HL Deb 29 April 1914 vol 15 cc1111-35


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, when I introduced this Bill for the first time I said that I was proposing it in a representative capacity on behalf of the Public Morality Council, which comprises every Christian denomination in London and also the Jewish community. I have here a letter which I have just received from the National Council of the Evangelical Free Churches which illustrates this point. The hon. secretary writes— On behalf of the National Council of the Evangelical Free Churches I write to express our warmest sympathy with your Lordship in your endeavour to raise the age of consent from 16 to 18. The Council will do all in their power to give practical support to the Bill, and earnestly trust that it may be passed into law during the present session of Parliament. This Bill, my Lords, has four objects. First, to raise from 13 to 16 the age at which the consent of a young person of either sex is a defence to a charge of indecent assault. Second, to raise from 16 to 18 the age at which a girl may consent to unlawful carnal intercourse. Third, to extend to twelve months the time within which proceedings can be taken against persons who have unlawful carnal intercourse with girls of or above the age of 13 and under the age of 18; under the present law—Section 27 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act, 1904—the time limit is six months. Fourth, to take away the defence at present allowed to persons charged with defilement of girls between 13 and 18, and abduction of girls under 18, that the defendant had reasonable cause to believe that the girl was over the age of 16 or 18 as the case may be. It is proposed to effect this object by repealing the provisions in the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885, which give this defence.

In calling the attention of your Lordships to a Bill for the purpose of amending the Criminal Law Amendment Act, it may naturally seem to call for some explanation that so soon after the passing of the last Criminal Law Amendment Act you should be asked to further amend that Act in certain particulars. The Criminal Law Amendment Act passed by your Lordships in December, 1912, was for the purpose of dealing specifically with those parts of the Criminal Law directly affecting the White Slave Traffic. The amendments contained in the Bill I am now submitting would have been included in the former Bill, but the Members to whose charge it was confided were advised that it would be well to leave them to be dealt with in a separate measure. That advice was accepted, and, at the instance of the London Council for the Promotion of Public Morality, I have consented to bring forward the present Bill in the hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.

The Bill refers to four points of a very simple but most important character, and if you will permit me, I will deal with them seriatim, and submit the arguments by means of which I hope to convince your Lordships of the need of the amendments suggested. First of all, there is the provision raising the age of consent for indecent assault. According to the present Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1912, a girl cannot consent to her own ruin if she is under the age of 16. If a man has carnal knowledge of her, it is no defence for him to plead that the girl gave her consent, and yet the same Act says that a child between the ages of 13 and 16 can consent to allow an indecent assault to be committed upon her, and the person guilty of such an assault, if charged, is permitted to plead that the child of 13 years and a few months was a consenting party, and the plea is too often the means of allowing a guilty man to escape the consequences of his crime.

Within the last two months the following case has occurred which shows the necessity of taking away this plea of consent between the ages of 13 and 16. A certain man living at Burntwood Lane, Earlsfield, a fireman employed at a West-end hotel, was summoned at Westminster Police Court in February for improperly assaulting a girl of 13 in a compartment of a train on the London and Southwestern Railway between Waterloo and Vauxhall on February 17. For the prosecution it was stated that the girl, some few months over the age of statutory consent, seemed to have made the acquaintance of the defendant at Waterloo Station some time ago. On the day in question she met him as she was on her way to school, and he obtained a ticket for her at Waterloo. The attention he was paying the girl attracted the notice of a woman connected with the Vigilance Association, who spoke to officials of the company. The defendant was watched from the adjoining compartment, and at Clapham Junction his name and address were taken. The girl described what took place in the compartment between Waterloo and Vauxhall, and in cross-examination denied that she told the defendant she was learning dressmaking and had an afternoon off. She also denied that she followed the defendant into a compartment and drew the blinds. So far as she was concerned she would not have made any complaint. Answering the magistrate, the child said that when they left the train at Clapham Junction she walked away with the defendant and was quite friendly until two ladies spoke to her. Mr. Francis said the case had been very fairly put before him, and it was a proper case to have brought. He did not think the evidence was sufficiently strong to justify him in sending the defendant for trial. There were difficulties in the way, particularly in view of the present state of the law with regard to the age of consent. The defendant was discharged. In this case the man is the father of a family, is of mature years, and not only admits his guilt but successfully pleads that the child of 13 consented. When it is borne in mind that sometimes an indecent assault on a young person has a most disastrous physical, as well as moral effect, the need for the suggested amendment of the law will at once be apparent.

In this connection it will be interesting to your Lordships to recall that in 1882, when a Select Committee of this House was considering amendments to the then existing Criminal Law, the conclusions of which Select Committee formed the basis of the 1885 Act, it was suggested that girls should be protected up to the age of 16 from indecent assault as well as from attempted carnal knowledge. The need for this amendment is more apparent to-day than it was in 1882, and I am justified in stating that there is a very strong public opinion in favour of making it impossible for a child of 13 and under 16 legally to consent to an indecent assault, and thus to throw upon the guilty man the responsibility of his offence. I feel that your Lordships will not have much hesitation in accepting this amendment, as if it is deemed necessary to protect a girl between the ages of 13 and 16 from an attempt to have carnal knowledge the same protection ought clearly to be extended to her when she had been made the subject of an indecent assault, and I therefore confidently leave the matter with you.

