HL Deb 31 October 1929 vol 75 cc355-69

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill, which I hope is in no sense controversial. It is certainly not a Bill which could raise any matter of political dispute. I see that my noble friend Lord Banbury is present, and if there is anything to be said in opposition, no doubt we shall have the advantage of hearing what it is.


I shall have something to say.


The question of the protection of young persons employed abroad, particularly young women in the theatrical, dancing, and similar professions, has been to the fore for some years, and this Bill proposes to provide a certain amount of further protection, having regard to the experience which has been gained. I should like to make one general remark about the discussion which has gone on, particularly abroad, both internationally in earlier days, and in later times at Geneva. This country has always taken a prominent part in pressing forward necessary reforms—much to our national honour in a question of this kind.

The Bill itself does not require much explanation. It is all contained really in one clause, and so far as the drafting is concerned I think that the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, during the time that he was at the Home Office had far more responsibility for it than have the present Government. The proposal is to extend the Children (Employment Abroad) Act, 1913, so as to apply to young persons up to the age of eighteen. At the present time it applies up to the age of sixteen, but experience has shown that the years between sixteen and eighteen are more dangerous years than the younger years, and I thought that everyone engaged in social movements was in favour of this extension. I have had a very considerable number of intimations from various quarters, and if any criticism has been made of this proposal it is because the Government do not propose to go beyond the age of eighteen. We think that that is not advisable at the present time, and we have accepted the proposal which our predecessors had already accepted by extending the age from sixteen to eighteen years.

There is one small incidental point on Clause 1, which states that …in Section twenty of the Children Act, 1908, so far as it is applied by that Act, the expression ' young person ' shall mean a person who is fourteen years of age or upwards and under the age of eighteen years. That merely means that, in order to protect young persons abroad, particularly those who, in circumstances which they do not realise, have been placed in a position of great danger as regards their moral character, special powers have been given to apply for protection to authorities, with the result that they are protected for a time and liable to be sent home. These moral dangers were widely recognised as far back as the years 1904 and 1910. In both of those years there were international conferences dealing with the risks which these young persons run when going abroad. Following upon these international conferences, the Children (Employment Abroad) Act, which we are now proposing to extend, was passed in 1913. At the present time the number of persons who go abroad under the age of sixteen is not large, but between the ages of sixteen and eighteen it is considerable, and in the view of all who have looked into this question it is very important that the protection should be extended in the way that we suggest.

The protection under the 1913 Act is very complete. No young person can go abroad for the purposes of taking part in theatrical or dancing entertainments without a licence, which starts from the Secretary of State, and is then thoroughly considered by the Magistrate at Bow Street. The effect of that licence is that the passport cannot be granted, nor can the children go abroad, unless the Magistrate is perfectly satisfied as to the conditions of the contract of employment, and is also satisfied that in the event of anything happening, which perhaps might not be foreseen, there would be provision so that the young person would be able to come back to this country. There is no doubt that this system of licensing has so far been of great public utility. The only question now is whether the same protection should be given to young persons going abroad for this class of employment up to the age of eighteen. The dangers have been rather specially brought to the front in Paris. Among those who are strong advocates of this increase in age are those who have been concerned in protecting these young persons, and more particularly those connected with the admirable hostel for young women artists of English and American nationality, which was founded by the Rev. F.A. Cardew, who is a British chaplain. In addition, I have had information given me that the Salvation Army, which also has a hostel or some provision of that kind to protect these young persons in Paris, are heartily in favour of the proposal to increase the age from sixteen to eighteen. The Commissioner who deals with these matters in Paris was sent to me and he asked me to express those views, which he said were held by the Salvation Army.

Since 1904 and 1910, when the international conferences to which I have alluded were held, there has been considerable further discussion, particularly at Geneva. A branch of the League of Nations Secretariat was set up in 1920 and that has constantly studied the problem, the aspects of which change of course from time to time, and has been urging forward those countries that are less disposed than our own to take action on their own initiative; because it is, and must be, largely an international matter. An international conference was held at Geneva after this step, in 1921, out of which arose the Convention which was adopted in that year. This Convention of 1921 was signed by the British Empire and twenty-seven other States. Among other things the signatories undertook, so far as they had not already-done so, to prescribe regulations to ensure the protection of women and children seeking employment in another country, and the method of protection afforded to English girls was recommended to the Conference. It was stated that the British Government—this was in 1921—had under consideration the question of raising the age of protection given by the Act of 1913. That consideration was given, I think, some time ago and it eventuated in the opinion being formed that the age should be raised from sixteen to eighteen, which, of course, is the purpose of the present Bill.

