HL Deb 14 July 1959 vol 217 cc1175-203

5.26 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, may I make a suggestion as to the procedure we should follow on this Bill: that, as we have done on several Bills, we take the Third Reading formally, then the noble Earl, Lord Grantchester, moves his Amendments and the noble Lord, Lord Rea, moves his, and we have a discussion on the Motion that the Bill do now pass? If that commends itself to your Lordships I shall follow that action.


Hear, hear!


I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Bill read 3a.

Clause 1:

Loitering or soliciting for purposes of prostitution

1.—(1) It shall be an offence for a common prostitute to loiter or solicit in a street or public place for the purpose of prostitution.

LORD GRANTCHESTER moved, in subsection (1), to leave out "a common prostitute to loiter or solicit" and insert: any person habitually or persistently to commit the nuisance of loitering or soliciting". The noble Lord said: My Lords, discus- sion on this Bill has shown that there are grave misgivings, I think, in all parts of this House. It has been argued, and the arguments have not been answered, that this Bill infringes some principles which we value highly; that it labels a person as an habitual offender before trial on the charge made, and so creates prejudice against the person charged; that it is designed to deal with a nuisance but says nothing to make this fact clear; that it discriminates between the sexes; that it is expressed in words, particularly in its reference to "common prostitutes," which we find distasteful to-day.

It would be wearisome to argue afresh the points that have been made. I have endeavoured in the Amendment which I have the honour to move to suggest a form of words which include contributions from a number of noble Lords who have already spoken. The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, argued the case most cogently for "habitual". Lord Douglas of Barloch proposed to add "persistently". The noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, was good enough to say that if suitable words could be found, he would not be opposed to the introduction of the concept of "nuisance." In my Amendment, "habitually" covers loitering or soliciting on different days. "Persistently" covers loitering or soliciting over a short period within the same day. The Amendment makes it clear that the intention of the Bill is to abate a nuisance without, I suggest, the necessity to prove nuisance. I hope, therefore, that it meets the points previously raised against the introduction of words importing nuisance. The Amendment also gets rid of discrimination as between men and women in a manner to which, I suggest, there can be no valid objection. If the Amendment is accepted, I do not think that the Bill will become a good Bill; but the Amendment would at least remove some of the strongest objections which have been expressed against the Bill by many noble Lords, by the National Council of Women and by the Moral Welfare Council of the Church of England.

Whether this Amendment is the best that could be devised I would not be rash enough to suggest, but every opportunity has been given for an acceptable wording to be proposed by the Government to meet objections which have been so strongly expressed. It may be that the Amendment I am suggesting, or any Amendment that could be suggested, would make administration a little more difficult than it is under the Bill as drafted; but if the net is a little less closely drawn I believe most noble Lords would think this a price which should be paid to meet the feeling of this House that we should not be forced to accept this Bill in its present form.

The Amendment is a last effort to revise the Bill in accordance with views which have been expressed in this House, and I think it is significant that very few, if any, noble Lords (apart from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, who had to defend it) have spoken in its favour. If this Amendment is not accepted, I think that many noble Lords would prefer to be without the Bill altogether. If that should happen, I suggest that the blame would be laid on what I can only call the pigheadedness of the Ministry concerned which has not heeded the feeling so strongly expressed, not even the representations which the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has made on our behalf. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 5, leave out ("a common prostitute to loiter or solicit") and insert the said new words.—(Lord Grantchester.)


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for his further effort to find words for an Amendment to overcome some of the difficulties which have been felt. I should never take objection to anything the noble Lord said, but he slightly ruffled my feelings when he used the word "pigheaded". I should like to assure him and all your Lordships that after the last discussion we had I had, as I promised, a meeting with my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General, as well as with representatives of the Home Office, and we found that the noble Lord's Amendment was inadmissible for technical reasons. I am sure my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General would like it to be known that he has considered this, and in a moment I shall give the five reasons why he thinks it would not work.

First of all, I should like to make two preliminary observations. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, referred to the point that this Bill attaches a label. I want to make it clear—I thought I had made the point clear to your Lordships already—that "common prostitute" is not a label but a matter that must be proved, and no charge can succeed unless that is proved. That brings me to the noble Lord's second point, which again I should like to make clear. It is true that the Bill discriminates between the sexes, but it discriminates in favour of women. Under the Bill a woman can be charged and convicted of this offence only if she is a professional; that is, it must be proved that she is a professional who is doing this constantly and has thereby made herself a common prostitute. In the case of an amateur no offence would lie. That is the position with regard to women. With regard to men, under Section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act, 1956, a man who solicits can be convicted of the offence even if he does it for the first time in a moment of sexual aberration which had not hitherto affected his public conduct. The other point, which is consequential on that but it is important—and I am sure the noble Lord with his fairmindedness will remember it—is that the need for proving that the woman is a professional is a safeguard for the ordinary innocent woman who might otherwise be the subject of mistake.

I pass now to the difficulties that the Amendment would cause. In the first place, the effect of the Amendment in law, according to the better and higher opinion (irrespective of myself), is that it would not catch the male prostitute at all, because prostitution in the caucus of our law refers to "female prostitution". So that this would get the pimp who was touting for a female prostitute, but it would not catch the male prostitute, which was one of the objects that my noble friend Lord Reading had in mind. The second point—and my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney General made his own research on it—is a matter which according to the decisions requires a continuance and permanence of some tendency, something that has developed into a propensity that is present from day to day. The difficulty in using "habitual" as a word in a criminal offence is shown by the fact that where it has been used before—as in "habitual drunkard" or "habitual criminal"—it has been closely defined in the Act.

