§ 4.29 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM rose to draw attention to the increasing social evils arising from the present limitation on the powers of magistrates' courts to refuse the registration or re-registration of clubs upon successful objection by the police or a local authority; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I must ask you now, perhaps a little later than some of us had anticipated, to tear your minds away from the fascinating problem of a human census to a kind of census of clubs. That, my Lords, reveals that 60 years ago there were 6,000 clubs in the whole of the country: to-day there are nearly 25,000. Generally speaking, I think we shall agree that this fourfold increase is welcome, because it means that the amenities and social enjoyments offered by clubs have become available to an ever-increasing number of the community, and indeed to all sections.
§ It is true that this enormous growth has accentuated the grotesque and indefensible injustices and anomalies of our licensing laws. But I do not propose to discuss those laws to-day; nor do I wish to restrict a man's inalienable right to make a fool of himself in his own way, provided that he does not in the process harm anyone else. After all, unless you have to go to work early in the morning it is no more harmful to drink in a club at 2 a.m. than it is to drink in a pub. at 2 p.m. We have to be careful, I think, to avoid the kind of situation which is occasionally contrived by the zealots—such as, for example, in Wales, where on Sundays the pubs, are firmly shut though people can get comfortably drunk in the clubs. But I do not think we need concern ourselves with those respectable establishments where the rites are carried out with all due decorum.
My purpose in moving the Motion which stands in my name is to draw attention to the sudden growth in London, and other large towns, in the number of so-called "clubs" at which, at great profit to themselves, vicious men exploit with impunity almost every known vice, and, in the process, break almost every legal and social law,
written and unwritten. In my view there are two main reasons for this considerable increase in the number of clubs: first of all, the discontinuance since 1952 of the war-time Regulation 55C. Under this Regulation, as your Lordships will probably recall, the police could object to the registration of a club, because of the bad character of the applicant, the unsuitability of the premises, the objects of the club, or the fact that there were already ample facilities in the area. To-day, no inquiry of any kind is or can be made. Any person—a thief, a thug; even a murderer—can register a club. He has merely to fill in a form, take it to the clerk of the justices, with some rules which he himself can devise and write out, and pay five shillings. He can renew the licence every year by paying another five shillings. As Sir John Simon (as he then was) said when Home Secretary:
If anyone wants to register a club anywhere there is no law in the land to stop them doing so. Many people are under the impression that he has to give a list of twenty-five names. Nothing of the sort. The law, as far as I know, does not prevent him registering his club if, say, he has perhaps five members.
For five shillings, therefore, anyone can have an unlicensed public house from which he can exclude the police or anyone else. And he can, in London, legally sell drinks for a total of nine hours in any twenty-four hours; and he himself chooses when those nine hours shall be.
§ I could give quite a number of examples of the misery that this sort of thing inflicts on ordinary, decent, innocent people, but I will just give one. In the Royal Borough of Kensington there is a mews off Cambridge Gardens. It is one of the many which have been expensively and attractively converted into a quiet residential backwater. Until the end of 1956 the British Legion had an assembly hall there, but they gave it up at that time. The property was acquired by a local publican, who opened it as a drinking club. Almost immediately, every day, but particularly on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the residents were suffering broken windows, fouled doorways, continuous noise up to 4 o'clock in the morning, insults, fighting, drunks and threats of violence. The police had to be called three or four times a week, sometimes even twice a day; but they were quite powerless.228
§ Within a few months the residents organised petitions which they sent to the Borough of Kensington, to the London County Council and to Scotland Yard. Six months after the place was opened the London County Council informed the owner that in November. 1957, on expiry of the licence granted to use the premises as an assembly hall, its club use must be discontinued. He just laughed at them, and appealed to the Minister of Housing for planning permission. So the matter dragged on for another fifteen months, until in February last year a public inquiry was held. Of course the club owner lost the inquiry, but he did not lose his club. That is still functioning because, anxious as they are to end this abominable nuisance, the L.C.C. are afraid that they cannot take successful action in the courts to enforce the closure, because planning permission had been granted for its previous use before its present club use began.
§ I checked on the situation just a few days ago. It is still just the same. A lady resident told me, "The club is still functioning. Every weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we find it necessary to telephone Harrow Road Police Station to ask for police action to break up fights or to remove drunken men from our doorways. The mews is still used as a urinal by club members. If our sad and sorry story can be of any help towards closing such clubs my neighbours and I would be delighted." My Lords, this sort of thing could be happening right outside our own homes, and we should be absolutely powerless to prevent it, with the law as it stands at present.
§ In case anyone should think that this is an exception, or that it is confined to certain parts of London, or that the police have any effective powers to close such places, let me quote from a report by the chief constable of Huddersfield on a club in that town. This particular club was registered in 1932, by a man who then had fourteen convictions, including convictions for counterfeiting, gaming, wounding and many others. Throughout the years there were numerous complaints, but it was impossible for the police to get evidence because witnesses were afraid to come forward, for fear of personal violence. 229 For 25 years, according to the chief constable, this one-man club was used for the illegal sale of liquor, gaming and prostitution. Although it was run for the man's sole benefit, his name never appeared as an official and when, after 25 years, the police finally succeeded in raiding the place he was shown in the books as an unpaid steward. That is a mild case compared with many in London.
That brings me to what I regard as the second main reason for this great and dangerous increase in the number of clubs, the Street Offences Act. Those who supported that Act claimed that it would clear the streets of prostitutes. We who opposed it said that it would "sweep the dirt under the carpet" and thus increase the evil. Both views have proved correct. Unfortunately, when you cover over any sort of dirt it starts to breed other rottenness. I am perfectly well aware that Scotland Yard and the police deny that this is true. It is quite Obvious that, having given the advice that they must have given over the Street Offences Act, they would now have to deny the results. They will no doubt go on denying it until the facts are so far beyond dispute that the Government will have to take action. There was, indeed, an article only yesterday in the News Chronicle which quoted Scotland Yard senior officials on this, and it said:
Top men at the Yard do not believe that the Street Offences Act, by driving prostitutes off the street, has forced them into the Soho drinking clubs and presented crooks with a ready-made protection racket.
Soho is not the only place. It is impossible for anyone to say whether there are more or fewer prostitutes, but it is quite certain that a far greater evil has arisen. I would take as my authorities two that I would regard as much more reliable and less biased in this matter than the police or, indeed, any Minister. The first is Sir Laurence Dunne, who until April 14 this year was Chief Metropolitan Magistrate. A day or so before he retired he gave a Press conference at which, among other things, he said:
The Street Offences Bill has achieved what it set out to do—to get women off the streets. It has also given a 'shot in the arm' to a lot of very disreputable cafes, unlicensed clubs and 'near-beer' clubs. They have now become the prostitutes' stamping ground. That is where they do their prostitution. It makes it very
hard for the police to prove that a woman who is, in fact, soliciting prostitution, is doing so. The Bill has also strengthened the position of ponces.
I would say that if anyone in this country knew the effect of that Bill it would be the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate; and since he was retiring and able to speak frankly, I think we can take that as not only an expert but informed and unbiased judgment.
§ My other quotation is from an article which was published in the Daily Express in February, three months ago—and I emphasise the date. Under the headline "Why Gang Wars are Hotting up?" the article said that the police were perturbed by the mushroom little clubs with their sprays of hostesses, and juke boxes like pagan altars, which are springing up in the narrow, grimy streets near central London. Every day new clubs open in Stepney, Islington, Notting Hill, Kennington and Shepherd's Bush. They present the police with a frustrating and fearful problem because in these squalid little clubs is the germ of a situation which could resemble Chicago in the 'thirties. When the new legislation drove girls off the streets, where did they go? The amiable, easy, perhaps even the official view is that they became "call girls" or "went straight" and became honest waitresses. That is nonsense. They had to find trade somewhere, and they find it in the ever-increasing little clubs, many of them employ strip-tease girls who get £5 to perform in an area no larger than a suburban drawing room; and inevitably sitting at the bar or putting money in the juke bax are unaccompanied girls who pay the management for the privilege of being there. It is the problem which these girls create which is worrying the police. Once they are under one roof and paying money, they became a self-contained easy-money proposition. Then a group of clubs comes under the eyes of what the underworld call "tearaways". They start extracting protection money from the clubs. Then another gang realises how easy the money is, tries to move in and fights start.
§ That article, my Lords, was published last February. Since then what it described as the "germ of a situation" has developed into a real menace to the forces of law and order. Although, naturally, I have not investigated all the districts mentioned in the article, I have 231 looked closely into the position in one district—Stepney. What I have seen there for myself, and information supplied to me by the clergy, social workers and probation officers, proves that, if anything, that article was a considerable understatement.
§ The Borough of Stepney includes the London Docks. For many years immigrants seeking work and food have settled there and become part of a respectable, hard-working community. More recently, of course, large numbers of Indians, West Africans, Somalis, West Indians and Maltese have arrived and stayed. There is work for them, and although in this badly bombed area the housing shortage is still desperate, there is no reason to think that they will not, and could not, be absorbed into the life of the borough. Before the war prostitution in Stepney was almost unknown, and the advent of coloured men is not responsible for the situation which now exists, although, of course, it underlines its gravity.
§ The present situation has been created by the men who have descended on the area to open drinking clubs and all-night cafés, many of which go together—and by the women and girls they bring in. Up to 1954, only six years ago, there were only 18 registered clubs in Stepney. All were established and respectable, and every one served a definite social purpose for a clearly identifiable group. Now there are 90; and if we analyse that increase over a little more than five years we find that in the first three years the increase was only twelve and in the last two years—1958 and 1959–51. none of them respectable. This year there has already been a further increase—eleven more clubs in five months.
§ How anyone, certainly a senior police officer, can suggest for one moment that is not cause and effect I really do not know. And this is done with impunity. For example, the Shamrock Club, which immediately backed on to the Pen Club, was not opened until after the trouble at the Pen Club in April. That has already been raided and closed; and the day it was closed it opened again as the "Ricardo"; and the police did not know anything about it until they were informed by a social worker. Within three minutes' walk of St. Paul's Church, Dock Street, there are 32 cafés and clubs. In 232 one spot, within 25 yards, there are six combined clubs and cafés, four of them adjoining. Their hours of drinking just cannot be controlled. The police, few in number and with virtually no enforceable legal powers, are quite helpless. At any time of the day or night one can see crowds of young men lounging at the doors. Their main work is living off women, drug trafficking and all the rest. Vice has "never had it so good" as in this country to-day.
§ I cannot even speak, either here or anywhere else, of some of the things that go on, things which make life an affront and torment to decent people who have to live in the area. I will mention examples taken from a report published on February 1 this year by the Society of Juvenile Probation Officers. They visited a large number of these clubs, and when they visited the Pen Club, in Duval Street, a barmaid said: "I can see you are looking for dens of iniquity but you will not find anything here." A few days later the part owner of the Pen Club was shot dead there. He also owned a club in the West End. There is usually a tie-up of that kind.
Some indication of the profits earned and the power of the gangs who run these places can be seen from the fact that two important prosecution witnesses had to be kept in a secret police hide-out—one has decided to emigrate and the other is still under guard—and that a third witness was spirited or frightened away and did not reappear until the case ended. The Judge stopped the first trial, and when the first jury were empanelled for the second trial there were objections to nine of the people who were produced. At the end, the Judge said to the jury:
No doubt you have been shocked to hear the sort of thing that is going on in this city",
and the defence counsel said he hoped that the long arm of the law would be long enough to see that the Pen Club did not operate again. My Lords, there is no "long arm". The police just cannot lift a finger to stop clubs like this being opened or reopened. On May 27 there was a news item which referred to Miss Fay Sadler, the woman who did not appear to give evidence at the Pen Club trial but reappeared the day after it was all over. The news item said that her club in Soho was struck off. Chief Inspector Leslie Jones told the magistrate that the police had been unable
to trace the secretary but that Miss Sadler's club had ceased to exist. He added that he had visited the premises of the Club at 17, Moore Street, Soho, and found a new club there which had been registered at the court. Mr. Barker granted the application to strike off Miss Sadler's club. Before it was struck off there was another club in the same premises carrying on the same kind of business. Could there by any greater farce or graver dereliction of duty than if we were not to admit these circumstances and attempt to put them right?
A few days ago the Government were pressed in another place to expedite legislation for the better control of undesirable clubs. According to The Times report, Mr. Vosper, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, said:
Consultations are proceeding with a view to amending the law as soon as practicable.
My Lords, that is not nearly good enough, At best it could mean a delay of twelve months; at worst, it might mean three or four years. Why—I hope that the noble and learned Viscount, who I am very glad to know is going to reply, will deal with this point—as an emergency measure, cannot Regulation 55C, or something equivalent thereto, be re-imposed immediately? Almost every day the papers report a gang battle, like the one in North Kensington last Thursday night, for which a headline was, "Rival Gangs in London Club Fight." They always start in or outside a club. And there is the pitiful comment of a woman living near, "I heard shouts and screams, but was afraid to find out what was going on." It has got as bad as that.