Going back for a moment, so far as this country is concerned the Home Office consider that the present protection is not entirely adequate. I am glad to see in his place the representative of the Home Office in the late Government, and he will correct me if I go too far in what I say; but I think he is entirely in accord with this Bill, which really started during the time he was in power and has probably been before him more than once. It is true that from sixteen to eighteen years of age certain protections are given at the present time. They are given through the medium of the Foreign Office, which makes special inquiries as to granting passports and provides means by which the Consuls in the various towns abroad can give assistance if girls have been led astray, and are being utilised for purposes which I need not further define beyond saying that they are immoral purposes.

I do not know that I need say any more than that. I have here a list of cases in which harm has been done to young persons between the ages of six- teen and eighteen—eighteen being the age up to which we think a licence should be necessary. I believe the licence has been an ample protection in all cases. Whether that is so or not I commend the Bill to your Lordships as a measure simple in itself, required as a forward step in social service for the protection of these girls between sixteen and eighteen, and one which I hope will take its place in the series of Bills which has made this country pioneers in the improvement of the position of young persons, and especially of women, employed abroad. I beg to move.

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


My Lords, on the face of it this is an extremely innocent little Bill. It is grandmotherly legislation which I do not view with very much favour. Unfortunately, we are rather committed to that kind of legislation at the present moment. The Bill has the further advantage that my noble friend Lord FitzAlan, as I understand, is going to support it. That would have a very strong influence with me and I do not know, if that is the case, that I should have said anything had it not been that the Bill contains a good deal of reference to various other Acts. I think your Lordships will agree with me that it is a very dangerous thing to pass an innocent looking Bill without first of all referring to the various Acts which are brought into it.

The Bill says in Clause 1:— The Children (Employment Abroad) Act, 1913, shall extend to persons under the age of eighteen years. I have looked at that Act. There is not much in it except that it says that persons under sixteen who want to sing in a chorus or a theatre abroad may not do so unless he or she has been to a Police Magistrate and has received permission. Why a boy or a girl of seventeen and a half, who happens to have a good chance of an engagement shall we say in Paris, cannot go to sing or to act in a theatre unless he or she has been before a Police Magistrate I do not know. But it is not a very important point and I do not wish to press it. Then we come to Section 20 of the Children Act, 1908. Clause 1 of the Bill says:— …and in Section twenty of the Children Act, 1908, so far as it is applied by that Act, the expression ' young person ' shall mean a person who is fourteen years of age or upwards and under the age of eighteen years. That sounds very simple, but if you look at Section 20 (1) of the Act of 1908 you will find that it says this:— A constable, or any person authorised by a justice, may take to a place of safety any child or young person in respect of whom an offence under this Part of this Act, or any of the offences mentioned in the First Schedule to this Act, has been, or there is reason to believe has been, committed. That enables a constable or any person authorised by a justice to take to a place of safety any child or young person under the age of eighteen, as it will be if this Bill is passed, in respect of whom an offence has been committed under this Part of the Act or any of the offences mentioned in the First Schedule of the Act.

That being so I have looked at the First Part of the Act of 1908 [Section 15] and I find that one of the offences is this— If any person over the age of sixteen years who has the custody charge or care of any child under the age of seven years allows that child to be in any room containing an open fire grate not sufficiently protected to guard against the risk of the child being burnt or scalded, without taking reasonable precautions against that risk, and by reason thereof the child is killed or suffers serious injury, he shall on summary conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding ten pounds… I do not know whether there is any noble Lord learned in the law who can put me right, but, as far as I understand, that section is imported into this Bill. The effect of that, it seems to me, would be this. A person, we will say a girl of sixteen years and one month, is in a room with a fire and also with a boy of seventeen years and eleven months; there is no guard in front of the fire: that person of sixteen years and one month can be taken into custody because she has been in a room with a person under the age of eighteen with a fire without a guard.

