HC Deb 13 December 1950 vol 482 cc1175-8
Mrs. Castle (Blackburn, East)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to repeal the words in paragraphs (1) and (4) of section two and paragraph (2) of section three of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885, which restrict the operation of those paragraphs in the case of a woman or girl who is a common prostitute or of known immoral character or whose usual place of abode is a brothel. May I begin by explaining what the Bill does not seek to do? It does not seek either to condone or to persecute prostitution as such. It is concerned with the procurer, with the man or woman who exploits the vice of others, and therefore has an interest in its encouragement. I think everyone will recognise that prostitution is a social evil, and that it is, in the words of the United Nations Convention of last year, Incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person. We would all agree with the attitude taken by successive British Governments, when this problem of the traffic in women has been discussed at international conferences over the past 40 years, that we cannot make people good by Act of Parliament, and that the right way of trying to modify this evil is by social progress and education, on the one hand, and by striking at the commercial traffic in prostitution, on the other.

This is the point of view that I, as a Member of the British delegation to the United Nations, put to the Social Committee at the General Assembly when we discussed this problem only last year, and I believe that my Bill is in entire conformity with that approach. As our law stands at present, our main attack on procuration is through the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885, an Act to make further provisions for the protection of women and girls. It is with only three subsections of that Act that I am concerned with in this Bill. I am concerned with them because they specifically exclude from that protection the common prostitute and the girl of known immoral character. The effect of this exclusion in these three cases is as follows.

Section 2 (1) of the 1885 Act is designed to give special protection to the girl or woman under 21 years of age by making it a criminal offence to procure her to have sexual intercourse with a third party. But, as the law stands at present, the procurer gets away scot-free if the girl he procures is a prostitute or a girl of known immoral character. Yet surely she is the very person who is in most need of protection from being induced or procured to serve the trade. She may be—and often is—a girl who has not yet fully committed herself to a life of prostitution. Yet the man who makes it his business to draw her deliberately into the trade, commits no offence according to the law.

Section 2 (4) of the Act of 1885 makes it a criminal offence to induce a girl or woman of full age to leave her usual place of abode and inhabit a brothel in this country or abroad. Again, no offence is committed if the woman's usual place of abode is a brothel, even when she is induced to inhabit a brothel overseas. This, again, is the sort of case where protection is most needed, because, as the League of Nations committee of experts who inquired into this problem in 1927 have pointed out, it is on the prostitute class that the international traffic in women thrives.

As the committee also point out in their report, once a prostitute has been induced to go abroad she will find it very difficult to escape, however horrible the conditions under which she may have to ply her trade, or however much she may wish to change her way of life. Perhaps I may be permitted to read one sentence from the report. No one knows better than the souteneur that once he gets a girl into a foreign country he can bring influence to bear on her to do his will which he could not use in her native land where she has possibly friends and some knowledge of the law and customs. Finally, under Section 3 (2) of the Act of 1885, it is an offence to procure a woman or girl to have sexual intercourse by false pretences or by false representations. Here, again, no offence is committed if the girl is already a prostitute or of known immoral character. It is surely intolerable that any woman or girl, because she follows a certain way of life, should be excluded from the protection given to other women, even though that way of life, prostitution, is not illegal under our law.

My Bill seeks to remove these exceptions from the Act of 1885, and to do nothing more than that. I hope that in the comparatively short time available to me I have managed to make this rather complicated matter clear. Thanks to the provisions of the Act, and to the vigilance of the police, it is rare for respectable women or girls to become the victims of the procurer today. If we want to curb his power, we must strike at the point where his exploitation is most effective, and that is among the prostitutes and the semi-professionals: To do that, we must amend the 1885 Act. That is the practical case for the Bill.

But an important point of principle is also involved. I believe—and so do a large number of religious and social organisations of all creeds and shades of thought that have been working on this problem for a great many years—that it is wrong to withhold the protection of the law from any citizen on grounds of his or her moral character. This Bill will bring our law into line with modern thought on this problem; indeed, it is many decades overdue. What I am seeking to do is to include all citizens in the protection given by the law against those who would organise vice for their own ends. It is on these enemies of society, the exploiters of prostitutes, that I hope the House will have no mercy, and that to this end it will give my Bill unanimous endorsement.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mrs. Castle, Mrs. Rees, Mrs. Hill, Mr. Mellish, Mr. W. T. Williams, Brigadier Prior-Palmer and Mr. Bowen.