Orders of the Day — Criminal Law Amendment Bill.

– in the House of Commons on 5th July 1922.

Alert me about debates like this

Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Mr Edward Shortt Mr Edward Shortt , Newcastle upon Tyne West

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The House will recollect that for some years there has been an agitation in regard to the questions dealt with in this Bill. In 1918 two Bills were referred to a Joint Select Committee, and that Committee heard a number of witnesses and a considerable amount of evidence, but the Dissolution of Parliament came before the Committee had reported. In 1920, the Committee was again constituted, under the same Chairman, Lord Muir Mackenzie, and they completed their investigations. Last year a Bill was introduced into the other House on the lines of those recommendations of the Committee which were considered as little as possible contentious. The Bill passed its Second Reading in both Houses by considerable majorities, but, unfortunately, certain Amendments were disagreed between the two Houses, and there was not time to settle the disagreements before the end of the Session. This year we thought it right that the Bill should be taken up as a Government Bill and introduced into this House, and it is now brought in as a Government Bill.

There is very little in the Bill that has not been thoroughly debated in this House. Therefore, the House will not wish me to take up its time in dealing with all the details. The first provision deals with the age of consent for indecent assault. There was considerable discussion about that, and the Government have come to the conclusion that the age ought to be made 16, the same as the age of consent for carnal knowledge. There are various other provisions, most of which are entirely non-contentious, 6uch as punishment for keeping brothels, and so on. The main dispute arises on Clause 2, and as to that there is very considerable difference of opinion in the House. Clause 2 provides that reasonable cause to believe that the girl in question was over 16 shall no longer be a defence. The question whether it is right or wrong to put in that provision was thoroughly discussed in this House last year, and I do not think that the House would desire that I should repeat all the matters which were discussed then. In addition, the subject has been one on which considerable negotiation and discussion has taken place. On the one hand, a very large body of people interested in these subjects is very strongly in favour of the provision as it stands. On the other hand, there is a very considerable body of opinion which thinks that it is an unfair thing to take away that defence. I think I am correct in saying that the people who oppose taking away that defence are comparatively speaking, a small minority.

There has been much negotiation about the exemption from this provision of young men who may be tempted by girls who were more to blame than they. Those who are very strongly in favour of the Clause are willing to consent to some such exemption as this, that where the accused person is under a certain age, say, for the sake of argument, 21 or 23, or whatever age may be agreed upon, the magistrate before whom the charge is heard may, instead of committing him for trial, treat the case under the Summary Jurisdiction Act and merely bind him over. That is not satisfactory to many of those who are opposed to the Clause, and who desire that a young man under the specified age, whether 21, 23, or whatever it might be, should still have the defence open to him. so that it might be said of him that he had not been guilty of a crime at all.

Photo of Sir John Butcher Sir John Butcher , City of York

Would that be only in the case of a first offence?

Photo of Mr Edward Shortt Mr Edward Shortt , Newcastle upon Tyne West

One of the suggestions was that that should apply only to a case of first offence.

Photo of Mr William Gritten Mr William Gritten , Hartlepools, The

In the alternative of binding the person over, I take it that the conviction would still be recorded against him for life?

4.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Edward Shortt Mr Edward Shortt , Newcastle upon Tyne West

It would be under the Probation Act, under which, as the hon. Member knows, there need be no conviction. The ordinary powers under that Act will be available for the magistrate to exercise, in the circumstances. I have mentioned these facts to show that there is one main dispute over the provisions of the Bill, but really it is a Committee question. Those Members of the Government who have met deputations have undertaken that something shall be done in Committee for the young man, but I am not in a position to-day to make any definite statement as to which of the alternatives the Government are prepared to accept and put forward. I think it is entirely a Committee point; indeed, most of the points raised in this Measure are purely Committee points. This Bill was read a Second time last year by a considerable majority. The Members of the House who discussed it then are the Members of the House to-day. Therefore, I do not think that it would be right of me to take up any further time, and I will merely ask the House to give it a Second Reading. Then we can settle in Committee what relief is to be given to the young men who, in the opinion of so many, ought to have some kind of relief given to them.

Major C. LOWTHER:

I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day three months."

