HC Deb 09 March 1962 vol 655 cc843-60

Order for Second Reading read.

3.7 p.m.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

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

At this late hour it would ill become me to attempt to review the history of the offences with which this Bill is concerned. I think it sufficient to remind the House that on two occasions there have been debates, one on the initiative of the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson), in which the Wolfenden Committee's view that the law as it stands carries the criminal code beyond its proper sphere and could undermine the moral responsibility which each individual must bear, was considered. It is well known that although a hundred hon. Members took that view, the present Parliament has insisted that not only is homosexual conduct sinful, but that it is so offensive and injurious to the community that in all circumstances it must remain a crime. Nevertheless, I do not think that it is presumptious of me to say that the majority of Members felt a profound unease when these debates were concluded.

They were uneasy about the witch-hunting which had been shown by the Wolfenden Report to have existed, and which was known to many hon. Members to be in existence. That type of conduct was repugnant to the sense of fair play of most hon. Members. I believe also that there was a feeling in the House indicating a considerable repugnance to what was clearly going on in some areas by the over-zealous pursuit of stale offences. I believe, too, that almost everyone felt profound concern at the fact, which was revealed, that there was often a lack of protection for a blackmailed man who found that on turning to the police he, too, was prosecuted with the blackmailer.

I believe that most Members of Parliament, even those who most vigorously oppose the major recommendations in the Wolfenden Report, felt the utter inadequacy of dealing with the homosexual by a term of imprisonment. The comment of the Home Secretary, that often the last stage of the homosexual who was in prison was worse than the first, was understood by all hon. Members, most of whom appreciated that, whatever the merits or demerits the law might have, it was clear that to imprison a homosexual was about as effective as sending a rapist to the women's prison at Holloway. On some of the matters upon which the House clearly felt disquieted the Wolfenden Report had made recommendations, but those minor recommendations appear to have been lost amidst the clamour which took place concerning the major recommendation which would have given immunity to discreet adults.

It is to fulfil some of these minor recommendations and to attempt to allay some of the anxieties which were expressed by hon. Members who could not accept the major recommendation that I have been prompted to bring this Bill before the House. Since the initiative taken by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North, the question has remained dormant. All action has been shirked. Meantime, every four hours it is calculated that an unfortunate baby is born in Britain who is fated to be a homosexual. It is said that at least one man in 25 is a homosexual. I know that homosexuals tend sometimes to exaggerate the extent of homosexuality because they wish, as it were, to minimise their sense of guilt.

Whether that is true or not, it is said that there are half a million practising homosexuals in this country. Whether that is so or not, it obviously amounts to a substantial and unfortunate minority.

Although they have not chosen their fate, most people recognise that there could be few individuals who would opt for homosexuality. For nearly all, if not all, their disposition arises from birth or a faulty family upbringing. They are doomed to be denied what to most of us who possess it is the greatest blessing God can give—a happy married life and the gift of children. Compassion demands that, although, clearly, the matter is a distasteful one, a renewed attempt should be made to bring in legislation which, while ensuring that society—and, in particular, juveniles—and public decency shall be protected, nevertheless does not completely outlaw this unfortunate minority.

Clause 1 of the Bill has two main aims. The first is to contain the blackmail, the most heinous of offences that has prompted the law as it stands—in particular, the Labouchiere Amendment—to be known as "the blackmailer's charter". The second and subsidiary of the two main purposes is to prevent witch hunting. The House will be aware that a former Attorney-General expressed the view that 90 per cent. of the cases which came before him touching upon blackmail were connected with homosexuality. The police have clearly conceded, as will be seen from the Wolfenden Report, that out of 71 cases of blackmail reported to them over a fixed period, 32 were connected with homosexual behaviour.

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

What was the fixed period?

Mr. Abse

It was a three-year period.