The other difficulty—I do not know whether the noble Lord had this in mind—is that at present the Bill deals with the arrest and punishment of a prostitute for soliciting or loitering in the street. It would again be arguable that the noble Lord's Amendment would make someone within his definition liable to arrest at home. There is also the point (this is, I think, the third of the difficulties which it raises) that the noble Lord has inserted the word and goes on to say "in a street or public place". If one were to accept this Amendment, those at whom the Bill is aimed would be able to raise grave difficulties by removing from one street to another, because the noble Lord's words mean that the habitual element or the persistent element must take place in one street.

The final objection that my right honourable and learned friend felt was that if we are wrong—which I do not think we are—and this did apply to male prostitutes, the effect would be that an offence would be created with a lower penalty for the habitual male prostitute than for the man who solicits someone for homosexual purposes for the first time. There is a lower penalty under this Bill than under Section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act. I assure your Lordships that there is nothing more distasteful to me than to go through a lot of technical difficulties—it is never a pleasant task—but it happens to be the duty of the Lord Chancellor to advise your Lordships on the legal effect of Amendments. I have tried to do that. The difficulty, as I explained on an earlier aspect of the Bill, lies in the word " persistent " which the noble Lord has put in, because "persistent" can refer either to several times in one night or several times to one person. The effect of that would be to underline the fact that the Amendment is trying to get the amateur who does it for the first time. The Bill is trying only to get the woman who does this as a profession. There are other difficulties on the question of the way that nuisance is introduced, and I do not want to elaborate these again.

As your Lordships will remember, on the Report stage of the Bill my noble friend Lord Swinton moved certain Amendments in the same line of country, if I may put it that way, as that part of the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. My noble friend Lord Swinton told me that he could not be here to-day, but he authorised me to say that, having heard the explanation which I have tried to put before your Lordships to-day, he, Lord Swinton, was satisfied as to the unworkability of the proposal. He thought—and I respectfully agree with him—that if the Bill is well administered and used to deal with the mischief at which it is aimed (and I assured him on that point) he, Lord Swinton, was satisfied with the position and satisfied that this would not improve the Bill. I felt bound to deal with the matter on a technical basis, but I hope that I have made it sufficiently clear for the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, not to press this Amendment to-day.


My Lords, I should like to say that I was not referring to any particular Amendment, but I think that in view of the feelings which have been expressed, and the representations made by the Lord Chancellor, the authorities at the Home Office should have tried themselves to find some words which would satisfy the feelings expressed in this House. I do not think any of us is satisfied that that was an impossibility.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

5.43 p.m.

Clause 5:

Short title, repeal, extent and commencement

5.—(1) This Act may be cited as the Street Offences Act, 1959.

LORD REA moved, in subsection (1), after "Offences" to insert "(Prostitutes)". The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Amendment standing in my name and in the names of my noble friends. This is a small and more or less drafting Amendment, and unlike the Amendments which have gone before has nothing to do with the principle of the Bill. I hope your Lordships will not think that this is part of a larger plot to liberalise the Bill.

To the ordinary man in the street the phrase "street offences" is surely a phrase which includes every normal offence which one imagines can be committed in the street, whereas your Lordships know that this Bill is specifically addressed to only one such offence. I suggest that when the Bill becomes an Act, and the ordinary man in the street wishes to look up the legislation to see under what Act something like the fouling of a footway by dogs, or obstructing the street by leaving a car in it comes—which obviously to him is a street offence—he will turn to this Bill and find that it has nothing whatever to do with what he thought was a street offence. Indeed, logically this Bill might be said to wipe out all those other offences as being street offences, because according to this Bill there is only one street offence, and that is prostitution. I suggest that we put in the Short Title, to make it clear to everybody what this Bill is about, the word "prostitutes" so that the Title shall read "Street Offences (Prostitutes) Bill." I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 4, line 15, after ("Offences") insert ("(Prosttutes)").—(Lord Rea.


My Lords, I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Rea, has done justice to the Bill or perhaps extended his reading far enough. It is true that Clause 1 applies to common prostitutes, and not to all prostitutes. Clause 2 applies indirectly, because it introduces the appeal from the cautioning in respect of conduct in a street. But Clause 3 penalises the proprietors of disreputable all-night cafés, and the offence of harbouring in all-night cafés applies not merely to prostitutes, but also to thieves and disorderly or drunken persons, or those who indulge in unlawful gaming. That is dealing with the offence of cafés and, as the noble Lord knows, is directed to a particular manifestation which has shown itself in Stepney, to the immense discomfort of people in that part of London.

Clause 4 deals with those who live on the immoral earnings of women, and although the women may be prostitutes the pimp is usually described in that word or in one of a number of variants which are well known to your Lordships. That deals and deals seriously with those who are responsible for the machinery of the trade. Therefore, while one wants to be accurate, I think that on reflection the noble Lord will see that everything I have mentioned is connected with street offences. The two parts are not necessarily connected with prostitutes, and, for that reason I would ask him to leave in the more exact description of the Bill.


My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, I rise to move that this Bill do now pass. I am sure that your Lordships have heard me often enough on this Bill—I nearly said that your Lordships had heard me often enough. But, seriously, I hope that your Lordships will not hold it any discourtesy or take it amiss if I do not again make an elaborate speech on moving this Motion but take the opportunity which is open to me later of replying to the points raised. If your Lordships will accept that in the sipirit in which I make it, I beg formally to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

5.50 p.m.


