HL Deb 03 February 1970 vol 307 cc543-614

3.14 p.m.


My Lords, in asking your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading I must begin by reminding you that a similar Bill has been before your Lordships on two previous occasions, and last year, on March 4, a Bill in almost the same terms as the present one was given a Second Reading. This persistence perhaps requires a little explanation, at any rate for those who were not present on the previous occasions.

Undoubtedly the first Bill was too widely drawn, and although I hoped that it could be put right in Committee I did not feel that I had been hardly treated when your Lordships threw it out. It gave me the opportunity of preparing what I think was a very much better Bill; and that Bill, when I brought it before your Lordships a year later was given a Second Reading by a fairly substantial majority, of 61 to 48. It was wrecked in a so-called Committee stage. I want to say a little more about that in a minute or two, but perhaps I ought first to answer the critics, some of whom have criticised me for not taking the decision of the Committee to the Report stage and going on with the Bill.

This sort of in-fighting does not seem to me to be consonant with the basic principles upon which we conduct our business in this House, and after taking advice from a number of experienced Parliamentarians I decided not to bring the Bill to the Report stage.. In fact, it would have involved attempting to overthrow every single one of the decisions taken in the Committee—because a wrecking Amendment was put down in respect of every clause in my Bill—and it does not seem to me that that is the right way to conduct business in your Lordships' House. For this reason I decided not to take that Bill any further but to introduce another similar Bill in the ensuing Session; and that is the Bill which is before your Lordships this afternoon. Two quite important alterations have been made in it, which I will explain to your Lordships later.

Before I come to them, I want to say a word or two about what happened at the Committee stage, which I should have thought it was axiomatic was an occasion on which improvements were made in a Bill which had received the general assent of the House by receiving a Second Reading. As I said a few moments ago, to every single clause in my Bill a wrecking Amendment was put down, and the whole thing was turned into another Second Reading debate. My noble friend Lord Stow Hill, in what amounted to a Second Reading speech, which lasted half an hour, did not attack particularly the drafting but attacked the whole general principle of the Bill and said that the whole thing was wrong, although your Lordships, by a quite clear majority, only a few weeks before had decided that it was right.

That sort of thing was carried on. His reply to that debate lasted something like 20 minutes. If that is not a Second Reading debate, then I do not know what a Second Reading debate is. It seems to me that that is quite wrong, and I hope that this afternoon we shall have a proper Second Reading debate and that, if your Lordships decide to give my Bill a Second Reading, we shall be able to proceed to have a proper Committee stage, and not another Second Reading debate with a wrecking Amendment put down to every clause in the Bill.

The objects of the present Bill are really exactly the same as those of the earlier Bills, with which many of your Lordships are already familiar and have heard me explain—I am afraid some of you on more than one occasion. Therefore, I do not want to go over all the ground again in too much detail; I will deal with the matter as shortly as I possibly can. These objects are in essence two: first of all, to remove certain injustices, some of which were already in the law before the Street Offences Act 1959 was passed and one of which, at any rate, is directly due to Section 1 of that Act. Secondly, the Bill seeks to fill in some gaps in the law on this subject, which the Government of the day who produced the 1959 Act evidently decided not to deal with but which are certainly matters deserving of Parliamentary attention. This seemed a reasonable and sensible opportunity to try to put them right.

The injustices which I am concerned about are the discriminations between men and women in connection with street offences; the differences between the control of heterosexual and homosexual activities in the streets; the differences between homosexual and heterosexual prostitution, and (as introduced by the 1959 Act) the discrimination against a special class of woman known as the "common prostitute". We are moving in various ways, albeit rather gradually and, I am sure my noble friend Lady Summerskill will agree, albeit too slowly, towards equality of the sexes. At the moment it seems that distinct progress is being made in the direction of giving equal pay for equal work. Why should we not move towards equal sanctions for similar types of conduct in connection with street activities by men and women, instead of leaving a situation in which women are discriminated against as com-pared with men?

I want particularly to stress the need to remove this discrimination against the common prostitute as a class which was introduced into our law by Section 1 of the Street Offences Act. It was, of course, debated a great deal at the time and it has been denounced on a substantial number of occasions since. I do not want to elaborate this point; I have done so before. I know my noble friend Lord Stonham, who is here to-day, feels very strongly on this matter, too. It is a general rule of English law that you do not "give a dog a bad name and hang it." You do not say that a man is a "common" thief. When he is charged with theft, you prove the theft against him. But in the case of the prostitute the Street Offences Act 1959 provides that a common prostitute found loitering in the street is guilty of an offence. The policeman has only to prove that he knows her as a common prostitute and that he saw her loitering in the street. That is not good enough, and I submit that it is outside the general tradition of our English criminal law.

When the 1959 Act was passed our streets were cluttered up with street walkers, and it is understandable that on that occasion justice was sacrificed to expediency. It followed that there was a considerable improvement in conditions on our streets, and many people have assumed, and not unnaturally perhaps, that that was due to the fact that it was made very much easier to prove the case against a common prostitute than it had been before. I doubt myself whether post hoc, propter hoc is ever a sound type of argument to follow, but undoubtedly there was a feeling—and this was the main argument made against me in the Second Reading debate last year—that the Street Offences Act had succeeded in its objective in attacking the common prostitute in this way, and therefore my Bill, which would substantially amend that Act, was not in effect safe. This point was forcibly put by the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Exeter, who in effect said, "This Act was introduced for a particular purpose. That purpose has been achieved. Why interfere with it? The Act was introduced to control the common prostitute. It has in fact controlled her. Why interfere with it? Her client does not cause the nuisance in the street; it is the woman who causes the nuisance. Why bring in legislation against the man when the existing legislation against the woman is succeeding in its objective?" I hope I am not putting the argument unfairly, but that is how it struck me.

That argument does not seem to me to be either justice or morality. Nor do I believe that it was in fact that section which deals with the common prostitute which led to the success of the Street Offences Act. It is true that the rate for convictions, which before the Act was running at between 10,000 and 20,000, after the Act has fallen to 2,000 to 3,000, which is a very substantial reduction. I think that that reduction is due more to the fact that the penalties were very substantially increased than to anything else. The old penalties were derisory—no sort of deterrent at all to the woman. She earned several times as much every night as she was called upon to pay on the occasions when she was brought before the magistrates' court. In particular the Act provided that there might be imprisonment for a recidivist, and I should think that that was much the most important of the reasons that so many prostitutes disappeared from the streets.

What happened to the prostitutes? We have said in these debates that they have been driven underground; and "out of sight, out of mind" is the kind of argument which appeals to a large number of people, and even to many of us who ought to know better. I think some of us have felt rather guilty that we did not probe a little more deeply into what has been going on underground after these prostitutes had been driven off the streets. The Josephine Butler Society has given me a tremendous amount of help, which I am very glad to acknowledge; and not only the Josephine Butler Society, but other organisations, women's organisations; even the National Council for Civil Liberties, which very properly criticised my first Bill. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, spoke on their behalf in respect of the civil liberties aspect of the first Bill. When I challenged them to be constructive and not destructive in their criticism, they sent one of their members along to the Committee which was going into the question on another Bill, and gave us a great deal of help. I should like to acknowledge all the help I have had from those quarters and from some of my friends, both on this side of the House and on the other, in getting this Bill into proper order.

The Josephine Butler Society—I think very properly, and I admire them for what they did—decided that some attempt ought to be made to discover what has happened in respect of this driving underground. They were able to persuade the People newspaper to conduct an investigation into what had happened in relation to the building up of sexual vice in London and several of our big provincial cities. The paper put on a special team of newspapermen and made what seems to have been a pretty thorough investigation into the whole problem, and the results of that investigation were published in a series of articles in October and November of last year. It was a remarkable series of articles which I read with horror. I cannot think of adjectives which would effectively describe the feeling that anybody who read that series of articles must have had. I am sure that if I had been able to get them to your Lordships and been able to ensure that your Lordships would read them, I should have had no fears about getting a Second Reading for this Bill this afternoon. I think they prove beyond any real doubt that prostitution has been turned into a big business, and that that is a direct result of the passing of the Street Offences Act 1959. I do not know of any case in the whole history of our criminal law in which the sacrifice of justice for expediency has produced Dead Sea fruits more quickly than that Act of 1959 has done.

That series of articles shows clearly how, by driving the prostitute underground, she has been driven into the hands of the entrepreneur, the businessman, in a peculiarly horrible form of business, who has been organising the whole of this unsavoury trade in hotels, clubs, cafes and restaurants all over the West End of London, and in many of our large provincial cities. The conclusion reached in one of the articles was: There has been the building up of a system of underground prostitution in clubs, hotels, and other haunts of vice by men who take a handsome ' rake-off' for their organising activities, and the 1959 Act now tends to encourage vice rather than to suppress it, since the manner in which prostitution is now organised has created an atmosphere of security for girls where they can carry on their business without molestation much more lucratively than before. A number of these women were interviewed by the newspapermen. Some of them were earning £100 a week or more in this way; and of course the profits on that sort of thing for the people who run the clubs, hotels and restaurants is very large indeed.

The whole thing is a scandal, and it seems to me that this return to 1959, which the right reverend Prelate and other speakers were so afraid of last year, is really ruled out, if only for this reason: that it is like the handloom that has been driven out by the up-to-date factory. Large numbers of people are congregated together, and the individual street walker is obviously going to be at the very bottom end of the profession in the future if she ever comes back onto the streets at all. We have succeeded in providing a lucrative form of activity for a very large number of the old-fashioned panders and pimps. Indeed, some of these who, on the face of it, are men in respectable positions in life are actually mentioned by the People in these articles and, so far as I know, there have been no libel actions resulting from it.

I am not suggesting that this Bill is going to deal with that situation; it is not. It is going to take a much longer time in years and much closer and unremitting activity on the part of the Home Office, the police, and other authorities to handle the terrible situation which has been produced as a result of this Act. However, I suggest that the attempt to frighten us into rejecting this Bill by saying that it will lead to a re-establishment of the situation which existed in the streets before 1959 is altogether be-side the point, In the light of the considerations which I have placed before your Lordships.

I should explain that street offences in the nature of prostitution are dealt with in the first part of Clause 1 of the Bill, (1A), which is concerned with ordinary prostitution, and its main change in the law is to remove this stigma, this position of the "common prostitute" as such; to place men and women on an equality, and to put on a similar basis heterosexual and homosexual activities conducted in the streets in such a way as to be a nuisance. In the second subsection, (1B), we deal with a rather differing situation. This subsection is aimed not at the prostitution type of offence, but at the type of offence of what is known as the "kerb-crawler" and other people who use the streets for the purpose of establishing unsavoury sexual connections and thereby really create a public nuisance. That is the gravamen of the situation which is aimed at by this sub-section. It is more particularly aimed at kerb-crawling, a recent type of activity in which the man drives slowly along the streets attempting to "pick up" women as he goes along; or it may be a prostitute, or a woman who is not even a pros- titute but behaves in the same sort of way. It is a nuisance that has been growing over the last few years and has now become common in many parts of the country.

On the last occasion, hardly anybody at Second Reading challenged the evidence which I was able to bring before your Lordships and which the Home Office fully supported, both on that occasion and on the occasion before. This matter was actually pointed out by the Wolfenden Committee., long before the 1959 Act—the 1959 Act resulted, of course, from the Wolfenden Report. The problem has grown worse in the interval. I have had many letters about it—some of which I referred to on that occasion—from clergymen, social workers and others. It was not until we arrived at the Committee stage, when I thought all this was over, that my noble friend Lord Stow Hill said that it was really a matter of personal impression, and my noble friend Lady Gaitskell supported him. From her observation she did not believe there was any real nuisance of kerb-crawling. I find it extraordinarily difficult to understand how Parliament can be asked to decide a matter of this kind on the personal impressions of individual Members, when the official view put before us by the representative of the Home Office is absolutely contrary, and when evidence is coming in by every postbag from all over the country. One of the articles in the People was specially devoted to kerb-crawling and gave specific instances from a large number of areas showing how bad the position is. The newspapermen on the People had no doubt at all that it is a serious nuisance and a growing one.

My own postbag this year has not been so voluminous as last time. I think the social workers and other people up and down the country thought that during the Committee stage on the last occasion your Lordships did not really take this matter seriously enough, and felt that they were not going to spend a lot of time collecting more examples to send to me. However, I have had quite a number of letters, among them a very interesting one from the Secretary of the Diocesan Board of Moral Welfare in Liverpool, to which I should like to refer in a little more detail. There has recently been started in Liverpool a valuable project for the purpose of buying up old houses in the rather slummier areas and putting them into a good condition under the Government's new scheme in order to provide housing for people. But the Board have found themselves very much interfered with, because a substantial number of those houses are being used for immoral purposes; and kerb-crawling is very prevalent in those areas.

In her letter, the Secretary of the Board said: As a result of a survey and inquiries, further information about kerb crawling and similar activities has been obtained. The members of the local community council are also concerned and ready to help. It would appear that kerb crawling is a major activity in side streets off the main boulevard. A new aspect has recently arisen as I understand that schoolgirls have discovered that money can be made by accepting lifts in cars. This is very serious indeed, as it is not only corrupting the young but could be the beginning of prostitution. Women and girls, and particularly students, have spoken to me about the sickening and frightening effects resulting from the persistent attentions of men in cars. The S.N.A.P. meeting"— that is, a meeting of this project— was attended by three senior police officers who are extremely worried about the activities of the kerb crawlers and other men who haunt the streets. They told me to tell you that they are entirely behind you in your efforts to amend the Street Offences Act. There is a good deal more, particularly on the deleterious effect which this practice is having on the activities of this admirable project, but that, I think, is all I need place before your Lordships.

Can it really be contended that kerb-crawling is not a very serious business, not only in the West End of London but in the large Northern and Midland cities? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter admitted on the last occasion— having challenged me earlier—that it was a serious social evil. He went on to say that he did not see how it could be dealt with by legal means. But that, I think, is a counsel of despair. Surely it is up to us in the legislative assembly of the nation to see that these matters are dealt with by legislative means. I cannot promise—nobody can promise—that a Bill of this kind introduced into Parliament will be 100 per cent. successful. But at least it furnishes the police with a weapon, and it is quite clear in that letter from Liverpool that the police need a weapon to use against the kerb-crawlers.

