HC Deb 01 November 1913 vol 43 cc735-56

A constable who is not below the rank of sergeant and is detailed for special duty under this Act by the Commissioners of Metropolitan or City Police, or the chief officer of a borough or county police force may take into custody without a warrant any person whom he shall have good cause to suspect of having committed, or of attempting to commit, any offence against Section two of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885 (which relates to procuration and attempted procuration).


I beg to move, to leave out the Clause. I recognise that my proposal will raise a considerable amount of controversy mainly because the arguments used in support of this Clause have been unscrupulous and misleading and I regret that persons of considerable reputation should have been so careless in the discussion of this Clause. Generally I am against any increase of police power on this subject, because I think the laws at present on the Statute Book are ample to deal with any public difficulty. I have been in close touch on this point with Clergymen, Nonconformist Ministers, Jewish Rabbis, officials of vigilant societies, people engaged in rescue work, and in the service of the State under the various Acts of Parliament dealing with public morality, and they all say that there is an abundance of laws on this subject, and that there is no difficulty whatever upon this question in regard to any absence of power. The present laws are not enforced. The police have powers now, some of which they do not see their way to enforce, and others which they cannot enforce, because they are so badly drawn. I ask the House to pause before adding another Clause to our Statute Book which, in my opinion, will be a dead letter. The Clause, as originally drawn, did not include the specially deputed sergeant within its scope. I understand that some of the promoters of the Bill take up the position that the ordinary constable who is getting something like 27s. 6d. a week, out of which he pays 10s. for rent in the central district, should become a public protector of virtue. [An HON. Member: "Against crime, not virtue."] I wrote a letter, to the "Methodist Times," which some of those hon. Members who interrupt me are readers of, and even contributors, and the footnote put to my letter by the editor, who is a distinguished public servant and a member of the London County Council, stated that my opposition to police regulation of vice was leading me to extremes, and to oppose police protection of virtue. Let us state the facts. I say some of the best advocates' conception of the police constable is that he should be "a protector of virtue." That is their phrase, not mine. I want to ask whether it is reasonable that a man, living on 17s. 6d. per week, after paying his rent, should be the publicly appointed custodian of virtue in an expensive city like London? My answer is that when I desire to put him in that position I shall be prepared to pay him the same salary as I am prepared to pay to ministers of the Gospel and clergymen. I would therefore urge upon the House that if it is sincere in wishing this constable to have this power, its first duty is to increase his wages. There has been no such suggestion. It is a case of piling duties upon the average constable, for which he is not suited. It is a case of asking him to interpret Acts of Parliament which when discussed in this House always lead to confusion. The ordinary constable is asked to do what may be considered to be the noblest of work; he is asked to be an ethical instructor and director. I ask the promoters of the Bill to be honest and straightforward and propose a proper remuneration for the police constable in this country. An Amendment was brought forward in Committee asking for a specially deputed sergeant. Who introduced it? Thanks to the hon. Member for the Montrose Division (Mr. R. Harcourt), the position was put right in this House. The promoters of the Bill, at their hole-and-corner meetings and in their printed documents and circulars, have repeatedly asserted that the Clause had been weakened on this point at the instigation of the hon. Baronet and myself. I am asked by whom we are specially named. In the circular of the Vigilant Society and of the Conjoint Committee, and not a single promoter of the Bill who knew that was not true, and who was responsible for the Amendment came forward to put the position right. Even this last week the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Lee), in an interview in the "Pall Mall Gazette"—I admit a very excellent interview, and with the motives and a great deal of the views of the hon. Member I am in entire accord—when he came to this point said:— As already explained by the Home Secretary, the limiting Amendment was accepted by the Home Office, and the promoters of the Bill owing to an insufficient realisation of the facts. I ask hon. Members: Would they gather from that the hon. Member moved the Amendment himself?


I am not ashamed of it.


