HL Deb 16 February 1960 vol 221 cc30-49

3.47 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair]

Clause 1:

Indecent conduct towards young child

1.—(1) Any person who commits an act of gross indecency with or towards a child under the age of fourteen, or who incites a child under that age to such an act with him or another, shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, to a fine not exceeding one hundred pounds, or to both.

LORD SALTOUN moved, in subsection (1), after "person" to insert, "being of the age of eighteen or upwards". The noble Lord said: In moving the Amendment that stands in my name I should like to observe that this Bill provides for a sentence of two years' imprisonment for any act of gross indecency, and seven years for any attempt at intercourse. Provided that my Amendment is accepted by your Lordships, my only objection to the Bill would be that it carries no additional penalty for the use of violence. I think that all men, in all ages and in all stages of civilisation, have always been infuriated, and rightly so, by the use of violence against women in this kind of connection. But it may be that such additional penalty is carried by other Acts. If not, I think that our Legislature is rather complacent in this matter and rather remiss.

But for those under the age of eighteen I think that the case covered by this Bill is quite altered. Anybody who has any knowledge of what goes on among secondary school children to-day will, I think, realise that a large proportion of the children may well become obnoxious to the law by the passage of this Bill. At least that is what I am told by my doctor friends of whom I have made inquiries and I hasten to add that they generally add that, however reprehensible the present situation is, no permanent harm seems to result from it. I do not remember that fifty years ago, when I was living in Hackney, these actions prevailed among children, although at that time people were living far more on top of one another than they are to-day. It may well be that I was either unobservant or ignorant—that is very probable. I think that the change, if there has been a change, is largely our own fault that we ourselves have brought it about.

Some years ago, just after the war, I was very much shocked and very indignant at the organised rapes of wretched girls carried out by young juveniles, and I did my best at that time to get Parliament to take some action in the matter. I tried to go into the causes of these frightful crimes, and I formed the opinion that there were several causes at work. My doctor friends told me at the time that they attributed this kind of trouble mainly to the sex instruction given in schools. I do not think that that kind of instruction is suitable for classes, and evidently doctors seem to have the same opinion. In respect of the matter we are discussing to-day, I am quite convinced that a lot of this misbehaviour among juveniles is due to this cause. If that is so, I should like to point out to your Lordships that we are in the position of having ourselves caused the trouble and are trying to cure it by bringing criminal proceedings. My own opinion is that trying to remedy this matter among juveniles in a court of law is a rather clumsy expedient which is unlikely to be successful and may, indeed, have very ill consequences. I think myself that we had very much better leave it to social workers.

In moving this Amendment, which I now do, I do not want to pose before your Lordships as being widely conversant with social conditions, though I do my best to find out what they are. I shall be interested to see whether I am supported by any noble Lord whose experience is greater than mine, and I shall be very much guided in what I do by the action that they wish to take in this matter. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 5, after ("person") insert ("being of the age of eighteen or upwards").—(Lord Saltoun.)


Whilst I should not wish to be committed to the age of eighteen, which would take these cases beyond the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, I should like to say a word in support of what I understand to be the intention of this Amendment. As I see it, this Bill as it now stands creates a new sexual offence with which a child or young person can be charged. Indeed, the Committee which sponsored this Bill, or which may be said to have been responsible for its paternity, stated explicitly that this charge could be brought against anybody over the age of criminal responsibility—and I should like to remind your Lordships that that age is now fixed at eight years. This means that a charge of a criminal nature for an act of gross indecency can be brought against a child of eight years old for an act in which another child, perhaps of the same age, or not very much older, has participated.

In common with quite a number of those who, unhappily, sometimes have to deal with these situations in practice, I very much regret the creation of any new sexual offence which can be charged against children or young persons. Indeed, I think many of us deprecate the use of criminal proceedings to deal with these situations at present, and we do so the more because, after all, cases of this kind can already be dealt with under the "care and protection" proceedings, which are of a civil nature and which enable us to make provision for the welfare of children and young persons who are involved in actions of this kind without any finding of guilt being recorded against the child or young person. I should therefore very much like to see this Bill confined to persons of much more mature years. I notice that the Committee who, as I say, were responsible for the paternity of this Bill gave no reasons for their view that it should apply to all persons over the age of criminal responsibility. They said merely that they saw no reason to confine it to adults. Indeed, if your Lordships will not misunderstand me, I think that the Committee took a somewhat lordly view of this point, not feeling it necessary to argue the case.