§ We must, in my view, act quickly, because these gangs have already become sufficiently strong to defy the law even in a case of murder, and they are continuing their ways undeterred. Last Easter morning, in the early hours of the morning, there was a bottle battle between the Dock Street Club in Stepney and the Tower Club nearby and it took three carloads of police to quell it. I spoke to a business man with premises next door to the Tower Club, now closed, who telephoned to the police. He said that he was disturbed so often by callers at 2 and 3 o'clock in the morning that he hung a notice on his door, "Gamblers next door". It is as open and blatent as that, and the police are 234 powerless to do anything about it. These are not the sort of places which the word "club" conjures up in the mind's eye; they are not the kind of places referred to in The Times article to-day, which are apparently doing very much better than they did a few years back. These places I am talking about are small, narrow, grimy shops, with the ground floor serving drinks; the basement is a gambling joint and there is a brothel upstairs: the most sordid and depressing and filthy sights imaginable.
§ Let me mention one or two other examples from the probation officers' report. The Corridor Club was, until recently, the "Horse-Shoe", and before that it was the "9A Club". It had one evening and two afternoon shows of the G-string type, performed by teenage girls for an audience of about 50, mostly City workers. Immediate admittance could be gained just by signing a membership form. The sole purpose of the performance was to attract customers and increase the sale of drink when ordinary licensed premises were shut. Marty of the worst clubs are attached to cafés. The Cockney Café in Backchurch Lane is an example. It served only tea, soft drinks and light refreshments, and full to capacity it would hold 28 people. Yet the owner paid a rent of £20 a week. He got his money, of course, from the steady flow of girls who took men upstairs. After a time, observation on the café became much more difficult, because the rooms upstairs became the Britannia Club and, of course, all those who mounted the stairs were club members.
§ The "Play Box", in Berner Street, close to the Bernhard Baron Settlement, was for years a notorious centre for ponces and prostitutes. The juke box went on all night, so that decent working folk in Basil House, a neighbouring block of flats, were constantly disturbed by it and by the fights and the cars arriving and departing at all hours of the night. Two years ago, after a tremendous effort, the police managed a successful prosecution. The proprietor was fined a total of £140 on seven counts, including that of allowing prostitutes to consort there, and he was deprived for five years of his licence to run a refreshment house. The very same night it opened as the Blue Heaven Club. What a sickening business for the police after all their work! What a sickening 235 business for the people who live there! Nothing was changed, except that the police could no longer go when the local residents complained, because now it was a club. Three or four months ago the name was changed again: it is now the Transport Café. But the business has not changed.
§ The people who run these places do not merely use existing legislation, they are ahead of it. If ever they get into trouble with the police they can afford to pay for the best legal advice, and they often get away with it. The Pen Club case is reported to have cost some £20,000, but money is no object in this business. For example, Graces Alley is a slum clearance area. It is owned by one man, a Greek, whom I saw the other day, and the houses are all condemned, but he was allowed to patch them up. One of them was simply appalling—not even a shell: just Mother Earth, without roof, windows or doors; and on this site in the night hours, and largely in matchboarding, the Green Parrot Club has been built with rooms over the top. It exists solely for prostitution, drink and drugs. Of course, the eventual scrapping of the place as a clearance area is a mere trifle in the overheads, so large are the profits.
§ In my view, the most tragic feature of this business is that many of the girls are educationally subnormal. Many come in on long-distance lorries. They have run away from unhappy homes in the Provinces, or perhaps from approved schools. Through some mysterious network they get the addresses from friends, and, once contact has been made, it is only too easy for a homeless girl, susceptible to the kindness of a so-called protector, to get into the routine of organised prostitution. Late one night last winter, two girls, aged seventeen, were stranded and came to St. Paul's Church House. Both had been doing a strip-tease at the Tower Club; both were pregnant. Generally the girls are not free-lance; they are attached to a ponce. The clubs are the centres for organised prostitution and are becoming increasingly so. The men buy up houses or secure rooms for their girls, and some hovels are let for as much as £20 per week per room.
§ I have the names of girls who have come to London from the North (of course 236 I shall not disclose them) and of some who, after a social worker had made contact, have been spirited away and never seen since. Others, when they are willing, have been and are being cared for at the Church House in Wellclose Square. There, on the initiative of Father Williamson, the Vicar of St. Paul's, magnificent work is being done by two dedicated women who devote their lives, and not infrequently their beds, to these unfortunate girls. No fewer than 82 have been cared for in the last eighteen months. My Lords, I have been there and I have seen them, and it is impossible to withhold the utmost admiration, not only for the work these people are doing but for their magnificent courage in face of actual physical threat. Indeed, I would couple with them Miss Edith Ramsay, a member of the Borough Council of Stepney and a former head of the Stepney Community Centre, who is truly magnificent. I suppose she has the courage, the strength and the determination of a Florence Nightingale, and she is indeed a Florence Nightingale of the brothels. Some of the younger girls are taken to Church House by the older prostitutes, who say, "You must not go through what I have gone through."
§ All this is in London, my Lords, the capital of the Commonwealth, where conditions, as Father Williamson told me, are as bad as any he has seen in Egypt, North Africa or Spain. As he said, "We live in hell here." I cannot say that conditions are as bad in the other districts which I have mentioned in the Express article; but I can say that I have details of examples in various parts of London where organised vice is just as rampant, and the offence to recent residents in the community just as acute, as those in Stepney. For example—and this may surprise the noble and learned Viscount—Lambeth Court is so overloaded with cases that every Wednesday they have to take an overflow right over to Old Street No. 2 court in Shoreditch; and an additional court is to be opened in Marylebone.
§ On May 19 the right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary said that he was satisfied that the police were doing everything possible to suppress gang, warfare and organised crime in London. Of course they are doing 237 everything possible. They are performing miracles, with both hands tied behind their backs. The trouble is that it is not only the underworld which is affected; the gangsters not only "knock spots off" each other; they terrorise ordinary decent people in their homes and at their work.
§ Only two weeks ago I personally had an experience which proved to me how utterly these thugs have dominated and put fear into the minds of ordinary working men who do not normally come into contact with them. I have a factory which has what I would call a large yard. It is a public thoroughfare and it is shared with the Ministry of Labour. There is room there for three lines of vehicles. Normally, therefore, the lorries which are constantly arriving and departing every day can easily get about their business.
§ It was a Friday afternoon—almost the only day that I am there in the afternoon—and I saw lots of cars in the road or yardway, whatever you would call it. I asked why they were there, and I was told, "Those are the young crooks, coming up in their cars to draw their dole". I saw some half-a-dozen of my men standing still doing nothing, and I said, "What are you waiting for? Why aren't you at work?" They said, "We're waiting for the lorry to come down". I said, "Why doesn't it come down?" and they said, "The cars are in the way". I said to one of the men, "Go and tell them to move them." He replied, "I don't know who they belong to". I said, "Go into the Labour Exchange and find out." He said, "I did that last week, and they threatened me with a broken bottle in my face if I did it again". So, of course, I went up myself—thirty yards. They were not all young men. I asked, "Who does this car belong to?", and one of them said, "It's mine". "Then move it", I said, and without a word he did. But what staggered me was that my men let me walk up there and watched me come back, and when I came back one of them said, "If you go on like that you'll get a knife in your back". It does not matter whether or not that is so. What does matter is that those men believe it—and they are men of the type who two or three years ago would no more have tolerated insolence from young men like that than fly in the air.238
§ My Lords, these conditions are a challenge to us all, and to none more than the Government, because of the conditions as to the registration of clubs that have been allowed to go on, and the things which have arisen, exacerbated as they are by the Street Offences Act. The London County Council tried to deal with the situation by promoting a Private Bill, the Registration of Clubs (London) Bill. It was not allowed to proceed because it sought to amend an important Act of Parliament, and I am glad that it was not allowed to proceed. That was obviously the right decision, if I may say so with respect. I am glad that it did not go on because the Bill permitted objection only to the registration of new clubs, whereas all the types I have mentioned are already in existence, and their number is growing daily.
§ It is also clear that some cafés which do not sell intoxicants are as big a menace as the registered drinking clubs. Your Lordships will be aware that at one time I represented in another place the constituency of Shoreditch and Finsbury, which includes the old village of Hoxton. It is still a village, and the people there are tough, courageous and respectable. We had only one of these evil cafés there—an all-night café. It was a resort of evil, a centre for training prostitutes and for approved school boys "on the run". The police could do nothing about it at all, so the good folk of Hoxton went and smashed it up. It was patched up again and was reopened. They went and smashed it up again; and that was enough. Unofficially, I approve, but it is bad for decent people to have to break the law as the only way to protect their homes and their children. Have we got back to the days of the Wild West and the Vigilantes? It is the Government's responsibility to create and maintain conditions in which our people can live in safety and decency.
§ My Lords, I want to say, with the greatest possible emphasis, that the dirt cannot be pushed any further under the carpet. It must be uncovered, exposed and dealt with. There must be an end of this kind of official humbug, pretending that things are not as they are and allowing them to get worse all the time. It was not pleasant for me to investigate this problem; it is not pleasant for me to have to come and talk about it, but somebody has to do it.239
§ I do not expect the noble and learned Viscount to say in any detail what form of legislation the Government will introduce, but I do ask for an undertaking that the Government will take immediate emergency action. If it is not possible for Regulation 55C, or something like it, to be reimposed under the main Act, then I say it is possible, certainly with the goodwill of this House, and quite certainly with the good will of the other place, to put through during this Session of Parliament a Regulation which would have equal effect. I also ask the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack to give an undertaking to-night that in the next Session the Government will introduce a measure to give courts the power to refuse the registration or the re-registration of a club on a successful objection by the police or a local authority. I also ask that in that legislation in the next Session they will take powers to deal with undesirable cafés and other so-called houses of refreshment. It is no good the Home Secretary assuring us that the police are adopting new methods to tackle the gangs and to deal with the gangsters. Of course they are; and of course they must. But what we have to do is to shut the places where the gangs breed and where they make their vicious profits, which are the basis of all the things which I have dicussed.
§ I understand that when previous attempts have been made to revise the law of clubs and of the registration of clubs there has been great opposition by the existing respectable clubs. They fear that their reasonable liberties will be restricted—and I am glad that the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Carlisle is going to take part in this debate, because I am sure he will tell us that the Athenaeum has nothing to fear, and also that no working men's club, if it is a bona fide, respectable club, has anything to fear from a reasonable right of entry by the police in order to satisfy themselves that it conducts its affairs in a proper way. Indeed, I think that a sensible revision of the law is in the interests of all respectable clubs. But it is surely common sense, common justice, and the preservation of the true freedom of the great majority of citizens, to give the police, local residents and local authorities the right to make an 240 effective protest against the opening or continuance of any club or café whose purpose is clearly anti-social and evil.
§ The rising generation, as we know, is more mature at the same age than we were: they also have more money. But, paradoxically, though older outside, they are younger inside than we were. It is our duty to give them such protection as we can. Therefore I ask the Government to give a pledge that they will introduce the necessary legislation as soon as possible, so that decent people will no longer be powerless to prevent the demoralisation of their districts and the debauching of their young people. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ BARONESS RAVENSDALE OF KEDLESTON
My Lords, in supporting the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, I must speak to your Lordships' House with the greatest vehemence I can. As your Lordships will remember, in the debates on the Street Offences Bill, I voted against the Government and against certain clauses, and mentioned twice the appalling outcome of merely taking one class—the women—off the streets and pushing them "under the carpet". The shocking situation which the noble Lord has just described is, alas! to my sorrow, largely the direct result of the Street Offences Act. In getting rid of one nuisance, it has created another, with all its hideous ramifications of vice, violence, gangs, blackmail; with, as your Lordships have heard, these wretched clubs, flowering, pushing up everywhere like mushrooms. The street-woman of 1959 has become the clubwoman of 1960. These women have been driven by this legislation into drinking dens—and what a boom these shocking places are having! Huge sums are made out of them. Criminals, pimps, ponces, call-girls, are all in this sordid racket.
Your Lordships have heard how easy it is to register a club for five shillings. It is as easy as getting a season ticket. It is a very curious business, this marriage of crime and profit. And it is ironic that in war time we had Regulation 55c, simply because we were scared out of our lives for survival, in order to control these wretched clubs, whether to protect us against spies or underground machinations of the enemy. Well and 241 good then; but now there are no underground machinations; no inquiry at all and no inspection made. We protect the citizen in war, but in peace, through misguided legislation, we hurl him into every known danger and peril as the outcome of the Street Offences Act.
Would your Lordships also please contrast the sneer these dubious club proprietors must have on their faces as they go zig-zagging through my area, Stepney, opening club after club, flouting the police entirely, whilst a pathetic publican trying to get a licence to run a pub is faced with formulas far worse than climbing Mount Everest. And if a publican does not run his pub properly, he loses his licence. It may be said that a club is a private place and free from supervision. Why should the proprietor be free from supervision when he has under his care human souls whom he uses as white trash for his nefarious deals? It is a dreadfult blot on our escutcheon. There is nothing sacred in it and it is profane, this licence for five shillings, with no questions asked and the alleged rules never even looked into.
