HC Deb 19 February 1917 vol 90 cc1098-131

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

In asking the House to give this Bill a Second Reading to-night I know I am making a call upon its good will, but I do so because I do not believe there is a single Member who is opposed to the principle of the Bill, and I think I can undertake that if the Second Reading is taken to-night sufficient time will be allowed before the Committee stage so that Amendments may be put down. I do not think there is any need to spend much time in arguing that there is a strong case for a Bill of this kind. It deals, of course, with what is called the Social Evil. The evils are patent to us all, and I think the need for remedy is urgent. I have no doubt the case may be easily exaggerated, and I am quite ready to admit that this country is no worse, and, indeed, may be better, than other countries; but we know the facts in our country, and I think we are all agreed that something should be done. I have endeavoured, in framing the Bill, to confine myself to proposals which, so far as I know, would receive general assent, and would be quickly passed into law, so that no time would be lost. These are matters which we all of us hate to discuss, though we are obliged to do so, and I think the remedy ought to be quickly applied, and no time whatever should be thrown away. I will only refer to the main proposals of the Bill. I propose, in Clause 1, to raise what is called the age of consent in charges of indecent assault. Generally speaking, the rule is that to a charge of assault consent is an answer. In 1880 an Act was passed which provided that it should be no defence to a charge of indecent assault with a child under the age of thirteen that the child consented to the act of indecency. No doubt the ground was that a child so young could not really understand the meaning of such an act, and could not in any real sense consent to it. I think the same argument applies to a child over thirteen and up to the age of sixteen, and the proposal in the Bill is that the age should be raised to sixteen. There is a little difference in form betwen this Bill and the Act of 1880, because the latter simply assumes consent. It has been sug- gested to me that to say that a child of, say, fifteen cannot consent would be going rather far and therefore, instead of using the fiction of the Act of 1880, we provide directly that any act of indecency upon a child under the age of sixteen shall be the subject of indictment, and it shall be no defence that the child consented to the act.

The next matter I want to refer to deals with Amendments to Section 5 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885. This is Clause 3 of the Bill. Section 5 of the Act makes it a misdemeanour to have, or attempt to have, unlawful carnal knowledge with a girl over thirteen and under the age of sixteen. There is a proviso that it shall be a sufficient defence to such a charge if the Court or the jury is satisfied that the person charged had reasonable cause to believe that the girl was over the age of sixteen years. I am informed that that proviso as to reasonable cause has had a great effect upon prosecutions under that Section. It has to a great extent nullified the Section itself. A girl of nearly sixteen years of age may often have the appearance, or may at the trial be made to have the appearance, of a girl above that age, and juries are very apt, I am told, to take the view that a man who is charged with that very serious offence way have been deceived, so that in fact the acquittals on charges under that Section are said to amount to as much as 50 per cent, of the charges. I think protection for girls under sixteen against this very grave offence should be absolute and there should be no loophole for escape. The reference is to unlawful knowledge only. If a man has such intercourse with a girl who may be as young as under sixteen years of age he ought to take the consequences. Therefore, I propose to repeal altogether that proviso as to reasonable cause. If the result is to induce greater caution and to some extent to protect girls over the age of sixteen and even up to seventeen, so much the better.

There is, as I know, a body of opinion which is in favour of raising the age under that Section from sixteen to seventeen, or even eighteen. I have considered that question. It has been the most difficult question which I have had to consider under this Bill. I have not inserted that provision in the Bill. To begin with, every expert whom I have consulted is opposed to so raising the age. While the temptation to raise it is, of course, very great, you must have regard to the views of experts, which are founded on a desire to protect young people, so far as possible. The reasons, I think, are not very far to seek. If you raise the age under this Section 5 over sixteen you must, I think, retain the proviso as to reasonable cause. If you were to raise the age to seventeen or eighteen absolutely, and give no protection to a man who had reasonable cause to believe the girl to be younger than that age, you would really be setting a trap for people. I think, therefore, you could not raise the age and repeal the proviso, and if you raised the age and left the proviso you would have, I am told, not 50 per cent., but 80 per cent. or 90 per cent, of acquittals. Therefore, it really is better for the girls we seek to protect that that Section should in this respect remain as it is. Of course, if you go too far you may cause juries not to convict at all. Upon the whole, although I admit I have been very much impressed by arguments the other way, my present view is that I am doing more for the protection of young girls by repealing the proviso, and leaving the age where it is, than we should be doing if we raised the age from seventeen to eighteen. There is a proviso in Section 5 of the Act of 1885 which provides that proceedings under the Section for unlawful intercourse shall not take place more than six months after the date of the offence, or rather the original period was three months, and it was raised to six months in a later Act. It appears to me that six months is still too short. I am told there have been many cases where girls who have been so maltreated have hidden the fact until it was too late to take proceedings. They wait sometimes more than six months before revealing what they naturally wish to conceal, and the effect has been that the guilty persons have got off. I propose, therefore, to raise the time allowed from six months to twelve months, so that there can be no question of the escape of the men who are guilty ox these offences on the ground of time.

The next point I propose to mention is the Clause dealing with houses of ill-fame. These houses are dealt with by Section 13 of the Act of 1885, and I propose to amend that Section, in two ways, first, by extending the special provisions, preventing the letting of a house preventing the letting of a house which is known to be intended to be used house is intended to be used as a place of habitual prostitution. The second Amendment which I propose is that the penalties shall be increased. The penalties at the present time for keeping a house as a house of ill fame are a fine of £20 or three months imprisonment for the first offence, and a fine not exceeding £40 or four months imprisonment on the second or subsequent convictions. Fines of that kind are really of no use at all. It has been found in cases which have been tried that the profits of that horrible trade are often so great that a fine of £20 or £40 is a mere flea bite. There was a case reported the other day where a woman was making by this kind of traffic as much as £17 a day, a rate which if it extended over the whole year would exceed £6,000. There was another case where the keeper of such a house was found to have deposited over £2,000 in her bank within six months. Where such profits are earned what is the use of a fine of £20 or £40? We propose to increase the penalty to a fine of £100 or three months for the first offence, £250 or six months for the second offence, and £500 or twelve months for the third offence. I hope that the magistrates will not feel themselves bound in cases where these convictions take place to be content with a fine, but that they will use as far as they think it necessary the penalty of imprisonment in a second or subsequent offence, and even if need be on a first offence. We propose to deal with soliciting under this Bill. The penalty for soliciting in London is a fine not exceeding 40s., and there is no power of imprisonment. Under the Towns Police Clauses Acts the penalty in the country is 40s. or fourteen days for a second offence. The result has been, I am told, that sometimes people have been convicted twenty, forty, even ninety times and have paid their fine of 40s. and do not feel it at fill. It is necessary where there are repeated offences of this kind to authorise a sentence of imprisonment as well as a fine. We propose to authorise that, for a second or subsequent offence, the magistrates can impose imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month.

