HL Deb 06 February 1913 vol 13 cc867-75


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a small Bill dealing with the employment of children abroad. It can be very fairly said that it only supplements the Acts for the protection of children and young persons which are already in existence as far as children employed in this country are concerned. But it is a somewhat remarkable fact that if children and young persons are sent across the Channel there is not the slightest protection for them. No Statute regulates their employment abroad, the result being that children and young persons are sent out of this country with a view to singing, playing, performing, or being exhibited, for profit without any restriction whatever being imposed. This Bill absolutely prohibits any child being sent abroad for such employment as I have mentioned, whilst young persons can only be sent out of the country if a licence is obtained beforehand from a Metropolitan Police Magistrate sitting at Bow Street. A "child" is defined under the Act of 1908 as a child up to the age of 14, and a "young person" is defined as a person between the ages of 14 and 16.

I think your Lordships will see that there must be a great many reasons why it is undesirable that a child should be taken away from the protection of its parents or guardians and sent out of this country for employment abroad for profit by some contractor who cannot be looked after in a foreign country. Then, again, the taking of a child out of the country in this way nullifies the Education Act. Under one of these contracts a child of six, seven, or eight years of age can at the present time be sent abroad with no protection whatever, and with the possibility, indeed I may say the probability, that the child will receive no education at all, or certainly not the kind of education which it would receive in this country. Therefore at the present moment it is quite possible in this way to nullify the provisions of the Education Act as applied to English children if they are sent out of the country. The state of things in France and other countries is undoubtedly detrimental to the health of children, who are employed for excessive hours abroad. I am informed that the performances are two a day, and that the night performances as a rule continue until midnight or one o'clock in the morning. Your Lordships will see that that state of things must be detrimental to the health of the children. It is not allowed in this country, and if English children are protected here surely it is our duty to see that they are equally protected abroad.

The information which has been collected for some years at the Home Office shows that as regards food and lodging a great deal is to be desired. In many cases children sent abroad in this way have not sufficient food provided for them, and the lodgings are of the worst description, the children being herded together under bad conditions both sanitary and morally. We find that in many cases children taken abroad under these contracts are actually deserted and found on the streets of Continental cities, and our English Consuls have actually to send them back here at the expense of the country. There is another matter which requires remedying. When once these children are abroad the contractor is able to transfer them under his contract to another contractor, and I am informed that there are not a few cases in which parents have entirely lost sight of their children because they have gone out of the hands of the original man who employed them into the hands of other persons unknown to the parents. As regards children, we propose in this Bill, as I have already explained, that they shall not be allowed to proceed abroad with a view to their being employed in singing, playing, performing, or being exhibited, for profit.

Then there arises the question of young persons. A great many of the objections which I have enumerated apply also to young persons; yet it will be admitted to be undesirable to entirely prohibit young persons from going abroad to earn their living. On the other hand, it is necessary that there should be a limit placed upon their employment abroad, and therefore we propose in this Bill that no young person—that is, no one between the ages of 14 and 16—should be allowed to go abroad for employment in singing, playing, performing, or being exhibited, for profit unless a licence is first obtained from a Metropolitan Police Magistrate sitting at the Police Court in Bow Street. That licence will have to be obtained from the magistrate under regulations made by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and those regulations and the instructions issued by the Police magistrate under the regulations will provide, not only for the proper treatment of the young person abroad, but also for its safe return to its parents or guardians. There is strong English opinion in Paris that it is desirable that there should be these regulations. A petition was presented to the Home Secretary only last Jute, signed by, among others, the Bishop of London, the Bishops of North and Central Europe, the Chaplain of the British Embassy in Paris, and by the leader of the Salvation Army in Paris asking that a Bill of this description should be passed by Parliament.

The first clause of the Bill provides that if any person causes or procures any child or young person, or having the custody, charge, or care of any such child or young person, allows such child or young person to go out of the United Kingdom for the purpose of singing, playing, performing, or being exhibited, for profit, that person shall, unless, in the case of a young person, such a licence as is herein-after mentioned has been granted, be guilty of an offence. Clause 2 provides that a Police magistrate may grant a licence in such form as the Secretary of State may prescribe and subject to such regulations and conditions as the Police magistrate thinks fit. That gives complete discretion, not only to the Secretary of State, but also to the Police magistrate to enforce such regulations as are provided for the protection of the young person. It is further enacted that a licence under this clause shall not be granted for more than three months, but may be renewed by a Police magistrate from time to time for a like period. I am sure your Lordships will recognise that it is desirable that there should not be a licence for all time. Further, the Police magistrate to whom application is made for the granting or renewal of the licence may require the applicant to give security. This is necessary to enable the regulations to be enforced.

