§ MR. S. SMITH (Flintshire)
I beg to ask the Secretary for the Home Department whether his attention has been drawn to the Report on the state of crime in Liverpool recently issued by the Watch Committee, wherein the head constable states that, with regard to proceedings against owners and agents of disorderly houses, he has in no way modified the opinion he had formerly expressed, that the present law is utterly inadequate to meet the purpose for which it would appear to be intended; whether his attention has been further drawn to the statement therein, that while there were 677 convictions during the past year in Liverpool for keeping brothels, in 13 cases only did their appear to be even prima facie evidence against the owners or agents of these houses of an offence against the letter of the present law, which, when, tried, resulted in only two convictions, both being against the same woman; and whether he is now prepared, on behalf of the Government, to propose legislation to remedy the existing deficiencies in the law?
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. H. H. ASQUITH, Fife, E.)
Under the existing law the liability of the owner is confined to cases where he knowingly lets the premises to be used as a brothel, 1035 or is wilfully a party to their continued use for that purpose. This appears to me to be as far as the law can reasonably go. The defect, as I understand, complained of is the difficulty of proving guilty knowledge or wilful connivance on the part of the owner. Various suggestions have been made for shifting the onus of proof, but none of them seem to me to be satisfactory. I am disposed to think that the conviction of a tenant should be deemed sufficient to put the landlord on inquiry, and that he should be held responsible if the premises continue to be used by the same tenant for the same purpose. But from the inquiries which I have made the difficulty which has arisen in Liverpool does not appear to have been experienced generally, and though the matter will continue to receive consideration the Government are not at present prepared to propose legislation. I shall, however, be very glad to receive any suggestions which my hon. Friend or any other Member of the House may desire to make on the subject.