§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Buck-master.)
THE EARL OF DESART
My Lords, before the Question is put to the House I would venture to make an appeal to the noble and learned Lord to allow the Committee stage to be adjourned for a few days. Your Lordships will remember that this Bill was read a second time on Tuesday and this is only Thursday. It is, I think, an unusually short interval between the Second Reading and the Committee stage. I know that the Amendment which my noble and learned friend, Lord Darling, wishes to move has been notified quite late because of that short interval. I have only just seen it, and I suppose hardly any other member of your Lordships' House has seen it or knows what it is. I think that a Bill of this kind, however simple it appears in the form which received almost universal approbation after the eloquent speech which the noble and learned Lord made in introducing it, deserves a little time for consideration. I hope he will not think I am opposed to the principle of the Bill. Exactly the contrary is the case. But I think it is possible that there may be some subsidiary provision which it might be desirable to insert, and it is really owing almost to the simplicity of the Bill that there is a danger that something may be overlooked.
Speaking for myself, so far as I shall be able to take any part in the matter, I should like to have a little time to consider it, because the last thing that one wants is to pass anything which would either wreck the object of the noble and learned Lord or raise questions with which the House ought not to be troubled. It is on that ground only that I make this appeal. It cannot really affect seriously the passing of the Bill, in whatever form it emerges into law, nor affect it 1033 so far as its coming into operation is concerned. I really think a short delay would not ultimately injure in any way the object which the noble and learned Lord has in view, which he expounded to us so eloquently and which I honestly desire to carry into effect. It is because I feel entirely with him on the principle of the Bill that I submit that we ought to have a little more time for consideration.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I will tell the noble Earl quite frankly that it appeared to me, and still appears to me, completely impossible for anybody to want to put down Amendments to this Bill when they have approved—even with cordiality—what is the whole provision of the Bill, that marriages between people under the age of sixteen shall be void. The noble Earl says it makes no difference to me if the Committee stage is postponed. Of course, were that so, I should postpone it at once, but in my view it would make a great deal of difference. I am not without hope that if this Bill gets speedily through your Lordships' House it may receive some consideration in another place. I am well aware that every week—I might say every day—by which you postpone its passage will hinder the prospect of that. It is on account of that, and that only, that I am so anxious to proceed in the matter. I feel quite sure that, although the noble Marquess who leads the House has never promised that the Government would entertain this Bill, he would agree with me in saying that the possibility of its being able to be done would largely depend upon the time in which it passes.
The noble Earl assumes—I cannot help thinking he assumes incorrectly—that it is perfectly easy to put this stage down for another day. If the Committee stage is not taken to-day I do not think it will be possible to put it down for a week, or nearly a week. Then you will have an interval before it can be put down for Third Reading. May I suggest to the noble Earl that if he is really anxious to see any Amendments he would have plenty of time, because the Third Reading cannot take place before next Wednesday at the earliest, and between now and then a Bill so pitifully short could be examined and, if he so desired, be turned inside out. There is nothing in the world to prevent a serious Amend- 1034 ment if there be one, but the Amendment suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Darling—I do not say it disrespectfully to him—seems to me barely serious, and I cannot think that anybody would, or could, put down serious Amendments to this Bill if he were in truth in favour of the provision that I have read, which was received so cordially by the House a few days ago.
§ LORD DARLING
My Lords, if the suggestion of my noble and learned friend Lord Desart is not adopted, I think I can very soon convince your Lordships, and even my noble and learned friend himself, that my Amendments are very serious indeed. I cannot help thinking that if, before bringing in this Bill, he had considered what would be its necessary operation it would have come before your Lordships in a very different form. I think I can satisfy your Lordships in a few words that upon some of the law which my noble and learned friend stated to your Lordships; he was by no means as accurate as he generally is upon, let us say, equity procedure. What he said really dealt with the Criminal Law, and I think I can satisfy your Lordships that he has not realised all the points that are involved in the Bill that he has introduced.
When I listened to some of the words he used, I thought of getting up at one point to correct my noble and learned friend, but I know that in this House that is never a popular way of behaving in debate, and therefore I allowed the matter to go. His words have appeared in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and I must now read to your Lordships what my noble and learned friend said. He gave one or two cases, and then, referring to another case, he said:—In that case a child of twelve or thirteen—her exact age is not quite clear—was raped by a man of twenty-nine, and the man was charged with rape before the magistrate. It was then suggested that, if he married the girl, she would be unable to give evidence against him, and he might be acquitted of the charge, and that was done, and this man, who ought to have been sent to gaol for the longest possible period that the law permits, was allowed to enter into a union blessed by tie law with the little creature against whom he had perpetrated this unforgivable wrong.When my noble and learned friend brought this before your Lordships, he accepted that those who advised the girl 1035 were good lawyers. They were extremely bad lawyers, as I shall show your Lordships. He said that the man was advised that the girl would be unable to give evidence against him, and so this outrage, which my noble and learned friend mentioned as one of the reasons why your Lordships should pass this Bill, went unpunished. But this was entirely wrong and, when your Lordships become, acquainted with my Amendments, you will see that they will do something not only to inform my noble and learned friend but to put his Bill into a much better shape.