I now come to the last Clauses with which I need to deal, which refer to the subject of venereal disease. That subject is, I believe, of very real importance for the future of the race, and by the admirable Report of the Royal Commission on Venereal Disease it has been brought into a region where action may be taken. Among the recommendations of that Commission, perhaps the most important deal with the question of diagnosis and treatment, and provide for institutions which are to be provided or assisted by the local authorities. Those matters are entirely within the province of the Local Government Board, which has already taken very vigorous action in that direction. The suggestion that unqualified practice should be restricted is closely allied with the question of treatment. That, again, is not a matter so much for the Home Office as for the Local Government Board, and it is being considered now, as I happen to know, by the President of the Local Government Board with a view to legislation along that line. There remain matters which must be dealt with, if at all, by amendments of the Criminal Law, and, after consultation with my Noble Friend the President of the Local Government Board, and with his full concurrence, I have included in this Bill these provisions relating to venereal disease. The first of them is contained in Clause 2, which provides, in Sub-section (1), that

"A person who is suffering from venereal disease in a communicable form shall not have sexual intercourse with any other person or solicit or invite any other person to have such intercourse."

9.0 p.m.

I think that a person of either sex who has the misfortune to suffer from one of these terribly contagious complaints ought not to be allowed so to act that the disease is likely to be communicated to others and possibly passed on to future generations. Therefore, we propose to make that in itself an offence. In other directions, if you are suffering from an infectious disease, it is an offence so to act as to spread it among other persons, and in the case of a disease of this contagious character, it ought to be an offence against the law for a person so to act that he or she must in the natural course of events communicate that disease. I am conscious that there may be difficulties in bringing the offence home to those who may plead that they had no knowledge that they were suffering from the disease. We have inserted special provisions which will meet the difficulty in certain cases. We provide in Sub-section (3) that a person who is convicted of an offence under the Act may be examined by a doctor in order to ascertain whether he or she is suffering from one of these diseases—the doctor in the case of a female, of course, being a female doctor. We also provide that the doctor who makes the examination, or, in the case of imprisonment, the prison doctor, may give to the person who is found to be suffering from this disease a written notice to that effect, so that he or she cannot afterwards say that he had no knowledge that he was suffering from this disease. I do not think anybody can complain of such a provision being made in those cases. The other matter relating to venereal disease is Clause 7, which deals with advertisements of cures. The Indecent Advertisements Act, 1889, provided that advertisements of cures for venereal disease should be deemed indecent advertisements within the meaning of the Act. Unfortunately, it did not deal with advertisements in newspapers, but only with leaflets or advertisements on houses and in public places. We desire first of all to extend the Act to advertisements in newspapers, making special provision by Sub-section (2) of Clause 7 for the protection of newspapers which unwittingly publish such advertisements. We also propose to extend the Act not only to all advertisements relating to this disease, but to advertisements of means for procuring miscarriage or abortion, or suggesting that premises can be used for immoral purposes. We are also increasing the penalties, which seem to be too light. The penalties are increased to £100 and six months' imprisonment, instead of 40s. and one month's imprisonment, and £5 and three months' imprisonment respectively. I think this is a proposal which was made by the Royal Commission on Venereal Disease.

These are all the main Clauses of the Bill to which the House is now asked to give a Second Reading. When my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Herbert Samuel) was in the Home Office a Bill of the same kind was projected. I have omitted certain parts of the Bill which he proposed to introduce, and I have added Clauses of my own. He cannot, therefore, be held responsible either for what is included in or for what is omitted from my Bill, but I have every reason to hope that the general lines of the Bill will receive his support. I will ask the House to deal with the proposals with as little delay as possible, and not, unless they feel bound to do so, to smother the Bill with Amendments. I have only included Clauses which I think are immediately necessary, and I hope that we shall not spend too-much time in discussing Amendments. I hope that the measure will be approved by the House, and that if passed it will tend to give further protection to our young people, and to provide some additional safeguards for the health of the community.


The House is limited in these days to legislation which arises out of war conditions, or has some direct relation to war conditions, and I am very glad, indeed, to think that the right hon. Gentleman does not consider a Bill of this sort excluded by that fact. Indeed, the condition with regard to venereal diseases has probably been more serious of late than it has ever been before, and those who look forward to the conditions arising immediately after the War, and to the permanent interests of the health of our population, feel some disquietude as to the extent to which those diseases may prevail. I cannot pretend to be impartial with respect to the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman has introduced, because, as he has mentioned, when I had the honour to occupy the position of Home Secretary I gave very close attention to the subject, and drafted in some detail the heads of a measure of this character, and I am glad to know that in great part the right hon. Gentleman has approved of the draft which I prepared. He has omitted two of my Clauses, which I shall mention in a few moments, and he has added two or three others to which I will also refer, but in the main the Bill proceeds precisely on the lines which I had contemplated proposing, and it will do much, I am convinced, to safeguard the ravages which are wrought by venereal diseases and the scandal of child prostitution.

The most novel, and, in some ways, the most important Clause of the Bill is the second Clause. It is a strange thing that our law hitherto has not made it an offence for a person with full knowledge of his condition to infect another person with venereal disease. Morally it is a crime. If one person assaults another physically and does personal injury to life or limb it is recognised by the law as a crime and punished as such. If one persons poisons another with some noxious drug that of course is regarded by the law as a great crime. But a person with full knowledge of all the circumstances may deliberately infect another with a foul and loathsome disease, and may perhaps utterly destroy that other individual's health and happiness for years, and perhaps for life, with a disease which may be transmitted to a later generation, and in the eye of our law he commits no offence whatever and he can do it with complete impunity. It is amazing to me that it has never been suggested before that our legislation should deal with this particular wrong, and it is perhaps somewhat remarkable that the Royal Commission on Venereal Diseases did not touch on this aspect of the question, and made no recommendation. I feel sure that Parliament, now that the matter has been brought before it, will be very ready to make the provisions of our Statute law fit the moral sense of the whole community.

I am not one of those who advocate that there should be compulsory notification of venereal diseases and compulsory medical treatment. I know that there are many persons really anxious to suppress the spread of these diseases, who regard this as a practical remedy, and indeed, in some cases, think it the only remedy which is likely to be effective. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has not proposed a provision of this sort in this Bill, and indeed it belongs more properly to the province of the President of the Local Government Board, and I hope that when he comes to introduce the legislation which he may be contemplating he will also abstain from a measure of that character. You cannot enforce compulsory notification and treatment, and, furthermore, the effect of it would be to deter persons from voluntarily seeking treatment, which it is the object of those who are working at this quesction now to induce sufferers to do. I do not believe either that it is practicable as some have proposed to require compulsory examination of all the persons who go to the workhouses to see whether they have suffered from this disease, and, if so, to take measures to give them treatment. If we are to do that we shall not be able to say that any persons who are destitute and starving can find some place of refuge provided by society open to them, because we shall be saying, "If you go to this place we trap you here, we medically examine you, and we compel you to stay for as long as may be necessary to treat you for this disease."

