§ Captain ARTHUR HOPE
I beg to move,That, having regard to the recent increase in blackmailing crimes, to which attention has been drawn by several of His Majesty's Judges. and seeing that only a comparatively small proportion of blackmailers are brought to justice and punished by reason of the unwillingness of the victim to prosecute, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that legislation should be introduced as soon as possible to enable all such cases to be tried in camera.1238 In moving this Resolution I must ask for that indulgence which is always accorded to a Member on making his first speech. I feel that the Resolution, at. any rate in its spirit and its principle, is in accordance with the wishes of all parties in the House, although all hon. Members may not agree with the actual wording of the Resolution. There is undoubtedly a very great and grave increase in the crime of blackmail in this country. It has been on the increase since the War, and I think it is very largely due to the fact that, owing to conditions which have arisen since the War, there are very many men and women who have to live by their wits, and to anybody of an unprincipled turn of mind there is no easier way of living by your wits alone than by becom- 1239 ing a professional blackmailer. There are various kinds of blackmail, but you can divide them roughly into two classes. There are those who blackmail their victims because they have a hold over them, owing to some fault or indiscretion or even some crime which the victim has committed in the past. There is the class where the victim has committed no fault or crime whatever, but owing to the fact that his name may appear in the Press or be stated in the Law Courts he is frightened to bring things forward. The system of the blackmailer is the same in both cases. He knows that in 99 cases out of 100, a victim will use any means to avoid appearing in public. They will avoid publicity to the best of their ability, and will go so far as to spend their last penny rather than allow their names to appear in the public Press or become known in the Law Courts of this country. That is what encourages the blackmailer. He knows that whether he has a good case or not, his victim will use every means to avoid the case being made public. Mr. Justice McCardie in a judgment delivered last April made the following comment:Civilisation has many cancers, but in my view one of the worst of these cancers is the offence of blackmail. It is a most cruel, callous and cowardly offence. The result of this blackmail is to inflict slow death on the victim, the object being to extract from his terror as much, or even more than he can possibly afford. In my view this offence is very much on the increase. The time has come when, even if men are convicted for the first time, the Judge should inflict severe punishment. The parks and streets must be made safe and blackmail must be stamped out, and if the victims come forward it will be stamped out.That is the point of my argument. The victims will not come forward because they fear exposure. Let us take the case of a member of the medical profession who is blackmailed. He may bring the case forward, he may be honourably acquitted of the charge made against him, and ho may leave. the Court without a stain on his character, but his name has appeared in the Press, he has had to give evidence, and he has had an immense amount of mud slung at him by his accuser. He goes back to practice. Now, if any one of us proposes to employ a doctor to attend to a wife or daughter it is our desire to employ a person whose integrity is unchallengable. Three or 1240 four years may have passed, and we may say, "We will ask Dr.—to come in.Dr.—may have been the unfortunate victim of the blackmailing case of three or four years previously, and when his name is mentioned, somebody will say, "Oh, he was mixed up in a case three years ago. I cannot remember what it was all about, but it was rather unsavoury." So that, although Dr.— was absoultely guiltless, at the same time the mud has stuck. If there is the slightest suspicion against an unfortunate doctor we know perfectly well that people will avoid him and go to a doctor whose name has never been mentioned in any such connection and has never in any way been tarnished.
This is not an isolated instance. Such instances occur every day. Professional men like doctors and clergymen are to a large extent the worst victims, and they use every possible means to avoid these cases being brought to the public eye. There is another form of blackmail, unconnected with professional men, due to the natural desire of any married man, for instance, to prevent any indiscretion of his former life reaching the ears of his wife or family. A case was tried last year in which a gardener employed in Wales had been systematically blackmailed for 18 months by a gipsy man who made an accusation against him of misconduct with his—the gipsy's—wife. The unfortunate man was absolutely guiltless and was honourably acquitted at the trial, but he was terrified that even the report of an indiscretion which had not actually taken place should come to the ears of his wife and family. He was an elderly man; he had saved a good deal of money throughout his life, but he was bled white by this gipsy, and every penny of his savings, amounting to £600 or £700, had gone to pay off the blackmailer. I think he had nothing at all left when, in sheer desperation, he put the matter into the hands of the police. The blackmailer received a, heavy sentence, and the man was told that if he had taken that course before, everything would have been all right. We know that people ought to come forward and prosecute in such cases, but as I say, people will not do so, because of the fear of publicity, and the object of my Resolution is that these cases of blackmail should 1241 be tried in camera, and when a man comes forward to confront his accuser in Court, the case should not appear in the public Press.
I should like to say that in the great majority of cases the public Press behave extremely well on this subject and do not publish names more than is absolutely necessary. At the same time there is a great deal of publicity which it is desired to avoid. In the event of a false charge of blackmail being made against a man, who is acquitted of it, then by all means the circumstances should be published in the Press after the hearing. I do not wish to go the whole hog, and to say that the Press should never publish names at all, because you would then very often find unscrupulous men accusing other people of: blackmail which they had never committed. I suggest that all these cases should be tried at first in camera, and the names not published unless in the considered opinion of the presiding Judge it was a case in which the names should appear. We do not wish to protect the blackmailer, who is at the present moment protected by the fear of publicity on the part of the unfortunate men and women of all classes who are being systematically blackmailed throughout the country to-day.
People may say that this is not a subject of sufficient importance to warrant this Resolution, but I have heard of a great many cases among all classes of people where blackmail has been kept up for years. A case was tried a year or two ago in which the unfortunate victim of the blackmail had committed an offence. Month after month for 12 years he was blackmailed by two brothers, one of whom extracted from him £2,000, and the other £1,900. At the end of 12 years this man what had lived in a state of terror all that time came to the end of his tether, was reduced to a mental and physical wreck and finally went to the police. As a result these two brothers were tried and got 12 years penal servitude each, which they thoroughly deserved. Although that man had committed an offence or an indiscretion he should have been punished for it by the law of the land and not by two blackmailers. One can multiply such cases by hundreds, and they exist, as I say, in all classes of the community. I am not pleading on behalf of one class more than another.
1242 Hon. Members know that such cases occur in all degrees of life. I ask that some alteration should be made in the law of this country, so that, if possible, these cases should be tried in camera, or, at any rate, that some amendment should be made so that a man can safely come forward and prosecute the man or woman who is blackmailing him. I feel confident that in that case the increased blackmail which is now going on will steadily decrease, and, if the Judges give good sentences, which I am sure they will do, in these cases, within a few years it will be realised by these blackmailing men and women that blackmail is no longer the profitable industry which it is at the present moment. I would urge on the Government, if I may, that some time they should introduce legislation to remove what is a very genuine grievance at the present moment among all classes of the community in this country.
§ Captain GEE
I beg to second the Motion.
In doing so, I think I shall be acting in accordance with the wishes of the House if I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Captain A Hope) on the very able way in which he has moved the Motion. I think we ought to congratulate him on the extraordinary courage that he has shown in moving this Motion in his maiden speech. I do not know whether or not my hon. and gallant Friend belongs to the legal profession. I do not. I have tried many times to get into it, but have failed at the examination each time, and so it is with a certain amount of diffidence that I rise to second the Motion, especially as we have no less a personage than the Home Secretary, a very distinguished member of the legal profession, sitting on the Front Bench waiting to pull us to pieces. No matter what political party the Members of this House represent, I believe the best of each party are out to do what they can to make the country better than it is. We may not agree with the methods which each party chooses, but still the idea is there to leave the country better when we leave it than it was when we came into it.
