HL Deb 05 May 1959 vol 216 cc72-139

2.53 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill which we are about to discuss follows very closely the recommendations of the Wolfenden Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution. I appointed that Committee shortly before I left the Home Office and included prostitution in its terms of reference because I had for some time been receiving strong representations that the state of the streets of London was a scandal and a disgrace, and it had become apparent that with the law in its present form there was nothing effective that the police could do about it.

That was in 1954, and the situation which caused such concern then still exists. There are some streets in the West End through which it is impossible for people to take their wives and families without the trade that is being carried on there becoming perfectly apparent to them. Worst still, perhaps, are residential areas in which people cannot get in and out of their own homes without passing prostitutes pursuing their trade in the street. The Vicar of Christ Church, Lancaster Gate, described such an area in a letter published in The Times on 15th October last. He said: prostitutes may be seen on the streets at almost all times of day and night; clubs, many of which—rightly or wrongly—are widely believed to be brothels, are common; frequently, in the morning, the corners of certain streets, the gardens of many houses, and the ground between the buttresses of my own church are littered with used contraceptives; and it is invariably extremely unpleasant, if not unsafe, for unaccompanied girls to use the streets after dark. This is an area in which children have to go to and from school and in which there are a number of hostels for young people.

From the other side of London we have had strenuous representations about the situation in Stepney. There also people are particularly disturbed about the effect on the minds of young people of what they see going on in the streets; and parents have felt compelled to keep their children away from youth clubs in the evening because they are unwilling for them to pass through the streets after dark.

We cannot close our eyes to this situation or ignore the temptation to which it exposes our young people. It cannot be right that young people should see the trade in immorality carried on openly in the streets and apparently without effective social condemnation. It cannot be right that young men should have temptation thrust so easily in their faces, nor can it be right that girls, who in London are often separated from the influence of home, should see paraded in public a way of life which offers an easy way of making very much larger amounts of money than they could earn by normal employment.

The Government take the view that the present state of affairs is a grave scandal and a self-evident public nuisance. We believe that the public is entitled to have effective action taken to remove it. It is apparent that effective action cannot be taken while the maximum penalty for street soliciting is forty shillings, which the prostitutes regard as a tax, and a not particularly heavy tax, on their profits. It is essential, therefore, to make the law a real deterrent against soliciting in the streets.

The Wolfenden Committee recommended that this should be done by raising penalties and by removing the necessity to prove annoyance, which is an essential ingredient of the offence as it exists at present. These two recommendations go together; you cannot have the first without the second. At present a woman seldom pleads not guilty and annoyance therefore does not have to be proved. With higher penalties women are likely to plead not guilty and it would be quite impossible in most cases to prove annoyance. A man who has been accosted will not come forward to give such evidence. Residents in the areas frequented by prostitutes will sometimes come forward, but they cannot be expected to go on doing so week after week. The Wolfenden Committee, like the Macmillan Committee of 1928, recognised that if there was to be no conviction unless a member of the public gave evidence of being annoyed, the law would be a dead letter. I ask your Lordships to note that two Committees have come to that conclusion.

In any event the Government consider that the real problem here is not a particular annoyance to particular individuals; it is a question of conduct which is offensive to the public at large: the users of the streets (whether accosted or not) as well as the residents: conduct which ought to be prohibited irrespective of whether a particular individual can be proved to have annoyed on a particular occasion any other individual. In some areas the presence of only one prostitute may be offensive; in many, however, what is complained of is the presence of several prostitutes in a single street whose very numbers would advertise their business, even if their individual conduct did not.

In tackling this problem the Government have had two considerations prominently in mind. The first is that everything possible ought to be done to prevent the new recruit from taking to the life of the streets. We are told, and such research as has been done on the subject suggests, that prostitutes are not now recruited in the main from girls who had been driven to that life by economic necessity or harsh parents; they take to it because the monetary rewards are so high and because it happens to suit their particular personalities. In these circumstances the chances of diverting and rescuing individuals may not be high, but such as they are it is clear that they should be taken.

The Wolfenden Committee was impressed with the procedure adopted in Edinburgh and Glasgow where girls are twice cautioned by the police before being prosecuted and are put in touch with a moral welfare worker. That is an extra-statutory procedure and we propose that something similar should be done in this country. The Commissioner of Police has informed my right honourable friend the Home Secretary that, if this Bill is passed, it is his intention to give instructions that no woman who has not been previously convicted of soliciting is to be charged with committing an offence under subsection (1) of Clause 1 unless she has twice been formally cautioned. On the first occasion when a woman is seen loitering or soliciting in a street or public place for the purpose of prostitution the officer seeing her will obtain the assistance of a second officer as a witness, and when both officers, after having kept the woman under observation, are satisfied by her demeanour and conduct that she is in fact loitering for that purpose, they will tell her what they have seen and that they propose to caution her.

Details of the caution will subsequently be recorded at the police station and a central register for the Metropolitan Police District.

The two officers, after administering the caution, will ask the woman if she will allow her name and address to be given to a moral welfare organisation or a probation officer and invite her to call at the police station at a convenient time to see a woman police officer, who will help her with advice and put her in touch with the welfare organisation, if she agrees to be referred to it, or, if she prefers to be helped informally by a probation officer, with a probation officer. If the woman continues to solicit, a second formal caution will be given in the street and recorded, and she will not be arrested until she is seen soliciting on the third occasion.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary proposes to commend this procedure to provincial chief officers of police. It is already the practice in many areas to administer one caution and in at least one large city to administer two, and there is no reason to think that chief officers of police generally would see any difficulty in adopting a procedure on these lines. We have considered very carefully whether the caution procedure should be incorporated in the Bill but have concluded that to put it in the Bill would involve formalising a procedure which is in its essence informal and would substantially detract from its value. If the warning is to be effective it must be given at the earliest possible stage and certainly before a girl has persisted in soliciting to the point where she could be prosecuted for an offence under Clause 1; and, we believe, without bringing her into court or attempting to prove any particular offence against her.

The other consideration we have in mind is that the criminal law, since it touches on the liberty of the subject, ought to be confined as narrowly as possible to the particular mischief with which it is desired to deal. The mischief here is the plying of the trade of a professional prostitute on the streets, and it is to that that the Bill is confined. We are not here concerned with the morality of prostitution as such, and the Bill does not, of course, attempt to make prostitution illegal.

The Bill has been criticised because it does not deal with the prostitute's customer; but the customer, though his moral responsibility for the act of immorality is no less than the prostitute's, is not creating a nuisance, and so long as we do not attempt to penalise the immorality itself (and that I think for a variety of reasons would be impossible) there is no unfairness involved in creating an offence in terms of the prostitute and not of the customer. What is offensive is the public offer of the prostitute's wares, and that is in the nature of things an offence which she commits, and nobody else.

We have also been anxious that the offence should be defined in such terms that there is no risk of a respectable woman being arrested under the mistaken impression that she is committing it. In order to prove an offence under Clause 1 (1) it would be necessary to satisfy the court both that a woman was on a particular occasion soliciting or loitering for the purpose of prostitution and that she was a common prostitute; in other words, that she has engaged in the past in a course of conduct which makes it clear that she is of this character.

If a respectable woman behaves indiscreetly a policeman may think that she is loitering or soliciting for the purposes of prostitution, but will not be able to prove that she is a common prostitute, and she will not therefore be arrested. There is the faintest possibility that she may be cautioned, but in that event she will have her remedy; she will be able to complain to the Commissioner of Police and I am assured that he would be very willing to investigate any such complaint and, if it were well-founded, to ensure that any record of the woman's name was expunged from the register. If she does not get satisfaction from this means, she will be able, under Clause 2 of the Bill, to make appeal to a magistrates' court.

The Bill is, in its form, short and simple, and I will not take much of your Lordships' time in considering individual provisions. Clause 1 (1) makes it an offence for a common prostitute to loiter or solicit in a street or public place for the purpose of prostitution, and, as I have already indicated, it will be necessary to prove two elements in the offence: first, that the accused is a common prostitute, and second, that she was loitering or soliciting on a particular occasion for the purpose of prostitution. The police will have to satisfy the court that that was her purpose.

Clause 1 (2) prescribes the penalties recommended by the Wolfenden Committee; that is, on the first conviction a fine not exceeding £10; on the second, a fine not exceeding £25, and on the third or subsequent conviction a fine not exceeding £25 or imprisonment for not more than three months, or both. These penalties are, of course, maxima. It will be for the courts to select within the maxima what is the appropriate penalty in a particular case. They will not necessarily consider imprisonment desirable on every occasion when it is available, but we think that the possibility of imprisonment should be there, both to indicate to a girl embarking on prostitution on the streets that she may ultimately risk loss of liberty, perhaps repeated loss of liberty if she persists, and to encourage girls to accept probation, which they might be reluctant to do if the alternative were merely a monetary penalty.

Clause 1 (3) enables a constable to arrest without warrant anyone he finds in a street or public place and suspects with reasonable cause to be committing an offence under Clause 1 (1). This reproduces the effect of the existing law and makes it clear that the constable must, as at present, actually see what he believes to be an offence being committed. Clause 1 (4) defines "street". Clause 1 (5) repeals the existing provisions on street soliciting of the Metropolitan Police Act, 1839, and the Town Police Clauses Act, 1847, and corresponding provisions in local Acts for the City of London and Manchester, and it provides that convictions under the repealed provisions shall be treated as previous convictions for the purpose of Clause 1 (1).

Clause 2 contains the provisions for appeal against the registration of a caution which I have already described to your Lordships. It will be noted that the appeal proceedings take place in camera unless the woman desires otherwise. This is an unusual provision, but I believe it to be justified since if the proceedings had to be in public a woman might well be deterred from appealing by the damage by which the mere fact of the proceedings could do to her reputation.

Clause 3 enables the courts to impose higher monetary penalties on all-night cafés in which prostitutes and other undesirable characters assemble, and in particular to order the forfeiture of the refreshment house licence on a first conviction, instead of on a second conviction as at present. Clause 4 raises from two years to seven years the penalty for living on the earnings of prostitution or (in the case of a woman) for exercising control over a prostitute.

The women members of the Wolfenden Committee recommended an increase in these penalties in order to discourage the activities of "middlemen" who might otherwise become more active as a result of prostitutes being removed from the streets. They recommended a maximum penalty of 5 years but the higher limit was thought appropriate in another place.

My Lords, this is a Bill for a limited, but important purpose. The Government believe that the condition of the streets in London ought no longer to he tolerated. Had any of your Lordships had my experience of three years at the Home Office recently, you would understand the extent and the sincerity of the complaints that are made by those affected by this condition of affairs. Her Majesty's Government believe that the measures now proposed will enable the police very substantially to improve the position and that nothing short of this measure will do so. They propose, as I have indicated, to combine with these new provisions for maintaining order and decency in our streets, administrative measures designed to rescue and reform girls on the verge of prostitution, wherever that is possible. I commend the Bill to your Lordships as the best means that can be found to deal with this very distressing problem. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

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

3.16 p.m.


My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount has quite rightly described this as an important Bill for a very limited purpose: to deal with a major evil which not only is affecting certain portions of London but, in my view, is spreading to a great many parts of the country and particularly to larger cities. Indeed, in Scotland they already have special local legislation affecting Glasgow and Edinburgh, which they thought necessary to have for this purpose. But though the Bill is simple and though its purpose is clear, it has aroused a large amount of interest and controversy. Seldom in my experience as a Member of this House have I received so much literature of such diverse character on a subject, and with such conflicting advice. Seldom has this House even been so interested. I see that we have a list of nineteen speakers on this subject. Yesterday on Foreign Affairs we had nine; so that obviously the House is very much more interested in this subject than in Foreign Affairs.

This is a subject which cuts right across Party. Certainly we on this side have no Party line on this subject and I do not claim to be speaking for anybody but myself. I believe that some of my noble friends who will be speaking may well take a view diametrically opposed to my own. I am sorry to find, as I believe to be the case, that that is not the position so far as the Government side is concerned. I should have thought that this was essentially a Bill on which every Member of the House should speak his mind freely, and if need be should be in a position to vote for or against the Bill.


Hear, hear!


My Lords, whether this House will have an opportunity of giving a vote and whether that vote will be a free one we shall find out as we go along. The question which we shall have to decide is not only whether this is a Bill which will achieve its purpose of driving prostitution from the streets but also whether that is the purpose that we want to achieve—and that is one of the conflicts of view between different sections of those who are interested in the problem. I suppose we should all agree that the evil of women congregating in the large cities, and particularly in certain sections of those cities, for the purpose of prostitution is a grave scandal and a disgrace, to use the words of the noble and learned Viscount. There is no difference of opinion about that.

The questions we must ask ourselves are, first: Is the method which this Bill adopts for dealing with the problem one that will satisfactorily dispose of it; and, secondly, may it not create an even worse problem? That is where there can be a legitimate difference of opinion. Those who oppose this Bill take the view that it would be disastrous to drive this iniquitous traffic underground, using the term in its very widest sense; that it would create a new profession of people concerned with introducing prostitutes to prospective customers on the telephone, by giving addresses, by creating establishments where the traffic would flourish—and perhaps to an even greater extent than it does at the present time. That is one of the things about which we in this House have to make up our minds. Is it really advantageous, from the point of view that the noble and learned Viscount has expressed, to keep this awful traffic under observation and be able to deal with it, possibly more effectively by having a stronger police force and by increasing the deterrent, or is the alternative a worse state than the existing state?

