HC Deb 01 November 1913 vol 43 cc728-32

1. Any person who—

  1. (a) procures or attempts to procure any feeble-minded girl or woman for the purpose of having unlawful carnal connection, either within or without the King's Dominions, with any person or persons; or
  2. (b) unlawfully and carnally knows, or attempts to have unlawful carnal knowledge of, any feeble-minded girl or woman
shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof shall be liable at the discretion of the Court to be imprisoned with or without hard labour for any term not exceeding two years.

2. For the purpose of this Section a girl or woman shall be deemed to be feebleminded if she is or is liable to be detained in any institution or placed under special guardianship as a lunatic, criminal lunatic, idiot, imbecile, or mentally-defective person, or if she is (although not so detained or placed or liable to be so detained or placed) unable, on account of mental weakness, to exercise due self-protection against acts of sexual immorality.

(3) No consent or alleged consent shall be any defence in any criminal proceedings relating to an indecent assault upon any feeble-minded girl or woman, unless it shall be made to appear to the Court or jury that the accused was unaware and had no reason to suspect that the girl or woman, as the case may be, was feeble-minded.

(4) Where upon the trial of an indictment for rape the jury are not satisfied that the accused has been guilty of rape but are satisfied that he has been guilty of an offence under this Section they may acquit him of rape and find him guilty of an offence under this Section, and in that event he shall be liable to be punished accordingly.

(5) This Section shall be incorporated with Part I. of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885, but nothing in this Section shall affect the liability of a person to be proceeded against under any other provision of that Act provided that a person be not twice punished for the same offence.

(6) Sub-section two of Section five of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885, is hereby repealed.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time." There is unquestionably an urgent need of this change in the law.


On a point of Order. May I suggest that this Clause has nothing whatever to do with this Bill, and that it ought to be added upstairs to the Bill dealing with the feeble-minded?


That is hardly a point of Order, but it might perhaps be more convenient to insert the Amendment in the other Bill.


Is not this aspect of the case under the Lunacy Act? [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Yes it is.


The hon. Member had better ask one of the Law Officers.


I will deal with that point as to what the law really is. In Section 5, Sub-section (2), of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885, the law to which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Woolwich refers is this:—

Any person who …. unlawfully and carnally knows, or attempts to have unlawful carnal knowledge of any female idiot or imbecile woman, or girl, under circumstances which do not amount to rape, but which prove that the offender knew at the time of the commission of the offence that the woman or girl was an idiot or imbecile—

shall be guilty of a misdemeanour. All the authorities tell us that that is wholly in- adequate. Let me refer the House to the Report of the Royal Commission on the Care and Control of the Feeble-minded, 1908. In his Memorandum in that Report, Mr. H. D. Greene, K.C., says:— There is no definition of 'idiot' or 'imbecile' in the Statute, but the onus is thrown on the prosecution of proving that the offender knew that the female was an 'idiot' or 'imbecile.' Persons whose defective mental condition falls short of whatever these words may mean are not protected. In an Irish Court the words have been interpreted to refer only to persons congenitally weak-minded. If the prosecution fails to prove the offender's knowledge, the charge fails. Experience shows that this onus is often a difficult one to discharge. On the next page, Mr. Greene says:— I hold that these provisions are totally inadequate. The fact that these are inadequate is demonstrated by other testimony. Dr. Barclay, General Superintendent of Poor Houses, Edinburgh, testifying in the same Report, says:— There are women who have had several illegitimate children, and who are of low mental type and facile disposition. I may cite a case where I had recently to examine a woman of this class. She is known to have had ten illegitimate children. She can neither read nor write. She could not tell me, counting on her fingers, how many children she had had. In this same poorhouse, there is a feeble-minded inmate who has had seven illegitimate children. Another illegitimate woman has had ten illegitimate children, her eldest daughter is following in her footsteps, and two of the young children (twins) shows signs of weakness. In another small poor-house, with nineteen female inmates, thirteen were infirm and sick, four were epileptics and three weak-minded; one of the latter has had three illegitimate children, and all the three women are not allowed out as they are sent there for protection. In another small poor-house there are five women. Two sisters, one weak-minded, have three illegitimate children each —one to a near relative. One woman is a deaf and dumb mute of low intelligence and two are infirm. I may mention the case of a woman now in a small poor-house suffering from disease. She has an ungovernable temper, and is destitute of any feelings of modesty.… Another has six children, and has been prosecuted for neglecting and illtreating them. My experience— [Hon. Member: "Agreed"]. I want to emphasise this point, to show the urgent need of this particular change— leads me to say that the class of women who come to our poorhouses with more than one illegitimate child are generally of feeble mind. There is abundant testimony along the same lines. If then the present law is wholly inadequate to protect the feeble-minded, what better opportunity, in view of the urgency, could there possibly be of including this Clause in the Bill? It is admitted by all authorities that the need exists, that the evil exists. Now we have an opportunity of amending this Bill, which is a Criminal Law Amendment Bill! The hon. Baronet opposite has suggested that the Mental Deficiency Bill is the proper one on which to move an Amendment such as this. I maintain it is not, and in support of that I quote the Home Secretary, who in a declaration he made yesterday pointed out that the present Mental Deficiency Bill does not cover all the feeble-minded. This new Clause I am moving does cover all. The right hon. Gentleman said yesterday the purpose of the Bill, broadly speaking, was that no person should be brought under its operations merely because he or she was feeble-minded. So there are large classes of the feeble-minded outside the scope of that Bill. All the feeble-minded are roped in under this Clause. I urge my right hon. Friend to accept this Clause, and to take this opportunity, which is a better one than on the Mental Deficiency Bill, to make it the law of the land.


I beg to second the Motion.


I hope my hon. Friend will not press this Clause. I do not intend to discuss the merits of the Clause with which I have a good deal of sympathy, but it is far more relevant to the Mental Deficiency than on this Bill. The effect of pressing this matter now would only be to delay this Bill. I appeal to my hon. Friend not to delay the consideration of this Bill by raising a problem which is the very one which is being considered just now by the Committee upstairs, and is being discussed at great length there.


I appeal to my hon. Friend to withdraw this Clause. We were actually at the last meeting of the Committee upstairs upon the very point, and we shall be also at the next meeting, of feeble-minded women applying for relief when pregnant. Let my hon. Friend withdraw this Clause now and obtain a place on the Committee upstairs and help us with long speeches.


I hope we may hear from the Government that at the Committee on the Mental Deficiency it may be possible to discuss so much of this new Clause as comes within its scope. I am sure it is felt in all quarters of the House that such protection as the Clause affords should be given.


I would point out that this very point is raised in one of the Clauses of the Mental Deficiency Bill. Anyone who looks at the details of the Clause we are now discussing will see they are absolutely unworkable.


I hope my hon. Friend having heard what has been said, and in view of the fact that it is the intention of the Government to push the Mental Deficiency Bill through—


Their present intention—


He will not consider it necessary to press this Clause.

Question put, and negatived.