HL Deb 18 June 1883 vol 280 cc766-75

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, the Bill was founded upon the recommendations of the Select Committee of their Lordships' House. It had come to the knowledge of the Government that English girls had been decoyed abroad, and that they had been immured in brothels, from which they were unable to make their escape. Some passed many years in confinement of the vilest and most abominable kind. The Committee found that many of these girls had been decoyed abroad, especially to Belgium, whither they had been conveyed by agents, who were paid so much a head for each girl by the keeper of the brothel to whom she was made over. The Belgian law protected girls up to the age of 21 from being immorally employed; but that protection was not available for English girls. The age to which English law protected young girls stopped at 13. The Committee also found that juvenile prostitution was increasing at an appalling rate in London, and that probably it existed to a greater extent in this country than in any country in Europe. Now, the Bill before the House closely adopted the recommendations of the Select Committee, with two exceptions. It was not a Bill for the suppression of vice, though it was hoped that it would incidentally bring about some diminution in vice. It was chiefly directed against the empleyment as prostitutes of very young children. It provided that any person who procured, or endeavoured to procure, a woman to become a common prostitute was to be guilty of a misdemeanour; and the age up to which women were in future to be protected was raised from 13 to 16, and up to that age no consent of the woman was to avail. The Bill also contained clauses against brothels, and gave the police power to take the initiative for their suppression, and also power to search houses which there was any reasonable ground of suspecting to be brothels; and made it an offence punishable by a. fine of £20 to keep a brothel. A landlord also was empowered to terminate a tenancy summarily if he found that his house was being used as a brothel. There was also a clause against loitering and solicitation by women in the streets. The Committee had recommended that it should be made a criminal offence to abduct a woman under the age of 21; but Her Majesty's Government had not thought it desirable, for obvious reasons, to insert a clause in this Bill to carry out that recommendation. If that re- commendation were adopted, and a man took a girl away from her home and married her, he would be liable for an offence under this Act. Moreover, when they considered what frequently happened, and was, indeed, almost a custom among the labouring population in many of the agricultural districts, it was clear that this recommendation would, in practice, be found unworkable. Many persons would, no doubt, think that this Bill did not go far enough, while others would think that it went too far. The extent to which the measure should go bad received the most anxious consideration on the part of Her Majesty's Government, and they had been most careful not to go beyond public opinion in the matter, because they felt that if they did so the Bill would become a dead letter. Public opinion, however, was advancing very rapidly with regard to this subject; and, before long, it would be possible to go a good deal further in legislation than this measure proposed to go. At present it was a question of degree. By Clause 6 of the Bill it was proposed to raise the age of valid consent from 12 to 16 years. The Select Committee had not been unanimous on this point. Some of its Members had been in favour of raising the age as high as 17. On the whole, the measure was a considerable advance upon the present law; and, though it might very possibly be susceptible of improvement, still it was a measure which he thought fairly and honestly met the necessities of the case. It might, of course, be urged that the Bill would open the door to extortion, to false accusation, and to many incidental evils. But the House must remember that all legislation of this kind was necessarily liable to abuse. The present state of things in the Metropolis was so awful and so disgraceful that it was absolutely necessary to deal with it. That was the justification of this measure; and he hoped that their Lordships would read the Bill a second time.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl of Dalhousie.)


, in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, the measure was essentially a bad one, and, if carried, would be used for purposes of extortion. There had been gross carelessness in its drafting, and its operation would expose the public generally to great danger. Rather than attempt to amend the Bill in Committee, he thought the better course would be to reject it altogether, and allow the Government to bring in an adequate and efficient measure. He might call the attention of their Lordships to the fact that the Bill was not to apply to Scotland, although the most enthusiastic Scotchman would not deny that immorality was as rampant North of the Tweed as it was South. In fact, the rate of illegitimacy was notoriously high for Scotland; and the only explanation he could give of the provision that the Bill should not relate to that country was that the noble Earl (the Earl of Rosebery), who had charge of the Bill originally, and who had been appointed for a time to look after Scotch affairs, in order to soothe the susceptibilities of Scotch Members, had known that it was a bad measure, and had, therefore, conic to the conclusion that, though it might pass for England, it would not do for his own country. In his (the Earl of Milltown's) opinion, the Bill would be utterly un.workable. Clauses 3 and 4 were too drastic in their provisions. Clause 5 he regarded as unnecessary, because it was already part of the law. Clauses 6 and 7 he also generally condemned; while the 8th clause he approved of as a very proper proposition. It seemed to him as if the noble Earl (the Earl of Dalhousie), flushed with his victory on the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill, had, in dealing with this subject, rushed in where the wisest of men had ever feared to tread. As to the scandalous state of the London streets, he agreed that anything that could be done to mitigate it ought to meet with support; but why should not solicitation be made an offence in the case of men as well as in the case of women? While there were many provisions in the Bill to which he objected, there were, on the other hand, some matters which might have been introduced into it with great advantage. For example, it would be well to exact that damages could be recovered for seduction without its being necessary to prove loss of services. Some of the clauses of the Bill were too far-reaching and severe, and others were too mild. The course which the framers of the measure proposed should be followed after the detention of a girl was much too vague and undefined. It was suggested that they should be sent to homes; but no machinery was provided for the establishment of such institutions. For the reasons which he had given, he begged to move the Amendment of which he had given Notice.

