HC Deb 09 July 1885 vol 299 cc197-211

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [22nd May],"That the Bill be now read a second time."

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.


I wish, at the outset, to state the attitude of Her Majesty's present Government, with regard to this measure, in order that there may be no mistake on the subject. The subject-matter of the Bill has been before the country for some time. In 1881 and in 1882 the House of Lords had a Committee, which investigated the matter at very considerable length and made a most valuable Report, which every Member of the House has had an opportunity of seeing, and to which I need not, therefore, refer at any length. It will be sufficient to say that no one who has read the Report and the evidence can have any doubt that a Bill of this kind is absolutely necessary. If there is anybody in the House, and I think there can scarcely be anyone, who has not read that Report and evidence, then his opinion on the matter can be of little worth. Beyond that Report there is evidence certainly in my possession, and no doubt in the possession of many others, in relation to questions which have, from time to time, come forward, equally showing the necessity for a Bill of this character. The Bill before the House establishes no new principle, but merely extends the existing law. I believe that no question is really raised so far as the principle of the Bill is concerned, and the only question is as to the extent to which the provisions shall be carried out in detail. All the main questions are questions for Committee, and not for lengthened debate on the second reading. A Bill on the subject was brought into the House of Lords in 1883, and again in 1884, and the late Government introduced and passed this Bill in the House of Lords in 1885. No one can say that the question has been approached in a hurried manner. The country has had ample opportunity, not only of gaining necessary information, but of forming its opinion upon it. I hope the House will agree that the information is sufficient to warrant us in reading this Bill a second time even if there were to be no discussion on the second reading. The whole subject is thoroughly ripe for legislation, and, therefore, I, as Secretary of State, will offer the greatest facilities in my power for proceeding with the Bill. We have not only put the Government star upon it, but, as hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will see, we have taken the earliest opportunity of bringing the question before the House. And we hope to give it such. precedence as may assure its passing. In Committee it is probable that some alterations may be made; but I will not go into detail on that subject. I will only ask the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) whether, at this period of the Session, it is wise or necessary to move the Amendment he has put on the Paper. When I first read the Amendment I was somewhat puzzled to see what was its connection with the present question. The Amendment relates, no doubt, to certain Acts, which, though not repealed, are for all practical purposes in abeyance, and a pledge has been given by the Government that this state of things will not be disturbed until the House has an opportunity of again considering the subject; therefore I fail to see what the House or the country can gain from a discussion of those Acts of Parliament at present. As I am anxious that the Bill should pass, I will say no more, and I hope that the House will give it a second reading without a great deal of discussion. When we come to details, hon. Members will be able to express their opinions. There is a great amount of public opinion in its support. From what I found at the Home Office, I do not believe that public opinion would be satisfied unless the Bill is not only read a second time, but even passed, it might be with some alterations, but at all events passed into law.