That was the total number of offences brought to the attention of the police. Since I am prompted doubtless to understand the reasons for that intervention, I emphasise that these figures are a long way off from the actual number of cases of blackmail which take place. Criminal lawyers, if they have practices touching on these matters, know how often people come to them for aid.

Since the hon. Member has intervened, I shall quote one case which took place in my experience some years ago. I found in my early practising years that cheques by way of professional fees were being given to me by people who belonged to the criminal fringe and that they were signed by a particular individual. After this had occurred two or three times, I made inquiries. Finally, I managed to obtain information as to who the man who had signed the cheques was. I found that he was a retired clergyman who has since died. The members of this criminal fringe had ascertained his weakness and known of his offences. They were compelling him to pay money to them over a period even to the extent of having the effrontery to get him to pay these fees for their housebreaking offences.

I could recite, as I believe many lawyers could recite, particularly solicitors, who are in contact with the general public, many similar instances, and they continue all the time. Indeed, this week I received a communication from a university lecturer who is doing sociological work. As seems to be the wont of so many who are doing this sort of work, he was cultivating local café society, in making a sociological study of café-delinquency. This study seems to have been fashionable recently.

He found there a young man who had not done a stroke of work for seven years since leaving school, apart from a few months as a builders' labourer, but who was possessed of an expensive car in which, the investigator found, he was taking suitable good-looking young people to the West End with the specific object of ensnaring homosexual victims. Together with this group of apprentice blackmailers, this contemporary Fagin had lived for some years on the proceedings of his lamentable activities. Fortunately, the information supplied by the lecturer to the police led to the main blackmailer being imprisoned.

Apart from overt blackmail, it is clear that there are many other cases. I direct the attention of the House to paragraph 110 of the Wolfenden Report, which says that, in addition to the overt blackmail, there is a considerable amount of tacit blackmail which continues all the time. The Report reads: There is no doubt, also, that a good many instances occur where, from fear of exposure, men lay themselves open to repeated small demands for money or other benefit, which their previous conduct makes it difficult for them to resist; these do not amount to blackmail in the strict sense, but they arise out of the same situation as gives rise to the blackmail itself. We cannot minimise the fact that blackmail exists, and it is highly unfortunate that, as the law stands, one isolated act of folly by the vulnerable individual could condemn him to extortion in perpetuity. Under the Bill, after the twelve-month period proposed, it would not be possible to commence proceedings. That is to say, under the Bill it would not be possible to commence proceedings in respect of an offence which had taken place twelve months previously, and that would at least put a limitation on the period for which the blackmailed man may be vulnerable. To this extent, too, it would prevent an over-zealous pursuit of stale offences.

In some police areas no proceedings are commenced unless the complaint or offence has obtruded itself on the notice of the police by clear breach of public order or decency. In others, however, offences are pursued with a morbid and prurient curiosity. If, in the course of the investigation of some instance of a particular homosexual offence, the police are possessed of this type of curiosity, they can sometimes extract from an accused man the names of those with whom he may have had some relation over a period of very many years.

There are cases known, some recited in the Wolfenden Report, in which, seven years previously, a man has committed a homosexual act; he has since matured, married and forsaken his homosexual practices. Surely everyone must agree that it is savage and purposeless to shatter the life of such a man after such a long interval of time by commencing proceedings. This twelve months' limitation within the Bill will end this type of zeal.

The provision in the Bill which ensures that in cases which take place between adult homosexuals in private the proceedings must be initiated by or on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions, will also act as a deterrent to blackmail, since the practice of over-zealous interrogation would hardly be commendable to a Director of Public Prosecutions.

I draw attention to the fact that a recommendation was made by the Royal Commission on Police Powers and Procedure a generation ago that the Director of Public Prosecution's Department rather than the police should be encouraged to take statements from blackmailed persons. This was after the Royal Commission had heard evidence from the Director of Public Prosecutions about his method of dealing with blackmailed men. It is important that I should stress this aspect, because there appears to be a certain coyness abroad on the part of the Director of Public Prosecutions, who, although in so many instances he does not fail to exercise his discretion, would appear to be retreating from the idea that he would have a discretion at his disposal if the Bill were passed.