I am rather inclined to think that when this discussion ceases to-night, most of the things said can be summed up in the old French tag: Repeter sans cesse. It 1243 will be a constant repetition of one argument after the other, and the more the same argument is repeated, the greater the force behind it, that there is need for a drastic reform in our law as regards blackmail. I am sorry that some of my hon. Friends from what I call the wrong side of the border are not here to-night, because, if my memory serves me aright, this word "blackmail" is one of the nasty things that has descended to us from the North country. We are informed that it was a tribute that was levied in money, cattle, or corn by the freebooters from the northern banks of the Tweed—that unruly, unholy tribe. But to-day we rather look upon blackmail as extortion of money and other things by means of a threat or a menace, and no matter how one argues about this particular point, whether from a moral or a legal standpoint—and I am quite aware that I am getting on somewhat dangerous ground when I talk about the legal aspect—I think we are all agreed that of all the crimes in existence to-day, the most despicable is the crime of blackmail. I am not quite sure whether I am in order, but I will risk it, being quite aware of the fact that if I do transgress, I shall very shortly be pulled up to order. If there is one thing which bears out the argument of my hon. and gallant Friend the Mover of the Motion that the law needs remedying in this respect, I think we find it in the case that has now been settled and is no longer sub judice. It is not a case of kicking a man when he is down, but of profiting by that man who is down in order that the country may he better, and purer, and cleaner by the fact that he is down, and has been put away for a term of years. We find in to-day's paper that for 20 years William Cooper, sentenced to-day at the Old Bailey, has been a menace to the police and a fear to the legal profession. The Director of Public Prosecutions for 20 years has sought again and again to get evidence in order to bring this man to justice. One could go on—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
I think this is a case which is still subject to a possible appeal in the Court of Criminal Appeal, and if that be so, the hon. and gallant Member cannot name the case. I think I know 1244 the one he has in mind, and it would not be in order to refer to it until the time for lodging an appeal has elapsed.
§ Captain GEE
I thought I had rather cleverly dodged it. I have not been aware yet that there is going to be an appeal, but I will, of course, refrain from referring to the case any more.
Mr. R. MITCHELL
On a point of Order. If names are mentioned in this House, should not a surname be given as well as Christian names, because it happens in some cases that the middle Christian name of one man is the surname of another, and it would lead to great confusion if the full name were not given?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I think the hon. and gallant Member referred to the case in such a way that there could be no confusion of identity.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I think the hon. and gallant Member was going very near the line, but he has now said he will not pursue the matter further.
Captain GEE: I have finished now, but if there are any others of those names, and if they are in the same category as the gentleman I have mentioned, the quicker they are put away the better it will be for England and for the youth of this country. There is another kind of blackmail that one is very often a victim of, and that is the blackmailing of candidates during Parliamentary elections. I sincerely trust that when this matter is being considered by the Home Secretary and his law officials, it will be made a. punishable offence for any organisation, whether it comes—I say this with all respect—from my political opponents, and, I hope, my personal friends on that side in the shape of trade unionists, or whether it comes from any body of industrial magnates on this side of the House. [An HON. MEMBER: "It could not!"] I have had some, and so has every other candidate for Parliament. It is not swank. It is a plain, honest statement of truth. Every Member of this House having been a candidate for Parliament knows as well as I do that what I am stating is the plain, unvarnished truth, and I hope the Law Officers will recognise it, no matter from which side it comes, when people bring 1245 propositions that unless you pledge yourself to this, that and the other, then they, with all their numbers on one side, or with all their wealth on the other, are going to use them to prevent you from being returned to this House. It is another form of blackmail, neither more nor less.
This is such a very important question, that one would like to strike a personal note. There is on the Front Bench a Cabinet Minister, who, I presume, will reply, and I sincerely hope will consult his legal advisers about this question when the case is closed. It so happens that that Cabinet Minister is my own representative in this House. I have a very great regard for him, and one cannot easily imagine the right hon. Gentleman mixed up with the shady side of night life in London, but there was a great writer, not so very long ago, who, in writing the life of a late very distinguished Member of this House, used this expression:A conscience is a troublesome partner even to a Cabinet Minister.A little later he said:A Cabinet Minister, or a statesman, may look not far enough ahead, but he mast never make the mistake of looking too far a head.In this ease, I hope the right hon. Gentle man will look far enough ahead, and see whether he, or any of his colleagues, or any of his successors on the Front Bench, may have an uneasy conscience and see how they will stand, when, perhaps, with most innocent intentions, they will spend, as many hon. Members of this House do, an innocent hour at a night club. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] If an hour after this House rises is the only time that Members can find for recreation, why should they not go to a night club? The days of Puritanical tyranny have gone. But then the point comes in whether someone may not come along and threaten, unless a certain sum of money is paid, to publish the name of such and such a Member of this House, and there are Members on each side of the House who do attend night clubs. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Well, then, I am sorry for them. When you come to professional Men, be. it a doctor, a lawyer or a dentist, what will they not pay rather than have their names dragged out and published? They will pay anything, and will go through the tortures of mental 1246 hell rather than have their names dragged into the light of day.
There is one other point. Not so very long ago, in a certain town in the Midlands, there was a case of blackmail brought forward. A young man committed an indiscretion, and unscrupulous men and unscrupulous women found it out. They bled that man to the tune of £2,000, and ruined his business. The Judge or the Magistrate on the Bench in that case—if my memory serves me correctly, it was the Mayor of the town—appealed to the newspapers and to the reporters to publish no names. In one case the newspaper did publish the names, and the man was simply sent to Coventry, because he did a. public duty. Is it to be thought that in the next two or three years, until memory has faded, there will be another business man in that provincial city who will dare to bring a case of blackmail against anybody? No, because he will be afraid of the publicity. Therefore, I do hope that when my right hon. Friend consults with his legal advisers as to this question, he will make it, not voluntary, but obligatory upon the newspapers, when the Judge or the Magistrate in his wisdom decides that names shall be suppressed, and that it will be a punishable offence for anyone to go against such expressed wish. I hope we shall have a very interesting discussion, and that the result will be that, the law will be amended.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I join in the congratulations to the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved this Resolution on his maiden speech. He had rather a difficult task to perform. The House to-night is dealing with a very abstruse problem; a very intricate task even for the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary to deal with. I must confess that there are two or three points in the Resolution which do not at all satisfy me, and I venture, without any knowledge of the law or the history of blackmail, to make a few observations on the Motion. I have not touched the issue at any angle except having seen the rather sordid side of it during my period of office. I venture to say that there are one or two words in this Resolution about which the House will have to be very, very careful before passing it finally. For illustration, the hon. and gallant Member who moved the 1247 Resolution, and, I believe, the Seconder, intimated that there is an. increase in the crime of blackmail. I am not sure that anybody can prove that to be the case. It is all very well for a Judge to say that there is an increase, but it does not appear to me to be so from my reading of the reports of Commissioners of Police and the governors of our prisons. In fact, crime as a whole is decreasing in this country rather rapidly. I would be very sorry indeed to think that this new type of crime is on the increase. Nothing has been yet said to satisfy me that the crime of blackmail is actually increasing in this country. I should be very glad to secure some facts or definite information other than the mere declarations of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke first not only that there is an increase, but that only a comparatively small proportion of blackmailers are brought to justice and punished.
The point of this Resolution has not, in fact, been stressed by either the Mover or the Seconder, because the whole point is this—that legislation should be introduced as soon as possible to enable all such cases to be tried in camera. That is the whole pivot upon which the Resolution revolves, and I could have wished that the Mover or Seconder, or both, had given us a little more information as to why all cases of blackmail should be tried in camera.