, in rising to move as an Amendment— That, in the opinion of this House, repressive legislation of the kind is not calculated to effect the purpose of improving public morals, and, if passed into Law while the Contagious Diseases Acts 1866–1869 remain on the statute book, notwithstanding the Government was pledged to their repeal, would subject the Legislature to well-deserved imputation of insincerity and inconsistency, said, he held that repressive legislation in these matters was useless, or, at all events, likely to produce much more mischief than the benevolence of those who advocated such legislation led them to suppose. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of the Bill with an innocence which might be assumed or which might be real; but if he looked deeper he would see that this was a most objectionable Bill in almost every one of its features. What did the good people who asked for such measures know about the law? They heard that females could part with their honour at a certain age, and thereupon they became wild, forgetful that there were such things as trumped-up stories and extortion. It had on a previous occasion been attempted to raise the age of consent to 14; but the late Mr. Russell Gurney, a Judge of enormous experience and of the calmest judicial temperament, opposed the step, and 13 was fixed as the age. Who supported him on that occasion? The right hon. Gentleman then and now Secretary of State for the Home Department. He (Mr. Hopwood) appealed to him to confirm him. What had happened since to make the House change the view which it then took? In the Report of the House of Lords there was nothing with which those who had to do with the administration of the Criminal Law were not already well acquainted. The real means of insuring the improvement in morals which they all desired to see was by the elevation of the population, and by providing them with constant employment. Legislation such as this would be no more successful than legislation aiming at the suppression of any other vice—for instance, that of drinking. One effect of the Bill would be to encourage the corruption of the police. Another would be to re-introduce the practice of the compulsory examination of women, who would be sent to gaol for accosting in the streets, and who would there be under the control of the Governor and surgeon. This Bill was in these respects a substitute for the Contagious Diseases Acts, which had been condemned by the House. The ex-Home Secretary (Sir William Harcourt), he ventured to say, supported the clauses as to solicitation with that view. Was this legislation in other respects necessary? Why, according to the present law—24 & 25 Vict. c. 100, s. 49—the offence of procuring a girl under the age of 21 by false pretences was punishable by imprisonment for two years. But bad any success attended this provision of the law? Had there been a single prosecution under it? It was ineffective and useless, and the contemplated legislation would not be more successful. He had seen it stated that a child under 14 could be lured from her home by fraudulent pretences, and detained against the wish of her parents, and that the police were powerless to interfere. This was an error, as under 24 & 25 Vict. c. 100, s. 56, which made the enticement, &c., of a child under 14 a felony, a magistrate could undoubtedly under the existing law issue a search-warrant, and, armed with it, the police, if need be, could break into the house where the child was detained. He was convinced that this legislation was not the means by which this evil of juvenile prostitution was to be put down. He thought that no addition should be made to the Criminal Law unless it could be conclusively shown that it was necessary and likely to effect its object. The provisions of this Bill were rather calculated to increase the evil than diminish it, for it would place young men and boys in the power of designing girls, and would be a most powerful weapon for extortion. They did not know the business they were attempting to legislate upon. Then, he contended, that if they were going to protect young persons by legislation, they should extend that protection to boys as well as to girls. But the moment they set up a State protection of virtue they would do a great deal towards diminishing the care which the possessors of it were bound themselves to exert. Another most unwise and cruel clause was that which made it an offence punishable with two years' imprisonment to harbour girls under 15 years of age for immoral purposes. The consequence would be that these poor girls would be hunted and chased about by the police, and would with difficulty find where to lay their heads. They would be at the mercy of their landlords and landladies, who would naturally charge increased rents, to reimburse themselves for the risks run, and at the mercy of the police, whose good will would often have to be bought to avert arrest or expulsion. The police would have the opportunity of levying blackmail from these poor creatures. Then, as to solicitation, the Metropolitan police magistrates had made it an invariable rule to require someone to complain of being solicited; but this was to be altered and the prosecution was to be left entirely to policemen, though it was true that more than one was necessary. A magistrate in Liverpool took on himself, sometime ago, to disregard the wholesome practice of the London magistrates, and to punish women for solicitation on the mere statement of a policeman, and he sent numbers of poor women to gaol for the offence. When he found this ineffectual he lengthened the terms of imprisonment, so that they might have their hair cut off. Such cruelty and hardship always attended legislation of the kind. He would only add that the clumsiness and absurdity of the Bill were only equalled by the folly of the views of those who were responsible for its inception. Some of the provisions embodied in it were rendered simply childish by the absurd regulations which the clauses contained. Some merely enacted what was already law. The Home Secretary had appealed to them; but he could not expect that the House would forego lengthened discussion on so important a matter. The way to remedy the evil was to adopt means for obviating prostitution. The present Bill would simply fall heavily upon a poor prostitute. They were going to raise every man's hand against her; and to that, as he had shown, would be added the power of the policeman, who would have every temptation to do so, to levy black mail in any quantity upon those unfortunate creatures. Many attempts in past times had failed, whose object, like this, was to repress immorality. There was the old Puritan law against incontinence, for which death was the penalty for the second offence. That law was not carried out; but the spirit of repression provoked the period of dissoluteness which marked the Restoration. In Berlin, a few years since, the authorities tried by police laws to abolish prostitution. Worse evils followed; so prostitution was allowed, though relegated to one quarter of the city. Was Berlin more virtuous than London? The Middlesex magistrates, some years ago, closed the Argyll Rooms, and what was the result? Disorderly scenes increased in the streets, which had hitherto been quiet. He, therefore, earnestly hoped that hon. Members would not allow themselves to be made parties to legislation of this kind, which might be productive of great cruelty, and which could do no good whatever. He begged to move his Amendment.