It is interesting to observe from the evidence given by Sir Archibald Bodkin, the then Director of Public Prosecutions, that he considered the circumstances in which, if a man was blackmailed, he gave protection to the blackmailed man. He said in evidence: I should not consider it necessary to ruin"— giving as an instance a clergyman who had been engaged on sexual adventures— the clergyman for life by forcing him into the witness box where his identity might well leak out notwithstanding precautions. If the offenders could not be prosecuted, save for the blackmailing, I should send for the clergyman and discuss the whole position with him, and if he agreed, his name being suppressed, which I could assure him every Tribunal would permit, I should prosecute; if he did not consent, as his statement was made confidentially, I should probably not think it right, and have not thought it right in such a case, to institute proceedings. There is a kind of balance, which in a fair view of the situation, is to be struck between the ruin of the man and the scandal and the gravity of blackmail, but I should recollect that it would probably not be very long before the Police received further information about the offender. I mention this because there can be no question that, if we endowed the Director with this type of discretion, the blackmailed individual would be able to have the protection which Sir Archibald Bodkin mentioned in his evidence to the Royal Commission, which would enable blackmailed men who have turned to the police no longer to fear that proceedings would necessarily be commenced against them.

Further, the provision in respect of the Director of Public Prosecutions which I urge would ensure uniformity in the application and administration of the law. Some had thought that the Wolfenden Report, which made clear its deprecation of out of the way prying which gave rise to the suspicion of witch-hunting, would probably have ended the practice. But I observe that Mr. C. H. Rolph, whose contributions I have heard commended by the Home Secretary in the House and who is invariably well-informed, in this week's New Statesman affirms that at the moment a homosexual witch-hunt is on because of two London murders. I believe that by endowing the Director of Public Prosecutions with this discretion we may be able to have a more humane standard of administration in respect of these offences than exists at this time.

One further result flows from Clause 1. Offences of gross indecency may by this Clause be tried summarily. From time immemorial until 1885 this offence was not known to English law. It did not result, as far as my researches go, in any particular historical calamity. I believe that the provision in the Clause enabling an offence to be tried before magistrates and enabling fines of up to £100 to be imposed will be welcomed even by magistrates who are not prepared to take any permissive attitude to these offences. In such cases, where publicity has brought its own shame, even such magistrates may consider that a monetary penalty will see justice done and society adequately protected.

Clause 2 makes it mandatory on the courts in all homosexual cases to have a medical report on conviction and before sentence, provided that it is the first offence. At present, according to a Cambridge University survey, in only 20 per cent. of homosexual cases are medical reports obtained by the courts. It may be said that the Wolfenden Report had directed its mind and had given attention to the question of whether or not medical reports should be obtained in all such cases, for that Report clearly came to a conclusion contrary to that which I am attempting to embody in the Bill. But at that time we had not had the Streatfeild Report—which the Government have promised to implement— and which will mean that it will be possible to have pre-trial inquiries and, as a consequence, without administrative difficulty, have medical reports in the higher courts.

At the time the Wolfenden Committee made its recommendations the Mental Health Act had also not yet been passed. The provisions under that Act which exist now, whereby there is a panel of people approved for particular statutory purposes—medical people—was not in existence at that time. Therefore, the administrative difficulties which were pointed out in the Wolfenden Report no longer apply in the light of legislation and events that have taken place.

It is important that sufficient humanism should be displayed towards this minority so that, since we know that the condition is not necessarily irrevocable or reversible, there should be an effort made to see if such persons can be saved from prison. There can be no question—and there is abundant evidence—that in many cases, fortunately, the condition can be treated. At the time of the Wolfenden Report a memorandum was presented to the Departmental Committee on behalf of the Institute for the Study and Treatment of Delinquency, and the Portman Clinic. As the House knows, considerable work has been done there in respect of homosexuals who have been referred to the clinic, usually by the courts.