I know the hon. Member is not ashamed of it3 but hon. Members came to me and told me I was wrong in suggesting that he moved it; and pointed to his interview. I am not suggesting anything except that in his zeal for the Clause there has been a little carelessness which has led to great difficulty on the part of some of us. I submit the Amendment was moved by the hon. Member, not on the ground put forward by the promoters of the Bill at all. I have in my hand a circular relating to Clause 1 by the Pass the Bill Committee. It seems to be an official circular, and they say:— Consideration for the liberty of the subject seems to have been the dominating factor in regard to the Amendment to Clause 1. The subject was never mentioned. The hon. Member did not bring forward his Amendment in favour of the liberty of the subject at all. It was said he brought it forward at the request of Scotland Yard, who were not prepared to give the ordinary constable these powers. The only quotation the hon. Member gave in support of his Amendment was a conversation he had had with Scotland Yard. Now it is put into the literature of the people in favour of the Bill itself as if it was forced upon the promoters or inserted by the advocates of liberty of the subject. I think it is time that was cleared up. I am sure the hon. Member will put it right in his speech. The Amendment was moved at the beginning of the proceedings. It was a new Amendment on the Paper, and there was no discussion at all after the hon. Member's statement, except a criticism of my own. The only Member of the Committee who criticised this Amendment when it was brought forward, and said he was not satisfied with it, was the only Member who was charged with bringing it in. The Clause therefore was amended by the promoters of the Bill with a view of making the Bill work, and it was not at all forced upon them. I prefer it to be restored to its old position. I am not at all sure on reflection and after seeing what is intended by this specially deputed sergeant that he would not go about trying to make work, and I think the Clause restored to its original position is much weaker and less likely to do any harm. I am perfectly convinced it will never do any good. If hon. Members are really desirous of striking at the international traffic this is not the way. If the people are well known to the police, clearly the ordinary constable is not the man. There are definite ways and existing powers to deal with it. I cannot therefore think for a moment that is the object of this particular Clause and of the giving of these increased powers. I gathered from the hon. Member's recent, interview that he wishes it to have some effect on the domestic traffic. Yes, but the agitation in the country has nearly all centred round the question of stopping these foreigners who come here and decoy girls away. It has been chiefly arousing public feeling against a band of foreigners supposed to be decoying girls away. I have said before that this international traffic with its headquarters in London is a myth. I said that on the Second Reading, and, despite all my inquiries—and I have been aided by a distinguished Member of the Opposition who has not spared a considerable amount of time and expense in trying to ascertain what is going on—I have failed to trace these international headquarters. I admit some came through London, but is this Clause designed to cope with that? Can it cope with that? I do not think so. Why does it come through London? Because London is a shipping centre, and there is no registration. In places like Buenos Ayres the police have all these powers you are trying to give them. The traffic comes from places, and the girls are taken to towns where there are ample police powers, and they are held under supervision. They pass through London because there is no registration here, and they are not asked questions as they would be if they were waiting, say at Hamburg. You can divert what little comes through London, little as compared with the traffic of the world. I admit taking the whole world it is a horrible traffic, but the small amount that comes through London does so for that purpose, and it can be diverted. I am not saying that should not be done. I agree with it. I would not have these villians taking girls about, whether they are here temporarily or permanently. It is because I want that done I am against this Clause. I want some real business done, and this is done to put us off the real thing. Men are supporting this Bill who know inspection will expose them, and they are anxious to draw a red herring across the path. [Hon. Members indicated dissent.] I am not bringing any charge against any Member of the House.


You said "some Members."

1.0 p.m.


Oh, no. I was not in the least thinking of this House. My hon. Friends who are against me on this matter say the phrase I used was "supporters of the Bill." There are men supporting this Bill who are in favour of State regulation of vice, which, of course, means an immoral traffic controlled and guided by the police. That cannot be denied. Members have asked me to support this Bill, and I have found they are in favour of State regulation of vice. Journalists who are in favour of State regulation of vice have asked me to support this Bill; and some of the Committee. This Bill, and particularly this Clause, has not been produced by anyone who stands for the position of Mrs. Josephine Butler. She has never asked for increased powers like this. She has sought to free her sex from the control of the police, and has joined the Personal Eights Association. She has sufficient faith in Christian influence to believe her sex would free itself. I am not going to argue the question of police and State regulation of vice, but hon. Members have asked me what I meant and I have told them. I say there are many supporters of the Bill who support it on the ground that it is taking a long step, in their opinion, towards State regulation. I am against that, and I oppose the Bill because I think it goes in that direction. I would ask hon. Members with regard to this great increase of police powers to pause. I do not urge it as a personal attack on the police. I think we have the finest police force in the world. That is largely owing to the fact that it is under the Home Office and not under the London County Council, whom I would not trust. We have got splendid fellows in the police force, and I want to guard the police against being turned away from their duties to do something they do not understand and against making mistakes. What will be the consequences of this Bill? It will, of course, be a dead-letter. I do not care really whether this Clause goes in or not. I think its effect upon public morality will be nil, especially if you make the Amendment and take out the specially deputed sergeant. When you take that out and restore the Clause as it originally stood, then I think it will be a dead-letter. I can quite understand agitators pressing upon us certain principles, but when we take dictation as to the wording of Clauses from well-meaning people outside, who have never read the Act and who do not understand how Clauses are put in or what effect they have upon other Acts, then I think the House is doing something lowering to its dignity and the dignity of the country. I therefore appeal to the House not to insert a Clause the only effect of which would be to weaken the whole of this House in the eyes of the country. If hon. Members are sincere, I ask them to be logical and to have training colleges. Why send divines to train for their office and not ask them to volunteer for service in the police force? If they are going to take up the work of the Churches which are about to be disestablished, and if they are to become the established Church of the country and look after morality and ethics, then they are entering upon a field which will involve training colleges for these people and will necessitate a request that some of the best men of the country, instead of going into the Army, Navy, and the Church, should be induced to go into the police force. It may be in putting this forward I am putting forward an unpopular view in this House. I fully recognise that, and I thank the House for its consideration, but I am not prepared to be intimidated, like some good Radical Nonconformists, by getting a letter from a curate or like some good Church members when they get a letter from a Nonconformist deacon—I suppose on the principle that you are always afraid of the Devil you do not know. I think we ought to have the courage to stand up for our views, even although they are temporarily unpopular. I hold this point exceedingly sincerely, and I, for one, am not prepared to publicly acknowledge, as I should by passing this Clause, that I have lost all faith in Christianity and all faith in ethical movement and in the blessings of the Gospel of Christ and am going to raise the policeman's baton.

