HL Deb 15 July 1915 vol 19 cc472-8

THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will afford early facilities for passing into law the clauses in the London County Council (General Powers) Bill enforcing registration and inspection of massage establishments.

The most rev. Primate said: My Lords, my Question refers to the giving of facilities for the passing into law of the London County Council (General Powers) Bill. That is a Bill of wide range, dealing chiefly with subjects quite outside my knowledge or experience. There are, however, two parts of that Bill upon which I claim to voice the opinion of many people outside; and I ask that a moment's attention may be given to the matter, that we may learn how far His Majesty's Government are prepared to promote same effective action. The part of the Bill to which I refer is that which deals with the establishments for nursing or special treatment of illness. It would be absurd to descant for even a moment upon the immense advantage to the community as a whole from the existence of these establishments for nursing or special treatment which are to be found all over London and in every large town. Perhaps there are few of your Lordships who have nor taken advantage them way or other of nursing and surgical homes, and we are aware of the enormous gain they are to the community as a whole and the debt of gratitude we owe to them. But their excellence, to which I desire to bear tribute, is not incompatible with the fact that in their general merit there lurks a Trill, which for many years has been known to those who are students of a good many of our moral questions, and which has, I am afraid, grown to larger dimensions quite recently. It has for some tune been thought desirable that there should be a possibility of gaining accurate statistical knowledge about some of the homes to which I refer, with a power of registration or inspection which could check mischief, if mischief there be.

Many of us hoped last year before the war began that this matter hart been practically dealt with, because there was a Bill in progress, something like the Bill to which I am now referring but in larger forth, which gave to the London County Council fresh powers for examining and inspecting and registering homes where they felt it necessary to do so. With regard to that Bill, difficulties arose. They were not, as far as I am aware, difficulties on fundamental principles, but administrative difficulties in the main, questions of the right of power and procedure for conducting the investigation which was wanted. But we hoped that these had been overcome, and it is to some of us a little mysterious why during recent months the delay has occurred which leaves us still without the legislation for which we had looked. And I am afraid that we must add that ire the meantime, under the protection afforded by the apparent inability of the authorities to intervene in the matter, the particular difficulties to which I have referred have increased to a very large extent, and almost, in what I may call a blatant and demonstrative manner. There are at this moment known to many people grave difficulties connected with some—I hope the smallest possible proportion, but still some—of the institutions which advertise themselves as massage and surgical treatment homes.

I do not know what the noble Earl who will reply to me will say, but I shall be very much surprised if he says that what I have indicated upon the matter is a hallucination or fad on my part, or that I have exaggerated the facts as they stand. A very little knowledge of what is felt by officials of the Home Office and I imagine certainly by the London Police Force will tell any man that the subject is not one that we can afford to pass by as unimportant or insignificant, or in war time one which can be left alone, in connection with our special conditions of life to-day there are certain points that make it urgent for this matter to be taken in hand with the utmost possible promptitude. I do not propose to enter into the merits of the question at all to-day—I am quite prepared to do so should occasion demand—but I merely want to be assured on the part of the Government that the matter is not failing to receive the attention which the urgency, the need, and the reality of the facts I have mentioned demand.


My Lords, nobody could venture for a moment to use any such terms as those of hallucination or fad as applied to the case which the most rev. Primate has brought before your Lordships. He has not, in my judgment, in the least degree exaggerated the seriousness of the case which he has laid before your Lordships. In a few striking sentences he has revealed to us—if revelation was required—the existence of an evil which, masquerading under a false disguise, has been growing of recent years to the dimensions almost of a public scandal. I do not know when the system of these establishments, nominally intended for manicure, massage, and other objects, started. My impression is they are the growth almost entirely of the last ten or fifteen years, but there cannot be a doubt that in recent times they have attained dimensions which must cause serious anxiety to all thinking men.

You have only to walk about the streets of London in the neighbourhood of Bond-street or Piccadilly to have your eyes constantly confronted by placards, or boards carried by sandwichmen, or advertisements in shop windows, attracting people to these danger spots; and I quite sympathise with the suggestion so delicately indicated by the most rev. Primate that there is something in the circumstances of the hour, when so many young officers are constantly passing through London, on their way to or from the theatre of war, which renders the lure of these places peculiarly insidious and perilous at the present, time. There is therefore, I think, the strongest possible case in the interests of public morality for some further powers of inspection and control being taken by the authorities than at present exist.