My own view is that we must at all costs drive this traffic from the streets. I think it is not merely that the streets are a disgrace, but that the existence of this traffic on the streets is itself a temptation. The noble and learned Viscount is quite right, in my view, in saying that the very presence of large numbers of women, presumably attractive, is a temptation to young men, and the temptation of easy money on the streets is a very great one to a considerable number of women. On balance (and I suppose that all of us have to come to a decision on balance, because the case is not absolutely clear one way or another), I find myself in agreement with the principle of the Bill that we should try to drive this traffic off the streets.

Those of us who take that view are fortified by the fact that two important Committees have considered the same problem, have heard an enormous amount of evidence, and have independently come to the same conclusion as that which is formulated in this Bill. So I propose to proceed on the assumption that this is a necessary Bill, and that it is designed to achieve a purpose which we all regard as important and essential. But that is not the end of the matter, and nobody who was going to be in the position of Home Secretary or the head of the police force could regard without grave apprehension the likelihood of driving this traffic underground. I feel, therefore, that we ought not to leave the position as it is, and that further steps may, and probably will, be necessary to ensure that we do not, in consequence of this Bill, create a flourishing and equally iniquitous traffic. And I would beg of the Government to keep this matter under the closest possible observation if this Bill goes through.

Having said that, I would add that there are a large number of objections in detail to the Bill. The noble and learned Viscount will not be surprised from the correspondence and literature which he himself has received to find that there will be a substantial number of Amendments put forward. Without trying to debate these Amendments at this stage, I think it is worth stating now what are the principal objections to the Bill, as it stands, apart from the question of objection to the principle of the whole thing.

The first is the question of having to prove annoyance. It is not for me to state the case: The law as it stands at this moment requires that somebody should be produced who has been annoyed. From the cases which the noble and learned Viscount cited as examples, it is obvious that large numbers of people are annoyed. Yet the advantage of requiring that annoyance to be established in a court of law seems to me very doubtful and it also creates difficulties in the way of getting prosecutions successful to an issue. I should like to hear the case on the question of having to prove annoyance argued. I can see grave difficulties in the way of requiring proof of annoyance, either to an individual or to a whole neighbourhood. This is such an unsavoury matter that nobody would wish, of his own free will, to go to court to prove annoyance to himself, individually, or to himself and his neighbours; and it will create great difficulties. So I believe that, on balance—though, as I say, I should like to hear the case argued further—that the Government are wise in leaving out the requirement as to annoyance. I might say that in Scotland the law is that annoyance need not be proved; and I wonder whether experience has shown that in Scotland the people have suffered through not having to establish annoyance.

Another matter which will cause considerable conflict is the reference in the Bill to "common prostitute". There are many who take the view that to refer to a person as a common prostitute before she has been proved to be so is to assume what you ought to be having to prove in a court of law, and that it is quite wrong to give a woman this nomenclature until the case has been established. But there are some who go further than that and say that the same principles ought to apply to anybody, of either sex, and that the correct words are "any person". That is a matter which we shall, I hope, debate in the form of an Amendment at a later stage.

There are two other matters that I just want to touch on. One is the question of imprisonment. This Bill contemplates a much freer use of the deterrent of imprisonment. The whole House will agree that it might conceivably be a deterrent, but it is quite certain that it has no remedial effect. The present forms of imprisonment are such that a woman, having served her term, is much more likely to go back to her old form of life than to come out a reformed and redeemed character. If in consequence of this Bill we are to embark on the policy of confining prostitutes, we must find some other form of treatment than that of sending them to the ordinary prisons. My own view is that we should be doing far more harm than good by sentencing these women to imprisonment, if all we are going to do is to confine them to the ordinary prisons of this country for a limited period and then release them again. I hope that the Government have certain ideas as to how they are going to treat these women, once they have been sentenced to imprisonment.

My last point—and this, again, is something which we shall hear more about during later proceedings on the Bill—is the increased power which is being given to the police. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has referred to the particular clauses in the Bill in which it is indicated what these powers are. If we look particularly at Clause 1 (3) we see that it reads: A constable may arrest without warrant anyone he finds in a street or public place and suspects, with reasonable cause, to be committing an offence under this section. This is a very wide power, given in very difficult circumstances. Ex hypothesi, the police know these women. They must have known them in order to caution them: they must have known them, and must have had dealings with them on several occasions. I do not want to be misunderstood, but I should imagine that they say "How do you do?" to one another; that they meet and pass the time of day: and there is a danger that a friendly relationship might be created which might lead to a form of blackmail or abuse by the police.

I am not one of those who regard the police force as a corrupt body. Indeed, having regard to all the temptations that lie in their way, I say without hesitation that they are a very fine body of men. But there are "black sheep", and it is a great temptation to put in the way of young men, where large sums of money are available for the purpose of bribery and corruption. This great power of being able to arrest without warrant is one which I think we ought to be very careful indeed about giving to constables; and we certainly ought to try to circumscribe it in every possible way. I wonder whether we could not make greater use of women police. The danger would be far less; and such a step would have the additional advantage that we should not be taking the police away from the far more important task of dealing with cars that happen to be parked in the wrong place.




I hope that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor will give that suggestion serious consideration. If this power is to be given, I think the danger will be very much less if women police are used.

I am afraid that if the House is looking for a lead on this matter they have not got one from me, other than to say that, in principle, I accept this Bill. It may need modification in some of the respects that I have outlined; and I know that we shall all, when we get to the Committee stage, give it the most serious consideration, because we are dealing with a great moral question which I believe cuts across all Parties, and on which there can be many different opinions.

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, in the last sentence of the last speech we heard that this was a great moral question, as indeed it is. It is, as your Lordships are well aware, a problem that is one of the oldest within our knowledge. It is said to be the oldest profession in the world; and, therefore, obviously it has received a considerable amount of attention from time to time—I think, in earlier times, a more open attention than we, who are still emerging from the era of Victorian prudery, are prepared to give it. One needs only to look at the Old and the New Testaments to see this subject discussed frankly and openly, but always with disapproval; because it is an evil.

Listening to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack as he proceeded in his speech, I was somewhat disturbed to find that I agreed with almost everything he said. The only point on which I might, with great respect, disagree with him is that I feel that this Bill, well-intentioned as it is, does not go to the root of the matter. The root of the matter seems to me to be one of supply and demand. As any economist will know, when there is more demand there is more supply: but the converse does not necessarily apply. It seems to me therefore, that in going to the outer fringe of this problem and tackling the women, the side of supply, and not tackling the men. the side of demand, we are going the wrong way about it; and any legislation which can mitigate this evil should be directed, if not first, at least equally, towards the man, the customer—the person who really causes the whole situation to exist.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, I do not propose to go into great detail, but I should like to mention one or two points on which I feel that this Bill certainly falls short. In Clause 1 (1), where it is made an offence for a common prostitute to solicit, and so forth, we see that, by implication—though it is not meant—that it is perfectly legitimate, and possibly admirable, for anybody else to loiter and solicit for the purpose of prostitution. The only person who is prohibited by this Bill from doing that is the common prostitute. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that those words "common prostitute" should come out, and that the words "any person" should go in. That would render men equally liable as women to have action taken against them. I rather object to the term "common prostitute", which I am given to understand has no legal definition. It would be interesting to know by what standards it is decided that one prostitute is commoner than another; and even more interesting to know what is an "uncommon" prostitute. My Lords, if it is wrong for a prostitute to solicit, why is it right that a man who goes about exactly the same process in a different way should be immune? I submit that it should be an offence for any person, of either sex, to indulge in such approaches; and that the words "common prostitute" should be left out of the Bill and "any person" substituted.

I rather object to subsection (2) because, again, on inspection one finds that it refers only to one of the two equally guilty parties; and for the same reason I deplore that it is not wider. I do not like subsection (3) which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, think, as "most wide". I am not sure that it is all that wide. If your Lordships will look at the last three words of subsection (3), you will see that they are "under this section". That means that a police constable is entirely limited to dealing with people who are registered as common prostitutes. Unless I am mistaken, it would seem that if there is some flagrant offence against public decency in the street, the police cannot take action under this Bill, if it becomes an Act.

My third, last, and chief objection is to Clause 2, which I consider to be highly dangerous and highly undesirable. Under this clause any respectable woman—I hope your Lordships will forgive me for mentioning this, but it applies to anybody, to the wife or daughter of any noble Lord—by a perfectly innocent gesture or word (for instance, she might mistake a stranger for her brother) can become liable to a police warning. What remedy has she? The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has explained that she can take proceedings, rather cornpiicated and specialised proceedings, in which she can go before a police court or magistrates' court in order to have the matter wiped off the record. But I think that noble Lords would agree with me that the first thing a respectable, decent, innocent woman would say is, "My goodness, this is terrible! What am I to do? I shall see that it never happens again". And she will not go through the difficulty and ignominy of having the matter struck off.

Then it may happen that in a crowd of people a women may think she sees her husband and say, "Hello, darling!"—and it is not her husband after all. But by that time she has "had it", if I may use a vulgar expression. And that lady, who, as I say, might be the wife or a daughter of any noble Lord, will then be labelled as a common prostitute. I think that that is a highly dangerous possibility. This clause seems to me quite unacceptable because of its un-British principle: it places a onus of proof of innocence on the accused instead of on the prosecution.

There are a number of noble Lords who wish to speak and I have only one more point, a small one, but one which I hope your Lordships will not think is irrelevant. It seems to me that it is becoming a Parliamentary habit to call Bills by rather pretentious names. We talk of Bills as though they included much more than the subject matter with which they actually deal. I am sure that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack would agree that the Criminal Justice Act does not deal with every aspect of crime and every aspect of justice. We have had a little Bill before your Lordships proposing to close a small railway or tramway in a seaside town in the South of Wales. The matter is now in Committee. But in order to deal with that matter the Bill which was produced was entitled the "South Wales Transport Bill". It seems to me that all the shipping and road transport in Cardiff and Swansea and the people on bicycles and motor cars should not have been brought into the title of the Bill by implication.

I think that the title "Street Offences Bill, 1959" is a bad one. If I strew a street with banana skins, surely that is a street offence, but it is not in the Bill. If my dog makes a totally natural assignment with a lamp post, surely that should be regarded as a street offence, but it is not in the Bill. If I dig up the street with a pickaxe or on Midsummer Night sing carols in a loud voice and disturb all the inhabitants of the street, surely that is an offence, but it is not a street offence in the Bill. When the Bill reaches Committee stage, it is my present intention to move to amend the present far too wide and mealy-mouthed Title "Street Offences Bill, 1959" to the more honest and correct title of "The Prostitutes Bill, 1959".

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, I thought it but right on a Bill of this kind that some speech should be made from these Benches in order to indicate in general the attitude of the Church to the Bill. I can describe that attitude in four words. It is an attitude of qualified approval and restrained rapture. We welcome the general intention of this Bill wholeheartedly, for we understand that the intention is to abate what has become an intolerable public nuisance. The number of prostitutes in the streets and parks of London and other cities, and, worse, the blatancy of their behaviour there, creates a quite intolerable public nuisance which should and must be abated. It is an intolerable public nuisance for the reasons and in the ways which the noble and learned Viscount has already described to your Lordships. We greatly hope that the increased penalties proposed in this Bill will be successful in deterring a large number of these avaricious or weak or stupid women from engaging in this despicable trade.

We welcome these increased penalties, even including that of the possibility of sending some of these women to prison. We view with apprehension and alarm the actual entry of such women into any of our prisons and their corrupting the other female prisoners, but we believe that the threat of a sentence of imprisonment may prove to be an extremely valuable deterrent. Therefore, with reluctance, we are prepared to support that particular proposal. We also view with great apprehension the probable driving of this trade underground. Here we agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, pointed out. Nevertheless, we believe that on balance the driving of this trade underground is a lesser social evil than its present blatant public advertisement. We also believe (and here we differ from the noble Lord, Lord Rea), that it is not the case that the demand creates the supply so much as that an excessive supply, publicly advertised in this manner, tends to create an increased demand. We believe that if prostitutes were not so easily to be seen, if they could not be contacted with such complete simplicity, the demand would rapidly begin to fall.

We welcome wholeheartedly the statement of the Home Secretary about cautioning and remanding. From our point of view, the rescue, wherever that is possible, of these unfortunate and stupid women is every bit as important as the removal of temptation from young men. We hope and believe that by the practice of cautioning, women may be persuaded to accept the service of welfare officers. We also hope that when it comes to a first conviction or a second conviction, the magistrates will exercise their powers of remand to a far greater extent than they do now, so that the women can be the subjects of medical and social inquiry and a decision can be taken in every case upon what would be the most fruitful and helpful system of punishment and treatment. We ourselves should greatly prefer that the matter of remanding these people on their first or second convictions should actually be written into the Bill. We think that it would be safer so and would manifest clearly the overall intention of the Bill, which is not only to abate the nuisance but also, so far as possible, to rescue some of the women. In the words of the Home Secretary himself, We propose to practice every art of redemption which we can. We hope, therefore, that the act of remand may be made statutory.

Finally, we feel extremely doubtful about the definition of the offence in, Clause 1—for three reasons. The definition as it now stands clearly creates a new offence. A new criminal offence is created of "soliciting for immoral purposes"; but I am by no means convinced that to solicit for immoral purposes ought to be a criminal offence at all. At the moment is is a criminal offence only if it offends someone. We agree with the Government that in the present situation, whereby personal annoyance has to be proved, is no longer workable, but we do not agree that this condition should be altogether ignored. We should much prefer that the offence defined in Clause 1 should be quite clearly soliciting in such a way as either to cause offence or to contribute to a public offence. Your Lordships will readily understand that a single prostitute conducting her business in some quiet side street may not be a nuisance at all. She contributes to a public nuisance when she takes part with a lot of others and attracts men into the same street and, along with the others, carries on a public business. I believe the intention of the Bill to abate that nuisance should be clearly expressed in the offence created under Clause 1; and that is not done at the moment. The clause should clearly state that the offence is to solicit where personal offence to other people is caused or where a public nuisance is brought about.