It is a longish time ago, but it makes this matter more patent to me to recall that my noble and learned friend and I were both on the Oxford circuit together; and I cannot help thinking that, if he had stayed there somewhat longer, he would have been acquainted with the passage that I am going to read to your Lordships, with your permission, from Taylor on Evidence. I there find, in Section 1370, the following:—On the rule which precludes husbands and wives from giving testimony for or against each other in criminal proceedings, a necessary exception has been engrafted at Common Law, when a personal injury has been committed by the one against the other. Were it not for this exception, the wife would be exposed without remedy to brutal treatment.There cannot be any more brutal treatment than rape.If, therefore, a man be indicted for the forcible abduction of a woman with intent to marry her, she is clearly a competent witness against him, if the force were continuing against her till the marriage. Of this last fact also she is a competent witness; and the better opinion seems to be, that she is still competent, notwithstanding her subsequent assent to the marriage, and her voluntary cohabitation; for, otherwise, the offender would take advantage of his own wrong. So, on an indictment for the fraudulent abduction of an heiress, the lady has been admitted as a witness for the prosecution. So, a wife may testify against her husband on an indictment for assisting at a rape committed on her person; or for an assault and battery upon her; or for maliciously shooting, or attempting to poison, her; or, it seems, for any other offence against her liberty or person.If my noble and learned friend had acquainted himself with that passage and the authorities there cited in support of it, he could not, I think, have spoken to your Lordships as he did in the passage that I have read.
1036 It is really with a desire to make this Bill a good one, so far as this can be done, that I have put down my Amendments, which I hope to be able to move. I think it would be entirely out of order if I wore to tell your Lordships what they are. My noble and learned friend has read them, but he has not had a long time in which to consider them. I wonder that my noble and learned friend Lord Desart did not appeal to the noble Earl who leads the Liberal Party in this House to see that further time was given for the consideration of this Bill, for I still remember that, when I had been for a very short time a member of your Lordships' House, the noble Earl opposite did me the great service of explaining to me how opposed it was to the forms and traditions of this House to indulge in very hurried legislation.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, will see that he has placed us in rather a difficult situation. No one knows better than he how anxious some of us have been for many years to give your Lordships the necessary time between the various stages of Bills in order to consider them thoroughly. The noble and learned Lord, I think, acted very naturally in pursuing the course that he followed in reference to this Bill. He thought that it was practically an unopposed Bill, and he put it down, as many noble Lords have done, so that one stage would follow another as rapidly as possible. But your Lordships have this evening heard two noble Lords learned in the law make an appeal to the noble and learned Lord not to press this stage of the Bill. Personally I do not want to take a very overt part in pressing him, because it would look as if I were in some way opposed to the Bill, which is not the case. Accordingly I am very reluctant to seem—I think he used this phrase—to be putting a spoke in his wheel.
At the same time I should, I am afraid, be hardly consistent if I did not say that, generally at the instance of the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, I have very often insisted upon a considerable interval between the various stages of Government Bills—not, of course, of those that were entirely unopposed, but of Bills to which any opposition in 1037 principle or in detail might have been raised. The noble and learned Lord has acted differently. He was, of course, quite unaware that a noble and learned Lord who held the office for many years of Director of Public Prosecutions desired to have a little time in which to consider the Bill, and I am afraid you cannot treat that intervention as trivial. Lord Desart is as much entitled as any man in this House to consider a Bill of this kind carefully. Then we have a noble and learned Lord who has been for many years a Judge of the High Court, who also wishes to raise points. So far as I am aware I have no sympathy with the points which he intends to raise, but I think it would be fairer that your Lordships should have those Amendments before you in print, rather than that they should be moved in manuscript, without, notice. I do not want to put too much pressure on Lord Buckmaster, whose zeal in this matter I admire, but, I leave it to him whether it is really possible to proceed with the consideration in Committee of a Bill to which Amendments in manuscript are going to be suggested, of which we have no knowledge and which we have had no time or opportunity to consider.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, if the noble Marquess had asked me to postpone this stage it would have made my course much easier. If, on the other hand, he had answered my question, whether it was not an urgent matter to get this Bill through, in order that it might have a better chance of passing through another place, he would have made my course much easier. He has taken neither the one course nor the other, but has left me in a position of extreme embarrassment by making a speech which suggests that he wants the Bill postponed merely to have Amendments considered. If Lord Desart had said to me that between now and next Wednesday there is not time for him to consider the Bill, I should have been greatly moved by his appeal, but I feel certain that he would not make such a suggestion, because no one can doubt that there will be abundant time for the purpose. Again, if this were the last stage of the Bill, and it would never be heard of here again, there might be something to be said, but the Bill has to go to another place, and anything 1038 that is needed can be done there. The speech in which Lord Darling urged me to postpone the Committee stage is, I think, unworthy of grave consideration by the House.