I should also like to raise one other point in connection with this Amendment, and that is: what is the position if, so to put it, the incitement should be the other way round? That, regrettably, is not an imaginary situation: it is a possible fact of experience. Perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I quote a case within my own experience which occurred a little while ago; a case which many of your Lordships may feel to be exceptionally shocking, but which, I am afraid, is not without its parallels.

Not so long ago, two girls of school age, both under fourteen, which is the age which in this Bill is chosen as the maximum age for what we may call the supposed victim of these acts, took up a position in a London square in their lunch hour, and subsequently did the same after school, where they offered to commit acts of gross indecency with passing males for a small sum of money. This was an extremely systematic business, worked out on what might, in another connection, be thought to be good socialistic principles, since these young ladies offered their services at differential charges according to how they estimated the economic position of their potential customers. Fortunately for their welfare, they eventually attracted the attention of, and indeed offered their services to, a police officer in civilian dress who was passing; and that brought those proceedings to an end.

Now in a case of that kind it is clear that the incitement was entirely on the side of the juvenile. As the law now stands, no proceedings are taken against the adults involved, but the juveniles were in fact the subject of "care and protection" proceedings. I should be very grateful if the noble and learned Viscount would tell us what would be the position if this Amendment is not carried. In such a case, will the adults be the subject of criminal proceedings and the juveniles still be dealt with under "care and protection" proceedings, or will the juveniles, where they are responsible for inciting an adult to commit an act of gross indecency with them, as in a case of this kind, also be the subject of criminal charges? In any event, I would repeat that I think it is very unfortunate, in this day and age, that we should extend the scope of criminal proceedings against children of eight years and upwards for matters of a sexual nature.


I should like to say a few words in support of the Amendment. It has always semed to me a very wrong and improper thing to take criminal proceedings against young persons for sexual offences, and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, has put down a very sensible age below which this particular Bill, when it becomes law, should not apply. The one thing I do not entirely agree with is the noble Lord's reason for the occurrence of these offences. I think that sex education for young people is a thing to be encouraged, and not a thing to be deprecated. However, I should like to support his Amendment on a purely factual basis.

4.0 p.m.


I think that it would be to your Lordships' convenience and assistance if I pointed out what would be the effect of the Amendment set down by my noble friend Lord Saltoun. It would be to relieve persons under eighteen of liability to be convicted of the new offence created by Clause 1 (1), of committing an act of gross indecency with or towards a child under fourteen or inciting a child under that age to such an act with the offender or another. As I explained to your Lordships on Second Reading, the object of the creation of this offence is to fill what I think is a serious gap in our law—that is, to deal with someone who gets hold of a child who has little understanding of these matters and without the use of force and without any of the elements of assault makes that child a party to disgusting conduct for the sexual gratification of the person who does so. Though I naturally pay the greatest attention to what the noble Baroness has said, I still think that this is a gap which it is essential to fill.

I should like to deal with the matters raised by my noble friend Lord Saltoun first and then come to the points of the noble Baroness. As regards the question of violence, which worried my noble friend, I think that he can take it from me, without going into all the details of offences, that that is well covered. The gap consists of the absence of violence, and I think that your Lordships generally felt it to be a gap that should be filled. I am not going into the questions raised by my noble friend about the habits of secondary school children or about the effect of sex instruction. I am not in a position to comment on what he said from anything except my own very general experience. I have not looked it up and, with great respect to my noble friend, I think that he somewhat overstated the position, speaking from my own knowledge as a Member of another place for a largely industrial constituency for over twenty years. But I am not going to argue this, because it is a matter of experience.

I want to put the position under the existing law. As the noble Baroness said, as the law stands at present, a child of eight cannot be guilty of any offence. The noble Baroness will remember that a child under fourteen is presumed to be incapable of criminal intent, unless the presumption is rebutted by the court's being satisfied that the child knew that he was doing wrong. She will also remember that the law assumes that a boy under fourteen does not possess sexual capacity and therefore that he is incapable of committing rape and offences akin to rape. But, subject to this, youth does not exempt an offender from responsibility for existing sexual offences, including indecent assault, which constitutes a high proportion of them. In spite of what I have heard, I think that that is right.