I can assure the House that I feel I am undertaking a most disagreeable and unpleasant duty. Last year, when I moved the rejection of a Bill very similar in character, I endeavoured to put before the House certain arguments which were closely related to the construction of the Bill and to show, to the best of my ability, that, if this Bill were to become an Act of Parliament, there would be granted, through Clause 2, such a Charter to blackmailers as I am sure it would never be the desire of this House to grant to such infamous undesirable persons. My arguments were elaborated and put with much more technical skill by other Members of the House who have professional legal knowledge in this matter. During the course of its further stages through this House, there were Amendments made to the Bill, and, in particular, a new Clause, to which the Home Secretary made no sort of reference, was added which, if the sense of the House is to count for anything at all, was passed by a considerable majority. I venture to note that that Clause finds no place in the present Bill. It is not my intention this afternoon to go over the arguments which I most inadequately expressed last Session. I think I had better leave them to others, far better qualified than I, to deal with them.

I feel constrained, however, to make certain observations as to the conduct of the Government as regards this Bill. In the most gracious Speech from the Throne, this Bill loomed large. It was mentioned among other important Measures, such as altering the yearly rating, or something of that kind, and it came hot upon the most important of all Measures—the reform of the House of Lords. What was the reason of that? It was, as the Home Secretary himself said, because of an agitation. "For some years," says the Home Secretary, "there has been an agitation." Just about that time the agitation became rather strong. Various enthusiastic and well-meaning, but, if I may venture the criticism, unreasoning societies, composed largely, I believe, of women and of others very strongly interested in certain causes, insisted that this Bill should be passed into law. The Government yielded. They put this Bill into the King's Speech, and they promised the House, as I understand, that it should be passed into law as soon as possible. In fact, the Second Heading of the Bill was put down on the Order Paper within a few days after the passing of the Address in reply to the Most Gracious Speech from the Throne. It was put down long before a copy of the Bill was obtainable in the Vote Office. On many occasions I went to the Vote Office to inquire if I might have a copy of the Bill, and I was informed that it was not yet out of the printer's hands. From that I gauged the amount of enthusiasm which the Government really had for this Measure, and I think I am not wrong when I state that as soon as the agitation subsided, so soon did the Government's enthusiasm to pass this Bill into law subside. The matter has thus dragged on until now, and the agitation has arisen again.

The Home Secretary may think me rude when I make the remark, but it does strike me that the attitude of the Government on this matter is like that of the schoolboy bully, rather overbearing in victory, perhaps not too brave in defeat, but, certainly, easily terrorised into taking any course of action when the clamour against him is sufficiently strong. In this case, the clamour has been strong and has been fitful, and it is just when the clamour is at its strongest that the Government adopt some measure to move onwards this particular Bill. One would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman, in his opening speech, would have adduced some facts, some figures, or some statistics to show that this Bill is necessary at all. I should have thought that he would have endeavoured, by giving us the opinion of those whose business it is to deal with these matters, to show that the particular offences against which this Bill enacts penalties are on the increase. I should have thought that he would have endeavoured to tell the House that this Bill had become absolutely necessary, not because of an agitation but because of the subject itself. He did no such thing. He never told us that the state of morality in this country is any worse now than it was a few years ago. He has produced no sort of figures, and he has not even brought before us the opinions of either magistrates, judges, or those whose criminal practice entitle them to express an opinion upon the matter. What is the reason? He knows very well that those opinions are dead against him.

There is a country where the law is held in contempt and where it is daily mocked, and that country is the United States of America. What is the reason? The reason is that the legislators of that country have paid attention to such agitations as these by loud-voiced, unreasoning societies, and have not attended to what should be their proper duty—the consideration of the merits of the case. Let the right hon. Gentleman beware lest in espousing the cause of this Bill he does very much the same in this country. I do not know whether the Government think that by passing this Bill they are going to gain for themselves a large number of votes. If they do, they are greatly mistaken. People in this country are sick to death of stunt legislation, of which, perhaps, this is the most unlovely example. They know perfectly well, because they have had experience of it, that when the Government pass legislation it is passed only to be repealed within a very short time. They have had experience of it, and experience enough. With that experience the great majority of voters in this country have but one cry, and that is: "Leave us alone. Leave us alone to mind our own business." I can assure the House that it is very distasteful to me to rise on this occasion, but I must say that I consider that the onus of proving that this Bill is necessary rests upon the Government and upon the Home Secretary to tell us why it is necessary. It is no use for him to say that certain matters will be raised in Committee. We know that well enough. Let us beware, this afternoon lest, in passing the Second Reading of this Bill, we take a step which hereafter we shall regret, and which not so very long hence we shall be called upon to retrace.