My Lords, I find it quite impossible to allow this shocking Bill to pass—for it is indeed a shocking Bill—without one final protest. The objections to it have been fully made in earlier stages, and therefore I shall do no more at this stage than summarise, as briefly as I can, some of the more important of the objections which many of your Lordships, I know, feel, as I do, to the Bill.

My first objection is that for the first time in history, so far as I know, the double standard of morality between men and women is in effect written into the Statute Book. I am quite aware that public opinion may not be universally sound on this matter, but I believe that our society is recognising more and more the male responsibility for prostitution, and therefore I think this is a most unfortunate and absolutely retrograde step. Secondly, the object of the Bill is to deal with a specific nuisance. I need say no more on that but that the Bill contains no need either to prove the existence of this nuisance or the fact that anybody has been annoyed by it.

Thirdly, although the women who cause the nuisance would not be where they are but for the male demand for their services, every attempt which has been made to include the male partner has been resisted. Yet it remains the fact that to harry the male would be in fact the most effective way of clearing the streets. Fourthly, there is the point made so ably by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, that we shall be, I think for the first time in British justice, bringing an accused person into court with a taint of bad character. I have listened very carefully to what the noble and learned Viscount has said about the label, and I must frankly say to your Lordships that the noble Viscount has not entirely succeeded in removing from my mind the impression that there is a good deal of force in the point made by my noble and learned friend, Lord Denning.

Fifthly, and this is, I think, an important matter, a very practical matter, and, I should have thought, an objection which would have appealed very strongly to the Government, the direct result of this Bill will be greatly increased profits for those who batten and fatten on vice. Surely it is obvious. Your Lordships all know that if prices go up the middleman's profits automatically increase, and in this Bill prices are going up enormously; fines are going up from £2 to very large amounts, and there cannot be the smallest doubt that as a direct result of the increased cost very much increased profits will result for those who act in an intermediate capacity.

I am aware that in paragraph 286 of the Report, the Wolfenden Committee referred to the possibility of "some undesirable consequences". They said: It is our business to try to assess those consequences. Strangely enough, there is no reference whatever to this aspect of the matter. That is very extraordinary and I am sure it is a point which must have occurred to the Government. I would ask the noble and learned Viscount how much consideration was given to that particular point. It is not one that has been stressed as have other points in the previous stages of the Bill, but it is a vital point and it is one which I should have thought would have gone far to deter the drafting of the Bill in its present form. I do not think it is too much to say that this Bill may properly be described as the "Pimps' Benefit Bill", for it is the pimp who will benefit more than anybody else.

All this the Government are doing, for what? For a puny result which I think, and I believe others share the view, could equally well have been attained by administrative methods. The noble and learned Viscount has resisted firmly, and I am sure absolutely sincerely, any attempt to improve the Bill, particularly in the aspect of the male partner. It is not too much to say that the noble and learned Viscount has given his protection to the male partner in the offence of prostitution with the same bland sincerity as that with which excellent people in former centuries approved the whipping of the harlot at the cart's tail. This Bill will do much to hurt the fine reputation of this country for wisdom and foresight in handling prostitution.

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that I cannot let this Bill pass without saying a few final words of disapproval of it. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, who is well known as being in touch with large numbers of societies interested in this question, has put forward very forcibly the main arguments against this Bill, and there is little further ground that I have to cover. The fact is that it is quite clear from our proceedings that the Government want this Bill. They want it carried exactly in the form in which it left the other place. Every Amendment that has been proposed they have rejected. They have given grounds for that, and they want the Bill exactly as it was. In the course of discussion on one Amendment on the Report stage the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack told us quite definitely that if any Amendment on the lines proposed by the noble Marquess of Reading were carried the Government would regard the Bill as unsuitable and would kill the Bill. That being so, the Bill is before your Lordships' House to be passed in precisely the form in which it left the other place.

I want to say this to your Lordships: I want to make the position perfectly clear. I have sat through all the debates on this measure, and I am convinced that a very considerable number of Members of your Lordships' House are not in approval of the form in which this Bill is going forward. But in deference to the Government they are allowing the Bill to take a shape of which a great number of Members of your Lordships' House are in definite disapproval. The whole onus of carrying this Bill, therefore, rests with the Government, whose dictum is that it must pass in the form in which it emerged from the other place. That may be so.

I see grave difficulties in this Bill. I doubt very much whether the Bill is going to do anything—I do not think it even pretends to do anything—about the evil of prostitution. It intends simply to sweep the streets. I say that if a Bill is not going to deal with the fundamental problem at all but is merely to deal with the symptoms of it, then such a Bill is wrong if it is unjust. And it is the opinion of many of us, and I am sure of several Members in all parts of this House, that this is an unjust Bill. I do not believe in injustice even if it is partly going to cure some admitted nuisance.

I would add this: that to the best of my knowledge there is not a single women's society which approves of the Bill in its present form. They are anxious to deal with the question of prostitution but not in the way in which this Bill proposes. I think it is a very dangerous thing for Parliament to carry through into law a Bill to which practically all the women's societies are opposed. I believe, therefore, that the Government are making a grave mistake in insisting on carrying this Bill. Nevertheless, they have compelled this House to accept the Bill in its present form. It is too late for us to alter the Bill, and it must go through, however unjust and unacceptable it may be to large numbers of thoughtful people.

6.0 p.m.