It was found from the records of 77 of their patients that as a result of a period of treatment in recent years, 34 had shown no sexual impulses or behaviour after treatment. Another 21 of them retained homosexual impulses, but had them under conscious control and discretion, 14 were considered to have improved and in eight cases it was acknowledged that no progress had been made.

It seems obvious to me that if there is, in fact, any possibility of allowing a man to resume or gain a heterosexual life then such a man should not be condemned unnecessarily to imprisonment where, unfortunately, his habits and behaviour are likely to be confirmed and more fixated than otherwise. If probation and treatment can be arranged so as to protect society, who would, rationally, want to send a homosexual to prison?

There is one further matter relating to medical reports. Although the overwhelming majority of homosexuals are not in conflict with the law other than that of homosexuality, there is no question that for some violent psychopaths homosexual behaviour is a symptom of their condition. In the memorandum submitted at the time of the Wolfenden Committee this was stated by the Institute for the Study and Treatment of Delinquency: … it is pertinent to add that one of the strongest arguments for submitting all persons charged under existing laws with homosexual offences to psychiatric and other forms of scientific examination is that by such means it would be possible to isolate types of homosexuality most likely to be accompanied by violence or other forms of anti-social behaviour. … I do not want to labour this point, but it seems to me that when we are concerned with preventing violence and crime it is important that we should at least take advantage of the fact that fortunately, on the evidence of some of the most highly-trained psychiatrists in the land, it is clear that they are able to make a prognosis in the case of some psychopaths, where homosexuality is a symptom, indicating whether they are likely to become violent, if not murderous, in present circumstances, it seems unfortunate that we do not take advantage of the medical knowledge that is available and consider this technique which may lead to some lives being saved and some violence abated.

There is a final point which is mentioned in Clause 3. The House will recall that it appears from paragraph 76 of the Wolfenden Report that the Committee felt that the word "brothel" should include premises used for homosexual practices. It is not my intention, nor that of those who support the Bill, to encourage in any way behaviour that would be offensive to the public. It is, therefore, intended by the Clause to make it unequivocally clear that the term "brothel" and the use of premises for such purposes under existing law would also apply if some-thing like male prostitution were carried out in such establishments.

I am pleased to see the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs representing the Government because I am aware, as is the whole House, that undoubtedly he personally would wish to go much further in dealing with the matter than does my modest Bill, for he is on record as having been a supporter of the Wolfenden Report and, indeed, supported the Motion moved by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North. Therefore, I am encouraged and fortified by his presence.

There is often a great deal of cynicism about politicians. It comes about because lip-service is often rendered by politicians to noble causes, but when opportunities arise for serving these causes, lip-service is as far as it goes. Indeed, the sympathy that the Home Secretary sometimes extends is now generally regarded as something like the kiss of death. I trust that the Joint Under-Secretary will not follow the unfortunate example of the Home Secretary. It is certain that there are no votes in amending homosexual laws; there is no possibility of waging electoral campaigns upon these issues. There are, however, occasions in public life when those of us who believe that a wrong is being committed, even though there is little understanding on the part of the public, and whatever opprobrium may be attracted, have a duty to look after minorities, whether those minorities be criminal or homosexual, gypsies, or sick or ill.

It is in that spirit and, I believe, informed with that kind of opinion that I have attempted today to present the Bill which I now recommend to the House.

3.35 p.m.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) on his fortune in securing a place in the Ballot and on the extremely persuasive way in which he has dealt with his Bill and propounded its substance to us, but I emphatically oppose it. Naturally, I was attracted by what he said when introducing Clause 3, that he was seeking to continue along a strict and narrow course of right conduct in public life, but I find it extremely difficult to understand the real purpose behind the Bill.