Secondly, we dislike the use of the phrase "common prostitute", and for this reason. Although at a first prosecution the police, presumably, have to satisfy the magistrate that the woman has been soliciting as a common prostitute, or in the manner of a common prostitute, once she has been convicted, if she is again brought before the court, she is prosecuted for soliciting "being a common prostitute"; that is to say, she is labelled at the outset of her second trial as a common prostitute, with inevitable bias in the mind of the magistrate—at least, so I understand it. That seems to me to rest on the proposition. "Once a prostitute, always a prostitute", a proposition which is neither true nor just.

Thirdly, it seems to me that the clause as now drafted would make it possible for a police constable, were he so inclined, to harass any woman who had once been convicted as a common prostitute. She might be going out only to see her grandmother or to buy her grocery provisions, but, if he liked, he could stop her for soliciting as a common prostitute in a public street. We think that this clause as now drafted is far too wide and gives far too great powers to the police. Nevertheless, in general and in principle we welcome the Bill wholeheartedly and hope that it will have a speedy passage.

3.53 p.m.


My Lords, I speak to your Lordships to-day with the greatest diffidence. Not only is this my maiden speech, but after listening to the skilful and deeply informed speeches this afternoon I realise how great is my temerity. I should be the last person to describe myself as an expert on this subject, but my hope is that for once a real anxiety about it may be allowed to take the place of expertise. For no one with any respect for humanity can help feeling deeply about this subject. I have said that I am not an expert on these things, and, indeed, I am not. But I have recently been carrying out a personal research, with the aid of the authorities and also through conversations with some of the unhappy ladies whose future we are to-day debating. All the evidence that I have accumulated leads me to believe that there is no alternative to this, for most of us, distressing Bill.

I will quote a few statistics that may not perhaps be known to your Lordships. In regard to Hyde Park alone, since the beginning of this year there have been nearly 1,000 successful prosecutions for prostitution; that is, at the rate of about ten a day. The figures for convictions for prostitution in the metropolitan area rose from 10,800 in 1956 to 16,700 in 1958; that is, an increase of nearly two-thirds in two years. Yet again, the Joint Under-Secretary for the Home Department has estimated in another place the number of prostitutes in the Metropolitan area at 1,800, while according to the London County Council statistics there are 980,000 women between the ages of 14 and 54 in that area. In other words, one in every 544 adult women in metropolitan London is a harlot. Those are dreadful figures.

It is not for me to speak on the moral aspect, but from the simple viewpoint of public decency the situation has clearly become intolerable. Something had to be done. This Bill is, I believe, a practical attempt to solve a practical problem. But while the proposed measures may make administrative sense and may even succeed in driving prostitutes off the streets, it is not, of course, as easy as that. The new legislation throws up with it new problems of which we have had little experience. As the right reverend Prelate pointed out, we must realise that we are, in fact, creating a new class of criminal; and a criminal moreover, whose crime is not what she does, but the way and the place in which she does it. I find it hard to think of a prostitute as a criminal, however she peddles her wares. One may regard her as a bad joke or as a social pest; one may even think of her, quite wrongly, as a thing rather than a person. But it is, for me at any rate, something quite new to think of her as a potential gaolbird. And if the thought is new for us, it is new for her, too.

What is going to happen to her if she has a past? She may go underground. If she has no ponce—and many of them have not—she may reform. But my belief is that she will continue to ply her trade as before, furtively now rather than flamboyantly. For this is the only trade she knows, and the only way she knows to carry it on. I am strengthened in my belief by a conversation I had with a streetwalker—a sensible and, if I may use the word, a decent woman. "You will never drive us off the streets", she said. "The threat of prison will not stop the 'gals'"—as they are called. "If they wanted to stop, the ponces would not let them." Incidentally, she had only once in her life had a ponce—her husband.

If this lady is right, consider what lies in store for the prostitute. Sooner or later she will be caught and cautioned, and, if she is a novice, then fined, and then fined again, and eventually she will go to prison. There she will find herself in a strange assembly and will learn about crimes of violence, thieving and roguery in all its forms, and in return she will teach prostitution. Is it really desirable that these different types of women should be put together in the same place, to the detriment of all concerned? Do we really want this cross-pollination of crime? I am told that the women's prisons are only half full. Would it not be better to segregate the prostitutes? This is a serious question, and I hope that the Home Office may give us an answer to it to-day. The point was raised in another place but no answer was forthcoming at that time. Perhaps we may hear to-day.

This is only one of the problems which is thrown up by the new measure. We are sailing into uncharted seas, and nobody knows what is going to happen. As I have said, I believe that this experiment should be made, and that a calculated risk should be taken. But who can say with certainty that the experiment will succeed, and that the worst fears of the opponents of the Bill will not prove only too justified? It is because of these uncertainties, and because we are groping in the dark, that I would ask the Government not merely to keep a watchful eye on developments, as I know they will, but to go out and seek expert and continuing advice on the way things are shaping. I am thinking of a permanent advisory committee. Looking round your Lordships' House, I see many noble Lords and Ladies whose abundant knowledge of the spiritual, social and legal aspects would be of the greatest value in steering the Government through the fog. They could help in many ways, and not the least of their tasks would be to report on the fate of these ladies whom we are about to drive into new places so that they may offend us the less.

Lastly, my Lords, I would emphasise that this is punitive legislation, and all punitive legislation runs the risk of aggravating the very conditions which it sets out to correct. The last state of the woman may well prove to be the worst. Therefore I would beg the Government, and subsequent Governments, if things seem to be going wrong, to come to Parliament and say so, and, if necessary, to ask for fresh legislation. There is much at stake here in terms of civil justice and human happiness, and if we have failed we should not be ashamed to try again.

4.2 p.m.


My Lords, I have the satisfaction and honour of expressing to the noble Lord who has just sat down the great pleasure of myself and, I am quite sure, of all my colleagues in this House, at the speech he has just delivered. He speaks with a freshness and sincerity Which we all welcome, and we hope he will give the House the opportunity of hearing him again at no distant date in order that we may benefit by his knowledge and judgment.

I hope your Lordships will bear with me if, before I come to the specific matter of the Bill which is before the House this afternoon, I say one or two words on the background which I think it is encumbent upon us all to consider when we are dealing with this very serious and important question. Sex is common to all living things, but whereas in other creatures each species has a norm of behaviour, the fact is that in the species homo sapiens there are amazing differences between one individual and another. There are variations of extreme degree in the sex urge, and there are divergencies in the moral concepts regarding the question of sex behaviour; and the essential point in dealing with these questions is to realise how different one human being is from another.

At one extreme are the persons who hold that chastity, or even celibacy, is the highest ideal to be set before an individual person. There are others at the opposite end for whom the gratification of the sex impulse stands in front of everything else, and they see no harm in the slightest in giving it full range. The third type of person is of opinion that indiscriminate sex indulgence is morally wrong, and yet continues to practise what is contrary to his or her own passionate belief. In those cases, perhaps the most unfortunate of all, the effect upon the individual of constantly breaking his own code is to give him a sense of guilt and shame, to destroy his character and to weaken his self-confidence.

Looking at it from another point of view, I am tempted to give an animal comparison, because it seems to me we can only fully understand the human race in thinking in terms of the animal world. There are some people who consider that sex and affection belong to two entirely different impulses in life. For them they have no more connection than they have for the cat and the dog who have indiscriminate sex relationships without having any relation to the creature of the opposite sex after this single event. On the other hand, there are quite a number of people to whom the relationship between two persons culminating in sexual intercourse is one of the highest things of their life. I would compare them to the birds who, though they do not go to Church to get married, nevertheless live in a state of idyllic conjugal bliss which is the poetic view of what marriage between two human beings should be.

In view of this diversity in human beings, it seems to me that it is essential to deal with this matter with great wisdom. We have all to live together in this world, and we have to create a system which shall be one which applies to all human beings. The high court of Parliament is not a high court of morals, and so far as I know all those who have taken a real part in these discussions, both here and elsewhere, recognise that fact. Nevertheless, human society, the community of men and women, has decided that in its own interest and the interest of children certain discouragements shall come into being. That applies not merely to religious communities, but also to many primitive nations. They discourage miscellaneous sexual intercourse, and favour a relationship between one man and one woman through a great part of life.

Another thing is that in the case of the young they deliberately discourage sexual intercourse between the sexes for many years after puberty has been reached. It is an interesting fact, which is attested by doctors and teachers and of which many of your Lordships are no doubt aware, that the age of puberty has during the last half century been getting earlier. A doctor informed me only a few nights ago that to say it was on the average at least six months earlier than it was at the beginning of the century is an understatement. Thus, contrary to what happens in the case of the animal world, the young in all societies are encouraged to postpone the act of sex intercourse. It must also be remembered that the widespread knowledge of contraceptives has largely diminished the sanction for which the orthodox morality has stood for so long.

All these things have to be taken into account in the examination of the right method of dealing with this question of prostitution. I am not satisfied that the Bill which is before us to-day really takes full account of all those facts, because if society is going to interfere it must do so for good reasons, and it has to deal fairly and justly with individuals. It must have a real, practical solution of the problem in mind, so far as that is possible at all, and it also has to see that what it proposes does not lead to wholesale blackmail and corruption.

I want to test this Bill in all those three respects. First of all, does it put forward a practical proposal? The idea which lies behind this Bill is that at all costs we must clean up the streets, and, of course, we all acknowledge that the streets are not in a very savoury condition in this matter of prostitution, and that it does present a nuisance to the public generally and to certain individuals in particular. But I am convinced that it has to be fairly faced whether driving these people off the streets is going to be for the benefit of our society. I hear very serious stories of what goes on in places in the United States. Every hotel porter is turned into a procurer. Every driver of a cab is expected to have a name in his mind of some place of ill-fame where his fare can call. The doorkeepers in restaurants come into the same category, and even in business houses where a man is appointed to be the provider of entertainment, one of the entertainments which he is expected to provide is to be able to direct the traveller who has come to his business to where he can obtain some girl who can carry out his wishes. I am quite aware that the Wolfenden Committee's Report, in spite of all that, still advised that women should be driven off the streets—at least, so I understand it; if that is not its intention I do not see the object of this Bill at all. I think this question has to be very carefully considered before we take this step.

The second point is that if we are going to punish people we need to be very clear what we are punishing them for. The offence has to be known and the punishment has to be for a certain offence. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor said in his opening speech that it is an offence for people to solicit for prostitution on the street. With all due respect to the noble and learned Viscount, I am not quite sure that that is stated in this Bill. What the Bill does state is that it is an offence for a common prostitute to loiter or solicit on the street for the purposes of prostitution. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Rea, who pointed out that, by inference, that means it is not an offence for anyone other than a common prostitute to solicit. Therefore, if I may say so with all respect to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, I venture to think that his statement has to be qualified in order to be correct.

It is certainly not an offence to have sexual intercourse with an unknown person for pay. It is not an offence for any person except a common prostitute to solicit on the street. The offence described in Clause 1 of this Bill must be committed by a common prostitute in order to be an offence at all. In other words, we see the extraordinary position, which is quite contrary to the principles of British law, that an act which is not an offence when committed by one person is an offence when committed by another person because that person has some previous record. That seems to me a very curious new introduction into British law.

As the law stands at the present time, the offence consists in annoyance. I notice that the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Exeter has left. But I do support strongly what he said. I think it is a very dangerous innovation to punish a person for an offence which would not be an offence unless the person present as a prisoner in the court has done something in his or her previous life. I think it is a dangerous thing to single out women and to leave men alone. If an Amendment is put down to substitute for "common prostitute" the word "person", thus changing the substance of the first clause, that certainly will have my support when we come to the Committee stage of the Bill.

Apart from that, I am not happy about these new wide powers given to the police. I agree with every word my noble friend Lord Silkin said about the integrity of the police. It may be that nearly all of them would act impartially and fairly in this matter but it certainly is putting an immense strain upon them. One must remember that many of the police are young men. They go into the street and meet these girls, who are experts in seduction; and the girl says to them, "You are not going to haul me up before the magistrate, Bob, are you? You know I can give you £5 or £10 if you like. I can let you come to my house yourself." It is all very well, but that is a great temptation to a young man. Honourable and reliable as I think our police are, I should hesitate to put such very great temptation in their way as this Bill does. The policeman may in some cases be tempted to be the aggressor in this matter; "You know, Mary, if you go on in this way I shall have to arrest you, but …"—I need not supply the remaining part of the sentence. So that I think this Bill fails to be just; it fails to specify what is the offence which the girl commits, and I think it is a grave temptation to the police.

I have not much more to say, my Lords. I feel that all these matters have not been adequately considered in the drafting of this Bill. I think that Clause 1 certainly ought to be amended in Committee, and that other alterations will need to be made in this Bill, if it is going to be carried at all. Such changes must commend themselves as just, as workable, and designed to effect a greatly needed change in our present position. But it must be a change for the better and not a change for the worse in the illness of society with which this Bill is concerned.

4.21 p.m.


My Lords, this Bill has been presented to your Lordships quite frankly by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, as being a Bill for the specific purpose of cleaning up the streets, and although the terms of reference of the Wolfenden Committee were a great deal wider, even leaving out the homosexual side, nevertheless I think that that Committee felt that their mission was to provide the Government with arguments for, and recommendations of, measures for that specific purpose. I must say right away that I think that the concentration on this single purpose was most unfortunate and is likely to produce most unfortunate results. Like it or not, this question of prostitution in the streets cannot be isolated from the great moral questions which lie behind.