London is becoming a place of fear to live in. Peaceful, law-abiding citizens in the areas of these clubs go in fear of their lives, and if they dare murmur of these terrors to the police or to anyone else, they are scared. I still want to work in the area I love, Stepney; and in recounting to your Lordships what I have seen in these clubs and cafés. I will not mention any names—I do not want to be slashed or to have vitriol thrown into my face. The force that could help us—the police force—is utterly frustrated. In my tour in my area one night I found one club proprietor who admitted that he himself had once been in the police. This job was no doubt more profitable.
I am not fitted to speak to your Lordships on these evils unless I have personal evidence to offer, or your Lordships might say, "What does she know about vice and prostitution, pimps and ponces and club proprietors—unless she is in the racket herself!" I have here an application form for membership of a club as a proof of what I have seen. Here it is—I procured it on my tour that night. I passed the notorious Pen Club where Cooney was murdered. It was all boarded up. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has said, in 242 another street, only 150 yards off, I went into a very sleazy, posh club—and I may say that Miss Ramsay and I entered several through that long night, looking for a lost girl from Newcastle. The proprietor who had been connected with the Pen Club opened it, as you have heard, a week after the Pen Club was closed. This is one of the "hottest" strip-tease clubs in London. And will your Lordships listen to this tragedy? There are four shows daily. Have your Lordships ever looked, or taken thought to look, at the horrifying life of a striptease girl, stripping from 11.30 a.m. to the small hours of next day, giving 23 or 24 shows a day for a sum of £50 a week? These wretched girls rush from one smoky beer-stained cellar to another, racing from place to place on scooters or in cars run by their employers. They are offered fabulous fees for special "anything goes" performances.
And who goes to these strip-tease shows? Ninety per cent. are ordinary City types, with black coats and striped trousers—begging your Lordships' pardon. They stride religiously into "Peeporama," and they take a pal so that they can put it on an expense account. They are aged between 30 and 55. Why do they go in? They go in to giggle and goggle and leer at these miserable strip-tease girls. I am not going to psychoanalyse their reasons. But we all know from Press articles and personal information that there is a vast strip-tease business, a business with a national turnover of £5 million a year. That is big business. Is it here to stay? How can we, as decent citizens, battle with this; or how can the Government control this big secret society, when the supporters are ordinary citizens—supporting, my Lords, these hundreds and hundreds of strip-tease clubs? They line the pockets of these men I mention who run Britain's latest gold mine.
Miss Ramsay and I were totally defeated in endeavouring to witness these shows. The proprietor of the club behind the Pen Club was oily and cautious with excuses. His application forms "were with the police". I asked why? No explanation. The police had taken them in order to look at them. At another luxurious club the proprietor kicked us out with a volley of abuse. In those 243 countless sordid, rowdy, evil-smelling clubs that I entered that night, certain wonderful people, God be praised, like my dear friend Miss Edith Ramsay or the Reverend Father Williamson, as you have heard, can walk through and enter those hideous centres, like angels of light and in a black, black world; otherwise the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and myself could never have seen what we did see.
The clubs that I entered, and I am sure those that the noble Lord entered, too, all had the blackest record. The prostitutes were tragic and squalid, and the men with whom I spoke and chatted mostly coloured. I have no doubt that they were all experts in vice, dope-selling and drug-peddling. One coloured man even offered me a dance to a "juke box", and when I said that I was too old for the "Cha-Cha" he said that he would put on a slow fox-trot for me. I said that his young companions were more suitable than my ancient self. But, my Lords, he had the touching decency to say to Miss Ramsay and me as we left that he hoped his companions had caused us no inconvenience, as some of them were pretty drunk. There is a chivalry even among these thugs and gangsters, and one prostitute said to me that she wished we could find the Newcastle girl "to save her in time from getting into trouble".
So, my Lords, we hovered that memorable and tragically sordid night between respectability and vice. One coloured proprietor told us that his club had been closed by the police in a liquor raid two nights before. But there he was in the same street, a few doors down on the opposite side, having opened another club. Nothing said; nothing done. The blond girls behind the bars were all known to Miss Ramsay; they had all been up on every known charge, and, sadly, they openly chatted about it, because they depend on the flouting of the law to get on with their trades. These places that I visited had been struck off again and again, but up they pop, perhaps with the same manager, a few streets away, as you have heard, in a few days. It is exactly like prohibition days in America.
The scum in these clubs is monstrous to see, and they lure in by every wile and subterfuge, often, alas! as you have 244 heard, the weak and innocent girls; and, tragically, women police have brought to juvenile courts girls of 15 years old whom they have found in these ghastly cafés and clubs—because the cafés, too, are in the racket. The sinister web is woven by pimps and ponces all over London. Another terrible evil is the notices for models. What a gold mine for shopowners! A barrow man I watched myself off Curzon Street was selling his flowers with all these horrifying notices on the back of his barrow; and the police, whom I saw standing around, were completely impotent.
How can we catch these men? And who are the men?—because they exist in vast numbers and are making fortunes on immoral earnings. One of the tragedies of Stepney, too, is the increase in high wages, because it enables everywhere the weak, rotten, poor, tempted citizens to pay vast sums for these lewd pleasures to a very high tune. I walked down a vile street in Stepney filled with battered, war-damaged hovels. All the girls were casually smoking at their doors—the police cannot touch them in the doorways—and the men, chiefly coloured, were pouring in like ants. These girls hire from a landlord a filthy room for £20 a week, but these doomed girls can coin the money. They will charge a "fiver" (your Lordships will forgive my being so sordid and vulgar) for a long spell and £1 for a quick bash". And who takes the money? The sinister employer in the background.
Estate agents well known to the police are contining their business, too—and I referred to this in my remarks in the Street Offences debate. One woman, I gather, with 36 convictions has 15 flats let to prostitutes. Notorious brothel keepers in Mayfair still possess flats to let. An estate agent in Soho took over from a well known criminal and has many flats to let. All this is a great evil crossword puzzle that links up with vice and drugs, nudist shows and striptease in these registered clubs. And in these pitiable daily occurrences in this Jacket no one ever sees anything or hears anything, because a quick slash with an underworld knife is a more effective weapon than the protection of the law. Guns now play a part in the warfare, too. Gangsters have been taken up, but there is no evidence against them. Even 245 if a man is caught with a gun on him he can only get three months. But a man should be certain of going to gaol—should be not?—if he is found with an illegal gun on him in these pitiable circumstances, where murder may come out of it.
May this debate hasten the right honourable gentleman in another place to bring in this quick legislation! I realise that even he is getting bothered. But I respectfully say, "I could have told you so". To patch up this running sore in our midst, please! please! Her Majesty's Government must bring in legislation enabling, as your Lordships have heard, the police, the local authorities or the magistrates to investigate the record of a proprietor applying for registration, and also for re-registration. If the record is unsavoury, the licence should be refused. If that rule came in none of the proprietors I saw could exist at all on their dirty records. Her Majesty's Government must equally evolve legislation to catch the stooge who may be running the club, say, for a group like the notorious Messina gang, or any other proprietor who may already have a monopoly of clubs, thereby hiding his own name in his monstrous trade. So the stooge should be watched and his record identified and supervised.
As I moved around that night I recalled my early days in Stepney over 43 years ago when, as your Lordships have heard, prostitution was hardly known. Of course, the population has changed entirely now, because it is largely coloured. It is the Maltese who are some of the worst offenders. A Mr. and Mrs. Summitt were in a shocking case the other day before Mr. Justice Finnemore for letting flats to East End prostitutes. The judge said that it was a story of beastliness, degradation and greed, and a shame to any civilised country The husband was in Malta, but Elia Bajada, a café proprietor, and Mrs. Summitt let these rooms to prostitutes at £2 10s. a night. These four rooms were meanly furnished and dirty, but they brought in rents totalling £3,000 a year from prostitutes. Bajada got three years and Mrs. Summitt 2½, but both had had many previous convictions for soliciting. Once she was fined £15. So light occasionally does shine but, alas! not often enough.
246 A Stepney man, the father of seven children, Alfred Attard, was fined £30 and ordered to pay £6 in costs or three months' imprisonment for letting a ground floor room in Penton Street, which is near my own clubs, to a prostitute for £12 a week. Leo Steinberg was gaoled for three months, thank God! and fined £50 at Thames Court for allowing his premises in Stepney, in Christian Street, again not far from the Highway Clubs, to be used for habitual prostitutes. He was sentenced previously to four months, when he was fined £60 and costs. But the money is there. He goes up again for the same offence. It is the same woman who has already been up twenty times—the same man, same premises, same woman. Superintendent Charles Attwood said the woman paid £2 a night for use of the front room, though the rent book was made out for £2 a week. She never had a key. Steinberg had it, the man I have mentioned, and he opened and locked the door for her.
I come back to these club proprietors. They should never have been allowed to register these premises. As you have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, they will pay anything in fines up to £200 or more, but within a week the premises are reopened on another floor or further down the street. The moment the disqualification runs out, up bobs the club again and, as you have heard, there is always that mystery on the top floor or in the basement of these clubs. You cannot get beyond the bar, the juke box, dance room or rather sleazy, gay little restaurant. That is the blind. As I realised only too fully, standing in these places hour after hour, the evil was up there, down there. You cannot get there, but I have enough imagination to know what is going on.
To end my few words to your Lordships, I would say that. Stepney, alas! is not the only evil breeding ground, as you have heard. These clubs are all over the West End. The murdered Cooney owned a West End dive, too. As you have heard from the sainted Reverend Williamson, we are worse than Spain, Egypt or Africa. As surely as I stand before you the case is surely proved. The evil arises from out-of-date laws regarding registration of clubs and from the Street Offences Bill. I support the noble Lord's Motion, and I ask Her Majesty's Government to 247 please take immediate steps to give the police the power to stop these local gangsters, so that ordinary citizens can walk abroad once again in decency and safety.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
My Lords, a few days ago we had a debate on procedure in the House, and a good deal of emphasis was laid upon the undesirability of a Member of this House speaking on a subject in which he had a personal interest, at least without revealing his interest. So I must begin by admitting that I belong to a club which serves drink. I hope that the mover of this Motion would agree with me that if the Reform Club is a political evil, it is not a social evil. I must go on to say that, although that is the only club of which I am a member now, in the past I belonged to three other clubs. One was a working men's club in Bethnal Green, which I joined in the hope that I should be allowed to lecture to them—but they did not want lectures: they preferred snooker and other games. The other was the Atheneum, to which I found myself promoted after a few years at the Reform Club. My name had been down for some time. Then I found that the Athenæum very definitely did not want something that I, at the age of 40 (as I was then) happened to want. It did not want women. In those days both the Reform and the Athenæum were as completely masculine as this House was until very recently, and I found that if I wanted to entertain my lady friends I must go to Soho; and I went to Soho and joined a club there.
As one who has often accepted the hospitality of the noble Lord in the Reform, and is also a devoted member of the Athenæum, may I ask him what the Reform has got that the Athenæum has not, and why he resigned from the Atheneum to join the Reform?
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
I stayed in the Reform from conservatism. I was very happy and I saw no special reason for paying two subscriptions; so I saved the money on the Athenaeum and went 248 to Soho. I am no longer a member of that club in Soho, but I have been told a good deal about it by a friend of mine at the Reform. He tells me that it seems to be in a very bad way financially because it seems to be unable always to provide full clothing for the ladies on its staff; whether it is financial difficulty or whether it is something the noble Lady who has just spoken calls strip-tease I will not endeavour to say. I can say nothing more about that club or about any other club. I am a member of the Reform, and I know nothing myself of clubs such as those subject to this Motion.
But I am an academic person, and an academic person, if he does not know something, devotes himself to research about it; and I may assure your Lordships that, with the admirable help—I cannot say how admirable it is—of our Library here, and of the Officers of our Library, I have done a very thorough research into the licensing Acts which affect clubs, from the Conservative Act of 1902, the Act of 1910 and the Conservative Act of 1953. All of them are mainly concerned with pubs rather than clubs, but they all have a substantial number of sections about clubs. What was much more interesting and important, I found in my researches there a Report of a Royal Commission on Licensing which sat from September, 1929, to December, 1931. It also dealt with clubs as well as pubs. Its Chairman was the first Lord Amulree, and there were nineteen other members. It produced a monumental Report, consisting of 852 paragraphs, in 39 chapters, with three Minority Reports and six reservations. It dealt with clubs very shortly, comparatively, in about 50 paragraphs—I think paragraphs 493 to 539, one in twenty of all its length.