As I see it, the teeth of the Bill are in the Schedule. If it were provided that there was not to be a prosecution after twelve months had elapsed from the date of the offence, a number of grave injustices of a kind quite different from those to which the hon. Member has referred could be caused. Justice, as I see it, should act swiftly, but, inevitably, there will be exceptions in the application of our desire for swift justice, and, in advocating a time limit or moratorium in respect of any offence, we must, I suggest, be very careful lest any great offence occurring outside the time limit should escape.

As the hon. Gentleman will agree, it would be a disgraceful state of affairs if an offence were committed and then the offender conveniently disappeared for twelve months, only to reappear in thirteen months and say, "I can get off scot-free now". That is one prospective injustice.

Another type of injustice would arise if we were to accept the peculiar principle enshrined in the Bill. If we make special provision for the homosexual, what about other offenders? Why should not the burglar or any other offender one cares to name have a twelve months' or a three years' period of limitation enacted in his case? What is sauce for the goose must be sauce for the gander. So long as it is the intention of Parliament and the country that homosexual offences shall be regarded as offences, I see no reason to allow this loophole.

I gather that it is the intention that, in effect, the Director of Public Prosecutions alone should have the right to institute prosecutions. I have taken the step of discussing this matter with several—I hope that they will forgive the term—minor judges, those judges and magistrates into whose courts matters of this kind come. They tell me that the great bulk of cases coming to them come as the result of offences committed in public anyway. They do not come as the result of hidden, secret or private offences. Therefore, they would be caught anyway under Wolfenden, and the claim that the Director of Public Prosecutions would set up a single code for prosecutions of this kind cannot, I suggest, be substantiated.

Mr. Abse

The intention of the provision is directed only to those cases which take place between adults in private. It is right, as the hon. Gentleman says, that the overwhelming majority of cases do not fall into that category. In fact, there are little more than 100 such cases a year. It is to these cases and these alone, where the danger of blackmail, and so on, is very great, that this provision is directed.

Mr. Wells

I am obliged to the hon. Member. That was precisely why I said that the bulk of cases came from the other source. I would remind him that it is less than two years since Parliament, by a very large majority—and this ought to be borne in mind—decided that the time had not yet come to implement the Wolfenden Report. A homosexual act committed by consenting adults in private remains just as much a criminal offence today as any other homosexual act.

If it is desired—and I, for one, do not desire it—to impose some form of central control over prosecutions of this sort, why not impose it for all offences? I am not a lawyer and that is why I find it somewhat difficult to follow the hon. Member for Pontypool, who deployed his case with such extreme skill, on which I congratulated him. It is because I am an ordinary layman that I feel somewhat strongly about this and, if I may be allowed, I will try to deploy my case to the best of my non-lawyer ability.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North) rose

Mr. Wells

No. I will not give way.

The real reason for restricting the right to prosecution is that the promoters of the Bill are seeking some form of Wolfenden watered down, some restriction of the decision which Parliament took a couple of years ago. This seems to me to be their aim. Parliament having taken this decision by a large majority, I would deplore seeing a vote taken when there can be only 80 or 90 Members present this afternoon.

The hon. Member for Pontypool dealt with medical matters at some length. It will be within the recollection of hon. Members that there was in The Times some time last summer on two consecutive days an account of the practices in the prisons and medical institutions in Scandinavia. It was clear from this account that the state of the law in Scandinavia—and the country mentioned was either Sweden or Denmark—was not at all satisfactory.

There are two main points in connection with medical evidence in this country. In the first place, there may be some doubt about the offender's responsibility for his actions and I would not wish to impede any attempt to arrive at the truth. That is the difficulty and that is why we need medical reports. The first problem is that if an offender is to be remanded for a medical report that must take a long time. In spite of what the hon. Member for Pontypool has said, I have always been given to understand that a great majority of confirmed homosexual offenders are not amenable to treatment.