Nor is the proposal anyway practicable to require a compulsory examination of all persons committed to prison. In my view it would be an outrage to take a person who is committed to prison, perhaps for theft, and to submit him to a medical examination to see whether he was suffering from this disease. Obviously it would be still more indefensible to take that course with regard to persons who find themselves in prison for perhaps some quasi political offence, and who are guilty of no crime or moral turpitude. But are we to say then that nothing can be done with regard to certain classes of persons who go about the world engaged in occupations which result in the widespread transmission of this disease, or even of individuals who do not make it an occupation but who may reasonably be suspected of practises tending to transmit disease? A case came to my knowlege when I was at the Home Office which will bring the matter before the House in a very vivid light. There was a woman who was a known prostitute who was suffering from this disease in its most virulent form, who was convicted of soliciting for prostitution and who found herself in prison and her physical condition was discovered. The magistrates refused to release her or to sentence her for the short period which was all that they would be willing to impose for the offence with which she had been charged. They remanded her, and meantime she received medical treatment in the prison. After an interval she was brought up again and remanded the second time, and she was before the Court three or four times. This went on until it came to the knowledge of the Home Office, which was in duty bound to point out to the magistrates that they were committing an illegality and that they had no right to use the system of remand to keep in prison a person in order to subject her to medical treatment which had not been authorised by Parliament and a form of detention which had not been authorised by Parliament.

The magistrates protested, and said that they knew what would be the consequences of releasing her, but, nevertheless, it was my duty then, acting as Home Secretary, to say that the Home Office could not acquiesce in a patent flagrant illegality, and the woman was consequently released. Within a few days she was again found soliciting for prostitution, with the certainty that she would undoubtedly transmit this disease to any person who happened to have sexual relations with her. This is a very unsavoury, unpleasant story to bring before the House of Commons, but it is necessary to bring home to many hon. Members who may have doubts as to the provisions of this Bill the absolute necessity of taking some measures to deal with a case like that. The proposal which I drafted, which the right hon. Gentleman has included in this Bill, is that any person, man or woman, who is guilty of what may be described as a sexual offence, one of the offences mentioned in the Schedule to the Bill, who finds himself or herself in prison may be examined for this disease after conviction for one of these offences, and then there may be served upon him or her formal notice from the doctor stating that he or she was suffering from this disease. If, after that, he or she is found doing any of the things stated in the Bill, the consequence of which will be the transmission of disease, then he or she is liable, not for having the disease, but for having done an action conducing to the committal of the offence of injuring a fellow creature by inflicting upon him or her one of these loathsome diseases. That is to be found in Clause 2 of the Bill. I most earnestly hope that it will receive the sanction of Parliament. The effect of it will be this, that where a man or a woman has received this notice, and knows that if he or she does any of these things in the Act, he or she will be liable for transmitting the disease to a heavy penalty. What would be the effect? They would do, what a good many of them do not do now, they would at once take steps to cure the disease. It would be an indirect way of securing that these men would resort to the centres of treatment which have now been opened by the officers of the Local Government Board throughout the country in order to rid themselves of these dangerous and terrible diseases. There is one minor point to which I should like to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman for consideration before the Bill goes into Committee. Subsection (3) of Clause 2 provides that where a person has been convicted of any of these offences under the Act the Court may order the person to be submitted to such medical examination and tests as may be requisite. I do not find any provision in the Bill to enforce such an order; there is no procedure, no power taken to make rules, there are no penalties declared for refusal to obey the order. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman will give attention to that before the Bill goes into Committee. Clause 3 effects another and most useful reform, which has been explained by the Home Secretary. Under the Criminal Law Amendment Act now the age is fixed at sixteen, and a person could be acquitted if he or she could show a reasonable belief that the young person was over sixteen years of age. It is obvious that such a provision would defeat the real ends of justice, and I am glad the right Gentleman has absolished it.

But I much regret that the right hon. Gentleman has not seen his way to insert a Clause—which I hope to propose—to raise the age of consent to seventeen. I think that public opinion is fully ripe for an extension of that character. I confess I do not find that unanimity of expert opinion against raising the age which existed before. I think that many persons who carry great weight would cordially endorse the age of consent being raised to seventeen, and at the same time retaining the provision in the Bill abolishing the Clause in the old Act which provided for the case where there was a reasonable cause to believe that the girl was of a higher age. The effect of this would really be to give protection up to the age of eighteen. That is a proposal which has been made for some years past by many of those interested in the subject, and it is supported by a considerable weight of opinion. The Bishop of London introduced a Bill in the House of Lords, in 1914, which had a considerable volume of support, and which proposed to raise the age to eighteen. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it might be dangerous to raise the age to eighteen and abolish the provision with regard to reasonable ground of belief. If you raise the age to seventeen, and abolish that provision, it would in fact afford protection up to the age of eighteen. It may be said that juries might not convict. That might be so in certain cases. But public opinion has gone a long way in recent years, and juries are educable, and in the course of time they would be willing to give protection to young girls of the age certainly of seventeen, particularly if that proposal were accompanied by another proposal which I should very I much like to see in the Bill with regard to other offenders—those young girls of the age of fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen who practise prostitution in the streets, and are really a scandal to civilisation. They have not got sufficient knowledge of life to I see the dangers they run, the ruin of body and soul to which they will expose themselves throughout their lives, and some measure of protection ought to be devised for them. It is perfectly useless to impose fines of 40s. when they are convicted. It is almost useless, I believe, to subject them to imprisonment. There might be some hope if, for a considerable period, they were received at some institution where they might be under influences which might possibly redeem them, or you might apply the reformatory system to this particular class. [An HON. MEMBER: "Would you apply it to the men?"] The cases of men and of women are not analogous. While I believe that the sexes should be on an equality in regard to all these matters—I do not like to go too far into an unsavoury subject—yet, as a matter of fact, the conditions cannot be the same in the two sexes, in regard to this particular point. That proposal, again, to which I have just referred, was made in the House of Lords, and not only proposed by the Bishop of London as an Amendment to his Bill, but also supported by the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Haldane, who regarded it as an admirable one. The consequence of it would be, not only to give protection to many of these girls, but it would also dispose of the objection to raising the age of consent, which might give rise to cases of blackmailing.

That has been the chief argument advanced against raising the age of consent. You get young girl prostitutes parading the streets; they get some man to accompany them; and he is thereupon threatened that, unless he pays over so much money as blackmail, he will be prosecuted for having accompanied the girl below the age of consent. I do not think there is great fear of that, because exactly the same thing was said in the discussions in Parliament when the age of consent was raised to sixteen. The experience of the Home Office is that there have been practically no cases of blackmailing with regard to girls under sixteen, and I doubt very much if there will be any more cases if the age were raised to seventeen. But if the Bill had this provision that any girl under the age of seventeen or eighteen, who was convicted for prostitution could be sent to a reformatory established for this particular purpose—not to one of the ordinary reformatories—you would find that there could not be any case of blackmail, because immediately a person who was liable to be charged was blackmailed he would have a weapon in his hands, and would be able to say, "I have been accompanying you; if you are under the age, you are liable to be kept in an institution for a considerable period." So far with regard to that matter. I hope that when the Committee stage is reached the right hon. Gentleman will consider whether it is not possible to embody a Clause of that character. Clauses 4 and 5 which my right hon. Friend has included in this Bill were not contemplated by me, but I regard them as excellent Clauses. Clause 4, which he did not mention in his presentation of the Bill, seems to be one of the most important in the measure.


I did mention it.