But when I get to the question of raising the age of consent, I am quite conscious, my Lords, that in asking you to raise from 16 to 18 the age under which a girl cannot legally consent to her own moral ruin, I am bringing forward an issue that will be considered contentious by some members of this House. I therefore purpose to submit reasons why, in my opinion—and it is also the opinion of a very large section of the public—the age of consent should be raised to 18. Before the Criminal Law Amendment Act was passed in 1885 one of the gravest London scandals was the presence on the streets for immoral purposes of a large number of children between the ages of 13 and 16. One of the strongest arguments then used for raising the age of consent was that it would clear the streets of those children. When the Act became law our streets were, as if by a magic hand, practically cleared of all girls under 16 years of age, and to-day it can be asserted without fear of contradiction that there is not one girl on the London streets under 16 years of age pursuing the life of a disorderly person. There are some who are made up to look like children, but on investigation these have always been found to be over 16. Apart from the great moral value of the law which prevents the exploitation of young girls under 16 for immoral purposes, it removed from our midst one of the gravest public scandals of our national and civic life— namely, the presence in our midst of the child prostitute. When the protection of girls up to the age of 16 was proposed in the original Bill there was a great outcry against it, and, owing to articles in a certain newspaper, Parliament was compelled rather than induced to make it part of the statute law of England. We have had nearly thirty years experience of its working, and we feel certain that no one would wish to revert to the original state of things.

For years there has been a growing public opinion in favour of raising the age of consent, and that opinion, emanating from every section of the community, has been crystallised in the present Bill, which says that no girl shall be able to consent to her own ruin up to the age of 18. There are, unfortunately, many girls on our streets at the present time between the ages of 16 and 18, and the raising of the age to 18 would have the effect of clearing our streets still further of young girlhood, a most desirable reform, and one with which I know your Lordships will be in full sympathy. And I may say, having been in charge of rescue work in London for fifteen years now, I can bear personal testimony to what an immense improvement that would be. Throughout the United Kingdom, and especially amongst the working classes, there is a strong desire that girls should be protected up to the age of 18 years at least. In this connection I speak as the mouthpiece of all the societies of every denomination interested in the care and protection of girls, who know the value of the previous advance in the age of consent, and who look forward to even greater results if it is still further extended. I need not remind your Lordships of the protection afforded to young women up to the age of 21 where their property is concerned, and if that is necessary in relation to property surely it is not too much to ask that her virtue may by law be protected up to the age of 18.

I should like to refer here to the one and only objection I have heard urged against extending the age of protection. It has been asserted that if the age is raised to 18, it will be used as a means to blackmail men. The same argument was used in 1885 when it was proposed to raise the age from 13 to 16. That was then, as it is to-day, the theoretical objection to raising the age of consent. What has happened in connection with this section of the 1885 Act? To the knowledge of the societies who have been engaged in its administration there has scarcely been a case of attempted blackmail where men have been charged under this age of consent section, and, so far as I have been able to ascertain, not one case of a girl blackmailing a man under this section has ever been proved. I speak on the authority of one society which has dealt with hundreds of girls under 16 who have made charges, and in no case has there ever been proof of blackmailing or an attempt at blackmail. This being so, I am justified in assuming that the fears entertained in 1885, largely by legal-minded gentlemen, and subsequently in practice shown to be groundless, will, if this Bill is passed, be found to be equally without foundation so far as the age of 18 is concerned. A girl's chastity is of far greater importance to her than her property. Injury to the latter can be made good; to the former never. This being so, I am also justified in appealing to you in the name of the motherhood of England to morally protect their daughters up to the age of 18 at least. The greatest asset of any nation is a chaste girlhood and a pure motherhood, and any law that will contribute to this will, I know, receive your Lordships' support. Many arguments could be used in its favour, but they are too self-evident to need elaborating.

I now come to the proposal to increase the limit of time within which proceedings can be taken from six to twelve months. This third point refers to the second proviso attached to Section 5, which says in effect that although the section makes it a crime for a man to have carnal knowledge of a girl under the age of 16, yet if the offence is committed on a girl of 14 years and she does not complain within six months it is not possible to take any proceedings in her defence or to punish the man. The amendment in the present Bill purposes to extend this limit to twelve months, during which time it shall be possible to take proceedings. The effect of the offence does not show itself very often till the six months are passed. At any rate the infant is not born till later, and therefore when the effect is seen it is too late to take proceedings. It will be readily understood that a child of 14 who is the subject of an assault does not, from various reasons, always immediately complain, and owing to many causes the man guilty of committing the assault is able to silence his victim until the expiration of the time limit, after which, although the evidence of the wrong inflicted on the child is all too evident, neither she nor her friends are able to take criminal proceedings. I hope your Lordships will agree that the limit of twelve months is a most reasonable one within which time it is possible for a girl under 16 to take proceedings against a man who has been guilty of the crime to which the section refers.