Amendment not seconded.


I beg to move to leave out the words, "who is not below the rank of sergeant and is detailed for special duty under this Act by the Commissioners of Metropolitan or City Police, or the chief officer of a borough or county police force."

The history of this is very short. The Bill, as originally introduced, was in the form in which my Amendment would leave it. The promoters with the best intentions, acting on advice from Scotland Yard, agreed to the Clause being altered. That Amendment from Scotland Yard is its present form is rather an absurd one, and, even if amended, would be a highly undesirable one. I am therefore going to press the promoters of the Bill to accept this Amendment. It is not an after thought on my part. I put the Amendment down directly the Bill came out of Committee last July, and for some time I had the privilege of being the only Member to give notice of it. Then I was supported by $he hon. Member for York (Mr. Rowntree), and after that considerable pressure was brought to bear from outside the House and there was a complete rush of hon. Members anxious to put their names below mine. I am not appealing to the promoters to alter their view, which I am sure was an honest view, as expressed in Committee, or suggesting that they altered their views owing to pressure or to people writing to them saying that they would not vote for them. I am perfectly certain that the promoters would not alter their view through action of that kind. It is the last thing I should think of them as doing. I ask the promoters to look calmly at this question, and if they are satisfied that the original form of the Bill is best, simply to treat all thought of outside pressure as outside this question altogether, and to come to the conclusion, after having weighed both sides of the case, that my Amendment is the best. Under my Amendment the power to arrest will be given to all the police. I submit that will be a much better system than a system under which special constables are detailed for this special duty. Those who fear the operation of this Clause have frequently said it might lead to blackmail and such things as we hear of as happening in America. If that were so, the liability to that sort of thing is fifty times greater if you depute this great power to a few picked men, who are continually working among the people engaged in this particular class of traffic. That is so far as London is concerned.

So far as the country is concerned, the Clause, as it stands, is grotesque. In a county or borough like Cambridge, the chief constable is the sole person who can depute anybody to make an arrest. I believe that if you take a strict view of the Clause he could not even depute anybody to make an arrest. If you want to arrest anybody on the Cambridge station, by the time the chief constable had telephoned to the sergeant, and he had got to the station, the person to be arrested might be many miles away, so that the Clause would be a perfect farce. Therefore I am anxious that the power should be given, not to a specially detailed constable, but to the police force at large. The effect of the Clause has been greatly exaggerated, not by Members of the House, but by people outside. I am really sorry for the people of education who have written to me such letters as they have in reference to the Clause. You would really think that the Clause was an enormously important Clause. I have circulars from Vigilance Societies pointing out that the majority of these cases can be perfectly well dealt with at the present moment. A very good instance was given to me where information was received on Thursday morning that a criminal was taking away a young woman on Thursday evening, and he got away. If they got the information on Thursday it was the duty of the society to swear an information before a magistrate in proper form and then to have gone to the station with the warrant, which would then have been effective. There are many cases which can be dealt with under the present law, but at the same time there may be certain cases where speedy arrest is necessary, and for that reason I am anxious that the Clause should go through in the larger form. The police already have powers of arrest in many cases of felony, and have, as a general rule, exercised discretion. Mistakes may occur now and again, but the worse that can happen is that the arrested person is taken to the police station, where he can explain the position. I am bound to add, against myself, that I do not know of any particular case where that Clause would have been of use if it had existed before. I remember a story of a well-meaning lady friend of mine, who was travelling from Ireland to London with an Irish girl, who obviously came from the country. It seemed, although my friend did not know it, that the girl had been carefully coached before she left Ireland. My friend made friends with the girl and offered to put her up for the evening. The girl kept quiet until they reached the station, when she fled as fast as her legs could carry her. Probably if this Bill had been in operation she would have gone to the nearest police constable and given my friend in charge. I agree that no particular harm would have been done, because the policeman would have realised at once that a mistake had been made. I ask the House to deal with this question in a broad way, and not to take an exaggerated view, and to give the police powers they are capable of exercising whenever they have reason to suppose that an offence is likely to be committed.