There is, I agree, nothing so detestable or despicable in the sphere of crime as that of blackmail. It plays upon the fear of the victim, a fear that comes from an allegation that he has been doing something that he generally avoids. In fact, the blackmailer will sometimes make a charge against his victim on those very acts that the victim never commits. That is the gravaman of the case against the blackmailer. There are, of course, several forms of blackmail, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I feel sure, will have had cases put before hint already, and will know how this sort of things works in actual practice. The law of libel, so far as I understand it—and we have got to deal with libel in a case like this—is that if any person publishes or threatens to publish any libel with intent to extort money, he is liable to be imprisoned with or without hard labour 1248 for any term not exceeding three years. The law is therefore quite clear on the question of libel already. In fact, newspapers are liable to prosecution unless they behave as they should in dealing with reports of crimes alleged to have been committed. There are cases already recorded where newspapers have employed doubtful means to find out facts connected with cases of alleged crime. They have reported the work of amateur detectives, and the Court has punished those newspapers and their proprietors in consequence. But it is not so easy to get at the perpetrator of these journalistic operations, and it is not in order here to go further into this matter.
I wish the House and the Home Secretary, when this question of newspaper sensationalism comes forward would consider it carefully. There is a certain class of newspaper that stoops so low as to exploit the sordid history of crimes in order to make money and profit out of the morbid minds of the people. This, however. is only a small part of a. very much bigger issue, and I hope that the time will come when it will be clearly understood what shall be printed in newspapers and what shall not. I am one of those, however, who has tried to take both sides into account where the Press is concerned, and have considered whether the Press should be free or otherwise to publish certain reports. I am rather inclined to think that, on the whole, the Press ought to be free to publish what it likes. I am inclined to that view at the moment, but there may be cases of a special kind that ought to he dealt with in camera. The fault I find with this Resolution is that it is too general, too wide in its scope. There is something else to which I object—
§ Captain GEE
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I think he is rather stressing the point too much, perhaps, that the particular effect of this Resolution is to enable all cases to be tried in camera. It is not that they shall he, but it is to enable them to be so heard. [HON. MEMBERS: "All cases."]
§ Mr. DAVIES
I do not think the hon. Gentleman in what he says disputes my point at all. Supposing you pass legislation to enable all such cases to be heard in camera, what would follow? If the 1249 Judges decided that it was proper so to deal with such cases, all such cases would be dealt with in camera. There is no doubt about it. The point I desire to make in that connection is that a common case of blackmail is that of a woman who may have been seduced by the prodigal son of a rich man. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes, that is a common case. Now, what some of us fear—
I myself fear it—is that if a Resolution of this kind were carried and the Home Secretary were to adopt the point of view expressed in the Resolution and translated the Resolution into law, that such cases heard in camera would tend to shelter the rich to the disadvantage of the poor.
§ Captain A. HOPE
May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the whole point of my Resolution is that the man who has been blackmailed may go forward from this moment without any fear that his name will appear, if it is left to the discretion of the Judge as to how the case shall be heard. The whole point of my Resolution, or I wish it to be, is that every man should be able to go forward without any fear at all that his name may be dragged through the mire without rhyme or reason, or any shred of evidence at all against him. It is to be open to the Judge, if he thinks that a case has been brought forward through malice or any other reason, to order the case to be published. What I Wished to express, what I would wish is, that every case should be tried in camera, unless the Judge decided that it should not be so heard.
§ Mr. DAVIES
But we are not called upon to vote on speeches like those of the Mover and Seconder; we are called upon to vote on the Resolution. I believe that the Mover of the Resolution is quite sincere, I think his desires are good and noble, but we are dealing with a Resolution which he has been good enough to submit to us, and on that Resolution I desire to pass one or two further comments. I spoke a moment or two ago of the situation that obtained at the moment so far as I understood it, in connection with newspaper reports of cases. I say that the whole pivot on which this Resolution turns is the question of having blackmail cases heard in camera. In the case of newspapers, those responsible for 1250 publishing the accounts of the work of their amateur detectives in investigating crimes or alleged crimes, are already liable to be punished for contempt of court.
I am sure that the Home Secretary, when he comes to speak, will tell this House that he is being requested to undertake one of the most difficult problems when he is called upon to introduce legislation to deal with what is, as I have already termed it, a most detestable form of crime. I am not sure, therefore, how I shall cast my vote to-night. I will decide that when I have heard what the Home Secretary has to say, but I would ask the House again, before it passes this Resolution, to have regard to the, wording of the Motion and not merely to what has been said by the Mover and the Seconder. It ought to be very careful, if it decides that the Resolution shall be carried and put into effect, so that cases of this kind are held in camera, that it is not committing a new error by removing another. I would, of course, like to see many of the things which appear in our public press eliminated. After 50 years of free elementary education, all the sermons which have been preached, and the lectures that have been delivered from thousands of platforms, one would think that it would be absolutely impossible for our people to support those newspapers which give us such piffle from Sunday to Sunday. Strangely enough the worst stories of all appear in Sunday newspapers. This Resolution may not have very much effect, even though it be carried, but I hope the time may come, not by legislation, but through the common sense of our people, that the type of sensational journals that we get from week to week and Sunday to Sunday will be abhorred and that there will be no sale for them in the near future.
§ Sir GERALD HOHLER
The Motion which has been moved is one of great interest, but I agree with my hon. Friend the late Under-Secretary for Home Affairs (Mr. Rhys Davies) that it certainly does import that the question of whether or not a case should be heard in camera should be left to the discretion of the Judge. The word are:enable all such cases to be tried in camera.1251 I can only conceive that that must mean that it is the Judge who will ultimately determine whether the case should be heard in camera or not, and I very greatly deprecate that. I have the greatest confidence in Judges, but they are human, though great. It may be that one Judge will take one view and another Judge another, and for the administration of the law in so important a matter as this the law itself should be clear and definite. It should not be left to the discretion of any of His Majesty's Judges, however great, to decide when a case came on whether it should be heard in camera or not.
No doubt blackmailing cases are not uncommon; that is beyond question, and through the newspapers one has become familiar with the great range they cover. It may be that they are concerned with financial reasons—some financial frauds. It may be that a newspaper—so I have heard, and no doubt it may be true—may say, "We will publish this about you or about your company unless you pay us so much." That is one class of case. Then you have cases in which a man may have been guilty of some vile offence. Cases vary infinitely. I have known of a case in which a publican was threatened with opposition to his licence unless he paid so much, because he was, so it was alleged, carrying on a betting business on his premises. The word "blackmail" may cover a vast number of cases; they may be financial or they may be personal.
Are you sure that if you do alter the law you are going to enable more convictions to be secured, or enable more prosecutions to be undertaken, or encourage them? I am by no means certain. I think it is inevitable that something will leak out, or it may leak out. It is quite true that you may not have the temporary and unenviable felicity of being in the newspapers for a week—we generally forget all about it in a fortnight—but it will be known, and it will be known by whom? By your friends; and to my mind that is the real thing with which we are concerned. We all know how little we know of human nature in the sense of personal acquaintance with people, and it is quite immaterial to people whether Smith or Jones has done this or that. They see it in the papers, but they do not know it; but to anybody knowing Smith or Jones 1252 it is a totally different matter—that is where it is felt. In regard to financial matters, a man s financial status may be ruined, and it may be that in the existing state of the law there is a chance for people to extort money by stating that they will publish something of disadvantage to you, your business, your surroundings, or your life, and that is exceedingly unfortunate.