The fourth provision in the Bill is to abolish the reasonable cause to believe section. This refers to the first of the two provisos attached to Section 5, which in certain circumstances deprives the girl of 14 or 15 of that moral protection afforded her by Section 5 of the Act of 1885. If a girl of 14 or 15 is ruined by a man it is competent for him to plead, in the event of her being a well-developed girl, that he had reasonable cause to believe that she was of or above the age of 16, and if it should thus appear to the Judge and jury the man is at once acquitted. Although legally he has committed the offence, he is relieved of the legal consequences because his victim looks "of or above the age of 16 years." How does this proviso work? With better educational advantages, with better homes, with every opportunity of better physical training, the daughters of the working classes are frequently well developed at the age of 14 or 15, so that they might easily be taken to be "of or above the age of 16"; and in those cases where the better care of the parents is rewarded by a well-developed physique in the daughter at the age of 14 or 15, the legal penalty inflicted upon those parents and upon the girl herself is that if an unscrupulous man should effect her moral ruin the law gives no redress. Surely this is a scandal which should no longer disfigure our Statute Book. When one remembers that the daughters of the working classes are so frequently, in the pursuit of their efforts to obtain an honest livelihood, exposed to fierce and unscrupulous temptations, surely it is not too much to ask that this proviso should be removed, and that the law passed for the protection of young girls should be a real protection and not the legal fiction which it has hitherto been.

Having reviewed the four objects of the Bill and produced arguments in support of each, I will now give some facts showing that each rests upon solid evidence, and I could produce instances in far greater number than I have time to do to-day in support of each object. As to the first object—to raise from 13 to 16 the age at which the consent of a young person of either sex is a defence to a charge of indecent assault—it is not perhaps fully realised how distressingly common are these cases of criminal assault on children and young girls. Mrs. Bramwell Booth speaks of the Salvation Army receiving 316 girls under 16, who had been so assaulted, in twelve months. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has for the last six years had an annual average of 400 cases of criminal and indecent assault reported to them. In the Church of England we ourselves have many homes full of them. From many other sources and from the reports in the newspapers it is clear that these figures cannot be doubted, and that they do not in any sense give an adequate idea of the prevalence of such assaults. There is a very great consensus of opinion in support of the action suggested—namely, that the age should be raised to 16. Those who have had anything to do with the White Slave Traffic know that no name figures so greatly in this connection as that of Mr. F. Shore Bullock, of Scotland Yard, who to our great loss died some time ago. In a report submitted by him appears the following sentence— Still more damaging criticism has been made against the law relating to indecent assault on young persons, which provides that a conviction cannot be sustained if the consent of a young person over the age of 13 is obtained; this appears to many to be a provision of very doubtful expediency. Then I come to the second object which the Bill has in view, that of raising from 16 to 18 the age at which a girl may consent to unlawful carnal intercourse. This proposal will hardly need argument in your Lordships' House. The passing of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 may be within the memory of noble Lords present. The Committee of this House then made a recommendation on this very subject of the age of consent. The age thus recommended was 18, the same as is put forward in this Bill. It is therefore confidently anticipated that this clause will meet with almost unanimous approval in your Lordships' House. There is everywhere a strong feeling in favour of the step suggested. No stronger evidence of this can be adduced than that contained in a Report on the White Slave Traffic in the United Kingdom, issued in June, 1913, by the late Mr. Bullock. Dealing with the question of the age of consent he said— If protection is to be afforded to girls on account of their age the provisions of the law in England seem, if anything, to err on the side of leniency towards the offender, in that the age of 16, low as it is, does not protect a girl who happens to look older. The experience of those engaged in rescue work strongly inclines them to the belief that up to the age of 18 girls require the protection of the law. In spite of appearances, girls up to this age are ignorant and incapable of appreciating the consequences of their acts until it is too late, and if protection is to be effectual and real, their consent, if consent can ever really be proved, ought not to avail to shield the culprit who takes advantage of them to their ruin. This is no doubt a point on which opinions may widely differ, but it requires careful consideration, and the present condition of the law, under which a girl of 16 who looks older than her age may be ruined for life by a miscreant who gets off on the defence that he was deceived by her appearance, is far from satisfactory. When one turns to the evidence of how many there are who are ruined at this particular age one can only take partial statistics. An inquiry was undertaken by Dr. Helen Wilson in 1911–12 as to the causes leading women to enter on a life of prostitution. Some 830 cases were inquired into, largely from rescue homes but also from a variety of other sources. The particulars obtained were tabulated in different ways. The figures bearing on the question of age showed that in five cases the age of the first lapse was between 7 and 13 years; in 54 cases between 13 and 16 years; in 111 cases between 16 and 18 years; and in 100 cases between 18 and 21. When you turn to see what is done in other countries you find that the principle of protecting females to 18 or a higher age is on the increase. The age of consent is 18 almost throughout the United States—certainly in California, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. To prove how frequent this offence is, I am prepared to produce the names and dates of seventeen cases which have happened within the last 12 months, showing that I am not asking your Lordships to deal with other than a very urgent problem.

