HC Deb 12 May 1847 vol 92 cc729-31

Order of the Day for the Second Reading of the Bill for the better Prevention of Seduction and Prostitution read. A Motion made that the Bill be now read a second time.


was quite prepared to admit that the law was not in a satisfactory state with regard to those offences enumerated in the Bill which had been introduced by the hon. Gentleman; and he wished now to state how far he would agree to any measure on this subject. The first clause in the Bill professed to deal with the offence known as procuration. He admitted with the hon. Member that this was an offence not now sufficiently within the cognizance of the law, inasmuch as it could be proceeded against only under the Act applicable generally to conspiracies; and he was perfectly prepared, so far as he was concerned, to support a measure subjecting persons guilty of that offence to penalties proportioned to the crime. He doubted, however, if the clause, as now framed, would effectually carry out the object in view, and the penalties now proposed were objectionable. He objected to the summary jurisdiction which the hon. Member desired to give in cases of this kind. One of the clauses applied to parties found guilty of keeping brothels; and it was proposed that on a conviction the lease of the house inhabited by the offending party immediately became void. This would be open to objection: a party desirous of taking advantage of his landlord might engage a friend to prosecute him for keeping a brothel, and he might thus avoid all the obligations of the lease. The hon. Member would of course not wish that such should be the effect of his legislation, and would see the necessity of avoiding the risk he ran, in an attempt of this nature, of doing a great deal of mischief while he sought only to do good. The third, fourth, and sixth clauses were likewise in the last degree objectionable. They were drawn up certainly in very general terms; they were, however, of a very sweeping character, and there was indeed no knowing who might not become subject to a penalty under the operation of such a Bill. A great number of offences were defined, and persons guilty of these offences would become subject to all the penalties which could be imposed upon the keepers of brothels. He was of opinion that under the terms of the Bill, as it now stood, it went very much beyond its professed object. The landlord of a tavern, for instance, according to this Bill, if he permitted two persons not known to be married to sleep in his house, would become subject to heavy penalties; and the servants engaged in such a house, if cognizant of the landlord's connivance in such an offence, would be liable to precisely the same punishment. These were the difficulties which the hon. Member would have to encounter in his praiseworthy anxiety to effect an undoubted good; and this very clearly showed the impossibility of attempting to legislate to the full extent which might seem desirable with a view to enforcing public morality. It was, in fact, altogether out of the question to expect that an Act of Parliament could meet cases of this kind. Whoever had framed this Bill had done so with an ingenuity which would include every possible offence properly the subject of such a measure; but the objections were insurmountable. He therefore wished that the hon. Gentleman would limit the Bill to meeting the offence of procuring persons for the purposes of prostitution—a very serious evil, and one for which it was incumbent on them to provide a remedy; and he would suggest that the proposition to give summary jurisdiction be withdrawn, and that the offence be left to competent and unobjectionable tribunals. To a Bill calculated to confer that benefit on society which would be derived from the suppression of such an evil, he would not offer any opposition; but he had carefully looked over the clauses of the present Bill, and there was not one not open to the most serious objection. The best course, therefore, if the House would grant leave, would be for the hon. Gentleman to bring in a Bill, should he think it desirable, limited to the object to which he had alluded.


was aware, after what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, that it would be useless and waste of time only to do otherwise than adopt that course which had been suggested. He perfectly concurred in the propriety of that course, and, with the permission of the House, he would now withdraw the Bill.

Bill withdrawn.