§ Order for Second Beading read.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT,
in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he believed that both inside and outside the House this Bill was looked upon with great interest and with a great desire to see the measure passed into law. He had received numbers of communications from all parts of the country and from all classes of society upon this subject. The necessity for legislation of this character had, he was sorry to say, in recent years become more and more apparent. He believed the evil of juvenile prostitution had been upon the increase. All the evidence which had come before him pointed in that direction, and everyone would agree that nothing could be more injurious to the foundations of society than that. It was unnecessary for him 1176 to go at any length into the merits of the Bill. A Committee of the House of Lords sat a few years ago and made an exhaustive inquiry into this subject, and since then more than one Bill had been introduced into Parliament and passed several ^stages, though, unhappily, without becoming law. He hoped that the period that remained of the existence of the present Parliament would not be allowed to go by without this Bill being passed.
Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, he was very glad that the attempt to count out the House upon this Bill had not succeeded. In his opinion, it would not have enhanced the reputation of that House in the country if a quorum had not been present for the purpose of endeavouring to pass this measure into law. The Bill was founded upon a recommendation of a Committee of the House of Lords which had sat to consider the question, and the measure now came down to that House after having received mature consideration in the other House of Parliament. There might be differences of opinion upon the subject of the provisions of the Bill, but upon its object and meaning he thought there could be no division of opinion. The object of the Bill was to prevent the traffic in young girls who were exported for the purpose of prostitution abroad. The Bill also sought to prevent the prostitution of children of tender years. Was there anybody who denied the existence and the growing character of that evil? He confidently laid it down that the principle of the Bill, and consequently the second reading, demanded the unanimous support of the House. He did not want at this stage to invite a minute discussion upon the clauses of the Bill. The proper stage for that was in Committee upon the Bill. He was afraid they had the indirect opposition of the hon. and learned Member for Bridport to the Bill.
§ MR. WARTON,
rising to Order, asked whether it was right for any hon. Member to charge another hon. Member with adopting indirect methods of opposition? His methods were perfectly direct and open.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, he did not mean anything offensive to the hon. and learned Member; but if the hon. and learned Member complained of the charge of indirect methods of opposing the Bill, it really was an assumption of virtue which he had hardly thought the hon. and learned Member would have had the courage to profess. The age for the protection of girls was now 13. Everybody felt that that age was a great deal too low, and ought to be raised; but there had been a good deal of dispute as to the age to which it ought to be raised. Some people had thought 15 too low, and some, he believed, had thought 16 too high. All he desired to say was that he considered himself, as having the conduct of the Bill, by no means bound to the age of 15. If the House should be of opinion that the age should be 16, he considered that would be a decision on the part of the House that he should be entirely bound to respect. Another clause was directed against the keepers of improper houses. Similar provisions in that respect had been in force in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and the clauses of this Bill dealing with that part of the subject were the same as those which had already been successfully accomplished in legislation of that character. He did not, however, wish to raise any discussion which properly belonged to the stage of Committee, and he hoped the House would approve of the general objects of the measure by agreeing to the second reading.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, a Bill of this character was one which so nearly touched the whole social life of the country that it must create a great deal of interest, and he trusted that the time would never come when the House would refuse to stand up in the interests of morality and give its adhesion and support to a measure which had that great object in view. He hoped, moreover, that they would not shrink from discussing its provisions on account of the nature of the Bill. He distinctly was in favour of the second reading, and would support it, for he quite recognized that the Bill contained most valuable clauses. The clause for the protection of children was one which must commend itself to the careful and sympathetic attention of every Member of the House; and the clause for the protection 1178 of young girls who were allured to the Continent was one which must commend itself to their best and most earnest consideration. But the 9th clause was a clause which, he feared, might possibly lead to the shipwreck of the Bill. The administration of the clause would be placed in the hands of the police, for whom he had a great respect; but no one would pretend they had any judicial training necessary for the discharge of the difficult and delicate duties which would be thrown on them in consequence of the passing of the clause. Under its provisions any man's life might be made a burden to him. While giving his support to the second reading of the Bill, he desired to reserve to the full his right to criticize these clauses in Committee. He heartily approved of most of the provisions of the Bill, and hoped they would pass into law this Session.
§ MR. JAMES STUART
remarked that, although he intended to support the second reading, he should in Committee submit certain Amendments with the object of equalizing the treatment of men and women. With regard to Clause 9, for example, he was unable to see why men should not be punished on precisely the same grounds as women. As the Bill stood at present, it was merely a little sop thrown to a large and an increasing popular sentiment. He did not believe the Bill was worth much; there were too many qualifying provisions in it. There was much inequality in it, and the provisions relating to the police ought not to be accepted. He desired to bar police evidence alone, as he was of opinion that there was a great deal of connivance by the police in the wrong-doing of the well-to-do; but, on the whole, he thought it was a good thing to vote for the second reading, because it was a tiny step in the right direction.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, he could not agree with his hon. Friend who last spoke as to the inefficiency of the measure, at least in the points indicated. He thought, however, there were one or two points in regard to which the Bill might be made stronger with a very satisfactory result. Under Clause 6 any householder might be punished for misdemeanour who admitted these malpractices to take place on his premises in the case of girls under 15. He thought it might be desirable to extend the age to 16, or even 1179 to 17. He believed much would be done for the emancipation of some of those unfortunate women if, in the event of their leaving the houses with clothes claimed by the proprietor of the establishment, they should not be liable to be proceeded against for theft. As they were going to raise the age of the female they should also raise the age of the male. Such acts were of too frequent occurrence between young persons of equal age at that period when the curiosity of the female was more precocious than that of the male, who became at the utmost not more than her accomplice. In his opinion, the Bill was of the greatest possible moment to the country, and the Home Secretary might rely on the cordial co-operation of both Parties in the House in carrying an efficient and, at the same time, a moderate measure.