The question, therefore, which we have to consider is whether the fullest measure of legislative protection that can properly be given in such cases has in fact been given. I venture earnestly to submit to you that it most certainly has not. If a bookmaker or a moneylender, carrying on his business perfectly honestly, sends to a young man under 21 years of age a circular inviting him to make bets or to borrow money, that bookmaker or moneylender is guilty of a misdemeanour, for which he is liable to imprisonment for a period of three months. If, however, a seducer, employing every wile of which he is capable, procures the downfall of a mere child of 16 he is liable to no penalty. He may, being already a married man, procure the consent of a girl, who believes that the act of immorality will be followed by marriage, or he may, being an employer, make consent to his wishes the condition precedent to the granting or continuation of the employment of an otherwise wholly destitute girl, but to such inducements and to such duress the law is blind.

It is true that Section 3 (1), (2), of the Criminal Law Amendment Act to which I have already alluded deals with deliberately enunciated false pretences and with actual procuration by threats and intimidation, but the cases I have indicated come under neither of these heads and constitute no offence. Are we not justified in asking—are we not, indeed, bound to ask—why this should be so? Is there any logical or ethical distinction in the vast difference of treatment of the bookmaker and the seducer? Is it assumed that a girl of 16 years has a wider knowledge of the world, greater powers of self-protection, and a clearer judgment of the seriousness of her action than has a subaltern in His Majesty's Army? It must be remembered, in speaking of the greater protection that our girls need, that at 16 years of age a very large number of girls in this country are quite unaware of the responsibilities that come with adult life, and they allow liberties to be taken with them because they are ignorant of the natural outcome of those liberties. Many of us must have had to do with girls of all classes of society who at 16 are mere children, and it is a farce to pretend that these children can give consent to a step fraught with such serious consequences.

Then as to the evidence for the third object of the Bill, which is to extend to twelve months the time within which proceedings can be taken against persons who have unlawful carnal intercourse with girls of or above the age of 13 and under the age of 18. The reason for suggesting this alteration is that the present limitation of six months is altogether inadequate for the proper protection of the girl and for the punishment of the offender. As the law at present stands, it serves as a protection to the criminal in numerous cases and may contribute to the ruin of hundreds of children, who not only suffer intolerably from the outrage on their physical constitution and natural modesty, but may possibly become accustomed to vice before they really understand what virtue truly is. From all sides have come strong expressions of opinion that this alteration should be carried into effect. It is interesting to quote the fact that the Association of Poor Law Unions of England and Wales, a body which no one can accuse of taking what you may call too "churchy" a view of the matter, recently reported as follows on this question— The council and association in 1912 considered and agreed with the following resolution of the Eastry board: 'That having received into the workhouse lying-in wards several girls under the age of 15 and 16 years, and being informed in every case that no action could be taken for prosecuting the offenders responsible for their condition … the six months limit having expired before the entry of the girls into the workhouse and consequently before the discovery of the offence by the guardians, the guardians desire to call attention to the absolute necessity for extending the time for proceedings under the Children Act, 1908, in such cases from six months to twelve months, the present limit being adopted to ensure as far as possible the immunity of offenders' The council last year re-affirmed their former decision, as quoted, and pressed the Government to deal with the matter without delay. I have here—and I only refrain from reading them in order to save your Lordships' time—a large number of cases within the last 12 months which show that the six months limit of time within which proceedings can be taken is a constant hindrance in punishing these destroyers of young girls. I will take one or two cases. The first is that of a girl of 13 who gave birth to a child. The wrongdoer was her own uncle, but he had threatened her with terrible consequences if she made the truth known. After the girl was committed to the care of the Salvation Army she confessed the truth, but unfortunately no criminal proceedings could be taken either in her case or in that of her young sister, whom this man had also wronged, because too long time had elapsed. The second case is that of a music-hall singer who called at the office of the National Vigilance Association in great grief concerning her young daughter, an artists' model, who had been decoyed from home by a rich man, who, when tired of her, cast her adrift. She returned home wrecked in health and in trouble. Unfortunately in this instance the six months limit having elapsed no proceedings could be taken under the Criminal Law Amendment Act. There are a large number of these sad cases, of which I am prepared to give chapter and verse if called upon to do so.

I now come to the fourth and last object of the Bill—namely, to take away the defence at present allowed to persons charged with defilement of girls between 13 and 18, and abduction of girls under 18, that the defendant had reasonable cause to believe that the girl was over the age of 16 or 18, as the case may be. It is proposed to effect this object by repealing the provision in the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885, which gives this defence. The fact that the foregoing defence has enabled an enormous number of men to escape punishment is vouched for by an eminent barrister-at-law who has had great experience in prosecuting such cases. In his opinion this proviso of the Act has proved mischievous. It has been found possible for such defendants to satisfy juries on the point, but often erroneously. The eminent authority in question says— Juries, in my experience, usually decide this question on the opinion which they form of the gill's appearance, but if she is at the time of trial advanced in pregnancy, or if she has already become a mother, an opinion formed under such circumstances is altogether fallacious. The raising of the age to eighteen would, of course, diminish the evil. And his suggestion is that if the section is retained the onus should be thrown upon the defendant of proving that the girl herself misled him into believing that she was over the age. It is obvious that to go by appearances only must be a doubtful expedient at the best. It has repeatedly been pointed out that girls, carefully educated and nurtured, often appear older than their years, and it is the contention of the supporters of this Bill that girls who happen to appear to be more than 16 because of a well favoured appearance, or on account of healthy ways of living are well developed and yet are under the age, should in future reap the advantage of being protected by the law by dispensing with this defence altogether. Well, my Lords, I have laid the case before you to the best of my power for a change in the present law. Christianity is nearing 2,000 years of its history, and we are proud of being a leading Christian State. The present condition of our Criminal Law is not worthy of a great Christian State, and I ask your Lordships' help to raise it to something like a Christian standard to-day.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Bishop of London.)