Without elaborating, I should like to state quite frankly my two main objections to the Bill, based on the fact that I think it is wrong to try to deal with the street question in isolation. I find fault with the Bill for two reasons: first, that it makes no attempt to deal with the male partner in the offence; and secondly—I do not think this has been referred to quite so freely by other noble Lords—it does not make sufficient provision to deal with the third party, the exploiter of vice for profit. I welcome Clause 4, which extends the penalties; but I regret that the Government have not been able to accept the recommendation of the Committee which is described in paragraph 331, whereby the landlord who deliberately accepts exorbitant rents from prostitution, cannot be dealt with for that as an offence. I appreciate that there are difficulties; but still, I regret that the attempt has not been made to surmount them.

As other noble Lords have said, what we really have to consider is what will be the effects of this Bill. That it might be successful in its main and specific object is, I think, highly likely. But what else? To be quite fair, I know, and your Lordships will have seen from the Wolfenden Report, that the possible other alternatives were fully gone into—I refer your Lordships to paragraphs 286 to 290, and I quote front the end of paragraph 290: But having taken into account the dangers which might follow from the changes in the law which we have proposed, we think that they would be less injurious to the community in general than the present state of affairs. That is an opinion which, of course, deserves respect, and we have already heard divergent views on it in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, accepts that view; the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, disagrees with it. I must tell your Lordships quite frankly that I find myself a supporter of Lord Pethick-Lawrence, though of course the future alone will show, assuming the Bill becomes law.

I have to put forward a much wider ground of objection to this Bill. To do that, I would refer your Lordships to paragraph 225, which is the only paragraph I have been able to find in the Report which has reference to the basic cause of why prostitution exists. I am not going to weary your Lordships by reading it, but it is a nicely balanced paragraph and seems to indicate that there is an equal responsibility on both men and women for the existence of prostitution. I am not saying that that is what the Committee meant—they do not say it specifically; but I think the casual reader might think that that was their view. I wish to say emphatically that if that is so I, for one, am quite unable to accept it. I believe that the real cause of the continued existence of prostitution is the fact that there is a double standard of morality for the two sexes and, what is perhaps more important, the acceptance of that double standard as being inevitable by a large volume of the population.

There may be some of your Lordships who share a view which I know is held, that the double standard of morality is a law of nature and that it is nothing but what one might call starry-eyed idealism even to talk about it, or to hope for, or to think, that the Government ought to educate the public for a different state of affairs. But what is the most fundamental law of nature? Surely that might is right—the law of the jungle. For centuries now, civilised peoples have been struggling to establish something better—namely, the rule of law.

In this particular zone of social affairs it is only a matter of decades since women were admitted to anything like equal citizenship. First, there was the amendment of laws about properly, and then, in the lifetime of most of us here, women were admitted for the first time to the vote. I expect that there are a number of your Lordships who would agree with me that hardly yet can we consider that women have attained really full and equal citizenship. Tolerance of the double standard is a survival of an age when women were mere chattels, mere possessions. I am afraid that if we are to be realistic in this matter we must admit that the main responsibility for the existence of prostitution rests on the male sex. Surely it is obvious that the presence of prostitutes in the streets is an example of supply meeting demand; and I profoundly disagree with what the right reverend Prelate said on that point. I agree with what the right reverend Prelate said on other points, but on this question of supply and demand I believe that he is profoundly wrong. I was surprised and disappointed to hear what he said, and I venture to doubt whether on that point that is the view of fully informed opinion of the Church of England.

I turn to discuss for a moment what the Bill does, and I wish to say to your Lordships that I believe it does two bad things in the realm of principle. The first is that it will bring into court a person already branded as a person of bad character—which I believe to be something new in the law of England. I believe that it is a denial of equal citizenship, of justice and of equality before the law. I was glad to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, shares that view; but as I have no legal experience I will not pursue that matter further.

The second great principle which I believe is offended by this Bill is the moral law, for I think it is fair to say that this Bill writes the double standard of morality into the Statute Book for the first time. The Committee and noble Lords have referred to the evil effect on young people of this visible evil in the streets. That may be true, but I believe that far more injurious, in the long run, is this acceptance of the evil. Not only is there acceptance and toleration: but there is also the fact that the Bill is putting into the Statute and approving a double moral standard.

Those are great principles, and I believe that both are being sacrificed by Her Majesty's Government merely for a matter of expediency. That is the pity of it, my Lords, because Her Majesty's Government, if they wished, could preserve those principles and still have an effective law. A very simple change in the Bill would bring that about. References have been made already to that point. I will not elaborate, but clearly it would be quite easy in the first line of the Bill to substitute "any person" for "common prostitute"; and, if I may put it in this way, "sauce for the goose would be sauce for the gander". I know the objection. Her Majesty's Government say that no evidence is obtainable. Assuming the need to prove annoyance is dropped, although I do not like that, I believe that it renders objection really invalid. Again, the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor may say there are other laws on which the male can be prosecuted for importuning. I believe that it is true. I think that is called the Sexual Offences Act, but there are two considerations. First, I do not think it has ever (or, if so, only very seldom) been used in the case of men soliciting women. Moreover, the penalties prescribed are so heavy that I feel there would be hesitation in bringing a charge.

I am bound to say that, having listened carefully to what was said by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack about the male partner, I feel that he used a little less than his usual logic. He said that the offence is the public offer; that the woman is concerned in that, and nobody else; and that the woman is creating a nuisance. Truly and honestly, I do not think that is quite the full position. I am afraid I must say, and I hope it is not too offensive, that I feel the noble and learned Viscount is really leaning over backwards to excuse and protect the male partner in this business. It is just as offensive for a man to approach a woman as for a woman to approach a man; and surely both happen in these areas where the trouble arises. The male customer and the woman jointly share in the nuisance and I feel it is very unfortunate that that should be disregarded.

Again, even if Her Majesty's Government were not prepared to accept the words "any person" in the first line why should there not be put into that subsection some such words as so as to create a nuisance. The speech of the noble and learned Viscount was devoted to explaining how bad the nuisance is; indeed, it is the nuisance in the streets which is the absolute moving cause for this Bill coming in. I can understand the difficulty about proving annoyance when an individual man is unwilling to come and give evidence, but surely, with this admitted and terrible nuisance, that could fairly be made a subject of proof in the courts.

My Lords, this is my last point. I believe that this Bill, if it becomes law in its present form, will effect great damage to the reputation of this country in international affairs. It is the sound public opinion in this country which has led the civilised world in the matter of the licensed brothel; and this retrograde step, I believe, will do very great harm. From what I have said your Lordships will realise that I feel this is such a bad Bill that I shall be hound to vote against it on Second Reading; and I should like to congratulate Her Majesty's Government on the fact that, as I read the Government Whip, we are permitted to have a free vote. The Whip which I received said merely that our presence was asked for. We are not specifically asked to support the Government, and while your Lordships do not always follow the Whip I hope that on this occasion even more than usual will think it fair to vote entirely on the merits of the case.

4.37 p.m.


My Lords, I beg your Lordships' leniency to me to-day in that I have a touch of laryngitis. Having listened to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack and other noble Lords on all sides of the House—and I should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Arran, on his maiden speech—I wish that I could have come in on a less painful occasion. There are, however, certain aspects of the Street Offences Bill—in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Rea, says about the title—that make my conscience very uneasy. I will deal briefly with three or four points.

To me the Bill deals with effects, and not causes, and it attacks only one sex, fiercely, and wants it wiped off the streets—which I cannot deny are an absolute disgrace—but chiefly because these women—oh no, not the men!—are a public nuisance. We have already heard several times to-day that prostitution is not an offence in law and that it is nowhere described in Statute; but if I may be permitted to say so, as long as one sex, the male, desires it, it will continue in some form or shape, whatever it may be. But surely it is tampering with the whole principle of British law to make the purpose of a Bill the creation of an offence when that act (the sexual act, which has already been referred to), if achieved, is not an offence; because the Bill retains the words "common prostitute".

To clear the streets, as has already been said repeatedly by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, to my sorrow, we are eliminating the requirement that annoyance must be proved. Surely, that is disastrous. I thought that in this country of ours we had one law for all in protecting or punishing. In this Bill we are bringing about a double standard against one sex; and I feel very strongly that it is retrograde. To retain the words "common prostitute" the woman in question must be charged with something; and on the "verdict" (to my grave anxiety) of one or two policemen her name goes in a book. I wish I could see in the Bill a provision requiring evidence that annoyance had been caused to the person accosted. For annoyance to have been committed one must have a complaint. I have listened for the whole of the afternoon to various noble Lords, including the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack; and, though he has made his defence, to my sorrow there is nothing in this Bill to bring up the man who has been annoyed. If we are to clear up our streets and put the women underground, may I ask, my Lords, why not clear the streets of men who solicit women as well as their own sex?

I am fearful about the clause that says that a constable may arrest without warrant (as has been said repeatedly) anyone who he finds is committing an offence under the clause. I am deeply disturbed about the power proposed for the cautioning of women. My Lords, many of you are wiser than I am, but my view is this. It may be a method to halt some of the younger women who are on this downward road; but might I add that there are good and bad policemen—and what arbitrary powers to put in their hands! Might those powers not be abused; or might not a common prostitute (whose earnings these days are considerable, as we have heard so often in debates) offer a bribe?

Though I agree with the proposed fines, including the maximum fine of £25, and the imposition of imprisonment, those two things seem to me out of all proportion to the offence itself. Short prison sentences are not effective. The women going to prison, as we have already heard, will only be detrimental to others in prison already. Nor am I in the least convinced (as other noble Lords have said) that after three months, when these women come out, they will not return to the same trade, from which all this trouble has been taken to keep them. I should like to protect the innocent woman and to ask whether she could be given a special right to demand to be tried by a jury when she gets into this plight. I entirely endorse Clause 4, under which the penalty for living on immoral earnings has been raised from two to seven years.

Lastly, my Lords, I am not going into the question of kerb crawlers and prostitution on wheels, about which we have heard so much, but I would point out that by clearing the streets we open a much larger field to the pimps and ponces and to absentee landlords to turn more and more rooms into brothels. These are the people, the landlords, whom I should like to get hold of. I come from forty-two years of boys' and girls' club work in Stepney. Stepney has been mentioned already. The report from Stepney which was given to the Wolfenden Committee was one of the most shattering contributions to their long discussions. I wish I knew whether there exists any provision which empowers a court, when a third conviction has been obtained for using premises for prostitution, to make an order forfeiting that property to the Crown. I should like to ask the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor to tell us about this aspect; whether I am entirely wrong, or what exists in the law to cover this; and, if nothing exists, I would urge Her Majesty's Government to look into that idea.

Though the Bill touches on offences in connection with cafés and bars, it makes no mention of registered clubs. I gather that anyone collecting twelve names can register a club and the police have no right of entry without a warrant. These places are far more dangerous than the all night cafés, and a fatal attraction to young people. I should like to see legislation providing for control in issuing that licence and requiring evidence as to the character of the owner applicant and whether the café is needed in the area. I have made my points, my Lords, and I end by saying that, to my sorrow, I am in utter disagreement with the many deficiencies in the Bill.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, the first clause in this Bill puts the law on an entirely different footing from what it was before. It eliminates the provision that in order to constitute an offence there must be annoyance. We know that in the past the evidence of the police has been largely formal. The policeman gives evidence showing how he knew the woman to be a common prostitute; how he saw her approach this man and that man, and how they appeared to be annoyed and turned away; and the evidence was proved for unsuccessful soliciting. This Bill makes successful soliciting an offence without proof of annoyance at all. The woman alone was the person proved to be an offender then; here both can be offenders, and only one is to be prosecuted.

Let me give your Lordships an illustration of a case which came before me and which shows how these things work. Not far from Hyde Park there was a large house owned by the most respectable landowners, who had let it for 99 years. The lessee under the long lease was not so respectable. He had let out one room to a woman at a high rent; and this was proved to be what happened. She would leave this room; walk out in the Hyde Park. After ten minutes or a quarter of an hour she would return in a car with a man. She would take him into this room, and after half an hour or three-quarters of an hour he would come out, followed shortly afterwards by her. For another ten minutes or a quarter of an hour she would walk in Hyde Park, after which she would return with another man; and so on through the day.

That place was not a brothel in our law. It needs more than one woman to make a brothel: there must be at least two. If there had been two or three flats, each self-contained, in that house, it would not have been a brothel, because each would have had just one woman there. The landowners could do nothing. They could not prove that the occupier knew that the house was being used for immoral purposes. The occupier said he was away all day and knew nothing of what was going on. The woman could not be prosecuted: she had not annoyed anyone. Her customers had accepted her solicitation on the first nod. So there was no offence against the law.

If this Bill is passed, it will mean that that woman can be prosecuted for an offence without causing any annoyance at all—the offence of soliciting, when it is successful. But, surely, if that is the case, her partner in this offence, the man, should also be prosecuted at the same time. When you have the offence of bribery, it is not only the person who offers the bribe who is guilty: so also is the person who accepts it. When you have the offence of receiving stolen property, it is not only the thieves who are prosecuted. If there were no receivers, there would be no thieves. If a man is ready to degrade himself by going to bed with a common prostitute, if he accepts knowingly the invitation which she publicly and blatantly offers, why should he not equally be brought before the magistrate? I do not say that there should be imprisonment, or penalties of that kind; or that he should be fined. Do your Lordships not think that, if the man also were summoned beside the woman with whom he had spent his time, that might act as a great deterrent to these offences? My Lords, eliminating the element of annoyance, and making simply successful solicitation, or unsuccessful solicitation, an offence, changes the character of it altogether.