If a man is not amenable to treatment, it seems absurd to set out at the public expense to seek to treat him. It will be throwing money away to no advantage to the nation and to no advantage to the man in question. In my constituency there is a large prison where I believe that the best treatment that is suitable is offered to these unfortunate people. I believe that the prison system offers a definite method of combating this problem, because it is a deterrent.

Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)

This is a very interesting point. The hon. Member is telling the House that in a prison in his constituency the very best possible treatment is given to homosexual offenders. None of us is aware of any treatment given to such offenders in prisons. Would he care to expand on that for the enlightenment of the House?

Mr. Wells

I do not want to expand on it at great length, because I do not want to speak for too long, but, bearing in mind that medical treatment is suitable only for some, the firm treatment of the deterrent is the most desirable of all.

We had a firm vote two years ago on this issue. The Bill seeks only to provide the Wolfenden Report watered down, and I hope that the House will not give it a Second Reading.

3.46 p.m.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

May I sincerely and earnestly beg the House to try to approach this matter from a common-sense point of view. It is no answer to say that we dealt with it two years ago, that we should forget all about it and do nothing about it now.

The Bill is, I suggest to the House, a very modest step in the right direction. I commend the effort of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) for obviously not endeavouring to go the whole hog. He has not attempted, as the hon. Member for Maid-stone (Mr. J. Wells) apparently thought he had attempted, to put into effect in the Bill the recommendation of the Wolfenden Committee that homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should cease to be a crime. He has not done that, because obviously he would have had little prospect of success. We appreciate that the majority of hon. Members are not ready to take this step. It will come in time.

But clearly there is considerable dissatisfaction with the present state of the law. Most of us, and I am sure even the hon. Member for Maid-stone, recognise that we are dealing here with an unfortunate minority. It is not their fault that they are different from normal persons. Their state must command a measure at least of compassion. To send them to prison, to let them mix with other criminals, can do no good and in many cases must do considerable harm.

We know that in many cases medical treatment can help considerably, and I therefore welcome Clause 2 which makes it mandatory, at any rate for the first offence, that there shall be a medical report. I hope that the hon. Member for Maid-stone realises that often medical opinion is sought now. I am sure that the hon. Member does not quarrel with the provision making it mandatory, and to that extent he must support the Bill.

Clearly, too, the change in the law contemplated which would enable magistrates to deal with offences would be a helpful change. Where there is an opportunity of a fine, an expression of disapproval on the part of the magistrates and the shame of publicity, it may make the offender realise his position and serve the purpose of protecting society. Surely no hon. Member can disagree with a provision of that kind.

I have spoken of the protection of society and it is often said that the public must be protected. This is often put forward as the reason why we should not adopt a more lenient attitude to these offenders. But as a rule the offences committed by consenting males in private—and that is what we are dealing with—are not known to the public, and it is not therefore a question of protecting the public. Indeed, there are two provisions in the Bill which in any case assist in the very object of protecting the public.

First, there is to be no prosecution for offences committed more than twelve months before. The hon. Member for Maid-stone, in criticising this, asks why we should not deal in the same way with other offences, such as robbery and theft. But we are not dealing with that type of offence. We are here dealing with a particular type of offence which many of us believe ought not to be a crime at all.

Nobody is suggesting that we should apply this to the majority of crimes, but, because of the special nature of this particular offence when it is committed, it would be an important provision that there should not be a prosecution if it were committed more than twelve months previously. I suggest that the provision is very sensible. What can be the use, from the public point of view, of reviving memories of such acts? It may be, as my hon. Friend has said, an isolated case. It may be the offence of an individual who has now settled down, who has married, who has changed his ways. Why bring upon him the shame of publicity and the penalty of punishment which will affect not only the offender and possibly ruin him but may well seriously affect his wife and family? Moreover, it is clear from statistics that homosexual cases are the easy prey of blackmailers. This provision would lessen that danger.

