§ Order of the Day for receiving the Report of Amendments, read.
THE LORD BISHOP OF LONDON
My Lords, I hope you will not think me guilty of any disrespect if at this stage withdraw this Bill. I do so with the full assent of all those who have taken part 183 in its promotion, and I do so upon three grounds. The first is that the Amendments which have been already introduced have so greatly changed the character of the Bill that I and those who have supported it feel that we must consider very carefully the effect of those Amendments before we continue to support the Bill. I will mention two points to show that it is really considered reasons which have urged me to drop the Bill. The first is that it is very questionable whether, with the Bill so amended, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which has borne the great brunt of preventing these cases, could really continue its work at all, because private prosecutions seem to be very much hampered by the first clause as amended. The second reason is, although it was no doubt very far from the noble Marquess's (Lord Salisbury's) intention, that by his Amendment now in the Bill we should be leaving those up to the age of twenty-one practically to do as they like. Those two Amendments, of course, very much change the character of the measure. Then from a legal point of view consideration is required as to how this Bill will work. The other ground for withdrawing the Bill is that it cannot possibly become law this session. I therefore propose to bring the subject before your Lordships again early next session, and I trust that you will see your way to have a Select Committee upon it in order that we may thresh the matter out in detail; and then when we have a measure upon which we can thoroughly agree I hope we shall be able to press it through both your Lordships' House and another place.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, I am very glad that the right rev. Prelate has announced his intention not only of bringing this Bill in again I hope in the first week of next session but of sending it to a Select Committee, because it seems to me that a Select Committee is the exact body to deal with this very difficult class of case. Our discussion in Committee the other night showed two conflicting trends of opinion. In the first place, there is the public opinion which stands behind the promoters of this Bill. It is a very strong volume of public opinion, including that of a vast number of women in this country who feel very strongly the evils that exist and the dangers to which the present state of the law, in their opinion, exposes very young girls; and the promoters of the Bill 184 believe, rightly or wrongly, that such a change in the law as is represented in this Bill would do very much to mitigate if not to remove those evils. On the other side we have the warning of some of the most experienced administrators and lawyers in this country. Your Lordships heard what the Lord Chancellor said, and the report he gave of the opinion of those whom he had consulted. We also had a very interesting and forceful speech from my noble friend Lord Parmoor. The task of Parliament is to try and reconcile by a proper balance these two conflicting trends of thought, and I think it is almost impossible to do that in a Committee of the Whole House. But in a Select Committee the whole of this matter can be threshed out, and the weight of the objections and the value of the proposed remedies can be tested. Therefore, although I deeply regret that there should be any delay in dealing with this question, I am quite sure that the right rev. Prelate will do a wise thing if he asks this House to send his Bill at a very early date next session to a Select Committee.
§ *LORD BRAYE
My Lords, may I remind the noble Earl who has just sat down that this matter has been already before a Select Committee which sat in 1881. I presume that the evidence of that Committee is still obtainable in a Blue Book. It is evidence of a very startling nature and of a very painful kind. But the point I should like to impress upon your Lordships is that the whole matter was as far as possible threshed out and thoroughly investigated by that Committee. I forget how long the Committee actually sat—I think I am the only surviving member—but at all events it occupied a considerable portion of the session, and the Blue Book, which contains the evidence verbatim, is, I presume, obtainable by any member of your Lordships' House. If the right rev. Prelate who has just announced his withdrawal of this Bill is of opinion that the matter can be expedited by a Select Committee no harm can accrue from going over the investigation again. I presume that the number of the Committee would be about the same—I think thirteen—as sat on the Committee of 1881. However that may be, if the proposal in any way serves to expedite the matter or to clear the way for a Bill which will deal will an atrocious and abominable system, I for one would give it my hearty support.
THE EARL OF MEATH
My Lords, I am very pleased to hear that the right rev. Prelate intends to withdraw his Bill and to bring it forward again, but I should like to be perfectly certain that the public will not thereby think that the House of Lords as a body are at all unfavourable to the Bill. I am perfectly certain that that is not the ease, and that it is simply and solely withdrawn in order that it may be improved. There are conflicting opinions upon certain points which there will be time to consider very carefully, and I am pleased to think that in a very short time we shall have a really good Bill before us.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I think that the right rev. Prelate has taken a wise course in asking leave to withdraw the Bill at this stage of the session. The questions which the Bill raises are questions of great gravity. They are attracting new interests and are being approached from a new point of view, and that in itself is a justification for regarding the work done by the old Committee as requiring to be supplemented by further consideration to-day. Speaking for the Government, I do not in the least underrate the consideration of the matters which the right rev. Prelate has brought forward. On the other hand, as Lord Selborne has pointed out, there is another side to every one of these questions. Considerations, also of great gravity, arise which cannot be ignored; and without the bringing to bear of the best skill in the preparation of a Bill of this kind it is hopeless to expect it to progress. In those circumstances I think that the right rev. Prelate has done well to take the course of proposing to bring the matter before you again in the shape of a Bill early next session, and to have that Bill referred to a Select Committee which will investigate the matters to which it relates.
§ Order of the Day for receiving the Report of Amendments discharged, and Bill (by leave of the House) withdrawn.