Then I look at the First Schedule. Your Lordships will remember that the First Schedule is also included. I am sorry to trouble the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, but I shall really have to ask him to explain the First Schedule. This Act was brought in when I happened to be a member of the House of Commons, and it was called the Children's Charter. I do not think it has ever been in force; at all events, as a magistrate, I have never had anybody before me for having a fire without a guard. Here is the First Schedule; perhaps the noble Lord will explain to me what all this is, because it is incorporated in the Bill:— Any offence under Sections twenty-seven, fifty-five or fifty-six of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, and any offence against a child or young person under Sections five, forty-two, forty-three, fifty-two or sixty-two of that Act, or under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885. Any offence under the Dangerous Performances Acts, 1879 and 1897. Any other offence involving bodily injury to a child or young person. I admit I have not read Sections 27, 55 or 56 of the Offences against the Person Act, 1861, or Sections 5, 42, 43, 52 or 62 of that Act, nor have I looked at the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885, or the Dangerous Performances Act, 1879 and 1897; but as I understand it, all these classes in these various Acts are incorporated with this Bill. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, who, I am sure, has studied all these Acts and has them at his fingers' ends, will kindly inform us what they all mean.


My Lords, I rise for a moment only in support of this Bill. Unlike my noble friend who has just sat down I have the best recollections of the only grandmother I can remember, and I will not attempt to make any answer to his criticisms of that part of the Act referring to fire guards. I will leave that to my noble friend below me, the late Home Secretary (Viscount Brentford), who, no doubt, is fully conversant with all details connected with it. The real point that we have to consider is whether this Act of 1913 has been a success or not, and, if it has been a success, whether the age ought to be extended from sixteen to eighteen. There is no doubt whatever, not only from what has fallen from the noble Lord who introduced the Bill, but also from other evidence that is open to anybody who takes the trouble to enquire about it, that this Act has worked most beneficially, so beneficially that it has frightened those individuals who, in former days, used to get hold of these young people and send them abroad. As a matter of fact that is hardly done at all now in the case of children under the age of sixteen. But the dangers do exist, and exist in a very alarming degree, up to the age of eighteen, and possibly a greater age. I would not mind if the Bill were extended to a later age. The fact remains that the Act has been a great success, and that there is a real need to extend it up to the age of eighteen. I most sincerely hope that your Lordships will unanimously agree to that.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Banbury of Southam, asked the question: Why should not a boy or a girl of seventeen and a half take an engagement to sing abroad? There is no reason why he should not, provided he takes it under proper conditions. At the present time, when a boy or girl at the age of sixteen or seventeen or over, desires a passport for going abroad, the passport authorities, if it is for a musical engagement, refer them to one of the professional agencies, which report on the matter, and, if they feel that the engagement is a satisfactory one, they recommend, I believe, that the passport should be granted. But even those precautions are not sufficient. Now and again girls take engagements which, on the face of them, seem to be quite satisfactory, but after a few weeks abroad they find themselves stranded in a strange land, penniless, without knowing the language, and they are at the mercy of the white slave trafficker, who thus has his opportunity.

Some of your Lordships may remember that a few months ago considerable publicity was given to the case of some six girls who, at the beginning of this year, went over to Belgium, undertaking a contract to sing in some music halls. When they reached Belgium they found that their employer was a coloured man, and they were sent to a place which was described as a gambling den. After a week or so their engagement was cancelled. They had been sent to an expensive hotel and they found themselves quite unable to pay the cost of their stay there. They were then sent to Luxembourg. They were about a fortnight in a place which was a drinking house in the day and a brothel at night. Night by night they had to barricade their doors against the assaults which were made upon them. They were then sent back to another town in Belgium, but without any stipend being paid to them because of their previous debt. Then, in February, they were rescued by the help of the Vice-Consul. This measure is intended to make it impossible that this kind of thing should happen to any girl under the age of eighteen. In future she would have to have the licence in the usual way, the licence applied for before a magistrate. A licence only lasts for three months.

I would point out that in the present law there are two serious defects even with the safeguards I have mentioned. I am thinking of those who are over sixteeen and I believe I am right in saying this—the noble and learned Lord will correct me if I am wrong—that in an application for a passport for the first time careful inquiry is made. The passport can be used for a continental country. After three months or less the girl comes back; but she can use the passport a second, third and a fourth time without any kind of inquiry being made. The second loophole in the law is this. The girl goes to some foreign town. After she has been there two or three months an attractive engagement is offered to her in another country. She goes to the Consul or the Vice-Consul and obtains a visé. That is sometimes granted without sufficient inquiry. For instance I have been told of a case which occurred some little time ago of eight dancing girls who had a passport for Paris. After a short time in Paris they received an offer of an engagement in Egypt. They went to Egypt; they were sent there under a woman who was usually drunk. When they were there they were brought up against all kinds of undesirable people, and it was with the greatest difficulty that they were repatriated. The purpose of this measure is to prevent this kind of thing happening to girls under the age of eighteen.