Amendment moved, to leave out (" now ") and add at the end of the Motion (" this day six months.") —(The Earl of Milltown.)


said, that the noble Earl who moved the rejection of the Bill had underrated the weight of public opinion in the country on this subject. The Society for the promotion of this Bill had received 100,000 signatures without. any canvassing whatsoever. There was a strong public opinion on the question; to that opinion the Bill was an answer, and a wise answer, on the part of the Government, and ought not to be met by a Motion that it be read a second time that day six months. It struck him that with regard to certain details, as, for instance, with respect to young persons under 16, the Bill did not go far enough; but that was a matter for Committee. And if the House wished that the Bill should apply to Scotland, it was only necessary to insert words to that effect. He denied that the vice in question was a constant quantity, and that if stopped in one direction it would break out in another. He knew a great deal about the lives of University men, and he ventured to say that a great many passed through the ordeal of University life and were entirely guiltless in this matter. He made that statement after full inquiry. The amount of the evil depended very much on the amount of the temptation. If they allowed the streets of London to continue in their present disgraceful state, there would be a great amount of temptation, and a number of persons good and bad would fall under it. The condition of the streets of this Metropolis was a by-word in the civilized world. There was no other capital in Europe where it was permitted that young men and old men, too, should be solicited as they were here by people whose calling was visible on their faces. That was felt on both sides of the House and out-of-doors, and the wonder was that it had not been stopped. In this Bill there was a clause that would go far to stop it. He would suggest that the task of the police in clearing the streets should not be made more difficult by requiring that they should discover the woman in the act of soliciting. It was said that it would be impossible to send young children taken from the streets to industrial homes, because there were not homes enough of that class, and that the Government did not at present desire to take the duty of providing thorn on their hands. He begged to say that there were many Societies forming with that object, and there would be no difficulty in the matter. With regard to juvenile prostitution, he believed that the Bill would entirely stop one of the most monstrous evils that existed among us. We had this excuse for not dealing with it before, that it was only within the last few years that the evil had reached its present monstrous height. It was not the case that the Bill would allow disorderly houses to escape altogether. The Act of George II. enabled a good deal to be done already. He remembered how, in the parish of Marylebone, took or three gentlemen took up the task of dealing with a street full of disorderly houses, and before a year bad passed there was not a single bad house in the street. This Bill would greatly strengthen the hands of those who wished to act in that way. Ho would ask their Lordships to consider for a moment that in our great towns a very melancholy state of things existed. There were whole districts in which women lived by daily labour, making matches and match-cases and sewing shirts for a few pence a-dozen, and many of them retained their chastity. At present they saw passing their doors in gaudy dress their sisters and friends who had adopted a different trade, and other women still more depraved. He would ask, would not their Lordships, who were full of generous impulses, do something to protect these poor people? Speaking not only as a minister of religion, but also as one interested in social science, he was sure that the Government had never undertaken any better work than this; and he begged the House not to commit the solecism of dividing against a Bill the principle of which was apparently accepted by everyone.


said, that he could have quite understood the opposition of the noble Earl (the Earl of Mill- town) if he had objected to the principle of the Bill; but the noble Earl, so far from taking that view of the matter, held that the evils which the Bill was intended to suppress or to mitigate were so serious as to call for even more drastic legislation than was now proposed. Never before had he known the second reading of a Bill to be opposed in such circumstances, and he greatly regretted that the example of such a Motion should have been set by the noble Earl. As it seemed to him, some of the noble Earl's criticisms were trivial, and others were based on a misconception of the Bill. The noble Earl objected to the 1st clause because it did not contain a limit of age, and to the next clause for a precisely opposite reason. The 1st clause was intended to sustain and fortify a very wholesome decision of the late Mr. Russell Gurney, and the next was no more than an extension of the existing law. Without going through all the noble Earl's comments on the Bill, he might say that it was very doubtful whether many of them were just. The noble Earl had failed to see in what way the Bill would effect the suppression of brothels. As the most rev. Prelate had said, the present law did something in that direction; but its machinery was inconvenient, and it laid upon the householders a duty that was sometimes very vexatious, but could not be performed by the police. The main change that the Bill would introduce in this particular was that the police would now, for the first time, be enabled to deal with that class of offences against public morals and decency. He was bound to say that the noble Earl's criticisms did not appear to him to present many serious difficulties; but, even if they had been much more powerful, they might have been considered in Committee, and could not have formed an argument against the second reading of the Bill.


