Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 12 Dec 1934

Vol. 19 No. 8

Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 1934—Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Senators will be familiar with the main principle of this Bill, so that I do not think it is necessary to elaborate in any way the details of it. The Bill briefly proposes to raise what is generally known as the age of consent from 16 to 17 years, and the offence is made a felony under the age of 15 years instead of the age of 13, as at present. The penalties are increased, particularly for a second or subsequent offence. The defence that was formerly available, that the accused person had reasonable cause for believing that the girl was over that age, will not now be available according to this Bill. The Bill also makes more definite and stronger provision for dealing with offences against weak-minded people. As the law is at present, there is no power to issue a search warrant to deal with brothels. That has been remedied in this Bill. Section 17 forbids the sale or the advertising of, or the importation and sale of contraceptives. Section 18 relates to improper conduct in public places. In certain towns such offences could not be dealt with summarily in the District Court as the law is at present.

I would like to mention, in connection with this Bill, that there was what was known as the Carrigan Commission. It was set up some years ago. A good deal of evidence was taken by it and recommendations made. Subsequent to that a Committee, what may be called an informal Committee of the Dáil, was set up by the then Minister for Justice to consider those recommendations and the evidence given before it. Numerous representations came through the Ministry of Justice while that informal Committee was sitting. All those representations were considered. The Bill, as it is now before the Seanad, is the result of the recommendations of that informal Committee. I should say, however, that that informal Committee had not what might be called the formal sanction of the Dáil itself. It was a Committee that was representative of all Parties in the Dáil, the members of which gave a good deal of time and consideration to this question in an effort to try and bring in on what is a delicate matter— a matter that is not perhaps easy to discuss or debate—what they believed would receive the approval of all Parties in the House.

This as the Minister has stated, is not a pleasant subject to discuss in public. I have had a consultation with him, and I now propose that this Bill be referred to a Special Committee of the Seanad. I am sure that members of the House will agree to that because of the delicate nature of the discussions that may arise. It would be better, I think, that these discussions should take place in private, and that the result of the Special Committee's deliberations should afterwards be brought before the House.

I think that this Bill will be welcomed by almost all sides of the House. There are improvements which some people, I think, would like to see made in it. Personally, I should like to see the age under Sections 1 and 2 higher. There are some other amendments that I would also like to see made in it. I agree in principle with the suggestion that has been made by Senator Colonel Moore, but instead of a Special Committee I should like to see a Select Committee set up. My reason is this: that in the course of the discussions one might want to get advice or consult with some people who have given a great deal of attention to this matter. The setting up of a Select Committee will not make it essential that evidence should be taken, but will make it possible if it be thought necessary. For that reason I should prefer a Select Committee to a Special Committee. The matters that this Bill deals with are unpleasant but we cannot discuss them in secret. At the same time it would be easier for eight or ten Senators who are anxious that this Bill should be made as good as it can possibly be made, to try and amend it in Select Committee rather than by way of general discussion in the House.

As Senators will remember, we had some conversations with regard to this Bill before the Adjournment of the House took place in the Summer. Consultations took place between representatives of all Parties, and it was generally agreed that we should postpone the taking of the Bill until after the Summer Adjournment. There was general agreement, too, between all Parties that the Bill, having got a Second Reading, should be referred to a Special Committee. Consequently I have consulted the representatives of the different Parties and the Whips of the different Parties in this House to-day, and there has been agreement that the Bill should be referred to a Special Committee. I move, therefore: "That the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 1934, be referred to a Special Committee of the House consisting of Senators Mrs. Wyse-Power, Mrs. Clarke, Miss Browne, David Robinson, Sir E. Coey Bigger, S. Brown, and T. Farren." That is a Committee of seven. If the House so desires I am quite willing to propose a larger committee, but there is a representative of every interest on it.

I am quite satisfied to let the Bill go to a special committee, but I suggest that committee should be selected by the Committee which ordinarily selects committees, that is, the Selection Committee.

There is no such committee now.

I do not think that matters, because the matter cannot be dealt with before Christmas. There will probably be some weeks' adjournment, and it will be the end of January or the beginning of February before the Bill comes back. There is no reason why the committee should not be selected by the Selection Committee which will be appointed next week or at an earlier date.

It might be preferable to let the specially appointed Committee do it.