But what is really important is that that Report said that clubs were one of the most important subjects of its whole inquiry, and a very large part of the evidence given to the Commission (these are its own words) was on clubs, and it was very, very critical of the clubs. It described many of them as deplorable. It described the law as utterly futile and registration as a formality. It spoke of the difficulty of getting evidence of misbehaviour; of removal of registration being no deterrent at all, because somebody else came in and opened up again. 249 That Report told us, 30 years ago, practically everything that the mover of this Motion and the noble Baroness have told us to-day. Let me say at once that does not mean that I am not very thankful that they should have said it again. But it was all known to the Government of the day of 1931.
That Report went on to propose vital changes of law as to clubs. There was to be discretionary registration, not automatic registration with annual renewal. A formal right of objection to renewal was to be given to the police; to the local authority; to any neighbouring householder who was affected by the management of a club. The police were to have—and this was a really vital point—on the order of a chief constable, the right of entry to any club to see how it was being conducted. The law then (and your Lordships will be shocked to know that the law is the same to-day) was that entry was permitted only by the authority of a justice of the peace, on a case submitted to him on full information. Otherwise, no policeman—nobody—could get into the club to find out What was happening. That was the law 30 years ago. That was the law that the Amulree Commission wanted to get altered.
What happened to the Report of that Commission? What has happened since? One thing we know is that the number of clubs has increased from about 13,000 to 25,000—double. Another thing—and I believe it is possibly true; though I do not know—is that there has been more of this horrible growth of prostitution. I am prepared to accept the evidence that has been submitted by those who have spoken before me. But nothing whatever else happened about the Report of the Commission. Of course, nobody would expect anything to be done about a Report like that in the 1930's. The 1930's in this country were almost the most miserable political time in our history, with the Hitler menace growing and nobody except two people (I heard them both speak splendidly in the House), Winston Churchill and Archie Sinclair, making any real attempt in the House of Commons to get the Government to move against that menace. Why should a Government that would not pay any attention to Hitler worry about Amulree and his 250 Commission Report and prostitution and drinking in clubs? And it did not.
But now we come to after the war. One thing frankly shocked me in my attempt to discover—it was a very difficult attempt—how the present Licensing Act, the Act that is now in force, the Act of 1953, came to be drafted and put through. Would you believe it, my Lords, that that Act repeats, in all the words, everything about clubs and their registration that appeared in the Act of 1902? The Conservative Government was 50 years behind the times. So was the Labour Opposition of that time. That Act of 1953 went through literally without discussion. There was one question raised on some other point about licensing, but all the sections of the Act dealing with clubs are not recorded anywhere as having been discussed: you get only a list of them as passed.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT KILMUIR)
My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend, because I know that he does not want to make a bad point? That was a Consolidation Act and, under our consolidation procedure, we do not make changes in policy; otherwise it would be impossible to continue with the great work of consolidation and the improvement of the Statute Book. I am not objecting to any of the blame that he is seeking to place in other respects, but he cannot blame us for that one.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
May I say that of course I always accept that kind of correction from the Lord Chancellor. But I still ask: why in the world was it necessary to make a Consolidation Act about clubs, repeating literally what was previously in the Act? I honestly think that it was a waste of time and energy. Would anything wrong have happened to this country if it had never been passed at all? At any rate, that is the law now—the law made in 1953. I agree that it is a Consolidation Act; that is why nobody thought it ought to be discussed. Unfortunately, there were not then the noble Lords and Baronesses present in this House to make a row about carrying on the Act of 1902 in regard to this horrible evil of clubs. It really is a horrible evil. On this occasion both Parties accepted it. That is why I am so glad that both the large Parties—I am saying nothing about the Liberal Party, 251 because your Lordships will all realise that Lord Amulree was a good Radical, though he served for a while in the Labour Government—
I do not want to make a Party point, but since my Party was being lambasted, may we ask what the Liberal Party were doing in 1953, and what the noble Lord was doing? He was already a great ornament of this House at that time.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
With all respect, and having regard to the time, I will decline to answer the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, because I do not want to get into a political controversy. I can tell your Lordships that I have already left out a number of Party political points to shorten my speech, and I am not going to lengthen it. I am delighted that the speakers of both the great Parties, and myself, speaking as I do for the Liberal Party here, are perfectly clear that the management of our clubs to-day is a disgrace, and that it is necessary to do something to put that right.
I suspect that Lord Amulree, for whom I had great respect for what he said, would have said that it is essential in one way or another now to distinguish member clubs from proprietary clubs. Let me tell your Lordships that, while wishing to put the proprietary deplorable clubs in good order and on proper behaviour, he fully recognised the need of real club life for people of all grades of society. He was not in the least a person wishing to abolish every kind of club life: he wished only to abolish the evil of it. I am therefore delighted that this Motion is going forward. I support it wholeheartedly. This story of evil is, in a sense, 30 years old. It does not make it less desirable, but even more desirable, that it should be put forward in such excellent language as it has been put forward to-day.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ LORD GREENHILL
My Lords, I confess to your Lordships that what I have heard from my noble friend Lord Stonham, and from the noble Baroness, has simply shocked me, and if I followed my present inclination I should just sit down, on the ground that I have listened to what appears to me to be an experience completely foreign to that which I have 252 gained in my years in Scotland. I may say that I have served as a magistrate on the bench. For those of your Lordships who do not know of the practice in Scotland, I should perhaps explain that in ordinary cases the magistrates sit there not as a bench but as individuals. I have heard cases of a more or less sordid kind, but I do not think I have ever heard of conditions such as have been described this afternoon. I can only wonder whether the licensing laws which we are operating in Scotland, particularly in respect to clubs, are so much better than those in England that the offences do not exist there to the same extent as they do here.
In order to acquaint myself to some extent with the problem with which my noble friend is dealing to-day, I consulted one of the Town Clerks of the City of Glasgow, and also the Chief Constable of Glasgow. In the course of my conversation with one of the Town Clerks, he appeared to think that the problem in Scotland, or in Glasgow, was not so bad as, certainly I have gained the impression, it is in England. He mentioned, in regard to this strip-tease business that we have heard about, one occasion on which a man from England came up for the purpose of inquiring whether it would be possible to open a club in Glasgow. Having heard all the conditions with which is was necessary to comply before the club could be opened (he had given them to understand that this would be some kind of strip-tease club), he said that he would think it over and let the Town Clerk know. Nothing more has been heard of him. Apparently conditions in Scotland, in respect to the licensing of clubs, are rather different.
In regard to the police, whilst I do not pretend that there are no problems of this kind in cities like Glasgow, Edinburgh, and even Aberdeen and Dundee, I cannot believe that these places have anything like the sort of clubs that I have heard described this afternoon. It is true that there have been times when proceedings have been taken against some clubs which have been proven to be not desirable, but I think that the number of such clubs has not been so great as to create, or give the impression of creating, a big social problem.
253 Therefore, as I say, and as your Lordships will gather, I feel a little bewildered at having to deal with a problem which, quite frankly, I did not realise was so serious and so great as obviously it is, certainly in London and, apparently, even in Huddersfield. If, therefore, I am to try to justify my entering into the debate this afternoon, it is because I was wanting to look at the thing from a somewhat broader and more general angle, for, as your Lordships know, of recent years there have been quite a number of contributions to this problem, not particularly in regard to clubs, but in regard to social evils of one kind or another.
Recently, we have had Questions in your Lordships' House. Only yesterday, I believe, there was a Question dealing with the running of motor cars and of living at high rates of expenditure on what are called expense accounts. Then, there was the speech in another place of Mr. Butler in regard to the Betting and Gaming Act, when he gave some kind of account of what it is that should determine opportunities or necessities for legislation. Perhaps I might quote just a word or two from what he said, because I think it is appropriate. When introducing the Bill on Second Reading in another place he said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 613 (No. 18), col. 805]:In framing our modern legislation, we must … decide what aspects of conduct can appropriately be regulated by the criminal law.… We should distinguish between what is immoral or sinful and what is criminal,and that does appear to be a reasonable attitude to adopt when we come to legislate upon such things.
In the current number of Parliamentary Affairs there is an article by the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Exeter entitled "Parliament and Morals" and there he deals very thoroughly with these problems about which we have been hearing this afternoon. Perhaps I am interpreting his view correctly when I say that he certainly does not think that either what he calls the "theocratic attitude", which is an extreme authoritarian attitude to morals, or what he calls a "liberal" attitude, which is the more easy going attitude, is right but the law can act only as a referee in matters of this kind. I do not want to misrepresent what the 254 right reverend Prelate said, but there he seemed to me to give a balanced view of how we should tackle the problems of the social evils of this kind with which we are faced.
Then we have the Press reports which reflect not merely the events of the day but also the views, or what are supposed to be the general views, of the population upon them. Yet here, too, I am prepared to say that there are often cases of abuse. May I quote, for example, a case which was before the courts the other week in Scotland, in which two men, were charged with benefiting from the immoral earnings of a woman? The newspaper quoted what were alleged to be the actual words of the woman concerned, who was a witness, the amount she received, the time she was away, the accommodation she offered, and so on. Even on the assumption that that kind of detailed and sordid evidence was necessary in a court of law, one feels that it was not necessary in a newspaper report of a particular event. I thought to myself that if this woman who, having taken money for what she was alleged to have done, was called a common prostitute, was there any great difference between that and the action of the newspaper, also for money, in printing these sordid details for the titillation of the public?
These are questions of wider issue, perhaps, than the particular one dealt with by my noble friend Lord Stonham, but I believe they form part of the larger picture with which we are faced to-day. I sometimes think that instead of publicising (as we have the right to do) the evils which undoubtedly exist—and the extent to which, apparently, they exist in London is certainly surprising—it is necessary, also, to emphasise the other side of the picture: that on the whole the population of our country is a law-abiding, kindly, considerate and dependable body of people; and that we ought to take credit for the great majority of our population, who are decent people.
It is also admitted that there is a too large minority who carry on in the way that has been described to-day and that we should do all we can to eliminate, either by persuasion or legislation, the evils for which they are responsible. Yet however strongly we may feel about these 255 evils, I think it is necessary to keep a balanced judgment upon what is taking place. We know of the increase in these evils, as my noble friend Lord Stonham has described; that there are young people who are beginning these evils at a younger age than they did in the past; and that, apparently, these clubs are multiplying. But when I look at the experiences that we have been suffering I feel that we in Scotland have not the same kind of problem as apparently exists in this country, and I ask myself whether this is due to the legislation we have.
Apparently our licensing laws are different from those in England. If my own experience is anything to go by, I would say that, for example, a licence for a club is not automatically handed out on application. I make no point of the fact that £1 is paid, instead of 5s., but I do make a point of the fact that the application goes to the sheriff's clerk and not to some lower individual, and that the police make a thorough investigation into the character of the applicant. The Act lays down certain conditions which must be fulfilled, and those are not mere paper requirements. A magistrates' committee of a town council have regularly submitted to them every time they meet—and they are not sitting as magistrates on a bench but sitting in the local authority committee, as a magistrates' committee—such things as these: and I quote the heading of the minute—" Registration of Clubs, application for renewal".
With your Lordships' permission I will read it as an example of the procedure.The Town Clerk having reported that intimation had been received from the Sheriff's Clerk of Lanarkshire that application had been made by the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes Club for renewal of the certificate of registration under the Licensing (Scotland) Act, and that there were no police objections thereto, the Committee, after consideration, agreed that no objection be offered on behalf of the Corporation.So the impression I gain is that there is considerable inquiry before a licence is granted. The licence is, of course, renewable. If I sense that there is anything the police would like to have, it is the power of entering these registered clubs without the necessity of applying for a warrant, for that does hold up the ordinary powers of supervision of what 256 goes on within the club, because of the technicalities necessary before that kind of order is given.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether the police, having obtained that information, have the effective power to prevent a licence from being granted if the answers to the questions or inquiries are not satisfactory?
§ LORD GREENHILL
My Lords, with the necessary reserve I would say "Yes", because when the application comes before the magistrates they have before them the police reports and they then decide whether or not to grant it. I believe the objections are not treated in any casual fashion. I would also speak of something of which I was reminded, although I confess it did not occur to me until I had a conversation with one of the town clerks. Let us remember that the right of assembly of individuals is not here being affected. If a group of people wish to form, say, a debating society, a music society or a literary society, and so on, there is no reason whatever why they should not do so, and these legal requirements do not apply. They apply only because drink is the object against which we seek protection. Therefore, it is within the licensing laws that these applications come, and it is within the operation of the licensing laws that this business of renewal or refusal comes in. I think—or, rather, I am convinced myself—that, although I would not for a moment pretend that some of these things are not abused, on the whole, by the operation of the Act as it appears to me as I read it, conditions are not nearly so bad in Scotland. And if it be that that better state of affairs is due to our licensing laws, then the sooner similar laws are adopted for England the better can this evil be remedied.
§ 6.12 p.m.
