husband was also addicted to intemperance. At the end of the 22 months this lady left the home. That was six years before the evidence was given; and during the whole of that time she had seemed to be perfectly cured of the disease; and this, notwithstanding the unfavourable conditions involved in living with a husband who was occasionally addicted to drink. There were plenty of details in the Bill for criticism, and perhaps for condemnation; but all that was asked for now was a Second Reading of the Bill. If the House came to the conclusion that it was not safe to deal with the non-criminal cases—though he hoped that would not be their conclusion—still they could hardly doubt that an effort ought to be made to deal with the criminal cases, so as to make the law more rational and productive of good. The Government asked the co-operation, of the House in this matter. They were not wedded to the exact provisions of the Bill, but he trusted that a measure would be framed which would pass through both Houses of Parliament and bring benefit and happiness to the multitudes in the community who were touched so nearly by this terrible question.


said that he was glad the noble and learned Lord had postponed the discussion of the Bill, because, while his first impulse had been to move the rejection of the measure, he knew that there were portions of it which might with advantage be passed into law. If what the Lord Chancellor had called the "non-criminal" part of the Bill were struck out, he should heartily support some form—he did not think the Bill was the best form—of legislation for those habitual drunkards who had disobeyed the law, and therefore forfeited their right to free action. He should be glad to make the punishment of these persons more rational than it had been shown to be at present. He believed that the case made which induced Mr. Matthews to issue his Departmental communication was the constant appearance of persons at the police courts who had been convicted 30, 40, or 50 times and committed for short terms of imprisonment. That state of things did not seem very good either for the State or for the individual, and therefore the communication was issued. But those who undertook the inquiry went a little beyond what they were asked to do. They were asked— to inquire into the great differences of opinion which had arisen as to what kind and degree of punishment for offences committed by habitual drunkards would be most effectual both as a deterrent and with a view to the reformation of such offenders. Therefore the Commission was designed with a view to the case of the offending drunkards only. At the end of the reference there were indeed these words:— I therefore appoint yon to inquire into the best mode of dealing with habitual drunkards; and those words seemed wider than the preliminary words which he had quoted. But in the ordinary construction of the English language no one would think of reading the latter words without reference to the former. He should be glad to assist in any legislation which would substitute a more rational mode of punishment for that which at present existed in connection with persons guilty over and over again of drunkenness; and it might well be that there was a better form of punishment than that now provided. But there was a slight confusion in the mind of the draughtsman of this Bill, who had mixed up the reformation and cure with the punishment of drunkenness That confusion ran throughout the Bill. One of the eminent medical men who gave evidence on this question repudiated the idea of punishment altogether. He treated the question as one simply for cure, and regarded drunkenness as a disease. The Bill at present was a most serious and extraordinary innovation. It was nothing more nor less than a repeal of the Habeas Corpus Act. That upon any evidence at all—he did not care what—a person guilty of a particular kind of vice should, without, having committed any infraction of the law, be deprived of his liberty as though he had infringed the law, was a most extraordinary development of the notions of legislation. These things might be done with a perfectly good motive, and with an overwhelming desire to benefit individuals, but possible consequences of such legislation appeared to have been lost sight of. Authority was vested in a Judge of the High Court, without a jury, and without any appeal. He would deal presently with the interpretation clause, which he regarded as a gem in its way. If anybody came forward to say that a certain person was an habitual drunkard, it would be possible to shut that person up and order his affairs to be administered by someone else in the meantime. That offered the temptation to the friends, relations, and others enumerated in the Bill to shut up a person in order to become the receivers and administrators of his estate, though the hypothesis was that the person suffering from this unfortunate malady was only incapable of managing his affairs when under the influence of drink, and while he was in retreat he could not get drink. This presented a very serious temptation indeed. [Cheers.] Many people would say of some of the relations that they managed the affairs very badly; and also if they happened to take more drink than was good for them, the necessary proposition would be established. The application could be made not necessarily by those most interested in the dipsomaniac, as he would call him. It might be husband, wife, parent, brother, or sister, or "anybody else by leave of the court." Had it never occurred to the framers of this Bill that the allegation in question was just one of those vague charges which afforded the most ample opportunity for the vilest form of crime—what the French called chantage, and what we called blackmail? How many people were likely to be assailed by that form of crime if anybody might apply to the Courts. It might be said that the Court would not act on the application unless the charge were established. But what about the mere application to the Court concerning what were a man's private habits? It seemed to him that the whole case bristled with this sort of interference with private and domestic life. The moment they got out of the region of public offence committed and established before a public tribunal, that moment they entered upon an inquiry into private and domestic life, which might be instituted for purposes quite other than the reformation of the unfortunate dipsomaniac. It was a very remarkable thing that, in the statistics on which this particular form of compulsion was supposed to be founded, while it was stated that one person in 190 in England was brought before the magistrates and made the subject of criminal investigations in respect of drunkenness, the number in Ireland was about double. Why, then, was Ireland out of the Bill? Why was Ireland to be deprived of this new form of reformation? Perhaps some explananation would be given, of that. He noticed that his noble and learned Friend had now introduced into the Definition Clause the use of opium or any other drug.