I see no reason for treating young offenders differently in regard to this offence from the way they are treated in regard to the existing offences under the law. As I said, this clause is aimed principally at the man who, without any show or threat of force, successfully invites a child to handle him indecently but cannot be prosecuted for indecent assault because what he does cannot be called an "assault". There seems no reason why a youth of seventeen, for example, who, if he induced a child to do an indecent act of this kind by threat or force could be prosecuted for indecent assault, should not be liable to prosecution under the new clause if he induces a child to do such an act without threat or force. The clause is designed to protect younger children who do not understand the significance of what they are asked to do, and, in my view, these children need protection against adolescents as well as against adults.

I think it would be useful if I gave some information which I really obtained for a reply to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, because it is important that your Lordships should have the picture accurately before you now. Between 1954 and 1957, the police brought to the notice of the Director of Public Prosecutions 70 cases of indecency, which, in the light of the decision of the court in Fairclough v. Whipp, it was impossible to make the subject of proceedings. Out of the 70 victims, 19 were under seven, 46 were between seven and eleven—that is, 65 out of 70 were under eleven; three were eleven, one was thirteen, one was fourteen and there was none older than fourteen. I think that these figures will be useful on both the point which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, wished to make and on my noble friend's point.

Unfortunately, the gap which this provision fills is largely concerned with very young children. I cannot find much sympathy for the young man of seventeen who does this with a girl under seven. As the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, will appreciate, I feel great sympathy from the penological point of view, but I do not feel sympathy in the sense that this young man should not be answerable. I feel that the psychological damage that may be done to the small child is so immense that anyone of seventeen ought to be answerable for it.

I would say at once that if my noble friend Lord Saltoun has a fear that the Bill will result in young boys being sent to prison for relatively trivial or childish acts of indecency, and if that lies behind the Amendment, I believe that fear to be unfounded. An offence under Clause 1 (1) by a person under seventeen would come before a juvenile court and would normally be, dealt with summarily. A juvenile court has no power to sentence to imprisonment. It is required to have regard to the welfare of the offender and has available a variety of methods to deal with him, according to what it considers to be in his own best interest. Even if the case were serious enough for the accused to be tried on indictment—and that would have to be a very serious case—a youth of seventeen could be sent to prison only after the court considered that no other method of dealing with him was available.

I come to the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger. In the first part the noble Baroness expressed a reluctance that the offence should be created, and I have tried to deal with that point. I think it is essential that this gap should be closed, and I think the figures I have given of those cases reported to the Director bear this out. With regard to the question of age, I have given the list, and I have shown the ages that are affected. The noble Baroness said that the Committee on Criminal Law had not considered this matter. I do not want to debate their Report line by line, but I think they did consider the social problems and the question of ages fairly carefully on the other point. I agree with them, and still do not see, after all that has been said to-day, why this offence should be confined to adults. I still cannot see why a boy of sixteen or seventeen who uses a little girl of four or five to gratify his sexual lust should not be answerable by being brought before a juvenile court and having the effect of what he has done pointed out to him. As I have said, the juvenile court cannot send him to prison, but there are various forms of treatment which are open to that court and which I think would be helpful to him.

The noble Baroness has raised the question of the incitement coming from the other side. If she will look at it once again, as I am sure she has looked at it often, she will see that there are two limbs to the offence. First, there is the committing of an act of gross indecency with a child; and secondly, the inciting of a child under the age of fourteen to such an act—and the second limb, incitement, has to be proved on the part of the person who is charged with the offence. As to that second limb, I think there are really two answers. I should still say that if someone secures that the indecency is committed, even if there be an incitement, he is still answerable criminally, as well as morally, for succumbing to it. If the noble Baroness feels that that is too severe a view, I would remind her of the figures that I gave: 19 cases under seven; 46 cases between seven and eleven; and 65 cases under eleven. In these cases I cannot believe that the incitement is likely to come from a child under eleven. There may be remarkable phenomena in that age group, as in every other, but I should think it is extremely rare. And I should have said that with regard to those under seven it is something one need not contemplate.