There is another important provision in the last subsection of Clause 2, which provides that particulars of the licence shall be sent to the Consuls in the cities in which the children are to be employed, and those Consuls will have to keep a register of the children so employed. Clause 3 endeavours to provide for children who are already abroad. The difficulty there is that these children are really out of the power of Parliament, but we think it desirable to put in this clause showing that it is desired that these children shall be returned as soon as possible to this country under proper conditions. What we also do is this. We impose the obligation on the people who have sent them out that they should endeavour to get them back again. If they apply again to send children abroad and have not complied with this desire on the part of the Home Office that the children already abroad should be brought back to this country, it will be in the power of the Secretary of State to refuse to grant any further licences to such contractors. Clause 4 deals with the question of penalties, and provides that a person guilty of an offence against this Bill shall on summary conviction be liable, at the discretion of the Court, to a fine not exceeding £100, or alternatively or in default of payment of such fine, or in addition thereto, to imprisonment with or without hard labour for any term not exceeding three months. I have now explained the main provisions of the Bill. I venture to hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading to-day, and that it may have a speedy course through your Lordships' House. I can assure the House that a measure of this kind has been too long delayed—it is six years now since the Home Office was asked to deal with the matter—and that the sooner children who are serving under contract abroad are protected the better. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Strachie.)


My Lords, I should like to say a single word of warm welcome to the proposal of His Majesty's Government to legislate on this matter. It is somewhat humiliating to have to confess that at this stage of our progress and our life a Bill of this kind should be necessary, but I think no one who has worked long or has wide experience of the work in the poorest parts of our great cities, not London alone but other great cities, can have failed to recognise that there is a definite danger of the kind which the noble Lord has described, especially amongst that class of the population which is on the borderland between being citizens of England and being foreigners—the children of mixed parentage, and so on. It is in those groups of the population that this difficulty has been found to exist as a real one. Children disappear and no one quite knows what has become of them, and it turns out afterwards that they have been exploited and used in the way described. That the evil is on a gigantic scale I do not believe, but that it is a real one is indisputable. The Bill does not go too far while I hope it goes quite far enough to render the existence of a wrong of this kind difficult if not impossible, and I for one, as regards its Second Reading, will give the Bill my most cordial support.


My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord who has introduced this Bill what the Government precisely intend as to its fortunes in the present session of Parliament. It is rather late, perhaps, to introduce a Bill of this kind. Better late than never. But still I do see a little difficulty unless the Government have some special method in their mind of getting this Bill through Parliament in the present session. The Bill is very much required. I have made some little inquiry into the matter, and I am informed, upon an estimate made by a man who is in a position to know, that there may be probably some 500 English girls at this moment engaged in performing at these places abroad under very low conditions in most cases. Indeed, the responsible man who approached me on this subject did not approach me with a view to saving these girls in respect of their education, to which subject the noble Lord referred, or in respect to their health, but entirely in respect of the moral surroundings into which they are plunged in a large number of cases by the negligence of our law to provide for them. The information at my disposal contains the phrase that the surroundings in which they are placed are "positively awful," and though, of course, I have no means of verifying all that is said I think the man who informed me is a responsible man whose word can be accepted for what he vouches. There is no doubt, therefore, that a remedy is called for.

I should like to put one or two questions to the noble Lord with respect to the provisions of the Bill. In the first place, I should like to know what provision there is at the present time in the law in respect of the County of London. I believe there is some sort of provision. I think an agent in London who takes children and young persons abroad for these purposes has to be registered. I should like the Government to inform your Lordships what protection such registration actually affords. I gather that it does not go near far enough. The next question I wish to ask is this. Why is the power to give licences under this Bill confined to London Police magistrates? I am quite sure that these particular proceedings which the Bill is intended to regulate do not exist merely in London. I am informed that there are other large cities in which girls are collected for the purpose of Glancing saloons abroad. Is it intended by the Government that such young persons are not to be exported from any port except London, or only at any rate after authority for their exportation has been given by a London Police magistrate? I should have thought that was rather an unwieldy provision having regard to the circumstances of the United Kingdom.