I beg to second the Amendment.

I think the House will feel that some explanation is due from me with regard to this particular Amendment. I am quite willing to take upon my own shoulders any blame that may be necessary for the Amendment that was passed in Committee upstairs. I think the circumstances are now fairly familiar to the House. It only shows that it is always unwise to attempt to make a hurried compromise on the subject of an Amendment without sufficient consideration. The Amendment did not represent any deliberate view on the part of the promoters. We became conscious, when the Committee met, that there was a good deal of apprehension, and possibly alarm, with regard to the effect of this Clause in its widest form. We were very anxious to meet it, if possible, without detriment to the Bill, and, as a result of a hurried consultation upon the point with a representative of Scotland Yard and a representative of the Home Office, we were informed that the words which we agreed to have inserted, and which I myself moved, would not really in any way hamper the police. I admit that in taking that action we only had in mind for the moment the Metropolitan Police. The Metropolitan Police are in a very different category from any other police force in the United Kingdom, and they have a large Criminal Investigation Department which deals with this particular class of offence. In the case of the Metropolitan Police, I do not think that the words as they now stand would make any material difference. But I admit freely that in receiving that opinion from Scotland Yard neither they nor we took into consideration the different position of the police forces in the provinces and country districts. We now know quite plainly that the words as they stand would not be sufficient to cover the case of the provincial and county police. For that reason the original promoters of the Bill support my hon. and learned Friend's Amendment. Metaphorically speaking, I stand here in a white sheet, to express my regret that owing to insufficient consideration we did agree to the original Amendment.

There is one other thing I wish to say in regard to what my hon. and learned Friend has put forward. No one will deny that in all cases of arrest by anybody, however experienced, there is a risk that a mistake may occasionally be made. The best answer to that is contained in the Report of the Royal Commission which investigated this and kindred questions in 1906. A table attached to that Report shows that there were 378,000 arrests made by the Metropolitan Police in the three previous years, and out of that number, although every opportunity was given for any person aggrieved to bring his case to the notice of the Commission, only twelve complaints in all were made, and of these only three had any vestige of justification. Even if there is a slight risk this is a class of case in which the police themselves will be very careful not to make a mistake, and it must be remembered that if this Amendment is accepted it is not to be supposed that the last joined young constable, without any experience at all, is going to be turned loose by his superior officers with full powers to exercise arrests on every possible occasion. All inexperienced police are restrained to a certain extent by administrative orders till they have proved their capacity, and the more I have thought of it the more I have seen that it is impossible to lay down any logical dividing line between the wise constable and the foolish constable, and certainly length of service or rank will not necessarily make that line clear. I have come to the conclusion, therefore, that the Amendment should be accepted, because when these cases occur for interference on the part of the police it is essential that the nearest constable should be capable of being appealed to in case of need. The House recognises that the object of this Bill is not merely to arrest an offender and to lead to his punishment, but to save his victim before it is too late. That is really the thing which you are aiming at, and even if there is an infinitesimal risk, in some extreme case, of an innocent person being wrongly accused, that is a risk which we ought to be prepared to run.