My Lords, I am that rara avis, a supporter of the Bill, and I hope that your Lordships, of whom there are a large number in this House who have opposed the Bill, will not mind if I use as violent language against their arguments as they have used against the Bill and against the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary. I very much regret some of the things that have been said about my two right honourable friends, the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack and the Home Secretary; and I equally regret—I think some of your Lordships will agree with me—the attacks which have been made on officials of the Home Office. It has been a doubly wounding attack, because, on the one hand, the two right honourable gentlemen to whom I have referred have been accused, in what I would describe as an excess of vituperation by the noble Lord on the Bench beside me, of having brought in a sadistic Bill; and on the other hand, it is said that they indulged in this sadism only because of the behaviour of the officials of the Home Office. If I were not speaking in your Lordships' House, I would say that that was the most clotted nonsense that I have ever heard put in debate.

I do not pretend to be as good an advocate as some of the opponents of the Bill. It is a formidable task to have to speak in a debate in which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, is going to take part. He is a much better advocate than I could ever hope to be. But I should like to deal with just a few of the objections which have been put forward. It has never been pretended that this is a Bill to promote morality. If it were a Bill to promote morality it would have concerned adulteresses as well as prostitutes, because a woman who has been unfaithful to two husbands, who has broken up two homes and caused misery to children, is just as much a sinner and anti-social as any prostitute. But it does not pretend to be a Bill to promote morality. There I concede a point to the opponents of the Bill. It is a Bill introduced to try to deal with what has undoubtedly become a scandal in some parts of London. The point which we have to consider is whether the Bill will do that and whether, in doing so, it is being unfair to the prostitute.

I was rather astonished to hear what my noble friend behind me said. I always have a great regard for him when he speaks, but I did not quite understand what he meant when he said that for the first time this Bill introduced a system of double morality with women and men. I do not know how he can say that, because at the present time under the present law there is double morality, in the sense that a prostitute is prosecuted and the man who goes up to her is not prosecuted. Where does he get the phrase "for the first time"?


My Lords, perhaps I may just tell my noble friend. I said that this is the first time that it has been written in the Statute Book. It has always existed, but this is the first time that it has been recognised by the law.


My Lords, I do not know what difference that makes. If it has always existed what difference does it make whether it is in the Statute Book or not? Even in this country it is better to be straightforward, and I cannot see any objection on that ground.

One of the other points which has been made against the Bill (it has not been made this afternoon) is that it will greatly increase the danger of bribery of the police. I am sorry to have to say this, but all the evidence goes to show that some members of the police have always accepted bribes from prostitutes. There was a very ribald music-hall song of the 'eighties, the whole of which I could not possibly quote to your Lordships, which described the daughter of one of your Lordships' then House who unfortunately went the wrong way. After saying that her father's heart was nearly broken, it ended with the words that, He swallowed his pride and bought her a beat On the shady side of Clarges Street. That was a music-hall song of the day, showing that it was a matter of at any rate common belief that this bribery had gone on. It is most unfortunate that it does go on, just as there is bribery in regard to another matter—street betting. Some of the arguments which have been used against the Bill have been to the effect that these unfortunate women are the victims of broken homes, maladjustment in their early life and things of that kind. I would suggest, with respect to your Lordships, that while that may be true of many of them there are two very prominent causes of prostitution. One of them is that these women can earn big money. My noble friend behind me made the point—and I concede it as possibly a good one—that they will be able to make more money under this Bill than they did before. But he suggested that which I do not think is a fact—namely, that these women were in the hands of what are known as souteneurs. I do not think that is so. A great number of them act entirely on their own. I think that the law is sufficiently strong to deal with the horrible people who live on the earnings of these women.

But, since one should speak frankly, I think that any medical evidence would go to show that there is another type of woman who becomes a prostitute, some of them well brought up women, some of them women who have been divorced or have divorced their husbands, who are so constituted that they are as much addicts to sex as a man or women is to drink or drugs—they are not satisfied with one man. Because of their peculiar physical condition they need to have connection with several, because only a few people give the return which they require for their particular form of passion. These women are, of course, to be pitied; but there are quite a number of them.

One point which was made, in a most temperate speech, if he will allow me to say so, by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, when he moved an Amendment, was, as I understood the point, that he did not think that the Bill was sufficiently strong to deal with the question of male perverts—I prefer the word "pervert" to "homosexual", because "homosexual" is too friendly a word for these horrible people. There is no doubt that there are a great number of male pervert prostitutes in London. Possibly they have been encouraged by an association which has been formed, composed, I understand, of people of the highest character, who want to make it easier for these creatures to carry on their filthy practices in private—a sort of pro-pervert association. Some of its members have even objected to the way in which the police arrest them. They will get very little public sympathy, and if ever they attempt to bring into this House a Bill to put into operation the terms of the Wolfenden Report, they will meet with great opposition, not only from these Benches but from the Episcopal Benches, as well as in another place. No Government would dare to bring in such a Bill, and I think that there are very few private Members who would do so. I think that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has convincingly shown us that the existing law is sufficiently strong to deal with those people.

I come now to the most important point of all, which has been stressed in almost every speech made by the opponents of the Bill—namely, that the Bill, because it does certain things, is contrary to the principles of British justice. I am afraid (and I would venture with the greatest respect to hope that perhaps the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, will deal with this point when he speaks) that even if it is true of this Bill, it is not a singular case: it is not a case by itself. There are a great many things in the law to-day which are not, in my opinion, wholly consonant with the British tradition of justice. Some of your Lordships may feel that is a very weak argument, and say, "You are merely saying that because there are other things you want to add to them." But I would instance the case of men and women police officers being sent to night clubs and public-houses and breaking the law by demanding drinks after hours, in order to obtain a conviction against the proprietors of those clubs or public-houses. This is not the first time—if it be true—that something has been done which appears to some to be contrary to the traditions of British justice.