I should like to support the motion of Senator Farren to appoint a special committee to inquire into this Bill. When this Bill came before the Dáil, the Dáil, in its wisdom, appointed a committee of representatives of every Party in the Dáil to consider in private the terms of the Bill and to bring forward a report. The measure recommended by that special committee is practically the Bill to-day. When the Dáil set up a special committee they were very anxious that every Party should be free to discuss the terms of the Bill in a private manner, but the Dáil, in its wisdom, forgot one point of view that should be very properly considered. There was no woman on the special committee in the Dáil which considered this Bill. The Criminal Law Amendment Bill, as given to us, represents an immense improvement and we all welcome it as a measure to which we have been looking for the protection of women and children. It deals with many things which have been considered by those who have been asking for a measure of this sort for many years, and who have given a great deal of time and attention to the problem. In the course of our investigations, we received a good deal of education on these problems by meeting with people who are all equally concerned—clergymen, representing all shades of opinion. I sat on committees at which we had Catholic clergymen as well as the Dean of Christ Church. From these people we learned many things that previously we had not known. I therefore think that it would be very advisable indeed if a special committee were now set up to consider the Bill. Some time ago, we had a special committee on the Affiliation Orders Bill, which was a Bill that also dealt with sex problems. I think that where sex problems are concerned, select committees can give a tremendous amount of help.

I should explain to the House that there is an intrinsic difference between a select committee and a special committee. A special committee is usually selected by the committee of selection. A select committee is empowered to send for papers, persons and records, and to examine witnesses. I think what you desire is a select committee.

A select committee is what I propose.

I would suggest a special committee.

I should like to point out that, as already stated, we had the Carrigan Commission to deal with this matter. A good deal of evidence was taken before that Commission and the matter was investigated as fully as possible. The Commissioner of the Gárda Síochána placed himself at the disposal of the Commission, and all the evidence that could be obtained from philanthropic and other societies was obtained. All these bodies came forward and gave evidence, and I think all the evidence that could possibly be got was produced before that Commission. Afterwards there was a Committee of the Dáil to consider the Bill. They considered it in the light of the evidence and the recommendations of the Carrigan Commission. They also considered the various memoranda that came from people who are interested in this Bill. I respectfully suggest that all the evidence that could possibly be got has been got and that a special committee would likely be in a position to make recommendations to this House much more expeditiously than a select committee. I do not know whether Senators since this Bill came to the Seanad have received representations as to the urgency of this problem, but certainly the Department of Justice has been pressed to have this Bill passed as expeditiously as possible. Might I respectfully suggest that a special committee would achieve the purpose which Senators have in mind and it would obviously be much more expeditious than if you were to set up what would amount to another commission to deal with the problem?

When we come to deal with this matter, I have a form of resolution which will show that I have not quite in mind what the Minister suggests. I cannot, however, very well read the resolution until the Second Reading of the Bill has been dealt with.

Question—"That the Bill be now read a Second Time"—put and agreed to.

The following is the form of resolution which I wish to propose.

That a select committee of ten Senators, of whom four shall form a quorum, be appointed to consider, and if it so desires, to take evidence upon the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 1934, with power to send for persons papers and records and to report its opinion for the information and assistance of the Seanad; the committee to report by——

I was going to put in 1st February there, but that is a detail. Senators should understand that I do not want a committee which would invite everybody to give evidence who think they have new points of view, nor do I want the committee, if it finds itself in a difficulty, to be in the position that it cannot send for experts and question them here. The position is that we have not seen the Carrigan Commission Report. It may not be available for such a committee, but I imagine it would be. Neither have we here seen the evidence that came before the Dáil Committee but we have had points of view put very forcibly in relation to this Bill, with which I am in sympathy, but about which I do not feel that I know quite enough to be quite sure that I know whether they are right or not. In a committee of this kind, I should like that the members should be able to send for a particular person, possibly a clergyman of certain experience, or possibly some social workers and question them on this very important point. Nothing like taking notes of the evidence would to my mind be desirable, nor could it be done in the time at our disposal. The only difference between my proposal and that of the Special Committee is that the select committee, if they desire to do so, could take evidence. The Special Committee would have no power to take evidence. That is my only reason for moving the motion. I can assure the Minister that I have no desire to delay the measure.

This is a measure that should be passed as quickly as possible and so far as I can see, it seems to strike a happy medium. This is a subject on which you could go too far, just as easily as not going far enough. I wonder whether it would be possible to deal with the particular amendments which Senators have in their minds, on the Committee Stage, and see then whether you want a special committee? There is a danger of going too far. If you have a special committee or any committee, I think there should be an equal representation of lady Senators with men.

I should hope so.