One other word on this first clause: the introduction of the term "common prostitute" as an element in proof. It is a fundamental principle of our law that no evidence is allowed to be adduced to show that a person is of bad character before that person is convicted of an offence. Here, it is an essential ingredient. Before you start proving the loitering or the soliciting, you have to prove her already of bad character, as being a common prostitute. Surely we ought at least to eliminate that, and say boldly and truthfully what the charge is. It should be "if a woman persistently and blatantly loiters and solicits". Not only if a woman does—if a person does. Indeed, I would add at the end, if necessary, If a man knowingly accepts the invitation thus held out to him, he also shall be liable and guilty of an offence." So I would urge that this first clause needs some amendment.

4.54 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to adopt every word the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, said in his very eloquent speech. It seems to me that we are discussing two quite different subjects this afternoon. One is the fact of prostitution, and the other is the question of clearing up the streets. If I may, I will spend just a moment on this question of prostitution. Lecky and other great moralists whom we read when we were young say that in any society where people who are going to make their way in life have to defer the time of their marriage there will always be prostitution in one form or another. I believe that to be true. Therefore, if that condition is maintained in our society to-day, we have always to face the fact that there will be some form of prostitution.

My Lords, I do not want to import sentiment into this debate, so I will not quote the very eloquent passage that Lecky devotes to the subject. But I will quote what the Frenchman, Berar, said. He also examined this question very carefully, and gave a kind of history of prostitution as a preface to his book, Les Fines Publique de Paris. He said of prostitution: "ll existe de temps immémorial et tout ce qu'on a tenté pour le détruire n'a pu vaincre une impérieuse nécessité." In my life I have seen a good deal of all sorts and conditions of men, and I am afraid that, if you succeeded in conquering this necessity, you would do it by introducing other evils which are far worse, and which might even lead to the destruction of our race.

That is all I want to say on that subject. But in 1907, when I was twenty-one years old, I was then, or a year or two after, earning my living in London, and I was shocked and horrified by the condition of the streets. They were then very much as the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack described them to-day. Piccadilly, and all those streets, were absolutely dreadful. They were crammed with prostitutes. But the older men, to whom I talked about it. said: "Yes, but our streets used not to be like that. There always were prostitutes in our streets, but not like there are to-day. It is a dreadful condition, and it has come about because in 1896 there was a great purity drive. All the places where these women used to sit down and wait were closed. They closed the Hyde Park Rooms and the Empire Rooms".

I thought it right, before talking to your Lordships to-day, to check that statement, and I have here a copy of a leaflet which was circulated among all the parishes in London in 1895 calling for a concerted drive. It was under the control of the parishes in those days, and it was the parishes who were asked to take action. The question before them was: Are you going to take action under the Act of George II of 1752, with its advantages and disadvantages, reinforced by the Act of George III of 1818; or are you going to proceed under the 1885 Act; or are you going under both together? Then the leaflet sets out the difficulties of each practice. My Lords, it was that concentrated act which robbed every one of these women of shelter and drove them into the streets. It used to horrify men, the way these wretched women were subjected to every chance or turn of weather; without shelter, or anything, for the greater part, at any rate, of a night. I think that that was far more barbarous than anything it displaced and always aroused horror in me.

I should be willing to support a Bill which really cleared up the streets, but if your Lordships read the Wolfenden Report carefully you will see that this Bill will not do anything of the kind. It will just scratch the surface. The surface is being scratched now; it will just scratch it a little deeper. I believe that anybody who thinks about this problem will agree that we cannot clear these swarms of women from the streets unless they have somewhere to go. Unless we do something such as has been done in Paris, where they provide rooms where these women can go and sit, it is quite impossible to clear the streets. This practice will go on the same as it has always been going on. To pass a Bill which pretends to be going to clear the streets would be a great mistake. For a long time London has had the reputation of the worst city in Europe in this respect, and I believe that to be true. I should be glad if some humane and decent plan were put into practice for doing just what we want to do—clear the streets; but I am perfectly certain that this Bill will not do it.

As many noble Lords have said, the Bill deals with women only and not with men. I think that that is a monstrous mistake—for this reason. If a man is accosted by a prostitute, it is nearly always a good-natured thing, and he is not frightened or offended; but if a woman is accosted by a kerb-crawler, she is terrified. I know, because I have talked to girls who have been accosted in this way. If a man is a kerb-crawler, he is loitering and accosting. Why should not he be "run in" in the same way? I think that this is exactly what "traffic cops" could be most usefully employed in doing.

The noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, whose speech I heard with great interest, referred to the police, and I would add nothing to what they have said, because it was wisely said, except this. If this Bill comes into law, which I hope it will not, then we must have thousands of women police to deal with this matter. I do not believe that women police are open to the use of the same inducements as in the case of men. I agree with what both noble Lords said about the high character of the police, but there are occasionally times when inducements are used; and what astonishes me in what I have heard is the feeling of wild and wicked injustice felt by these women when asked for certain inducements. Clearly, women police are not open to this, and I think that if we were to recruit a large number of women police and get them on to the job, we might have a chance of reforming the girls as well. Finally, I would say that I propose to vote against this Bill. I hope that there will be others who will do the same, and that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will be surprised.

5.4 p.m.


My Lords, in the few remarks I desire to address to your Lordships, I am going to refer to one small area of London, to the Mayfair area. I belong to an association known as the Mayfair Association, which covers the area between Park Lane, Oxford Street, Bond Street and Piccadilly. It is composed of residents, business people, shopkeepers and practically everybody in the area, and meets frequently. We have considered this question of prostitution, and when the Wolfenden Committee was set up we appeared before the Committee to try to make our case. We have been worried to death by this question.

The noble Lord who preceded me, and also the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, are clearly very much against this Bill. But what are we going to do? May I give your Lordships a personal incident. I had taken my car to my garage, which is about 200 yards from my front door, at about 11 o'clock at night. I put my car away and was walking down Curzon Street to where I live. I was confronted by a female who came out of a side street and stood in front of me. As I tried to sidestep she sidestepped too, that way and the other way, at the same time. It sounds amusing, my Lords, but it is not so amusing really. I got bored with it. I took hold of her arms and put her on one side and tried to walk on. Whereupon she attacked me with her "brolly" and tried to knock my hat off. I set off to try to collect a policeman, if I could only find one. I walked along Charles Street, Hill Street and Berkeley Square and round Shepherd Market and could not find a policeman anywhere. I wanted to lay a charge. I wanted to be protected from this. But I could not find anybody to help.

In this same area, about 200 yards, which I have to pass frequently whenever I leave my car in the garage, I have counted as many as fifteen of these women, four of them negresses. I mention this because it gives an idea of the way in which the thing has "stoked up". Since the coloured population started to come over here in large numbers from the West Indies and elsewhere, there are these coloured ladies in the business as well. Since hire purchase of cars came along, the thing has got even worse. The business has become mechanised. In a street like Curzon Street it is not uncommon to see six cars waiting by the kerb, and as you pass you are accosted by women in the cars. All sorts of other things happen. I have had people coming to my house who have been accosted on the doorstep as they got out of a taxi to come into the house.

It is all very well for a noble Lord to say that he is against this Bill, but this Bill is a concrete effort to try to do something. Even if it is not perfect, surely it is capable of improvement. I agree, for example, with much that has been said about the Bill's not dealing with men as well as with women. I should like to see the males brought into it. I do not think that any treatment would be too severe for the pimps who more or less patrol the north side of Curzon Street. I hope your Lordships will forgive my frequent reference to Curzon Street, but I have personal knowledge of this because I live in the street and it happens every day. Surely something can be done. Surely it is not too much to ask that this Bill should be given a Second Reading. If we do not do that, what are we going to do? The state of the London streets at the present time is worse than that of the streets of any capital I know, and I have visited them all right round Europe. It is worse than in Berlin in the ways before Hitler, and worse than anything I have seen in Paris, Brussels or Rome. I have had to go many times to various capitals, and I know that that is true.

Again, my wonder has always been that the police could be persuaded to take any action at all. A policeman employed on night duty who sees a woman annoy a man can, of course, look the other way, and perhaps sometimes does. On the other hand, if he takes action, in the area about which I am speaking it takes him about a quarter of an hour to get to the West Central Police Station, another ten minutes to a quarter of an hour to charge her, and another quarter of an hour to get back to his beat. Much can and does happen in that time. Perhaps the next day he is due for a lie in. but he must attend the court as a witness. And so the great game goes on.

I cannot help feeling that this Bill is at any rate an effort to solve the problem, and I beg of your Lordships not to turn it down, but to do something really effective. There were over 6,000 prosecutions in that area last year. I hope that those who denounce the Bill and say that they will vote against it will take into account the other angle and think of the people who suffer from these things.


My Lords, I ask leave of the House to put a question to the noble Earl. In the circumstances which he described so vividly, would he have been willing to give evidence of having been annoyed?


Certainly; that is why I went to find a policeman. If I could have found a policeman, I should have been in court the next morning.

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, the problem of prostitution in London to-day is, of course, much worse than it ever has been, but if we take the numbers of prostitutes in urban areas in comparison to the great growth of population in the last 100 years, is it really so much worse from that aspect? In paragraph 232 the Wolfenden Report quotes a senior Metropolitan police officer as saying that in 1881 there were approximately 500 prostitutes between Piccadilly Circus and the bottom of Waterloo Place; and I understand that to-day there are about 800 in the same area. If we take into account the rise in population, prostitution does not appear to have increased as regards the numbers. I agree that that is not an excuse for not tackling the problem, and I admire the determination of the Government in trying to get the prostitutes off the streets. But are they wise to do it by this Bill? I doubt very much whether it can be done without great injustice, although the end may justify the means.

A number of your Lordships have objected to the words "common prostitute", and I object to them, too. Surely Clause 1 (1) of the Bill goes against the impartial justice of British law. If a woman comes into court and is called a common prostitute, that must prejudge her case. If you have a burglar come into court it is not said of him: "This is Jones, a known burglar." That provision does seem unfair from the point of view of British law. I have heard people say that it is obvious that no convicted prostitute objects to being called a common prostitute, because she always pleads guilty. But, of course, it means only a fine of £2. I often plead guilty to a parking charge, though I am not always guilty, just because it involves only a few shillings fine. I think it will be found that with these heavier penalties quite a few prostitutes will defend the charge, and it is surely unfair to prejudge them. I should prefer to see the word "person" in the Bill, because I believe this would be much fairer. I think the Attorney General said that the point of having the words "common prostitute" was to protect respectable women. But surely any policeman who is going to caution a woman will watch her for several hours, or perhaps for two or three days, and no respectable woman is going to loiter in a public place for a couple of hours—no respectable woman that I know, anyway.

This Bill is also rather one-sided. For instance, how about men? We are, I suppose, partly responsible—by which I mean that we provide the demand. Of course, we have Section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act, 1956; but if your Lordships look at the convictions under that Act, although you will find a number of convictions of men for importuning men (I think they average about 300 every year) there have not been any convictions under that Act, I understand, of men importuning women. It does seem rather as if we have the best of it. Many of your Lordships have, I am sure, attractive wives. It has happend to my wife that she has been accosted two or three times by kerb-crawling cars, and it is most unpleasant.

I quite agree that if we are to clear prostitutes off the streets we have to abolish the requirement of annoyance. I personally have been accosted hundreds of times by prostitutes, but, quite frankly, I cannot say that I have ever been annoyed; it is not natural to be annoyed. They do not chase one up the street; they just say, "Hello, darling", or something like that. But I can understand that if there are a great number of prostitutes in an area it is a public nuisance and should be eradicated. The only question is how that should be done, and whether this Bill is the answer. We have a greatly increased number of tourists coming to this country; and if, say, some family from the Middle-Western States is walking along Piccadilly after dark, their sense of decency must be hurt. I quite understand that they are amazed by the streets of London.

Then I am extremely apprehensive of this cautioning business. I quite agree that we have an absolutely incorruptible police force. But these girls earn £100 to £150 a week, and it is a great temptation for a young police officer. The girl can easily say, "Do not caution me this time—here is £10 or £20." There is that great danger, and I think we should use women police.

I have nothing to say on Clause 3, but I think Clause 4 is excellent. It is high time that the penalties for living on the earnings of prostitutes were increased. I understand that we have a great many colonial and Dominion immigrants who live on the earnings of these women. I gather that about 130 aliens and immigrants from the Colonies were convicted in the past year, and of those 83 came from the Republic of Ireland or the Colonies and Dominions. Why are they allowed to remain in this country? They have abused the hospitality of this country, and they are a disgrace to their compatriots here who behave themselves. We ought to deport them. I cannot understand how we are so amenable to these people.

There is no doubt at all that if this Bill becomes law prostitution as a whole will be increased. Out of curiosity I have talked to two or three prostitutes on the street, and some of them have told me that they welcome the Bill because the aim of the majority is to get off the streets into a comfortable flat and have their clients brought to them. We shall find a tremendous increase in these men called "ponces," or touts; and taxi-drivers, hotel porters and others are going to be in it. I do not know, but perhaps under Section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act it would be possible to prosecute touts; because indirectly they are, I suppose, living on the earnings of women by introducing men to them. From the point of view of men, I think the better class prefer the call-girl system, because it is far more discreet. Therefore, I believe we shall find a great increase in prostitution when this Bill becomes law. Of course, it is all going to be underground and it will not be seen, but that is a rather hypocritical attitude.