I want to make only two other observations. This matter, of course, does not directly arise out of the Bill, but as we are considering matters which are an offence to the ordinary decent person I should like to mention the matter which was brought up by the well-known Evangelist Mr. Billy Graham recently. He complained (and I apologise to your Lordships for having to mention these very unpleasant facts, but I think it is necessary to do so) that one could go into the London parks and see people apparently in the actual sexual act. I understand that a Question was asked in another place on the subject and that the Home Secretary replied that there had been a number of cases of prosecution for indecency. But I gathered from his Answer that they all related to prostitutes who used the parks and who I hope, after this Bill is passed, will use them less. But I have seen things in the Green Park and St. James's Park which I must say astonished me taking place under the eyes of park-keepers and policemen, which I am convinced offend foreign visitors and which are very embarrassing to people, with children. I have seen perfectly respectable men and women, apparently, young people, advancing into the park hand in hand, as they are entitled to do, and together lying down and giving the impression of having actual sexual intercourse, and I have seen policemen and park-keepers pass by and nothing has been done about it. I have been told by several American visitors and others that they find it most embarrassing. I hope that now the matter has been called attention to in your Lordships' House and in another place by a Member of another place, something will be done about it.

I conclude as I began. There are many aspects of this Bill which none of us finds palatable, but I absolutely refuse to believe that men of the distinction of (if he will allow me to say so) my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack and the Home Secretary, two of the best holders of great office which we have ever had, advised by, I should think, the best Ministry of the interior (if I may use a Continental and world-wide term) in the world, would have brought in this Bill unless they had thought it absolutely necessary; and I am not prepared to alter my opinion just because a number of women's societies of the highest character and credit object to the Bill. I believe that in the very unpleasant circumstances with which we are faced in London this Bill is necessary, and I hope that it will pass your Lordships' House without a Division.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, I have spoken more than once during the passage of this Bill, and I do not think—I am certainly not conscious of it—I have ever impugned the motives of or said anything derogatory about any member of the Government who introduced the Bill. But I should like to take a different line, a line that I think is more consistent with the Motion we are now discussing. I should like to consider the Bill as the culmination of about a hundred years of legislation directed to a particular end. It has been operative for only a little over sixty years, but the legislation is about a hundred years old. During that time the virtuous brutality of the British public has attempted to stamp out all prostitution by depriving prostitutes of shelter, by making them subject to laws which made them quasi-criminals, and by depriving them, incidentally not by enactment, of the protection which every other citizen enjoys, as a consequence of the way they were treated; and I think it is perhaps fair to say that, their being peculiarly subject to certain diseases, there has been no proper public method taken to check them. It seems to me that these people are properly called "abandoned women", because society has abandoned in respect of them every duty that it owes to its members. It has followed—I do not say it has resulted but it has followed—from this that the traffic has increased enormously. I do not think any other city in Europe can show public prostitution carried on so openly and so shamelessly nor to so great a degree. That tallies exactly with what my noble friend Lord Winterton has just said.

I do not want to suggest that the present situation is due solely to this policy of repression. At the beginning of the war, during the first American invasion, the late Lord Kilbracken and I and an American friend studied carefully the condition of things in London in the King's Cross and Bloomsbury areas, and I remember that Lord Kilbracken was rather indignant at what he thought was the conduct of the American troops. The end of the inquiry was that we found we could not possibly blame the Americans but that we must, rather, blame the educational system of our own country which was defective in some vital particulars. It is a psychological problem which every parent has to face and it would take too long to go into it here, but we came to the conclusion that it was the women who were at fault and not the soldiers.

I believe, again, as other noble Lords have said, that the profits of this business have become, in consequence of our policy, enormous, as is only to be expected when a business is carried on sub rosa, and the effect on society in general I believe to be correspondingly bad. I would ask your Lordships—not that I am in any doubt as to the reply: can there be any worse introduction for a young man to a relationship with women than the common prostitute? If anybody doubts it we have only to look at our divorce statistics and we get the answer.

In this connection I have rather carefully examined that portion of the Wolfenden Report on the subject of licensed houses. I do not suppose your Lordships will agree with me over this, but I think it is my duty to say what I have to say on this matter. I am not putting it forward as the only possible solution, but I am putting it forward as something better than exists at the present day. The Report's rejection of them is based fundamentally on paragraph 292, which to all intents and purposes said that the remedy of prostitution is to be found in education and teaching. My Lords, I have not read any moralist or sociologist on this subject who agrees with that statement, and I certainly do not agree with it myself.

The only two material objections to the system that are put forward by the Wolfenden Report are, first, that they say that licensed houses must recruit; and, second, that other countries that have them are discarding them now. With regard to recruiting, they dismiss in a rather airy fashion the steady recruiting that is going on around us to-day, with the remark that the recruits in that case are willing enough. In a properly run system of licensed houses, that argument applies just as much. It was common knowledge when I was a young man that the maisons tolerées in London at that time were full of willing recruits, and with a proper system of inspection it is practically impossible for there to be any recruits that are not willing.

With regard to the countries that are discarding them, I believe that the Report came out at a time when there was a great drive to that effect in some other European countries. I am informed, though I do not know—perhaps some of your Lordships are better informed than I and can correct me, but this is what I am told—that in one of them, at any rate, the results were so bad that, like Henry VII, they reversed their policy; and you can say "Plus ca change, plus c'est la même chose". But my reason for suggesting that as a possibility was what I said at the beginning: can there be any worse training for a young man in relationships with women than the common prostitute? The real advantage would be that you could have quite a different standard, and some sort of respect for the women. They are at least saved from being murdered. Your Lordships will remember that when last we discussed this matter (I am sorry I was not able to be here on the Report stage) I pointed out how easy it was for a prostitute to be murdered, and how difficult it was to find the murderer. Two days later, that wretched woman was murdered at Barnes, and I have not heard of anybody being arrested or traced since. Another point is that if a man is drunk he can be kicked out. If he misbehaves in other ways he can be kicked out.