Your Lordships will remember that we discussed the case of Crook v. Edmondson, in which the High Court laid it down that the section of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 which had previously been thought to be a weapon against kerb crawlers was not intended to apply at all to that type of activity. So that the man who had been arrested and brought before the magistrates and found guilty of such an offence was ruled to be outside the mischief with which the section is concerned.

Is it not time that we had an Act of Parliament which would deal with this mischief? In this Bill I have attempted to provide it. If your Lordships do not think it is properly drafted, if you do not think it is strong enough, then by all means let us discuss it very carefully at the next stage to see whether it can be tightened up and made better. I am very ready indeed to consider all sorts of suggestions to that end.

I want to refer very shortly to two substantial changes in the present Bill as compared to the Bill that was before your Lordships last year. In the first place, my noble and learned friend Lord Stow Hill made a great point at the Committee stage—and I thought it impressed quite a number of your Lord-ships—of the fact that, under the Bill as it then stood, when a woman complained of a man having pestered and accosted her it would be his word against hers, and that it might well be that in a situation of that sort an injustice might be done. I thought he had a point there, and your Lordships will see that I have now provided that nobody is to be convicted on the testimony of the complainant alone: there must be other evidence as well; it must be corroborated. I hope that that will meet with the requirements of my noble and learned friend Lord Stow Hill. Obviously, it will make it rather more difficult for the prosecution to obtain convictions, but in the circumstances that may be fair enough.

I have also adopted another proposal which came from my noble and learned friend; namely, that it should be possible for an accused man to have his case tried by a jury. Your Lordships will see that it is now provided in Clause 2 that there shall be an option for the defendant to have his case tried by a jury. I also considered a substantial raising of the penalties, which my noble and learned friend proposed in one of his Amendments, but as the Home Office has advised that the present penalties are heavy enough I decided not to go ahead with that. However, it will be open to any of your Lordships to suggest that some halfway house between the proposals of my noble and learned friend Lord Stow Hill and myself would be a sensible compromise.

Some weeks ago I approached Lord Stow Hill and told him what I was proposing to do and, indeed, invited him to put to me any other suggestions which were not of a wrecking character. I said that I should be very ready to consider them. I also suggested that we should get together and try to hammer out a Bill which would be satisfactory to everybody. But he replied, as he was quite entitled to do, that he disliked legislation of this kind and did not feel that any useful purpose would be served by our getting together in the way that I proposed.

My Lords, I have tried to cover the ground and to explain the terms of this Bill. I should like to conclude by pointing out that this is not a Bill to repeal the Street Offences Act 1959, as has been suggested from time to time; it is a Bill to amend it. What I regard as some of the more important provisions of that Act will remain untouched. It is a Bill to amend the Act by taking out the obnoxious provision about the common prostitute, by adding provisions which should enable the police to tackle the kerb-crawler, and by bringing homosexual and heterosexual activities blatantly carried on in the streets on to the same level. Indeed, it is a Bill to establish much greater equality between men and women in respect of these street offences than exists under the present law—that is to say, under the 1959 Act and under the law apart from the Act. I hope your Lordships will feel that these objectives are good ones, and that this Bill substantially carries them out. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

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

3.51 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships will be glad to hear that I do not intend to follow the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, in his Second Reading speech on the 1969 Bill. Some of your Lordships may remember that when that Bill, which was virtually the same as the Bill that we now have in front of us, was before us I suggested that it should not be given a Second Reading. I thought it ill-conceived, in certain respects unnecessary, and in many respects unenforceable. We had a Division on that occasion, and the House did not agree with me. But practically every noble Lord who spoke, including those who supported the Bill, said that it would be necessary to amend it in Committee. I took the view that it could not be amended satisfactorily, though your Lordships evidently did not agree with that; but speaker after speaker said that it was only fair to give it a Second Reading and to try to put it right in Committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, speaking on that occasion for the Government, said in effect that there were certain aspects of the Bill in its then form which were not acceptable and would need amendment at a later stage. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, agreed; and I want to put a different gloss on what he said on this matter. Let me read what the noble Lord said: Everybody has said that my motives are good and it is a pity that they cannot be put into force. They cannot be, if noble Lords take up this sort of attitude. They can be, if noble Lords give my Bill a Second Reading, take it into Committee and make it a good viable Bill. I said at the beginning that I did not claim that this was a perfect Bill but that it was a much better Bill than the Bill of a year ago. I am asking for your Lordships' assistance to put the Bill into Committee, so that we can improve it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4/3/69, Vol. 300, col. 67.] My Lords, neither the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, nor any of those who supported him put down a single Amendment for the Committee stage. I myself was ill at the time, but the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, put down a series of Amendments, on many of which:here were Divisions —and, when there were Divisions, they were carried by substantial majorities. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, decided not to go any further ahead with the Bill, and he was of course perfectly entitled to take that decision. But he now brings it back, after a few months, in virtually the same form, having taken no notice of the criticisms, or virtually none—having accepted two small points—and puts it down again in, as I say, almost exactly the same form. I suggest to your Lord-ships that that shows scant appreciation of the views of this House.

I am not going through all the arguments I used last time as to why I think the Bill is in some respects unnecessary and in other respects unenforceable, but in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has said about a Second Reading debate I must, I think, recapitulate some of them. The meat of the Bill, of course, is in Clause 1 and perhaps I may first of all deal with the new sub-section (1A) which appears in Clause 1. There are three things that have to be proved for an offence to be committed under this subsection. The subsection says: It shall be an offence for any person in a street or public place persistently to accost any person or persons "— that must be proved, of course— with a view to offering or obtaining sexual services "— that again must be proved— for payment or reward"— and that also must be proved.

I repeat what I said last time—and I was not dissuaded by other arguments —that in practice this is not how things work. Let us take the case of a prostitute. What happens, and what will happen particularly if this Bill comes into force? She will be careful what she says. She will persistently accost, and she will say, "Hello, dearie", or, "Hello, darling." We all know what it means; but does that prove that she is accosting people for sexual services? No question of money is raised, not until much later. It is not until the person who is accosted is willing and interested that there may be a discussion about money. I simply do not understand how this can be enforced.

On the last occasion I was very much taken to task by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, for this argument, in a rather irritable manner, and by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, in a reasoned argument. They both took the view, which I found somewhat astonishing, that courts were not strictly bound by the wording of an Act of Parliament: that they could infer certain things from the evidence brought forward and that it did not have to be proved in detail. Of course courts can infer things from the evidence to help to prove a case, but the case has still to be proved; and fortunately the noble Lord, Lord Foot, completely demolished his own case. May I refer to the Hansard in question, column 43 of March 4? This was the case put by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, which I am hoping to answer. He said this: The courts do not live wholly out of this world; they know what goes on, and to-day, under the present law, if the courts were not to draw inferences, if they were to regard everything as having to be strictly and absolutely proved, one would probably never be able to get a conviction of a prostitute under the law as it stands. That was the argument which both the noble Lord, Lord Foot, and the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, put forward; and there is something in that so far. But that does not mean that certain things have not got to be proved.

Then the noble Lord went on, contradicting the whole of his argument: If, under the present law, a woman is charged with this offence under Section 1 of the 1959 Act the prosecution have to prove several ingredients: first, that she loitered or solicited somebody in a public place and that she did it—I forget the exact words—for the purposes of prostitution. My Lords, under the 1959 Act, as we shall see in a minute, it is perfectly proper to infer some of that. But then the noble Lord went on: First of all, you call evidence that she is a common prostitute "— that is the first evidence to be called— and then you call evidence that she was found loitering", and so on. Under this Bill there will be no such thing as a common prostitute. How are you going to prove that a woman who stops a man in the street (whether she is or is not a common prostitute does not come into it any further) is doing it for sexual purposes, or for payment or reward? How is that provable? She may be begging—for which, of course, she can be charged under a quite different law—but that is not accosting "for sexual services". She may be asking the way of a series of people. I agree that under the present law if a known prostitute (one proved to be a prostitute) does that, she may risk, as she knows full well, being"run in" under the 1959 Act; but she will not be running that risk any more because the question of whether or not she is a common prostitute will not come into it. What happens to a woman who is begging? What happens to a woman who is a prostitute? Under this Bill, how is any evidence to be brought to show which is which? It seems to me to be extremely dangerous. I maintain that it cannot be proved except in very rare cases. Under subsection (IB) the same thing applies. Who is to prove that it is "for sexual purposes"? I do not see how that is normally to be done—except as the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has brought in as a proviso—


My Lords, will the noble Lord look at the proviso?


My Lords, I was coming to the proviso. Perhaps the noble Lord will let me make my speech. I do not think that the proviso helps at all. Here is a proviso saying that not only has the person who was molested to complain but that there has to be somebody else to give evidence that he, too, was "accosted, importuned or annoyed". What other person? If a man goes up to a girl in the street and says, "What about a spot of dinner?", she may realise what lies behind this invitation; but what other person is going to know what he said or whether he accosted her. If she walks away, he is unlikely to bother her any more. I do not think that this proviso helps at all. It could make any possibility of conviction far more difficult.

My Lords, may I now come on to Clause 3 which brings in homosexuality. I can quite see why the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, wants to bring this in, but it seems to me entirely unnecessary. This is one of the parts that I think unnecessary. This is already an offence under Section 32 of the 1956 Act and on this particular matter I cannot do better than to quote the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, speaking for the Government in the Second Reading debate of the Street Offences Bill on March 4, 1969. The noble Lord said: Thus, the provision of the present Bill relating to homosexual importuning and carrying a maximum penalty for a third offence of three months' imprisonment would not be in place of, but in addition to, the existing Section 32 offence which carries the higher maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment."— (col. 29.) Later on the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, went on: If homosexual importuning were to be dealt with under the new offence at Clause 1(1A) it would be necessary to prove not only that the persistent accosting was for homosexual purposes, which is all that needs to be proved under Section 32 of the 1956 Act,"— the offence was already there— but also that it was for payment or reward."— which does not have to be proved now. The noble Lord continued: It is difficult to sec the advantage or the logic in creating an additional, less heavily punishable, offence for which there is no real need; and since it would be more difficult to prove than the existing provision, it would be unlikely to be used by the police. What is the point of having this further provision in this Bill? It is entirely un-necessary; and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that it would not be used.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? Is it not right that the effect of (1A) is that for the first time, as a result of the decision in Crook v. Edmondson, it catches the male accoster of women?


My Lords, that would be so if it were enforceable; but in my view it is not enforceable. I maintain that this is entirely unenforceable except in the rarest cases.

My Lords, may I say a word about kerb-crawling? I believe that this practice is rife in some areas, and particularly so in the large cities. But will this Bill affect the situation? Again, I quote the Government's case, as propounded by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. During the same debate on March 4, 1969, the noble Lord said: … the problem often lies not so much in the lack of an offence with which to charge the kerb crawler as in the difficulty of obtaining sufficient evidence to identify the men concerned …. To bring a successful prosecution under the second offence pro-posed in my noble friend's Bill it would be necessary to prove that there was importuning; that is to say, molestation by words, behaviour, gestures, as the noble Lord said, and so on, for sexual purposes … The noble Lord went on to say that this is something which, I suggest, would often be difficult to prove against a kerb crawling motorist."—(col. 28.) I wonder how enforceable this is? A man is kerb crawling. He drives along following a woman. He may be making signs, he may not. The woman, if she notices him, will know what is happening. It may be that it is the prostitute who is driving the car—which is quite common now. It may be the man who is being followed. But we all know what is in the mind of whoever is doing the driving; that there is probably some thought of sexual purposes. But do the noble Lords, Lord Foot and Lord Chorley, really say that that need not be proved? Supposing a man said that he was trying to get some company for dinner and there is no contrary proof. Is that really going to prevail in court? I guarantee that if such a man were the client of the noble Lord, Lord Foot, the noble Lord would get him off.

For all these reasons, again I suggest, after this very short period, that this Bill should not get a Second Reading. Furthermore, in spite of the apologia of the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, he has made it abundantly clear that he is not prepared to accept the sort of Amendments which your Lordships put into the Bill last time and would doubtless wish to put into it again. Surely, if we let this Bill go to Committee we shall be wasting our time.

4.9 p.m.


My Lords, I know that every Member of your Lordships' House recognises the dedication and persistence with which the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has tried again and again to amend the Street Offences Act to remove what he sees as defects. I am quite sure that we all deeply respect his views on this, and we have great sympathy with him in his efforts. I have intervened early in the debate because I think that the House will want to know clearly the Government's attitude to my noble friend's Bill. I must say at the outset that I know that the view will disappoint my noble friend.

I should like to stress that the decision whether to give the Bill a Second Reading is entirely a matter for the House. The Government are neutral. And my noble friend will not, of course, expect me to intervene between my noble friend and Lord Stow Hill in the details of their particular quarrel. I think that the House must remember when deciding on this Bill that there are three things to be considered: first, whether the noble Lord's aims are desirable; second, whether he has succeeded in this Bill in achieving them; and, third, if he does achieve them, whether this achievement might bring with it undesirable consequences.

My noble friend has set out his aims clearly in the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill and in his speech. He aims at equality of treatment between men and women. The Government and the whole House share this view and support the principle. Indeed, the search for equality between the sexes has an honour-able and a very long history, and I think we have made quite considerable progress, at any rate recently. But we all know that in the context of sexual behaviour it is still very difficult to achieve complete equality. If I may state the obvious, men do not conceive or bear children. If they did, some might well show a greater understanding of women's problems. Many people think that if men did bear children there would be only one child in every family. We must recognise that it is a very difficult area in which to legislate adequately. Nevertheless, we should try; and here the Government entirely agree with my noble friend.

His next aim is to remove discrimination between prostitutes and their clients. I agree with him that morally there is no distinction between the man who seeks sexual intercourse, and is prepared to pay for it, and the woman who is prepared to provide it at a price. But it is, disgracefully, true that the prostitute is often penalised and the client goes free. This we accept, and indeed deplore. It is also true that if there were no prostitutes there would be no clients, and that if there were no clients there would be no prostitutes. But this, I feel, is a rather Utopian view. Special circumstances create prostitution in particular areas. As the House knows, a prostitute is not penalised for prostituting herself. Within certain conditions prostitution is a lawful occupation: she is penalised when she offends in public. It is the soliciting, which could become pestering, that constitutes the offence. There is therefore a recognisable offence, and one which can be, and is, dealt with.