I beg pardon. It is a Clause which provides that if any place is used for purposes of prostitution by one person only, it might be regarded as a brothel for the purposes of proceedings against a landlord or other person, who let the premises. I believe if that Clause wore included in an Act of Parliament and enforced by the police authorities it would have very great effect indeed in combating the evil with which we have to deal. Clause 5, increasing the penalties on brothel-keepers, seems to be a very useful provision. With respect to some details of Clause 6, I have doubt. It is a Clause which imposes heavy penalties, not only for soliciting, but also for loitering with a view to soliciting. Possibly the details of that Clause may require some examination in Committee. Clause 7, which is one dealing with indecent advertisements, is calculated to have a useful effect. With regard to the Bill as a whole I can only repeat the observation I made at the beginning of my remarks, that I earnestly trust, even in this time of war, Parliament will be willing to legislate on the initiative of the right hon. Gentleman along a direction so admirable for objects so necessary.


I feel sure the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman that as few difficulties as possible will be put in the way of this Bill becoming law will meet with almost universal approval. It is because he asked that the Order Paper should not be flooded with Amendments that I venture to invite his attention to one or two points, in the hope that he may direct his consideration to them before the Committee stage is reached, and in that way possibly save a good deal of time. In Clause 2 we have a definition of venereal disease to which no objection will be taken, except perhaps in the last part, which provides that, for the purposes of this Section, it shall include diseases which may reasonably be suspected to be venereal diseases. I think if the right hon. Gentleman will carefully consider these words, he will see that, in a Section which creates a criminal offence, they may prove very difficult words indeed. "A disease which may reasonably be suspected to be"! Reasonably suspected by whom? I do not want to enlarge on the point. I simply mention it because I think that if the right hon. Gentleman will consult his legal and medical advisers he will find there is a great deal of difficulty likely to arise in reference to these words.

I want next to refer to Clause 7. The House will remember that just before the War broke out a Select Committee of this House, which had been sitting for two or more years on the question of patent medicines, reported, and one of its recommendations was that there should be a prohibition of any form of advertisement connected with these particular diseases. I presume that this Clause is an attempt to give effect to that recommendation. If it is, I want to say, in the first place, that the provision is rather too wide in one respect and a great deal too narrow in another. It will be noticed, if this Bill becomes law, it will be an offence to advertise remedies for syphilis, gonorrhœa, and certain other diseases. But the provision is not confined to advertisements recommending remedies; it relates to advertisements of any kind referring to these matters, and the insertion and publication of such advertisements is to be an offence. That is shown by the exemptions, because the exemptions exclude from the operation of this Section notices by any local or public authority. Obviously that is put in in order to protect public authorities who, under the scheme of the Local Government Board, when dealing with these diseases, will find it necessary to make public announcement in regard to them. They will, in fact, be advertisements relating to these diseases. Suppose the National Council, which is not a public authority, chooses to issue literature in regard to the scheme; that undoubtedly would be an advertisement relating to these diseases. I think what really is aimed at is advertisements offer- ing treatment for these diseases or advertisements of remedies for them. If that is the intention, then I think the word "advertisement" must be accompanied by some other words. There must be words defining what is or is not an advertisement. Fortunately there is a precedent in this matter. There is a statutory enactment known as the Medicine Stamp Act, wherein there is language describing what is recommending or holding out a remedy for disease. It has been on the Statute Book since 1812, and has been the subject of High Court decision. There we have a settled law as to what it means, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will be well advised if he will look into that particular Statute, and see what are the provisions there relating to the recommendations of medicine which renders those medicines liable to Stamp Duty. I think he will find assistance there in getting words which would be very much better than those used in this Bill.

Before the Departmental Committee we heard a great deal of evidence from the medical profession, and there was an official body which was asking that Parliament should take strong measures against the advertising of what they regarded, and in many cases rightly regarded, as quack remedies for diseases. But they were met on that point by their own technical journal—the official journal of their own body—in which were pointed out, and in other strictly medical journals, instances after instances of advertisements for proprietory medicines advocating the use of those medicines. This Section, while it prohibits the publication of the advertisement to the public, exempts from its operation advertisements published in bonâ-fide medical or pharmaceutical publications. I ask why that exemption? and I can give good reasons for asking that question. I can understand the medical profession saying that the general public ought not to be told in public advertisements of any remedies for these diseases. The case they make out is a good case, that anyone suffering should go and be treated by a properly qualified medical man, but it comes rather ill from the medical profession to say, "We want you to still permit the proprietors of these remedies to tell us in our journal what these things are used for." Is it suggested that the-medical profession must be driven to the advertisements of these proprietors to tell them in their own technical journals what are the remedies which they ought to prescribe to their patients? It seems to me that there can be no excuse for the medical profession asking that advertisements in their own papers setting out the uses to which proprietary medicines are to be put should be exempted from the Clause. No one spends money on advertising something which can be bought in the open market. The money is spent by the proprietors of a particular remedy, and I say that it is not creditable to the medical profession that they should claim the right of being told by the proprietor of a secret remedy what its use is for, and I do not think the resources of the medical profession are so limited that it is necessary for them to go to their technical journals and the advertisements of proprietors of remedies to learn what are the remedies which should be used for diseases they are about to deal with.

There is a strong practical reason why this provision should come out. If the right hon. Gentleman goes into any public library, or I would say into nearly any public library, he will find these journals there—and what is going to happen? If in future people who are Buffering from these diseases are to be driven to the doctor by closing to them all the channels which were previously open to them of being told what remedies to take, if they once know that by going to a public library and getting hold of any of these journals they can there find advertised the very thing which is not to be allowed to be advertised in the public Press, then I think he would go a long way to undo the good which he intends this Section to do. I am not sure that the latter end of the Section is justifiable, because although it makes it an offence for the person to advertise, it says that a person charged with publishing an advertisement, that is, the newspaper proprietor or someone else who publishes

"if he is not himself the advertiser, shall not be convicted if he proves that he did not know and had no reasonable ground for suspecting that the advertisement was of such a character as to make the publication thereof an offence."

The man who advertises is very often a man of straw, and if you are dealing with this question at all I do not think it is too much to ask that the great newspapers publishing advertisements shall publish them at their own risk, and if the definition to which I have referred is made clear there will be no excuse on the part of any great newspaper or any journal for publishing an advertisement, the excuse this Clause would give them of saying they have no reasonable ground for suspecting the advertisement was of such a character to make the publication thereof an offence. These may appear to be Committee points, but I have raised them in order that if there is anything in them the right hon. Gentleman may have an opportunity of considering them before the Committee stage is reached.

Commander WEDGWOOD

I detest this sort of measure. It seems to me that these Bills, which we have periodically, which are backed by agitation and driven through by pious speeches from both Front Benches—that these Bills with great promise in them when they are being argued before this House, as soon as they become Acts of Parliament sink into dead letters one after another. This Bill is like the one we dealt with a few years ago— a Bill under a pious sounding title intended for the persecution of prostitutes. There is great danger, no doubt, from gonorrhœa and syphilis and all these loathsome diseases, but there is a better remedy for these things than passing Acts of Parliament, and that is not to go with prostitutes, and as long as you have a rotten civilisation where women are driven on to the streets to make a living and where men think it right to go with them you are bound to have these diseases, and you will not eradicate syphilis or any other of the horrible diseases that come from it. This Bill is of course of the usual type. We are going to have women arrested more frequently by the police for loitering, they are then to be brought before the magistrade and convicted, and then to be inspected, and they are then to be segregated. That is, of course, the object of the whole of legislation for the last twenty years or more—more police inspection, and more bolstering of civilisation by fines and punishments. I do not think you will get very far that way. We have had lots of these Acts, and as long as the House of Commons is composed as it is, of people who always listen to the arguments put forward by the promotors of the Bill instead of seeing how far the provisions of the Bill can possibly be carried out, you will have Bills like this brought forward.