My Lords, I rise to offer a few observations upon the Bill which the right rev. Prelate has just moved. Let me say at once that the object and purpose of the Bill and much of the ground it covers seem to me wholly adequate; and I will add this, that if we had to deal only with the cases and the class of instances which the right rev. Prelate has cited the matter would not be a difficult one. But unfortunately the class of cases to which this Bill would apply is of a very varied type, and it is necessary to bear that closely in mind when you come to consider the particular machinery which the Bill proposes to apply. The question is a very difficult one. I have examined the Bill carefully, as is my duty, and I have done so with the assistance of the very experienced officials of the Home Office. A case can very easily be made for particular provisions to which I will allude, if, as I say, you take only the type of instance which the right rev. Prelate has given, but there is a quite different class of cases which must be borne in mind.

There is no offence against the law much worse, if there is any worse, and there is certainly no offence which has been developed to such alarming proportions by scientific methods as the offence of blackmail. Blackmail is on the increase in this metropolis according to the information which has been furnished to me, and that is a fact which one has to bear in mind when one is dealing with a Bill of this kind. You are not concerned only with the case of the hoary-headed seducer; you are dealing also with hot-blooded youths who succumb very easily to temptation, and if you open the net so that the machinery of blackmail may be applied in a more comprehensive fashion than at present, you must take care what you are doing. For while it is true that many innocent girls under the ages which this Bill deals with are seduced, there are a number of girls on the streets who are far from innocent, and who, despite their tender youth, are experts in crime, and are capable of being made the instruments of much worse persons who may use them ruthlessly for the purpose of making gain in the form of blackmail. I will take the Bill and illustrate what I mean. But let me say that I do this in no spirit of hostility to the principle of the Bill. On the contrary, I am going to say to the right rev. Prelate that what the Government propose to do is to offer no opposition to the Bill but to let it pass through your Lordships' House, and between now and the date at which it gets to another place we shall occupy the time in scanning closely the particular provisions by which it deals with the evil and seeing what can be done, because I am with the right rev. Prelate in thinking that there is much to be done. What I doubt is whether the draftsman of this Bill has accomplished his task in such a fashion that the Bill can be allowed to pass into law without important safeguards and limitations.

The Bill, as the right rev. Prelate has said, proposes to do four things. Let me take them one by one. The first proposition is to raise from 13 to 16 the age at which the consent of a young person of either sex is a defence to a charge of indecent assault. Now in the case of a child under 13 it is quite right that that consent should not obviate a charge of indecent assault, for such a child may be taken as not being capable of giving such consent. But when you come to an age near 16, then you run up against common sense. A girl just under 16 may be thoroughly capable of consenting to what, her consent being given, is not an assault at all. She may even take the initiative. I do not say that for the purpose of suggesting to the right rev. Prelate that it is not right to raise the age at which consent is legal. It may be quite right that the age should be raised still higher than it is at present and that some sort of offence should be created by Statute which, without being called an assault, would still be an offence. But to enact, as Clause 1 proposes, that when a girl verging on 16 deliberately assents to what is done the jury should be asked to find that that is a criminal assault is to ask juries to do what from experience we know they will not do. Therefore while I think that in regard to this proposition a good deal might be done, I do not think it can be accomplished by making that an assault which is not an assault according to common sense, or according to the views which the tribunals of the land take.

Next I come to the proposal to raise from 16 to 18 the age at which a girl may consent to unlawful carnal intercourse. There is a great deal to be said in favour of raising the age, but whether you can safely raise it to 18 I am not perfectly sure. There, again, you open up almost indefinite possibilities to blackmail. If one were only dealing with the deliberate seducer I should go with the right rev. Prelate, but I am thinking of young fellows, little more than boys, coming into temptation on the streets and of traps being laid for them, as undoubtedly traps will be laid if you pass laws which give scope for the laying of traps. The punishment that you would, under the proposed enactment, inflict by convicting somebody who, perhaps, had only yielded to temptation for the first time in his life, might be altogether out of proportion to the real character of the offence, particularly if you bear in mind that by a later proposal in the Bill the fact that the girl had assured him that she was 20 years of age, and looked it, is to be no defence.

Then I come to the proposition to extend to 12 months the time within which proceedings can be taken against persons who have unlawful carnal intercourse with girls of or above the age of 13 and under the age of 18. The present limit under the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act, which amended the Criminal Law Amendment Act, is six months. There, again, you have to be very careful, because the further you get away from the date of the offence the easier it is for the person charging the offence to prove it and the more difficulty for the person who is charged to get evidence which will defend it. Six months is a period within which the consequences of which the right rev. Prelate spoke in particular cases would have developed, and I should have thought six months was long enough. There may be cases in which the law fails because of the present limit of time, but I should doubt whether there were not more cases in which considerable danger would be incurred by extending the period to so long as 12 months. Anyhow that is a point which ought to be carefully considered before this provision is passed.