One then comes to the age group of thirteen and fourteen, of which there are two cases out of 70. I am sorry to anticipate, but the question of the shift in maturity which has been raised was one of the matters which I proposed to put to the noble Lord, Lord Silk in, for his consideration. Broadly speaking, maturity does come earlier; and that is interesting because it fits in with one experience of my noble friend Lord Saltoun, when he was describing conditions 50 years ago. But I still think—and this is really on Lord Silkin's point—that fourteen is a reasonable age. As the noble Baroness will remember, the Committee preferred fourteen, and their runner-up was thirteen; and, of course, they mentioned the point of maturity, with which I am dealing. In that case there will be some hard cases, but on our experience, they will be few. But I think that to rule out the protection for small children because of the hard cases through over-mature girls of thirteen or fourteen would be a wrong balance and would be using the hard cases to make bad law.

I hope that my noble friend will not press this Amendment, and that he will believe that this is something we have considered. If he will not accuse me of being melodramatic, I should like to tell him this: that one of my joys when I was Home Secretary was that I was not only responsible for the Queen's peace but was responsible for the safety and promotion of the happiness of underprivileged children. I believe it is our first duty to protect children, and for that reason I would ask the Committee not to agree to this Amendment.


Could the noble and learned Viscount give us any information (I imagine it is is hard to come by) as to the ages of the other parties in the cases he has quoted? He mentioned that there have been a number of cases in which the police were unable to bring prosecutions for offences of this character against very young children. No one is more concerned than I am to defend very young children, as I am sure the noble and learned Viscount will accept. He has argued his case entirely in terms of young men of sixteen or seventeen. What I have in mind are cases of boys of perhaps twelve, thirteen or fourteen. If no restriction is put upon the age at which charges can be brought, boys of that age can be charged under this Bill with this offence. They can, as I said just now, be dealt with under the "care and protection" proceedings as being in moral danger, and such proceedings, I should have thought, are of a character which would have a far less deleterious effect upon the young person concerned. Could the noble and learned Viscount give us any information as to the ages of the persons who are likely to be charged with this offence as against the ages of those against whom the offence is committed?


I have not got the figures, and whether they are obtainable I do not know. I can only give my experience over the twenty years in which I practised in criminal cases. I should have thought they were fairly well spread over the age group. I have recollections of quite young defendants and of quite old defendants. I cannot from my own recollection attach it either way. On the other point, I pointed out to the noble Baroness—and I think we ought to have it in mind—that under the present law, which would apply to the case of indecent assault, a child under fourteen is presumed to be incapable of guilty intent, although the presumption may be rebutted by satisfying the court that the child knew that he was doing wrong. I should have thought that the effect of that would be that the number of cases where that would be applied would not be very great. We must face the point of those who are older than that, and must take our balance between the two. After all, these children could be dealt with by a "care and protection" order, even if they were brought up to court for this offence: that would not be difficult if there were sufficient evidence. But the balance is how we are to take the ages for the best advantage of the children. I believe that the Bill does that.


I am sure that everybody in your Lordships' House recognises that those who speak on both sides of this question have equally at heart the care and protection of children. With regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, said, I entirely agree that there must be sexual instruction. It is a question of how and when, and the way in which it is given. I think that is where the error perhaps exists. It is a thing which everbody who is a parent has had to think out very carefully and take his own line over. I think the noble and learned Viscount misrepresented me. I was not talking about conditions 50 years ago, except to say that I have no knowledge of them, either through ignorance or because they did not exist. I was talking about conditions which obtain to-day, and which I do not believe I have exaggerated. I am bound to say that I would far rather see children treated under "care and protection" proceedings than brought into any form of court of law. I am quite conscientious about this matter, and I am in the noble Baroness's hands. I do not myself wish to press the Amendment, but if the noble Baroness wishes to do so, even if she is alone in the Committee, I will divide with her, because I think it is an important matter, and this debate has been on an important point. I gather that the noble Baroness does not wish to have a Division, so with your Lordships' permission, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.24 p.m.

LORD SILKIN moved, in subsection (1), to leave out "fourteen" and insert "sixteen". The noble Lord said: We have been spending some little time in dealing with persons who commit acts of indecency. I should now like to turn to the victims of these indecencies. My Amendment is designed to widen the scope of those victims so as to increase the age of persons against whom an act of indecency becomes a criminal offence, to sixteen instead of fourteen.