May I point out that I was not objecting to the first part of the Bill as long as it applied to the Act of 1913, but I do not see why we should bring in the Act of 1908 and various other Acts which do not deal with girls going abroad and getting into bad habits, but deal with whether you have a guard for your fire and other foolish things of that sort.


My Lords, I cannot but regard it as a very satisfactory thing that this Act of 1913, which has proved to be so excellent, was passed some sixteen years ago by the Government of that day. It is very satisfactory for members on these Benches to know that that is so, and I am only too glad to support the raising of the age to eighteen. But there is one serious deficiency in this Bill as introduced by the noble and learned Lord the Lord President. I would like to ask him to explain why he has not raised the age of children to fifteen by this measure, because if he will carry his mind back to the discussions of 1913 he will find that one of the strong arguments that was raised then, and very properly raised, in favour of making the age fourteen was that to send children under that age out of the country would interfere with their education. As we have been told that the Government intend to raise the age of children attending school to fifteen, it seems rather curious that they have not amended this Bill in that direction.

Of course, we are aware that an Act must be passed to raise the age at which children are allowed to leave school, and I see that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said the other day in the House of Commons that he could not say when such a Bill would be introduced. On the other hand, I notice that the Minister of Education is already telling local education authorities that the Government are ready to go fifty-fifty with them in the heavy expenditure which will fall on the local rates owing to the large increase in the number of teachers and the new buildings that will be necessary. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House will be able to say that this was an omission, and that he will see that in Committee the Bill is amended so that children under the age of fifteen shall not be allowed to go out of the country. If we were to allow them to do so, we should be doing what I think is the exact opposite of what is intended by the Government—namely, that all children should continue their education up to the age of fifteen. I think, therefore, it is a very necessary amendment to change fourteen to fifteen.


My Lords, I am very much indebted to the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for having brought in this Bill which is one that His Majesty's late Government hoped to see passed into law. May I say further how glad I am to see the reception which the Bill has had in all quarters of the House, because I understand that even my noble friend Lord Banbury does not really object to the principle of the Bill. I should, perhaps, as the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House has mentioned that I was partly responsible for drafting the Bill, say one word with regard to the technical point raised by noble friend Lord Banbury. I speak subject to the view of the noble and learned Lord opposite, but I do not think my noble friend Lord Banbury will find, if he looks carefully at the Children Act, 1908, and the Children (Employment Abroad) Act, 1913, that the clauses relating to fire-guards are included in this Bill, or would be made to apply to young persons up to the age of eighteen. Clause 1 of the Bill which we are now discussing extends the Children (Employment Abroad) Act, 1913, to persons under the age of eighteen years, and goes on:— …and accordingly in that Act, and in Section twenty of the Children Act, 1908, so far as it is applied by that Act… that is the Act of 1913. I think I am right in saying that the Act of 1913 only relates to the question of employment in foreign countries.

It is only fair, I think, to say that I am not quite sure that the Bill really goes as far as the right rev. Prelate seemed to hope it would go, but it is a step in the right direction. I should, perhaps, also tell my noble friend behind me that powers are not given to take children into custody. The powers given by the Act of 1913, as it will be applied by this Bill to young persons up to the age of eighteen, are to interfere with or arrest any person who procures a young person to be taken abroad. The penal part is not against the young person taken, but against the man or woman who attempts to take a young person abroad without the necessary licence. I may say from personal knowledge that the Act of 1913 has been working extraordinarily well, and magistrates have taken the most intense care in administering it. They not only have to see that an application for a licence is made by or with the consent of the parent or guardian of the young person, but that there is a particular engagement for which the young person is engaged. A young person cannot go oat on a roving commission, as it were. The magistrates have to see also that the young person is fit for the engagement and that proper provision has been made to secure the health, kind treatment and adequate supervision of the young person going abroad. I am quite sure no one can object to that.