My Lords, first of all, I must apologise to my noble friend Lord Stonham, and to my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, because I shall not be here at the end of this debate. I should not like it to go forward to the papers from this debate that this city of ours is so much a sink of iniquity as, if I may say so, has been so ably put 257 forward by my noble friend Lord Stonham and the noble Baroness, Lady Ravensdale of Kedleston. Yesterday my noble friend Lord Pakenham and I saw the Commissioner of Police, Scotland Yard. He gave us the courtesy of answering all questions which we liked to put to him. Here I would say that I am still a fervent defender of the Street Offences Act. I think it took an intolerable nuisance off the streets and it also, which was probably even better, took a great deal of temptation which was in the streets away from young people. I asked the Commissioner this question: "Have the clubs"—which we are debating to-day—"rocketed up in numbers since the Street Offences Act?" His answer, through his juniors who were there with the details, was, "No".
I am a fervent believer that when possible, and if possible, something should be done to straighten out the question of these clubs. But we must remember that it is not just as easy as it sounds. If we licensed the lot, then the police would do a routine check to every one. The evidence is that a great many would close and would remain closed. But a great many would remain open and would, of course, give a lot more work to the police. That does not matter. The point is, to my mind, my Lords, that we must not get too sentimental—although we deprecate it heartily—about this question of prostitution, because it is the oldest thing; it has been going on for years. We cannot legislate against it; it is impossible completely to turn it out. But this is where the danger lies, to my mind, in the clubs—and I would speak from experience, because I was, during prohibition time, in Chicago, and I did not see but I heard the result of gang warfare and I did actually, through a strange experience, speak to two gangsters. So I put this question to the Commissioner: "Is it, in your opinion, or is it from the evidence which you have in the country, in the city of London, a possibility that gang warfare to a major degree could be effected, or is it arising, from the clubs that are now growing up?" His answer was: "I do not think so."
I am trying to get a proper perspective of the whole of this situation. I know of the difficulties. I know the dangers of, and the cruelties of, the life of prostitution; and also of the dangers that 258 these gangs may—shall we say—make take-over bids, not with money but with guns, knives and knuckledusters. Brilliant as the speeches were of the first two speakers, I feel that the evidence does not show—and I would not agree with my noble friend Lord Stonham-that the police were just putting up a story because they wanted a Street Offences Act. I believe their evidence. And I do not think that the evidence shows that we are in danger in this city of gang warfare to a great degree. It is not quite the sink of iniquity which it has been made out to be in this House to-night. But, on the other hand, I would most urgently ask that the Government consider the whole of this question and see whether any method can be brought forward, or legislation can be made, to put the whole matter on a proper footing.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ LORD DENNING
My Lords, many years ago I was instructed to draft the rules of a club. When I looked into it I found that there was nothing easier to draft and nothing easier to get through, because when any of these rules are submitted to the clerk to the justices, his duty is simply to register them. He has no right to inquire whether the club should be registered or not. That does not come before the justices in any way. They cannot say "Aye" or "Nay" to the registration of a club. All that has to be seen to is that the drinks which are supplied are to be under the control of the members, or of the committee of the members. When you see the nominees who are put in as members of the committee, you will see that in most of these drinking clubs, these proprietary clubs, it is the proprietor who really runs the club. The trouble about our definitions in the Licensing Act is that there is no definition of "club". The legislation is aimed to protect the right-running recreational or social clubs, which are not run for profit at all, and what has happened is that drinking establishments have been set up masquerading as clubs in order to avoid the licensing laws.
Let me draw your Lordships' attention to some of the differences. Under an ordinary licence you must have a person responsible. With these clubs, you need have no person; you need have only a limited company as a proprietary club with someone behind it. And what are 259 the sanctions? A club—an undefined, uncontrolled person or thing—may be struck off, but the individuals can put on a different hat next day and can carry on the club; the same persons under a different hat. You can disqualify the premises for twelve months, but when they are disqualified the real people who run the club can go next door. On licensed premises, moreover, you are not allowed to supply drinks to people under eighteen years of age. There is no such provision in regard to clubs. In their case, any child can be supplied with drinks, or other people can treat them to drinks. With licensed premises, you must not let them be used as a place where prostitutes resort. That applies only to licensed premises: it does not apply to clubs. With licensed premises, a constable can enter and see what is happening, but not so with a club. He must get a search warrant from a magistrate in respect of a club, and must put a reasonable case before him.
My Lords, what do these differences lead to? The manifestations of unlawful conduct in these clubs come before the courts, but the clubs themselves, rarely. We have heard illustrations this afternoon of cases from this great metropolis. Let me tell your Lordships of a case which we had before us, but in that part of the country in which I am partly responsible for the administration of justice—in Sussex. This was the case of a girl of fourteen years of age who, during her short summer holiday, helped as a waitress in a restaurant. A man of forty-four took an interest in her. He took her for a ride in a motor car, gave her money to buy black underwear and paid for her shoes. Within a week, he had taken her to a club—she was aged fourteen—had treated her to drinks in that club, and had then taken her to a flat immediately above. He said to her, "If you ever want to run away from home, you can always come here." Then, with another man of forty-one, he indecently assaulted her in his flat above the club, with the other man looking on and keeping watch. One of them said, "Don't be embarrassed; I see twenty girls a day like this."
Those men were convicted of indecent assault upon the girl, who ran home to her mother: but there was nothing that 260 could be done against the club. The club was, and still is, registered as a club—a place where this girl of fourteen was served with drinks, and where there were such goings on as I have described to your Lordships. Is it not important—and, indeed, the police in the county say it—that there should be an end to this easy registration and operation of clubs? These drinking clubs should not be allowed to masquerade any longer under the guise of ordinary clubs. It is all very well for ordinary members' clubs, which are not run for profit; they do not need an extension of the law, because they are run reasonably well. It is these proprietary clubs, these drinking establishments, these centres in which vice flourishes, which certainly ought to be brought within the reach of the long arm of the law.
§ 6.26 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CARLISLE
My Lords, I think we have all been deeply moved by the situation which has been outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, in introducing this Motion, supported by all the information that has been given by the noble Baroness. I have come here to support the Motion; but, while I could corroborate and add to the evidence which has been provided by both speakers mentioned, I do not feel that at this late hour of the evening I ought to go into many details. However, as it is essential that the evidence of these conditions should be as broad as possible, I want to make it clear that I have obtained a great deal of information from responsible bodies such as the Church of England Moral Welfare Society, under whose auspices there are many workers in London and in many other big cities throughout the country. I also have information from the London Welfare Council, from the Salvation Army, and from a man who has been professionally in show business for a lifetime, and whom I am permitted to quote, as I shall do in a moment or two. My other source of information has been a borough councillor. Your Lordships will therefore see that I have tried to gain knowledge of conditions from a fairly wide source. I also have evidence of conditions in a city which I shall not mention by name, but which is in the North Midlands. Perhaps I ought to say that it is not the city of Carlisle.
261 From all that has been already said, and from such information as I am now going to add, it is clear that we are faced with a very grave and growing social evil. Let me give you some idea of how persons are affected by it. I have here a list of young women whose lives have been fouled by this colossal evil. I am not going to mention any names, or the names of any places, but I will say that the first girl is aged seventeen. She was found by a R.S.P.C.C. officer in grave moral danger. She was acting as a hostess in one of these clubs, later closed by the police. She was an adopted child, and she had run away from her foster-home. She had lived in a room in bad quarters. That is the kind of young person who is so seriously affected. Here is another case. This young woman was referred to the Council for the Unmarried Mother, when she sought help because she was pregnant. She said that she was a telephonist but actually worked in a club. She disappeared until picked up at King's Cross Station by a Salvation Army Worker. She disappeared again and was next found in hospital with pneumonia. She has since disappeared, and no-one has been able to find her. A third young girl worked in a striptease club. She became pregnant. She said that she was staying in a house owned by the manager for his girls when they became pregnant. The baby was eventually looked after by her father's mother, who lives in appalling slum conditions. The girl herself was last seen with a man, and subsequently disappeared. I could quote many instances like these, which I give in order that the evil we are facing may be presented to us in personal terms.
Let me say one word in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, who seemed to think that the increase in clubs had not been so great since the passing of the Street Offences Act. There is very strong, clear and reliable evidence that the number of clubs has increased since the beginning of 1958. Seventy-five per cent. of the present clubs were not registered before 1958.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CARLISLE
Yes, my Lords. I am glad the noble 262 Lord has made that clear. Your Lordships can draw such conclusions as you like about whether or not the Street Offences Act has been instrumental in increasing this number. I think that preparations for opening clubs were made fairly well beforehand, as soon as it became known that the Street Offences Bill was likely to be passed into law.
Let me quote another piece of evidence, lest it may be thought that the evidence I am giving had been collected by people who have religious and other interests in collecting it. I have been in touch with a man who has been professionally in show business all his life, and here is something which I am allowed to say. The first part of his statement refers to strip-tease clubs:The performances are tasteless and tatty, not to mention lewd. The behaviour of the artistes on the stage is certainly not professional in the theatrical sense of the word. To me there is nothing artistic about the presentation of these nude female bodies, bodies which for the most part are neither beautiful nor even particularly clean. There is no lighting or make-up effects to improve the spectacle. In fact, the spectacles are uncouth, tawdry and distasteful, and make you feel disgusted and sick. I had seen nude performances in many of the red-light quarters in Europe and none of them, in my opinion, are as disgraceful, tasteless and nude as are these London shows.Those are strong words, my Lords, and I am sorry to have to quote them: but I do so to bring home how serious these conditions are in this Metropolis. And though they may be less serious in other cities, it is the kind of thing that easily spreads.
I want to emphasise what has already been emphasised, in order that I may broaden the appeal and make it as wide as possible. I do not claim to speak here in the name of the Church of England, though I think that I am representing fairly well the mind of that Church. I am certainly relying a good deal on information provided by the Church of England Moral and Welfare Council. To check the growth of this evil, legislation is necessary, and it must be the kind of legislation which will give the police and the magistrates a chance of carrying it out. There was some suggestion that legislation might be confined to the Metropolis. In my view, that would be quite useless and dangerous. Legislation should be on a national basis, for it is not only in London but also in some 263 other great cities that this evil resides. I have a report from the North Midland city I mentioned, and I am permitted to quote as follows:Many cafés and clubs are opened in large houses. These are generally in a bad state of repair. The cafés are opened in the basements and it is suspected that the upper rooms are used for immoral purposes. Some cafés and clubs are only open for a few months. They subsequently reopen in the same house under another name and with fresh, glaring paint on doors and window frames. In this city the clubs and cafés are generally opened by rich prostitutes, who use them to attract young girls they may use as call-girls or to make money for the owner in the usual way. Certain kinds of men are said to make huge sums of money from these places and from underground activities connected with them.I quote that so that there may be no danger of concluding that we are concerned only with a particularly black spot in some part of the Metropolis.
I want to plead for legislation to be very clear and definite, and such as can be made effective. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, for what he has said. It encourages me to believe that it is not beyond the wit of man to devise such legislation. I would submit something of the following. If clubs were licensed on the same basis as public-houses, then the premises would have to be inspected by justices; and I would plead that a standard should be established by which to judge their suitability. At present, any old shop or basement or attic can be used as a club. Then they should be subject to inspection by the police at any time. I know that here there may be the objection by some clubs that this is an infringement of the right of free association, but I should like to express my belief that most clubs in this country are decent clubs, and that most of the people who use them use them for right and proper social purposes. If we appeal to them to give up even a little of their freedom for the sake of clearing out these dens of iniquity, I am sure the response will be what we should expect from people who are accustomed to our way of living. I do not think that legislators ought to be held back for fear of any kind of strong feeling on the part of the clubs that are decent and traditional places and such an important part of the life of our country.
Then the manager or person responsible for the running of the club 264 ought to be approved by justices, as is the manager of licensed premises. I feel that this is an important item and a very justifiable condition. Not long ago I had a letter from a licensing authority about a young man whom I had known years ago and who was applying for a licence for his hotel. I was very moved by the fact that they had taken so much trouble to find out all about this young man. I had not seen him for ten years, but I had once given him a reference and I was written to direct. If it was worth while taking so much trouble over granting a licence to a responsible young man, certainly it is worth while taking equal trouble to protect the public by finding out what kind of people desire to run licensed clubs. Accordingly, I think that the Licensing Act should be amended to deal with this matter and make the provisions of the Act which apply to licensed premises apply to clubs, as well. I would put in here one other note I have made. I understand that the Society of West End Theatre Managers have made, or soon will make, representations to the Home Office about certain kinds of clubs which can only be described as lewd. That is another representation pressing for new legislation, and I am sure that the Home Office will give full attention to it.