The noble and learned Viscount has been good enough to put forward some figures about offences. I understand they have been reported to the Director of Public Prosecutions. I do not think I should attach great importance to those figures, for two reasons. The first is that it has been notorious that it has not been an offence at all hitherto. This Bill is a Bill to fill a gap. The gap has been in the treatment of something which ought to have been a criminal offence, but has not. Therefore, there would be no particular reason why, in a large number of cases, these matters should have been reported to the police at all. The other reason is that a report to the Director of Public Prosecutions would probably deal with cases in the nature of a very serious offence, and what we are dealing with here are not necessarily the kinds of cases which would be a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions. While I do not challenge these figures, I say that they are by no means exhaustive They certainly do not represent the sum total of all cases of indecency which have been perpetrated against children, either under the age of fourteen or under the age of sixteen.

I have spent a good many anxious moments in trying to make up my own mind as to what was the right age. On the occasion of the Second Reading I indicated that I had some doubts, but I did not make up my mind about putting down this Amendment until a few days ago, after again considering the matter and seeing what was the case that had been made by the Criminal Law Revision Committee, and what were the answers. I have said this before in this House, and I think it is worth saying again: you can always build up a formidable case for a particular course of action, as the Committee have done, if you close your eyes to the other side. I should rather think that that is just what the Committee have done. They have built up in paragraph 9 of their Report a very strong case for limiting the age to fourteen.

The noble and learned Viscount on the Second Reading gave us some of their reasons, and I will not weary the House by reading paragraph 9 of the Report, but it does make a number of assumptions, one of them being that children mature much earlier in life to-day than they did, and so on. I think that that is perfectly true in a large number of cases. But children are not all alike. I should like to think that there are still innocent children, even of fifteen or sixteen, who are not so fully aware of the facts of life as some of the young ladies my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger spoke about a few moments ago. We all know that there are such children—many of them—and they are essentially the kind of children one wants to protect. It may be that the other type of child does not need any protection, and is well able to look after itself, but there are large numbers of young children under the age of sixteen who can be led astray, often by someone whom they highly respect and who has considerable influence over them. I do not want to illustrate the kind of person I have in mind, but we can all visualise the sort of male who might have a considerable influence on these young children. I feel that if there were half a dozen girls between the ages of fourteen and sixteen who, as a result of this Bill, could be protected, it would be worth while raising the age.

After all, what is the objection? How are we trying to protect them? We are dealing with people who commit acts of indecency with girls between the ages of fourteen and sixteen, some of whom, let us admit, may have a knowledge of the facts of life, but others of whom, I would submit, may not. I think the damage that can be done to a girl between the ages of fourteen and sixteen can be very much greater in many cases than the damage done to a much younger and, perhaps, less impressionable child. The age of sixteen is not fanciful; it is the age which is referred to in the Sexual Offences Act. Under Section 14 of the Sexual Offences Act it is an offence for a person to make an indecent assault on a woman under sixteen. A girl under sixteen cannot give any consent which would prevent an act from being an assault for the purpose of that section. There is Section 15 which makes it similarly an offence for a person to make an indecent assault on a man, with the same proviso: that a boy under sixteen cannot in law give any consent which would prevent an act from being an assault for the purpose of that section. There is Section 28, in which it is an offence to have carnal knowledge, unlawful sexual intercourse or commit an indecent assault on a girl under the age of sixteen for whom he is responsible. Sixteen has been accepted under the Sexual Offences Act as a crucial age and I cannot see why a lower age should be taken in this Bill.

Finally, the school-leaving age to-day is fifteen. We hope that if the Crowther Report is accepted within a short time it will be sixteen. Indeed it is sixteen to-day for a large number of girls; a high proportion of the girls who could leave at fifteen stay on till sixteen. If not to-day, certainly within a very short time sixteen will be the school-leaving age, and these girls will be school children. I suggest that from that point of view again sixteen is the appropriate age at which girls should be protected. When they are at school, in point of fact they may be vulnerable to this kind of offence to a much greater extent as a result of having to be in contact with people who could have a considerable influence over them. So for all those reasons, though I recognise that the Committee have gone into the matter fully and have come to the conclusion that fourteen is the right age, as against thirteen, I submit that neither of those ages is high enough and that the proper age for the protection of our young girls should be sixteen. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 6, leave out ("fourteen") and insert ("sixteen").—(Lord Silkin.)

4.33 p.m.