The right hon. Gentleman opposite, who I am glad to say is no longer Home Secre- tary, made a most appealing speech to the House about the criminality of infecting people with syphilis. He pointed out that a person who bodily injured someone else was guilty of a crime, and the same in regard to someone who poisoned somebody else, and he asked why should a person who communicated syphilis to another not be guilty of a crime. There is this difference to begin with, that the one is given voluntarily and the other against the will of the person injured, but apart from that, surely the difference is that, in cases of bodily injury or poisoning, if you could not detect them and there was no possibility of getting a conviction, it would be useless to make them crimes, and the only reason why this has not been a crime up till now is because it is almost impossible to get convictions or to fiud who is the guilty party in the business. It is possible that under these rules you may make it a little easier to get convictions, but everyone knows that for every case where a conviction is obtained there will be at least 999 cases where there is no conviction, and yet the crime is perpetrated, and do you think it adds to respect for law and order when you have a very large proportion of crimes going unpunished? There is another thing about this Bill which I dislike—there are parts I like; I think the point about the age of consent is admirable—but there is one thing I dislike, and that is that throughout it is pretended, and it is only pretended, that the law shall apply to men as well as to women. Everybody knows that this Bill in practice will apply to women only and that the men will go scot free as usual. The one Clause of which I approve in the Bill is that raising the age of consent to sixteen actually, and I think it might be raised to seventeen, because I think that hits the man as well as the woman; but in a House not elected by women, with no women representatives in it, to come in with a Bill like this for the persecution of this unfortunate class of women who have no one to speak for them, seems to me to be nothing less than iniquitous. The Bill, of course, will be dealt with faithfully in Committee. I trust some of the Clauses may escape and become part of an Act of Parliament, but against Clause 2, the third Sub-section, which deals with the powers of a magistrate to order the inspection of women, and Clause 6, which includes loitering under the heading of "crime," I shall certainly offer the most vigorous opposition.


I do not much agree with the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. Perhaps, however, I agree that this Bill appears to be divided into two very distinct parts. I think the Home Secretary really dealt with it in two parts. Personally I rather wish he had confined the Bill to the first part—I mean by that the part dealing with venereal disease. Clauses 2 and 7 both deal with venereal disease. That possibly may be said to be, and rightly said to be, emergency legislation. There is, however, a great need for legislation upon the point, and has been for many years; and probably that need has been accentuated by circumstances connected with the War. The rest of the Bill deals with amendments of the criminal law which—I do not say they are desirable or undesirable—have nothing whatever to do with the War and have no sort of connection with emergency legislation. Personally I very much wish that the one part, that of emergency legislation, had been brought in as one Bill, and the other and the second part as another Bill, The part dealing with venereal disease has been put somewhat hastily together. The hon. Member opposite took the words out of my mouth with his amusing remarks about the advertisements idea. That is, however, merely a drafting Amendment. The main part is that you have an amendment, and a very difficult amendment, of the law, which you are making for the first time. You are making it for the first time a criminal offence knowlingly to communicate venereal disease. Nobody can doubt the seriousness or the gravity of the offence which is committed. I have nothing to say against making it a criminal offence except this: that I do not think it is the best way to meet a difficulty. If the matter is only going to rest there, then I do not think you will have accomplished very much by this particular Section, because your difficulty of getting information will be very great.

I am afraid I differ entirely from the appeal made by the right hon. Gentleman the late Home Secretary, in the very eloquent speech with which he denounced as an outrage the idea that a criminal who is taken to gaol, and being suspected of disease is examined to see whether or not it is true, and to see whether he is likely to spread the contagion, or whether it is necessary that he should undergo medical treatment. For my part, I can see no outrage in the question. I think it is more by examination, and by learning more of the different people who are afflicted with this disease, and insisting upon compulsory treatment, that probably the real suppression of the disease will be very likely become about, than from the idea of making a criminal offence of it. If it only rests where it is I shall be disappointed with this Bill. I hope some further step will be taken with the criminal part, though really these are Committee points. I should rather like to know in Committee the definition of an act of indecency. It is a very, very wide term. It may be in some Act of Parliament with which I am unfamiliar; but it seems to me to be a new term, and an exceedingly wide one. You will have to remember that the real difficulty is the young girls of about fifteen who go about the streets—who are not driven there to make a living wage. It may be that they do not know the risks they run, but they know pretty well that they are doing wrong. Any experienced chief constable will tell you that they often tempt boys of sixteen, or thereabouts, and lead them into trouble, and when they are sent home there is the story of a lack of parental control. Police warning is given in the first instance. I am very glad that the late Home Secretary said that he had had the idea of dealing with this aspect of the problem. As to the phrase—I am afraid I object to all these phrases—equal treatment for the sexes, whatever may happen! Are you going to apply that principle to Clause 1, where it is to be an offence for a boy of sixteen to commit an act of indecency with a girl of fifteen, but not to be an offence on the part of the girl? But put together a boy of sixteen and a girl of fifteen. Is it always the boy that leads the girl on? Really, it may be said that you are making further offences of this kind. A criminal offence for the boy should be a criminal offence for the girl also. Cases of blackmail have been mentioned. One could not help being amused about what the right hon. Gentleman said on this point, which was that the Home Office had not many complaints of blackmail. All cases of blackmail do not go to the Home Office. If your knowledge of the world is confined to a Government Department, you will learn very, very little indeed. How many blackmail cases ever get into the Courts? There are people who dare not go into the Courts: dare not prosecute! They do not go to the Home Office or the Law Courts.


I do not pretend to be able to follow the details of the legal profession as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University does, nor could I follow the hon. Member for Stepney in regard to the very ingenious charge which he seemed to bring against the medical profession in regard to advertisements. Surely there is a difference between advertisements for professional purposes in professional papers and those advertisements, with which we are all quite familiar, which fall into the hands of young and ignorant persons in the ordinary Press of the country? There is some distinction between them. In regard to the very breezy and interesting speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, of course, there was in his arguments much with which we are bound to sympathise. We do dislike this constant interference with liberty, if it can be helped, but the attack which my hon. and gallant Friend made was, if I may be allowed to say so, upon a Bill which was entirely, or very largely, the creature of his own imagination. My object in rising is not so much to go into the special provisions of the Bill, as to which there will be time for discussion in Committee, but to urge most earnestly the necessity for proceeding speedily in this business. It is all very well to say that this is a matter that might be dealt with after the War, We all know at this time it is not only urgent, but urgent as a matter of war. We are incurring heavy liabilities in respect of our brothers from the Dominions and Colonies, that for the mere efficiency of our Army this, or some measure of this sort, is a war measure of the first urgency, and cannot be delayed.