The Bill itself, as I believe other hon. Members will point out, is a bad one. It has been forced upon the House because of the agitation of a certain number of vocal, enthusiastic and well-meaning, if you will, societies who really do not know what they are talking about. The Home Secretary and the Government do not care a rap whether it succeeds or fails once it is passed into law. They think that having passed it into law they will have secured for themselves a certain number of votes, and that is all they care about. That is the poorest recommendation that could possibly be made in favour of this Bill, and, if it were for no other reason than that, I should feel justified in moving its rejection.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel John Moore-Brabazon Lieut-Colonel John Moore-Brabazon , Rochester Chatham

I rise also to take up the unpopular role of an opponent of this Bill. The Home Secretary, who to-day is not a particularly popular figure in the community, reminds me of the sneezing baby in "Alice in Wonderland"— He only does it to annoy,Because he knows it teases. That is the desire, it seems to me, in proposing this Bill. I want to know as the former speaker wants to know, why, when this Bill failed as a private Measure, it should now have the blessing of the Government. It is now clothed in all the panoply of a Government Measure incorporated in the King's Speech. Why was all that done? Was it done because of the great pressure of women's organisations in this country? If so, it seems to me a sad confession on the part of the Home Secretary of hen-pecking. Was it perhaps the pressure brought to bear by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton)? He was one of the strong advocates of this Bill last Session. He played a very prominent part. He made speeches most of the day and most of the night in favour of it, and, like all his speeches, they were rather bullying and hectoring, and they all mentioned, as all his speeches do, how many years he has been a Member of this House. The only thing I got from them was a sort of impression—anyhow from his appearance—that he was made a Member of this House when below the age of consent. Now he sits on the Front Bench and has been a great success.

But we find this Bill a Government Measure, and we have got to treat it as such: Legislation on sexual matters is a very dangerous thing. Sometimes things which are admittedly wrong are best left alone and not dealt with by legislation. We must remember that in matters of sex, we are dealing with forces of which we are only the expression. They are forces that are not stopped by even a threat of two years' imprisonment. They are controlled by education and not-by threats or penalties. I believe that if we do away with all the law with regard to sex we should still breed very much the same sort of people an we breed now. I would press on the House that when we are dealing with a subject like this, it is not a matter of right or wrong, it is a matter of whether it is a wise thing to pass in Statutes measures like this. When we had this Bill up last Session we had a question arising out of mono-sexuality among women. No one thought that it was right, everybody was against it, but whether it is or is not a right thing to pass a law against it, is a different question. The Commons rushed in where the House of Lords feared to tread, and it was because of this very Amendment that the Bill failed.

I am not going to deal with the question of blackmail, which almost automatically arises with the passing of a Bill like this, but there are two broad principles of opposition to this Measure. The first is this. After discussing it with many people who are very much in favour of it, it is, in my opinion, the thin end of the legislative wedge with regard to eugenics in this country. Eugenism is very admirable on paper: in practice it is particularly difficult. First, you do not know what you want, and, secondly, you do not know how to get it. Some people want a race of men all like the Home Secretary, others want a race of men all like Carpentier, but we do not know how to get it. It is a very difficult thing to introduce legislation on those lines. Any legislation, in my opinion, on those lines is bad, because it introduces a fundamentally new idea, that is that you impose penalties upon the present community for the possible benefit of the future. That is to my mind a very bad idea in legislation. There is one other point with regard to that, that is the survival in this country among the societies which are pressing for the passing of this Measure of what is generally termed asceticism. Asceticism, to my mind, is one of the curses which Christianity imposed upon Europe in the middle ages. Slowly it is disappearing, but we must remember that it-was a will towards self-destruction, and the sooner it is wiped out from all those societies that plead for Measures like this, the better.