I supported the Amendment which eliminated these words from the Bill in the Grand Committee because it was moved by the hon. Gentle- man (Mr. Lee), for whose efforts in this cause I, for one, have great respect, because it was supported by the Home Office, and also because I thought it was a sensible Amendment, and it is just because I still have that opinion that I hesitate at this moment what to do upon this Amendment. But I will not vote against the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Rawlinson), because the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lee) has appeared in a white sheet, and I understand my right hon. Friend assents to the elimination of these words. But I will just mention why I thought it was better that these words should be in. I do not like power to arrest without warrant in any case at all. I think it ought to be most sparingly used. In this case, however, the House is asked to give power to an officer to arrest without warrant, and also to arrest solely on suspicion, not because a man has committed an offence, but because a certain police officer thinks he is going to or has attempted to. I cannot forget that many ordinary police officers are men of very little experience. They may even have enlisted a week previously. They are probably drawing about 25s. a week, and they are asked to arrest men who, on the hypothesis on which this Bill has been framed, have their pockets bulging with gold, and who will be tempted, at any rate, to offer to these policemen a sovereign or two to say nothing about it. It was on these grounds that I thought it was a wise provision that only constables specially detailed for the duty, or constables of some rank and experience, should be entrusted with these wide powers. I still have a good deal of that feeling, but I will not vote against the Amendment.


I think the House ought to be very careful lest, in their extreme anxiety to deal with an odious crime, they should at all weaken that security for public liberty which it has always been the aim of the House of Commons to vindicate and maintain. I therefore feel impelled, unless modifying words are added, to point out the very great danger of accepting this Amendment. It will be conceded that this is a very novel departure in legislation, although a very proper one. You are imposing upon the police a most delicate duty. It is not the arresting of a person who has committed an offence, it is also the arrest of a person who, according to the words in the Clause, may, in the opinion of the police officer, be attempting to commit the offence. How is the police officer to form an opinion? He may form the opinion, when he sees a man in conversation with a woman under suspicious circumstances, and he may arrive, very often rightly, at the conclusion that the conversation is intended to carry out something, so far as the man is concerned, in contravention of this Act. That assumption may be wholly unwarranted. The Government, in their wisdom, supported, as I believe, by the general experience of the police authorities so far as they have been consulted throughout the country, have come to the conclusion that that task should not be left to the ordinary constable, but should be placed in the hands of experienced officers selected for the purpose. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Rawlinson) suggested that the experienced officer was more likely, if not to make mistakes, to act perversely than an ordinary constable. That is not the experience. The chief constable has among his officers a number of men whom by years of experience ho can trust. Secondly, the officer who is so entrusted exercises a very responsible function, and he would necessarily be most wary and most cautious in the discharge of his duties. In every constabulary force there are undoubtedly—it could hardly be otherwise—a certain number of men who abuse their power, perhaps for their own gain, or perhaps it might be through excess of zeal. I am speaking as one entirely in sympathy with the main purpose, of the Bill, and I do press the Home Secretary to be cautious lest this Bill, when it becomes an Act, as undoubtedly it will do, should be brought into disrepute by abuse of its provisions through zeal or impropriety of conduct on the part of police officers.

I recognise that there is some cogency in the argument of the hon. Member opposite, and I should be prepared to accept this Amendment—wide as I think it is, and speaking as a person who has had some experience in the administration of the law, dangerous as I think it is—if the Home Secretary would insert the words, "if in uniform at the time." I have consulted a good many people who have experience in the control of the police force, and I do not get up lightly to express merely my own opinion. They say that no more vile opportunity could be given for blackmailing if it is open for anybody, whether in uniform or not, to go, pretending that he is a constable and on some flimsy pretext, to persons who might be innocently together, and to say he saw them committing a crime. I think the records of the Metropolitan Police Force will show my hon. Friend that there are a very great number of cases where people who are not in any way connected with the police force attempt to levy blackmail. I do not call this panic legislation, but although it is not panic legislation, I think the House, in their anxiety to punish those scoundrels who attempt to commit this crime, should afford protection to honest people by not granting powers to the police of the kind proposed. I venture to make this observation on the Amendment, and to ask my right hon. Friend if he could see his way, if we accept the Amendment, to qualify it by putting in the words I suggest. I am most anxious to see this Bill passed into law, but I am still more anxious to secure people against abuse which, if exercised, would be most terrible in its results.