10. p.m.

There are two reasons for the urgency of this Bill in this respect. There are, if we look at it in a broad way, two influences that may be brought to bear upon doing something for this horrible and increasing evil. There are the laws, police regulations, and legal provisions, and the extent to which you may reform them. That will not remedy the evil altogether. Beside that you must have some personal care and interest, some charitable effort, some missionary zeal, and there is plenty of room for both of these. But their lines must be marked one from the other, and, until you know how far the legal provisions may go, how far your police regulations may help you, what are the limits to which you can carry those police regulations, and what are the limits beyond which Parliament will not go—until you have done that, you have not drawn that proper line of demarcation. I know perfectly well from personal experience how many at this moment are anxious to inquire into the evil, and how earnestly they desire to aid in this matter, They cannot do so with the law unsettled, or not knowing whether they are interfering with some legal provision, or how far the police may be able to do it, and how far they may step in to help where the police cannot reach. One reads day after day in the newspapers excellent letters and proposals made by men and women of high motive and earnest effort whose views we cannot disregard. Does it not strike hon. Members, as it often strikes me, that those indicate a waste of effort—that all those men and women of high motive who are gifted with great powers of organisation, who are ready to give themselves heart and soul to the work of reclaiming their brothers and sisters, are held back by the fact that the law is at present uncertain, and that we do not know how far those powers may be strengthened? For the sake, therefore, of a demarcation of the line between these two agencies of police intervention and charitable efforts, let us pass this Bill as quickly as we can. Let us by this Bill lay down once more what it is the police can do, and then let us call upon the benevolent and philanthropic of both sexes, who have studied this question, or are anxious to study it, into a field which will be already marked out for their efforts, for I am certain, whatever the Home Secretary may do in this direction, he will still leave a great work to be accomplished by those benevolent people.


I understand, from what the Home Secretary said, that this Bill is not meant so much as a Bill to endeavour to stamp out the terrible disease of syphilis and other venereal diseases, as what I may call a sexual morality Bill. I understand there is to be another Bill brought forward in another place to deal particularly and specifically with venereal disease. I must say I am glad to hear that, because the provisions of this Bill in regard to venereal disease I should rather look upon as a pill to cure an earthquake—to use a common expression. We all know there is real danger to the race in the prevalence of venereal disease—a disease which visits the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generations. I think it is quite right if anyone knowingly communicates a venereal disease to another person that that shall be a criminal offence. I think that is quite right, but I rather doubt whether this Clause is going to have much effect. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Cleveland Division (Mr. H. Samuel) said he was surprised that such a provision had never been brought forward and discussed, but that is really not the case, because I have taken for some time some interest in this question, being obliged to do so, and I have read the interesting Reports, and I wish hon. Members of this House would read those Reports of the Royal Commission, which reported in 1871 upon the Contagious Diseases Act, and also the Report of the Select Committee of this House which reported in 1882. I find in the report of the Royal Commission which reported in 1871 that the Commissioners said: Another suggestion which we cannot adopt is that it should be made penal to engage in sexual connection when the party, whether man or woman, is to his or her knowledge affected with venereal contagion. They gave their reasons, and one was that It may be said that the proof of the offence would be almost impracticable, since corroborative evidence in addition to the oath of the principal would be indispensable and the law would be used, if it was used at all as an instrument of malice and extortion. Therefore that provision was considered many years ago by the Royal Commission and was rejected. It cannot be said that corroborative evidence would be required as a matter of law because the act of sexual intercourse itself, not being a criminal act, the person who gave information would not be a party to the crime and corroborative evidence would not be necessary. I rather suspect that comparatively there would be few cases in which that provision would be found to be operative. I know it is supposed to be an unpopular thing to say, but I believe that if you are really going to try as a war emergency measure to stamp out these diseases there is only one way, and I think doctors will confirm this view, and that is to go back to the method of registration and inspection. It is said that that is unpopular and that the remedy is worse than the disease, but if you deliberately prefer the disease to the remedy, then I am afraid we shall have to have the disease. I am not going to dwell upon this point, but when it is said that those previous Acts dealing with this question were failures I say that it was not the case.

There were two Committees of this House appointed and one by the House of Lords. A Special Committee appointed by this House reported in 1882, and there was a Royal Commission which reported in 1871, and all those Commissions and Committees reported in favour of the retention of those Acts. The wonder is that those Acts were so successful as they were, because they were very absurd in their application. They applied to Woolwich but not to Plumstead, and they did not apply to London at all. I will read one extract from the Royal Commission of 1–871, because it was adopted by the Select Committee of this House which reported in 1882. What I am going to quote was only subscribed to by seven Members, but they were very strong Members of the Royal Commission, and their recommendations were adopted in the Report of the Select Committee of 1882. They speak of the good moral effect which these calumniated Acts have produced and which in our opinion outweigh any moral objections which have been or can be alleged against them (1) Religions and moral influence has been brought to bear upon a large number of women, a great proportion of whom had been from infancy familiar only with scenes of debauchery and vice. (2) Towns and camps have been cleared, or nearly so, of the miserable creatures who were formerly to be found in their streets and thoroughfares. (3) A considerable number of abandoned women have been reclaimed and restored to respectable life, and in many instances married. (4) The number of loose women has been greatly reduced, and those who remain have been rendered more decent and decorous in appearance and conduct. (5) The practice of clandestine prostitution, which too often degenerates into professional vice, has been materially checked by fear of the consequences of such indulgence which are rendered probable under these Acts. (6) The sad spectacle of juvenile prostitutes of tender age, so rife in such localities heretofore, has been greatly diminished and in some cases almost removed. (7) The temptations by which young men of all classes have been hitherto assailed have been to a great extent taken out of their way, and morality has been thus promoted. When we turn to the probable moral effects upon the women themselves of the periodical examinations which are so much objected to, we must contend that any disadvantages which may have attended them are more than counterbalanced by their good moral and physical results. Unpopular though it may be, I say that those Acts were a great and wonderful success considering how partially they were applied. If you wish to stamp out this terrible peril to the race you ought to take your courage in both hands and bring back some form of registration and inspection, but I suppose that will not be done. I have, however, expressed my belief that that is the way to combat these diseases. I only want to say a word now with regard to the provision in Clause 4 of this Bill relating to premises used for the purposes of habitual prostitution. I only wish to say that I hope that what we are doing we shall do after full consideration with our eyes open. If these words are put into the Bill you make it criminal for a prostitute to have a home at all in this country. It is not merely a question of using the room or allowing many women to come in and use it, because that is tantamount to a brothel, and what is proposed is rather a cowardly way of dealing with the question. It seems to me that we ought to have the courage of our convictions, and if you think it is possible to stamp out prostitution, then have the courage to make it a criminal offence by itself. I cannot sympathise at all with this ignominious and, as it seems to me, rather contemptible policy of harrying these women from pillar to post, for the more miserable you make them the more degraded they get. When I was practising at the Bar the chief magistrate at Bow Street once pointed out that all you will do by this continual harrying of prostitutes from pillar to post is that you throw them into the arms of bullies and you make their lives a misery to them. I am not going to oppose this Bill, because I shall support it. I remember being accused of opposing the last Criminal Law Amendment Bill, and that was a most unjust accusation because that was a shockingly badly drafted measure, and I with others tried to make it a better Bill in Committee. I think, however, that this measure deals with matters which ought to be very gravely considered, because it really does introduce a very serious subject for our consideration. I hope the Home Secretary will at any rate consider whether he can not so modify these words that they will not apply absolutely to every woman who is a prostitute.