The second ground of opposition is that it is legislation against one sex more than another. Look through the list of the societies which support it, and you will find a great preponderance of women societies. Everybody will admit that premature sexual intercourse, both of male and female, is undesirable and should be avoided, but the question is, rather, does the female develop more quickly than the male? All education in this country is really a conspiracy to delay the sexual growth of the boy. You will find right through all the schools in the country that all athletics are exaggerated up to a fetish, so as to concentrate the boy's mind upon some subject and get him away from thoughts of sex until an age when it does not matter very much. It is a very different thing when you are dealing with girls, because the early 'teens of a girl is the one age when any great exertion is quite impossible, and consequently the thoughts of girls turn to sex much more naturally than they do with boys. Having established that—[HON. MEMBERS: "Who is your authority?"]—If what I say be true, that sexual development is later with boys than with girls, why should it be assumed that one sex is automatically more vicious than another? That is really at the bottom of this Bill. There is the fundamental assumption that one sex is vicious and the other is entirely pure.

I would not object to this Bill one bit if we had equal treatment proposed, but this is legislation directed entirely towards one sex. Before I sit down, I want to object in some way to the sort of Pharisaical idea which prevails among those who are in favour of this Bill concerning those who are against it. If we object to this Bill, we are not automatically debased scoundrels, but we happen to have taken a little more interest in the subject than those who assume straight away that this Bill is right. If I thought for one moment that this Bill would stop one assault upon one girl, I would be in favour of it, but what I am convinced will happen is that you will make criminals of many boys who do not deserve it. If you want to get criminals, if that is the desire of the Home Secretary, this Bill is a very admirable Measure. If, on the other band, you want to get public morality, then you must direct your efforts along other paths.

Photo of Mr Donald Maclean Mr Donald Maclean , Peebles and Southern

The House is always jealous of its right of free debate, and I do not myself regret in the least the expressions of opinion to which we have listened from the hon. Members who moved and seconded the rejection of this Bill. That is what the House is for—to hear the real opinions of people regarding Measures of legislation laid before it. I may, however, be permitted to say that I do not think either of these speeches is at all likely to damage the progress of the Measure through the House. The first comment I would make on the general position of the hon. Members is this, that they were too young —one of them by at least two years and the other one I have not had time to look up—to appreciate the fact that the broad general position was settled by this House under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885, which was passed after a debate which I read, in which opinions such as they have expressed and opinions of men who held views very strongly, after an agitation inside and outside this House almost unparalleled in its intensity on both sides, were fully expressed. And the whole question of the protection of young girls under 16, in its general position, was then settled and settled finally so far as the vast majority of people in this country are concerned.

The views which the hon. Members have expressed on eugenics and matters of that kind are interesting personal opinions, but not the settled opinions of the nation as a whole. They are mere personal opinions. Look at this Bill! What possible objection can there be to Clause 1 It simply says that young persons up to 16 shall not be able to consent to an act of indecency. Is there any objection to that? There can be no objection. As showing the progress of the law, may I say that up to 1885 any young child, any infant, could be deemed to have consented to an act of indecency by a man of any age. That has passed away. We are making progress very slowly, much too slowly for my taste, but still we. arc moving on, and we now say that no young person under 16 shall be deemed to be able to consent to an act of indecency to him or her. I think that there is very little objection to Clause 1.

In Clause 3 there are certain Amendments to penalties under Section 13 of the principal Act. Then there is another Amendment of the law relating to giving power for the hearing of cases of incest in open Court. I think that that is a good thing though I used not to think so: I have changed my mind. Now I come to Clause 2. That is the real difficulty. It is said that the movement in favour of this Amendment of the law, which is to take away the "reasonable cause to believe," is supported by fanatical women societies and organised bodies of opinion which are not based upon very sound argument, but rather on sentimental opinions. I submit that that is not the fact. If hon. Members have followed the course of this agitation or the propaganda in favour of this Bill, they must have been struck by the fact that the organised opinion in favour of this change in the law comes largely, most powerfully and substantially, from those who have most to do with the administration of the law.