I think it was a little unkind of the right hon. Gentleman the late Under-Secretary for Home Affairs to suggest about women being seduced by rich men. May I point out to him the remedy? If wrong has been done, a child is born, and there is an affiliation summons, and that is surely publicity enough and protection enough. Nobody can call that blackmail. I am not laying down the law in regard to actual cases, hut I do not think it would be wrong for anyone to write to a man and say, "You have seduced me, and I am in the family way, and I ask you to make proper and right provision." I do not call that blackmailing, I think it is a woman's right, and if the man does not do it, then I say the woman has been kind to him, and so far from its being any menace or threat, I would say, "I advise you without hesitation to take affiliation proceedings." If he has done wrong and is a rich man, all I lament is that the law is not strong enough to enable her to have such provision as his riches can afford.
I cannot help thinking the Mover of this Motion has never put his thoughts into the form of a Bill. These wide Resolutions, in my submission, do not add very largely either to the progress of opinion or of the law. This is loose language, and we need to get down to concrete provisions and carefully examine them. That is the value of Committee work in this House, that we really do get something which is good law, even though it may be delayed for some years. Having said that, I am going humbly to announce my opinion in regard to this matter. It seems to me there is one great principle at stake. Is it more in the interests of the community that our legal proceedings should be published abroad, or that, for the benefit, and it may not be for the advantage, of particular individuals who have, I will not say sinned against the law, but sinned against that which we 1253 think morally right they should be protected by closed Courts? I doubt it. I am in favour of publicity in these matters. I do not believe that you can add largely to the convictions, or to the prosecutions; and when I use the word conviction, I am assuming the guilt of the persons charged by reason of the prosecution.
There is the Robinson case, of which we have all heard. I never knew one of the parties, and I do not suppose I ever shall, and I do not want to, for it does not concern me. In that case, for example, how would this proposal have operated? That was a most notorious case which aroused more interest and was more widely published than almost any other case in my time. This was an action against a bank for money alleged to have been wrongfully paid out, and there you had the whole of the proceedings published, although the only person blackmailed was not induced to come forward to give evidence. You might obtain this security in the common criminal prosecution, but if anybody or any newspaper was told to publish it, in case it involved a criminal offence or a man's credit in his business, and the words spoken turned out to be a slander, nobody could prevent it being made the subject of a slander action.
For these reasons I doubt whether any useful purpose would be served by adopting this Resolution. I think the overwhelming opinion is that the whole of our legal proceedings in this country should give the right to publish. One cannot agree with all the newspapers publish, but I do believe that the just carrying out of the law is best secured by publicity. It is not to be assumed that the Judges do not make mistakes. Let us assume that there had been a serious statement made in regard to a. person who was to come before a grand jury. Is it not far better that that fact should be known in order that the Judges may he controlled as well as other people.
I am opposed to this Resolution. I cannot help thinking that although I cannot support it there is a worse form of this evil existing at the present time, which is apparently encouraged by newspapers and by the public taste. Some unfortunate woman or a man is a litigant in some suit which interests public opinion, and they find themselves 1254 pilloried in the newspapers by the publication of their photographs. In my judgment that is abominable. Hon. Members will recollect that I spoke of this practice in regard to the terrible case at Eastbourne, and I suggested that if possible proceedings should be taken. Even to-day you have the case of a poor woman in a case which is exciting considerable public interest; her photograph is published in all the papers, and I think that is a grave scandal. There is a feeling that a matter of this kind might be dealt with, but it is very doubtful whether it Would come within the powers of contempt of Court.
I think that, is blackmail of the worst kind, because you may have the case of a woman or a man who cannot get justice because the newspapers have in the first instance published a photograph. I know of an actual case of a very eminent King's Counsel—not myself—who was actually photographed and inserted in a newspaper under the title of "Mr. Hobbs." I have a very clear opinion that the best interests of the community will be served by the courage of its citizens, and I think it is very desirable that in our Law Courts all the proceedings should be open, and subject to good taste and discretion, all our Courts should be open to the Press.
Mr. R. MITCHELL
The complexity of this subject has been exemplified by the wide range covered by the hon. and gallant Member who moved the Resolution and the hon. and gallant Member who seconded it. We started with a perfectly definite proposal that certain discretionary powers should be granted to certain Judges trying a certain class of case, and by the time we had reached the end of the speech of the Seconder we had before the House a proposition that a Magistrate sitting in Court trying any case should have the power to say to the Press, "You shall not publish or you may publish a report of these proceedings." I think it is very creditable to the wisdom of our ancestors that they laid down and maintained through so many years two great principles: first, the openness of all our Courts; and, secondly, the absolute freedom of the Press, subject, in the first place, to a power to hear in private that which was obviously contrary to public morals, and, in the second place, to retaining the right of any individual to 1255 sue for damages any newspaper which transgressed the law of libel.
Having said that, if I am not going too far, I should like to welcome one expression which was used by the hon. and learned Gentleman who preceded me when he expressed his regret that the Courts did not give to a seduced woman the right to claim on behalf of her child a measure of subsistence commensurate with the position and income of its father. I never can understand why it is that the legitimate son of a man in good circumstances can claim a mode of life proportionate to his father's wealth but that the illegitimate son of the same man is restricted, I understand, in England to some 10s. a week and in Scotland to 5s. a week. But I pass from that. This Motion is based upon premises to which I must demur. It states:That, having regard to the recent increase in blackmailing crimes"—There has been no suggestion or proof offered to this House that there is an increase in blackmailing crimes. What we are all aware of is, that there has been an increase in blackmailing cases brought before the Courts, and that increase in blackmailing cases seems to me to show a much more healthy and courageous spirit on the part of those who have been blackmailed rather than an increase on the part of those who have been blackmailing. Further, I demur entirely to the proposal that we should pass a law compelling judges to hear such cares in camera, unless there is, in their opinion, some special reason for hearing them in public. This is cur old friend "contracting in" or "contracting out." The Motion proposes that the Judges should have the right to "contract in" to the scheduled sphere according to their discretion. But, subsequently, the Mover put it even stronger and laid down that. "contracting out" should he allowed if the Judges thought it desirable. Apart from that, if I felt that the crime of blackmailing was to be cured or eliminated by a prohibition against holding such trials in public, I should still hesitate to support anything which I considered so fundamentally opposed to our laws. I believe, on the contrary, it would have the entirely opposite effect.
1256 Blackmail is a crime whereby cowards hope to extort money from cowards. If a man against whom a blackmailer threatened action is, like Brutus, "Armed in honesty," he does not need to fear the threats of a blackmailer. If he should have a blackmailer operating against him and in his courage he brings the blackmailer before the Court, then his protection is the publicity given to the trial; for everybody knows that where a man is brought into Court at the charge of somebody else against whom some libel has been made the publication of the whole proceedings is the best possible protection for the man who has been blackmailed. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved this Motion mentioned the case of a professional man. I happen to be a professional man. If by any chance some evil-minded person should attempt to blackmail me and I found it necessary to take action against him, how am I going to be affected by the present method and the method suggested by the hon. and gallant Gentleman? By the present method I go into Court, I give evidence, the man is found guilty and it is obvious that it becomes publicly known in all its details that the secret which he is supposed to be holding up against me does not exist. But if I go into Court and it is held in camera what is there to silence those whispering tongues that arc ever ready to say, Oh, yes, of course, the man was found guilty, but one never knows about these things. There has been no evidence brought to light." The most pernicious people in the world, even more injurious than slanderers, the whisperers, would find a ready victim in any man who felt compelled to take a blackmailer into Court unless the case he heard in public. There is, in a way, an added status given to the man who has gone through that process. I know there was for years in Glasgow a man who went about the streets stating publicly that he held a superior status to any man in Glasgow in that he was the only citizen of Glasgow who had been certified sane by three doctors, and, as far as he was concerned, there could be no possible doubt hut, as far as the rest of the citizens of Glasgow were concerned, they had no such certificate. How many times has it happened that a man against whom there has been blackmailing and who has taken action 1257 and there have been in circulation whispers and reports, has come out of the case fortified by having taken his courage in both hands. You will never be able in this country to effect a good reform by a bad method. It is, to my mind, a very bad method to lay an obligation upon the Court to hear any kind of case in private, and it is a very injurious and reactionary step, I suggest, to set any curb on the liberty of the Press beyond the curb of the discretion and good taste of those who own it, and, still more, the discretion and good taste of those who write for it.