was understood to say that that was done on the recommendation of the Committee.


said, he wondered whether tea was a drug that came within, the definition. If the noble and and learned Lord would refer to the evidence he would see why he asked that question. A medical gentleman spoke of his experience with a patient who was in a retreat for excessive tea-drinking. It was stated that she would consume a pound of tea in a day, that many if the symptoms were the same as those arising from alcoholism, that she had developed a tendency to pawn every thing she could lay her hands on for the sake of getting tea. He believed tea drinking was a common habit in Ireland, and again he asked—Why was Ireland excluded from the Bill? There was in the evidence a description of what was done with this patient. He would not press for an answer to the question whether tea was a drug within the meaning of the definition. If it were there would be great fear whether the amount of tea drinking in certain quarters in London might not be the subject of one of these charges. He did not want to treat this matter lightly, for he supposed there was not one who had not heard of some person who was an infliction to his family. He did not deny that there was a great prevalence of the vice, but was it necessary to alter the whole law of liberty to deal with it? It appeared to him that this Bill amounted to an alteration of the law to a most serious extent. He would be very glad indeed if there was such an institution in England as the French Conseil de famille, but to say that anyone who pleased might apply to a County Court Judge to shut up somebody else appeared to him to be the very extravagance of legislation, and if the Bill had not comprehended what he conceived to be a proper subject for inquiry he should have moved its rejection altogether. He did not, however, propose to take that course, and had only indicated generally what the line of his opposition to the measure was. He had only further to say that he hoped that that part of the Bill to which he had taken exception would be thrown out by their Lordships.


said, that when he came down to the House he had not the slightest intention of addressing their Lordships on this subject. But as a witness of the extreme good that had been affected in other countries by legislation of this kind, he could not refrain from expressing his earnest hope that his noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack would not take the advice of the noble and learned Lord who spoke last as to that portion of the Bill to which he objected.


I did not venture to give any advice to the Lord Chancellor.


said, he did not think our friends in the United States and the Colonies were at all indifferent to personal liberty, and yet they had passed legislation of a similar character. He would say no more now than that he hoped his noble and learned Friend would not withdraw any part of the Bill though it might be subject to some modification in Committee.