I cordially support the Amendment now under the consideration of the House, because, having been a member of the Committee, I heard all the arguments that unless this Amendment is carried the Bill will be ineffective, and will not accomplish that which we all desire to see, namely, the suppression of this evil and wicked traffic. There was a great deal of opposition to the Bill, and in the Committee I resisted by speech more than once any steps to weaken the powers of the Bill. I am glad that the Amendment has been proposed. I feel that this is a great evil, and that it requires strong remedies to deal effectively with it. The Bill as amended in Committee will fail in that object. The hon. Member says it will interfere with the liberty of the subject. Well, we all entertain the view that the liberty of the subject should be protected, but I would point out that there is at present power to arrest without warrant in cases of petty larceny. Surely, in combating so great an evil as the white slave traffic we are not going to fail to do what we think will be necessary out of fear of interference with the liberty of the subject. I believe the police will perform their duties in this matter with integrity and uprightness as- they generally do. I believe mistakes will very seldom be made, but even if a mistake should be made here and there it is better that that should occur than that this traffic should be carried on as it is at present. My hon. and learned Friend who moved the Amendment spoke rather disparagingly of popular demonstrations in favour of the strengthening of the Bill. I have received many protests against the elimination of Clause 1 from persons who have devoted their lives to advancing the well-being of the people and to promoting morality. When they demonstrate so largely in favour of restoring Clause 1 to its original state I think it is an expression of opinion which is entitled to consideration, and which should influence this House to a considerable degree in supporting this Amendment. I feel that this question is one that very closely touches the family life of English households, and men here who have daughters of their own cannot but feel a strong determination to do all that can be done to prevent the daughters of other people being led astray by this illicit trade which has been carried on, and which is known as the white slave traffic. I am sure that the country demands this Amendment; that justice demands it, and that family life demands it; and I cannot believe but that the House will ultimately, and I hope without a Division, adopt the Amendment.


I only want to say a few words in consequence of what has fallen from the hon. Gentle- man (Sir J. Spear). I think his speech leaves upon us the impression—the wrong impression—that in the Committee of which I had the honour of being a Member he was in favour of keeping the Clause in the Bill as it first appeared. I think the White Paper which I have here conclusively proves that the hon. Member never spoke a word against the Amendment.


This Clause was never divided on. On two occasions, as the Members of the Committee will admit, I made strong speeches against the weakening of the Bill in any department. This Clause was slipped through because of the obstruction manifested and in order to save some part of the Bill.


I am sure the hon. Member knows that I am not bringing any charge against him, but there have been terrible articles in the news-papers. It has been represented that this Clause was emasculated and cut down because of the conduct of the opponents of the Bill in Committee, and I wish to correct that erroneous impression. I deny that that was the case. The hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Lee) brought in the Amendment, and we all accepted it as the words of wisdom. I am not going to oppose the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Cambridge University. I admit that there is some risk in it. It has been admitted that policeman may arrest for pocket picking and may arrest in cases of felony if they have reasonable grounds to be believe that a felony is going to be committed, but not otherwise; but they may not arrest in cases of misdemeanour. Further, we must take some risk. I am as anxious as anyone that the first Clause should be made effective, and I hope that the Home Secretary will accept the Amendment.


On behalf of the Government I accept the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Cambridge University. It is only right also to say, in order that all misunderstanding may be cleared up, both as relates to the promoters of the Bill and some hon. Members who opposed it, that the responsibility for having introduced these words into the Bill rests with the Home Office. I have no hesitation in saying that and in taking full responsibility for it. We acted at the time without sufficient consideration of the whole of the country, and with regard only to the condition of London, and it is quite idle to say that this was accepted as a result of opposition in the Committee, because at that time there was no opposition at all, as the Bill had only just been begun. On a former occasion I stated that we were anxious in order to get the Bill through to meet the opponents as far as we could. That is always true of every person who has control of a Bill in order that they may not set up opposition, and, of course, in saying that we had no intention of restoring the Clause to its original form, it must not be supposed that we made a bargain with the intention of retreating. The concession was made honestly and under an honest mistake, and the House would be best advised in restoring the Bill to its original form.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill," put, and negatived.


I beg to move, after the word "may," to insert the words "if in uniform at the time."

I think the Home Secretary would be well advised in accepting this Amendment. By giving this power of arrest to a constable not in uniform, you are giving great opportunities for ill-conditioned and wicked persons to utilise the provisions of the Bill for their own private ends. Hon. Members who are so anxious for legislation on this question must not suppose that those of us who criticise some of the details of this Bill are less in accord with its main purpose. But is it or is it not a fact that this power may be abused by ill-meaning and bad people? If this is so, if there are ill-conditioned persons who are desirous of levying blackmail for their own private gain, surely fuller facilities could scarcely be afforded them than are afforded by this Bill. I cannot conceive a more flagrant case of opportunities for levying blackmail on perfectly innocent people being afforded to persons of that class, and they are numerous. We have in previous legislation, in the Children Act, made express provision, because of the delicate nature of the functions which police officers perform, that they should be in uniform when they exercise these functions. I have considered this question very carefully, and I do not think the fact of the police officers being required to be in uniform would in the smallest degree interfere with the securing of people who may be transgressors of this law. I think the facilities would not be in the smallest degree interfered with. Of course an officer not in uniform would still be able to exercise the power of his office, if, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cambridge University pointed out, he was applied to. But this is not a question of merely being applied to; it is a question of the officer acting upon his own initiative, and therefore you put it in the power of any person who is not an officer of the police, on his own initiative, on the pretence that somebod3r may be pretending to do something which is wrong, to arrest any person upon any of those charges, or to pretend to arrest him for the purpose of levying blackmail. I think that the Home Office ought not to lend itself to a provision which, while its general purpose is most admirable, might be so abused.