Let me plead now that weak legislation at this point would be worse than useless. We are up against a very powerful combine. I want to emphasise that what we are talking about to-day is not just ordinary immorality, due to human frailty, human weakness or human sins. We are all familiar with that kind of immorality and most of us feel that we want to go in sympathetic help to such people and discover how they can be redeemed from their own weaknesses. But here we are faced with evil in a gross and beastly form, organised for commercial gain by clever and wicked men. They are the villains of the piece, not the unfortunate females, or, indeed, the unfortunate young males, who are tempted so strongly by the forces within them that they get beyond their control. We all have sympathy for young people who are moved by these deep forces and by the temptations which make it so difficult for them to exercise control. These men behind the scenes plan and propagate this evil by subtle and ingenious devices, drawing 265 into their net girls and young women, who in many cases have been unfortunate in their home life or are unable to understand or control the strong forces within them. They are found to be easy prey, and are tempted by the money offered; but they soon discover that they are the victims and slaves of vice.
I would plead that the Government should be courageous and go in for legislation which they believe can be made effective. They will have the support of all the decent people of this country. When we appeal to the better feelings of the British people, I am quite sure that they will all be behind any Government, irrespective of political Party, that will endeavour to clean up by legislation these spots which are a disgrace to our country. The legislation must be directed against the people who stand behind the scenes of action, the purveyors of vice who hire the bodies and damn the souls of women, and of men, in their selfish pursuit of what can be literally and rightly described as filthy lucre.
§ 6.47 p.m.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate can be sure that the House has been deeply moved by his speech, and I should like to support very strongly his main contentions. There is a pleasant custom in this House that any Peer who opens a debate is congratulated and thanked for the immense services that he has rendered, whether the subject is appropriate or not. But to-day there can be no doubt whatever that we must feel a debt of a special kind to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. He has not only brought this matter before us—and that was important enough—but has tackled it in a manner that was so courageous, so concrete and so irrefutable, at any rate in the cases he actually took for illustration, that it stands, in my opinion, among the most notable speeches to which we have listened in this House for a long time. Certainly the noble Baroness, Lady Ravensdale, maintained the same level of speaking from the depth of her wonderful concern for the human beings involved, and showing, as one would expect, an equal courage.
I should like to support those speeches, and, indeed, all the speeches that have been made in support of the noble Lord, 266 Lord Stonham. It is noticeable that, so far as I can tell without any calculation, we have had a front this afternoon which has united all sides of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, spoke from his great researches from the same point of view, and we have had with us the Church and the Law. I feel sure that, whether or not the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, whose concern for public morals is so well known to all of us, is able to say anything very positive this afternoon, he will in conjunction with his colleagues in no mean fashion ponder over all that has been said.
The Motion on the Paper is a fairly narrow one, and I do not wish to detain the House for more than a few minutes; certainly I shall not try to bring in any really new matter. We are asked to noticethe increasing social evils arising from the present limitation on the powers of magistrates' courts to refuse the registration or re-registration of clubs upon successful objection by the police or a local authority.Though we have ranged—and I am sure the noble and learned Viscount will not object—a bit wider than that, we obviously are not attempting this afternoon to tackle the whole question of crime and vice. I say that, because there are those of us here—the noble Baroness is prominent among them, and also the right reverend Prelate, the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and, indeed, all speakers—who, if we were really thinking of the whole assault on viciousness, would talk more about the constructive or redemptive side which was clearly in the mind of the noble Baroness when she was speaking.
This evening we are dealing with what might be called the negative aspect. We are seeking, most of us, to confer more powers upon the police and courts of law. We do not forget that these unfortunate people—even the worst of them, and even those so rightly castigated by the right reverend Prelate—are human beings, and on another day we are concerned with their welfare, whether they find themselves in or out of prison, or wherever they may be. This afternoon I think this strong support for the police comes rather well from those of us who are particularly interested in the criminals, because penal reformers are sometimes accused of being too softhearted towards the criminals and not 267 fair enough to the police. We do not accept that charge, but I think it right to make it plain that some of us so concerned with delinquents realise that in matters of this kind we owe a great duty to the police. We must see that they are supported in their efforts to tackle this organised vice.
The facts are not substantially in dispute, I think. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, gave so many positive illustrations that few of us will have much doubt about the general nature of the situation. There is one aspect of the argument on which I myself am not trying to rest any conclusions. As the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, mentioned, the authorities at Scotland Yard, with, I am sure, the good wishes of the noble and learned Viscount, were kind enough to see the noble Lord and myself yesterday. I am aware of the view formed in Scotland Yard, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, that the Street Offences Act has not in fact led to an increase of these clubs. That, in my view, is a matter of opinion. Having conducted an inquiry in my time, with facilities from the noble and learned Viscount, into the causes of crime, I know how problematical these conclusions must be. Perhaps the noble and learned Viscount could say something more to-day.
But I am not concerned (and I do not honestly think that it makes very great difference when it comes to legislation and the remedies) whether the great increase of vice and the great extent of vice—because even the increase can be argued about—has been brought about by the Street Offences Act. I do not know that the question of whether the Street Offences Act did or did not play its part in bringing about the present situation is a matter on which a conclusion is necessary one way or another. That is my own position. There are those who would say that, not the whole of London but certain parts of London certainly, must be regarded as places of fear, as an iniquity and a blot on the name of the city we regard as the greatest in the world. All that, and more than that, I gladly accept.
The question then arises—and this is all I mean to touch upon now—what can we reasonably ask the Government 268 to do about it? I say "the Government" because this afternoon I, at any rate, do not feel qualified to point out their duty to social reformers and others of these splendid people like Father Williamson and his assistants. It would be much better—I expect they are too humble—if they began pointing out my duty to me. I am therefore, as a public person, concerned with the Government. If the Government say that Opposition people should also assist, then let us be given our guidance and let us throw ourselves behind the Government in helping them in any way they think useful. But what can the Government be expected to do? The Sunday Pictorial has recently conducted a very interesting inquiry into the whole position, into what they call "The hidden menace". Whilst I am not going to say that I agree always with everything the Sunday Pictorial or the Daily Mirror offer, between them they appear on this occasion to have rendered a distinct public service. They came out with a three-point plan, but I am concerned this afternoon only with one point, and that is a point which has been brought up in one way or another by other speakers.
One of their points is a wholesale attack on pornography. That is entirely laudable, but I must leave that over today. They also argue that it ought to be made an offence to commit the sex act for money, or to seek to do so, or to incite or abet any such attempt; and the man who prowled after prostitutes should be guilty of an offence. Some of us at the time of the Street Offences Bill were anxious to catch the customer along with the lady, but the House did not share our view, though we had a powerful group, which included, among others, the noble Baroness, the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Attlee. I personally—and I speak entirely for myself—should be happy to see prostitution—that is, the sale of one's body for money—made a criminal offence, and I should be happy to see anybody penalised who played any part in those operations.
We heard some interesting remarks about Scotland from the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill. He told us—and I do not doubt it—that things are much better there. It appears that in Scotland the man who loiters for the purpose of im- 269 portuning a woman can get 30 days' gaol on second conviction.
That is what I am informed. If that is so, that may be one of the reasons why things are better in Scotland, in addition to the reasons mentioned by the noble Lord.
I want to come down to the particular aspect on which we have tried to concentrate this afternoon. It seems to me that two main provisions have been urged upon the Government: they go together but they are distinguishable. First of all, there is the restoration, in effect, of Regulation 55c. I am sure we shall be told that if it were to be restored it could not be restored in quite that way. But at any rate there should be the restoration, by whatever method is thought most advisable, of the power which existed up to 1952 under the war-time Regulation 55c. In other words, an applicant who wishes to open a club should be compelled to establish his own bona fides and that of his associates, and also the respectability of his objectives. It might be that on other grounds—unsuitability of premises, or certain other grounds—the police would have reasonable cause for objection. At any rate, he would have to go to the courts and establish this all-round respectability before he could get his club registered or reregistered.
That goes closely with what I am going to say in a moment and what has been said so strongly by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, the right reverend Prelate and others—the freer access of the police to these premises. At present if you strike a club off the owner can start quickly again. It seems to me that we have to make a double attack on these wicked club owners. We must make it difficult for them to start the club in the first place, and we must find means of stopping them if they are misbehaving themselves. If they are then struck off we must make it difficult for them to start again. So the two ideas go together: the difficulty about registering a club and the better control of the club when it is functioning.
When we come to the question of control of the club, the right reverend Prelate said clearly that clubs should be 270 placed on the same footing as public-houses in a great number of respects, including the access of the police to the premises. I realise that there are rather difficult matters of definition here on which the noble Viscount may wish to inform us. I am not trying to lay down the law as to how exactly you would define a club for this purpose. I am quite certain that a definition could be found which would catch most of the evil clubs—it might not catch all—although I realise that there would be some awkward cases. At any rate, if the registered clubs, as we understand them, were placed under the same restrictions as public-houses, we should be a long way forward.
I do not think anybody could doubt that by taking a step of that kind we should be launching a serious attack on vice. There might be objection from the vicious people themselves, but we hope that they would not be listened to too carefully. The only objection would come from people who say that an Englishman's club is his castle and that if you try to stop the wickedness of the Pen Club you interfere with the harmless activities of the Reform and Athanæum. That is the only argument against a measure of this kind. I think the right reverend Prelate put it better than I can: that these high-minded people in the clubs we mentioned should reasonably be expected to make this very small sacrifice. I do not myself see that it is a sacrifice at all, for a reason I will come to; but even if there were a small sacrifice they should be ready to accept it in the interests of national morality, to which I am sure they all subscribe.
But would it indeed be any sacrifice? It would not be necessary for a uniformed police officer to make his way into one of the innermost sanctums of these famous clubs. At the present time, I am told, the leading hotels are in fact visited by police. I have never seen a police officer there in uniform, but I am told that they make it part of their duty to visit the leading hotels. It could be, if they ever get worried about one of these clubs, that they would feel it necessary to call and see the secretary, but I do not suppose myself that they would, in practice, think it necessary. It would simply give the police the right to inspect club premises in the way that they have the right to inspect premises of public-houses. 271 If you wanted to, you could go further and put a duty on them, but I would not at the moment necessarily go as far as that. I would leave it to the consideration of the Government. But, at any rate, I would give the police the right to enter club premises.
Here, again, I must place myself in the hands of the lawyers, but I should think also that if you gave them that right you would give them the power to interfere with certain practices inside these clubs with which they would not at present be able to interfere. There are certain practices forbidden in publichouses—gathering of prostitutes and thieves, and so on—and I hope if the police were given this right of access they would be able to check that kind of congregation and a number of undesirable activities. I am not trying to draft any legislation this afternoon. I am simply trying to draw together what has been the overwhelming feeling of the House. This thing cannot be left as it is. It is already a disgrace to London and, in the end, it would be a disgrace to all of us in public life if we just made speeches about it and went our way and did not bother to find out very much whether anything had flowed from our eloquent words.
Reference has been made more than once to that wonderful man, Father Williamson, and in a pamphlet about reclaiming prostitutes and girls in moral danger I notice that he uses this expression:These places must be under the supervision of women like my two workers, who are most humble, entirely dedicated to the work, and have such an abundance of charity that when they have done all within their power and been let down they lift up the soul for God to bless and care for".I give all praise, and I know in this House and many other places we are sincere in paying tribute to this work. But there is a kind of danger or temptation which can afflict us in doing so. We are able to console ourselves with the thought that these people are doing this work; how marvellous that our race is throwing up people like these who are doing this work! In public life, are we entitled to draw that kind of consolation from those who are setting an example unless we are prepared to follow that example?
272 Whether we look at the individuals, these young prostitutes who are being corrupted, at the police whom we ought to help, or at our own good as a community, one with another, I would feel that we are failing badly in our Christian duty if we leave matters as they are. I have thrown out suggestions, obviously not perfect; none of us has come down with precise words adapted for an Act of Parliament. But we know that in the Lord Chancellor there is a man who at times, if I may say so, has faced no little unpopularity in order to try to improve public morals. I would much rather, if he could not say anything very definite this evening, that he did not feel bound to give a negative answer. I would much rather wait until he had had time to consider these matters in the light of this discussion. But naturally I hope that he will be able to say something encouraging. When all is said and done, we now confide the matter to the Lord Chancellor, and there is no one in public life who would be more anxious in his heart to try to give effect to what has been the overwhelming feeling of the House of Lords this afternoon.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I shall do my utmost to respond to the invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham. I was glad that he mentioned at the beginning of his speech that the debate had run rather wide. We have had a considerable amount of discussion on crime in general, on prostitution and on sex, and I hope that your Lordships will not hold it too hardly against me if a great deal of my speech is relevant to the Motion that is on the Order Paper.
I think it is some time since your Lordships discussed the question of registered clubs, and it is a subject of no little controversy and complexity. I think it is most opportune that we should consider it now, because, as I think most noble Lords are aware, the Government have announced their intention, in accordance with an undertaking in the Election Manifesto, to introduce amending legislation about clubs; and in a debate in another place last January my right honourable friend the Home Secretary indicated the lines which he thought this legislation might take, subject to the consultations and 273 discussions that are proceeding. Therefore, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, for raising the matter, and I shall refer in a moment to these proposals of my right honourable friend. I should like to say now, however, that I know that Mr. Butler will consider carefully everything that has been said to-day and especially the slant and the problems which have exercised your Lordships' minds. I am not saying that as a preliminary excuse for not discussing the question of legislation. I shall do that. But Mr. Butler was very anxious that your Lordships should know that all you have said, and whatever you may have to say on these problems and the subject generally, will be of the greatest interest to him.