said, that no one could doubt the admirable motive that had suggested this Bill or the benevolence of the object in the mind of the Lord Chancellor; but it was a very grave and serious thing to give enormous powers to interfere with the liberty of the subject in relation to matters which were not offences against the law. If this Bill passed in its present shape, it would be full of danger if it was not very temperately administered, and this was the time to indicate particularly some of the considerations which must be borne in mind at a subsequent stage. He claimed to be as good a friend of temperance as anyone in the House, and he recognised the necessity of doing everything that could be suggested to assist those who desired to put down the enormous evil that sprang from the intemperate use of intoxicants; but that did not compel him to put his judgment aside, and neglect the safeguards that were necessary in practical legislation. Drunkards were divided into two clases. The first comprised those who violated the law, and so became amenable to its discipline, and he was sorry to say that that was a very numerous class. The second class was composed of those who did not violate the law or come before its tribunals. Enormous care ought to be exercised in dealing with this latter class in order that nothing might be done to interfere with the liberty of the subject, and that safeguards might be secured to prevent scandalous abuses. The way in which this class had hitherto been dealt with was by public opinion, by the advice of friends, and the entreaty of families, though these methods were not always successful. The law made a step in the direction of dealing with this class when the Habitual Drunkards Acts of 1879 and 1888 were passed. Parliament then had before it recommendations which suggested coercion, but declined to entertain them, and laid it down in those Acts that it would only recognise the principle, that the people who suffered from this terrible temptation, should be accorded an opportunity of going voluntarily into an asylum and submitting themselves voluntarily to discipline for 12 months. The asylums established for this purpose were availed of to some extent, but only by those who had means to pay for themselves. Recognising the limited scope and operation of the present law on the subject, anyone could see that it was an enormous change to suggest that coercion, should be applied and that the Court should be enabled to deal in invitum with those parties who at present were violating no law of the land. With regard to the other great class of drunkards, which unfortunately could be counted by hundreds and thousands—the criminal habitual drunkards could be brought before the Courts. It was impossible to say how wide the class was, and his noble and learned Friend in the figures he gave did not overstate them in the slightest degree. There were people who spent the best part of their lives in gaol. There was a recorded instance of one person who had been convicted 400 times, and others had been convicted 350, 200, 100, 50 times. There was even a case, put down as coming from Ireland, of a person who was convicted in one year as many as 52 times. So this was an enormous question requiring the most anxious consideration. But these were the cases of people who violated the law, and came before the tribunals of the country. It was clearly desirable to do something to cope with the difficulties presented by these repeated convictions and short sentences, for it was obvious that they had failed in their purpose. A life spent in going into and coming out of gaol was an appalling thing to contemplate. It was dreadful to think that people who had led such lives became the parents of children with the drunkard's taint in their blood. If a remedy could be found for these evils, it would be a matter for rejoicing. But this Bill proposed for the first time to deal coercively with those who did not violate the law, and it was obvious that if any change of this kind were to be made it must be surrounded by the strictest safeguards. He questioned whether the Bill as framed did not lend itself to grave abuse. There might be men of large means of which other people would be very glad to have the spending. He held that it ought to be provided that ample notice should be given to a person whom it was sought to make amenable under this measure, so that he might, attend the court in person, accompanied by professional advisers. At present there appeared to be no safeguard of that kind in the Bill. It was not improbable that some one who was anxious to reform an individual might also be anxious to have a receiver appointed over his property and an order made that the balance of his property, after providing for him in a retreat or asylum, should be devoted to the applicant and the members of his family. The dangers of this legislation were clear, and the safeguards against possible abuse should be precise. Different considerations presented themselves in connection with the wide class of habitual drunkards who violated and became amenable to the law. He doubted whether it was wise to group together different classes of offenders as was done in Clause 5 of this Bill. Sir John Bridge, whose experience and ability were well known, had stated in evidence that one of the most effectual ways of treating an habitual drunkard was by the method of "recognizance and pledge." The Bill proposed to give a magistrate the power of imposing sentences of not less than 12 months' detention and not more than 3 years'. It would be reasonable to permit the more moderate mode of restraint which had been found so efficacious by Sir J. Bridge. This was to require the recognizances of the person charged and of two of his friends, and at the same time to exact a pledge of sobriety from the person charged, the understanding being that if that pledge were violated the man or woman would be called up for sentence. No debate upon an English subject would be complete without a reference to Ireland. The way Ireland came into this Bill was by being left out of it. They had in Ireland very good whisky and porter, and even in Ireland there were some men who were not able to determine exactly what was the proper quantity to take. But neither the Local Veto Bill nor this Bill was to apply to Ireland. It was reserved for poor Englishmen and Scotchmen to be made sober by the votes of Irishmen, who did not want such legislation for themselves. This exclusion of Ireland he quite failed to understand. What was the meaning of it? He heard the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack say that the subject had been specially inquired into in England and Scotland, but not in Ireland. Was that the explanation of Ireland's exclusion? The noble and learned Lord nodded his head. A man who would nod his head in assent to that would express assent to any proposition that could be made on the habitable globe. Was the noble and learned Lord satisfied that Irishmen were so much more sober than the inhabitants of other parts of the kingdom that legislation of this kind was not needed in their case? Why this very Bill was to be read with previous Inebriates Acts which applied to Ireland, and yet it was proposed that this new measure which was to amend these Acts should not apply to Ireland! This exclusion was very curious, and at a future stage of the Bill he proposed again to call attention to it.