Will any hon. Member second the Amendment? [Cries of "No, no!"]

[The Amendment, not being seconded, was not put.]


said, he thought the House would give the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) full credit for earnestness and sincerity, though they were not prepared to support his Amendment. The light hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had put the question before them that evening in a most perfunctory manner. It would have been more satisfactory if the right hon. Gentleman had explained in what points the present law was found wanting. Every disorderly house was by the existing law illegal, and the proprietor of it was liable to prosecution. Was that law in force now? If so, why was it not enforced? Or had the police power to choose whom they should prosecute and whom they should overlook? If the existing law meant anything at all why was it not enforced; for if it were not enforced, the passing of another law would only prove a multiplication of paper laws. He thought that the House was much indebted to the hon. and learned Member for Stockport for the courageous way in which he had addressed himself to this question. It was of great importance that a measure of this kind should not be hurried through, because they were dealing with the liberty of the subject. He maintained that it was not enough to multiply what he termed Statute Book crimes; they must provide for the just enforcement of the law which they were called upon to sanction.


said, that the outspoken statement of the hon. and learned Member for Stockport deserved the earnest consideration of the House. He (Mr. Broadhurst) was not prepared to say but what a great part of the Bill might be useful and might do a great deal of good, and might in some cases accomplish its object; but even in that respect there was room for considerable and honest doubt. However, in agreeing to the second reading of this Bill, he thought it would be the duty of hon. Members to discuss the subject at somewhat greater length than appeared to be the original intention. With regard to the clauses of the Bill, he singled out Clause 9 as one to which he could not agree in any circumstances whatever. He felt that if that clause was to be enacted dangers might possibly arise out of it which would make life in large cities really intolerable, if not dangerous, to persons whose duties kept them out late at night. He even doubted, under such legislation as this, whether it would be safe for hon. Members to walk to their homes at night. He had frequent occasion himself to walk home from the House after midnight, and his journey thence did not pass through what was usually termed a fashionable neighbourhood. In the course of his walks he met many persons of the lower orders, and with all honesty and sincerity ho believed that if this clause were enacted, it would make it absolutely dangerous for him to walk home at I or 2 in the morning. However efficient and impartial the police, as a rule, might be in the discharge of their ordinary duties, they were not exactly the body to be intrusted with such extraordinary powers as were given them in this Bill. They were, in fact, placing in the hands of the ordinary policeman the future character, prosperity, and even happiness of any man whom he might think it proper to arrest. He maintained that, no matter what might be the strength of opinion in favour of legislation of this kind, the House of Commons, as the guardian of the liberties of the people, should not pass a measure of this character without the gravest consideration. As to the object aimed at by the Bill, he was second to no man in his desire to see crime of whatever character adequately punished, and the innocence of childhood carefully and rigidly protected. In doing so, however, they must be careful that more harm than good was not done by such legislation. He had sat for the past two years with the present Home Secretary on a Commission to investigate the condition of the poor in the Metropolis and other large towns of the United Kingdom. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to say, after the experience he had gained on that Body, whether, in his opinion, the greater part of this social evil which they all deplored—that part which made innocent childhood a marketable commodity —whether it was possible to stop this state of things so long as we herded together whole families in a manner worse than the beasts of the field? It was known that in London and other large cities one and even two families frequently occupied one room, in addition to lodgers; and this being so, how was it possible for them to cultivate that innocence in childhood of tender years which existed in children brought up under healthier and purer conditions of life? This legislation was to a great extent a mere mockery, if not a snare, so long as they refrained from going to the root of the evil. They must provide dwellings fit for human beings to live in, with a chance of growing up pure and moral. The poverty and wretched surroundings of the people in our large towns was the great cause of immorality. There were few women who chose an immoral life from mere choice. They were diven to it by force of circumstances; many of the poor wretches who tramped our streets at night were driven to such a life by the hard treatment they had received at the hands of a merciless world. Let anyone stand on Westminster, Waterloo, Blackfriars, or London Bridges any morning and watch the continuous stream of girls crossing from the Southern side of the river to the City and the West End to labour to their utmost capacity for a mere pittance insufficient to maintain them in the decencies of life. Very many of them were poorly clad and hungry, and he asked if was within human nature to expect that those poor wretches should withstand the temptations which wealth offered to them on their return journey in the evening? If they fell, as undoubtedly they did in such circumstances, he appealed to the House to say whether they were not rather subjects for pity than for condemnation. He contended that they were subjects for pity, and they should endeavour by all the means in their power, by legislation, if it could effect the object, and by individual work and exertion, to bring about a better social and material condition among the poor labouring people of this country. This was the true course which they ought to pursue in order to avert the evil which they were endeavouring by such legislation as this to eradicate. A public journal had just been investigating the extent to which the crimes prevailed which the Bill was intended to prevent. He would hesitate to condemn the course pursued by that newspaper. A man who cleaned out a cesspool must expect to be contaminated and avoided by those who would otherwise be glad to associate with him; and the man who held up to public scorn the existing hideous state of things deserved well of the nation. It was better to trace the evil to its source than to attempt to deal with its results. But he much feared that the Bill, though framed with the best intentions and from the purest motives, would miss its mark and fail of effecting the good which they all desired it to bring about.


