HL Deb 23 July 1918 vol 30 cc1053-4

LORD MUIR MACKENZIE rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether the necessary steps will be taken immediately to complete the constitution of the Joint Committee on the Criminal Law Amendment Bill [H.L.]; and whether the Government will give an assurance that they will proceed at once with legislation as soon as the Committee shall have reported.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am sure my noble irfend will not be surprised at my asking this Question. A Motion was passed in this House unanimously asking the other House to concur in the appointment of a Joint Committee for dealing with the Bill mentioned in the Question and the Sexual Offences Bill [H.L.], and there was a very strong feeling expressed in this House that it was desirable to take a course which would enable this matter to be dealt with with the greatest possible expedition. Tea weeks elapsed from the time when that Motion was passed in this House before it was placed before the other House. Directly it was placed before the other House, although a Division was called, the whole House with the exception of four voted for concurring with this House in the appointment of a Joint Committee. It therefore appears that the other House as well as this House was anxious that the matter should be expeditiously proceeded with. I do not think I am unreasonable in suggesting that we should have some assurance that the matter will now be proceeded with as quickly as may be possible, and that at any rate there will be no danger of so great a space of time as ten weeks again elapsing. I beg to ask the two-headed Question which stands in my name, and I shall be much obliged if my noble friend will give me an answer.


My Lords, I am not at all surprised at my noble friend's Question, and I can assure him that I regret as much as he does the delay which has taken place. I can speak in the same terms for the Secretary of State. My noble friend will have observed already that the names of the Peers who are good enough to serve on the Committee have been passed by this House, and I believe a Message has gone to the other House of Parliament. Owing to the business in the House of Commons and owing also to the Secretary of State's somewhat protracted absence in Holland this delay has taken place which we all so much regret, and I may thank the noble Lord and his friends also for what I must say has been great forbearance in regard to this matter. In regard to procedure, I believe it to be this: There are two Bills referred to this Joint Select Committee. They will be dealt with by the Joint Select Committee, and after having been amended they will come back and go through in this House their various stages, the House being asked to agree to the Amendments; but the Secretary of State desires me to say that he could not give a definite pledge as to legislation or the form of legislation before he has been able to scrutinise the Bills after they emerge from the Joint Select Committee and also from this House. I can, however, assure my noble friend that it is the earnest desire to pass a Bill on this important subject as soon as the Secretary of State can manage it.


Would it be possible to give an Instruction to the Joint Committee that it should take certain clauses which are very urgently required and not controversial, and put them into a separate Bill to be dealt with before the larger questions come up, which may take some time? There is real urgency in regard to Clauses 5, 6 and 7 of the Criminal Law Amendment Bill. Shocking cases have been brought to my notice of late which show the real need for the kind of protection that will be given, I believe, by Clause 5.


It would be hardly possible, I am afraid, to give the Instruction which the noble Lord desires, but no doubt the Committee in its deliberations will take its own course and suggest what it thinks right; but I cannot say that I quite agree with my noble friend that there will be an absence of opposition, on which matter I think he is rather over sanguine.