said, that the Bill was not designed to accomplish what he feared was the impossible task of suppressing prostitution, but to afford protection to young girls who were constantly inveigled into dens of infamy, and to give larger powers of protection to householders and the police. There was the Act of George II. which was directed against brothels, gaming-houses, and other disorderly houses, and was very well as far as it went; but it needed amendment, and would probably be made much more efficient by this Bill. Bad as disorderly houses were in all circumstances, they became additionally infamous when they were kept by women who added to their other trade the business of the procurers. In the City of Peterborough, he grieved to say, there was one of these vile women who got her bread out of the sin and shame of the innocent young girls whom she seduced into these homes. A poor artizan in the town of Peterborough went to one of the clergymen to complain that his young daughter had been inveigled by this woman into her house. It was found that the father had no legal right to enter the house. But if the woman had stolen his spoons, the house might have been entered for them; but because she had taken what was dearer to him, the child of his heart, the peace of his home, and the honour of his family, he must not be allowed by the English law to enter this house. It was because of such a case as that, which wrung the hearts of those who knew of it, that he gave his attention to the law on this subject, and listened with the greatest amazement to a proposition from any Member of that House for the rejection of the Bill altogether. To amend it in Committee would be another matter. There was a growing public opinion on these questions that would largely amaze the noble Earl. There was no question that this, at all events, was a poor man's Bill—a Bill to protect him from being robbed by cunning and fraud of that which was dearest to him, to satisfy the lusts of the vicious among the rich. He heartily thanked Her Majesty's Government for having introduced this measure, as it deserved the hearty support of all those who cared for the peace of families and the purity of our national life. It was not a time for anyone, when child harlots were walking in our streets, to stand up in that House and to move the rejection of such a Bill.


My Lords, in spite of the speeches of my right rev. Friend and of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, I am not sure that the Bill has passed entirely scatheless through the criticisms of my noble Friend behind me. His examination of the Bill was a careful and exhaustive one, and he pointed out many defects in it which at a future stage it will be necessary for us to consider. It would be a great mistake to pass by such criticisms. The subject is one as to which all must feel the gravest responsibility. It is a most difficult subject to deal with by legislation. The ordinary duty of the law is to restrain crime; but we are dealing with questions of a different kind—we are crossing the boundary which separates crime from vice, and are trying in some way or other to deal with vice. The attempt is not new to our law, but it has always been made carefully and tentatively, and with a deep sense of the dangers surrounding it. There is the danger of re-action, and there is the danger lest, in the attempt to fetter the vicious and the guilty, you cause dishonour and damage to the innocent. There is also the danger that even when you punish those who are vicious, you may punish them beyond measure by exposing them to a terrible system of extortion. I do not admit, therefore, that the matter is quite so plain and simple as my right rev. Friend who has just sat down seemed to imagine, or that it can be disposed of by the mere consideration of the terrible evils with which we have to deal. When right rev. Prelates talk of public opinion they should remember what is the precise public opinion with which practically we have to deal. The public opinion represented by eager petitioners is not the kind of public opinion which must execute the Act you are now asked to pass. You must pass an Act which the public opinion represented by 12 average jurymen put into a box is prepared to enforce. If your measure is so severe that such public opinion will not enforce it you will do more harm than good. I should have preferred to have this Bill considered by a Select Committee, because it is almost impossible in public to go into the details which are necessary for a complete consideration of the Bill. Of course, that is entirely a matter for the Government to decide. The circumstance that the Bill in a great part embodies the recommendations of a Committee of this House is, I think, a reason against rejecting it. There are, no doubt, very great and terrible evils to be dealt with, and the attempt to prevent this fearful injury to young girls is one with which we must all deeply sympathize.


My Lords, I am very glad that the noble Marquess deprecates the idea of rejecting the Bill on the second reading. The noble Marquess desires, however, to refer it to a Select Committee; and I think the nature of the Bill will make it a fit subject to be examined by such a Committee. But it should be remembered that this was not a measure framed in a Department of the Government, without any outward assistance being given; it was prepared by a skilful draftsman, of whom the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack speaks highly, and it is based on the recommendations of a Select Committee of this House.


Not entirely.


At any rate, with the omission of only two recommendations. The object of the Government is to get the Bill passed if possible; but I reserve to the Government the right to decide whether it is desirable to consider the matter in a Committee of the House, or in a Select Committee.


said, that, after the observations of the noble Marquess (tile Marquess of Salisbury), he would not divide the House on his Amendment.

Amendment (by leave of the House) withdrawn; original Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.