My Lords, it seems to me that there are countless innocent and virtuous women in Britain who would have some reason to be glad if the present system were changed and some other system—I do not say the one I suggest, but some other system—were introduced. During all my time in Parliament, on every social Bill that has come up, I have considered it and examined it to see how it affected women. I have never been an advocate for political power for women, but I have always felt that in Britain we treat women worse than they are treated in most Continental countries. For example, I think that this is the only country in Europe where it is not the normal practice for a man to take his wages in full to his wife. That is only one point. Foreigners say of us that we have the finest women in the world, and that we use them the worst. I believe the first proposition to be true, and I am quite sure of the second.

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, may I be permitted just one final sigh before this Bill is actually passed? I listened with great interest to my noble friend Lord Winterton. He rightly paid the highest tribute to the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor. So do I. I have never done anything else; and I never could do anything else, than have the highest possible admiration for him. But I would remind the noble Earl, Lord Winterton, that it was the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor who appointed the Wolfenden Commit- tee, and chose its members. The noble Earl supports this Bill. This Bill is based upon the recommendations of the Wolfenden Committee. But in the very same breath he delivered one of the most vituperative attacks on the Wolfenden Committee that I have heard in respect of some other recommendations which they made. I would only suggest to the noble Earl that he cannot have it both ways. Either the Wolfenden Committee is the respectable, authoritative committee, as I think it to be, appointed by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, in which case all its recommendations deserve serious consideration, or it is worthless. You cannot select those recommendations of which you personally approve and dismiss the others as utterly reprehensible.

The only reason I have grave misgivings about this Bill is that, as I have said to your Lordships before, it creates by Statute a class of "untouchables" in this country for the first time. It brands a number of women as common prostitutes on the ipse dixit of a single constable, without requiring any evidence of any kind at all. And do not let us forget that prostitution as such is not a criminal offence in this country. I say that that is putting an almost unendurable responsibility upon the police, and that it is also going to open the way to considerable abuse.

Now I am wholly in favour of Clause 4 of this Bill. It seems to me the only clause of this Bill which really tries to get to the root of the problem—that is, the men who are at the back of this whole business, who are managing it, and who ought to be punished far more severely than they now are. I think that that is right. But, in my opinion, this branding of certain women without adequate evidence as common prostitutes is bad. Finally, I do not think it is a good thing to send a common prostitute who has been convicted three times to prison for three months. I do not think it is going to do her much good, and I think it may do the other inmates of the prison a good deal of harm. It is simply for those reasons that I sigh with regret—no more than that—over the passing of this Bill, and I felt I should like to put that on record once again.

6.28 p.m.


My Lords, we are coming to the end of this Bill, and we have seen and admired the remarkable prowess and ability of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor in resisting every Amendment that has been moved. As I described it before, it is a tour de force; and I must say that to me it is very remarkable that there has emerged from another place a piece of legislation which is such a jewel that it cannot be altered in any way—because that rarely occurs, my Lords. Most Bills that come from another place are usually considerably improved here. Somehow, this one is that perfect piece of legislation which it would be terrible to upset; and I should rather like to hear from the noble and learned Viscount whether the idea was that, if we amended it at all, it would have to go back to another place and consequentially there might be the risk of losing the Bill altogether. Have we been put in that position? Because it would have been wise for us to be told at the beginning if that was the position. We have wasted a lot of words and we have wasted a lot of time, if that was the position.

Now we are all agreed—both sides of the House; in fact, everybody—that we want to do away with the nuisance of a concentration of prostitutes. I do not think that anybody has ever disputed that from the beginning of these discussions: but it is not clear in the Bill how we do this. All we do is to increase the penalties on prostitutes. We have been assured, not with any tremendous conviction, that we do not intend to suppress prostitutes. Well, that is perfectly wise, because we have to remember one or two fundamental facts about this question; and one of them is that if family sex morals are pure, prostitutes abound, and if family sex morals are lax and the amateur takes her place, the prostitute disappears. We are unfortunately faced with which of these two we like the better. It is no use being squeamish about these things. We have to face up to the facts of life, and to abolish prostitution altogether, although sounding admirable on moral grounds, would be one of the silliest things that could possibly be done. Most of the silly things in history have been done with the best of intentions.

Like other noble Lords, I have objected to the words "common prostitute", to a woman being called a "common prostitute" when she comes into court. We have all protested. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has wriggled this way and that when Amendments have been moved. Of course, that is the worst of lawyers, they are so wrapped up with the trees that they do not see the wood. And I do not think that the noble and learned Viscount has ever appreciated how shocked many of us are by some of the provisions of this Bill. In many cases it seems to us to offend the basic principles of British justice.

