HC Deb 06 April 1909 vol 3 cc927-9

asked permission, under the Ten Minutes' Rule, to introduce a Bill to provide for the licensing of juvenile female employment agents and the protection of young girls. He said: The Bill I ask leave to introduce is much needed, and is one for the licensing of agents engaged in finding foreign employment for women and girls. The Home Secretary will, I feel sure, bear me out when I say that it has been for some years well known to the authorities of Scotland Yard and also to various societies occupied with social work, including the Salvation Army, that English girls have been engaged in this country for the purpose of dancing or performing on the Continent and other countries, and many of these girls have had no chance of protecting themselves from their surroundings—which I need not describe, but which cannot be otherwise than dangerous—in the theatres and music-halls at which they have performed abroad. There is ample evidence that in other cases they have been deserted and left to starve or take to immorality so as to be able to live. Only a few days ago there was reported in the newspapers the case of six English girls, whose ages ranged from 11 to 18, who were deserted by their manager in Berlin. Alone, and in a foreign country, unable to speak a word of the language, it is easy to imagine their defencelessness, but fortunately they were befriended by an Englishman who heard of their condition. And hon. Members will remember the case in the Law Courts recently of an English actress who went to South America, and the evidence she gave. I may mention also that it is a fact that there are employed in places of entertainment on the Continent many young children who, under the laws of this country, could not be so employed, and they work longer hours than they would be allowed to do in this country. Unfortunately, in the majority of Continental countries, there is no legislation appropriate to the circumstances to which I have alluded, and, therefore, the perpetrators of offences who would be punished here cannot be touched abroad. The Home Secretary can bear out the facts, and the necessity for legislation, as I am informed that the officials of Scotland Yard have presented to him a voluminous report containing full information of some very grave cases of what has befallen those of tender years sent abroad by these foreign theatrical agents. I understand also that the London County Council have had representations made to them on the same subject. The Bill provides that every foreign employment agent who for reward obtains or professes to be willing to obtain employment for any woman or girl in any place outside the United Kingdom shall take out a licence from the Commissioners of Inland Revenue for carrying on his business, and a person acting as an agent without a licence shall be subject to a penalty. The foreign employment agents' licences shall not be granted except on the production of a certificate which shall be granted by magistrates, but 21 days' notice of application to magistrates must be given to the police. A certificate shall not be refused by the magistrates except when the applicant has failed to produce satisfactory evidence of good character or to give proper notice under the Bill. Notice of the address at which he intends to carry on his business shall be given by the agent, "and it shall clearly be stated on the door of his office that he is an agent for foreign employment. Books shall also be kept containing particulars of the names and addresses of the young people and their friends, and also the address of the place of amusement in which they are to be employed, together with the nature of the employment, the duration of their contract, their wages, etc. It is hoped that this will enable their parents and relatives to keep track of their children and in communication with them, so that if they fall upon evil times steps may be at once taken for their rescue. Entirely new legislation is not suggested by this Bill. The London County Council by their General Powers Acts, passed three or four years ago, provided for the registration of persons keeping servants' registry offices and employment agencies within their area. Other towns in the kingdom have since obtained similar powers in similar Acts. The mere fact of registration does very little to meet the difficulty, because practically anybody may register, but before an agent can obtain a licence he must show that he is a person of good character, and the police and others must have an opportunity of opposing the application. It appears to the Salvation Army and other bodies with wide experience who promote this Bill that the only way of meeting the evil is by some action on the lines indicated, and from all the information I have received and the information in the hands of the Government I can confidently say that there is urgent necessity for such a measure as this to be passed by Parliament. I hope that the House will allow me to introduce the Bill, that they will give it a sympathetic reception, and that it will find its way on to the Statute Book in the course of the present Session.

Question, "That leave be given to bring in the Bill," put and agreed to.

Bill brought in accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time 21st April.