The Bill further seeks to ensure equality of treatment for heterosexual and homosexual soliciting and, as noble Lords have pointed out, in respect of homosexual male importuning, provides a new offence, which is more narrowly drawn than the existing offence and calls for a less severe penalty. Frankly, I accept in general the principle of equality regarding heterosexual and homosexual offences; but I think that the House must recognise that while, with certain limitations, acts between consenting adults in private are now lawful, the law still sets the age at 21. On the other hand, there is no legal impediment to sexual intercourse, other than rape, with a young woman over the age of 16. This, of course, looks inequitable from one point of view, but the difference in age embodies in law the opinion that the seduction of a young man would be, and should be, viewed more seriously than the seduction of a girl. As the House well knows, the present law on homosexuality has received very much public opposition and it is doubtful whether public opinion would be prepared to accept the implications of Lord Chorley's Bill. We have to remember this, I submit, in considering this very difficult sphere of legislation; and it is an indication of the difficulties in the way of complete equality of treatment in respect of sexual offences.

My noble friend also seeks in his Bill to narrow the definition of accosting or importuning for sexual purposes, and to provide an additional defence for persons so charged. But what would be the result of this? As I have said, the 1959 Street Offences Act was aimed partly at curbing the serious public scandal caused by the presence of overwhelming numbers of prostitutes openly plying their trade in the London streets, something which had a very bad effect on overseas visitors and on the name of the country in general. Perhaps more important, immature girls, seeing the activities of these women flaunted in public, saw no reason why they should not themselves follow that example. Of course the House knows that the Act of 1959 was not a perfect measure. I entirely agree with my noble friend when he says that the whole idea of sweeping the problem under the carpet is distasteful. But there is no question that the measure has gone a very long way towards freeing the streets from that serious, and indeed dangerous, situation. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Chorley would not wish to see the old conditions return with the streets again full of prostitutes. I read his comments in the last two debates, and I have listened very carefully to what he said to-day about this aspect, but I am strongly advised that that would be the result of passing his Bill. Prostitutes would pour back into the streets with all the attendant disadvantages and squalor.

Your Lordships will remember that when a similar Bill was debated in March of last year my noble friend Lord Stonham gave some very striking statistics which my noble friend Lord Chorley has repeated to-day. I should like to stress that in 1958 there were nearly 20,000 convictions for street offences of prostitutes. The annual average now is about 2,000, and we have had no recent figures which show a significant change. I understand and share my noble friend's dislike of the term "common prostitute". I was greatly impressed by the way in which my noble friend Lord Soper put it on the last occasion when this matter was discussed. When I find myself at odds with my noble friend Lord Soper on matters of pure conscience, I always feel uneasy. He said: It is a gross injustice to put upon a group of people who have to be arbitrarily defined a penalty or a possible penalty which does not afflict others."—[OIUCIAL REPORT, 4/3/69, col. 59.] I think that the term "common prostitute" is horrible. But, my Lords, the Wolfenden Committee reported that no evidence had been given to them, either by prostitutes or on behalf of prostitutes, which suggested that they themselves felt any grievance, or expected injustice, as a result of it. That is important. Above all—and this is what we are considering to-day—I think there is no question that the use of this term protects innocent women. The concept dates back many years—I think to 1824. It is well understood and, on balance, having given a great ideal of consideration to the matter, and particularly to the views of the Wolfenden Committee, I think its use is effective in the interests of the greater good of the community as a whole. I say that with some regret, but I believe it to be true.

My Lords, I turn now to kerb-crawling. I entirely agree with what was said by my noble friend and by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, that this is undoubtedly a squalid and repulsive nuisance. More than that, it is extremely frightening to many women. Even an extremely self-possessed woman is alarmed and embarrassed when this happens; and for a nervous one, especially when it happens after dark, as it mostly does, it can be a really dreadful experience. We do not take it frivolously in any sense.

A further point which makes it undesirable is that in respectable streets and suburbs where it has become a practice numbers of prostitutes gather to offer their services in return for money, much to the anger and distress of householders in the street. It is an extremely disagreeable business, but it is appallingly difficult to deal with it. I accept that it is a bad thing for us to feel that we cannot deal with it, and, indeed, an attempt was made in Section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956, to which both the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, and my noble friend Lord Chorley referred. We hoped that it would catch a man indulging in this sort of activity as well as the homosexual man accosting males. This view prevailed for some time, and a number of cases were successfully brought against kerb crawlers. But, as has been mentioned, the ruling in Crook v. Edmonson has rather altered the position.

I know that there is some disagreement, and indeed controversy, about the result of Crook v. Edmonson, and I realise that my noble friend Lord Chorley has tried to fill this possible gap in the law by drafting a new offence which includes in the definition of importuning the act of pestering or following, whether in vehicle or on foot. This provision is much more restrictive than Section 32 of the 1956 Act, but I do not think it would achieve my noble friend's aim without imperilling innocent travellers; and this is serious. I am offering these general thoughts on the Bill solely to enable your Lordships to consider and decide for yourselves the merits of the Bill, but I offer them quite seriously.

My Lords, I do not propose to detain the House very long with detailed drafting comments. My noble friend Lord Stonham did this the last time that we debated the subject, and indeed the clauses have been dealt with very powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent. My noble friend has made some changes to meet some of the criticisms offered on his last attempt, but I am not sure that they really make any difference. May I first look at Clause 1. This is intended to amend Section 1(1) of the Street Offences Act 1959 so as to abolish the term "common prostitute ". I must repeat that I think this would lead to a great many more prostitutes coming on to the streets, and although it may provide greater protection for the prostitute, it certainly offers a good deal less protection to the general public. I would ask your Lordships to keep that in mind when considering it.

The offence under the Street Offences Act 1959 is clear-cut and reasonably easy to prove in practice. There is a most important safeguard in it; namely, that a woman already cautioned has the right to apply to a court to have the entry in the police record expunged. That protects the innocent woman who may have got herself into this situation by absent-mindedness, by her escort being late or because of various reasons. The Amendment would make it much more difficult to secure a conviction in cases where a conviction should be secured, because it would be necessary to prove, first, persistence (and that implies a good deal of surveillance), and secondly, that the molestation was with a view to offering or obtaining sexual services for payment or reward, a matter which was again referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent.

The second provision in the clause makes it an offence for a person in a street or public place to importune any other person for sexual purposes so as to cause annoyance to that other person or a nuisance to any other person who resides in or makes use of the street or public place. My noble friend has substituted"makes use of"for"uses ", but I am not at all certain that in doing so he has removed the uncertainty to which references were made last time. He has also required—and I can see why—that, in addition to evidence by the person thus accosted, importuned or annoyed, there shall be corroboration by at least one other person.

I am not sure who this other person is supposed to be. If it is a watching policeman or policewoman, perhaps the court will accept as adequate confirmation of the charge an account of what he or she saw, even though he or she was unable to overhear the conversation —assuming that a conversation took place, which it very often does not. But this matter again bristles with difficulties. The chances of successfully getting the evidence of a passing stranger, who may well be unwilling to give evidence, are even more remove. Many people, as your Lordships well know, are unwilling to give evidence in a police court, and especially in regard to anything connected with sexual offences. It is obvious that many women will not stand up in court and do that. They are afraid of what the neighbours will say: "Oh, she was up at the local police court", and so on. It is difficult to persuade people to give evidence in this particular kind of case.

I should like to say a brief word about Clauses 2 and 3, and I want to deal with them together because their interaction produces an anomaly. Clause 2 allows a male person accused of homosexual importuning to claim trial by jury, even though under the principal Act, as amended by the Bill, the maximum penalty for a third or subsequent offence would be a fine not exceeding £25 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding three months, or both. Clause 3 equates heterosexual and homosexual accosting. The Bill does not repeal Section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956. If this Bill were passed in its present form, we should be faced with a serious anomaly, to which again the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, referred: two homosexual male importuners who committed the same offence could be proceeded against, either under the new Bill or under the 1956 Act, and we should then find that there were two different kinds of penalties, one of them much more severe than the other.

What this really points to is that I do not think it possible for the legislation as it stands to be dealt with piecemeal. I think it would result in an extremely confused situation. The Government recognise, of course, that there is a need for a complete review of sexual offences —and, indeed, we had hoped that it would be possible for the Criminal Law Revision Committee to do this fairly soon. But I must tell your Lordships that that Committee is heavily engaged on the law in respect of evidence, and I should be disingenuous if 1 promised your Lordships that this matter would be dealt with, say, this year. I cannot promise that. However, I wish your Lordships to know that the Government take this matter very seriously indeed. Of course, there is always the problem of determining priority in legislation, and I can-not promise that this review will happen soon. But I can assure the House again that the need for it will be by no means overlooked. It is a difficult, complicated and distressing subject.

My Lords, I hope that I have done justice both to the noble Lord's intentions and to his Bill, but if I have not succeeded in doing so I would again emphasise that my remarks are solely to assist the House in its consideration of the Bill. The Government fully recognise that this is a matter for the House and accept the right of each Member of the House to vote according to his own conviction.


My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, I wonder whether she would answer this question. Do I understand from what she said about consideration in the future of the whole corpus of sexual offences that this would include a consideration of street offences, which I gather are often regarded as not coming under the same heading? Would that be included in any survey?


My Lords, I think I am right in saying that the whole field will be considered, because nobody thinks that the last Act is absolutely perfect.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, this is the third edition of this Bill and we are all in some danger of making again the speeches we made before—a temptation which the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, did not entirely resist. The only Members of the House who arc exceptions are the noble Baroness, who might be accused of making the speech previously made by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. It will be interesting to see whether in his present position he makes the same sort of speech as he made on the previous occasion, when he was sitting on the Front Bench. I shall be interested to follow the subtle distinctions which overcome a noble Lord when he moves from one place to another.

At the risk of making the same replies to the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, as I made on the last occasion, I should like to deal with one or two points which he made this afternoon. First, I would come to the defence of the noble Lord, Lord Chorley (not that he needs it), against the accusation that he has behaved rather shabbily towards the House, in that, when his prevoius Bill was amended in Committee, he did not accept the fact and carry on with the Bill. But it was impossible for him to do so.


My Lords, I think that the noble Lord misunderstood me. I was not criticising the noble Lord for not going on with the Bill: he was perfectly entitled to do what he did. I was referring to his reintroduction of the Bill in its original form, when it had been amended by the House in Committee. I thought that this was treating the House with some disrespect.


My Lords, I understand that on the last occasion, on Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, made it clear he did not contend that the Bill was wholly perfect and would welcome in Committee any Amendments designed to improve the Bill. What happened in Committee was that no Amendments were put forward with the object of improving the Bill. The Amendments that were introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, were intended to destroy the Bill. That is not in dispute. The noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, will not dispute this, because he said then that he was seeking to eliminate Clause 1 of the Bill and that that contained the whole substance of the Bill.

As a result of the machinations and efforts of various Members of the House, led by the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, the Bill was torn to pieces, and the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, was left with something quite different, something which was not directed to curing the mischief with which the Bill was intended to deal. In those circumstances, he had no alternative but to drop that Bill and to come back again to the House with another Bill in the original form. Again there are some minor defects and points on which Amendments may not be out of order. For example, Clause 1 seems to me a perfectly proper clause for amendment, and I imagine that the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, will say that on Committee stage, if the Bill gets that far, he will welcome constructive Amendments designed to improve the Bill and remove its defects.

To return to the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, on the previous occasion, in March last, he said that he did not think that the new subsection (1A) was enforceable because it introduced this element,"for payment or reward ". He said that in the great majority of cases it would not be possible to prove that there had been an offer of payment or reward. On that occasion I sought to persuade the House that what really happened was that if there was evidence of a man accosting a series of women, or of a woman accosting a series of men, then there was evidence of persistent accosting, and it would be perfectly reasonable for a bench of magistrates to infer from the circumstances that such a case was one of prostitution, in which there was going to be some reward or payment. The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, I understand, says that it is not right to infer anything at all; that everything must be strictly proved.

My Lords, over a great range of the law the courts draw inferences. One of the most ordinary examples of the way in which inferences are drawn and the court does not require that everything be fully proved is to be found in what used to be called"receiving stolen goods" and is now called the"handling of goods knowing them to have been stolen ". That offence has two ingredients—first, the actual handling of the goods and, secondly, knowledge by the accused person, when handling the goods, that they were stolen. Rarely in a handling case has a court any direct evidence that the person involved positively knew that the goods were stolen. Yet it has been said over and over again that the court can look at all the circumstances in which the goods were received—that they were received in a public house, from somebody the accused had never seen before, for a very small sum of money, and things of that kind—and is perfectly entitled to infer that that person knew that the goods were stolen. I suggest that in the great majority of cases of this kind there will be no difficulty in the court's inferring—and rightly so, when confronted with evidence of persisting accosting—that it was being done for the purpose of payment or reward.

I turn to the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, upon the new subsection (IB). Here again he said that the charge of importuning would not be enforceable. This argument has taken a remarkable turn. The noble Lord says that subsection (IB) is not enforceable because we have now inserted into the Bill the requirement that there must be not only the evidence of the person who has complained of the nuisance but also the corroborative evidence of another witness. He said that we should not be able to get two people to give evidence. This is an odd development, because the argument used against the earlier Bill was that there was grave danger of innocent people being wrongfully convicted. This argument was put with great effect by the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, on the last occasion, but not by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent. So the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, puts into his Bill a provision which is designed precisely to avoid the risk of wrongful conviction; and then we have the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, saying that by including it we shall not now be able to secure any convictions at all. I suggest that in point of fact that is not right.

Let me suggest to the noble Lord how these things in fact happen. From the evidence we have had from the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and other noble Lords, we know that the offence of kerb-crawling is prevalent in particular areas and that, for instance, the police in Liverpool are very much concerned about the great number of complaints which they get of this sort of behaviour. If we passed this Bill and the police wanted to clear the streets of kerb-crawlers, what would they do? They would post a number of policemen, either in plain clothes or otherwise, to keep observation in those areas where kerb-crawling goes on all the time. Then when a woman is accosted by a kerb-crawler and resists the invitation, there is nothing to stop the police from asking her whether she is upset about it, or offended, and inviting her, if she so wishes, to make a com-plaint. In such circumstances you have all the evidence that you require. You have the complainant herself, and the independent evidence of a police officer, who saw the accosting, and I suggest—


My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt, I would ask him to remember the tremendous over-stress that exists at the moment on our police force. I do not think the police can be everywhere at once, and to pro-vide that sort of evidence implies a great deal of surveillance.