The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, one of the great Home Secretaries of the past, said that the words "common prostitute" were "a blot upon our Statute Book". These are words not to be pushed aside as if he were saying something of no importance. I think that his opinion is of great value. I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, is not here to-day, because he put his finger on the spot when he said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 217, col. 515]: …the Lord Chancellor has put into the Bill that every prostitute per se is a nuisance…and you can convict her without any proof at all. Again, the noble Earl said (col. 510): …the whole basis of the Bill is that any prostitute anywhere in a public place is a self-evident nuisance. We only have to substitute the word "nuisance" for "prostitute" and this Bill is one against prostitutes in general. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor himself said (col. 512): …either we are going to say that someone is a criminal on the grounds of nuisance, when she has not contributed to the nuisance, or we are in the old difficulty…of proving the general nuisance. I must say that that is an extraordinary confession of what is contained in this Bill. It means that any woman, in any town, who could be innocently waiting for a bus, can be tapped on the shoulder by a policeman, taken to gaol and charged as a common prostitute for being a nuisance. I quite agree with the noble and learned Viscount that she may not be convicted, because it could be proved that she was not a common prostitute: but she stands in the dock as a common prostitute before it is proved that she is not. And that, I consider, is a travesty of justice. I consider that it is introducing Gestapo principles, which will soon spread when, for instance, this Bill is used as a precedent.

I know I shall be offending the noble Earl, Lord Winterton, if I accuse the Home Office of anything, because he seems to be their pin-up boy".


No, my Lords. If the noble Lord will allow me to explain, what I was doing was defending civil servants against attack on them. I thought that the noble Lord, as a former Minister, would realise that he should not attack the Civil Service.


My Lords, attacking a Ministry and attacking the civil servants are two separate things. You can attack a Ministry as much as you like without attacking the people in it. That is a different thing altogether. I am quite at liberty to say that the Home Office has been incompetent in this matter without attacking civil servants at all. Again we have to face up to the situation that all of us wanted something and we have not got it in this Bill.

One final point, and it is a personal one. In answering some remarks that I made, the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor said: The position he took up was one by which it was also easy to get some facile popular acclaim". Now we know that in the Lower House and in your Lordships' House it is laid down that we should not impute unworthy motives to any of our opponents, and here the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor is pretending that I was trying to get popularity by what I said at that time. I do not mind what he says about me: he can call me any name he likes, and I will take it "on the chin". I do not mind my noble friend Lord Winterton saying that I talk nonsense. He is an expert. But I should like to say that I am seventy-five years old, and it is a little late to start a popularity campaign on my own.

And I am no longer a Party politician—it does not mean anything to me. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor is still one. But one can be sincere in these things. Mine may be a voice crying in the wilderness. It may be that my voice is incoherent. It may be that what I say is unpopular. But surely the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor will admit that it is possible that I am sincere in what I say. I hope that he will admit that. He has the thing entirely wrong. I am not the hero of this show. The noble and learned Viscount is the hero: he is the Iron Chancellor who is resisting every Amendment by those degenerate Peers who are trying to wreck his Bill. There is no doubt that one day in the future there will be a statue erected in Shepherd Market. It will be of the noble and learned Viscount the present Lord Chancellor, not of Lord Brabazon of Tara.

6.38 p.m.


My Lords, may I voice my regret, too, that it has not been found possible to amend and improve this Bill because it seems to me that it does not carry out the intentions of those who promoted it. They proclaimed that the purpose was to put down a self-evident public nuisance, a blatant nuisance in the streets of London. Could not words have been found to put that intention into effect? There is no trace of any nuisance or requirement of it in this Bill.

It is said that the police will not prosecute except where the nuisance is blatant. I would remind your Lordships that, according to our most sacred principles, any person in this land can prosecute for any offence wherever it is committed. The right of prosecution does not here rest with the police alone. If any person finds a woman whom he wishes to accuse of being a common prostitute, that individual citizen can prosecute. It does not rest with the police. So our offences should be so enunciated that they are clear and strike at what we aim.

Again, is it not contrary to all the principles of justice that when a person is charged as being a common prostitute loitering, she will be charged with previous convictions known? Yet it will be possible—indeed, will it not be the form?—that evidence of previous cautions can and may be given—cautions in which the police have been both the accuser and the judge. There is the same kind of thing with traffic offences overseas, where the police often give a ticket and you have to apply to expunge it, if you will; but, in the first instance, the police are both the accusers and the judge. So here with these cautions. The noble Earl, Lord Winterton, says, "Oh well, there are cases when our principles of justice are not observed". He referred to the police going into night clubs. What the police may go and do as agents provocateurs at a night club is one thing, but when they come to the courts the magistrates and justices have something to say about that.

It is the principles of justice which I hoped always could be enshrined in our Acts of Parliament. What a pity it is that we still have to keep to one group; that it is not extended to the kerb-crawlers and men just as guilty in their sphere! I hope that this will not be the last occasion on which street offences can be dealt with in your Lordships' House. It is to be hoped that there will be another occasion when men equally guilty of similar offences can be made subject to the law.


My Lords, I do not wish to add to the debate, but I feel I must say that I do not support this Bill.

6.43 p.m.


My Lords, may I first of all thank my noble friend Lord Winterton for his support in this debate? If your Lordships will forgive a personal memory, it is, I think, just forty years since I proposed a vote of thanks to Lord Winterton when he visited Oxford where I was an undergraduate. Your Lordships might pass on that useful piece of information: that if you cast your bread upon the Isis it will come back to you after many days.

I have realised that a number of your Lordships have had doubts about this Bill, and in the case neither of Lord Brabazon of Tara nor of anyone else have I intended, nor would I for a moment, cast any reflection on the sincerity of those doubts. But I would remind your Lordships who have not taken part but have listened to this debate during the last hour that, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester I made three points: first, that under this Bill you had to prove that a woman was a common prostitute; secondly, that the effect of that was that, in the case of a woman, only the professional was liable to conviction: the amateur could not be convicted; thirdly, that the result of that was enormously to protect and improve the position of the innocent woman. From that I deduced that any discrimination there is in this Bill is in favour of women, because a man can be convicted of the corresponding offence even if it be for the first time and there is no element of repetition in it. During the last hour none of your Lordships who have spoken has dealt with one of these points. They go absolutely unchallenged.