said, he regretted that the eccentric Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) was discussed before the real scope of the Bill had been dealt with. He was thoroughly opposed to the Bill, root and branch, and regretted that the Leader of the House had been induced to allow it to proceed as a non-contentious matter. Even the late Home Secretary had admitted that he did not approve all the provisions of the Bill. The Times, on the 8th of August, 1883, speaking of the Bill of that year, which was very similar to the present, said that it was not of a character to inspire confidence in the legislative capacity of the House of Lords, and furnished an example of warning rather than a subject for imitation. In fact, it was such a Bill as might be expected to meet the approval of a Church Congress. That was the opinion of The Timet. Then the late Homo Secretary had said that he regretted the omission of the clauses which dealt with brothels and the frequenting of the streets for immoral purposes. He was then justified in saying that the right hon. Gentleman did not wholly approve the Bill. As the present Home Secretary had on a former occasion, when he was Mr. Assheton Cross, supported an Amendment to lower the age of consent from 14 to 13, it was inconsistent in the right hon. Gentleman to support this Bill which raised it to 1.3. It was almost impossible for a man against whom a charge was made of the character contemplated by the clauses of this Bill to obtain justice from a jury or even from a Judge. Prosecutions were got up by Societies pretending to be formed for the protection of young girls, which boasted that they never failed to obtain a conviction. No man, however innocent and respectable, was safe from such organizations. In conclusion, he would ask who was the wretched draughtsman who put this tissue of nonsense together? It was a measure that would open the door to unlimited extortion, and. which took the false step of confusing the distinction between vice and crime. Experience showed that we must tolerate vice until it became crime. When a house became a nuisance, let the neighbours take proceedings; but let there be no interference until there was a breach of public order or a crime was committed.