My Lords, I appreciate that. I would suggest for the noble Baroness's consideration that to get rid of the kerb crawler from the areas where he has been operating can be quite a short-term exercise. if there are prosecutions and convictions, the trouble in that area may well be cleared up. It may be gone and settled once and for all. It is claimed that one of the merits of the Street Offences Act 1959 is that it solved the problem and relieved the police for all time of the very heavy burden under which they had been working before, when they were arresting prostitutes every week or so.

The last observation I should like to make about that point is on some words that fell from the lips of the noble Baroness when she said that she thought it would be very difficult in these cases of the kerb crawler to get women to come forward and give evidence in court. I suspect, with the greatest possible respect, that that may be a misjudgment. I know that in the old days when a prostitute was being prosecuted for soliciting, it was very difficult—if ever-— to get the man accosted to come forward, because a man looks rather silly, stupid and abased in such circumstances. With all this evidence that women are complaining to the police about the kerb crawler in various places, the situation is probably different, and there may well be women who are prepared to come forward in order to clear their neighbourhood of what has become an intolerable nuisance to them. I think there will be women of reasonable fortitude who will be prepared to go through that experience, such as it is, in order to get rid of what is in many parts of the country an extreme nuisance to them.

What I intend to do this afternoon is to address myself to the arguments that were used on the last occasion, or on the occasion of the Committee stage by the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill. I am very sorry to find myself speaking before the noble Lord in this debate, because I should rather have followed him. But I imagine that in a moment the noble Lord will be addressing us in somewhat similar terms (at any rate with a similar line of argument) to the line of argument which he developed at the Committee stage on the last occasion. I do not entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and I do not go quite so far as the noble Lord when he said that he thought the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, behaved rather badly in introducing these wrecking Amendments. I think that probably in these matters all is reasonably fair. While I think that the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, feeling as strongly as he did against the Bill, may have been justified in introducing Amendments which really cut its throat, at the same time I am surprised that the House on that occasion was persuaded by the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, to throw out Clause 1.

The House may remember that the noble Lord developed three lines of argument: he criticised the Bill on three grounds. First, he did not think that it was at all necessary; secondly, that he thought it would be entirely ineffective; and thirdly, that it would give rise to the risk of wrongful conviction and create a danger for every citizen in the country. He dealt with those three considerations. What was it that the noble Lord said about the first? The noble Lord. Lord Chorley, has already made some reference to this. Lord Stow Hill said: … the relevant question we should put to ourselves in considering this Bill is whether it is a nuisance on such a scale that we ought to amend the criminal law specifically to deal with it ".—[Official Report, 17/4/69; col. 215.] He then asked himself the question: what is the scale of this? The naive answer, if I may so call it, which he gave us, was in these terms; I should have thought, in a sense, that the best way "— to measure the extent of the nuisance was— … to consult our own experience. Let each of us ask ourselves how often in the last year, the last two years or the last three years, this has been the subject of conversation; how often have reasonable, sensible women of our acquaintance or our family circle complained that they have been molested, or even raised the subject, discussed it or shown the slightest interest in it? "— [Official Report, 17/4/69; col. 217.] It seems to me somewhat odd, particularly coming from the noble Lord— a former Home Secretary—that he should ask us to assess the incidence of some particular social evil by what we have been talking about over the dinner table, and what has been the common subject of conversation in our social life. Would anybody like to assess, for example, the extent of racial discrimination in this country merely by considering how much it has been discussed in one's social life? Surely there is ample evidence—and indeed this was borne out by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, on the last occasion—that this is not only a serious nuisance, but is on the increase.

On the second argument, the objection put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, was that the Bill would be entirely ineffective—those were the words he used. Here again I suggest that the argument he advanced on that occasion bears no relation to the terms of this Bill. What he said was this: Our respect for women, and respect for ourselves, deters us from molesting women for sexual purposes. If it does not, if we are the kind of people who are not held in by inhibitions of that sort, I think it really is completely unrealistic to think that, because you might be fined 40s. in a magistrates' court if you are unlucky and get caught, you are going to stop trying to ' date' a girl or trying to force yourself on some lady in the hope that she may prove accommodating to your inclinations."—[Official Report, 17/4/69, col. 220.] My Lords, am I wrong in saying that that is an absolute parody of what would happen under this Bill? The penalties under this Bill are the same as the penal-ties under the Street Offences Act 1959, and the final sanction behind this Bill is the sanction of imprisonment. The reason why the 1959 Act was effective in driving prostitutes off the street—if that was its purpose—was precisely because we incorporated the sanction of imprisonment as the last resort. I know that this could not have been done intention-ally, but I suggest for the noble Lord's consideration that when he put the matter to us in that way he suggested that was the way this Bill was likely to work out if it was put into operation, and that was a complete misrepresentation of the way in which the Bill would operate.

I come now to the third of the noble Lord's objections to this Bill: the risk of an innocent person being wrongly convicted. As 1 said on a previous occasion, I am all too conscious of the terrible dangers of wrongful convictions inherent in so much legislation. If I thought that we had not built into the Bill all the safe-guards that could properly be built in against wrongful conviction, I should think the Bill was too high a price to pay. But when the noble Lord was trying to give us illustrations of the way in which people might be wrongly convicted under the Bill, I suggest that he advanced illustrations which bear no relation to the way in which the Bill would operate.

The noble Lord said: Speaking for myself, I think that one of the most precious experiences l have had is working closely with the police … If an experienced police officer tells me that he kept somebody under observation for a period of time and that that person was molesting women, peering into their faces and so on, I should think that in nine cases out of ten he is right. Indeed, in 49 cases out of 50 he is right. But in the fiftieth case he may be wrong. And if he is wrong, there is a tragedy." —[OFFICIAL Report, 17/4/69, col. 221.] Then the noble Lord went on to refer to the first criminal case in which he appeared in 1927 as that of a lather ineffectual middle-aged gentleman who was arrested for walking up and down at Leicester Square peering into ladies faces. He was acquitted by the magistrate because the police fair-mindedly said that he had been walking in and out of public houses, and the magistrate thought he was probably rather intoxicated and did not know what he was doing. But he might have been convicted."—[col. 222.] Those are two cases put forward as illustrations of the way a person might be wrongly convicted. But it could not happen under this Bill, because in each of those illustrations the person might be convicted on the uncorroborated testimony of one witness. A further point is that under the terms of this Bill nobody could be convicted of persistent accosting if the only evidence was that he had peered into people's faces. So on both grounds those illustrations are of no assistance to us. What we have in fact done is to insist upon three factors for the protection of the individual against possible wrongful conviction. We have got rid of loitering as being sufficient grounds for prosecution; we have insisted that there shall be accosting. We have insisted that there shall be persistence, and we have insisted that there shall be the evidence of the person who is said to have been annoyed". Finally, we have insisted that there shall be the evidence of another person to corroborate that evidence. What further guarantees could we write into the Bill?

I feel I have detained the House for rather too long, and apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, for having, as it were, debated with him in advance. But I would, in conclusion, urge this upon the House. The evil of the Street Offences Act 1959 is the evil of discrimination between men and women. I regard putting that right as much more important than even dealing with the kerb-crawler. I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, to consider this point again. Under the law as it now stands, under the Street Offences Act 1959, there is a grave danger of the prostitute's being wrongly convicted, because once it is proved that a woman is a prostitute, and once it is proved that she was loitering, then it is almost in-evitable that the court will infer that she was loitering for the purposes of prostitution. As I have said before, I regard it as quite as great an evil that a prostitute should be wrongly convicted as that a respectable person should be wrongly convicted. I share the noble Lord's anxiety about wrongful conviction, and I would ask him to consider whether, if he has his way, we are not going to perpetuate the present system under which the prostitute; stands in this permanent risk.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lady Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe informed your Lordships' House that the Home Office have the whole of this matter under consideration. She implored the House not to deal with it piecemeal; she gave what I thought was a most effective example of the undesirable results of dealing with this difficult field of legislation piece by piece. She pointed out that if the Bill at present before your Lordships were passed, a man could be charged under its provisions with homosexual solicitation, or under the provisions of Section 32 of the 1956 Sexual Offenders' Act, with entirely different penalties and utterly unjustifiable and absurd results. She said that the Home Office were intending as soon as they could to get the Committee who are responsible for this kind of investigation to deal with it.

The noble Baroness also said that they were fully conscious of the problem. Being conscious of the problem, they have done nothing about it for several years past; so they cannot think it is as pressing and urgent as all that. If they deal with it, it will not require an immense Bill 500 clauses long; it will be quite a short Bill. If they had thought it was something which was afflicting society, they would, I should have thought, have got on with it years ago. They have had three years since the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, first introduced the matter to this House. I should think it could wait a little longer, so that it is properly dealt with as part of a comprehensive review, with all the dangers considered and all the experience of a great Department made available to ensure that it does not, by a side wind, introduce risks which ought to be avoided for respectable people.

I ask your Lordships this question. Is any useful purpose to be served by now, for the third occasion, reading for a second time this Bill, which is almost exactly the same as the Bill to which your Lordships gave a Second Reading last year, with two minor alterations which I will deal with in a moment? Should that course be taken, when your Lordships gave to the noble Lord's Bill last year the fullest consideration in Committee and came to the conclusion it was thoroughly bad and changed it radically and fundamentally? Yet now the noble Lord asks your Lordships to give a Second Reading to virtually the same text, with practically no change. My Lords, where are we getting to? What happens if we go into Committee on this Bill? Are the same Amendments going to be put down? Are they going to be considered again? Are the same speeches going to be made in support of them? Is the same vote going to result? Is the noble Lord then going to accuse us of (I think he said) bringing Parliament into disrepute for dropping his Bill abruptly, then wait for another year and bring it forward again in almost exactly the same terms?

I submit that it would be wrong to give this Bill a Second Reading. If we were in the presence of some major social scourge, and the Government had given no indication at all either that they were conscious of it or that they proposed to tackle it, then there might be a case for considering a Bill which did not offend against the objectives that your Lordships accepted in Committee on the last Bill. This Bill does not qualify in that sense. The Government have now said,"We propose to deal with the matter. We know the extent of the seriousness of it. We have all that in mind, and when we can, we will ". The first point, therefore, which I would respectfully put to your Lordships is that we are being invited to undertake a wholly purposeless task. If we give this Bill a Second Reading I suppose we must do what your Lordships did in Committee last year. And then what? If there is anything which is likely to bring Parliament into disrepute, it seems to me that a proceeding of that kind might have that effect.

When the noble Lord, in introducing his Bill, was so loud in complaint against me that I made a Second Reading speech in Committee on the last occasion, in effect he was suggesting to me that the best way of answering his Bill, which was the same as I was dealing with then, was to repeat that Second Reading speech. That would have been a great imposition on your Lordships, but fortunately it is not necessary to do so because the noble Lord, Lord Foot, has done it for me. He has gone through all the points and has greatly abbreviated my task. I am much obliged to him, and I will just take him up, if I may, on one or two points on which I think he was slightly mistaken.

He said that there was really no risk of there being a mistaken conviction of a person for soliciting. Why? Because, under the provisions of this Bill, before there can be a conviction the person who complains of the conduct must give evidence and at least one other person must give evidence against the accused. If the noble Lord thinks that he was adopting my suggestion—and I am sure he was perfectly sincere in saying so—he is very wide of the mark. On the last occasion, in order to lessen the risk of wrongful conviction, I sought to embody the following safeguard: No person shall be convicted of an offence under this section unless the person annoyed by such molestation, and in addition not less than one other person, gives evidence "— and I ask your Lordships to note particularly the following words— of the conduct relied on by the prosecution as constituting such molestation. My Lords, that has been changed in the present Bill. The evidence to be given by the other person need no longer be of the conduct which is relied upon by the prosecution as constituting an offence. All that is requisite under the terms of the Bill now before your Lordships is that "at least one other person gives evidence against" the person accused. That one other person may be a police officer who simply gives evidence of arrest. That would be a person who "gives evidence against him ". A person who is called by the prosecution to say whatever the prosecuting authority responsible for the conduct of the case thinks is relevant is a person who gives evidence against the defendant. Whether the evidence is damaging or not is another matter.

So there may be the situation in which the only person who gives evidence against the so-called"molestor" is the lady who complains of his conduct, plus a police officer who says,"I arrested the accused. I took him to West End Central police station", or something of the sort. My Lords, is that a great safeguard? It is not a safeguard when one considers the letter (and I would like to remind your Lordships of it) which my noble friend Lord Chorley read out. It was a letter from somebody from Notting Hill Gate. I do not know how long ago it was written, but he seems to attach great importance to it. I do, also, but for a different reason. Your Lordships may remember the letter. It reads: I am the eldest of a family of five daughters living in Notting Hill Gate, a notorious area of London where many ordinary people live and work. Now, my Lords, note the description which that lady gives. In this area there is a constant stream of men in cars and on foot who spend their time accosting any female from the age of 12 to 60, at any time of day or night. Is that a temperate description of an area that we all know? I dare say that there are kerb-crawlers there, although I have never seen them; and I have no doubt that this lady believes what she says. I am not in the least charging her with ill-faith. But these are not simply the disenchanted reflections of a lady who has consumed a large meal a little too quickly. Their author has embodied them in a letter to no less grave a personage than my noble friend. He puts it before your Lordships as a letter that your Lord-ships ought to consider, and I use it for this purpose. The noble Lord, Lord Foot, says,"There are plenty of safeguards." Imagine an elderly gentleman who is rather short-sighted. Perhaps he really would like somebody to talk to: he lives alone in a room, with no friends and no relatives, and he wander about and looks at people and looks in shop windows. He has nowhere to go. His motives are misunderstood and he has the misfortune to meet this lady, or some other lady who has an imagination as florid and as exuberant as she has.