The next point is this. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, said that the increase in the fines might increase the earnings. I want to do my noble friend justice: I am sure he meant the earnings of the pimp behind the girl. I do not see how increasing the fines would ordinarily be expected to increase the earnings of the girl. That was why the Government took the recommendation of the female members of the Wolfenden Committee and increased the sentence on the pimp from two years to five years, and then, at the instance of the House of Commons, to seven years. It was in order to deal with that situation that that clause appears in the Bill.

It is a curious fact that one or two of your Lordships were saying "Why has this ill-digested Bill been brought in?" and between two of such speeches my noble friend Lord Brentford entered the House. I could not help remembering that it is over thirty years since his father, when he was at the Home Office, set up a Committee on Street Offences. Nothing was done about it. I am not suggesting anything against Sir William Joynson-Hicks; he set up the Committee and there were changes of Government and circumstances. But nothing was done, and that Committee said that the law as it existed then, with the requirement of proving annoyance, was a dead letter so far as affecting this employment was concerned. When I became Home Secretary some quarter of a century later I found that the position had become worse. I found that decent ordinary people—and I shall never subscribe to sneering at bourgeois standards of morality or the standards of decent, ordinary people who live in ordinary homes in London—were coming to me again and saying that nothing had been done.

According to the tenor of the speeches of the last hour, your Lordships might well have imagined that I rushed into this legislation without consideration. I did not. I appointed the Wolfenden Cornmittee, who considered this point. We considered their Report. There was great support for action on this part of the Report and we have brought in a Bill which gives legislative effect to what the Committee recommended to deal with this problem. My noble friend Lord Boothby, with that charm that we all admire so much, saw that point and tried to deal with it in his inimitable way. It reminded me of Mr. Wodehouse's argument, "So-and-so wouldn't hurt a fly; I have often seen him doing it—not hurting flies". Lord Boothby's argument was that because there was something that Lord Winterton did not agree with in the Wolfenden Report, therefore he was not at liberty to support another part of the Report with which he entirely agreed. It was not perhaps one of those convincing arguments that have earned my noble friend the affection of millions of radio and T.V. "fans".

I come to the points made against me. I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, that I am much less hurt by his calling me a "Home Office hack" than he seems to be at the category into which I put him—and I assure him, as I said before, that it was no reflection on his sincerity. But at any rate he will agree with this: that, granted I am a politician without his Olympian absence of any desire for popularity, if I had desired popularity then surely it would have been the easiest matter to have got some in your Lordships' House by accepting the Amendments which were put forward. This is not a Party matter and there is no political advantage in this Bill; in fact, there might be considerable disadvantage, from what has been said.

Had it been possible to do so, I should gladly have accepted an Amendment that did not destroy the effectiveness of the Bill's provisions or extend its scope so as to constitute a danger to people with whose conduct it was never intended to deal. Your Lordships will remember that I made that point from the Committee stage onwards. I said that I was not going to amend this Bill so that it dealt with the amateur or the girl who does it once in a mistaken feeling of one night; I was dealing with the professional, and I was not going to accept Amendments to make it more difficult to divert young girls from this way of life. As I say, I should gladly have accepted any other Amendment that did not contravene these conditions. But I could not find it.

I know how boring it is when someone gets up and propounds legal grounds, but, as I said before, it is the traditional duty of the holder of my office to explain the legal difficulties, just as in another place I have had to do so in both offices as a Law Officer of the Crown. If your Lordships want to know the reason why we resist these Amendments, when we have nothing to gain but criticism for doing so—and the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, has asked—it is, I suggest, that the Government consider that they have a duty to the decent citizens of this country to deal with what is no less than a grave public scandal. I venture to suggest to your Lordships that any Government, of whatever Party, faced with the situation that confronts us to-day, would feel that they had a similar duty and would find it necessary to resist no less strongly Amendments which, although they would make the Bill more popular, would make its working more unsafe.

My noble friend Lord Saltoun ranged wider than anyone else. Underneath the words he used one could detect a strong impatience with the traditional British hypocrisy on moral questions, which has often been spoken of, and he came out really quite firmly for his own preference for maisons tolerées to the present system. I have listened with respect and close attention to everything that he said; but I come back to the purpose of this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, has been as sternly critical of the Bill and of myself as anyone else. Yet the prelude to that criticism was: no one disputes the nuisance that exists. I can only say again that the noble Lord is right, and we are agreed on that. That is the position. The present law has been twice declared, after independent examination, to be incapable of dealing with that situation. The nuisance exists; but it is created by the acts of individual common prostitutes advertising and offering their bodies in the street. That is the problem with which we have to deal if we are going to clean up the streets. It is a difficult problem.

I ask your Lordships, after all the criticism has been heard, to think of the ordinary people whom I have mentioned: the children who cannot leave the doorsteps of their houses without running into the prostitutes that congregate around; and the situation in Stepney, which again I described, where parents cannot send their children to night school because of the presence of these people. That is the situation with which we have to deal. I have given your Lordships the reasons why I have stood by the Bill, which, after all, is the result of the Wolfenden recommendations and then close examination in Parliament. With all my imperfections, which are manifest, I ask your Lordships to remember the people who are affected by this nuisance and to pass this Bill to-night.

On Question, Bill passed.