said, that the thanks of that House and of the country were due to the Government for having announced their intention to carry this Bill this Session. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary evidently felt deeply every word which he had used with regard to this measure. He was no advocate for an undue interference with the liberty of the subject; but we were surrounded by scenes, both in London and in our large towns, which were a disgrace to a Christian country, and which we were bound, if possible, to put an end to. He could not avoid, on this occasion, referring to certain statements which had appeared in a London newspaper, and which were unjustifiable on any other assumption than that they were true. In his opinion, not an hour should be lost in investigating the truth or the falsehood of those statements, which would be read through -out England, whatever might be done to prevent their circulation. He thought that those statements, if true, would strengthen the hands of the right hon. Gentleman in carrying this Bill; but, at the same time, it was to be feared that the measure would to a certain extent be ineffective to deal with the tremendous state of affairs set forth in those statements. The writer of the articles in question was unknown to him; but he knew enough of the editor of that paper to be satisfied that he was utterly incapable of publishing the statements in question for any other than a pure motive, and he attached immense value to the probable effect of those statements upon the public of England in dealing with a state of things which was unbearable. His name had been mentioned in one of the articles, and he desired to state that he would willingly undertake, with any two of the other gentlemen whose names were also given, to make an investigation of some of the statements; and if they proved true, he should be glad to put his name to the Report, so as to stimulate public opinion. He had spoken these few words with a desire to strengthen the hands of his right hon. Friend, if he would allow him to call him so, in dealing with one of the greatest evils of the time. He was glad of this opportunity to express his personal thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for having declared his determination to pass this measure into law during the present Session.


confessed that he entirely agreed with those who believed that Parliament would fail in attempting to put down this vice by passing harsh and cruel laws with regard to the poor women who were the subjects of this Bill. He was very glad that the Government intended to proceed with this Bill, and he was in favour of the second reading of the measure. The hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) had said that they ought to keep up the distinction between vice and crime; but, in his (Mr. W. E. Forster's) view, they ought to make that criminal in future which was not now criminal under the existing law. In the first place, they ought to make it a criminal offence to trade in and export girls and young women abroad for immoral purposes. He understood that there was no law that could prevent that trade being carried on at the present moment, and in that case he was of opinion that the law ought to be amended. Another reason that he had for supporting this measure was that it would afford protection to children. He was aware that many of these poor children were in such a state of misery that it would be difficult to restrain them from becoming victims of vice, and that it would be scarcely possible to protect them efficiently. But there were others who were not in that state, yet who were in danger of being made the victims of vice, and were incapable of protecting themselves; and these girls, at all events, ought to be protected by law. The law ought to step in in such cases and make it dangerous for anybody to take advantage of their youth and inexperience for wicked purposes, and so to condemn them to a life of absolute misery. This Bill would do something to protect these girls, because men would be very careful when they found that they were in danger of the law. The only objection that had been raised to the measure was that men might be induced to yield to the temptations of these poor children, who might use the powers of this Bill for the purpose of obtaining money. Well, let men take that risk. If that House by passing that measure could give protection to these unfortunate girls and women, he did not think that hon. Members ought to grudge the time necessary for passing this Bill even at this late period of the Session.


rose to address the House, when


rose to Order, on the ground that the hon. Baronet had already addressed the House on the question.


ruled that the hon. Baronet was not entitled to address the House, as he had already spoken on the question.


said, he wished that it should be clearly understood that this was not a Bill for penal legislation directed against the poor helpless girls in question, but for their protection. He thought, indeed, that the House was called upon to take even stronger measures, and would be justified in appointing a Judicial Commission to search this matter to the bottom. In his opinion, it was absolutely necessary that the age within which absolute protection was extended to young girls should be raised from 12 to 16.