§ Mr. DIXEY
I must say for once I find myself in total disagreement with certain Friends of mine on this side of the House. As a lawyer I do feel that the principle of allowing publication to be given to all trials which take place in this country is an essential basis from which we cannot afford to depart. I must say I do not quite agree with what has been said by two or three hon. Members that these blackmailing cases are not increasing. I think most of the learned Judges who try criminal cases at Assizes do oppreciate that this class of case is on the increase. I do not think that crime on the whole in this country is increasing, but I think this type of ease, this low down type of case, is on the increase in certain parts of the country. But I do not think the adoption of this Resolution will do anything to decrease this kind of case. I would suggest that, if our public authorities were to give more assistance in the way of legal aid to poor people, among whom, allow me to say as a practitioner, there is quite an amount of blackmailing going on, poor people who are as much dependent on their honour and character being made public as are wealthy people—it would be a good thing if the Government were to add some more relief and more cheap advice to people who cannot in the first place afford to go and consult a lawyer. Some people seem to think lawyers live on the fat of the land.
May I apologise for having spoken as a Scots lawyer, because all prosecutions are carried out by the Public Prosecutor in Scotland? What I stated in regard to money was according to my own upbringing and tradition.
§ Mr. DIXEY
I was not referring particularly to what the hon. Member said, 1258 but was referring to what I think is more or less felt on the other side of the House, namely, that this Resolution only affects wealthy men. I do not want that feeling to go unchalleneged, and I should not have taken the trouble of speaking in this Debate if I did not know that, in addition to wealthy men, many poorer respectable people in our towns suffer from this crime. I would ask the Home Secretary, in opposing this Motion, as I hope he will, because he himself, as a lawyer, knows that the principle contained in it is bad, to express some view as to the means by which this problem may be dealt with in another way. I agree with what has been said as to newspapers, but, after all, the damage that is done by newspapers in the gross publication of numbers of these cases is nothing to the good that they do by the publication of gross moral wrongs which bring their lessons home to the people of the country. I know that certain accusations, possibly, can fairly be levelled against certain newspapers, on account of the way in which they publish these cases, but to my mind that is a small ill compared with the criminal responsibility that would rest upon any Government if they allowed secret trials. As hon. Gentlemen opposite know, once you admit that principle in this country, you never know where it is going to stop. Therefore, although I appreciate in told what the Mover of this Resolution has in mind, I nevertheless feel bound to oppose it, because it offends, to my mind, against one of the greatest principles of English justice.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I only want to intervene for a moment, and I do so because I am not a lawyer, while most of those who have spoken to-night have been lawyers. I approach this question from another point of view altogether. I have some connection with the Press, and I agree very largely with what the last speaker said, namely, that the most important thing we can do, taking it all in all, is to preserve the most effective aid to public morals that we can have, and that is the good opinion of one's friends, which can only be secured, in the long run, by free publicity. If once we begin to tamper with the rights of free publication, if once we begin to create an impression that rich men, for one reason or another, may secure the hear- 1259 ing of their trials in camera, if once we create the opinion among the people that rich men may have vices, that they may have committed offences, or, at any rate, that they may have been charged with committing offences and there may be something in it, but the public is not allowed to get to know of it, it will do more than anything else to destroy the reputation that the Law Courts have: n this country, and I believe deservedly have, for impartiality and fair play, and that will be ruinous to the whole social structure of this country. I am afraid, however, that I hardly agree with the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. R. Mitchell) when he says that he would leave the matter of what should be published to the discretion and good taste of the newspaper managers in this country.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Well, in the long run it is the managers, and not the writers, who decide what shall be published, and if one is going to leave it to the unfettered discretion and good taste of the managers of certain publications in this country, I am afraid one is admitting a very large principle, to which this House ought to give careful consideration before it endorses it. The amount of prurience, of public filth and muck that is spewed out on the public Sunday after Sunday, is, surely, not an aid to public morals, and it surely says nothing whatever for the discretion and good taste of those who manage the publications which inflict this muck on the public week by week. I think that somehow or other the Administration, the Government of this country, will require to face up to the question how far the legitimate rights of free publication and free criticism are consistent with these weekly searchings out—because it is nothing less—of all the mucky and filthy cases that can be got in the Divorce Courts and Law Courts of the country, deliberately picking out what they call the sensational and juicy bits and publishing them with lurid headlines and flaming placards all over the country, not for any public purpose at all, but purely for the sake of raising additional revenue for the proprietors of these publications. I think that in the long run the Home Secretary, the Government of the day, and this House, will require to consider how far the rights of 1260 free publication, which I admit must be preserved, are consistent with this weekly invasion of the sanctity of every home in the land with the filth to which I have referred.