My Lords, picture the situation. The man is accused of accosting her. The case comes before the court. She gives evidence, and that evidence is unconsciously overpainted and overtoned, as are the terms of that letter. Then the great safeguard is applied: that somebody else must be called to give evidence against the poor old gentleman. That other person is a police officer. He is asked what he has to say, and he says,"I arrested the accused and I took him to Notting Hill Gate police station". Then the magistrate has to decide whether or not the case is made out. Magistrates are people of great experience, and it is to be hoped that the magistrate concerned will discount that sort of evidence and dismiss the charge. But the unfortunate old gentleman has had to go through the whole of that ordeal of being publicly arrested, hauled through the streets, having the case hanging over him, uncertain whether he will be acquitted or will not be acquitted—a thing which will remain with him for the rest of his life. Suppose, on the other hand, that he has an old wife who lives with him. Is she going to believe that he is wholly innocent or is she suddenly going to think to herself,"I didn't know he was that sort of person ", and is their relationship going to be strained and embittered for the last few years that the old couple have to live together?

The noble Lord, Lord Foot, read out a part of my speech, and I felt very much complimented. It was the part of my speech in which I referred to the evidence of the police officers. 1 have the highest respect for police officers. I am certain that they do their level best to be fair in these matters, and careful. The noble Lord quoted me as saying that if an experienced police officer said to me,"I saw that man and my interpretation of his motives was so forth ", in 49 out of 50 cases I should be quite satisfied that he was right; he would not be likely to make a mistake. But in one case out of 50 he might be wrong —wrong because of a perfectly genuine misunderstanding. And that case is a tragedy beyond measure and it is a tragedy to which we should not subject the citizens of this country unless it is absolutely and unavoidably necessary.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, is there any reason why all these defects in the words of the Bill, such as"gives evidence against him", should not be simply amended in Committee by incorporating the words that were suggested by the noble Lord?


My Lords, the noble Lord is asking us to undertake again the adventure that we had last time. I suppose that your Lordships would again wish to amend these clauses and the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, would again drop the whole Bill. May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Foot, that I should have thought there was every reason why we should not again under-take the unfortunate experience of last year which brought down upon our heads so much of the sharp edge of the tongue of my noble friend?

My Lords, I should like now to pass to one of the other objectives of the Bill; namely, kerb-crawling. In that matter we are not devoid of advice. We have very positive advice from the Wolfenden Committee. I will quote the last two or three sentences in paragraph 267 of the Wolfenden Report. That Committee reported in 1956, which was not so long ago and I do not suppose that circumstances have changed so vastly since then. They recognised that kerb-crawling is a serious problem, and at the end of that paragraph they said this: Whilst we appreciate the reality of the problem, and we consider that it should be kept under review "— which I gather is what the Home Office are doing— the difficulties of proof would be considerable, and the possibility of a very damaging charge being levelled at an innocent motorist must also be borne in mind. We do not feel able to make any positive recommendation. That is a very carefully considered Re-port. It is recognised to be a Report of high authority. And is it not absolute common sense? They are saying that, "There is a problem of kerb-crawling; and nobody would deny that it is disagreeable to be kerb-crawled. But we, the Wolfenden Committee, because of the risk of unjustified charges being made against respectable motorists, do not re-commend any change in the law."

The Committee are, if I may say so, amply backed up, because when my noble friend Lord Stonham was speaking on the Bill last year, when he occupied the position of Minister of State (and we all know with what authority he speaks in this House), he said, after listening to the noble Lord, Lord Chorley: I am bound to say that when I was listening to my noble friend and to all the possibilities, it made me feel that in future I shall be afraid to get out of my car to ask the way. How wise he was! Nearly every time I get out of my car to ask my way, when I am in an area that I do not know, the first answer I get is ' I am a stranger round here'. I can never seem to find anyone who knows where we are."— [Official Report, 4/3/69, col. 28.] Legislation which induces that type of apprehension into the mind of somebody so well conducted and highly respected as my noble friend surely reaches a high pitch of absurdity. One can picture his situation. With all the innocence in the world he drives along and, being a man of great prudence and experience in the field of legislation, he selects a homely looking lady who looks as safe as she can be. He brings his car to a slow pace and he says, "Excuse me, madam; could you direct me to so and so?". She turns her nose in the air and walks off. What is he to do? Is he to jump out of his car and say, "Please do not misunderstand me; my intentions are strictly honourable"? Or is he to do what I suggest he should do, get into his car, put his foot on the accelerator and get out of danger as quickly as possible? That is really the sort of situation the Wolfenden Committee had in mind. If we are going to start trying to legislate in this way, that is the sort of ridiculous result we run into.

That is why I entreat your Lordships not to deal with this matter without the advice of the Home Office after the fullest consideration, and after they have come to a positive decision as to what they think necessary in this matter, which, after all, appertains not to the conscience but to the matter of public order; we are not discussing abortion or something of that sort, but public order, which is a direct responsibility of the Home Office. The present Home Secretary—if I may say so, he being a great friend of mine—is an able and conscientious Home Secretary, and when he thinks it necessary he will bring something before this House and the other House. I ask your Lordships to wait until we can really discuss the matter properly in both Houses.

That brings me nearly to the end of what I want to say. May I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Foot? He says,"Should you ask yourself what takes place over a dinner table?". I was not limiting the inquiry to the ambit of what takes place over a dinner table. I was including in the suggested scope of research, research in all fields. I have tried it in my family. I have women members of my family. I ask myself whether from last year to this year anybody had mentioned the subject of being molested or picked up in the street. I cannot remember an occasion. The first mention of the subject I recall was when my noble friend Lord Chorley stopped me in the corridor and said,"I am bringing in the Street Offences Bill again ". I do not know what the experience of your Lordships is; I do not know how far this subject has become a matter of common household discussion. My guess is that in very few households has it become so.

There are some ladies who will always think they are being molested. Many of your Lordships may know the famous figure of the Sphinx who gazes severely and chastely over the sands near to Cairo. There are some ladies who, if they rode past that Sphinx on a camel, would be sure that it was ogling them. We can leave them out of account and keep to common sense by asking oneself what the reaction of the normal and sensible person is. Is this legislation necessary? I submit not. It might become necessary. Well, let the Home Office deal with it comprehensively. Will it have any effect? The noble Lord says that the Street Offences Act provides for imprisonment. But can one expect a humane, sensible, liberal-minded magistrate who has a young man brought before him, a brash, impudent, cheeky young man charged with whistling after some girls, to send him to prison; or would he say,"Pay 40s"?


My Lords, under the provisions of the Street Offences Act 1959 —and this would stand—he could not be sent to prison unless it was the third offence.


My Lords, I do not know what the noble Lord would do if he were a magistrate sitting on a bench. If I had a young man before me who three times before had been before me for whistling and I was asked to send him to prison, I would say"No." I would say,"Pay 40s.", or I may put it up to 50s. The difficulty about the sort of clause we are discussing is not that there is no power but that you cannot get the evidence. The noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies, implored the House not to put another burden on the police. I feel with her. Are we going to ask the unfortunate, overworked police to stand around in every lonely street in case somebody wants them to support evidence about kerb crawling? If it is a lonely street, do not go down it at certain times. Of course it is alarming to be kerb crawled; it is alarming to be accosted by a man on foot. In an ideal world there would be no prostitution and no soliciting; I wish there were not. But provisions of this sort will not stop it.

There is plenty of power now. If some-body is impertinent enough to put his hand on a lady's shoulder, he commits an assault. If he goes further and tries to put his hand around her waist, it will be a serious assault and he can go to prison. I think your Lordships know that in some countries it is not unknown for some men to so far forget themselves as to pinch the buttocks of respectable ladies. If they did it in this country they would be committing an indecent assault and go to prison for a long time; and so they deserve to. In spite of the amusement, I hope the House agrees with me. Supposing the molestation consists only of words; there is no actual contact of that sort. There is still Section 5 of the Public Order Act which makes it a crime, punishable by quite a severe penalty, to use insulting behaviour; and to ask a strange lady to accommodate you in a sexual sense or provide sexual service, as my noble friend phrases it, surely that is insulting. But the section imposes the qualification that that insulting behaviour must be in circumstances likely to occasion a breach of the peace. Is that not right? It ignores the minor case and brings in the more serious case.

There are plenty of powers if you can get the evidence. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said that there was some doubt as to whether there could be a prosecution under that section. I do not know why; the words seem absolutely apt. They follow, with one slight change, the words of the Metropolilan Police Act 1839, and they have been used over and over again for this sort of thing. The only change is that the words"or at a public meeting" have been added, but the definition of"a public place" remains the same. I believe it is the view of some police authorities that it is perfectly open to them, once they can get the evidence, to use that comprehensive section, and surely that is a sufficient deterrent.

I have addressed your Lordships for some time and I apologise for doing so, but I ask your Lordships to say that no useful purpose would be served by once again giving this Bill (almost the same as the last) a Second Reading, and probably consigning it—not certainly, because your Lordships may reconsider the argu-ments—to the same fate that the last Bill received in Committee, and our-selves to the same rather severe censure from my noble friend Lord Chorley.

5.21 p.m.


My Lords, before I speak for my brief two minutes, may I take issue on one matter raised by the noble Lord who has just spoken. I understood him to say that because these offences had not been brought before Parliament for legislation that they are therefore minor offences, and did not rate compared with the bigger offences. Surely that is not true. There are many major issues, such as pensions for the over-80s, which Governments have decided, in their wisdom or unwisdom, were not worthy of urgent consideration. It is a question of priorities. But to put it so far down the list does not mean that it does not have a certain and indeed a great importance.

Despite the other arguments that we have heard this afternoon, some of them specious and some of them rather devious, I would support this Bill. Two years ago I strongly opposed it, and for good reasons. I did so because it endangered the boy waiting for his girl at the street corner, or the girl waiting for her boy in a similar place; but now by this latest Bill my fears are removed.

I like the new Bill. I like the sanctions against the kerb crawlers—although I must admit that I am a persistent kerb crawler myself in the sense that I am constantly giving lifts to people who wish to be taken somewhere. It seems to me to be wrong to have four seats in a motor car with only one person sitting in it. I like the removal of the phrase"common prostitute ", which I think was odious to us all. Incidentally, what is an"un-common prostitute "? I like the principle that heterosexual and homosexual offences should be treated pari passu. I remember that it was a cardinal principle of those who supported the Sexual Offences Bill that that should be so. I also like the clause whereby a third party must testify to the offence of soliciting for it to be proven, though I would substitute"a member of the general public"rather than a police officer. I am all for the option of trial by jury because these are serious matters. In short, I like this Bill and I hope that others do, too.

5.24 p.m.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe for the speech she has made on behalf of the Government on this Bill. Having regard to the fact that it is the third Bill, and that a Minister has fairly recently made two speeches on the same subject, and knowing her own personal views in the matter, it was a far from easy speech for her to make. I thought she did exceedingly well. I was grateful for her assurance that the attitude of the Government to this Bill was one of neutrality, but I hope that she will not mind my saying that her neutrality, although naturally much more gracious than mine on this subject, was somewhat less benevolent

The noble Lord, Lord Foot, said that it would be interesting to see what subtle change there was in the speeches I made on this Bill as a Minister, and those that I might make as a Back Bencher. There has been no change whatever in 1959, 1967, 1968 or to-day, in my attitude towards a Bill oil this nature. If he reads the first sentence or two of the speech I made as a Minister, he will realise just what is my personal attitude to this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, said that we should not waste time by giving the Bill a Second Reading and letting it go into Committee. I do not think removal of an injustice is ever a waste of time, and that is what this Bill is about.

I do not propose to go into what I regard as Committee points, but I say at once that I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Chorley for giving us another opportunity to remove what I regard as the most scandalous and unjust provision included in a British Statute this century. I refer to Section 1(1) of the 1959 Act, and I will quote the words once more: It shall be an offence for a common prostitute to loiter or solicit in a street or public place for the purpose of prostitution. Prostitution is a shameful thing, but I think that thru provision is far more shameful because, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, said when we considered the original Bill—and I quote him as one of the highest legal authorities—the 1959 Bill for the first time in British justice would bring an accused person into court with a taint of bad character. That is what this Bill is about, and not the various objections to side issues which have been raised, the difficulties of proving this or that, which exist now to an even greater degree. The point is that there does not have to be proof in the case of a common prostitute; she is there with the taint when she is brought into court, because the 1959 Act, as it stands, brands a woman as a"common prostitute"on the word of a single constable. In fact, the 1959 Act does not say that a woman can be arrested for soliciting; she can only be arrested for"soliciting as a common prostitute ". Therefore, a woman becomes a"common prostitute"on the say-so of a single constable, because if he"picks her up"for soliciting he charges her as a"common prostitute ". This without requiring sup-porting evidence, and having regard all the time to the fact that prostitution of itself is not a criminal offence. In practice, under the 1959 Act, a person is convicted at the moment of arrest, and if a woman is labelled as a "common prostitute" it will not be necessary on a subsequent offence to prove it. I remind your Lordships that after two such convictions she is liable, if brought up again, to a sentence of three months' imprisonment.

I know it is not possible for my noble friend the Minister to speak again, but no one can dispute the accuracy of the statements I have made about the effect of the 1959 Act, and I do not think any Member of this House would do other than admit that they represent a disgraceful injustice. I recall in our previous discussion the late Viscount Samuel, a great former Home Secretary, summing up this injustice in these words: I feel most strongly that for Parliament to pass an enactment raying ' It shall be an offence for a common prostitute ' to do this or that, would be a blot upon our Statute Book." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30/6/59; col. 507.] My noble friend's Bill would remove that blot; and whatever you may think about altering it, whether you want to bring in Amendments which would improve it or Amendments to cut its throat, I think that this House owes it to itself to declare that he is right in principle, by giving the Bill a Second Reading.

In 1959 we were considering a Government Bill. The Conservative Government were committed to it and used their Parliamentary majority to put it through. Today we are considering a Private Member's Bill. So far as I know, there arc no Whips on; it is a free vote and the Government's attitude is neutral. I hope, therefore, that we shall reach a decision tonight on the facts and in the name of justice.

As your Lordships know, in 1959 the Government's objective—a very proper one—was to abate an acknowledged nuisance. We were all in favour of that, and we are all against allowing the former position to return. But, unfortunately, in order to achieve that objective the Government decided to ride roughshod over fundamental objections, and to abate the nuisance by Statute, without the necessity either to prove nuisance or that anyone had been annoyed by it, no matter what injustices that involved. The Government then assumed, correctly, that there was unlikely to be any great public outcry about labelling common prostitutes as such, and sending them to prison without any possibility of proper trial. But, as I see it, there is no difference in principle between dealing with prostitutes in that way, labelling them in that way when taking them to court, and labelling other members of the community in a way which carries a taint of guilt.