I hope your Lordships will not think it a work of supererogation if I say a few words about the present law and the difficulties which have attended many attempts to alter it, because I think we should be clear about the background against which any current proposals for amendments of the law should be considered. The noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, was absolutely right in his law: that the present law about registration of clubs, which is now consolidated—as I am sure he did not object to my pointing out to him—in the Licensing Act, 1953, was first enacted in 1902. It is quite true, as Lord Stonham said, that the club need only be registered with the clerk to the justices; but I point out that the registration, which is automatic, does require the furnishing to the clerk of the particulars prescribed in Section 141 of the Act, which include the name and objects of the club, the number of members, the rules relating to election of members, hours of opening and the like, together with the payment of the small fee.
The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, seemed to be under some misapprehension as to the conditions of the sale of liquor. A club cannot select any 9 hours in the 24; it cannot supply liquor earlier or later than the statutory earliest or latest hours, and there must be a break of at least 2 hours in the afternoon. Lord Stonham rather gave me the impression that he thought that they could select any 9 hours which would take them over any period which they found most attractive to their purposes. 274 They cannot do that; they are limited in the way that I have mentioned.
§ LORD STONHAM
Will the noble and learned Viscount forgive me for interrupting him? The limitation is nothing like the same limitation as that which is imposed on a public house. They can, and do, serve drinks, for example, in the small hours of the morning.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
No, they cannot; and if they do they are liable to be struck off. I am not saying that the noble Lord does not know of clubs that do it; but they should not do it, and they have not the right to do it: That was what I ventured to correct him on. They are within the same limits as public houses, and they have to have this 2-hour gap in the afternoon. If they break these laws they are liable to be attacked and struck off. I am not here to "whitewash", but I think that if we are attacking things and attacking laws, we ought to be correct in our basis for such attacks. These particulars must be furnished on initial registration and thereafter annually. Of course, the noble Lord is quite right in saying that there is no power on the part of the clerk or the court to refuse initial registration or annual re-registration; and it follows from this that there is no power on the part of the police or anyone else to object to registration. To this extent, the noble Lord's Motion understates the case. It is not a question of limitation on powers to refuse or object, but of absence of such powers. I recognise that. I think the noble Lord will know, from his great experience, that it is seldom that he would find a Government spokesman in a debate more Royalist than the King on the Motion that is put before him. I wanted to make that point clear.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
Would the Lord Chancellor clear up one point on powers? One of the great points made by the Royal Commission was that, although the law had provided means for getting clubs struck off on evidence, it had made it practically impossible for the evidence to be obtained—because there was no right of entry. As I read the Act of 1953, that situation stands, so the police cannot discover whether misbehaviour is going on. I wonder whether he would agree with that, and that there 275 should be some amendment in that respect.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I agree that there are not the powers of entry, but I do not agree that it puts the problem beyond the powers of the police. For my first ten years at the Bar, I practised a great deal in criminal courts and I have seen a great many prosecutions of this kind. But the noble Lord is quite right—there is not the power of entry that there is into licensed premises. That is a point which I want to discuss somewhat more fully in a moment.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Not at all; I am most grateful to the noble Lord. But I did want to point out that the grounds (I am not going to read the section) upon which a club can be struck off include frequent drunkenness, illegal sales of liquor, or that the supply of liquor is not under the control of the members or of a committee appointed by them. I was not sure whether Lord Stonham had appreciated that one of the grounds on which a club can be struck off is that there are fewer than 25 members, or that the club is not conducted in good faith as a club. I think it is important to remember that point.
§ LORD STONHAM
This is quite an important point. I did quote the former Home Secretary on this point about the minimum of 25 members. Is that a recent alteration? The noble and learned Viscount quoted the Statute.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
May I quote the Act? It is Section 144 (1) (a):— that the club has ceased to exist, or has less than twenty-five members.The other paragraph I had in mind was paragraph (b):that the club is not conducted in good faith as a club, or is kept or habitually used for any unlawful purpose.I think those words are rather important. I do not think that the noble Lord had in mind (it is difficult to remember everything) the bit about 25 members; and, of course, an "unlawful purpose" would include brothel-keeping, if that was done on the club premises. On the other point, that when striking a club off the register, the court 276 may disqualify the premises from use as a club for a period not exceeding one year, on a first order, or five years, on a subsequent order, my noble and learned friend Lord Denning, said that they can go next door. Well, that is often much easier said than done. It varies according to the circumstances. Nonetheless, I think that is a useful provision.
It is true that the police may enter a club only on the authority of a search warrant issued by a magistrate and must be satisfied by information on oath that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the club is so carried on as to constitute a ground for striking it off the register. I do not think that the difficulties on that point are so overwhelming, but I should like your Lordships to suspend judgment until I have developed my argument. It has long been felt that these provisions are not adequate to prevent abuse, because initial registration is no more than a formality; and even if the club is struck off there is the difficulty, which I recognise, that if the premises are not disqualified it can come forward again under a new guise, though, from my own experience, I do not believe it is so easy to find new premises.
I should not like the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, to think that I have not paid attention to his speech. If I may say so with respect, I think he put the position of our native land absolutely correctly; and it is only fair to him and to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, who is putting forward this Motion, to say, without going into details, that the licensing law of Scotland with regard to application and re-registration is much tougher than the law in England, and already has a number of the provisions for which noble Lords have pleaded in England this afternoon. I should like the noble Lord to know that I have carefully examined the position in Scotland and am fully familiar with it. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, would agree with me that the objections to a club which can be made at the sheriff court are very specific; but if the objection is established one can go to the sheriff who will deal with re-registration the next time it comes up.
I do not deny that there are bogus and undesirable clubs, some of which are 277 unsavoury in themselves and by reason of the persons who frequent them. The Government are not complacent about the position; indeed, it is partly because of the recognition that the defects in the present law give rise to social evils that the Government have decided upon legislation. But while we must not be complacent, it would be equally wrong to suppose that the kind of clubs which have been the subject of recent cases, which have naturally attracted much publicity, and which have been so vividly described to your Lordships this afternoon, are so typical of the generality that there is nothing for it but to impose fairly drastic restrictions on the formation of any club where liquor is being supplied. I believe that that would be to get the matter totally out of proportion, and in a moment I will deal with figures which I have examined.
We must also recognise that even if new legislation succeeds in preventing the formation of clubs where criminals and the like foregather, this will not prevent these undesirable persons from congregating somewhere or other if they are so minded. But having said that—and I should not like it to be thought that we in your Lordships' House had got the matter out of proportion—what I said a moment ago is not a reason for refraining from tackling the problem of the undesirable club. We should not be under any illusion about it. With regard to the numbers, if I may say so, again with great respect, I believe that there has been some confusion among your Lordships as between clubs and cafés, because the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Carlisle has said that the number in the Metropolitan area has increased by 75 per cent. since 1948. I got the figures from the Commissioner of Police—
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I am most grateful, because that is most important. I had intended to say 1958. He said that since then the num- 278 ber has increased by 75 per cent. I got these figures from the Commissioner of Police, who says that the number has increased by about 62 per cent. since 1945—from 2,274 to 3,682; and, as the noble Lord knows, these were the figures given to him and the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, yesterday. This is rather important, because it has to be remembered that clubs have steadily increased in this country since the beginning of the century, but particularly, since the First World War. I have tried to be fair. Before dealing with figures, I remember what was said by my noble friend Lord Waldegrave, quoting Professor Blackett of Edinburgh, as saying that politicians were inclined to use statistics as a drunken man used a lamp-post—for support rather than illumination; and therefore I have tried very hard to see that I used the figures fairly.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CARLISLE
My Lords, I may have been mistaken to the extent that I said that this increase was in the Metropolitan area. It may have been in a smaller area than that. But I believe that in stating that in that particular area there had been an increase of 75 per cent. since the beginning of 1958, I am not mistaken.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I am quite sure that the right reverend Prelate is thinking of Stepney, where, beyond any dispute, the number of clubs has increased by that proportion in that time.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, again with respect to your Lordships I believe that in that figure the noble Lord is including cafés, because on the figures put by the noble Lords, Lord Pakenham and Lord Grenfell, the number of clubs has increased to 90, which is 72 per cent. I understood the explanation was that cafés were included, because, again, I have the figure. There are only 65 clubs in Stepney, Bethnal Green and Poplar, so that the figure of 90 just does not fit in with that unless it includes cafés. I am giving the police figures which show that in London there has been an increase of 62 per cent. in 15 years. Your Lordships must consider what has happened before, and I will take, as comparable—and I hope your Lordships will think this is fair—the period 1945 to 1959 and the period 1920 to 1935.
279 In that period, the period which I am comparing, 1945 to 1950, in London the numbers increased by 62 per cent. But in the whole country they increased by much less than that. Between 1945 and 1950 they increased by 23 per cent., and between 1950 and 1959 by 20.5 per cent. If we look at the same period from 1920 to 1925 we find that they increased by 30 per cent.; from 1945 to 1950 they increased by only 23 per cent.; from 1925 to 1935 they increased by 30 per cent. And from 1950 to 1959, over the whole country, clubs increased by only 20.5 per cent. These figures show that the increase after the last war has been less than the increase after the First War; and that, I think, is something one has to bear in mind.
Noble Lords have been good enough to say that the police are emphatic that their view is that there has been no change in the situation since the passing of the Street Offences Act. They have said that they kept a close watch on clubs and that:We could tell from those on which we kept observation, and subsequently raided, that the number of prostitutes who used them had not materially increased.The point the police made was that it is not an economical proposition for prostitutes to use clubs for the purpose of soliciting, and they say that the prostitutes would do far better by operating on their own premises and advertising; and, although the pattern has not fully emerged, they believe that the majority of the prostitutes now operate under a "call-girl" system. And, of course, arrests are only 10 per cent. But the police say they have no positive information that protection rackets were developing as a result of the situation. Of course, they are watching the situation clearly.
I do not want to go into matters which I discussed very fully at the time of the Street Offences Bill, but I should like to remind your Lordships' of this. I told your Lordships that when I was Home Secretary I sent out two highly intelligent people, one of my best civil servants and a very good officer from Scotland Yard, to examine the different systems in the different States in the United States; and the result of their information was that the decline in acceptance of temptation to sleep with 280 the woman was 30 per cent.; that 30 per cent. less temptations were accepted under the "call-girl" system than when prostitution is pushed at the man by the prostitutes in the streets. Therefore, one has to bear that in mind. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, would be the first to accept this. He said, "Of course, the police advocated the Street Offences Act and therefore they are partipris". But I might as well say to the noble Lord that he was a passionate opponent of the Street Offences Act and therefore he is partipris. One does not get much further that way: I give your Lordships the evidence as it was given to me. Now may I give way to the right reverend Prelate if he wishes to speak?
THE LORD BISHOP OF CARLISLE
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Viscount for giving me the opportunity of apologising for a mistake. I should not have said "Metropolitan Area". Seventy-five per cent. increase is the figure given to me as in one magistrates' court area in a district in London. Seventeen out of the twenty clubs now existing were not in existence before 1958.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I cannot, of course, verify that and I do not know the area. I have dealt with the figures which dealt with the main point that was made, but I will look into that. I cannot say what the circumstances were at that special time. That is the position on the Street Offences Act.
With regard to the cafés, the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, will remember that up to the time of the passing of the Street Offences Act a café could be disqualified, I think, only on a second offence; now it can be disqualified for a period right away. So there we have brought into being what he in his speech wanted; that is, regarding the cafés which remain open after ten o'clock in the evening: they require refreshment-house licences, which are issued by the London County Council. Although the London County Council have no discretion to refuse a licence, on conviction for certain offences (including drunkenness, disorderly conduct, or the presence of prostitutes) the licence may be revoked and the licensee 281 of the premises disqualified for a period not exceeding five years. As II said, before the Street Offences Act that could happen only after a second conviction; now it can happen after the first.
Something has been said about Regulation 55C. Of course I am a very good, or perhaps a very bad, person to say that to, because I abrogated Regulation 55C—I should say that I abrogated the remainder of it: the Labour Government abrogated part of it—and I should like your Lordships to know that. It was brought in in 1942 and it enabled the police to oppose the registration of clubs on one or more of four grounds; first, that having regard to existing facilities, the club was not required; secondly, that the club premises or their situation were unsuitable; thirdly, that the particulars of the application were incorrect or incomplete; fourthly, that the character and antecedents of any of the promoters were such that it ought not to be registered. As I say, the Labour Government did away with the requirement about the premises; and I had to face the situation in 1952 that that Regulation was introduced in 1942 with the object, first, of effecting economies in supplies, including supplies of liquor; and secondly, to save police manpower, by preventing them from having to deal with undesirable clubs.