The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has most impressively deployed a case which must arouse great sympathy, but I feel, having given all the consideration I can to it, that in regard to this offence we should maintain the age of fourteen which is suggested by the Committee. The noble Lord self-denyingly did not read paragraph 9, but there is just one point which I hope he will forgive me if I mention to your Lordships, and of course he can deal with it again. The Committee said: We are convinced that it would be wrong to choose an age as high as sixteen which is the age below which a person cannot in law consent to what would otherwise be an indecent assault. The main purpose of the proposed provision is to protect children who are incited to do indecent things the nature of which they do not fully understand. We think that this applies with much less force to children of fourteen and fifteen and that they are already sufficiently protected by the existing provisions as regards sexual offences. That is principally by the charge of indecent assault, to which the noble Lord has referred.

As I have pointed out, the evil with which the clause seeks to deal is the corruption of younger children who, because they do not understand the significance of what they are being asked to do, respond to an indecent invitation without being threatened or forced. I should like just to say one word about the ages. The ages of the girls concerned in the cases of Fairclough v. Whipp and the Director of Public Prosecutions v. Rogers which disclosed the gap in the law were nine and eleven. Although I cannot vouch for this, I understood (but I may have been wrong and therefore I do not want to make too much of it) that the figures that I mentioned, the seventy cases that were reported by the police to the Director between 1954 and 1957, were brought to his attention to show the importance of closing this gap in the law. Your Lordships will remember what they were: nineteen under seven, forty-six between seven and eleven, three were eleven, one thirteen and one fourteen. Of course the noble Lord is right; they are not a complete record, nor could they be. But from such general inquiries as the Home Office have been able to make they tell me that there is no reason to think that the age distribution which they show is other than typical. I make no false statistical point against the noble Lord; I only say that that was how the figures were got, and the Home Office have no reason to suppose that they are unrepresentative.


Does the noble and learned Viscount know whether the police, who obviously went seeking information, sought information about girls over the age of fourteen at all?


I did not ask that specific point, but I will read to the noble Lord what was given to me from the Home Office as a result. After giving those ages the next line is: There was none older than fourteen. I take that to mean that in this type of offence, where there is no force used, the police did not report any case of a girl of fifteen or sixteen in that position where there was an indecency without an indecent assault. But again, because I try never to make a false point, I have read to the noble Lord exactly what was given to me.

That leaves the other point, which I find extremely difficult and which I think the noble Baroness must find difficult, in view of the incident which she mentioned in her speech—that is, broadly, the question of maturity. The Committee relied on that, and I am told that it is accepted as a biological fact that children now mature substantially earlier than was the case even 25 years ago. It follows from what the noble Baroness was referring to—the Committee, too, pointed this out—that the Courts are already faced with a difficult problem in dealing with sexual offences against mature girls who are consenting parties, or even, as the noble Baroness mentioned, the instigators of the offence. I think that it would increase the difficulty if we increased the area in which this difficulty arises. When you get beyond fourteen you get into an area where the difficulty certainly does increase, and I believe that it is safer to limit the age to fourteen, which is high enough for the purpose for which the clause is primarily designed—that is, of the child who is induced into indecency without really appreciating what is happening.

The noble Lord is well aware that only 25 years ago people were wanting to raise the age of consent to seventeen. Serious social thinkers of that time were considering that. But I believe that in approaching this problem on the basis of maturity the Committee showed that they were not taking a legalistic view, but were trying to approach the social problem. In the very difficult balance—I admit that it is a most difficult balance, and there are great attractions in the noble Lord's argument, because naturally we all want to protect children to the greatest extent we can—in view of the careful consideration we have had, and in view of this change in maturity which I understand to be generally accepted, I believe that fourteen is the safe age, and I should advise the Committee to retain it.

4.43 p.m.


I must confess that I find it a little difficult to accept the noble and learned Viscount's views about this, persuasively as he has put them. It seems to me that my noble friend Lord Silkin is undoubtedly right when he says that there are a substantial number of people between fourteen and sixteen who are not mature in this sort of way; and I should have thought that, on the whole, the balance of the argument was in favour of giving protection in those cases, and in the other type of case of leaving it to the discretion of the police not to prosecute. We all know that a considerable amount of discretion is used in connection with whether or not there should be a prosecution. Moreover, I doubt very much whether these statistics are really convincing, in the sense that it does not look to me as if the police have made any great efforts to cover the ages between fourteen and sixteen.