Secondly, I commend to the House the requirement in the Bill that prosecutions should be initiated only by the Director of Public Prosecutions or on his behalf. As matters stand today under the law, a prosecution is made either by the police or—as we all know can be done—by a private individual. We know that the practice, therefore, differs throughout the country. In some parts, no prosecution takes place unless there has been a clear breach of public decency. In other parts, there is a prosecution where it is much less than that. This provision would result in uniformity throughout the country. which would provide another shield against the attack of the blackmailer.

I earnestly ask all hon. Members to consider the small effort of progress made in this Bill. It may be small, but how important that progress is! I support the Bill strongly. We move very slowly in these matters—far too slowly. In Europe, only Western Germany and this country now regard homosexual conduct between consenting males in private as being a crime at all. It is time we took a step forward to remedy this position. This Bill would do so. Although we have only a short time in which to discuss this matter, I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

3.54 p.m.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

I have listened with great interest to the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), but I take a completely different view. He himself put the case against the Bill in one sentence. He said that he and others thought that this kind of offence should never be a crime at all. About a hundred hon. Members agreed with Part II of the Wolfenden Report and cast their votes accordingly at the time. This is an attempt by some of that minority—whose views I respect but disagree with—to take a step forward along the path of making this offence not an offence any more.

I hope that this Parliament, and future Parliaments, will never go one inch of the way along that path. This Bill should be rejected in total. It is quite incapable of being amended. The very title is erroneous. It abuses the words it uses and would mean a sort of glorification of these offences, which are rightly called "abominable", by muddling them up with ordinary sexual offences.

Mr. Abse

The Sexual Offences Act, 1956, included Clause 12, dealing with buggery, and Clause 13, dealing with indecency between men. What other words could have been used in the title?

Mr. Doughty

It could have been, "Bill to amend the law relating to homosexual offences". Certainly the Sexual Offences Act, 1956, contained the Clauses mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, but the rest of it dealt with entirely different matters. It may seem strange to use such an expression in discussion of this matter, but that Act dealt with things which, in this context, were of a more respectable nature.

If this Bill were passed, I agree that it would not go the whole way to making this offence no longer an offence, but it would place the offenders in a privileged position. Many hon. Members have said, with truth, that these people are recidivists—to use a criminological expression. They keep on committing these crimes because they want to. They are not the only ones. Go to any criminal court in the land and one will see people who are determined house breakers or forgers. Are they to be treated as people of a special character and sent to some mental hospital? Of course, if they are in need of hospital treatment they can be given it under the Mental Health Act, but many of them do not need such treatment and commit these crimes because they like doing so.

Mr. Weitzman

Surely the hon. and learned Gentleman appreciates the vital difference between this type of offence and any other?

Mr. Doughty

The one is of an invidious sexual nature and the other is robbery. They are both criminal offences and have been so for a very long time. There is a difference between burglary and assault but they, too, are both criminal offences of a bad nature. This type of offence is particularly repugnant to the vast majority of people in this country.

The sting of the Bill is to be found in the Schedule. It proposes to give this type of criminal carte blanche should his offence not be discovered for twelve months. Why? I agree with all hon. Members who have spoken that all criminal offences should be prosecuted as quickly as possible and not be left hanging over people's heads, but a criminal of this kind who knows that the police are just behind him can be on the Continent in a few hours, and provided he stays there for twelve months can come back, however heinous was his offence, and snap his fingers at those who would specially feel it their duty to prosecute him.

Why should the Director of Public Prosecutions have to give his special sanction to this sort of matter?

Mr. Abse rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put, but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

Mr. Doughty

Why should the Director of Public Prosecutions have to be brought into this matter? If a police-main catches two of these criminals red-handed committing this offence, why should they be told that the facts will be reported to the Director of Public Prosecutions to see whether he desires to prosecute?

There are many aspects in which the Bill fails completely, but in the short time at my disposal I want to deal with one matter, the question of medical reports. Consider the time that will be wasted if the men have to be remanded on every occasion to get a medical report. At the moment they can be fined and the matter—

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday next.