I desire to second the Amendment. The argument of the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Atherley-Jones) is very sound. We do not wish to do under this Bill anything which will add to the power of evil disposed persons to levy blackmail. Unless words of this sort are inserted it is very likely that they would attempt to obtain blackmail from respectable people by saying, "We are constables; we think you are going to commit a crime under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, and therefore we shall arrest you." I have been informed in the course of the last few minutes that if such a thing does occur the person arrested can demand from the supposed constable his authority, and that the supposed constable has to show a card authorising him to do so. That is news to me, and I believe news to a great majority of Members in this House. In the case of ninety people out of a hundred, if tapped on the shoulder and told they were going to be arrested, the last thing they would think about would be to ask to see the police card, and even if they were shown a card they would not know whether it was genuine or not. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will set at rest my doubts on the point. If he can show that there is a well-known custom that these constables out of uniform are compelled to produce a warrant or card to show that they are constables, then I do not know that the Amendment is necessary, but unless that can be shown, I think it is absolutely required.


I hope the hon. Gentleman opposite and my hon. Friend behind me will not press this Amendment, because I think they are labouring under a misapprehension, and perhaps do not sufficiently realise what the effect of the Amendment would be. I do not hesitate to say that its effect in most cases would be to paralyse the activities of the Criminal Investigation Department, which consists almost entirely of officers in plain clothes. At any rate, in London, where we have especially to deal with this particular class of offence, it is obvious that the difficulties would be increased if the constable had to be in uniform, because that would be exactly giving the warning to the offender which would enable him to escape.


May I point out that I do not put any check upon the powers of investigation of a man in plain clothes. If the person in plain clothes has made investigations and discovered the offender, surely it would be an easy matter to call a constable.


The hon. and learned Gentleman is apparently entirely ignorant of the conditions of this traffic. Let me give a particular case of the export of women from this country: I am sorry to say it occurred in my own Constituency, near Southampton. A few minutes before the ship sailed the girl went on board ship, and how can you, in these circumstances, investigate the case unless you can arrest the man on the spot? The ship has sailed, and the girl has disappeared for ever from the country.


A uniformed officer could be employed.


The presence of a uniformed officer would have the effect of preventing the man from showing himself, and, in most cases, of his evading the danger of his arrest. In regard to the point made by my hon. Friend (Sir F. Banbury) as to a man who professes to be a police officer, it is the fact, and I believe I shall be substantiated by the representatives of the Home Office, that every police constable in plain clothes, possibly in uniform also, has to carry on his person his warrant card, signed by the Chief Commissioner of Police.


He is not obliged to produce it unless called upon.


Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that if a man could produce no proof that he is an officer, and was not prepared to take his victim to the police station to bring a charge against him, that the person would submit to arrest? These officers in plain clothes can be identified; they have to produce proof that they are police constables, and I may say that I have tested the fact myself. Only the other day I was talking to a plain-clothes man belonging to the Criminal Investigation Department, and I said, "How can I tell you belong to the Department?" He at once produced his warrant and showed it to me. I feel certain that under the regulations officers must be in a position to identify themselves, and in these circumstances I hope the hon. Member will not press the Amendment.


The hon. Member for Durham rather over-estimates the protection which the Amendment would give to an innocent person, because the innocent person will not have read this Act; he will not know that the police constable has to be in uniform, and under this Amendment he would be equally likely to give way to the blackmailer. The criminal, however, would know the Act quite well, and he would not give way to blackmailing. The innocent man would be just as much in danger, and would be just as likely to give way to blackmailing whether you put in this danger signal to the criminal or whether you do not.

Amendment negatived.


I beg to move, to leave out the words "or of attempting to commit" ["or of attempting to commit any offence against"].