Imagine the outcry if, for example, we produced a clause saying: Any habitual drunkard who has been charged with driving a motor vehicle to the public danger shall be liable on conviction to three months' imprisonment. There was enough fuss about the breathalyser test. But of course we are not in danger of having a clause of that kind. There are far more motorists than prostitutes, and they are well organised. There are also more thieves than prostitutes, but I do not think we shall ever have to consider a Statute providing for a charge that "You being a common pickpocket", or"You being a common burglar did break into a house ", and so on. In other words, it is only in this one Act that we have introduced into the charge against an accused person the taint or assumption of guilt before a trial. In my view, we cannot allow this one example, this blot on British justice, to remain.

There is one other injustice which this Bill would remove. Before 1959, prostitutes were proceeded against because their activities caused annoyance. But that was swept away in 1959, so that to-day annoyance no longer has to be proved. There is nothing in the Act to compel the police to produce a man who has been annoyed; yet, as we all know, and as my noble friend the Minister said, if there were no men who were willing to pay for prostitutes' services there would be no nuisance in the streets. I noticed one major advance in my noble friend's speech compared with the one that I made last time as Minister; that is, that at last we have officially recognised that women are different from men and that women bear children. There is nothing in this Bill that alters that.

I do not think we shall ever end prostitution. One cannot end those things by law. There have been harlots through the ages, and presumably there always will be. But if we are to control and reduce the nuisance, let us do it by just and legal means. Let us do it in terms of equality of treatment as between men and women—because this statutory taint of guilt is directed only at women, at prostitutes. It is only women who are treated in that way. It is the case that the Government in 1959 wrote into a Statute, for the first time in our history, a double standard of morality between men and women. It is quite unnecessary. Four times during the passage of that Act I asked the then Lord Chancellor, the late Lord Kilmuir, why this matter had not been dealt with by administrative action, pointing out that it had been successfully so dealt with by the police in Stepney. Although, as your Lordships will remember, Lord Kilmuir was wonderful at answering questions, that was one question, four times repeated, which was never answered. I am sure that the matter could be so dealt with.

My noble friend Lord Chorley has removed this double standard, because his Bill would remove discrimination between men and women, between prostitutes and their clients, and between heterosexual and homosexual behaviour in relation to street offences. I am sure all noble Lords will agree that this should be done, because it is unanswerable that persons of either sex who are guilty of what is substantially the same offence should be treated in exactly the same way. It is unthinkable to leave on the Statute Book unamended—because that is what this discussion is all about—a law which says that a woman shall be liable to go to prison for an offence, while a man who is guilty of practically the same conduct shall go scot-free.

Your Lordships will, I hope, feel convinced that the crying need to amend the 1959 Act has been more than made out on grounds of justice. But you may be feeling that, at least in part, it achieved its objective of getting the girls off the streets. In my view it has failed even in that, and we have no reason for closing our eyes to this injustice. I agree that in those parts of the West End where the nuisance was formerly notorious it has abated, but that is only because most of the prostitutes who formerly haunted those areas now ply their trade in other ways—ways, incidentally, which leave the police powerless and make it much more difficult for welfare workers to reach and help those women. The police are powerless, because one woman operating alone from her own fiat or house docs not constitute a brothel, and she can therefore carry on with impunity.

As, we know, and as I pointed out eleven or more years ago, girls place their cards in shopkeepers' windows; they advertise in all sorts of ways. So, as my noble friend Lord Chorley indicated, the 1959 Act. has served to encourage vice rather than to suppress it. There has been built up a system of under-cover prostitution. I think there is much more of it in total than there was before, when we could see what was happening. Hotels and clubs for various new forms of vice have been created by men who derive a very fat living from the girls' activities. Indeed, most girls can now carry on their trade without fear of molestation, and much more lucratively than before. My noble friend mentioned earnings of £100 a week. I have heard of girls getting £400 a week.

Some noble Lords may think that that is all right, and they may be satisfied that, to this extent, the 1959 Act has justified the forecast made by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, that it would become the"Mayfair Benefit Bill ". But Mayfair is not Britain. The Act applies over the whole country; and from the whole country we have indisputable evidence that prostitutes in substantial numbers are still working on the streets and being taken off the streets and sent to prison under the existing Act.

There was some exchange between the noble Lord, Lord Foot, and my noble friend Lord Stow Hill about evidence and about consulting one's friends. I do not have to do that now, because the evidence is in the Government White paper, People in Prison, which was published only last November and states, in paragraph 141, that over 20 per cent. of all women and girls who receive custodial sentences are sent to prison for offences relating to prostitution. That means that more than one out of very five females in prison is there because of this wholly unjust Act. I do not believe that any noble Lord would have voted for it in 1959 if he had thought it would have that outcome. Incidentally, my noble friend Lord Chorley's Bill does not remove the prison penalty, but this is something which I would seek your Lordships' agreement to alter in Committee.

My Lords, one in five of all women and girls in prison are there for prostitution offences. There are two former Home Secretaries in the House, and they are well aware that nothing like that situation existed previously. My noble friend the Minister quite rightly and properly told us that before the 1959 Act there were 20,000 prosecutions for prostitution in a year, and that now there are between 2.000 and 3,000. That comparison is quite invalid. In the old days of 20,000 prosecutions, it was a charade, virtually a fake. The police officer simply said to the woman,"Mary, ten o'clock in court tomorrow morning; it's your turn ". Mary went to the court, pleaded guilty, paid her £2 and came out. She did not go to prison. But now, of the women in prison more than one in five go there for prostitution offences.

The same Government White Paper refers to the fact that the Advisory Council on the Penal System concluded that short-term periods of custodial training were undesirable for girls. As your Lordships know, the maximum prison sentence for prostitution is three months —a short sentence. Your Lordships also know that for several years now it has been the Government's policy not to include short sentences in any Government Bills, if it is at all avoidable. There is clearly general agreement that they are useless, and this is unquestionably the case with prostitute;. Until recently all prostitutes were housed at two prisons— Holloway and Styal. It was found that they exercised an unfortunate influence at Styal, and now almost all prostitutes serve their sentences at Holloway.

The 1959 Act would not last very long if all noble Lords had the opportunity to visit Holloway to talk to these girls and have knowledge of their case histories, as I have had. When I visit a prison I talk whenever possible to individual prisoners. A few months ago I was in Holloway, and in a large workshop I talked to a number of girls. One pleasant, wholesome-looking woman, aged about 30, rather stood out from the others because she was pleasant and wholesome-looking. She told me that she was married with two children, but her husband had deserted her. "What are you in for?"—"Three months". "Yes", I said, "but for what offence?" "Oh," she said, "I'm on the game". "Who is looking after your children?"—"My mother has one and he has the other". "Who is he—your ponce?". "Yes". "Where do you live?"—"I have a flat in Balham". That is a long way from Mayfair, and I have never regarded it as a very glamorous locality.

So I said to her: "You cannot go on like this. If I talk to the welfare officer; and see what we can do about a job and other things when you go out of prison, will you try to make a fresh start?". She said, "What's the use? He won't let me. And there's the money. What job could I get which would pay me enough to keep my flat and my two children?" My Lords, the girl with the Mayfair flat and a large income is is no danger of going to prison. Most of the one in five in our prisons who are prostitutes are at the poorer end of the trade, and these wretched, hopeless girls, like the little woman from Balham, are trapped. They go back to prison again and again. Quite apart from the injustice built into the 1959 Act which my noble friend's Bill would remove, what earthly benefit is it to society constantly to send these women to prison? As I have said, there are fewer prosecutions now but a vastly greater number of girls are going to prison. The Act has not swept them off the streets: it has merely victimised them because they have no one to fight their case.

During the passage of the 1959 Act the then Lord Chancellor conveyed to me an assurance from the then Home Secretary, now the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, that because of the fears I and others had expressed there would be a review of the working of the Act after five years. I know that there has been no such review—and this is after eleven years. My noble friend the Minister told your Lordships exactly what I had to tell you last year about the Commission. She, unfortunately, was in no better position that I was to tell your Lordships when this matter would be looked at. Therefore I say that we ourselves should act now, even though it is in a limited but very necessary way. But I ask my noble friend the Minister to convey it to our right honourable friend the Home Secretary that there should be a review of the working of this Act, including, as I have said, the Home Office's own figures about women in prison for prostitution offences.

I believe, my Lords, that we want not only Lord Chorley's Bill; we need a wholly objective investigation into this social evil—into the whole of it, not making little Committee points with each other, but really laying the whole thing on the line. We need also, when we have the evidence, constructive proposals for treating and rehabilitating girls who are part of it. When we unfortunately passed the 1959 Act it was admitted on all sides that we were sweeping the dirt under the carpet, and I said that the stain would show through. My Lords, the stain is showing through. We have to wipe it out, and I think we can do so, taking the first important step of removing this injustice, by ensuring that this Bill is given a Second Reading.


My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I wonder whether the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, would allow me to ask my noble friend a question out of his large experience of this subject. My noble friend has made the assertion that prostitution has largely increased since the 1959 Act; and my noble friend Lord Chorley has also made the same assertion. Where can we find evidence for this? It would be very useful for those of us who oppose this Bill to have this evidence.


My Lords, I think that if my noble friend looks to-morrow at what I said, she will see that I did not say that prostitution has largely increased. What I said was that the Act had served to increase the vice. The evidence is to be found, first, in the number of women who are still on the streets, being picked up and going to prison; and, secondly, in the variety of ways in which vice has gone underground. As I said, one cannot prove this by police convictions because the police cannot go into places which are not brothels, but there is a great deal of evidence from, newspapers, from people who run taxis for a"rake off" and from others. These things are well known at least among men. I assure my noble friend that I have not got all the experience that she mentioned, but there is a great deal of evidence of all kinds that this unhappy business has not diminished but has diversified and increased.


My Lords, the noble Baroness addressed her question to me, I think, as well as to my noble friend Lord Stonham. I did not say that prostitution had increased: I said it had become big business.


That is the same thing.


It is not the same thing. If the noble Baroness will read the five articles in the People, she will find that there is ample evidence.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, there is one small point to which I should like to refer (I hope the House will not mind), because a false impression may have been created in one of his kind remarks about me at the beginning It is absolutely true that I loathe the term"common prostitute". It is absolutely true that I believe in the principle of equality between homosexual and heterosexual offenders. I think that kerb-crawling can be a traumatic experience for women, but I genuinely believe that the present Bill would not usefully help the present situation and that this would best be dealt with by a general review.


My Lords, may I apologise for intervening? Before the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, finally concludes his speech—he is of great help to the House—could he explain how what he told us squares with the following passage in the speech which he made on the Second Reading of the last Bill?—

I quote: There is no evidence that the Act has led to any large-scale underground organisation of prostitution or to an increase in the number of ponces or to other consequences so undesirable as to outweigh its advantages."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 4/3/69; col. 24]


My Lords, I make a practice of never reading my speeches. I obviously said the words quoted by my noble friend who now asks how I reconcile them with what I have just said. I reconcile them quite simply: when I made my previous speech as Minister the figures that I quoted about prostitutes in prison were not available to me; and the information about the number of ponces was supplied by the Department and I accepted it. Since then I have been making inquiries myself.


My Lords, what arc the "advantages" referred to?


Order! order!

5.53 p.m.


My Lords, now that the noble Lord has finally sat down, may I tell the House this? Many years ago, on a night in Dublin, a gentleman of impeccable respectability was walking through St. Stephen's Green on his way home after dining at the Kildare Street Club, just around the corner, when he was accosted by a woman of the streets. Seeking to improve the hour, he remonstrated with her, pointing out the danger of speaking to a strange man who might turn out to be other than she supposed. "I do not suppose you know," he said, "that I happen to be the Crown Solicitor of Tyrone." "Are yez, begob?" says she. "Well, I'm the half-crown solicitor of Stephen's Green."

Responsibility for the streets of Dublin has passed out of British hands; but over here, as we all know, the nuisance of soliciting grew to a public scandal of such magnitude that the Sexual Offences Act 1959 was passed to stop it. And it did stop it. It sopped it by those notorious words (as many think) which made it an offence for a common prostitute to loiter or solicit in a street or public place for the purpose of prostitution. That section has been strongly assailed as discriminatory law—and by no-one more strongly than the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, who has just spoken. With that point of view there will be great sympathy. I have it myself. What I find particularly repugnant about the section is that it requires a police officer to preface his evidence with a statement of the previous record of the defendant; in other words, to begin with a piece of evidence which, in a criminal case of any other kind, is inadmissible before a conviction has been secured. I believe that that must be wrong and I think it ought to be put right. Clause 1(1A) would put it right. Habitual prostitution can no longer be adduced in court as material evidence.

But that clause does other things, too; and we should look with some care at them. The first thing that will happen is that the women who were swept off the streets in 1959 will return—not "may", I should have thought and still suspect, but"will "—and we shall be back to the state of affairs then obtaining, which caused such an outcry. And naturally so, I would suppose, if we repeal the only law that has ever succeeded in keeping them off the streets. To this particular point the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, gave a curious twist. He devoted a large part of his speech—in fact the first 20 minutes, less a few minutes at the beginning devoted to an avuncular lecture to your Lordships' House—to describing what had happened to these women who were pushed underground; and he told us about the articles that appeared in the People. He concluded that it was not the"common prostitute"provision, the discriminatory law in that part, that had driven them underground; but the enormously high increase in penalties which was introduced under the 1959 Act. For a quarter of an hour the noble Lord developed this point; but I look at his Bill in vain to find any reduction in those penalties. I am not sure what view we are to take of the points made by the noble Lord on that subject.

My Lords, with the passage of this Bill, if it 'becomes an Act, an inequitable law will have been repealed. So much the better, some will say. But that is not all that will happen. The old law is to be repealed, but a new law is to be put in its place—that stated in Clause 1(1A) whose words we now know by heart. The male prostitute is placed on the same footing as the female. Good. I applaud. The prostitute, male or female, is placed on the same footing as everyone else. Again I applaud. Conversely, everyone else is placed on the same footing as the prostitute. I begin to think, perhaps unworthily; but my applause begins to falter somewhat.