May I take such a society as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. That society started, I think, in 1887, and its initiation was marked by precisely the same sort of argument which we have heard to-day. But that society—I am only taking it as an example—has shown by its careful administration of the law and by its dealings with the cases with which it was concerned that it has been the exponent, not of fanatical opinion, but of cold, legal, hard-won experience in the Law Courts of the land. The amendment of the law proposed by this Clause receives the overwhelming support of the most experienced police court officials in the country. It is conceivable that this terrible crime of blackmail—than which there is nothing more dastardly in the records of law or which brings greater condemnation from all fair-minded citizens —prevails so widely in connection with the administration of the law as it stands, or as it is likely to be with the proposed alteration of it? If it had been so, we know perfectly well that the Home Secretary and others who take an interest in the matter would knew of it.

The House will forgive me for referring to my own personal knowledge of the subject. A good many years ago I had some rather special experience in this class of case, and I do not think it is exaggerating to say that I had personal knowledge of not fewer than 200 cases of this special kind, quite apart from hundreds of other cases of which I had knowledge. I have conducted quite 200 cases of this kind. I cannot recollect a single case in which blackmail arose. There were other features to which I shall not allude, but I assure the House that, as far as my knowledge of police experience is concerned, small though it may be, and of the various calm and impartial bodies of organised opinion, there is no serious danger of blackmail. You cannot pass any legislation without some fear of injustice affecting someone. What the House has to do is what it has always done. It asks itself, "Where on the whole does the greatest benefit to the community lie?" And it decides accordingly. What does the Clause do? It simply says that the defence shall not be raised that the offender had reasonable cause to believe that the girl was over the age of 16 years. The law says that no girl under the age of 16 shall have these relations, whether she consents or not That is settled absolutely. An immense amount of cumulative evidence from impartial authorities shows that owing to the operation of the law in the Courts offenders have got off who ought to have been convicted, and it shows also that that defence should no longer be open. That being the basis of the Bill, and the steady progress of public opinion being such as to demand the alteration in the law that is here proposed, I hope that the House will, without any heat, pass the Bill. I do not deny the bona fides or the public spirit which moves Members who differ from me on this question, but I believe that nothing has happened since last year which does other than strengthen the public opinion which is behind this Measure. I am quite certain that in passing this Bill the House will be legislating, not in advance of public opinion, but far behind its high-water mark.

Photo of Major Collingwood Hamilton Major Collingwood Hamilton , Altrincham

I went with a considerable number of other Members of this House on a deputation to the Government about a fortnight ago, on the subject of this Bill. On that occasion we were received by the Lord Chancellor, the Leader of the House, the Home Secretary and the Solicitor-General. Various members of the deputation put their views before those right hon. Gentlemen, and they were replied to at considerable length by the Lord Chancellor. He said that he had great sympathy with the point of view which I especially had ventured to lay before the Government representatives, namely, the point of view of the defence and the protection of young men. I made an appeal to the Government to this effect: "As far as I am concerned I loathe and detest having to take any part in this type of legislation, or having to speak on such subjects as are contained in this Bill, in the House or elsewhere. Do, therefore, let us know, before the Bill comes up for Second Beading, what the Government intend to do to protect the young boy." The Lord Chancellor said that he would immediately get into touch with the Home Secretary, and that they would come to an immediate decision. I then pointed out to the Lord Chancellor that this Bill was down as the Second Order of the Day for the very next day in this House. The Leader of the House came towards me in the room and said: I promise you that when this Bill is introduced by the Home Secretary, a definite statement will be made as to what the Government action is to be. Of course, I cannot say that that was a definite pledge of any sort, but, unfortu- nately, in the absence of the Leader of the House, we are landed to-day in the position that the Home Secretary introduces this Bill, which last Session was a private Bill, that the Bill has now been taken up with the whole authority of the Government, and that it is introduced without the least explanation why the Government have taken it up. The Home Secretary says not a word as to its necessity in the country or as to the benefit which the Government hope to get by the passing of such legislation.