§ LORD DARLING
I did not intend to urge your Lordships to do anything of the kind. If your Lordships desire that the Committee stage should go on I am perfectly willing. I do not desire it to be postponed.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
Then I find it entirely impossible to understand why the noble and learned Lord made his speech at all. If it were made for the purpose of suggesting that I have, even unconsciously, misled your Lordships, I do not think that the speech was justified by the facts.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
Then the noble and learned Lord's intervention becomes more and more incomprehensible. I cannot possibly let the suggestion go by that even by inadvertence I have said something, which influenced your judgment, which was inaccurate. The noble and learned Lord quoted what I said, and quoted accurately. I said that the marriage took place in order that the girl should be unable to give evidence. The word "unable" is practically true, as she is not compellable to give evidence. How do you expect a child of twelve who has been married to a man of twenty-nine, who has raped her, to be a free agent and to come into Court and give evidence? The real effect is just the same whether you use the word compellable or competent or capable witness. That is the whole thing on which the noble and learned Lord has thought it right to read long passages from a law book on evidence, and to suggest that what I have said in some way or another had influenced your Lordships, so as to justify his Amendments. I am not surprised that he said he would not refer to his Amendments, because the first one is an Amendment which I cannot think that any one who desires this Bill to pass would dream of accepting, and the second Amendment is one of which it is really hardly possible to speak with respect. Unless the noble Marquess asks me to adjourn the Committee stage, and at the same 1039 tells me that the adjournment will not prejudice the passage of the Bill in another place, in my anxiety to pass this Bill I shall ask your Lordships to proceed with it at once.
THE EARL OF DESART
My Lords, I am not quite sure what was the appeal that the noble and learned Lord made to me, and I want to make it clear that my reason for asking for this postponement is not any desire to delay the Bill. I have only just seen the Amendments which have been mentioned and if they are taken now they will come before the House without any one having had an opportunity of considering them. For my own part, matters have occurred to me which I think might be cured by Amendment, after consideration, but I am not prepared to deal with them to-day. After reasonable time for consideration I might even decide that it was not necessary to move anything.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I asked the noble Earl if he could not leave these things over till the Third Reading.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I would apologise to your Lordships for speaking again, but the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, made a direct appeal to me. I cannot tell him what is going to happen in another place. I have not the slightest idea as to how any one of the three Parties which constitute that great Assembly will regard this Bill. Therefore I can hold out no hope as to the future of the Bill, but the noble and learned Lord's idea that because we take two or three days more to consider the Bill in this House—which is, after all, our business—his reform will be seriously prejudiced, seems to me to be hardly worth discussing at all. I do not suppose that those two or three days' delay will make the slightest difference one way or another, but really that we should hear from noble Lords on that Bench, who are always asking for more time to consider Bills, that my noble friend Lord Desart, who has made a most respectful appeal to the noble and learned Lord, is to be treated with indifference and told that he may raise the matters on Third Reading instead of during the Committee stage of the Bill, causes me considerable surprise. I am in favour of the Bill and against the Amendments of Lord Darling, so far as I know, but I am astonished that the 1040 noble and learned Lord, Lord Buck-master, should have received an appeal of that kind from Lord Desart, one of the most distinguished members of this House, in the way in which he has received it.
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE)
My Lords, I hope I may be allowed to make an appeal. I am a supporter of this Bill, but I ask the noble and learned Lord to take a big view of this subject. At this moment, your Lordships have appointed a Joint Committee to discuss with the other House the difficulties into which we often get owing to the way in which Bills have to be rushed through this House, and I am giving away no secret when I say that in all that controversy I appeal to the Parliament Act, which lays down that a month is a reasonable time for the consideration of a Bill. I am not suggesting that it is essential to the public interest that all Bills should take a month. Having said that, really to show the atmosphere in which I regard these questions, may I add this: Surely, in the case of any Bill in which any of your Lordships are going to take a serious interest, to take the Second Reading on Tuesday and the Committee stage on Thursday is not an ideal way of conducting business. I do hope that, as this appeal has been made, my noble and learned friend will respond to it.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The only course for the noble and learned Lord to take is to move the adjournment of the debate.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
The adjournment might be to a date when the Lord Chancellor is occupied, and the Local Government Bill is coming on. Wednesday, I think, would do.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It is quite easy to fix a day afterwards if the noble and learned Lord would move the adjournment.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.