I personally feel (although I do not think such an idea would ever get through Parliament), that the only sensible thing is to do here as they do abroad in certain, cities, and have licensed houses, where prostitution is brought under control. I quite understand that we have the Non-conformist vote of puritanical outlook, but it is hypocritical. We must acknowledge that we have always had prostitution, and we always shall have it. I think it is far better to have it in the open where it can be seen and under control. I can describe myself only as a half-hearted supporter of this Bill, and I hope that the prison sentences will be very gently meted out and will be used only in extreme circumstances.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, my opening remarks will be to express my apologies to the noble and learned Viscount for not being in my place when he made his opening remarks; I was upstairs sitting on a Committee. I hope, too, that he will forgive me if I refer several times to certain extracts of the Wolfenden Report, as he initiated the Committee which produced it.

When it comes to discussing the purposes of this Bill, which is to tidy up our streets, to increase the penalties for permitting prostitutes to loiter in certain public places and to increase the punishment for those guilty of living on the earnings of prostitutes, I think it is most important that the law should be equitable and fair. It is with that idea in mind that I propose to make my remarks this evening. I would certainly agree with the definition of a "prostitute" as laid down in paragraph 223 of the Wolfenden Report. That paragraph says: Our impression is that the great majority of prostitutes are women whose psychological make-up is such that they choose this life because they find in it a style of living which is to them easier, freer and more profitable than would be provided by any other occupation. I think that that sums up the question so far as they are concerned.

With regard to those living off the earnings of prostitutes. I think paragraph 302 of the Wolfenden Report clarifies their position very well indeed. That paragraph reads as follows: This man may be literally the "bully", which is another of his titles; he may have forced her into the mode of life and be compelling her continuance in it. But he may also be, whether her legal husband or not, the equivalent of a husband to the promiscuous woman; he is frequently the only person in the world towards whom she feels affection and sense of possession; he is usually her champion in disputes and her protector in a skirmish. He is deeply despised by the police and by the public outside his trade; but he may be nevertheless the one humanising element in the life of the woman on whom he lives'. I think that that is very true.

A few years ago I was living in Marseilles and I remember a case of a woman who owned a bar there; I think her name was Finouche or something like that. She was sent by her ponce for five years to Saigon in Indo-China, into a licensed house. I was told that she considered it quite natural that she should be sent there and should work in that house and that the ponce concerned should get a fair proportion of the proceeds. In fact, when she returned it was with the proportion of those proceeds that he set her up in business, and at a later date, I was informed, due to the fact that he had indulged in certain financial transactions which were not entirely honest, he was sent to prison and she very regularly sent him parcels and looked after him in the best way she could. I feel that for a number of these women these ponces play a large part. I should not like noble Lords to think that I am in any way in favour of a ponce.

With regard to the first paragraph of the Wolfenden Report to which I referred—the one concerning the prostitute—I certainly think that that state of affairs does exist. It is due to her laziness, her desire for easy money and her distorted sense of values. While on this question of the female prostitute—because I want to come later on to the question of the male prostitute—I must say that I do not place much faith in any efforts that may be made with a view to redemption. On this question of male prostitution I feel very strongly indeed. I believe that several noble Lords have raised the matter while I was not in your Lordships' House, and I certainly hope I shall not be too repetitive, but perhaps your Lordships will forgive me, in view of the fact that I feel so strongly.

Section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act, 1956, only makes it an offence for a man persistently to solicit or importune in a public place for immoral purposes. The question of a male prostitute being cautioned or charged with loitering cannot be brought up at the moment, I feel. I believe that it has been stated authoritatively that the police know extremely well by sight or by record the prostitutes, at any rate within the London area, and I should have thought—it seems to me extremely logical to believe—that the police would also be well aware of the male prostitutes who loiter constantly, for instance around the Piccadilly area.

Paragraph 248 of the Wolfenden Report refers to certain by-laws in Scotland, and that is why I have hopes that possibly certain modifications may be made to the Bill at a later stage to bring the male prostitute within the ambit of the Bill. Paragraph 248 of the Report reads: …there are occasionally by-laws related directly to solicitation, of which the following are examples: 'No person shall loiter for the purpose of prostitution.' I should have thought that if there is a case for a by-law like that, there may be a case for including male prostitutes in the Bill. I must confess that I do not agree with the words of the Home Secretary in another place on January 29 last, when he said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 598 (No. 46), col. 1284]: The women are easily identifiable; the men are not. I should have thought that if any of your Lordships go round Piccadilly you will have no difficulty in identifying the male prostitutes.

With regard to loitering, and concerning what I call the female prostitute, I certainly agree that something must be done by Her Majesty's Government to clear up our streets, and that is why I should not desire in any way to oppose this Bill on Second Reading. In another place on April 22 last the Attorney-General said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 604 (No. 98), col. 4O2]: If a woman is seen loitering or soliciting for the purposes of prostitution by one police officer and she is not known as a common prostitute who has had convictions, he will obtain the assistance of another police officer. They will then both watch the woman and only if they are satisfied that she is loitering or soliciting for the purposes of prostitution will they caution her. That is a very good point indeed. That is why I should like to ask the noble Lord who will be replying to this debate whether that procedure will always in all cases be adopted. Can an assurance be given by the noble Lord that action by a constable will be taken only after a period of surveillance? Surely the areas are well known and they could be regularly patrolled, and thus the police would have no difficulty in knowing which were the regular offenders and which were not.

In my opinion too few police constables are at present in those areas which are affected by this Bill. I think also that this procedure would ensure that women who are not common prostitutes would not be wrongfully cautioned. Also, in the case of any new recruit, if I may put it that way, into the ranks of prostitution, the police would be certain that she was in fact a new recruit, and not just somebody who happened to be in that area and who may have been waiting for a friend. In fact, the police constable would have to be sure that there was constant and repeated loitering.

Before saying any more on this question of cautioning, I should like to refer to a similar French law of 1946, No. 46–685. I am told that copies of this law sold like hot cakes; I do not know whether that would be the case in regard to this Bill. I was not able to get a copy of the original law but had to have a photographic copy made. This law mentions the question of clubs, and I fear that the effect of this Bill will be that, instead of plying their trade on the pavements, these prostitutes will do it from a great number of cars and as call-girls, and also, and I would say mainly, from clubs. I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply whether or not this Bill covers clubs, because it seems to me that clubs will be absolutely overrun by these girls.

Finally, on the question of cautioning, the Attorney General stated in another place that normally the practice would be for police constables to be in uniform. But could the noble Lord give an assurance that in no case will any cautioning take place by police officers in civilian clothes? I would not in any way compare the British with the French police. I have seen a number of cases in which, to my mind and to my way of thinking, the French police in civilian clothes were thoroughly unjust in the manner in Which they dealt with some of these women in Marseilles and Paris. It was most disgraceful. I do not think that anything like that would happen in this country, because one cannot compare the two police forces. But there may be one or two cases where some police officer in civilian clothes may act in a way which would not enhance the good name of the force in general.

5.42 p.m.


My Lords, I should like—I hope that it may be something of a welcome change—to congratulate Her Majesty's Government wholeheartedly on this Bill. They have taken what I might describe as a healthy and substantial bite out of the Wolfenden cake, and as one of the people who helped to deal with that matter I cannot but be pleased. I may say that I hope that from time to time they will take further bites from it. I believe that the Government are absolutely right to concentrate so far as possible on one single issue—namely, the attempt to put an end to the increasing and blatantly public nuisance caused by prostitution on the streets. I think that there is no doubt that it is increasing. The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, cast some doubts on the suggestion that prostitution had increased over the last sixty or seventy years. I think that the figures in the Appendix to the Wolfenden Report will show that the real increase has been in the last ten years; that before then it was fairly steady—in fact, it had dropped a certain amount. I think that it is this increase that has so obviously taken place that we now have to tackle.

It has been said—and I entirely agree—that no other capital city in the civilised world has anything to compare with the streets of London and certain other public places. In addition, I believe that the fact that the soliciting has become so open and obvious must surely have a most harmful effect upon young children and adolescents. It becomes almost taken for granted, like selling daffodils on the corner. Surely it is rather odd that we should try to protect adolescents from reading harmful literature and seeing harmful plays and films, but that we should allow them to walk down these streets—although possibly we cannot help it; they must feel that they have walked straight into a film with an "X" certificate. I stress this point because I believe that in tackling this problem—here I should like to quote briefly from the Report: The right of the normal decent citizen to go about the streets without affront to his or her sense of decency should be the prime consideration, and should take precedence over the interests of the prostitute and her customers. I quite see that some opponents of this Bill do not accept that proposition to the full, but I myself believe that it is completely true.

As noble Lords have said, it is obviously quite impossible to abolish prostitution by law or by any other means. But what we can do is to attempt to control its aggressive publicity and, indeed, to cut down the amount. My own belief is that this Bill will do both. In a sense it is not unlike a "control of advertisements" order. What we are trying to do is to stop the prostitutes advertising themselves in one particular way. If you can control advertising by reducing it, it is a law of nature that you reduce the demand, particularly by casual customers—and in this case I refer to the vast number of young men who seem to have plenty of money and have little to do, who wander around the streets of London and in the parks in the evenings and at night.

We have heard a good deal about the suggestion that this Bill will drive prostitution underground. I quite recognise that there is this danger, but I think we can take it too seriously. Prostitution, in my view, is really underground already, and the manifestations we see of it are purely the surface manifestations of the prostitutes trying to find their customers. What the Bill will do is to make it necessary for them to find their customers in other ways. I am afraid that we can expect some increase in systems like the call-girl system, and all the other things that we have heard about this afternoon concerning taxi drivers and hotel porters. We can expect that, and we must face it. I would urge most strongly upon the Government that when the Bill becomes law they watch this side of the problem carefully.

It is getting late and I do not want to detain your Lordships more than just a few moments with brief comments on one or two aspects of the Bill. I think that everybody will agree that the increased fines are primarily a reflection of the increased cost of living since the year 1839. But the ultimate sanction, of course, is the sanction of imprisonment. We must remember that this penalty cannot be used very frequently—that is important. But there is a type of hardened prostitute to whom no other penalty will mean anything at all. At the same time, I think it is bound to have a deterrent effect on the very young girl who is thinking of going into and taking up what, until now, has been a pretty easy and lucrative form of life. I do not consider it very likely that once a prostitute has been sent to prison for going on the streets she will return to the streets again when she can perfectly well go indoors.

Like probably every other noble Lord, I am not happy about the retention of the phrase "common prostitute", and I can say, quite categorically, that that term caused the Wolfenden Committee a great deal of concern. We spent a long time trying to find something that would have the same effect and yet would not sound so injurious, or suggest, as it were, any prejudging of the issue. I am bound to say that it appeared to us that, legally speaking (though I am not a lawyer), this was the only adequate way of protecting the innocent woman. At the same time, I am quite sure that if Her Majesty's Government could find something better, it would be greatly welcomed. These words are not an ideal term, though I have heard it said that prostitutes do not themselves seem to resent it, though I am open to correction on that.

Another and, in my view, perhaps the most important part of this legislation is the instruction to the Metropolitan Police and chief constables elsewhere concerning the cautioning system. That system has worked well in Scotland and I see no reason why it should not do so here. In that, I believe, lies the best way and the best hope of discouraging girls and young women from going into a life of prostitution. If they are cautioned with kindness and firmness, and if they are told what will happen to them if they persist in that life, I am sure that that will dissuade many from entering it.

In common with several other noble Lords, I should very much like to see more women police employed in this work. Members of the Wolfenden Committee were greatly impressed by the sympathy and understanding that women police have in this problem, and I understand that the prostitutes themselves have respect for the women police and would be more inclined, perhaps, to co-operate with them. In any event, I feel it is most invidious to ask a male police officer to perform this work. I was glad to hear that the practice of referring particulars of a newly cautioned girl to a moral welfare worker is to be recommended.

My Lords, this Bill is not, of course, the perfect answer. I believe that it will work, but to my mind its virtue is that it does not attempt to do too much. A lot will depend on the co-operation of police and magistrates, on whom I am sure we can all rely. I was rather impressed, if I may say so with respect, by the right reverend Prelate's comments on Clause 1, which may be rather widely drawn. Perhaps Her Majesty's Government would have another look at that. But in all this, I think, we must see the question in terms of the general public as well as in terms of the prostitute. If our streets are once again to become places where anybody can go without being scandalised, and if, at the same time, we can cut down the amount of prostitution, then I feel that this Bill, as a first step, has a great deal to commend it.

5.55 p.m.


My Lords, I must first apologise to your Lordships for the fact that, for business reasons, I was not able to be present at the inception of this debate, and also that, owing to a previous engagement, I may not be able to be present when the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, winds up. I shall be very brief. The first point I should like to make concerns an article which appeared this week in one of the Sunday newspapers which gave a long description of prostitution in Hong Kong. As your Lordships will know, Hong Kong is a British Colony and a number of people, young and old, come to this country from Hong Kong.

In a description of the "carryings-on" on that Island, reference was made to the large number of teen-age schoolgirls who are thrown on to the streets in this very appalling situation. Who knows how many of these young people may come over here? The question is: How can this problem best be dealt with if it should arise? The number of prostitutes in this country is by no means limited to the "old hands". There are a large number of young girls, probably hired out by boss gangs, who practise this trade, and it is more than likely that many of them do not really know what it all means.