Lastly, there is the proposal to take away the defence at present allowed to persons charged with defilement of girls between 13 and 18, and abduction of girls under 18, that the defendant had reasonable cause to believe that the girl was over the age of 16 or 18, as the case may be. How difficult it is, again, to induce a jury to convict in a case where a girl has all the appearance of being, and has assured the young man that her age is, over 18, and where he had most reasonable ground for believing that that was the case. Does any one believe that in cases of that kind a jury would convict? In my experience of them I am sure they would not, and nothing is worse than to bring forward a law which the tribunals of the land will not apply. I think this provision one of the most difficult in the machinery of the right rev. Prelate's Bill.

I have made these observations upon the Bill, not in any hostile sense, but with a view of bringing home to your Lordships, what certainly comes home to my own mind, that we are dealing with one of the most difficult aspects of criminal jurisprudence. I say again that if it were the professional seducer I would make no difficulty even though I thought that technically there might be objections. But unfortunately in the vast majority of cases it will not be that class of man who will be affected, but boys who have fallen into temptation and who will be exposed to the extreme class of blackmailers. Therefore while I think that something very substantial can be done, and while I think the House will be in full sympathy, as I certainly am, with the right rev. Prelate and the general object which he desires to have dealt with, I suggest to your Lordships that our best course is, if the House thinks fit, to accept the purpose of the Bill, and I will undertake between now and its consideration in another place that it shall have consideration and the best expert advice that we can bring to bear upon it. There is no class of questions on which the experience of the most skilful draftsmen is necessary so much as Bills of this kind, and I think that not only the experience of the legal draftsmen but the experience which the Home Office has at its disposition will be required for a satisfactory settlement of the type of clause which ought to be applied and as to the means of carrying out the object of the right rev. Prelate.


My Lords, I think the House, those who share my views at any rate, will feel a deep debt of gratitude to the right rev. Prelate for having introduced this Bill. We have heard from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack some of the obvious difficulties in the way of all such legislation as this. Of those we are well aware. We have had brought to our notice the risk of blackmail, and the noble and learned Viscount has developed, with the force we should expect from him, the difficulty of getting juries to convict. The example of America is undoubtedly a bad one in regard to over legislation and over emphasis of legislation on this particular head. Then there was the further argument which my noble and learned friend developed that those who would suffer under the blackmail risks and also under the liability of false charges being brought against them would be young boys in the first heat of life who would be tempted into these moral dangers on the streets.

There was one passage in the speech of the right rev. Prelate which struck me very forcibly. I had some acquaintance with the origin and the passing of the Act of 1885. It was one of the pieces of legislation in which I took great interest, as I was at that time one of the members of the law committee of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. We had to deal with many cases of this kind, as well as with cases of cruelty. I would emphasise the statement of the right rev. Prelate that the effect of that Act was to clear the streets of the poor wretched girls who were made the victims of these atrocious crimes and were led down to the deep depths of the White Slave Traffic with which we dealt in this House two years ago. And if, by raising the age, we diminish the temptations and widen the area of escape of these mere children from these evils we shall be doing a great work, and a work from which there will be little discount if a few ignoble men, scoundrels, perhaps, or verging on the limits of scoundrelism, are victimised by blackmail or otherwise placed at discomfort. Take the case of boys, too. Would it not be the very best result of such a Bill as this if, in addition to sweeping the streets of these wretched girls who are made the victims of human passion, it also swept the streets of lads who are led into these practices?

I entreat your Lordships not to be carried away by any of the difficulties which may be conjured up. Many of them are real and vital difficulties, which I admit ought to be dealt with practically, temperately, and moderately by wise men; but do not let this House throw cold water on, or place any needless obstacles in the way of, a Bill which has this noble object, a Bill which, if carried just as it stands, would produce great effect on the moral life of the country even if it had some of the drawbacks to which the noble and learned Viscount referred. I do not in the least doubt the existence of these drawbacks and difficulties. I hope they will be dealt with, as many difficulties are dealt with in your Lordships' House, in a temperate, wise, and businesslike spirit; but I trust that the House will pass the Second Reading in the spirit of determining that something should be done in the direction which this Bill proposes.


My Lords, I certainly am not about to say anything in opposition to the Second Reading of this Bill. I feel, after the eloquent speech which the right rev. Prelate has made and the instances he has adduced, that there is room for an amendment of the law in the direction which he desires. But, at the same time, I confess I have been very much impressed by the strong and careful arguments which have been placed before your Lordships by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. We cannot consider this question, as he has justly said, solely from the point of view of the seducer and the innocent girl. We must consider it also from the side of the girl who is old in vice though young in years, and allows herself to be used as an instrument of blackmail to the ruin of perfectly innocent persons. When, therefore, the noble and learned Viscount dealt with this matter from that point of view, I had hoped that, while assenting to the Second Reading of the Bill, he was about to make some suggestion to your Lordships either as to the manner in which we should deal with the Bill in Committee or as to the particular Amendments which he would desire inserted.