In reply to the Question upon the Paper, therefore, I find no difficulty in saying to the most rev. Primate that the Government will be very glad indeed to see the clauses of the Bill to which he refers passed into law with as little delay as possible. Indeed, the Government may be said to have been more or less behind this Bill. The London County Council consulted the Secretary of State for Home Affairs in drawing it up in the first instance, and the Secretary of State commended the clauses of the Bill to which reference is now being made to the Local Legislative Committee of the House of Commons last year. But the question of giving facilities for the early passage of the Bill into law does not rest in the main with the occupants of this Bench. It is really a matter of the conduct of business in this House. This is not a Public Bill in charge of the Government; it is a Private Bill, the future of which is perhaps more in the hands of my noble friend the Chairman of Committees than of any Minister on this Bench.

In the inquiry which took place before the Local Legislative Committee in the House of Commons it transpired that the borough councils of London took very strong objection to certain features in these particular clauses of the Bill. It was not for a moment that they questioned the seriousness of the evil to which we are referring or that they doubted the propriety of dealing with it with as little delay as possible, but they thought that if further powers were to be given they ought to be conferred upon them, because it would be really an extension of the functions they at present exercise of controlling disorderly houses, brothels, and places of that, sort; and therefore they wanted the existing Acts amended so as to give them, the borough councils, the right of entry into these suspected places in order to obtain evidence in the event of a prosecution being found desirable. On the other hand, the London County Council held the opposite view. They took the view that these duties had better be discharged by a central authority already possessing a staff of inspectors well qualified for the purpose. I need not enter further into the grounds of difference between these authorities, but I may mention that the Committee of the Douse of Commons to which I referred reported generally in favour of the contention of the London County Council.

That is the present position of affairs as regards this Bill. I think I interpret the views of my noble friend the Chairman of Committees rightly in saying that he holds that the borough councils have submitted a case which entitles them to be heard before the Bill is placed upon the Statute Book, and that for that purpose a Committee of your Lordships' House ought to be set up with as little delay as possible. We all know that at this moment of the session it would be exceedingly difficult to obtain a competent Committee to look into the matter, but the Chairman of Committees, I believe, will support me when I say that it is his desire to constitute such a Committee as early as possible in the forthcoming autumn. The borough councils will then be able to state their case before the Committee, and no further delay will ensue. Subject to this condition the Government, I can assure the most rev. Primate, have the warmest sympathy with the object of his Question, and will be only too glad to see this measure pass into law.


My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to add a few words to what the noble Earl has said as illustrating the position in which we find ourselves with regard to this Bill. It is not a 1915 Bill; it is a Bill suspended from 1914, and the delay has been due to reasons quite apart from these particular parts of the Bill—to negotiations in connection with other parts of the Bill which are not now in it. The noble Earl has referred to the difficulty we might have in getting a Committee to sit next week to hear this very important case advanced by the borough councils. The objections show that the majority—sixteen—of the borough' councils desire to be represented before your Lordships' Committee—a larger number than appeared last year before the House of Commons' Committee; and. I am sure that your Lordships would deprecate any hindrance to their right to be heard.

But there is another difficulty which has been placed before me by the borough councils— an objection to the Committee sitting at once. They were, given to understand perfectly bona fide by the County Council on June 30 last that it was only intended to proceed with the unopposed parts of the Bill. That was the intention of the County Council; but the circumstances have altered. I do not think I am giving away any secrets when I say that in my opinion tie, keenness of the Home Office that something should be passed on these lines is responsible for the fact that these two parts remain in the Bill. During the last fortnight the opponents were under the impression fiat the opposed parts of the Bill were not to be proceeded with; therefore they urge very strongly that now, when they 111V busy with assessment work, it would be hard on them if the Committee met next week, instead of in the autumn. That seems to me to be a very cogent reason for not setting up a Committee for next week.

At the same time I entirely concur with the noble Earl that it is very important that the Committee should be (Ailed together immediately we meet after the forthcoming adjournment, and no doubt some of your Lordships will then assist me by serving on the Committee. I should like to see the form of these provisions discussed in private confabulation before the Bill becomes ripe for the Statute Book, and I intend myself to initiate certain discussions. I hope, therefore, that the time we shall spend before the Committee meets will not be wasted. I also hope that the time will be utilised in bringing about certain things that are necessary for alteration in the Bill. For instance, the Bill makes registration necessary of all places where special treatment is given. The actual house of a doctor who is giving, say, radium treatment would have to be registered as a massage establishment, just as much as the places we have in our minds. Obviously such is not the intention. There are five or six other things which require careful I consideration, awl we shall have useful opportunity during August and September of negotiating all those points. Subject to that, I am at one with the Government in hoping that we may not lose this Bill this session, as we might have done last year had it not been postponed.