I have a few remarks to make on this amendment, but, in deference to the Minister, I am willing to make my remarks as brief as possible. The difference between this amendment, dealing with this particular section, and all the other amendments is that the differences of opinion in this case are of principle. It is a matter of principle. The others were differences in degree. Therefore, to my mind, this is a very much more important part of the Bill. That is to say, it breaks newer ground and is, therefore, of the greatest importance. It affects a large number of people and there is room for difference of opinion on it. Like every member present, I have a responsibility in measures like this which affect the welfare of other people, and very often silence is taken to mean consent. I do not want anybody to be in a position to say that I agreed with this amendment, whether by default or otherwise. My views were those taken by the Special Committee of this House and I wish to support their recommendation that this clause be deleted. This question of contraception is eminently one proper to be threshed out in a special committee, and that was done. The Special Committee was well qualified to deal with it. Both sexes were represented on it, as well as various Parties in the House and the medical profession. It was a very properly constituted committee. That committee advocated the deletion of Section 17. So do I. The recommendations of such a committee ought not to be lightly set aside, whatever people's opinions may be, and I recognise that in this case there is room for plenty of difference of opinion.
I hold a strong opinion against Section 17 and I think that I have every bit as much right to do so as other people in this House—possibly a majority—who are in favour of its retention. People like us who are members of legislative assemblies are very often described as being Parliamentary representatives. Perhaps we here in this Seanad are not representatives to quite the same extent and degree as members of the other House, but we are representatives all the same. In the case of a Bill of this kind, I think that the views held by a number of people outside the House, which are the same as my views, ought to be represented here. I think that is right. I have no doubt that the Select Committee discussed all the points involved in this case with a full sense of responsibility and that they did so in conditions of quiet out of the arena of Party strife. I expect that everybody said what they really thought. I support their suggestion as an independent member of this House. I was not a member of that committee. I did not serve upon it and I am not briefed by any section outside; nor, may I say, have I had any hand in any previous consultation with people or bodies outside. My views are the views of a considerable number of decent citizens who are not extreme in any way. Contraceptives are condemned under two heads: that they are an interference with nature and that they are immoral. As regards the question of interference with nature, that is a very debatable matter. Every surgical operation appears to me to be an interference with nature. Every treatment by way of injection, for microbes and so on, is an interference with nature and an interference that has very beneficial results. Hundreds of things are done nowadays which, if they were done 500 years ago, would mean burning at the stake.
There are wide differences of opinion on this subject amongst quite good citizens. There are people who condemn contraceptives wholesale under any and every set of circumstances, but they have no monopoly of Christian virtues. There are lots of decent people who hold the contrary view. I hold that the use of contraceptives is fully justified in a great many cases. They are justifiable when it means the prevention of disease, the avoidance of injury to health, and possibly danger to life. That is a view held by quite respectable, good-living citizens. I am speaking now as an ordinary citizen with, I hope, a reasonable amount of general knowledge and information. It is a very frequent thing to have contraceptives used by women under medical advice, responsible medical advice. I hold we are not here to make moral gestures; that is not our function. I hold that, so far as is practicable, matters of conscience are best left to the individual. Every individual has his moral adviser quite apart from the State and this House or any legislative assembly. We are here to legislate in a practical manner if we can. We are here to legislate for the good of our fellow-citizens.
I hold that this type of legislation is not good and, in many respects, it is not practical legislation. Human knowledge increases; it has done so very notably in our time and, though newly acquired knowledge is not always wisely used at first—in fact it is often abused—on the whole, increased human knowledge is a good thing and it goes step by step with an increase in Christian virtue. I think that is a reasonable statement to make when you take into consideration the amount of knowledge we possess nowadays and compare it with what our grandfathers knew 100 years ago, and visualise the changes that have come about since that time in the matter of dealings with other people, with animals, and so on. Generally speaking, the more knowledge we possess the more humane and less intolerant becomes our point of view. That goes hand-in-hand with knowledge, which is a good thing. You cannot stop the advance of human knowledge.
As regards this measure, where you can make it most effective is possibly in the direction that it will do most harm. Anybody can quite easily realise what I mean by that. I think what happens when people consider a law to be unreasonable and too extreme is exactly what Senator Mrs. Clarke described. I agree with every word she said on that subject, although I have not had her advantage in seeing how prohibition worked out in the United States, because my visit there was long previous to it. It certainly drove the thing underground and made it worse. What you will do by this legislation is, you will drive underground what is now overground. Whether that is a good thing or not is a matter of opinion. Personally, I do not think it is. I think whenever you drive a thing underground to the extent of having decent, well-behaved citizens who have the welfare of the State at heart breaking the law, it is a very bad thing. That is what happened in the case of prohibition and that is what will happen in this case. I think legislation for conscience' sake can be very unpractical and mischievous. For my part, I hope there will be a division on this because I intend to vote in support of the views expressed by the Select Committee of this House; that is to say, I shall vote against the Government amendment, which is for striking out the Committee's amendment and going back to the original clause.