As I understood them, the statistics that were given were entirely concerned with girls. I may be wrong about that, but one obviously important side of this case is the homosexual side, which is, I think, covered by this clause. I remember, from a rather distant professional experience in this type of case, that when I was practising in the criminal courts I was concerned with some rather widespread homosexual cases in which schoolboys were concerned—they had, in fact, been paid sums of money to behave in the sort of way which is now criminal. I wonder whether that point is already covered and whether it is not a relevant matter in this particular connection. It may be that it is already covered, but I am not certain that it is not in the same sort of field as the expression who incites a child under that age to such an act with him". Surely that would cover a male child. I doubt very much whether it is covered by the law as it now stands.


It certainly would cover a male child. There was nothing in the list of statistics which was given to me to show that it was limited to little girls. If I gave that impression it was my fault, because I had little girls particularly in mind. But the figures may well have included little boys as well.


There was a great deal of reference to girls in the remarks in the argument, but this side of it is most important. Undoubtedly, over the last few years there have been numbers of this type of case, certainly at assizes and quarter sessions courts with which I am familiar. I have been very disturbed within only the last few months at a serious outbreak in a part of the country with which I am well acquainted, and I am pretty sure, from what I have heard, that there are concerned a number of children between the ages of fourteen and sixteen. It therefore seems to me that this protection should be extended in the way my noble friend Lord Silkin has suggested.


The remarks of my noble friend Lord Chorley add weight to the case which I have made. I am bound to say that I am most disappointed at the reply of the noble and learned Viscount, who is always most sympathetic in these matters. Does it really mean that because girls mature at an earlier age generally, and because there are some girls who might even go so far as to incite males, therefore the ordinary girl between fourteen and sixteen is not to be protected: that this gap that we have been talking about is to remain so far as these girls are concerned? I cannot think that that would be the wish of the noble and learned Viscount or of the Government. Having introduced a measure of this kind, they would, I should have thought, have gone the whole way and tried to fill the gap, even erring on the side of extra precaution.

I will deliberately not deal with the case of homosexuality, although everything I say is of equal applicability there. But if a young man is charged with an offence and it turns out that there was incitement, that is a matter which the magistrates will always take into account. But the fact is (I am not in a position to give figures) that the majority of girls between fourteen and sixteen are not so mature or experienced in life that an act of this kind cannot deprave them and cause them considerable sufferine in after-life.

The noble and learned Viscount made one statement which rather surprised me—namely, that the reason for this Bill is that children are being incited to commit acts of indecency. I thought the point was that there was commission of acts of indecency as well as incitement, and that equal weight is attached to both sides of it, though it is the mere commission of an act of indecency which becomes an offence. Although, as the Committee stated, this may have much less force between the ages of fourteen and sixteen, they do not say that it has no validity at all. I should have thought that even if it protected only a limited number of young persons it would be worth while to extend the age. I very much hope that Her Majesty's Government have not said the last word on this point and are prepared to think again, because it is a serious matter. The Committee themselves took the view that the question of age is one on which there can be different views. I do not think they meant the difference between the ages of thirteen and fourteen in that context, although later it transpired that they themselves were wavering between the two ages. I believe they genuinely meant that there could be different views as to whether the age should be fourteen or sonic other age, and I hope Her Majesty's Government will be prepared to think about this again before the next stage.


I will certainly think about it again. I must do so because the noble Lords, Lord Silkin and Lord Chorley, have advanced their arguments. I still think that the Committee were right, and it is interesting to note that, with all their consideration, they were wavering, as the noble Lord frankly said, between the ages of fourteen and thirteen, although they meant that there were arguments the other way. I will look into this question, for it is a very serious matter, though I should not like the noble Lord to think I have been shaken in my view.


For the moment neither of us has been shaken. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining Clauses agreed to.

House resumed.


My Lords, might I ask the assistance of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin? In the normal course I should move, "That the Report be now received"—which would mean that there would be no separate Report stage. I should not like to do that, however, if the noble Lord would like the opportunity of having this matter considered again on Report stage.


My Lords, I should very much like to have the matter considered again. The noble and learned Viscount will remember that at one time we deliberately decided that the mere fact that there was no Amendment on the Committee stage should not deprive us of a Report stage; and I think this is a case where that might apply.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. That is exactly what I wanted to know, and so I shall not move, "That the Report be now received."