It is the duty of the State to take such steps as can be taken to see that young people who leave our shores for an engagement in a foreign country are protected as far as possible, and I should like to bear testimony to the wonderful work of our Consuls and Vice-Consuls in foreign countries who have had to deal with a number of cases of unfortunate girls, including the case mentioned by the right rev. Prelate, which occurred during my term of office. Two of the girls in that case were between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, who would have been prevented from going abroad by the provisions of this Bill if it had been passed before then, or at any rate the magistrate would have had to be satisfied in respect of these girls that the engagement was such as to warrant his giving a licence to enable them to go abroad. In this particular case six of the girls were over eighteen and the whole lot, as it were, escaped, and the entrepreneur was able to take them abroad. When they got to Cairo—I can add something to the right rev. Prelate's story—things were very bad, and the person in charge of them was actually on the point of taking these girls to further Eastern countries to be exhibited and to dance there. When the matter came to the knowledge of the consular official in Cairo he behaved splendidly, if I may say so, and got the girls away from the woman, and the necessary arrangements were made for their journey back to this country. There have been other similar cases. There was one case of a similar character of girls going to a European country in the early part of this year. The girls in that case were found to be definitely in a brothel and were being pressed very hard to yield themselves.

After the explanation I have given of the Bill, in which I understand the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House concurs, I hope my noble friend Lord Banbury will not press his objection to the Bill, but will allow it to pass unanimously as an indication that we do desire to do all we possibly can to meet the spirit of the times, the spirit of all social workers—of whom, naturally, I saw a great many during my term of office—and the spirit of those social workers on the Continent who through the League of Nations are doing all they can to stop in every possible way the white slave traffic. While this Bill is not directly aimed at, or does not directly relate to, the white slave traffic, it will at least do some good in helping girls of our own nationality between the ages of sixteen and eighteen.


My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord replies on the debate I should like to ask a question. I listened with much interest to the speech of the right rev. Prelate, in which he pointed out what appeared to be defects in the Act of 1913, inasmuch as it would appear that sufficient protection is not given to these young persons by that Act in order to save them from falling into the dangers which the Act was designed to remove. It is quite true that in both the cases to which the right rev. Prelate referred the girls were eventually rescued from the extremely dangerous position in which they found themselves; but, as the noble Viscount who has just spoken pointed out, that was owing largely to the action of our Consuls or Vice-Consuls. It was done by an act of the executive and not by the provisions of the Act of Parliament. What I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord is this: Is there anything in this Bill which will remove the difficulty which the right rev. Prelate pointed out? As the Bill stands I do not find anything to that effect, though no doubt a clause could be added. I should like to hear an explanation of those points from the noble and learned Lord.


My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to say one or two words in reply. I am much obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Danesfort, for asking the questions he put to me if he has any doubts on the matter. The object of this Bill is, by means of a licence and before any of these young persons go abroad, to provide for their care. The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, has shown that inquiry is made as to the terms of the contract, and provision has to be inserted so that these young persons will have means of returning home if the conditions are not satisfactory. That is the whole difference. Of course, if the young person to whom the right rev. Prelate refers could not have gone abroad without a licence, then the Bow Street Magistrate, who has great experience in these matters, could not have fallen into the difficulty to which reference has been made. I need not go into that case again, or into the cases referred to by the noble Viscount opposite, but I think there have been many examples of the dangers to young persons, and notably to girls between sixteen and eighteen, through their not having had the protection of a licence, without which, under this Bill, they could not go abroad at all. I think that this answers the noble Lord's questions.

In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, I do not think that I need go beyond the answer already given to him. If he thinks that the Bill has anything like the meaning he suggests—though I do not know how he reads such a meaning into it—I hope that he will put down an Amendment in one form or another in order that his doubts may be removed. He really has not raised any doubts in my mind, and I do not think that there is any application to the cases to which he has referred. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Strachie, I should like to say that he is quite right in the principle that he states that, when the age of education is raised to fifteen, the age of "young persons" ought also to be raised, in a Bill of this kind, from fourteen to fifteen. I agree with the arguments which I understood him to put forward. The noble Lord was responsible for the very useful Bill which was passed in 1913. I have not the slightest controversy with him, but I think that the education age ought to be raised first, and that further provision might then be made, though this is not the occasion for it. It will have to be done, I presume, in the Education Bill itself, or on some further occasion. I am entirely in agreement with the noble Lord's principle.


My Lords, with the leave of the House may I put one question? Do I understand the noble Lord to say that the reference in the first clause of this Bill to Section twenty of the Children Act, 1908, so far as it is applied by that Act ' refers to the Act of 1913, and that the application of Section twenty of the Act of 1908 is limited by the Act of 1913? Is that right?


Yes, I think that is right.


If that is so, I have nothing further to say; but I might add—again with the leave of the House—that it is a very clumsy way of putting it, and those of us who unfortunately are not learned in the law are bound to see what is liable to happen under this wording, which is very confusing.

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