§ MR. WILLIS
protested against the Bill on the ground that many of its clauses would tend to multiply criminals while they would not promote morality. He would do all in his power to pass those parts of the Bill which protected young women from being entrapped to enter brothels and suppressed brothels; but many of the provisions of this Bill went far beyond each of these points. According to one of the provisions of this Bill a man might be sentenced to two years' imprisonment for bringing any woman, no matter what her age or how immoral her habits, to a brothel, although she knew well the character of the house and the object for which she was brought. As regarded the limitation of age, the question was a most difficult one, as some girls were at 12 years of age far more precocious than others at 14 and 15. In regard to matters between men and women they could never get at the truth; and there were juries, and even Judges, who sometimes seemed to lose their good sense whenever they had a case before them where women made charges of immorality against men. He objected to multiply criminals out of the passions of mankind. Nearly the whole of the proposals of the Bill were in a wrong direction, and he refused to be a party to legislation of such a character.
§ SIR HENRY HOLLAND
thought the Bill of such importance that he should without hesitation support the second reading of it. He believed, as did the 1180 hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr. Willis), in the power of morality; but he also believed—a belief in which that hon. and learned Member did not seem to share—in the power of the law to restrain immorality, and that was the object and would be the effect of this measure if it became law. He could not agree with the hon. and learned Member in his general attack on the provisions of the Bill; and as regarded the special case referred to by him—the Lupus Street ease—he (Sir Henry Holland) thought that it did not come within the Bill. He did not observe whether the age of the woman had been given. [Mr. WILLIS: Yes, 31 years."] Then the case did not come within Sub-section 4 of Clause 3, as she was not under 21 years, and, moreover, she knew the character of the house, and was a party to the intent. [Mr. WILLIS: Look at Clause 2.] No; it did not come within Clause 2, as there was clearly no intent to make her the "inmate of a brothel." But, anyhow, a difficulty of that kind could be dealt with in Committee. He did not agree with the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. James Stuart) that this Bill was but a "little sop," nor did he fear the taint of police hanging about the Bill, to which that hon. Member seemed to object. He thought the Bill was a distinct step in the right direction, though, no doubt, some of the details would have to be carefully considered in Committee. But he could not understand how a second reading could be refused by the House if the main principles of the Bill were correct. It could hardly be denied that some legislation was needed, and Bills, very similar to the one now under consideration, had twice passed the House of Lords. This present Bill was a modification in some respects of the former Bills, and wisely so, as it was undesirable to go beyond public opinion. The Police Clauses had been modified, and a magistrate would not be able to issue a warrant upon the statement of the police only; but sworn information was required by a parent, guardian, relation, or friend of the girl. Again, the age of consent had been reduced—rightly or wrongly—from 16 to 15. He would not now discuss the details of the Bill; but he felt bound to state that, as at present advised, he entirely agreed with the right hon. and learned Member for the Uni- 1181 versity of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) in his condemnation of part of the 9th clause. The proviso that a conviction should not take place on the evidence of one witness only, really afforded no adequate protection against trumped-up charges. Nothing would be easier in these cases than to get the evidence of some woman, or even of a policeman, to corroborate the charge; and the unhappy man who was charged would cither have to pay blackmail if he feared to have the case made public, or he would have to appear in Court; and even though he were acquitted, the fact of such a charge having been made might seriously damage him if he wore a professional man. He (Sir Henry Holland) was disposed to think that the whole of this 9th clause might be omitted, and the matter left to police regulations for keeping order in the streets. He would conclude by repeating his belief that the Bill was one of great importance, and he should, therefore, support the second reading.
MR. E. N. FOWLER (LORD MAYOR)
protested against the aspersions which had been cast upon the police, upon whose evidence he believed implicit reliance might be placed.
§ SIR BALDWYN LEIGHTON
said, he would not detain the House more than a very few minutes, because he believed on this occasion the best support he could give to the measure was not to delay the debate; but he wished to record his sincere support of the second reading, and he trusted the Government would make a point of pushing it through Parliament, especially the essential part, which he believed to be the age of protection, and that ought to be raised, as hinted by the Home Secretary. From what had been said he hoped the Home Secretary might receive quite as much, if not more, support from that side of the House than even from the Ministerial side. Of course, there were clauses that must be very carefully considered, as his right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Gibson) had said, and the hon. and learned Member for Colchester; and, in supporting the second reading, he would say at once that he could not support all the clauses in their present form. But this was a measure in which the working classes were deeply interested; it was their children and their daughters who were 1182 chiefly affected, and he would say that, especially in the larger towns, they would deeply feel and deeply resent any trifling with the more important provisions of this Bill. Let hon. Members representing populous places reckon with their constituencies before they ventured to act so as to shelve and shunt this measure. The working classes were getting exceedingly impatient at the manner in which all these social questions, greatly affecting their interest and comfort—he might almost say their existence—were put on one side for Party questions, which seemed to them of comparatively small importance, and he would venture respectfully to warn hon. Members how they trifled now with this Bill. Let them also read the Report and evidence of the House of Lords, on which it was founded, before they came there to oppose such a measure. It was melancholy reading enough; but no Member ought to venture to oppose this measure until he had taken the trouble to acquaint himself with evidence that showed the necessity for it.
§ MR. M'COAN
said, that while he sympathized with the object of the Bill, he thought it bristled with matters which would require radical amendment in Committee.
MR. CA.VENDISH BENTINCK
protested against the measure being brought on that afternoon, when there was a scant attendance, and when the Law Officers of the Government were absent. He did not know what the principle of the Bill was. It had many principles, and you could not select the principal principle.
§ It being ten minutes before Seven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till To-morrow.