ventured to recommend to Lord Stanmore, who had spoken about the action of the Australian colonies with regard to inebriates as distinguished from habitual drunkards, to read the evidence which Mr. Munro gave to the Inebriates' Committee respecting Victoria. He should be glad to be furnished with statistics showing that legislation respecting inebriates had ever had any effect in our Australian colonies. Mr. Munro spoke of legislation regarding inebriates as hopeless. Habitual drunkards were on a different fooling, for, as Mr. Munro said, they were sent always to gaol.


said, that an Irishman must always have a grievance. He ventured to say that if the operation of the Bill had been extended to Ireland his noble and learned Friend (Lord Ashbourne) would have denounced that just as vigorously as he now denounced the exclusion of Ireland. The fact was that the Committee appointed by the Home Secretary of the late Government examined witnesses from England and one or two from Scotland, but they examined nobody from Ireland. Therefore they did not purport to make any investigation that might afford ground for legislation in respect of Ireland. If such an investigation were made hereafter it might well be followed by similar legislation. The criticisms of his noble and learned Friend (Lord Halsbury) were not without force, but they were due, to some extent, to a lack of confidence in the Courts of this country. He had more confidence in our Courts than the noble and learned Lord, who said that somebody would only have to go before a Judge and assert that a man was an habitual drunkard in order to get the control over his property. [Lord HALSBURY: "I did not say that."] He knew that the noble and learned Lord had not said so, but that idea was the substratum of the noble Lord's opposition. He had himself more confidence in Her Majesty's Judges. He believed the Judges would be very slow to exercise those powers except on the most cogent and satisfactory evidence. His noble and learned Friend said he might have been prepared, as an alternative, to assent to a provision for some conseil de famille, who would deal with the particular drunkard and deprive him for a time of his liberty. There were many who would say that such an alternative was as much, if not more, open to abuse as leaving liberty of action to be fettered by a Judge. His noble and learned Friend seemed to think that a man had a perfect right to be an habitual drunkard if only he did not go into the streets or some public place and break the law. He differed from that view entirely. There were cases—it was difficult to define them—in which an habitual drunkard, whether husband or wife, seemed to be worse than many criminals. The children neglected, the father or mother having to send them away, clothes pawned, the children often left for a time without food—not to such an extent as to amount to cruelty in the eye of the criminal law, but violating every possible duty a father or mother could owe to children, or husband and wife to one another—he regarded that as a most serious and terrible state of things. If they could deal with cases of that description, if they could mitigate such misery, it was worth while making an effort, even running some risk, to do so. They could not have legislation without a certain risk, though by all means let the risk be limited as much as possible. If they proposed to substitute certain named persons, members of the family, with some supervision of the Court, for the proposal in the Bill, that would be a way of dealing with the problem which he would be happy to consider and put into shape. There was on difference of opinion with regard to the object at which the Bill aimed, and it was his earnest hope that it might be put into a condition likely to make the measure at once effective and safe.