We have here a very important Bill, and the discussion already has shown that there are different points of view and some very important principles upon which we shall, I fear, not be all agreed when we come to consider them word by word. I do not think that we shall be at all of one mind when we really consider either what this Bill is actually to do or our exact object in legislating. We all recognise the very great evil to combat which is the object of this Bill. Is there any really special need for this Bill at this time? I ask this because both the Home Secretary and his predecessor seemed to imply that there was more than the usual demand or necessity for such a Bill. I rather doubt it. There always is a demand for keeping legislation of this character abreast of public opinion, and there is always the danger of the spreading secretly and unbeknown either to the individuals who suffer or to the Government of this country all these terrible scourges and venereal diseases, but at the present time I believe that the actual necessity may be exaggerated. That need not prevent us from proceeding with this Bill seriously, and getting the best out of it, but it may be that the actual dangers and difficulties we have to contend with are not well understood. We have an Army that, as armies go, is as full of high spirit and discipline, and certainly as high in morality as any Army that has ever taken the field in such numbers. We have also an Army which all admit is singularly healthy. The standard of health which has been maintained by our authorities and the discipline of the men themselves are in the result very high.

Moreover, there have been no statistics of disease in the Army given to us which give any ground for alarm, and there has been no outbreak of crime or immorality in the country to cause any great offence. Certainly there has been no increase, very much the contrary, of illegitimate births, and, looking at the subject as a whole, I think the danger of venereal diseases at this present time as being excessively great or serious may possibly be—I hope it is—exaggerated in some quarters.

I have to observe about the Bill that, though it is nominally a Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill and proceeds to modify and amend former Criminal Law (Amendment) Acts, yet it introduces a subject into those Acts for the first time. The question of venereal diseases becomes here the subject of two Clauses, and, so far as I know, there is no reference in any previous Criminal Law (Amendment) Act to this subject at all. I agree with a good deal of what has been said on Clause 2, which is, of course, of a very drastic and novel character. I believe it will have to be very seriously considered in Committee, and I think the warning given by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Commander Wedgwood) is well worthy of observation, namely, that it would be extremely undesirable to find that in practice this Clause is being used almost entirely against prostitutes, and in such a way as to make their offence and their condition harder and more severe, and in fact to make them more outcasts from society than ever. I think this special way of treating the very difficult problem of the unclean prostitute by subjecting her to examination when she has been convicted is a very dangerous one. I do not think it is the right way to go about it at all. I think that possibly an offence might be made of communicating certain diseases to any other person. The communication of those diseases to another person is in fact doing grievous bodily injury, and doing grievous bodily injury is already an offence well known to our law. To introduce into our criminal law an additional sort of penalty or treatment in the way of examination is, I think, an altogether new principle, and one that should be very seriously considered. A number of remarks have been made on various points in the Bill. I shall not make any remarks upon them because I dare say I may have a few words to say when we get into Committee. Here let me refer to the plea that has been put forward by the Home Secretary and by his predecessor not to flood the Bill with Amendments. I shall not do so, and I hope the House will not do so, but they must not think that this Bill is going to pass without any discussion just as it is. That would really be expecting too much. They must expect some real discussion upon points of vital interest and vital principle, and if they think they are going to get off without that they will be very much mistaken.

I shall content myself this evening with two general observations, not by way of objection, but of warning and criticism First, you must not, in this sort of legislation, attempt to outrun public opinion or the standard which the public will set up as ordinarily possible and right for law. On that matter I agree, though this is rather different to my former opinion, with the way in which the age of consent has been treated here. It would certainly be possible to raise it higher than seventeen, as was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cleveland (Mr. H. Samuel), but possibly it is just as well to proceed on the lines on which this Bill proceeds. The second point—this is even more important—is that I do not want to pass legislation which, if carried out, will only result in convictions upon police.

evidence. I am convinced there is a great deal of danger in passing laws which can only be carried out by relying on the police. The police are certainly no worse and no better than ordinary men, but from their position they are inclined to stretch evidence, I would even go so far as to say distort the facts in giving evidence themselves with the object of obtaining convictions; in fact, the police sometimes seem to think it is their object to get convictions rather than to see that the law is observed. If they more often gave warnings and cautions and ceased to try to get convictions, there would be more respect for the law and less crime in the country generally. The difficulty about the laws affecting prostitutes, loitering and soliciting, and the laws dealing with disorderly houses, is that when the eases come into Court they rest almost entirely upon police evidence. I throw out that warning because I am sure it is necessary—it is a point which the Home Secretary himself will realise—in carrying through legislation like this that we must rely more and more upon the common sense of the public and not merely upon police evidence. I am sure that this is a Bill which the House will welcome, and when it has been well discussed it ought to prove very useful legislation.


It seems to me that in Clause 2, Sub-section (4), this Bill has passed short of the logical conclusion, and is, though an excellent Bill in a great many ways, half-hearted in that particular point. Under it a person who has been convicted of one of the offences in the Schedule of indecent offences of some sort goes to prison and is suspected of one of these diseases, is examined and found to be infected, he is then served with a notice and let out of prison. We know what will happen in nine cases out of ten. That person will proceed to communicate the disease to some other member or members of the community, and I think the logical conclusion of the examination and the finding of the person infected with the disease is to keep him or her under control until he or she is cured and no longer a danger to the community. You keep a person with scarlet fever under control until he or she is no longer a danger to the community, and yet a person who has got scarlet fever has been guilty of no moral or legal offence. Here you have people who have been guilty of both a moral and a legal offence, and you find them a danger to the community, and yet you let them out with a mere caution, quite well knowing that in nine cases out of ten that caution will not be effectual. I ask the Home Secretary to consider, between now and the Committee stage, whether it would not be much more logical, courageous, and effective to detain such persons until they are cured of their disease. I must emphasise that I am not proposing to extend the examination beyond what is stated in the Bill. The examination only applies to a person who has been convicted already of an indecent offence, and, therefore, what the ex-Home Secretary said about a person who had been convicted, say, of theft being examined would not have any application at all. I am only proposing that when a person has actually been convicted of an indecent offence and has actually been examined and found to be infected with one of those diseases he or she should be kept under control until he or she is no longer a danger to the community. I think under that procedure you would in the course of a few months or a year or so get segregated a very large number of most dangerous persons to the community, and you would have a great effect in diminishing the amount of venereal disease in the country and the amount of misery which it often brings upon perfectly innocent persons, many of them children.