I can speak only for myself, but personally I am impressed with the arguments adduced by the right rev. Prelate on the first two points dealt with in this Bill. I very much doubt whether it is advisable to extend the time within which an action may be brought to so long a period as twelve months. At any rate, in the instances to which he alluded it is clear that a child would be born in nine months and that an extension to nine months would more than meet any case of the kind. As to the provision that there should not be the opportunity for a person accused of an offence to defend himself by attempting to prove to the jury that he had reasonable cause to believe that the girl owing to her appearance was above the age defined in the Bill, I agree with the noble and learned Viscount that juries would not convict if it were made impossible for that defence to be offered.

But what I rose to endeavour to impress upon your Lordships was this. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack and His Majesty's Government are really the only persons who can effectively deal with this matter. It is useless for the right rev. Prelate or for any private Member of the House of Commons to attempt to pass a Bill of this kind through Parliament unaided by the Government. Your Lordships have ample time; the House of Commons has not. Supposing, as the noble and learned Viscount suggested, that your Lordships passed this Bill through this House without any attempt at amending it in Committee, what would be the infallible result? It would go down to another place, and would never be heard of again. Surely if we are able to do any useful service to the country it would be by considering carefully in a Committee Bills of this kind. The Lord Chancellor and experienced Judges would be able to sit on that Committee; and they could adduce from the Home Office or the Police evidence in support of the views which the noble and learned Viscount has placed with such power before your Lordships. We might deal with this matter in a manner which would make the Bill more workable and more likely to become law than it is in its present shape. I had supposed that everybody—even noble Lords opposite, who have no high opinion of your Lordships' House—would agree in the view that this is work precisely of the kind which your Lordships might undertake. Therefore I venture to express a hope that the course suggested by the Lord Chancellor of simply passing this matter by and sending the Bill to another place in its present shape will not be followed, and that the noble Marquess who leads this House and his colleagues will consider whether we cannot utilise our time by dealing thoroughly with this measure.


My Lords, as the only survivor of the Lords Committee of 1882 I rise to thank the right rev. Prelate for having introduced, after two-and-thirty years, a Bill embodying the suggestions of that Committee. I trust that the Bill will have your Lordships' acceptance, and that it will eventually pass into law. The efforts of the Committee of 1882 resulted in the legislation of 1885; but many of your Lordships who did not belong to this House at that time will be interested to hear that that Bill met with immense difficulties. The age limit was lowered on the old argument, which is applied to so many other things, that if you try to get all you want you may risk getting nothing at all, and therefore the lower age was adopted in order to save the Bill from shipwreck. The Bill was put off again and again, but at last it passed into law. I think myself that it was entirely owing to the energy of the House of Lords at that time and their constantly keeping the Bill before the public view that it did pass. However that may be, I hope and trust that the spectre of blackmail will not endanger the passing of this Bill in another place. I do not, of course, presume to contend with the noble and learned Viscount who has spoken from the Woolsack, but I would remind your Lordships that the whole, or at least nine-tenths, of the opposition to the Bill which became law in 1885 was based upon the argument of blackmail. That was the spectre which haunted the Houses of Parliament at that time. I myself do not confess to any fear, or at all events to any grave fear, of that difficulty arising in the application of this Bill if it becomes law. On the contrary, the Bill will be an immense help in the promotion and extension of public morality. The right rev. Prelate has entered so fully into the details of the Bill and has set forth its merits in such an able way that it is unnecessary for me to say more in support of it than that I heartily wish it success in the other House of Parliament.


My Lords, with reference to what fell from the noble Viscount opposite in regard to the suggestion made by the Lord Chancellor, I am quite certain that it was far indeed from the thoughts of my noble and learned friend that we should appear to shoulder the whole of this question aside and rest the burden upon those in another place. What I take it my noble and learned friend meant was that he did not think that any useful purpose would be served by placing Amendments on the Paper without a closer examination than is possible in existing circumstances. The positive recommendation, I understand, of the noble Viscount opposite is that the matter should be remitted to a Select Committee. We will certainly give our consideration to that proposition, which is one which had not been previously called at any rate to my notice, but I do not feel certain that any real service would be done to the objects which the right rev. Prelate has in view by undertaking at this time that form of procedure. The Department specially concerned would, I take it, require some little time to examine into the whole matter And to formulate the recommendations which they are prepared to make, and I do not know whether we should find that it is possible to take that course in this session.

I might, perhaps, say one or two words with regard to the measure itself. I was sorry, if the right rev. Prelate will forgive my saying so, that he put his case quite so well and so ingeniously as he did. He used, if he will again forgive me, all the arts of the skilled advocate, as my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack pointed out, in taking the worst possible cases which could occur as though they were not merely typical but the sole class of case which was likely to be dealt with under this Bill. But my noble and learned friend pointed out that there are a number of other cases, besides those of the professional seducer and the innocent child, which have to be borne in mind when one is considering the whole question. I may say, in passing, that I find myself in great sympathy with the first of the right rev. Prelate's propositions—that is to say, the one abolishing the excuse of consent in the case of indecent assault. As regards the third of his propositions—the extension to twelve months for proceedings—I recognise the full force of what the noble Viscount opposite stated on that point. At the same time, I think that there is a strong case for an extension, and I did not gather that the noble Viscount would object to some increase in the term of six months at present allowed.