The first of those matters was an entirely wartime purpose, and it just happens to be contrary to my political philosophy that regulations that are made during the war for two purposes, one of which was a war purpose, should be kept on in time of peace for other purposes. I do not think that that is the way we ought to legislate, and so I did away with the Regulation; and, of course, it would require legislation to reintroduce it. That leaves only an objection to using the Regulation. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, can check me, but I am sure of that point. As he knows, I had to deal with this matter all along.
Now that is the situation. The noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, said: why has action not been taken since the Amulree Report? I do not feel too much on the defensive, because I have said that we are going to take action; and, after all, we have not been the only Government or the only Party in power since 1902, 282 so we all share to some extent the blame, if blame there be, for not having done it up till now. The noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, told this House about the House of Commons before the war. I was there and he was not, and I am actually refraining from taking up his challenge because there are so many other points, but I should not like him to think that, on a suitable occasion, I shall not take it up again, for there is nothing I would enjoy more.
However, to come back to the matter, I want to put before your Lordships as briefly as possible the main reasons which have prevented legislation hitherto, because they illustrate the difficulties and, at the same time, explain the way in which the Government are now approaching the question. There are two opposing schools of thought on the subject. On the one hand, there are those who, like the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and others, seeing the ease with which a club can get registered for the supply of liquor and the abuses to which this can give rise, and comparing it with the fairly strict control over the grant of licences for the sale of liquor, naturally think that a club should be allowed to supply liquor only if it survives the scrutiny of a court and the challenge of the police where the latter see good ground for objection. There are also those, particularly in the licensed trade, who would say that, in the interests of fair competition, clubs that supply liquor ought to be subject to at least some of the restrictions imposed on licensed premises, including, again, some discretionary powers to refuse an application for registration.
On the other hand, we have the point of view of the reputable clubs, of which there are thousands, both inside and outside the leading club organisations, and which are a traditionally legitimate and valued part of our social life, and are the basis of the Johnsonian comment, "He is a clubbable man". These clubs take the view that any group of respectable citizens with some interest in common ought to be allowed to form a club and, if they feel so disposed, to supply themselves with liquor there, without any interference from outside.
Noble Lords have given the answer that these respectable clubs would have 283 no need to fear from a system of discretionary registration and police objection and inspection. The clubs, however, rightly or wrongly, do not look at it in that way. Their point is that if the members of a club, whether it be a working men's club in a mining area or a club in London's West End, prefer to meet and take refreshment, including alcoholic refreshment, on their own premises rather than in a public-house or in the cocktail bar of a hotel or restaurant, why should they first have to ask the permission of a court? Why should they have to submit to the possibility of police objection, any more than a group of friends gathering in a private house should have to do so? This is the real difficulty, and I remember very well, when I was Home Secretary, this point of view being put to me very forcibly by the Working Men's Club and Institute Union, as well as by the Association of Conservative Clubs; and, as my right honourable friend the Home Secretary indicated in a debate quite recently, that is still their view. Accordingly, this cuts right across Party divisions, and it is not surprising that all previous attempts at legislation, whether by the Government or by Private Members, have failed.
I am not going to give your Lordships a detailed account, but I would remind your Lordships (and this may be within your recollection) that only three years ago this House, after a full debate, refused to give a Second Reading to a Bill promoted by my noble friend Lord Merthyr which would have empowered the courts to refuse registration of a club if objection was made by the police and sustained on certain specified grounds. If the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, would like to continue his researches, he will find that in Hansard for February 19, 1957.
It is against that background, my Lords, that, as my right honourable friend said in another place, we need to find an approach which will avoid abuse of the law without detriment to the rights of the individual or legitimate club interests; and my right honourable friend suggested that this approach should take the form of drawing a distinction between genuine members' clubs—that is, clubs effectively controlled by, and run for the benefit of, members—on the one hand, and proprietary clubs, on the other. My right 284 honourable friend expressed the view that the present law was right in allowing automatic registration of a genuine members' club. As to proprietary clubs, some can be as respectable as members' clubs, and have been carried on for years without the slightest ground for complaint. But some are little more than unlicensed drinking shops, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham,, has pointed out, places where even more discreditable things happen. In their case, there is some justification for the complaints that have been made. In addition, of course, my right honourable friend pointed out, as did the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that there are the undesirable "mushroom" clubs which make a quick profit for the promoter before they fall foul of the law, and then spring up again in another guise. These are the clubs which have been the subject of the indictments in your Lordships' House to-day, and I think that almost entirely—I put it as high as that—they are proprietary clubs. They are certainly clubs that could not pass the test of a bona fide members' club.
In the light of these considerations tentative proposals were circulated to the main club associations land other interested bodies, including the Magistrates' Association, as the basis for comment and discussion. The essence of the proposals is that members' clubs should retain their present right to registration, provided that, on first registration, and annually thereafter, they pass the test of being genuine members' clubs run by and for the benefit of members, and satisfy somewhat more stringent conditions than at present as regards their rules. The registration authority will be the magistrates' court, and not simply the clerk to the court. Proprietary clubs (and as I say, in my view, they are the basis of the evil which we have been discussing to-day) would cease to be entitled to be registered as clubs; and if they wanted to supply liquor they would have to apply for a justices' licence in the ordinary way, though some transitional provisions might be made to ease the position of existing, respectable proprietary clubs.
The details of these proposals need careful working out, and they are now being studied further in the light of the comments and suggestions which have been received. My right honourable friend has very much in mind that any legislation for distinguishing between 285 genuine members' clubs and others should also have the effect of weeding out the undesirable clubs, though it is by no means the case that all proprietary clubs are undesirable. I do not think that a proposal of this sort would merit the potential criticism of the right reverend Prelate. I do not think that he would find in bona fide members' clubs girls led astray and the other abuses which horrify us so much. We have to find a test for proprietary clubs, which are the ones with which my right honourable friend intends to deal.
The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, asked me about time. My right honourable friend is now reviewing the proposals with the intention of introducing legislation as soon as practicable. The noble Lord knows the rules that govern these matters. I would say to him, and I want him to take this at the foot of the letter, that it is our hone that legislation will be sooner rather than later. He will realise that I am trying to be as reassuring as I can, but I cannot go farther than this at the beginning of the month of June. In the meantime, I will bring to the notice of my right honourable friend everything that has been said in the debate.
I always enjoy very much the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, on moral questions. When I saw his name on the List of Speakers I could not help philosophising upon my own difficulties, and if I could express them to him, I would do so. I am not fitting caps, I assure him, to him or anyone else—merely stating the difficulties that have appeared to me. One of the awful thoughts that comes to one when considering social reform is how much it has been delayed by the action of good men. The good men usually fall into one of three classes: the pre-conceptionists, the perfectionists and the egocentric empiricists. The pre-conceptionists see some immutable moral principle being affected by the specific reform. I suppose that the most famous example in history are those laissez-faire economists who were the most bitter opponents of the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury in his desire to prohibit children from being employed in coal mines until they reached the age of ten.
The perfectionists always feel that anything that recognises that politics is the art of the possible is wrong. They say, 286 "A plague on any of your compromises", and result in making the best the enemy of the good. The egocentric empiricist—and this is the great fear and threat to all of us, including myself—is the person who has thought out a solution to a problem and simply cannot understand the human fatuity that sees any fault in the solution. I respect and love all three classes, but when think of the delays that have been caused to human decency, comfort and happiness, I think nostalgically and wickedly of the political philosophy of Henry of Navarre, which was contained in the phrase,I want to see every peasant with a tickle in his pot on Sunday.—and of that of my countryman, the great Montrose, who was prepared to fight and die for the middle course.
I have thought to inflict this on your Lordships because we shall have great difficulty in finding an approach which has any chance of commanding sufficient approbation to be brought into effect. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, was good enough to ask me not to close any doors, and I shall not do so; but I would also ask your Lordships not to close any doors. If your Lordships will examine this approach to the differences between bona fide members' clubs and proprietary clubs, as I have suggested, improved, as your Lordships no doubt could improve it, then we have some hope of solving a problem which has been apparent for the last 30 years, as the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, has pointed out, and probably long before. If we take too severe a view, we may fail to find a solution for another 30 years.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, before I express in your Lordships' name and in my own thanks to the noble and learned Viscount for the speech he has just delivered, I hope your Lordships will allow me to say a word of thanks to all those who have made contributions to this debate. Some have stayed the course, but others have sent me word that they could not stay. I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ravensdale of Kedleston, for a completely informed and stately, but nevertheless passionate, speech. She has devoted her life to the prevention and 287 suppression of many of the evils we have been discussing to-day, and I am most grateful for her unswerving support in this matter, which I know will continue.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, for his contribution and for the research he has carried out, and for proving so clearly that nothing has been done in this matter for 60 years. The evidence he put forward clearly confirms all that was said by the Amulree Committee. I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Greenhill, who did so much to help to prove our case. He said that there was little organised vice in Scotland and pointed to the difference in the law affecting the regulation of clubs. I think, and I am sure that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor thinks, that there is some connection between the two things. I am very glad that that has been pointed out.
Of those who spoke prior to the noble and learned Viscount I think the only noble Lord who was not in complete support was the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, who said that he could not remain until the end of the debate. He said that we had had the answer from the Commissioner of Police, who said that the number of clubs had not increased suddenly. If I may say so to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, I do not think it is very important whether they have increased suddenly or not. Our case depends on the undisputed fact that there is organised vice and that there are gangs—and you certainly cannot go two days running without getting fresh evidence of that. So that I do not think it matters very much who is right about the sudden increase in the number of clubs, and whether it is due to prostitutes. It matters only from the point of view of the credibility that your Lordships can attach to anything else that I said, and I bring it up only for that reason.
I would assure your Lordships and the noble and learned Viscount that the figures I quoted did not include cafés. I have checked this up this afternoon. These figures have been extracted from the records at the Thames Magistrates' Court and the Old Street Court. Those two courts cover a bigger geographical area than Stepney, but these figures apply 288 only to the Borough of Stepney. I would just give the figures. In 1954 there was an increase of 18 clubs. In the three years 1955, 1956 and 1957 there was an increase of 12, of which 3 were respectable clubs. In 1958 there was an increase of 19, one of which was respectable. In 1959 there was an increase of 32—and in that year we were coming into the Street Offences Act. This year the increase is 11. That makes a total of 92. As I say, these figures have been extracted from records and they are absolutely up to date; this report came into my hands on May 30.
I would submit to the noble and learned Viscount—and I am sure it will go to the Metropolitan Commissioner—that I do not think the Commissioner has examined the records in the same way. If he doubts the correctness of anything of that nature I have said, then I personally should like to conduct the Commissioner and show him the evidence which he doubts, which I am sure will convince him as I have been convinced. I make no reflection or suggestion other than that.
The right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Carlisle made it clear that his material had been provided for him; but, if I may say so with respect, he made remarkable use of it and, I thought, put his points not only in a moving but in a convincing and effective way. I am very grateful for his speech, supported as it is by the powerful opinion of the Church of England Council for Moral Welfare and the other authorities that he quoted.
I always tremendously enjoy what the noble and learned Viscount has to say to my noble friend Lord Pakenham. On the points my noble friend put, that we should make it a criminal offence to allow the sale of one's body for money, and that we should put clubs on similar lines to public houses and give the police the right of entry, I do agree with him; and I feel, whatever the Working Men's Clubs Association may say, that it is the overwhelming feeling of the House, and I think of the country, in the light of recent experience and knowledge, that this should be attended to.
The noble and learned Viscount gave us three divisions of good men: the preconceptionists, the perfectionists and the egocentric empiricists. I am not a 289 good man, so I can claim not to belong to any one of those three bodies. But I do assure him that never, certainly since I started my humble political career, have I allowed myself to make the best the enemy of the good. I realise that there are many difficulties. I am grateful for the fact that the Government have been giving and are giving this matter such earnest consideration. I appreciate that it is quite impossible for the noble and learned Viscount to be any more definite than he has been on the point of time, but, so far as I am concerned, I should not in any case like to commit myself to expressing an opinion as to whether a possible solution along the lines on which the Government are working is the right one or not. I am sure it is not the best; but, having regard to what he said about the best being the enemy of the good, I should not like to commit myself either way. There is, however, another body which does not come within the Lord Chancellor's sphere; that is, the people to whom a vested interest is paramount. I would say that, whether the vested 290 interest is in a working man's club in Carlisle or a West End club in Pall Mall, if they pursue their vested interest to the point where the country has to tolerate an iniquity, then it would be an un-Christian act, and I think they would be condemned by public opinion as a whole.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken for the contributions they have made. I will study the Lord Chancellor's speech with the closest attention. He has had a long ordeal and has paid the greatest possible attention to what we have said, and we cannot be too grateful to him for that. While we have not got everything that we might like, I feel that the debate may have done some good, and it is in that belief that I ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.