I agree entirely with the general position that has been taken up by most of the speakers, that you simply cannot afford to give power to the Judges to hear these cases in camera, or you will destroy all faith in your legal system. I disagree entirely with the hon. and gallant Member for Bosworth (Captain Gee), who seconded the Resolution, in his definition of blackmail. He said that blackmail started because the wandering tribes from the North swept down into the fat plains of the South and seized the property of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's ancestors. I am afraid that that is not the definition of blackmail that we have been accustomed to get north of the Cheviots. Blackmail, I think, means illegitimate rent. The Home Secretary will probably correct me if I am wrong, but I think that that is good law. It was black, that is to say, it was unfair, and it usually took the form of the strong pillaging the weak.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Yes. I see that another freebooter from the North has arrived, and he, being a lawyer by profession, may be able to confirm, from personal knowledge of his own profession, that my definition of blackmail is correct.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
My considered conclusion, for what it is worth, is that these cases, if only the muck could have been kept out—and I do not presume to decide how that could be done—are an aid to public morals. They have allowed millions of the decent people who produce the wealth of the country, the people who are the backbone of the country physically, mentally, morally, and in every way, to see how the idle, useless, parasitic rich spend their time, and it is right and proper that we ought to know what the Princes and the Rajahs, the idle good-for-nothings who pillage the nation, do with their time, and how they spend their money, and I think in the long run it will do much for the cleansing of the 1261 social structure that we should let clay-light into these cases, and let the public know how the parasites live, because when the public know that all these wealthy, idle good-for-nothings, whom we have been taught to look up to and reverence as wealthy people, who are wealthy because Providence supplied them with their wealth owing to their superior virtues and brains and knowledge—when they see that these people are idle, stupid, useless, vicious and dissolute, I think we shall get a healthier public opinion in the long run which will enable us to deal with those people and the class they represent. While I trust something will be done to stop the publication of the prurience and the muck, I hope the Home Secretary will not agree to the holding of trials in camera, but will take some other steps, if such other steps can be taken—I frankly do not know what they are, and I cannot suggest them—to preserve public morals, while at the same time leaving to everyone the knowledge that the Law Courts are open and free. And if they could only hp made cheap, which they are not now, people would be much more satisfied that they are getting a square deal than certainly they will be if you close them in the cases in which the idle rich are concerned.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir William Joynson-Hicks)
The hon. Member will forgive me if I say he has spoiled a good speech by introducing what was not really relevant. I will not say more than that, because we have had an excellent Debate, one of those Debates in which the House shows its interest in public concerns, and its desire to do what is right. I should like to join not merely in the congratulations to my hon. and gallant Friend who moved the Resolution but also to the Deputy-Speaker, in that he had the privilege of sitting to hear a maiden speech from his son which certainly called to my mind the well-known expression of Mr. Gladstone when the present Foreign Secretary made his maiden speech, that it was a speech to gladden the heart of his father. My hon. and gallant Friend rather apologised to the House for bringing this forward, and said it might be considered a small matter. I do not think so. It is really a very important question now, and one of those matters which the House 1262 of Commons is not only entitled but r think ought to take into consideration from time to time. We are not merely sent here to discuss party politics, but to discuss matters of this kind which are of vital importance to the well-being of the country, and to consider, as a deliberative Assembly, whether the proposal made by my hon. and gallant Friend is a desirable one or not. I think there is a good deal of misconception as to what blackmailing is. Blackmailing` per seis under a distinct Act of Parliament. The last Act of 1916, Sections 29 and 30, describe what it is—Every person who utters, knowing the contents thereof, any letter or writing demanding of any person with menaces and without any reasonable or probable cause any property or valuable thing;Utters, knowing the contents thereof, any letter or writing accusing or threatening to accuse any other person of any crime to which this Section applies, with intent to extort or gain thereby any property or valuable thing from any person;Or accuses or threatens to accuse either that person or any other person of any such crime.The law takes such a very strong view of blackmailing that it imposes a penalty under this Act of Parliament of penal servitude for life, and if it was committed by a boy under 15, he may be privately whipped in addition.
My hon. and gallant Friend suggested to me that I should after the Debate consult my legal advisers. I have done that before the Debate. I have had a consultation with the Director of Public Prosecutions. Sir Archibald Bodkin, who is well known to the House, is responsible for all big public prosecutions and has more knowledge of crime, I suppose, than any other human being. One is bound in a Debate of this kind to mention unpleasant subjects. I should like to say that the blackmailing that takes place in this country is not very much of the type suggested by an hon. Member opposite in regard to seduction by rich men's sons. There is very little, blackmailing in connection with that. The horrible position is that the bulk of blackmailing is for the far worse crime of sodomy, the threat of exposing which is the foundation of a very large proportion of the blackmailing that goes on in this country. It is a, most disgusting and terrible thing that that should be the case. But I am bound to say, on 1263 the advice of so very able an officer as the Director of Public Prosecutions, that he does not think it would be desirable to pass this Resolution. I am bound to put his opinion before the House, and to say also that I agree with him. At present trials of a most unpleasant character, like incest, which used to be tried in camera are now tried, and I think rightly, in public, and the opinion of the Judges is that it is desirable that they should be, because there was undoubtedly throughout many parts of the country a feeling that this horrible crime was not a crime at all, and the publication of the severe punishment which is the result of that crime is doing a great deal to stop the crime itself. The only crime really now tried in camera as a matter of fact is a crime under the Official Secrets Act, and then only in special cases where the Judge exercises his discretion.
I want the House to realise that there are a large number of cases on the borderline of blackmail, of a type similar to blackmail, dealing with offences of a cognate character, which are not, and are not proposed under this Resolution to be tried in camera Take, for instance, a case such as occurred a few days ago, where a man advertised for typists and behaved indecently to them. It was very difficult indeed for some time to get that man convicted. because, quite naturally, the women did not wish to come forward and give the necessary evidence. That is not a ease of blackmail at all. That case would not have been covered in any sense by the Resolution. One knows also a large number of cases connected with cognate offences where parents will not allow prosecutions to take place because they will not allow their children to come and give evidence of the offences which have been committed against them. All these have just as much right to be heard in camera as cases of blackmail. I am sure if I were to go through the whole gamut of what I may call offensive crime, there is a great deal to be said for trying the whole of them in camera, but I am convinced that it would not be desirable to do that at all. It would not be desirable in the interests of justice, and in the interests of the confidence which the community desires to have in the administration of the Courts of Law. They want to know that the law 1264 is being administered without fear and without favour, and with equal justice to rich or poor, whether it be the prosecutor or the criminal who is rich or poor.
My hon. and gallant Friend mentioned the case of a Welsh gardener who had been blackmailed for many years by the husband of a gipsy, because he had accused him of infidelity with his wife. The gardener declined to take proceedings, quite obviously, because he did not want to tell his own wife of the suggested infidelity. The real difficulty is that if you prosecute in these cases your wife, your family, and your immediate friends are bound to know. It is the publication to the wife, the family and the friends that is the real difficulty. It is not simply the publication in the newspapers. That is why this unfortunate gardener could not screw up his courage. Whether the charge was well founded or not, and whether there had been infidelity or not, makes no difference in regard to blackmail.
The question of whether the crime has been committed or not does not matter. No evidence is allowed to be given on that point. It is as much blackmail to accuse a man of a crime which he has not committed as to accuse him of a crime which he has committed, so long as money is demanded as the price of silence. The essence of blackmail is the demanding of money as the price of silence. If a man goes to Court in a country district, which is the local police Court, his wife and people in the immediate surroundings learn of the proceedings, and you cannot prevent them. You cannot clear the Court. It is obvious that you must have an open Court in this land. You may prevent, if you like, publication in the newspapers, but you must, at least, have an open Court. The man goes to the. police Court where the case may be heard once or twice. Then it is sent for trial, and it goes on to the local Assize town. I do not see how the information that so-and-so is prosecuting in a case of blackmail can fail to get out to the wife and family and the immediate friends, from whom the one who is complaining wishes to keep it secret. This Resolution, if it were carried into law, would not prevent the people whom one would naturally wish to remain in ignorance from hearing of the case.
1265 It is very difficult to suggest any legislation which would meet this particular case. We have seen, quite recently, two cases in which the name of a party in the ease was kept private. One case has been mentioned here to-night, where the name of an Indian Prince was, for certain reasons which were considered good, kept secret. That name was known all over the world, except in England. The name was published in every Continental newspaper, it was published in America, and it got over to India quite easily. Meanwhile, the whole of this country burned with a desire to know the name, and before very long the name came out. There is a case going on now, to which I will not refer except to say that the name of a General, who is dead, was mentioned as General X. Not more than a few days had expired before the Judge said that he thought it was desirable that the name should be mentioned. I put it to the House that an attempt to keep things of that sort secret really leads to more curiosity on the part of the public. It causes more people to be interested in the case.
There is power to-day on the part of any Judge or magistrate, and it is in certain cases a discretion which is exercised, to allow any witness to give his evidence anonymously, provided that the name mentioned to the prosecutor, the prosecuting counsel, the defending counsel, the prisoner and the jury. That is a power which is sometimes exercised, and I am not at all sure that it would not be better that we should consider whether the Judges, in very special cases—and I think we could trust them—
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I am all for open Courts. Any magistrate or Judge in any Court can allow a witness to give his or her evidence anonymously.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
In open Court, provided the name is communicated to the other side, to the prisoner and the jury. The 10.0 P.M.