As I see it, the real problem behind this prostitution menace is the old, perhaps rather vulgar description—supply and demand. Provided that there is the particularly licentious kind of man who wants that type of pleasure, we shall have these girls and women on the streets; arid whilst I congratulate Her Majesty's Government on a rather courageous Bill, I think it is also a rather discriminatory one. Not enough provision is made, in my view, for punishing the man. The whole thing seems to go against the woman. Subsection (3) of Clause 1 of the Bill says: A constable may arrest without warrant anyone he finds in a street or public place and suspects, with reasonable cause, to be committing an offence under this section. The noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, mentioned the very important point that only uniformed police are able to caution. I believe that that fact needs stressing, absolutely to the hilt, especially as there are a large number of young policemen these days. They do a fine job, but they may well be faced with a very difficult problem in defining whom they deem to be a prostitute. I feel, too, that, so far as possible, only policemen and policewomen with a reasonable amount of experience should be detailed to deal with this particular problem. Finally, I would say that Her Majesty's Government deserve credit for at least doing something to combat this menace, which is an absolute blot on the capital city of the world.

6.0 p.m.


My Lords, although I am the last speaker on this side of the House, and I have listened to every speech in this debate, I hope that I may be forgiven for not commenting on what I have listened to, because I hope to be as brief as possible in order to leave the Minister some time to reply. I think it would be fair to say there has been a very great criticism of the Bill from almost every speaker, except the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian; and about the only point on which we are in agreement is that prostitution is a filthy trade carried on openly and brazenly in the streets of London. So far as I am concerned, any measure which would remove it without creating even greater evils would have my support. But in my view this is a thoroughly bad Bill and I shall do the utmost I can to oppose it at every stage. My opposition springs from the certainty (this point has not, so far as I am aware, been mentioned before) that the Bill will not succeed in removing prostitutes from the streets. If I am wrong in that, my opposition springs from the fear that it will substitute an even greater and far more vicious evil.

Let me explain why I am certain that this Bill will not succeed. I would point to the extraordinary fact, which has not yet been pointed out, that the Home Secretary, in framing this Bill, has followed exactly the parallel case of the legislative changes adopted some fifty years ago to stop cash betting in the streets—steps which have absolutely and completely failed. Just as prostitutes are now charged with causing annoyance by soliciting, so were bookmakers formerly charged with causing obstruction by betting. If the defendant or the magistrate asked what happened to the people who were supposed to be causing the obstruction, the police officer always said. "They ran away." But usually the bookmaker pleaded guilty, paid his fine and went happily back to resume his business. It is the same with the supposed annoyance. No one is ever produced—I agree it may be difficult—to say that he has been subjected to annoyance. The prostitute is not even arrested. The police officer tells her to be at the police station at a certain time, where in due course she is charged. She pleads guilty and is fined; and she, too, happily goes back to her business.

This Bill proposes to change that by exactly the same means as were adopted to remove the street bookmakers fifty years ago. It was then decreed they would be arrested, not for obstruction, but for loitering for the purposes of betting, just as this Bill proposes that a prostitute should be arrested for loitering or soliciting for the purposes of prostitution. It is an exact parallel. Fifty years ago the fines were stepped up in exactly the same way: £10 for the first conviction, £20 for the second conviction and £30 for the third conviction, plus imprisonment for subsequent offences. For the first time a man could be imprisoned for betting in the street. Our Edwardian predecessors thought this would be effective; and so, indeed, did some of the bookmakers. Some even retired for a week or two, just as, I am informed, prostitutes did for one night when this matter was first debated in another place some months ago. But the bookmakers found that there was a continuing demand for their services from members of the public, who could not see the moral force of a law which said they were criminals if they put 2s. 6d. on a horse with someone in the street but thoroughly good citizens if they did the same thing over the telephone—which is precisely the change we are proposing to make in this Bill.

Although the police are a splendid body of picked men, uniformed and disciplined, they are, in matters of this kind, just men. So the Act failed, and street bookmakers are as much in evidence as they ever were. The change in the law has merely added to their expenses. Wherever there are factories or concentrations of workers, not even excepting the Palace of Westminster, there is not far away the bookie—and one will not have to look very hard for him. He stays in the same place all day; everyone knows him, and none better than the police. But long ago they decided, apparently, that they could not stop it, even if they wished, and so they came to terms with it. There are hundreds of convictions and fines for street betting every year, but never a prison sentence in half a century. That is partly because everyone knows that the law is wrong and also because of the pleasant custom known as "putting up a dummy"—that is, someone who, for a consideration, allows himself to be arrested instead of the bookmaker. It is cheaper if he has no previous convictions; and if there should be any complaints the police can say they have been active in the matter.

Noble Lords will have read of a case reported in the Press only yesterday, where, after investigation, two police officers were asked to resign because they had arranged for a substitute to be arrested for someone else over a gaming offence, and ten police officers are to go before a disciplinary board. It has been happening for many years. I do not want to dwell unduly on this thing, or on the tribute which is willingly and regularly paid for this kind of co-operation. If there are among us any who would condemn it, I would say that we must first condemn ourselves for allowing this ridiculous and unfair law to remain on the Statute Book so long and for placing these impossible conditions on the police.

So far, I have spoken in this matter from absolute knowledge, although I prefer not to go into details, because, despite their human failings, to which we are all subject, I have the greatest admiration for the good sense and integrity of our police, who are unmatched throughout the world. From that knowledge I now move to deduction, as it were, from the evidence of my own eyes. I have not had as much experience as some noble Lords in the matter of prostitutes. I have only on one occasion in my life been solicited, and although it was 25 years ago the sense of outrage is still so keen that it is probably responsible for my taking part in this debate.

But one thing the incident did—it was in broad daylight, and I was accosted about four times in fifty yards—was to make these people as obvious to me now, and I believe as obvious to everyone else (several noble Lords have mentioned it), as bristles on a hog's back. And they must be equally obvious to the police. Indeed, if I were the Police Commissioner, and wanted to clear prostitutes off the streets, I should just get a few plain vans and go and bundle them in, three times a day, for a month. I think that would be far more effective and infinitely better than what is proposed in this Bill, because these people are known. The fact that this most obvious step has not been taken leads me to deduce that in this matter the police have decided that it is again a question of "live and let live", because they are unable to handle it. If anyone doubts that, I would point to the fact that the figure of 1,800 prostitutes in the Metropolitan Police Area has been given as an estimate, and it is true that there have been some 16,000 convictions. It works out at about nine prosecutions per prostitute a year. These women could be arrested a dozen times a week.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord this question—I apologise for interrupting him: when you have them in your plain van, what are you going to do with them then?


My Lords, I should charge them before a magistrate. They would be fined, and when they were back on the street I would pick them up again, and see who got tired first.

This Bill proposes to thrust on the police a far more impossible task, and, I would submit, greater temptations than ever before. It is grossly unfair. It is all very well for us to revise a law and to discuss it in this way, in theory and on paper; but it is the men in blue who have to carry it out, and we ought to have consideration for them. The fines will be stepped up and there is to be the threat of imprisonment, and we are asked to believe that it will be effective. It may be for a week or two.

But let us look at this matter in a realistic way. These women are all known to the police; they are all determined followers of their profession. If this Bill becomes law, and if we had night courts, as in the United Stales, it would be theoretically possible to go through the whole range from caution to third prosecution in twenty-four hours. Does anyone believe that that is going to happen? These women are not even obliged to give their own names when cautioned, or even the same name when cautioned the second time; and if a girl is convicted once or twice, she or her protector will undoubtedly find a "dummy" to act as substitute, probably under a false name. In my view, there will be none sent to prison. Also in my view, if we allow this Bill to become law we shall be exposed as fools, if not hypocrites, because these provisions will be no more effective in removing prostitutes from the streets than such provisions were in removing street bookmakers.

If I am wrong, as several noble Lords have already pointed out, and as the supporters of the Bill admit, there are men, taxi-drivers and others, who will be used as touts for call-girls and brothels. The girls will be removed from the streets and the trade will continue, with the aid of an army of ancillaries, under the vicious care of protectors, with considerable powers of corruption. It will satisfy only those who acquiesce in evil so long as it is kept out of sight. It is the street-betting humbug all over again. You ring up the bookmaker if you want a bet: you ring up the call-girl if you want to buy her body.

My Lords, at what cost will this great improvement be achieved? At the cost of a fundamental change in British law, and the risk that decent, innocent women may be cautioned for soliciting and may have to go to court to clear their names. It just does not bear thinking of. If men are such that this trade must flourish, then it should be provided for in the way suggested by the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard—though, I would suggest, under such aseptic conditions as would sufficiently discourage all but the most hardened cases. Since, however, we may not yet be ready for this, I suggest that the Government should drop this Bill and that the Home Secretary should urge the Police Commissioner to hire a few plain vans. Used with determination, they would be completely effective.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will permit me to say so, with respect, he keeps on mentioning this question of plain vans. I should like to ask the noble Lord: has he been to Paris and seen these plain vans, used by the police in France, and how they are constantly picking up the French prostitutes? Not that I favour the idea of prostitution; but these women are not criminals, and they certainly are subjected to extreme discomfort. I do not agree with the noble Lord on the question of the vans.


I have been to Paris, but I would remind the noble Lord of what he himself said: that our police are not the same as the French police; and I think the matter would and could be dealt with very differently here. These women are known: it would be like picking up old friends. I hope at least that this idea will be tried and reported on between now and Third Reading, if the Bill gets that far. But, meanwhile, I would urge your Lordships, despite the fact that Second Reading is not usually opposed, to reject this Bill which, whilst, in my view, achieving no useful purpose, will increase the possibility of corruption and may place in grave danger any innocent, decent woman who finds herself alone on the streets at night.

6.13 p.m.


My Lords, I am much attracted by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and his two vans. Needless to say, to save himself from a charge of abduction he no doubt would try to put something in the Statute Book to enable him to use his vans, and then he would have the pleasure of getting up and opposing his own Bill in exactly the same terms as those in which he is opposing ours. My Lords, this has been an interesting debate, and, most commendably, all your Lordships who have taken part have made it a short one; and I shall now try to do my bit towards that end, also.

In common with the debates in another place, and in common with correspondence and comments on this subject that have appeared in the Press from time to time, we have seen a wide divergence of opinion about what is the most effective and fairest way of dealing with the problem which the Bill seeks to tackle. It is obvious that a scandalous state of affairs exists and that it is very necessary to take some sort of action to deal with it. We are all agreed on that. Before I go on to some of the points that have arisen in the debate—and, in the interests of brevity, I may not perhaps be able to tackle them all—I think I must mention another aspect of the discussion which is worthy of remark; and again I am referring to views and comments which have been put forward both inside and outside your Lordships' House.

It seems to me that many people have been unable to resist the temptation to go to varying extents—some far—beyond the scope of the Bill, and have based their views very much more on the moral plane than on anything else. That may be quite natural in the circumstances, but in doing that there is some tendency to lose sight of the particular provisions of the Bill; and I hope that no noble Lord will think me discourteous in any way if I do not follow him into the realms of morality on the subject. We could so easily develop the discussion into a further debate on the Wolfenden Report. In my view, the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, in making the point he made about introducing the principle of double morality into the law, came into the particular realm that I have just mentioned. I would say, too, that to a certain extent it applied to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Denning. Because this is purely and simply a Bill to stop a nuisance from being created by the people who create it. To my mind, it is as simple as that. If one is trying to stop prostitution, then no doubt the question of moral responsibility, and so on, will come into it; but this is a specific Bill to stop specific people from doing a specific thing. I think it is perfectly right and proper that I should have re-stated that once more.

In speaking to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, may I rather pleasantly say that I think he assumed a little much in saying that the Government had given the House a free vote. I do not know whether it is always customary to disclose the contents of the Whip that Party members receive in the course of a debate, but I think he used that particular fact to give a slightly mischievous twist to the case he was trying to make at the time.

My Lords, it is not the object of the Bill to tackle the moral question of prostitution, to make it illegal, or to provide a cure for it; and I think your Lordships would agree that history has shown that it is extremely hard to legislate for people's morals. Its object is to deal with the self-evident nuisance created by the manner in which prostitutes ply their trade in the streets, and to do it in such a way that the law will be capable of effective enforcement to abolish the nuisance. At the same time, the opportunity has been taken to make it more difficult for prostitutes to congregate in certain all-night cafes and places of that kind, where they create a nuisance; and, for reasons which I shall come to in a minute, the opportunity has been taken also to provide increased penalties for those who exploit or control prostitutes. But those features are secondary to the main purpose of the Bill. It is not, as the Press have often called it, a "Vice Bill". It does not attempt to deal with morals: they are outside the scope of the criminal law. Its purpose is, as have said, to clear away a nuisance from our streets.

There is one aspect of the matter, though, which may he said to differ from the point I have just made with some emphasis, and that is, as my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack explained in his speech at the beginning of the debate, that the Government have thought very deeply about the need to do everything possible to prevent young girls from becoming prostitutes. Much has been said this afternoon and at other times about the proposed cautioning system, and it is perfectly clear that there are a number of misgivings about both its purpose and the way in which it will operate. My right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General, when he was speaking in another place of this system, expressed the Government's view on cautioning in this way: We regard cautioning as a kind of fender pushed in front of the engine of the law to prevent certain people being caught up in its machinery. It is a protective measure, and we want this cautioning system to be part and parcel of a rescue operation. I do not think that with those words there can be any doubt about the purpose of the cautioning system. It is to give women, and particularly young girls, a chance to become diverted from prostitution before they have become hardened to it and to provide an oprortunity for measures to redeem them to be applied.

There is nothing new about cautioning prostitutes before they have been charged with loitering or soliciting. It has been the practice in London for seventy years, although up to now it has been only one caution. We think that the system will be made more effective and more likely to divert young girls from the dangers they are drifting into, by giving two cautions instead of one and by linking the cautions with a definite attempt to bring redemptive influence to bear. The point that has been made by more than one noble Lord about women police is well worthy of study, and I am sure it will be of interest to my right honourable friend.


