§ Order of the Day for the consideration of Commons Amendments read.
THE LORD BISHOP OF NORWICH
My Lords, in moving that the Commons Amendments to this Bill be now considered, I think it may be of advantage that I should say a few general words upon my attitude to the whole question, and so avoid repeating myself as each Amendment comes under review. That will save the time of the House. I hope that you will be ready to accept all the Commons Amendments. In asking you to do that; I do not for one moment say that I consider the Bill has been returned to us in an improved shape. On the contrary, I think that our Bill, as it left this House, was the better one. Moreover, it was a kind of agreed measure, as the result of the work of a Joint Committee. Therefore, I think it is rather a pity that in another place modifications were made in it, and some irrelevant matter introduced. I would also point out that in the House of Commons the Bill passed at a very late hour, when it was not likely to receive the consideration which, in other circumstances, might have been given to it. But in view of the time-table, and of the great congestion of business that there is in both Houses at the present time, I very urgently ask your Lordships to be willing to accept these Amendments. I have good grounds for fearing that, if your Lordships refuse to receive these Amendments, the whole Bill may be lost. I, for one, certainly consider that, though the Bill as it emerged from another place is not as good a Bill as it was when it left your Lordships' House, nevertheless there would be substantial gain in accepting the Amendments in order that the Bill may be passed.
I have made considerable inquiries to see whether there really is time for the Bill again to pass between this House and the House of Commons, and I have come to the deliberate opinion that the only way to save the Bill is to accept the House of Commons Amendments. I would ask your Lordships to believe that, when I hear the rejection of this or that Amendment made by the Commons urged in this House, I shall have sympathy with the arguments, and, indeed, might even have been able to try to contribute to them. But that is not my point at the moment. My point is that it rests with us either to accept the Amendments and pass the Bill, or to refuse the Amendments and lose the Bill. It was 566 understood some time ago that only agreed business, apart from Government business, could be taken in another place. Perhaps that was rather generously interpreted in permitting this Bill to come forward at all, but I feel confident that it would not be so fortunate on a second occasion, and that it would be impossible for it to be regarded a second time as more or less of an agreed measure. My task is a very difficult one in attempting to represent the Bishop of London, but I ask your Lordships to be kind enough to believe that I am not obstinately unsympathetic to the proposals to reject the Commons Amendments. Far from it. I think there is a very great deal to be said for the rejection of those Amendments, but I feel sure that if, after discussion, those Amendments are rejected, we shall lose the Bill.
May I, in conclusion, say that we are making it harder for the cowardly forces of evil to prevail, and I think we should make a mistake if, by insisting on the superiority of the Bill as it left us, we took away from our hands the opportunity that we now have of carrying out a much-needed reform. If we accept these Amendments to-night we will help to protect those who need our protection. I hope, therefore, that we shall accept the Amendments and pass the Bill even in an inferior shape, rather than run the risk of seeing nothing done at all. As I am now in charge of the Bill, I thought it was right for me to say so much on the whole question, and to explain my own feelings. I only hope that I have said nothing which transgresses the limits of diffidence and respectfulness.
§ Moved, That the Commons Amendments be now considered.—(The Lord Bishop of Norwich.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, before that Motion is put from the Woolsack, I should like to say that, so far as I am concerned, while I should find no difficulty in conforming to the wishes of the right rev. Prelate upon almost all the Amendments which the House of Commons have sent to your Lordships, in relation to two of them I find myself quite unconvinced by the reasons which have been given by the right rev. Prelate. I refer in the first place to your Lordships' Amendment as to the hearing of incest cases in public, and, in the second place, I have in my mind the extraordinary proceeding, as it appears to me, under which, in the early hours of the morning in another place, there has 567 been introduced an Amendment of the Criminal Law, neither discussed here, nor much discussed there, having no relation at all to the subject matter of the Bill in which it has been incorporated, and being most highly disputable upon its merits. I shall have something to say when this particular amendment comes forward.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.