observed, that he had not read the newspaper which had been referred to, as he understood that it was objected to as not a proper paper to be read. Had he known that it would form the subject of debate in that House, he should have deemed it his duty, however disagreeable, to read every word the paper contained, in order to see what reason hon. Members had for saying that mere statements in a newspaper were facts, and established the existence of crime. He had, however, read what was given in evidence before the House of Lords' Committee, and the Report of that Committee, he ventured to say, did not bear out a single argument that had been used in favour of the Bill before the House. He would suggest that the House should pass the second reading of the Bill without further discussion, for if they did not it might be thought that the House of Commons was less desirous than the House of Lords and the country that a stop should be put to these nefarious practices. There was, however, so much in the Bill of a contentious character, and so much that would, in his opinion, make bad worse, that in giving his support to the second reading of the Bill, he must expressly reserve to himself the liberty to oppose some of the clauses. He hoped that the Bill would not be burked in discussion, as it was before. He ventured to think that this was a subject which appealed to all classes, which was ripe for discussion, and which would be more and more impressed upon the attention of the country. They ought not, then, to shrink to do what should be done by the Legislature to remove the evil which undoubtedly existed, while at the same time avoiding hurried legislation, which they would afterwards bo sorry for.


remarked that, until the hon. Member who had just spoken rose, there had been almost complete unanimity as to the existence of the evils which this Bill was designed to prevent, and for which, us the law stood, there was absolutely no remedy.


wished to correct the impression which the hon. Member seemed to entertain, that he had denied that there were evils to be remedied. On the contrary, he had expressly admitted that legislation was required, while guarding himself from giving his support to the Bill in its entirety.


said, ho was exceedingly glad that he had mistaken the hon. Member, for now he could say that not a single hon. Member had denied that a wrong existed for which a remedy was required. The newspaper, the condemnation of which had been somewhat exaggerated, showed conclusively that there were wrongs for which no adequate remedy was provided, and that something was required to draw the attention of magistrates and Judges to the seriousness of these offences. As the law stood at the present time, wicked women who induced young children to leave their homes could not be punished. If a parent discovered that his child had been trapped to a certain house in a certain street, he had no power to recover instant possession of the child, but was obliged to sue out his writ of habeas corpus at an expense which was ruinous to him, and before the writ could be executed all the mischief was done. That was the position of poor men at the present time, and it was a wrong for which a remedy was urgently required. Although he thought that legislation was necessary in the face of the great crying evil, he did not see that all the provisions in the present Bill were necessary. In fact, after the first eight clauses, he did not see that there was any value in it.


said, that notwithstanding the criticisms on the Bill, it appeared to be conceded that there was a very substantial evil to be dealt with, and one with which every man who had the cause of humanity and morality at heart ought to do his best to grapple as effectually as possible. He thought there were certainly two or three important points in the Bill which were worthy of further discussion, and he, therefore, trusted it would be read a second time. The hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) and the hon. Member for Roxburgh (Mr. A. R. I). Elliot) appeared to think that the Bill would not do very much good, and the former thought that the evil should be left to be met by better education and other means; but it seemed to him that one or two of the matters dealt with in the principal provisions of the Bill were not such as would be dealt with by education. If one thing bad been established, it was that there had been going on for some time, and to a large extent, a disgusting trade in young girls, not only in England, but also for the purpose of sending them abroad; and that alone was sufficient ground for legislation. He was in no way responsible for the drafting of the Bill, and, no doubt, there were clauses in it which required careful consideration; but he would respectfully submit that they ought rather to be discussed in Committee. It had been said that the Bill would do no good; at any rate it would do no harm, and he believed there were amply sufficient grounds to justify Her Majesty's Government in proceeding with the Bill.


said, ho did not intend to make any remarks on the second reading, as he should, of course, support it. Both the Home Secretary and the Attorney General had said the Bill would have to be carefully considered in Committee, and he would, therefore, ask whether either of them would give some indication as to the direction in which it would be altered? The Home Secretary might possibly be able to remove the objections entertained by some hon. Members to the Bill.


said, that there were some parts of the Bill which were complicated and some as to which he had doubts; and in his opinion it was very likely that it would not be possible to pass the whole of the measure this Session. After the second reading he proposed to put the Bill down for the Committee stage on Tuesday, hoping by that time to be able to state to the House what were the amendments which the Government thought ought to be made in its provisions.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Tuesday next.