Another question is with respect to subsection (4) of Clause 2. That appears to me to be the most valuable subsection in the Bill—the subsection under which a Police magistrate is given power to bind over the licensee in a substantial sum to bring home again these young persons after a certain interval. I notice that this is only permissive. I should have been happier if it had been compulsory in every case that where a licence is granted it should only be granted subject to the individual being bound over in the sum contemplated. That would appear to be a more complete provision and requisite in every case. It would not injure the man in any way if the children were returned to this country, and yet it is the most effective of all measures for seeing that this particular provision is carried out. In that respect I do not think His Majesty's Government have gone quite far enough. But when I come to Clause 3 I am somewhat doubtful whether they have not gone a little too far. I think it difficult to apply the law in cases where children and young persons have been taken out of the country before the passage of this Bill. I do not say that in the vast majority of cases it may not work satisfactorily, but I can conceive a number of hard cases where children have been exported for purposes to which your Lordships would not object, but yet with no knowledge on the part of the persons taking them abroad that such an Act as this would be passed. It might be hard in some cases that the drastic provisions of this Bill should be applied to these persons ex post facto, and I have some doubt whether that provision is legitimate. But the main scheme of the Bill, the scheme under which these young persons are not to be exported without permission, appears to me thoroughly good. I understand that in the case of children below the age of fourteen the practice of taking them abroad for these purposes is absolutely prohibited.




I am glad to hear that, and I welcome the provision that no young person between the ages of fourteen and sixteen is to be allowed to be exported for this purpose except under a licence and subject to recognisances. I hope the Government will be able, after due consideration has been given to it by your Lordships' House and by the other House of Parliament, to pass this Bill into law, but I have little doubt whether that is possible in the course of the present session. If not, I should be glad to have an assurance from the noble Lord that the Bill will be reintroduced at the earliest possible moment next session.


The noble Marquess first asked whether we thought that this Bill would pass through the House of Commons during the present session. It is, of course, difficult for me to say what is likely to happen in another place, but a great deal depends upon whether or not the Bill has a speedy passage through your Lordships' House. If any considerable time is taken over it, or perhaps even if it is amended at all, there might be difficulties as regards time in another place; but I can at once give the noble Marquess the assurance for which he asks, that if, owing to delay in this House, the Bill is unable to get to the other House in time to become law this session the Government will re-introduce it next session. As regards the question of registration, to which the noble Marquess referred, I was not aware that there was registration at the present moment, but whether there is or not it has not had the slightest effect and is perfectly valueless for the objects which this Bill seeks to attain.

Then the noble Marquess asked why these licences should be granted only by a Metropolitan Police magistrate sitting at Bow Street Police Court. My answer is that it seemed to us desirable to have uniformity in this matter. If you had Police magistrates all over the country acting in regard to this, you would be sure to have diversity of opinion. But the strongest argument for limiting it to London is that for all practical purposes these children are sent out from London. I should think the cases would be infinitesimal where they are sent out from any port except the Port of London and from London itself. As to the option given to the magistrate as regards the regulations he makes, I think this is a case where we may very fairly trust them when these cases are being dealt with by one authority. The magistrates at Bow Street Police Court are always men of great discretion and knowledge, and I think we may trust them as to whether or not they think it necessary to impose obligations upon the licensee. Of course, cases may arise which we should not think of at the present moment where it would be harmful to impose any obligations. I think this is one of those cases which may fairly be left to the discretion of the Metropolitan Police magistrate.

The noble Marquess next referred to Clause 3, which imposes an obligation to bring back children who were taken out of the United Kingdom before the date at which this Bill comes into operation. That to a certain extent is only a pious opinion, because there is no power of enforcing the contractor to bring the children back in those cases. The only power we have is to say to these men, If you behave badly and if you have not brought these children back, or if you have brought them back in a bad condition, we will not trust you in the future. It is only right that there should be power vested in the Home Office and in the magistrates to say that there shall be no licence granted in the future in the case of people who have behaved badly in the past.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.