HC Deb 04 May 1951 vol 487 cc1514-6

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

11.6 a.m.

Mrs. Castle (Blackburn, East)

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

It is a matter of great satisfaction that the House should have welcomed this Bill in all its preceding stages so unequivocally and I hope that the House will give it a Third Reading unanimously this morning. I think that during the various stages of the Bill hon. Members have appreciated that although it may seem a small Measure, dealing with a limited point, it really is an important Bill for two reasons.

First, by passing this Bill the House will be taking another step towards securing true equality before the law. A cynic has said that all men are created equal, but some are more equal than others. It is because this was true as between men and women in the last century, and particularly in the field of prostitution, that that great woman, Josephine Butler, started her campaign to remove the most blatant of the injustices from our law. She succeeded in securing the repeal of the iniquitous contagious diseases Acts of 1864–1869. This was a tremendous step forward, but it still left many imperfections in our law, some of which remain today. If Josephine Butler were still alive, I am sure that she would be in the vanguard of the agitation to secure the amendment of the law which this Bill advocates. I am sure that she is watching our proceedings today with great pleasure.

The second reason why the Bill is important is because it will enable this country to keep its high place of leadership among the countries of the world in pressing for the suppression of the traffic in women and girls. Although our country has always most strongly supported international action in this field, the provisions of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885, which this Bill seeks to modify, were a blot on our legislation which prevented us from taking our full part in international action to deal with this problem.

It prevented us, for example, from ratifying the 1933 International Convention for the Suppression of Traffic in Women, and it would have prevented us from ratifying the most recent convention of the United Nations which was adopted at the General Assembly in 1949. As it happened, that Convention was passed with such imperfections from our point of view that we were not able to vote for it. But I am particularly gratified that, even though we are not bound by that Convention, we are, nevertheless, taking steps in this Bill to bring our law into line with its provisions, which, once again, shows that this country is one which takes these international arrangements very seriously, and which always plays its part in conforming to high standards of international opinion on any subject.

I want to thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for the sympathetic way in which they have received the Bill, and I ask the House unanimously to give it its Third Reading this morning.

11.11 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas)

I wish to support, in a few words, what my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, East (Mrs. Castle) has said. This Bill extends the Act of 1885 in two important respects It extends to prostitutes and women of known immoral character the protection which the Act of 1885 gave in Sections 2 and 3 to ordinary women against procuration while under the age of 21, and against procuration by false pretences at any time at all. It extends to all women whose normal place of abode is a brothel the protection accorded to other women against procuration to enter a brothel.

As my hon. Friend pointed out on Second Reading, the Bill recognises that it is wrong to withhold from a woman the protection of the law merely because of her lack of moral character. That is a point of principle. Again, as my hon. Friend pointed out, the Bill strikes a procureur at the point where his exploitation is likely in modern conditions, that is to say, among the professionals and semi-professionals. That is a practical point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, East, and I were delegates together in 1949 at Lake Success, and, although I was not on the committee, I happened to be present when the Social Committee discussed this subject. I well remember that although my hon. Friend found it easy to defend most of the aspects of our law in this matter, she was distressed at having to defend before 58 other nations aspects which seemed undesirable to her. These defects in the Act of 1885 greatly impressed my hon. Friend, and, as we adjourned, I heard her tell her American neighbour, Mrs. Roosevelt, that she would try to see that the law was changed on this subject. Those were very brave words, but it so happens that there is the probability that they may prove to be right. By a coincidence, it falls to me to speak for the Government today and to welcome this Bill. In so doing, I congratulate my hon. Friend on the able and, if I may say so, persistent way in which she has carried it through.

11.14 a.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)

I do not think we should allow this occasion to pass without registering the fact that this is the first Bill introduced under the Ten Minutes' Rule that has received a Third Reading. Therefore, I think, it proves to the House how valuable is that rule, and how glad the House should be at its reintroduction.

I, also, would like to congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the Measure with the unanimous approval of the House since, in my opinion—and I think it is an opinion that is is generally held—it attacks the root of the evil instead of its unfortunate victims, who are merely the channel by which evil men and women in this country have hitherto sought to gain a livelihood. It attacks the pimps and procureurs, and helps to safeguard their dupes. For that reason alone, I think the Bill has been worth the attention given to it by the hon. Lady, and I congratulate her on her achievement.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.