While personally strongly in favour of the whole Bill, though I would rather the age of consent were seventeen instead of sixteen, I specially desire to speak in my capacity as President of the Poor Law Unions Association for England and Wales, comprising 556 boards of guardians, who again and again have discussed this matter and strongly urge legislation such as is herein suggested. Lady guardians, as well as others, have strongly urged action being taken to deal with this terrible disease. It has arisen not only from evidence of the disaster occurring to the people themselves, but especially in its effect on children. As Poor Law guardians we are constantly seeing the distress caused to the children from diseases of this kind. My association warmly supports and thanks the Home Secretary for bringing in a Bill of this kind. There is one point which this association urges, and that is, that provision should be made for the voluntary treatment of persons affected with this disease. There is difference of opinion, but the general feeling was rather against compulsory treatment, and it was thought that if means were provided where these people could go voluntarily and be treated for their disease, it would be extremely beneficial.


I think that is being done through the Local Government Board and the local authorities.


That is of recent occurrence. We want the two things to go hand in hand, not only the remedy, but also the punishment for the offence. I warmly support the Bill, and I disagree with my hon. Friend (Mr. King), who does not think that this action is needed at the present moment. The evidence we have had brought before us in the association is that the disease is increasingly terrible. Therefore, I am glad that the Home Secretary is moving in the matter. If he can see his way clear in Committee to raise the age of consent to seventeen years, I shall like the Bill still better. As it is, I am convinced that there is growing need for legislation of this kind, and I cannot think that anything but of a very beneficial character will accrue.


This Bill contains a great deal that is good and which may be said to have become necessary in the emergency in which the War has placed us, but there is a good deal that is higher, risky and dangerous. I think that the Clauses relating to venereal disease are absolutely necessary. It always has been a pressing question, which has never been tackled, and the provisions that are included in the Bill will certainly be steps in the right direction One observation I would make with regard to Clause 2, Subsection (4), is that it has been very loosely drawn. It provides that if a person receives a written notice after examination by a doctor that he or she is suffering from venereal disease that person shall be deemed to have been so suffering when the alleged offence was committed whether they have got it or not, unless the contrary is proved. That is a matter of medical evidence. How can they prove the contrary? At the utmost you will have two doctors, but there is no proof there. There will be a difference of opinion, and so the matter Will be in doubt. This Clause is objection- able in many ways. The expression "venereal disease" is defined as meaning Syphilis, gonorrhœa, or soft chancre, or any disease of the genito-urinary organs which may reasonably be suspected to be venereal disease. Anything more vague or more dangerous it is difficult to imagine. How it may be abused hon. Members may easily conceive. The real blot of the Bill is Clause 1, Subsection (1), which provides: Any male person of the age of sixteen years or over who commits an act of indecency with a girl under the age of sixteen years shall be liable on conviction or indictment to imprisonment with or without hard labour for a term not exceeding two years. Two years' hard labour is the severest sentence that the Court can impose; it is far worse than penal servitude. It means death to most people. Those acquainted with police and criminal practice know very well that a sentence of two years hard labour, with all that it entails in the matter of dietary and labour is worse than penal servitude. What is "an act of indecency"? I turned up to-day in my chamber to see whether there was any definition in any Act of Parliament as to what is an act of indecency. There is none. A new crime is here created for the first time as a war emergency measure. It is a vague, indefinite and sweeping thing which involves the greatest possible danger to the liberty of the subject. What is an act of indecency between a boy and a girl? I can imagine all sorts of things being construed into acts of indecency. In these days, when one sees young soldiers about with young girls indulging in rough play, some people would call it indecent. A policeman might construe what they had done into an act of indecency when there was no indecency at all. When you make a new crime you must define it. There is no definition in any Act of Parliament or in any decided case. There are certain acts of indecency which are made criminal in this Bill. If hon. Members will turn to the Schedule they will find that it does not refer to Clause 1 at all. It only refers to Clause 2, Sub-section (3). If you took the first three items on the schedule there are acts of indecency which are punishable as offences specifically and the indictment which charges those offences. Fancy an indictment which charges a man "for that you did unlawfully commit an act of indecency with a girl under sixteen." What would be the evidence that would be admitted in a Court before a judge and jury on such a charge as that? Almost anything in the wide world. One is accustomed on Sundays and Bank Holidays on commons and other places to see things which of course are objectionable from the point of view of what may be called good manners, but which are really in their essence in no sense criminal. I would very seriously call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the fact that he is creating a new crime. My right hon. Friend has not practised in the Criminal Courts. He does not know what happens in those cases. I hope that he will ask the Attorney-General as to what happens in these cases. The House takes little or no interest in this matter at present, and proper attention cannot be given to it, and it cannot be threshed out. If the right hon. Gentleman would only consult my learned Friend the Director of Public Prosecutions——


I have consulted him.


There should be a definition in the Bill as to what an act of indecency means. The more hon. Members consider what may be the effect of this new crime the more they will hesitate to pass it until there is a definition, and a strict definition, in the Bill as to what it is to be confined to.

I rose for the purpose of pointing out this danger. With a great many Clauses of the Bill I am in sympathy. I should like to point out that in Clause 7, while you prohibit advertisements of articles and medicines which are to be used for the treatment of these diseases, you do not go to the logical length of prohibiting the sale of the articles themselves. What is the use of prohibiting advertisements and not prohibiting the sale? If these are secret remedies of which nobody knows the composition, and which probably cannot be discovered by analysis—for in all probability they contain dangerous ingredients or ingredients which will not effect the cure desired, so that they will be just as dangerous, because the person who takes them believes he is being cured, and will not go to a doctor to obtain a cure—you ought to prohibit the sale of such remedies. Then they would not be advertised, because there would be no purpose in advertising them, if they could not be offered for sale. There are other matters to which attention might be called, but the one blot on the Bill is in the second line of the first Clause as to an undefined crime which is a danger to the community.


I think the Home Secretary ought to take to heart the words addressed to him by the hon. and learned Gentleman behind him. The Home Secretary appealed to us that this Bill should not be overloaded with Amendments, but I think the House will be wise in turning a deaf ear to his appeal, because in my judgment there never was a Bill which more needed to be scrutinised line by line and word by word than the Bill now before us. With reference to the communication of venereal disease, I regard that as a wicked act, and I think it should be included in this Bill. I disagree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Commander Wedgwood), and I think the Home Secretary is wise in including this provision in his Bill. It may be remembred that the communication of such a disease is already known to the law and is not infrequently included in cases of divorce. If it can be used in divorce, I see no reason why it should not be included in criminal law cases. The other most important feature of this Bill is the extension of the provisions of the Criminal Law Amendment Act to another class of offence which was referred to by my learned Friend opposite, and in regard to which the right hon. Gentleman is on dangerous ground. It was long ago said by a distinguished Member of this House, John Stuart Mill, that you take up an illogical position in not attacking the parties to the offence—attacking the persons who facilitated the commission of the offence. We cannot say that illicit sexual intercourse is to be made a crime. Even the Home Secretary, with all his zeal, with all his ardour for morality and the good of the community, does not propose to prevent such a measure as that, but he could make it harder and harder for those who facilitate the commission of acts which are themselves, if not blameless, left untouched by the law. Extreme care should be exercised in regard to the remedies to be applied, and the Clauses of the Bill dealing with the subject, need the closest scrutiny. If the right hon. Gentleman will look into the Bill, I think he will come to the conclusion that the Bill contains some provi- sions that he cannot recommend to the House, and he will probably modify them off his own bat.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[Mr. J. Hope.]

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 12th February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."