Yes—sex equality.

We have not got a sufficient number of them in the House.

It appears to me that there is an agreement that the Bill should go to a committee, and that the difference between us is as to whether it should be a special committee or a select committee. I think we are all familiar with the evidence that could be brought before a committee, and it is not a subject about which we are anxious to hear anything more. I think we all realise what the position is. The Bill has been sent to this House from the other House after careful consideration, but some members of this House think that this Bill should get special examination by a committee set up in this House. The understanding, as far as I can remember, was that a special committee would be appointed to examine this Bill and to report to the House whether or not, in its wisdom, it thought amendments were necessary or not. We did not intend, as far as I understood, that we should have a select committee to go into all this matter over again. For that reason I move an amendment to the motion of Senator Douglas that the matter be referred to a special committee of nine members, five of whom shall form a quorum, and that the committee consist of the following:—Senators Mrs. Wyse-Power, Mrs. Clarke, Miss K. Browne, David Robinson, Sir E. Coey Bigger, S. Brown, Douglas, Moore and Farren.

Before we decide on the names of the committee I would ask the House to assist me in deciding whether we shall have a special committee or a select committee. I have a distinct proposal from Senator Douglas. Does anybody second that?

I wish to second the motion of Senator Douglas. I heartily support the Bill. I think it is long overdue. The matter is one of great urgency and I hope that, whatever committee is decided upon, its investigations will be conducted as speedily as possible. It is a matter which involves the honour of a country. We all take a very serious view of it, because the outlook with regard to this matter is totally changing in the country. I support the proposition of Senator Douglas because from what I have learned since the Bill came to this House, I believe it may be necessary to hear further evidence. Changes have been made in the laws of other countries, I think. In particular, I think that the views of certain clergymen who have given a very close study to this matter should be heard.

I shall read Senator Douglas's motion. It reads:

"That a Select Committee of ten Senators, of whom four shall form a quorum, be appointed to consider and, if it so desires, to take evidence upon the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 1934, with power to send for persons, papers, and records, and to report its opinion for the information and assistance of the Seanad; the Committee to report by the 1st February, 1935."

I desire to support the proposal of Senator Douglas. I am sure every Senator here has received a considerable amount of correspondence dealing with the very important matters contained in the Bill from an organisation very competent to deal with these matters. Apparently they have changed their minds about these things. These are matters that cannot be discussed in the House and, consequently, I believe that the Select Committee is the proper body to deal with the matter. I am very much in favour of Senator Douglas's proposal. I know that the matter is urgent, but we might go too fast in these and other matters. Seeing that the members of this organisation, which is very competent to deal with the subject, have changed their minds and want the whole matter reviewed, I certainly would feel in favour of referring it to the Select Committee.

I beg to move as an amendment that the Bill be referred to a Special Committee consisting of nine persons, five of whom will form a quorum.

I beg to second.

This Bill, if it is referred to a Special Committee, cannot be dealt with in the same way as if it were referred to a Select Committee. The Special Committee will deal only with the form of the Bill as it stands. This is a difficult question and Senators have been pressed on different issues. The very fact that these Committees that have been referred to by the Minister have met in private has made it impossible for any Senator to exercise a judgment on the respective points of view. Consequently it seems to me that it should be possible for whatever Committee that is set up to call for elucidation in relation to various matters. I think it is fair to assume that every member of the Select Committee will have the discretion that Senator Douglas refers to. It need not delay the discussion inordinately, but it will at least give these different points of view an opportunity to clear up certain questions of doubt. It seems to me that is necessary. If it is not done in that way it may have to be done in a public session of this House and, if possible, that ought to be avoided.

I will first put the amendment, which is to the effect that the Criminal Law Amendment Bill be referred to a Special Committee consisting of nine Senators, five to form a quorum. If the amendment is passed, Senator Douglas's motion goes by the board.

It is quite clear that it is merely a question of the form of Committee.

It is a question of whether it shall be a special committee or a select committee. The members of the special committee will discuss the matter amongst themselves; they will not have power to send for anyone.

The amendment was declared carried on a show of hands.

The Bill will now be referred to a special committee, the committee to be appointed by the Committee of Selection, when it is appointed.

I take it that as the motion is defeated, they can stay as long as they like.

There is no time-limit.

I suggest that when sending this matter to the Committee of Selection, certain names might be put before them.

Everyone wants the matter to be discussed in as full a manner as possible and made as perfect as possible. That is the desire of every member of the House, I am quite sure.