At first, I confess, I thought, with my noble friend Lord Derwent, that very little danger was to be apprehended since the necessary element of offering or obtaining sexual services for payment or reward would be almost impossible to prove. 1 still believe that this would be so. But I have long since realised that there is a different point of view. It can be put forward by persons who, unlike me, are professional men of law, men who know from experience what takes place in magistrates' courts—such persons as the noble Lord, Lord Foot, who may be beginning to feel that the debate is revolving around him since he has been mentioned so often.

Speaking in the Second Reading debate on the last Bill on the point that I have brought forward, that conviction would be difficult (a point which has already been touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent), the noble Lord, Lord Foot, said: I wonder whether that is really true. I think it would be more accurate to quote what the noble Lord has just said; but it is easier for me to quote from Hansard what he said last time. He continued: What is the ordinary case of the person who commits this nuisance of importuning in order to offer or obtain sexual services? The ordinary case is, first of all, that a prostitute goes from one man to another and makes some invitation to each; and, if I understand the meaning of the word ' persistently ' rightly, there would be no difficulty if one had police evidence that a woman had gone up to a series of men. That would be proving the element in the offence that there had been persistent accosting; and if that was proved to the satisfaction of the court, why should the court not infer from all the circumstances of the case that those approaches were made for the purpose of offering sexual services for payment or reward?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4/3/69, col. 42.] My Lords, for the best reason in the world. The court will not know all the circumstances of the case. It will not know any more that the defendant is, in fact, known to be a prostitute. Quite rightly, one no longer has to be a known prostitute before being charged with this offence, and the police can no longer bring evidence whether the defendant is or is not a prostitute. Is the court really to infer, from evidence that a woman has been seen going up to a number of men, and on that evidence alone—or even on that evidence plus the evidence of one person so accosted—that those approaches were necessarily made for payment or reward?

The noble Lord says, "Yes". He enlarges a little on his theme, and concludes thus: I see no difficulty myself, in the ordinary case of a woman approaching a series of men, in the court's inferring from that that she is doing it for the purposes of offering sexual services for reward. Equally, when a man goes from one woman to another in the street, making his approaches to her, and is seen by a policeman, I do not see where the difficulty is in the court's inferring that he is doing it in order to obtain sexual services for payment or reward."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4/3/69; Col. 43.] My Lords, I am sure that I cannot be-alone in finding this prospect perfectly appalling. I hope that the noble Lord is wrong, but he is a lawyer and, I feel, more likely to be right than I, and so I am acutely nervous.

But we are not speaking of "prostitutes" any more; in the words of the Bill we are speaking of "any person" of any age or either sex. The "any person" on whom the suspicious eye of the law-may fall may be you or I or anyone at all—a man persistently asking the way of other men, or trying to keep an appointment with someone whom he does not know by sight; a woman meeting a succession of acquaintances, or ex-changing idle remarks with strangers at shop windows. You may say that when such a case came to court no conviction could possibly be obtained, and I think you might be right; though in the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Foot, says I am not quite so sure. To tell your Lordships the truth, I do not greatly care whether a conviction may be obtained or not; that is not what bothers me. It is not in the hazard of a wrongful conviction that I see the danger, but in the hazard of a wrongful arrest.

Once a person is known to have been arrested on suspicion of soliciting in this way, do you suppose that an acquittal by a court, an acquittal even by a jury, will effectively and entirely clear his name? No, my Lords, this is one charge that no one can ever quite live down. The damage that can be done to the reputation of an innocent person by the mere mishap of being wrongfully arrested is incalculable, and there is no safeguard, no protection. Even the protection at present accorded to women by Section 2 of the 1959 Act is to be repealed and will be available to nobody.

The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has told us that with the repeal of the old law this safeguard will no longer be needed, though I myself think that it will be needed more than ever before. On the other hand, Section 1(3) of the Act is still to stand. That is the subsection which says: A constable may arrest without warrant anyone he finds in a street and public place and suspects, with reasonable cause, to be committing an offence under this section. I do not think I need enlarge on that. I believe that the powers of the police to secure convictions against the guilty will be greatly reduced and also (this, to me, is far more important) the risk of arrest and conviction of innocent persons suspected of soliciting for money or reward will be most dangerously multiplied. That is the price that we arc being asked to pay for the repeal of the inequitable law. The question is: is the price a fair one? I say, No, it is immeasurably too high; and I, for one, will never be a party to bringing it about.

My Lords, the law is described as discriminatory—I have not denied it—and therefore repugnant. But let us at least try to be fair about it, as I think no one yet really has done. It offers no menace to anyone's reputation, because that reputation must already have been established before a charge can be brought under the terms of the Act. It prevents no one from doing what he or she (she, in fact) wants to do; only from doing it in the street. In what way, exactly, is it: discriminatory? Does it really—this has been said more than once—make soliciting for the purpose of prostitution an offence if done by a prostitute but not if done by anyone else? Of course not, for no one else can do it. Anyone who does it is ipso facto a prostitute, and, I would suppose, a "common prostitute", although I have absolutely no idea what that is supposed to mean. The discrimination amounts to this: that the prostitute who is not known as such to the police gets away with it, while the prostitute who is known as such to the police does not; and I do not wring my hands very much over that.

Distinction between prostitute and non-prostitute there is, so far as I can see, none. Distinction between male and female prostitute certainly there is; but that is not a matter of which I am speaking at the moment. What I find objectionable is that under the Act a conviction is obtained on preliminary evidence of a past record. That is a unique discrimination and I find it repugnant, though even that may not be wholly evil, for at least it affords protection to the first offender while the present Bill affords protection to no one at all. I say, my Lords, better to retain the existing law, however imperfect, and await a review of the whole subject by the Criminal Law Revision Committee than to repeal it piecemeal in favour of this dangerous and potentially far more unjust alternative.

My Lords, suppose we decline to give this Bill a Second Reading, what will be lost? What other offences are dealt with in the Bill? Homosexual offences are dealt with in Clause 3. They are covered already by Section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act 1965, so there is, I think, no great loss there. What else is there? There is kerb-crawling under Clause 1 (1B). I believe that this subsection is not quite right, but could well be amended so as to be useful. If we throw this out with the rest of the Bill perhaps to some extent we shall be "throwing out the baby with the bath water". I believe that would be a pity, but it is hardly our fault. The baby is in the wrong bath. Should it not be an offence, in the words of the Bill to importune any other person so as to cause annoyance to that person, no matter for what purpose or in what way? What are the words "for sexual services" doing in this clause, and what is the clause doing in this Bill? I see no need to limit the definition of kerb crawling in this way. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, may care to consider the possibility of providing this particular baby with a small bath of its own, a separate Bill. I suspect that by so doing he might also provide it with a better chance of finding itself on the Statute Book. While the noble Lord is about it, he might care to consider that possibly one sure way to cure kerb-crawling would be to take away a kerb-crawler's driving licence—but that is by the way.

There is one thing of importance that is likely to be lost, and that is the legislation, or the proposal, to do away with the inequality between men and women; the male prostitute to be put on the same footing as the female prostitute. What great importance is attached to this? I do not wish to misrepresent the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, but I should have thought almost supreme importance. Yet when it came to the Committee stage last year, that was the one proviso that remained intact out of the noble Lord's own Bill. It was not then thought worth while to let the rest of the Bill go in order to save that particular clause, to bring in the equality. So I am not at all sure what value the noble Lord places on it now. I should be sorry to see it go and so, I think, would everybody else, but I hope to see it come back when an objective review is produced; and may that be as soon as possible!

The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, spoke of the "double standard of morality"— which is a very good phrase—brought in by the Act. He said it was the first time that that had ever been brought into being by an Act of Parliament. I am sure that is perfectly true. But if that is as fundamentally important as he says it is and as I believe it to be, I do not see why the noble Lord's Amendment should not be accepted by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, as it was by your Lordships last year. However, that is in the past and I hope that there will not be a repetition in the future, though I gravely believe that it may be so. I hope that, rather than do that, we shall await the review of the Committee and decline to give this Bill a Second Reading.

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, I think that many of us who have been round this circle for a third time must feel after re-reading our contributions and those of other speakers in the debates that have gone before, part of a long-playing record. I believe that it would be a great pity if, because this subject has been debated a number of times, the merits of the noble Lord's Bill were lost and if it were either ridiculed or stamped out for what might be the wrong reasons.

Speaking from the Front Bench, my noble friend Lady Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe put three pertinent questions, which she thought should be answered when considering this Bill. The first was whether the aim of the Bill was desirable. I submit that the aim is wholly desirable. In the first place, it would get rid of the phrase"common prostitute ", with which my noble friend Lord Stonham dealt so well. I do not want to go over what he said, except to say that it is easy to talk one day about how awful this phrase is and then forget about it the next. As a magistrate, I find that I shrink at what is not only a humiliation to another human being but something that puts the law in a distasteful situation. I cannot say that I like administering a law which is couched in these terms.

As has been explained by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, it is much easier to administer the 1959 Act, which makes judicial and to some extent police life simpler, but is this really legislation which we should prolong, and which does not need to be changed? It seems to me that the aim of this Bill goes beyond the question of getting rid of the phrase "common prostitute". It also does away with avoidable discrimination. Such discrimination, based on sex, I would remind your Lordships and my noble friend who is going to speak later, is contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the United Nations Declaration of the Elimination of Discrimination against Women passed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1967. To put it at its least, I am un-comfortable at the knowledge that we are still supporting discrimination against women in a matter like this.

What I think this Bill is aiming to do is something more important and wider than even the two points I have just made. It deals with the whole question in what I feel is a far more contemporary manner, as a nuisance and not just as a sexual offence. All through the debate speakers have been saying that prostitution is not an offence. Nevertheless, there has been a great deal of discussion of the prostitute and of prostitution. As I see it, what this Bill is really saying is that if two people make a transaction, whether for money or not, so long as one is not annoying the other and is not causing offence or a nuisance, then it is up to them. I believe that this is the liberty and right of two human beings. If it is causing a nuisance to one or the other, or to anybody else who happens to be there, then it comes within the province of the law. In the first case it is a question of ethics and morality, and this we are not here to decide. The right reverend Prelates in front of me have an interest in this, but not the courts of law. There- fore I think that this Bill takes a wider and cleaner look at the whole question.

A great deal of reference has been made to the 1959 Act, and it has been said that if this Bill were passed everything would go back to exactly as it was in 1958. I do not see how we can dismiss ten years in which the changes in social and sexual mores have been so tremendous and say simply that if we pass this Bill in 1970, things will be as they were in 1958. That makes neither common nor legal nor judicial sense. During this period, we have seen the growth of what many people call the permissive society. Let us be frank when talking about this. It means that many young men who would previously have had recourse to prostitutes are now finding stable, or not so stable, sexual relationships with their girl friends. This makes a tremendous difference to the whole problem; and to pretend that we can just put back the clock seems to me to be both untrue and irrelevant to what we are discussing to-day. All the Bill does is to put men and women on the same basis. It is not saying that anybody whose overtures are acceptable should get into trouble, or that anybody who is. not causing other people discomfort or offence should get into trouble, but that the matter should depend on being able to prove this.

In regard to Lord Stow Hill's point about the other person who must give evidence, whether he be a policeman or whether the words should be spun out into a wider definition, I would say, with respect, that I think this is a Committee point. What we want to discuss, as my noble friend on the Front Bench has said, are the aims of this Bill, and whether they can succeed. If they do, I think that good and not bad consequences will result from them. Though every now and then a speaker has said that there would not be prostitutes or overtures without clients, I think that the importance of this has been lost. Just as the productivity of burglars would drop if there were no receivers of stolen goods, so the productivity of prostitutes would be very low without a sufficient number of ready and willing customers. This has relevance to all the clauses in the Bill because, as I see it, the great point is that a great many people are not going to be arrested.

I found it delightful to be led by my noble friend Lord Stow Hill through what I can only call "Frank in Wonderland", with his short-sighted men looking into women's faces, and boys blowing whistles and being brought to court. These are ridiculous and extravagant fantasies. It has also rather killed an illusion that I have held all my life: that men are strong, protective and able to look after themselves. When noble Lords describe what might happen as a result of this Bill one might think that the whole of male mankind were absolutely "silly nits": that they could not stand up for themselves, did not know how to behave in public and got themselves into ridiculous situations through their own fault. The law may sometimes be an ass, but it is not such an ass as all that.

I think that this Bill should receive a Second Reading, because not only are the aims desirable but if there is the will to bring it into being and make it into an Act of Parliament, then I think it can be done, although not perhaps without a certain amount of amendment: and my noble friend Lord Chorley has already said that he is quite willing to consider this.

I believe that the argument that we cannot go ahead with piecemeal legislation is a non-starter. There are a great many reforms which are built into the establishment of legislation to-day which would never have been there if they had not started piecemeal. We have heard from my noble friend Lord Stonham and others that the chances of the Criminal Law Revision Committee getting down to considering this in any reasonable time are pretty low. Only yesterday I myself checked with an authoritative source and, as I understand it, the earliest time at which they will even be able to start looking at the whole field of sexual offences is two years from now and probably much longer. This would only be the start; street offences are only one facet of the subject. I do not follow the argument that you should not go ahead with putting something right, even if it is a small piece of something else, but should wait until the whole thing is looked at, meanwhile carrying on with a situation which we know is creating a tremendous amount of injustice.

So far as kerb-crawling is concerned— and here again it happens that in the area of my court there is a considerable amount of this—it really is not any use the Home Office or anybody else saying that there are these local Acts and by-laws, because they are seldom brought into use. Often they are not known about, and the police say that they have few weapons at hand, unless a breach of the peace is likely to be caused, whereby they can call people in. Noble Lords who have spoken on behalf of the police will be interested to know that several policemen with whom I have discussed this matter have said how unfair they feel it to be that a woman should be discriminated against as compared with a man.

In practical terms, surely, if a Bill like this goes through we shall not have a lot of people arrested, although there may be some at the beginning. What will happen is that it will act as a healthy deterrent on the man who has been used to kerb-crawling and accosting women. I think another of the changes which has taken place in the last ten years has been the increase in the number of men who have accosted women, instead of waiting to be accosted by women. I think the Bill will act as a deterrent, because men will be worried in case they are caught up in a situation and brought to court and their names and addresses given.

My noble friend Lord Chorley mentioned young girls who accept invitations to go into cars to earn pocket money, presumably by their sexual services. The sharp answer to that is, I suppose: Why do they go in the car?


