§ 2.35 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of the evidence of the increase in the procuring, exploitation of and trafficking in women, since the passing of the Street Offences Act, 1959, they will institute an immediate inquiry into the effects of the Act, instead of waiting for the review which was promised at the end of five years.]
THE MINISTER OF STATE, HOME OFFICE (EARL JELLICOE)
My Lords, while there has been some increase, during the past five years, in the number of persons convicted of offences of this sort, there is no evidence to suggest that this increase is due to the operation of the Street Offences Act. My right honourable friend is not aware of any undertaking to review the effects of this Act at the end of five years, but its operation has been closely watched since it came into force, and my right honourable friend considers that it has been successful in its main purpose of dealing with loitering or soliciting by prostitutes in public places. While he will continue to keep the position under close observation, my right honourable friend does not think that any special inquiry is necessary at present.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that that reply will give satisfaction to only the members of the "effluent society", as The Times called them? Is he further aware that during the course of our dealing with the Bill in this House an undertaking to have a review after five years was given, and will he look at it again? With 1174 regard to evidence, is the noble Earl not aware that it is virtually impossible for anyone to walk round the West End and not be aware of the further evidence of the evil consequences of the Street Offences Act unless he has his eyes closed, his ears stopped and his nose in a clothes peg?
My Lords, I will certainly be glad to look further to see whether any undertaking for a review within a specific number of years was given. I have had a search made of the Hansards of both Houses, and it did not turn up anything. However, I shall be glad to have another look, and perhaps the noble Lord may here be able to help me in my researches. I would, with respect, dissent from the conclusion which he has drawn about the operation of the Street Offences Act.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, while the noble Earl, quite rightly, has replied to the question of the effect of the Street Offences Act, I am sure he will agree that from recent evidence in a number of cases there is considerable public concern in regard to the procuring and trafficking in women and, in particular, young girls. May I ask the noble Earl, in view of the gesture that has been made in regard to the London Government Bill, and the undertaking he gave me that he would look into the question of the age of girls being employed in some of the clubs, whether he does not think, irrespective of whether an undertaking was given, that perhaps the Government would be wise to carry out an inquiry, official or otherwise, in which they could obtain the facts and information and then perhaps consider whether legislation is necessary?
My Lords, I think that some of the points the noble Lord has raised go rather wider than the particular Question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. But in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, I did say that the whole position here was kept under a close review. I think I am right in stating that there is no Act which concerns the Home Office the operation of which is kept under closer review than the particular Act to which the original Question referred. But, as the noble Lord himself knows, I am very willing to pursue further some of the 1175 related matters which came up during our discussions on the London Government Bill.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, would not the noble Earl say that, although the streets appear more wholesome, the traffic which is conducted underground is even more vicious?
My Lords, that again is an expression of opinion, and it is my information that, at least in the Metropolis, the total number of prostitues operating is lower than it was before the passing of the Street Offences Act.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that, although what he has just said is true, the fact is that the girls coming before the courts are of a much younger age than formerly, and some 500 a year, or more, are sent to prison for prostitution? Is he further aware that the Josephine Butler Society, in its interim Report, after eighteen months' study, finds that prostitutes have gone into places which are euphemistically called clubs and where it is virtually impossible for social workers and women police officers to have any contact with or control over them? Is he also aware that there is further evidence that there has been a great increase in the number of men who are living on immoral earnings? Is that not evidence of the evil consequences of the Street Offences Act, and the fact that the cure, so far, has proved far worse than the disease? Will he look into these facts, of which, apparently, he is not aware?
My Lords, I should be glad to look at any further information with which the noble Lord may furnish me. He has referred to a Report of, I think, a Working Party of the Josephine Butler Society. I myself have not seen that Report, but I think the noble Lord is in a position to send it to me, and I should be glad on behalf of my right honourable friend to examine closely, or have examined closely, the facts contained in that Report. I do not think I should like to go further in answer to the noble Lord's various supplementaries within his supplementary, 1176 beyond saying that I would not entirely agree either with the conclusions he has drawn from the facts he has adduced, or, I think, with some of those facts.
§ LORD PEDDIE
My Lords, would the noble Earl agree that police reports indicate that there has been a substantial increase in organised prostitution rackets in the London area, particularly since 1959?
§ LORD BOOTHBY
My Lords, before the noble Earl replies, may I ask whether he will bear in mind that Sir John Wolfenden was asked by the Government to get the prostitutes off the streets of this country, and that he got them off?
My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether he will extend his undertaking a little and, when he looks into the matter, not to look into it from the point of this or that particular effect, but from that of its whole effect upon a civilised society?
My Lords, I think the undertaking which I passed to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was in fact in fairly wide terms.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, said, I would ask the noble Earl to realise that I was not questioning that one intention behind the Street Offences Act has been achieved; I was drawing attention to the other evil which has arisen. As the noble Earl asks, I will send him this interim Report which I mentioned and which has been compiled on the interviews and discussions of social workers and probation officers, and is quite factual.
§ LORD PEDDIE
My Lords, would the noble Earl be good enough to indicate the nature of the police reports on this subject since 1959?
My Lords, I should have to make rather a long speech if I were to indicate the nature of the police reports. I think it would probably be better to refer the noble Lord to the Report of the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis which is shortly to come out and which deals with this matter.