This discussion has been so much in the hands of learned Members of the House that I wish to make the protest of a layman before the discussion closes. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack based the whole of that part of the Bill to which we object—namely, the first part, upon his opinion of the commonsense of the Judges of the High Court. We talk so much of confidence in the Debates of these later days that we have an idea of its being our business to have confidence in everybody under all circumstances. My impression is that when you come to give exceptional powers in breach of the existing law which have never been given before, the question you have to ask is—Whom shall I distrust? What cause have I to distrust any of those in whose hands power is placed. Here you give power over the liberty of men that you have never given before. You allow a single Judge, without appeal, without a jury, on an accusation obviously vague, obviously incapable of being reduced to definite statement—you allow him to deprive a man of his liberty for two years, practically to consign him to prison. You say that the Judges have common sense and will never misuse their great powers; but what is the reason of that long list of precautions by which in the course of our history we have surrounded the exorcise of power by the Judges? If all the Judges are to be so trusted, why was the Habeas Corpus Act passed? Why do juries exist? Why are the Judges not allowed to dispose of questions of life and property without the cumbrous and lengthy interference of a jury—if you may rely in all cases upon the simple formula that a Judge of the High Court cannot commit any breach of common sense? I have a great esteem for Judges of the High Court, and I admit that in the greater number of cases they would not do anything which you could censure with respect to such powers as these. But you may come across a Judge with a crank. I have known such persons. You may come across a Judge with a special prejudice on this subject of drink which drives people so wild—not only the people who drink, but the people who abstain from it. You may come across some Judge who thinks that any breach of sobriety is a sufficient reason for sending a man to prison for two years. There are persons whose interest it is that their relations should go to prison. There are wives who would be well satisfied that the supervision of their husbands should be withdrawn for a couple of years. There are heirs who would be well satisfied to possess the handling of their predecessor's money and estate during that period of two years. And it will be for them to procure the evidence and bring it forward. This evidence will not be tested by the ordinary machinery of the Courts of law. There will be no jury to test whether it is sincere, or dictated by parties, or the result of conspiracy. It will simply be decided by a Judge who may possess that infallibility which the noble Lord on the Woolsack attributes to all Judges; or ho may possibly fall from that high ideal, and from carelessness or prejudice or particular opinion may at all events give a decision which would justify the prudence of our forefathers, who have required that man's liberties should not be dealt with except by Judges under the check of a jury or by Chairmen of Quarter Sessions under the check of the colleagues who sit by them. My Lords, I cannot help touching upon another matter which has been alluded to, and that is the extreme danger of enabling persons to bring before the Courts of Law men who have committed no crime, but only something which is censurable in their private lives. The danger is the danger of blackmail. Take persons whose reputation is what I may call delicate—clergymen, medical men, men of trust. What a danger you are exposing them to if you allow any evidence to be brought forward without any check or penalty, stamping them with a disgrace which they will not easily wash out; and if you expose them, without the securities the law has hitherto given to the humblest criminal, to a sentence of imprisonment for two years, it will not be a simple sentence of imprisonment for two years, but a stigma that will last their lives. My Lords, you are meddling with edged tools. You are treating very lightly the liberty of the subject, and I hope the three first clauses of the Bill will not, at least in their present form, ever appear on the Statute Book. [Cheers.]


The noble Marquess has laid down some general principles with which I for my part entirely concur—namely, that you ought not, in a matter of this kind, to repose absolute confidence in any man, and if it be necessary to safeguard in any way the provisions of this Bill—and the noble Marquess himself suggested such safeguards—I I feel certain the Lord Chancellor would carefully consider them when the Bill goes into Committee. But, on the other hand, the noble Marquess almost goes the length of determining that it is impossible in any way to deal with this great evil. I do not think anyone can possibly deny that there is a great evil to be coped with. I am afraid there are numerous cases in which whole families are made utterly miserable from the presence in their midst of an habitual drunkard. To lay it down absolutely that you will on no account run any risk whatever of a possibly unfair decision, or of some case where you may bring forward an accusation against a person, which may be without foundation—to lay that down as a general principle is to go too far. I do hope that the House will not approach this Bill with a fixed determination, which I almost thought was announced by the noble Marquess, at once and peremptorily to reject the main provisisns of the Bill, but will consider whether there are not provisions which might be usefully enacted. I only rose for the purpose of saying that the noble Marquess made, if I may say so without offence, almost too savage an onslaught upon that portion of the Bill, and that I hope that it will be considered without prejudice, with a view to seeing if it be possible to deal with an evil which certainly exists, and which it would be a great happiness to your Lordships if we could diminish. [Cheers.]

Bill read 2a.