Public Prosecutor and some of His Majesty's Judges are seriously concerned in regard to this question of blackmail. They are seriously concerned as to the number of cases, of 1266 a disreputable character occasionally, and the difficulty of dealing with them adequately. I am not going to discuss that question to-night, because it would need very careful consideration by the Government. I do not say more than that. It is the opinion of the Public Prosecutor that we may have to ask the House of Commons to inflict a more serious penalty than is in operation at the present time.
One hon. Member said, quite rightly, that this is a crime committed by cowards upon cowards. The coward who is being blackmailed is just as much entitled to the protection of the Courts as the brave man. Many of us may be cowards in regard to that matter. It is not only in cases where there is no secret, but the case of the blackmail is often as bad where there is a secret, and where some unfortunate man maybe 10 or 20 years ago has been seduced into one of these horrible crimes for the very purpose of blackmail. Many cases which the police have under their cognisance are cases where young men have been seduced into these crimes, for the very purpose of leading them a life of blackmail for years to come. It is the coward with whom we have to deal, and the view of the public prosecutor is that we should, if necessary, and if the crime goes on as it is going on, ask the House of Commons to give us power to inflict the penalty of flogging. That is a very serious proposition.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
You already have the penalty of penal servitude for life. Is it intended to increase the penalty?
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Do not let the hon. and gallant Member assume that I am making that proposal to the House to-night. I am doing nothing of the kind: but I always feel when I am speaking to the House in a responsible position that I ought to tell the House everything that is in my mind, or in the mind of my advisers. Quite definitely, this crime is of such importance, of such prevalence, of such malignance, of such cruelty, and is of such a despicable character, that I am advised by the Public Prosecutor, and in that advice the Lord Chief Justice of England concurs, that if the crime goes on undiminished, we may have to ask the House for the very exceptional penalty that I have named.
1267 I do not want to do it. I would hope, if possible, that the mere mention of the statement which I have made, in all the criminal quarters of this country and particularly in the criminal purlieus of London where these crimes are hatched, where there are known to be men who are living on these crimes, and where there is, of course, this great difficulty of getting people to prosecute, that there is this idea in the minds of the Home Secretary and his advisers, and in the minds of some of the most experienced of His Majesty's Government, will do something to diminish this crime and stop it in many cases. Because, after all, as has been well said, this crime is the crime of a coward, and a coward may take fright at the suggestion of the punishment which I have indicated and the crimes may then cease. I hope that that may be true. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will not think it necessary to carry this Resolution to a Division. It is a very difficult question and one which has caused me a great deal of thought. I would like to do anything in my power to make it easier for these disreputable criminals to be found, but I do not think, on the advice of my responsible, legal advisers, in which the Director of Public Prosecutions concurs, that the Resolution, if carried out in an Act of Parliament, would have the effect which my hon. and gallant Friend desires. I can only thank him for having brought the matter to the attention of the House of Commons. This Debate has been a most useful one, and, having called attention to this form of crime, it may render it less likely and less frequent in the future.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Under the present law blackmail is punishable by a sentence up to penal servitude for life. Apparently that is not a sufficient deterrent, and the right bon. Gentleman is considering the addition of corporal punishment—flogging. I hope that that policy will not be pursued by the Government. The whole trend of modern thought with regard to crime is against corporal punishment. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I do not think that hon. Members opposite who say "No" are really in touch with modern thought on this subject. To go back to what is a form of torture would be a distinctly retrograde step. I do not want to pursue 1268 this matter further. It is hardly relevant to the main purposes of the Debate, but I do hope that the right hon. Gentleman will think very seriously before he adds this to the number of crimes for which the punishment of flogging can be inflicted. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to me to get away from the main difficulty, that is, the question of public opinion. We all agree with him as to the necessity of having an open Court. The closed Court, as the hon. Member for Dundee remarked, would only lead to suspicion and talk against the sanctity and impartiality of the law, and also, if it is not going to be universally applied, there would be danger that the mass of the people would consider that there was influence in favour of people who have friends in Court. But it seems to me that the question which has got to be faced, and which cannot be shirked, is the question of public opinion.
I do hope that the Government will take steps to prevent the broadcasting of the horrible details of these and similar crimes in the newspapers. We on these benches can claim, I think, to be as jealous for the freedom of the Press as any other Members of the House, and I hope that the House will resist any attempt to muzzle the liberty of the Press. At the same time, I think many people in this country—and their number is increasing—view with alarm the excessive space that is given to unnecessary details in recent cases. I admit that, from the point of view of the hon. Member for Dundee, it may be a good thing to ventilate these things, and allow the fresh air of publicity to illumine these dark places in our social life. At the same time, what can be the effect of reading the detailed reports of recent cases on very young people and children, who are just able to read, young lads and girls? It has a good deal of value or it would not occupy so much space in the papers, but I believe that it is only one or two newspapers which wish to feature these cases and that the others have to follow suit.
It is a most difficult question, but I come back to the immediate object of the hon. and gallant Member who moved the Motion. We want to make it easy for people who are blackmailed to have recourse to the law. We admit that the closed Court is objectionable. Therefore perhaps the Home Secretary will consider, not a question of legislation, but 1269 calling some conference with newspaper proprietors to see whether more reticence could not be exercised by the Press in certain cases of this sort. I am not now pleading for the cloak of secrecy over the doings of a certain section of society. The more they are shown up the better. I am thinking of this particular crime of blackmail and the unfortunate victims. During the War the Press behaved admirably. There was no special law passed, but I do not believe that there was a single case in which a British newspaper betrayed the confidence of the authorities.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I think that that was exercised only once in the case of the "Globe" in the course of the whole War.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
My hon. Friend knows more about the Press than I, but generally speaking the censorship was exercised by a request to the newspaper people themselves. I would suggest to the Home Secretary that he should hold a conference with the principal newspaper people of this country, to see whether this admittedly black spot could not be put right. It is, I think, admitted generally that it is unwholesome that the details of these cases should be reported verbatim in the public Press. It must lead to many disastrous things in our social life, and I would ask whether something could not be done without legislation. As an immediate practical step I would suggest that there should be a conference of the kind which I have indicated with the Press in order to get over the difficulty, but so strongly do I feel upon this matter, that if my hon. and gallant Friend goes to a Division I shall certainly support him.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN rose—
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I agree with the Home Secretary in what he has said about the nature of this crime. My experience in the City of Glasgow coincides with his. The question of seduction of a woman by a man is never the object of blackmail in that city. The chief object 1270 of blackmail is the crime of sodomy. I may refer to a quite recent experience in the City of Glasgow itself. The City Prosecutor had before him a case in which a number of men who are well known to the police were concerned They were without dress, or any male attire, but with tight fitting jackets; and all that; with their hands finely chiselled—far more finely chiselled than, say, the hands of my wife; who called each other by female names, used the scents common to women, and even painted. They were known to the police. In nearly every charge of blackmail, or in nearly every case where blackmail was suspected, it was a comparatively well-to-do man who was concerned. It is very rarely that there is blackmail amongst the poor. I have my own views as to that, and I will merely say that I think working people are more moral. They do not lend themselves to this sort of thing. In the cases I have mentioned the Glasgow police knew these men and knew that they frequented a certain station particularly. Most of the cases went hand-in-hand with strong drink. I remember that in one case the police knew that a certain man was being blackmailed. Ultimately they arrested four or five men, who went under the vulgar name of "white hats." The whole difficulty was that the man who was being blackmailed, whose business was being ruined, would not come forward to give evidence because of the terrible effect it would have on his family and on his business life. The problem is that, generally speaking, the ordinary crime as between men and women is not the heinous offence that men need to be ashamed of so much as the crime known as sodomy.