Hear, hear!


The noble Baroness says, "Hear, hear". But we have a duty to protect young people. It is no good saying: "It is their own fault". If it was a youngster we knew we should not feel that way. The only way in which we can protect them from this sort of thing is by making it very dangerous and unattractive for men to extend this kind of invitation.

It seems to me that this Bill moves quite a big step forward by putting the whole field of sexual offences into a category where a nuisance and an offence is caused to people, rather than leaving it in the squalid way it is at the moment, which is just clustered round the interpretation of "common prostitute". I hope that the Bill will get a Second Reading and that it can then be discussed on Committee stage, because I believe we are now so near getting it as right as we can: and it does not stop the Criminal Law Revision Committee from looking at it again when they finally get down to surveying the whole field of sexual offences.

6.26 p.m.


My Lords, I, for one, did not take part in any of the previous bouts in this tournament. On the last occasion it was because I was unfortunately prevented from doing so. I felt that I ought probably to leave it as the kind of private debate it had become, with noble Lords cannibalising one another's speeches. But I put my name down to speak because since that occasion, as some of your Lordships know, I have become Chairman of the Albany Trust. This is a body which does research work and casework in connection with various sexual difficulties, primarily and origin-ally homosexuality, but broadening out into other fields. Being a charity, it is not involved in law revision as such, but in the course of its casework it encounters a number of anomalies in the sexual law which seem pointless and unjust, and which certainly make the lot of some of the unhappy people concerned very much worse. I do not speak in this debate on behalf of the society, but I speak from some of the knowledge which comes from experience.

I am very glad, and grateful, that in due time the corpus of sexual law will be reviewed, and particularly glad that this subject of street offences will be included in it. I had understood, obviously not on very good authority, that it was excluded. I am not sorry for the delay in the review, because it seems to me that we ought to do a very good job when we do it. I am quite prepared to accept what the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies, says, that public opinion is not yet ripe for such matters as the levelling up of the age of consent in heterosexuality and homosexuality. I am sure that this ought to be an important part of any general review of the sexual law. It will give us more time for research and education on these and similar matters. But if this is so, there is, I think, all the more reason why we should try to tackle single subjects as they arise, as in this Bill.

I do not follow the noble Baroness when she proceeds from her observations about the age of consent in homo-sexuality and heterosexuality to her deduction that the results of this Bill would necessarily be resented by public opinion. Also, if I may respectfully say so, I did not see the logic of her remarks on the equality of men and women in relation to what we should decide on this Bill to-night. I want to see as much equality and sense in the law as possible, even though I realise—and do so with thankfulness—that we cannot all perform the same function.

Much has been made of the argument that this Bill would be unenforceable. I think this has been rebutted on a number of grounds. One is that of the prison sentence, which is in point of fact the deterrent; another, which it seems to me has hardly been dealt with fully enough, is what the original Bill was designed to do. I have not read the original debate on the Street Offences Act, but I cannot believe that the original Bill was designed to prevent prostitution. It could not possibly do so. If anybody hoped that it would, he must be grievously disappointed. One may argue whether prostitution has gone up or whether it has gone down. There is no doubt that it is still there in very great quantity. The problem with which the Street Offences Act was seeking to cope was getting prostitution off the streets. It may be a good thing or it may be a bad thing to sweep prostitution under the carpet. I think that, on balance, it is a good thing; but whichever it is, that is what the Bill was designed to do. I do not believe that this present Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, will do anything to stop that.

We have been arguing about the minor cases on the edge of the law, the "poor old men" and the "poor old women" attitude. That is not what the whole street offences legislation is about, and it would be quite easy for the police to catch exactly the same kind of offenders as they are doing at the moment in order to keep the great bulk of prostitutes, who are plying in a way which is creating a nuisance, off the streets, without having to bother about trying to catch the kind of occasional person who may or may not make a difficult or hard case. It has been said on the one side that it will not be possible to catch the guilty people, and on the other that there is a danger to the innocent. We cannot have it both ways. Either it is going to be reasonably easy to convict, in which case there may be a slight danger to the innocent person, or it is not going to be easy to convict, in which case there is no great danger to the innocent person.

The noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, raised two points which seem to me absolutely right for the Committee stage. One was the whole question of the double legislation, and the double penalties dealing with homosexual importuning; and the other was the question about a second person giving evidence, not just on the case but on the particular relevance concerned. Whether or not the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, agrees with those two points, I am quite certain that they are the right kind of points which he would welcome, and which we should all welcome, being debated in Committee.

Going on from there, I thought it was a little unfair of the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, to suggest that if we merely discussed these points in Committee we should be reverting to the same trouble, that of having a Second Reading, and then having a large number of wrecking Amendments. There is a great deal of difference between Amendments of this kind and wrecking Amendments.

Then we come to the question of kerb-crawling. I have no doubt that this is a considerable menace, even if it is not much discussed in the circles in which the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, moves. It is not much discussed in the circles in which I move, but we know that it exists. I think it is a real danger to young people, and even to children, because when it gets to the stage of a man crawling along by the kerb looking for women, surely the nubile young girl—or even the sub-nubile young girl—is very much of a temptation; since if she says "No" he can always accelerate away quite quickly. I should like to see kerb-crawling severely stamped on. Again, I think the law is enforceable on any normal scale on the occasions on which kerb-crawling really becomes a nuisance.

My Lords, I came to this debate thinking that it would be right to give the Bill a Second Reading. I have not heard the previous debates in this House. Having heard this debate, I am in no doubt whatever, particularly after listening to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, with his great experience on this matter and his great knowledge of this whole subject. I wish we could have repeats of more of the legislation that we had when the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, was a Minister. We may get some equally scintillating performances now that he is sitting on the Back Benches. There is a case for a piecemeal approach to this matter, even if in the long run we want—as I certainly do —a wholesale review of the whole question of sexual law. It is going to be some time before we get it. In the meantime, let us get rid of this quite obvious injustice and inequality, by means of this Bill, which does not seem to me to carry with it any of the dangers which some noble Lords have conjured up. I have no doubt that we should give this Bill a Second Reading.

6.36 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened to the greater part of this debate, although I was not able to hear the beginning of it. I came in when the noble Baroness was speaking from the Government Front Bench. I think I have heard all that has been said since. What has been said since is remarkably similar —apart from the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Stonham—to what was said on two previous occasions on the discussion of this Bill, and indeed to what was said in the course of the debates in another place in relation to the Streets Offences Act, which was then being considered there and with which I had something to do.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, is quite right when he says that the Street Offences Act was not intended to stop prostitution. That was not its aim. Its aim was merely a minor aim —maybe right or maybe wrong—of cleaning up our streets, and those who remember what conditions were in the streets at that time will, I am sure, agree that it was necessary and, indeed, desirable to make that attempt. Surely that attempt has succeeded. I do not think anyone will dispute that. One reason why I am against this Bill—and was against its predecessors—is because if I am sure of anything it is that the changing of the Street Offences Act in the way proposed will remove all effective sanctions against the return of that state of affairs. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, may say that there is no need to worry; that if we change the law like this the law can still be enforced, and prostitutes will not ply their trade on the streets because of the Bill, as amended. I do not agree with him, and if I recollect aright the noble Baroness gave figures to show what a remarkable decrease there had been in prostitution on the streets, and also confirmed the view that if these changes were made we ran a very real risk of returning to that very distressing and indeed terrible state of affairs. That was what that Act was about.

What are the criticisms of that Act now? The main criticism is of the use of the words "common prostitute". I was surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, say that this was first introduced as an ingredient of the offence in the 1959 Act, when it has been part of the offence since 1839. I found that very surprising. Of course one does not like, no one likes, the appellation "common prostitute".


My Lords, if the noble and learned Viscount will allow me to intervene, may I point out that the words used in the 1839 Act are by no means the same as those used at present. We do not say under the 1839 Act that, "being a common prostitute you did solicit in a public place." That is a very different thing.


My Lords, I do not want to bandy words with the noble Lord at this hour, but long before 1959 proof that the person charged was a common prostitute was an ingredient of the offence, and that was the point I was making. Really, that was an astonishing observation on the noble Lord's part, and he made several other astonishing remarks. One which tempted me to rise to my feet was his statement that no one would dispute what he said. That was an irresistible bait which I could not fail to rise to. He said there was great evidence of an increase of prostitution. I do not believe there is at all. The figures the noble Baroness gave pointed the other way. He said there was great evidence of that because of the numbers of those convicted of that offence. That is very regrettable, but it does not to my mind show an increase in the offence over the position in 1959.

I appreciate the difficulty about the use of the term "common prostitute". But it is not just a distinction between male and female; it is a distinction between some females and other females. If it were possible to get rid of that description without incurring the risk, not so much of conviction but of prosecution of innocent persons for this offence, I, for one, would gladly see it go. But it is not a change that ought to be made lightly. I remember very much that in 1959, when the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and others were wanting the change to be made, we gave the most serious consideration to it, and it was only with great reluctance then that we came to the conclusion (we may have been right or we may have been wrong) that it was necessary to retain these words.

I do not want to go into any detail on this point at this late hour. There have been no very new arguments, except for the words of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. He said he had never read his previous speeches. What a pity! What he has missed! Because if he had read those previous speeches which I think he had made on two previous occasions on this very Bill, he would have seen that he produced on those occasions—I remember it well—the most formidable and the most telling arguments against this Bill, which he has now supported, making any further progress. He said that the noble Baroness who spoke from the Government Front Bench to-day was a neutral but somewhat less benevolent to the Bill than he had been. That was not the case according to my recollection. I thought the noble Baroness did her task rightly and properly, but perhaps with not such a sharp edge in certain respects as did the noble Lord. What they both said from that Front Bench is, I am sure, right. The question that is before us to-day is whether, in the light of the criticisms they have both made of this Bill, we should give it a Second Reading.

It is always easy to argue, "Well, it may not be such a good Bill now, but let us put it right in Committee. We can put our heads together and make it better." I am sure that that argument has been advanced—I think the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, advanced it. But we have tried that. The former Bill received a Second Reading and we worked on it in Committee. We had long debates. Amendments were carried, as they should be in Committee. What was the result? No further progress on that Bill at all, and the same Bill, or substantially the same Bill, was brought back again for us in order that we might be asked to give another Second Reading to it, so that we might consider it again in Committee, taking up more time and carrying more Amendments to it. And if we do that, I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, will drop the Bill again. Surely that is not the way.

I welcomed the Government's assurance that this whole matter is being looked into. I recognise, too, that some other matters may be considered more important. It is a question of priorities. I personally do not want the investigation and consideration of this matter hurried. I should like to see the whole field reviewed. If a review is going to be effective and satisfactory, some time and a considerable amount of thought must be spent upon it. I appreciate the sincerity which has moved the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and the noble Lord, Lord Stonham—I was glad to hear Lord Stonham speak again—but on this matter I myself do not believe they are right. The right course for me to take is to support my view in the Lobby if a Second Reading is pressed to a Division.

6.46 p.m.


My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships very long in replying to the debate, but I want to say to the noble and learned Viscount who has just resumed his seat that he has given your Lordships a quite unintelligible picture of the Committee stage to which he referred. He himself described those Amendments as "wrecking Amendments".


Quite right.


How can you possibly say, when a whole series of Amendments deliberately intended to wreck a Bill is brought in at the Committee stage, that that is an attempt at a real Committee stage? It is not at all. It was just because the opponents of the Bill had failed to defeat the Bill on Second Reading that they decided to defeat it in that way on Committee. It is not realistic to speak in that way.

The noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, however, put a question to me because he pointed out that one of those so-called Amendments could have been used for the purpose of dealing with kerb-crawling. It was so widely drawn that it covered flower sellers, trade union pickets and many other kinds of people; and it was not within the ambit of the Street Offences Bill, which was a Bill of a limited character dealing with a particular type of street offence. To have widened it out in that way would have produced something quite different. It may well be, as I said at the time, that there is need for such a Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, made the same kind of point. If the noble Lord likes to introduce such a Bill I think we should give it—provided that it is carefully drafted in such a way as to protect people such as flower sellers and trade union pickets—careful consideration, because many kinds of nuisances are going on in the streets which ought to be dealt with by the law. That is all I need say about that.

I should like to refer to this continual classic reason for not getting on with the job: that eventually some Government commission, or law revision committee, or some other body of experts, will look at the situation. We are now more than two years after the first time this measure was brought before your Lordships, and we are as far away from a solution to the problem as we were at that time, or even farther away. I remember my noble friend, Lord Stonham, telling us that the matter would soon be remitted to the Law Revision Committee. Soon! On the next occasion the noble Earl, Lord Arran, said: "I took that to mean 'within twelve months', at any rate"; and so did many of us. The noble Baroness says, "I cannot possibly guarantee that this will happen within twelve months." The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has made inquiries of people who are "in the know" in these matters and are concerned about them and she obtained the estimate of two, three or even five years before it is done. We are to wait in this way. That is, as I say, the classic argument for not doing anything, and it is always produced by very conservative people when they are asked to reform anything, whether the law or something else. In that way we have stalemate.

I appreciate the desire of my noble friend, Lord Stow Hill, to produce this stalemate; it is what he wants—and I thought his speech was very properly, as well as amusingly, described as "Frank in Wonderland", because that is what it was. Last year he wanted a safeguard in the form of corroborative evidence. Now he says that what I have provided is not corroborative evidence at all, because a policeman might give evidence: "I arrested this man and took him to the police station". The Bill says, "Evidence against the defendant". How can it possibly be suggested to any magistrate that a policeman who says, "I arrested this man, because of a complaint of Mrs. Jones, and took him to the police station" is giving evidence against the defendant that he committed the crime of which he is accused? Of course he is not. It is an absurd argu-

Addison, V. Crook, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L.
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ment, and it was typical of the Wonder-land arguments which the noble and learned Lord asked your Lordships to accept this afternoon.

I could go on in the same kind of way, criticising many of the speeches made against this Bill, but I do not propose to take up your Lordships' time any longer. It is high time we had this Bill on the Statute Book. If the matter ever is referred to the Law Revision Committee it will help them a great deal to have had an Act of this kind on the Statute Book and working for a few years, so that they will know how it has worked before they go about the matter. I ask your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading, and I hope you will do so by an even larger majority than you did a year ago.

6.50 p.m.

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

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 23; Nat-Contents, 68.