My Lords, may I ask a question on cautioning? Is it the intention to caution a prostitute on the streets or will she be taken to a police station and cautioned there?


My Lords, it will be on the street. Perhaps, when I get a little further into my speech it will be more clear.

The noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, asked for an assurance that two policemen would be used. That will be done wherever it is practicable, certainly in London. The likelihood of men in plain clothes being used for this work is so remote as to be entirely negligible. The question has been asked: why is there no provision in the Bill for the administration of cautions? If I can go back to my right honourable and learned friend's analogy, that would remove the fender from the front of the engine. If cautions became a statutory requirement, a woman would become involved with the law at once and one of the main objects of the whole proceedings would be defeated—and, incidentally, it would give rise to some extremely complex legal problems.

Much of the criticism of the Bill derives from a feeling that it is unfair to the prostitutes. It has been said that under the Bill a woman becomes liable to punishment for doing something which she is able to do only because she is a woman. That is to some extent true; but she is not being penalised simply because she is a woman but because she is a woman who has freely and voluntarily chosen to follow a particular way of life. In these days it is hard to accept that a prostitute is an unfortunate woman, driven to prostitution as the only means of earning a living, as some people would have us believe. Mostly she has taken to it deliberately because of the monetary reward she gets for it and because it suits her. If she follows that way of life and, in living it, does things distasteful or a nuisance to her fellow citizens, I submit that there is no reason why she should not be penalised.

We have heard also that since prostitution itself is not a crime against the law—and it would be difficult for it to be—then it is wrong for a woman to be punished for doing something that is necessary to carry on her trade. But that particular activity of her trade—loitering or soliciting in the streets—is what constitutes the public nuisance, and, because of that, and because of the bad example it sets and the temptations it offers to young people, I think it is right that the law should take steps to prevent it. It is sometimes asked: If it is not an offence to buy something, why should it be an offence to offer it for sale? Here, again, it is not the offering for sale that is offensive, but the way in which it is done. There is nothing unusual about this. It is not a criminal offence to sell fruit, but if you do it from a barrow in the street in such a way as to cause obstruction or any other form of nuisance you are liable to prosecution for that.

We have heard a great deal about there being no prostitutes unless there are men seeking their services. It is said that it is unfair that the prostitute should be liable to punishment and the man should not. As an argument, that is logical, but we have to remember the purpose of the Bill. The nuisance the Bill is aimed at is created by the prostitutes when they are plying their trade in the streets, and not by the customers. Noble Lords who have complained about unpleasant and offensive scenes are complaining about the activities of female prostitutes in the street. I do not think that one is likely to be in the position of not wishing to escort one's family down a street because of repulsive men hanging about in large numbers waiting for prostitutes.




You are quite wrong.


It is the female prostitutes who are creating this nuisance. The Bill is not intended to penalise a woman who makes an occasional or casual immoral encounter, and there is no reason why it should, since she is not creating a nuisance. The penal law should not go beyond the mischief with which it is trying to deal, and in this case that mischief, I have to say, is created by the women.


My Lords, I beg the noble Lord's pardon for interrupting, but does he really maintain that if men did not come, the women would still be there?


No, I do not maintain that a bit. I am not talking about the problem of prostitution at all. All I am saying is that the offensive element which is created in the streets is created by the woman. I think that I must stick to that point. If that is so, it is necessary to identify the woman who as a habit or way of life offers herself in the street. The continued use of the well-understood term "common prostitute", which has been in use for something like 135 years, is the best way of doing it. To my way of thinking, there is no substance in the view that a prostitute will not get a fair deal in the court because of the use of this expression.

It has been said that she will come into court with a label tied round her neck, and that having had that label tied round her neck, she will not get a fair trial on the question whether she was actually soliciting or not. But when that woman comes into court she will be no more "labelled" a common prostitute than anyone who is charged with any other offence is labelled. Two things will be alleged: that she is a common prostitute and that on a particular occasion she was loitering or soliciting for the purpose of prostitution. The police will have to prove both these points, and the statement that a woman is a common prostitute is nothing more than an allegation, exactly the same as alleging that a man who has stolen something is a thief. It is not the label that will be taken into consideration; it is the evidence of her behaviour that will have to be adduced on the alleged occasion. The words "common prostitute" on the charge sheet will mean only that the police think that they can prove that she is a common prostitute in the same way that any other statement on a charge sheet has to be proved.

The court has to decide not whether the woman is a common prostitute and on the occasion in question was loitering or soliciting for the purpose of prostitution, but whether the police have proved both points beyond reasonable doubt. And the court must consider this question judicially. There are no grounds for suggesting that this is difficult for magistrates. They are accustomed to applying their minds judicially to questions of fact, and they will be aware of the undoubted difficulty which could arise in cases where a woman has given up the life of a prostitute, or where, if she is still a prostitute, she may be engaged on an innocent errand. Therefore they will be extremely careful in weighing the evidence and in considering the defence put forward.


My Lords, perhaps I might interrupt the noble Lord. I do not find that people are brought up before a bench of magistrates with an adjective attached to them. A man does not come up as a "common drunkard" or a "common pickpocket"; he comes up charged with having on a certain occasion been found drunk, or having on a certain occasion picked a pocket. He does not come up with an adjective tied round his neck which is likely to prejudice him in the eyes of the magistrates.


We do not want to have a debate on the meaning of words, but I have always understood that "common"—although it is not so much used now—could be used in the sense of "habitual". I think that that is what is meant on this occasion.

A certain amount of concern has been expressed on the subject of sending these women to prison. It has been argued that the other prisoners would be contaminated by the prostitutes and the prostitutes would be contaminated by the other prisoners. I do not think that that argument has any particular significance so far as prostitutes are concerned; I think it is an argument about prisons generally. It is true that some girls might admire and envy a successful prostitute. But those who will be sent to prison will probably be the less successful ones and will not perhaps excite the envy of the other inmates at the time.


Does the noble Lord mean by that that it is only those who are not successful who will be sent to prison? I think it is most unfair that the rich should escape and the poor should be sentenced.


That is true, of course. I may be wrong, but I think that perhaps those in prison would not be such a good advertisement for the profession as some people might think. I do not think segregation would be practicable, because, for one thing, it must be obvious that some women who are prostitutes are sent to prison for other offences and mix with the other prisoners in those circumstances. It would be undesirable to foster the belief that they constituted some special category and were a kind of corps d'élite.


My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord one question. If you are going to imprison women prostitutes, are you not going to increase the danger of hysteria in prison? I have been in a prison when they have brought in women prostitutes who were madly hysterical; and one knows how hysteria spreads in prison.


That may be true, of course. I must confess that I have no personal experience in the matter, but I shall be delighted to make inquiry into it


May I ask the noble Lord whether he is really expressing the views of the Government on the question, of imprisonment? Is it their conclusion, having heard the debate, that they are quite content to send these women to ordinary prisons?


Yes; that is just what I said.




I was wondering whether the noble Lord was expressing his own view, or the Government's view.


I stick to what I have said. There was also a suggestion that there should be special detention centres in a special residential establishment for these women. In order that I may be brief, I would ask your Lordships to read the views of the Wolfenden Committee on that matter, because I think they sum it up.

The substitution of the words "any person" for "common prostitute", as has been suggested, would increase the risk of a respectable woman being arrested, which many people fear may also happen. The risk of that happening is negligible under the Bill as drafted, because, as I have said, before taking action the police must be ready to prove that the woman is a common prostitute who was also loitering or soliciting for the purpose of prostitution.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I would refer him to Clause 1 (3) of the Bill, where it says: A constable may arrest without warrant anyone he finds in a street or public place and suspects, with reasonable cause, to be committing an offence under this section. Who decides whether he has reasonable cause or not? Is it the individual constable, or who?


Perhaps your Lordships would allow me to answer that question, because it is a matter of law. It is an objective test to be decided by the court. It is not whether reasonable cause exists in the mind of a constable, but whether it exists in fact. I can assure the noble Marquess that it is a term which is well known to the law. It exists, for example, in an action for false imprisonment. The test is that the person who imprisons must have reasonable cause; and that, as I have said, is an objective test. I do not think the noble Marquess was here when I made my speech, but I did say with regard to that clause that it really left the legal position as to power of arrest as it exists to-day and does not give additional powers.


I accept what my noble and learned friend says, but it does seem to me that there could arise a case of an innocent woman who went up to a man in the street, possibly to find which was the bus for South Kensington, and failing to get the right answer from him, went up to another man and asked the same question. A young and enthusiastic constable might then arrest her. And it would make it no better if, when she got into court, everybody said: "There is not a stain on her character". She ought not to get into court.


I can only say to the noble Marquess that if a constable did that and the magistrate indicated that he had not reasonable cause, or even if the lady took the view that he had not reasonable cause, the constable would be liable to an action for false arrest, unless he satisfied the objective test that there was, in fact, reasonable cause. I understood that what the noble Marquess had in mind was that the test should be objective, and that it should not be merely subjective. I hope I have assured him on that point.


I do not want to take the matter further now, but perhaps we might revert to it when we come to the Committee stage.


While still on the subject of "any person" rather than "a common prostitute", I would point out to your Lordships that it is easier to be mistaken about the purpose of loitering or speaking to men than to be mistaken about a woman being a common prostitute. I have no doubt that more will be said about this matter on the Committee stage.


I suggest to the noble Lord that there are far more male prostitutes in Piccadilly at this moment than there are female. But I understand that under this Bill they escape completely.


I really cannot go into the problems of other considerations which come outside the Bill, and what is the situation in Piccadilly at the present time. All I am concerned with at the moment is the Bill. This will undoubtedly make things more difficult for the prostitute and for her customer, but although prostitution is not illegal, and a woman has a right to choose that particular way of life if she wishes, it cannot be regarded as unfair if part of her activities are regarded as being against the public interest. Perhaps I may quote once more from the Wolfenden Committee. They say, at paragraph 249 of their report: … we feel that the right of the normal decent citizen to go about the streets without affront to his or her sense of decency should be the prime consideration and should take precedence over the interests of the prostitute and her customers. I do not think any of your Lordships would dissent from that view.

The fear has been expressed on several occasions that the effect of the Bill will be to drive prostitution underground, and will cause other evils to arise. It may be that something like this will happen. Since we cannot abolish prostitution effectively, those prostitutes who wish to continue with their trade will have to find other ways of getting into touch with their customers; and this may lead, as noble Lords have suggested, to various alternative practices. It is the Government's opinion that these activities can be regarded as being not so objectionable as the blatant parade of prostitutes which, takes place in our streets; and I can, furthermore assure your Lordships that a very careful watch will be kept to see that any other system which may be devised does not in its turn create some scandalous conditions similar to those with which we are trying to deal to-day. People have used the phrase "sweeping the dirt under the carpet" in connection with this Bill. But dirt under the carpet is at least not so dangerous or so noticeable as dirt all over the room.

There may be a greater organisation of prostitutes. They may need finance for setting up in some other way, and this may lead to an extension of the activities of pimps, and even wider organisation. It is for this reason that the Government have provided in Clause 4 for greatly increased penalties for those who live on immoral earnings or control the activities of prostitutes. A good deal has been said

—and I think this has now been cleared up—about police and their alleged added powers. The simple fact is that the Bill merely reproduces the effect of an existing law, as it has been interpreted by the courts.

My Lords, I would end as I began. I venture to think that anyone who has had occasion recently to walk through the streets in some parts of London cannot fail to have had his or her sense of decency offended by what is going on. As I have just read from the Wolfenden Report, every decent citizen has the right to go about the streets without that happening. We know that the evil of prostitution is one that has been with us for a very long time. As the noble Lord, Lord Rea, pointed out, those who practise it are usually known as members of "the oldest profession in the world."We know, too, that as a moral problem it is most difficult to tackle it by legislation. I think, however, that the Government would be failing in their duty if they did not attempt to clear the streets, to eradicate effectively this shame, this blot, on our national reputation. They are convinced that this Bill, despite the gloomy prognostications of many noble Lords—and not least the noble Lord, Lord Stonham—provides the most effective and practical way of doing it. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will support the Government and will give this Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Whether the Bill shall be now read 2a?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 46; Not-Contents, 11.

Albemarle, E. Hailsham, V. (L. President) Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Arran, E. Hampton, L. Merrivale, L.
Atholl, D. Hastings, L. Merthyr, L.
Auckland, L. Hawke, L. Onslow, E. [Teller.]
Bathurst, E. Henderson, L. Perth, E.
Buckinghamshire, E. Hereford, V. Raglan, L.
Chesham, L. Home, E. St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]
Colville of Culross, V. Howe, E. Salisbury, M.
Conesford, L. Hylton, L. Samuel, V.
Dundee, E. Iddesleigh, E. Selkirk, E.
Dynevor, L. Kilmuir, V. (L. Chancellor.) Soulbury, V.
Ebury, L. Lansdowne, M. Taylor, L.
Exeter, L. Bp. Lawson, L. Thurlow, L.
Ferrier, L. Lothian, M. Waldegrave, E.
Fortescue, E. Lucan, E. Winster, L.
Goschen, V.
Balfour of Burleigh, L. [Teller.] Grantchester, L. Rea, L.
Boothby, L. Pethick-Lawrence, L. Saltoun, L.
Cromwell, L. Ravensdale of Kedleston, Baroness Stansgate, V.
Esher, V. Stonham, L. [Teller.]

Resolved in the Affirmative. Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.