My own feeling is that I would go almost to the extent of suppressing accounts of such cases: No man who was brought up in the strict Presbyterian circles, in which most of us were brought up, wishes to see or read that sort of thing, or cares to think that his children or relatives, particularly the young folk, would know anything of the sordid and cruel details of some divorce cases. One sometimes sees young people in our public libraries reading reports of these cases. I know that anything bad of that kind, read when young, may have its effect in after life. My moral sense tells me that 1271 something ought to be done to suppress that information. Yet you have to consider the other side. Suppose you make publication unlawful. What do you find then? You find that you have not kept the details of a case from leaking out. You find that the details come out against a man in the form of tittle-tattle, which very often is much more injurious to him than would be a statement of the whole of the facts. I remember a case in Scotland at the time when I used to visit prisons and take a keen interest in prison administration. I always found that the blackmailer was a man whom you very rarely caught. I am not sure that if you increase the punishment to flogging you would stamp out blackmailing. The crimes in question do not lend themselves to prosecution at all.
There is only one thing to hope for. I think that the great thing is to go back to education, to an attempt to deal with the social conditions of our own children in the future. That is the only way to try to deal with it, though I do not believe you will ever thoroughly succeed. The only hope is not in the direction of suppression in the Courts or the suppression of publication in the newspapers, for while it is not an evil arising purely out of social conditions, yet partly that is the case. Every one of the men who follow this trade of sodomy—and it is a trade, I am sorry to say among some men—an occupation—every one of those men is, more or less, the product of the cruel sort of social life in which they are brought up. It has partly grown up out of social conditions and I do not think you will stamp it out merely by repressive punishments like flogging. The only hope is that the country in the future may see to it that there is better education for the people, better social and housing conditions o and that we shall bring up a type of men who will rebel against selling themselves in this cruel and fearful fashion. Each of us must try, by spreading such knowledge as we possess among all the folk whom we meet, to create a detestation of this crime. I do not know of any subject which bristles with so many difficulties as the subject of blackmail, and I hope the Home Secretary, before embarking on any further steps, will inquire into the problem from all angles and will not be guided by the 1272 opinions of public prosecutors or Chief Justices or even of the legal profession generally, important as these may be. but will also take the opinion of the people in regard to a wider sphere of life and in relation to all classes of the community, and in that way gain a thorough and comprehensive knowledge. I agree with him as to dealing with the man who acts in such a cruel and brutal manner to his fellow human beings, but I hope that whatever steps are taken he will bear in mind what I have said. Our duty as Members of Parliament is not merely to suggest long sentences and floggings, but is to find some solution for the problem, and punishment alone is not a solution. We must find some means of preventing men from entering into criminal careers at all. I wish the Home Secretary well in his efforts, and I am sure I speak for all those associated with me when I say that if we can do anything to help him to stamp out this cruel crime it will not only be our task but our duty to this House, to our constituents, and. above all, to the working class.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I wish to make a reference to the remarks of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and the allusion of the Home Secretary to the possibility of flogging. I had the privilege of visiting Brixton Prison on Sunday last, and one of the cases brought to my notice by the Governor was of that class referred to by the hon. Member. Any Member of the House visiting that cell and coming into contact with the personality of the man would agree that this was the last crime with which one would associate him. He was a man of fine appearance and was gentle in demeanour, and yet the Governor informed me that he represented one of the most dangerous types of criminals. His point of view was that in this case, and I am sure it applies to others, it is a question of mentality. There must be others like this man who have gone into the depths of degradation, which suggests the great importance of going very fully into the question of mentality. When you study some of the peculiarities associated with those who have gone very far astray—this is not directly applicable to this Motion, but it is an illustration of the idea I have in my mind—you will sometimes find a type of individual who has been frequently convicted, and, if it 1273 is in connection with stealing, it is remarkable that sometimes you will find a man stealing always the same class of thing. I have known of one man who was addicted to stealing, and his invariable practice. was to steal painters' steps. There is some peculiarity about these phases of our criminal life. I was very struck also when the Governor of the prison pointed out the eradicating of the broad arrow, which so stigmatised the criminal, the providing of a different typo of clothing, a system that was originated, I believe, by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer when he was Home Secretary. There is also the provision of lectures and concerts, all for the purpose of elevation. That leads us to the line of argument indicated by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy), that there is a modern thought, not simply prevalent on these benches, but already applicable in our prison life, and it is well worthy of serious consideration when you are dealing with matters of this kind.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir JOSEPH NALL
I hope the Home Secretary will not be influenced in his administration of penal laws by some of the ultra-sentimental suggestions that have been made to-night. Undoubtedly, there are many persons to whom a good flogging is the only punishment that they really understand, and where the Home Secretary is advised that the cases are increasing in which punishment of that kind can be administered in the public interest, I hope he will not hesitate in the matter. The case referred to by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour) shows, I think, that we are in danger of making prison life too easy for those who are addicted to it. Prison life ought to be such that those who are committed to it have not the slightest inclination to go back to it once they are free; and there is to-day an unfortunate tendency to encourage a certain class of individual who, on liberation from a teem of imprisonment, is only too pleased to think that a further term may soon be awarded to him. Therefore, prison administration should be so maintained as to avoid those inducements in the form of sentimental treatment of wrongdoers, so that our prison population is not encouraged to increase, but will be kept within limits. I am sorry that the Home 1274 Secretary, in his reply, felt that he could not accept this Motion, because there is a strong feeling in many quarters that legislation on the lines indicated would be of advantage. At any rate, we have his assurance that the matter has his keen attention, and, knowing him as we do, I think we can very well, on this occasion, leave the matter in his hands. I only hope he will not be swayed by sloppy, sentimental humbug, and that he will administer the criminal and penal laws in the most rigid manner possible.
§ Mr. LANSBURY rose—
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I do for the moment. I did not intend to speak at all, but I wish to say to the Home Secretary that there are a few of us here, whether two, six, or 600, who will oppose with the most bitter opposition any proposal to inflict any more punishment in the way of flogging anyone for any crime. The absurdity of the hon. Member's position is shown in the fact that the more brutal the punishment has been, the less repressive of crime has it been. I speak as one who has seen the interior of a prison. People who have never been through the experience do not understand. I have nothing to say about my own experience in prison. I was not a martyr. I was there because I chose to be there, and I have nothing to say in complaint of my treatment while there, but when I saw other human beings like me, degraded in the position they were, I was certain you could not drive out one devil by another devil, and you could not cast out evil by evil. That is all I want to say about punishment, because I do not want to take up the time of the House. As to the Press, having had very long experience of it, I say it is not the newspaper editors, it is not even the proprietors of the newspapers; it is the British public that like to read filth, and get what they ask for day by day. The journals with the biggest circulation, Sunday and weekdays, are those which give the fullest report of the most foul trials and things that happen in ordinary life. It is the ordinary British public that has got to 1275 be converted, and it is no use thinking that any sort of repression of newspapers will have any effect. When we have got a cleaner, wholesomer public opinion, and when the public do not want to read filth, they will not have filth sold to them.
That, having regard to the recent increase in blackmailing crimes, to which attention has been drawn by several of His Majesty's Judges, and seeing that only a comparatively small proportion of blackmailers are brought to justice and punished by reason of the unwillingness of the victim to prosecute, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that legislation should be introduced as soon as possible to enable all such cases to be tried in camera,
§ put, and negatived.