The most important of the right rev. Prelate's propositions—to raise the age of consent from 16 to 18 in all cases—opens up a much wider field of controversy. My noble and learned friend on the Woolsack instanced with great force the blackmail difficulty, which has been so often mentioned in all previous discussions on this and on kindred subjects; and be also mentioned the case of the young lad who becomes subject to the temptations which exist in our great cities. But there is a further case which has not been alluded to, which I think is one of great difficulty. The kind of case I mean is that of a village lad, say, eighteen years of age, who becomes attached to a girl just short of the age of 18, possibly in hopes of ultimate marriage, and intercourse takes place between them. Many right rev. Prelates acquainted with the countryside know that such a case is by no means uncommon. But according to the Bill that lad becomes liable to the possibility of two years imprisonment with hard labour. That is just one of the cases in which, as the Lord Chancellor pointed out, you will not find any jury who will convict; and the manufacture by legislation of cases in which you will not find juries to convict is, as we should all agree, a great misfortune. The main difficulty, I think, with regard to this particular proposition is that you come very near to turning what can only be described as vice into a criminal offence. That is the difficulty which the right rev. Prelate will find in pressing this particular proposition, at any rate to its full extent of 18 years, upon the House and upon the public generally. Those are the only remarks I have to make, and I confess that I am not very hopeful of being able to meet during this session the proposition which has been made by the noble Viscount opposite.


I do not know whether the right rev. Prelate is able to speak as to the law upon this matter in other countries. It would certainly be helpful if he would tabulate information as to what is the practice in other lands besides our own.


I will do that before the Committee stage.


My Lords, I was under the same impression as Lord St. Aldwyn—that the course recommended to us by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack was that this Bill should be allowed to pass through this House, and that between the period of its going from this House and being taken in the House of Commons careful inquiry would be instituted at the Home Office and otherwise. The noble Marquess who has just spoken has intimated that that was a mistake, and that the course which was really intended to suggest was a Select Committee. But then the noble Marquess proceeded to say that he would advise the right rev. Prelate not to propose to take that course. Well, my Lords, what course does the noble Marquess propose to take? That is my difficulty. I apprehend that the course which he proposes to advise is that the right rev. Prelate should withdraw the Bill for the present session, because that is what it comes to. If the only proper course is a Select Committee, and if the Select Committee is not to be appointed, what other course remains except to withdraw the Bill? If, on the other hand, it is intended to consider this Bill, in what place can it be better considered than in this House? We have plenty of time. We are not pressed by an extreme amount of business. I think that this is just the sort of Bill which your Lordships' House can consider with great benefit both to itself and to the country, and I would suggest that we should be told whether the Government think it better not to proceed with the Bill at the present time. If so I then hope that the proposal to refer this Bill to a Select Committee will be made and will be accepted.


I am afraid I did not make myself quite clear. We are entirely in the hands of the House. It is obviously open to my right rev. friend to proceed with his Bill and to take it to the Committee stage, and it is open to anybody in the House to put down what Amendments they may think, if added to the Bill, would constitute an improvement of it. What my noble and learned friend pointed out was that he did not think that, with the present degree of information at their command, the Home Office would be in a position to supply us with definite information which would enable us to put down Amendments which would represent the considered view of His Majesty's Government in the matter


That is not what he said.


That, my noble and learned friend thought, might happen either at a later time or possibly in another place; but, of course, we should never say that it is not open to the right rev. Prelate to proceed with the Bill and to allow it to have as much discussion as your Lordships choose to give it.


Yes; but the noble Marquess advised the light rev. Prelate not to ask for a Select Committee.


My Lords, surely this measure is of a kind which it would be very difficult for your Lordships to consider without the assistance which the responsible Department—the Home Office—would be expected to give in such a case. Then does it not come to this—Is the Home Office ready to give that assistance, or is it not? If it is ready to give it, then your Lordships would be justified, I apprehend, in going on with the Bill with due expedition. If, on the other hand, the noble Marquess tells us that the Home Office has not yet been able to consider the matter and will not be able to come to our assistance, then I cannot help thinking that the right rev. Prelate might be well advised to hold his hand at any rate for a time until the desired assistance is forthcoming.


My Lords, what the noble Marquess suggests may be the best solution. The Home Office is hardly ready at the present time. I could myself draft Amendments in half an hour. but I should be doing a great injustice to the right rev. Prelate. It is easy to draft Amendments; the difficulty is to hit upon the right ones. That requires consideration and care. I have no doubt that the Home Office could supply us with such information as would enable us to put down certain reasoned Amendments if sufficient time, say some weeks, were allowed to elapse between now and the Committee stage. If the right rev. Prelate would put down the next stage for July, that would give us an opportunity of discussing the matter with the experts. Should the right rev. Prelate think fit to take that course, I will do my best to get the Amendments into as good shape as possible; and then I venture to think it would be best that your Lordships should consider them, not in a Select Committee, but in the full House, because every one of them would involve a question of policy on which only the full House could pronounce.


My Lords, I shall be happy to adopt the noble and learned Viscount's suggestion, and when I am informed that the Home Office are ready with their Amendments I will put down the Committee stage.

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