This Amendment appears at first sight as limiting and weakening the Clause, but, as a matter of fact, it is nothing of the kind. I really propose the Amendment in the interests of draftsmanship and the English language. The Clause, as it now reads, is to give power to a constable to take into custody any person whom he shall have good cause to suspect of having committed any offence against Section 2 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885, which relates to procuration and attempted procuration. Section 2 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act has running right through its four Sub-sections the words "procure, or attempts to procure." Therefore it is an offence under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, as it now stands, to attempt to procure. Under Section 2 of the Act the attempt to procure is an offence, and the effect of this Clause of the Bill, as it stands, would be in connection with the words in the Act, that the police constable could arrest for attempting to attempt to procure.


I beg to second the Amendment. We are indebted to my hon. Friend for keeping an acute eye on legislation by reference, and for having corrected language which would otherwise be redundant and unintelligible.


I do not think it would make any difference really if these words were not left out. The original substantive offence under the Act is attempting to procure, and, with the Bill as it stands, it would be attempting to attempt to procure. I accept the Amendment.


As I understand the words of the original Act, the offence is, "procure, or attempting to procure." The offence now proposed to be limited will be an offence in the past. If the Under-Secretary is prepared to accept the Amendment it should be one which would apply, not only to an offence that has been committed, but an offence in the course of being committed, for I take the same interest in punishing an offence committed last week as I do in preventing one from being committed this week.


I think my hon. and learned Friend must have made his speech without having looked into the Clause of the Act of 1885. The Clause of this Bill says if a constable shall have good cause to suspect a person of having committed any offence against Section 2 of the Act of 1885. The Section of the Act of 1885 says a person who "has committed or who is about to commit," so that is already in the Act.


I really think my hon. Friend is wrong. I was speaking a moment ago from recollection, but what the Act of 1885 provides is that it shall be an offence "to procure or attempt to procure any woman or girl for the purpose, of prostitution." The person who is aimed at by the Bill, as it is proposed to amend it, will be the person who is suspected, whom the constable has good cause to suspect, of having committed that offence—that is, of having procured or having attempted to procure. I am sure that is not what is intended, and I do not think any lawyer can have any doubt about it. The thing is perfectly plain when you consider what the offence is. The offence under the Act of 1885 which is dealt with is an offence in the past, and to have done that is punishable. Now it is to be provided that a constable may without warrant arrest a person who has committed that offence. That is not what the House is aiming at. What the House aims at is the arrest of persons engaged in committing one or other of these offences, either the offence of procuring or the offence of attempting to procure. The effect of what is proposed to be done now will be to entirely frustrate one of the main objects of the people promoting this Bill.


It certainly appears to me, if we allow these words to stand, that we shall be enacting that the constable is to be entitled to arrest if he suspects anybody of having attempted to attempt to procure. As I understand, the case intended to be covered is merely the case in which the constable observes a man making a sign or speaking to the girl, and that then he is entitled to arrest.

2.0 P.M.


I think it is quite clear that the matter is rather a difficult one and presents some doubts of importance. It certainly would be rash for a layman like myself to intervene with an opinion when two such high legal authorities as my hon. and learned Friend and the Lord Advocate differ. I venture to suggest that that is a reason for not hastily deciding the shape in which the Bill is to remain. It will be admitted that the matter requires further consideration. The point raised is one of those cases where there is perfect agreement amongst all sections as to what it is desired to do, and the only question is what is the language which is most appropriate to secure that end. I suggest it really would be better, under the circumstances, to leave the matter now in the shape in which it has come from Grand Committee, and that between this and the time when the Bill is in another place the Government should consider it very carefully with their legal advisers and draftsmen, and, if necesary, propose an alteration of the wording there. I confess the impression left on the layman's mind is that something between the words which are now in the Bill and the words suggested is required. I think I had better adhere to my original intention, which was not to argue the case, and to appeal to the Government not to prejudge the question, but leave it to be considered in another place.


I certainly think the suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman is the right one in a case of this kind, recognising that the view of the hon. and learned Member for Exeter (Mr. Duke) is one which cannot easily be ignored, while, on the other hand, anybody who has listened to my hon. and learned Friend on this bench will also recognise that their opinions are worthy of respect. There is a real conflict of opinion as to the words, and before the Bill gets to another place we will have this question considered by as competent legal opinion as we can get. Upon that understanding I hope the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his Amendment.


I do not wish to waste time, and by leave of the House I desire to withdraw the proposed Amendment.


I am very glad the Home Secretary has taken the course suggested by my right hon. Friend. Here is a conflict of eminent legal opinion. If my hon. Friend (Mr. Duke) is right, there is a serious loophole left in the Bill. Therefore the only safe course is to leave the words as they stand, and, if necessary, revise them in another place.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.