The Home Secretary puts fairly before the House the point of view that I hold-that young men up to 25 should be protected under this Bill. He puts the other point of view which certain societies have put to try to meet me—that it would be possible to meet the case under the Probation Act. He says it is a Committee point. I have been in the House a few years, and I have always understood that when a representative of the Government was trying to get a Bill through on Second Reading the best course for him to follow was to try to appease the Opposition by some statement' as to what the Government intended to do, not only on Second Beading but in Committee upstairs, where the Government will have their Whips and the Home Secretary will have his full authority, and where the unfortunate people who are trying to see wise legislation and not foolish legislation passed will not get much assistance. The protection of boys is all that I want. The right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) made an interesting and charming speech. I totally disagree with him, for I do not think he understands the point of view which we take on this Bill. The last time I spoke on this Bill it was at 3 o'clock in the morning, and my right hon. Friend was then present. The Government will not tell us what they intend to do, and we must, therefore, try to put our case before the House. We must try to persuade hon. Members who do not agree with us that we have some reason to fear that legislation of this kind is liable to create offences in the country instead of preventing offences.

I will deal for a moment with the Bill itself. The right hon. Member for Peebles seemed to wipe Clause 1 off the map altogether. He does not remember that when Clause 1 was voted on in this House on Report and Third Reading, last year, it was entirely different from what it is now. It had been amended by a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons upstairs, and there had been added to the Clause a most important alteration suggested by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Rawlinson). That Amendment had been made to Clause 1 when the right hon. Member for Peebles approved of the Bill at 3 o'clock in the morning last Session. It was an entirely different Clause from this Clause. He says now that Clause 1 is settled, and he asks, what is the use of quarrelling about it? My right hon. Friend did not object to the Amendment of the Clause last year. Clause 1, as drawn now, means that if a boy and girl of the same age, say 15, are travelling in a railway carriage, and the girl, feeling sex very strongly within her. assaults the boy, and the boy then kisses her, it is a criminal offence on the part of the boy, and the girl is held perfectly innocent.

That is the meaning of Clause 1 as printed in this Bill to-day. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no '"] Hon. Members opposite do not understand it, so what is the good of saying, "No, no!" They should have been here as I was last Session to listen to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Rawlinson). who explained the Clause from the legal point of view and stated the reason why the Amendment was accepted by the Joint Committee upstairs. It was explained to us that the danger was that you are making it a criminal offence for a man to kiss a girl, and to put his hand on her, if that girl happened to be 15 years of age, whether she appeared to be 20 years of age or more, and whether or not what was done was done with her encouragement and incitement and consent. Two years in gaol a boy can get for it. Is this House going to pass legislation which will make it possible for some spiteful and puritanical creature to get a young man two years in gaol for kissing a girl in a railway carriage, when that girl appears to be 20 and happens to be 15? That is what this legislation means.

Photo of Major Collingwood Hamilton Major Collingwood Hamilton , Altrincham

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London for his support. We do not want to see young girls assaulted. We are anxious to improve the law, just as anxious as hon. Members opposite. We have just as much interest in girls of 15 as they have. If the hon. Friend opposite who, I see, does not agree with me, will be good enough to have tea with mo, I will introduce him to my own daughter of 15, and a very pretty daughter she is, too. I can assure him that we who are arguing this point also remember that we have sons, and that we have to think of the boys just as much as of the girls. Surely, this legislation is stupid; it is all wrong. If an offence be a moral offence, surely it is just as bad for the girl as for the boy. It is just as immoral for a girl to consent to this sort of thing as it is for a boy to do it. I appeal to hon. Members not to be hasty. The Amendment made to the Clause last Session had the effect of putting the girl on the same footing as the man. If the girl consented, whatever her age might be, it would be a criminal offence on her part just as much as on the man's part. That appears to me to be reasonable, especially for the reason that it would prevent blackmail. The right hon. Member for Peebles says he has known of 200 cases in the past, and in none of these was there blackmail. We are not worrying about the past, but about the future. Blackmail is going to be increased by this Bill. The right hon. Member refers to 200 cases which came to his personal knowledge, but this Bill had not been passed by a foolish House of Commons 10 years ago when he was dealing with these cases.

I am not dealing with the old roué. I am perfectly ready to agree to a limit of 25 years of age or less. Any man over the age of 25 who starts cuddling a girl of 15, whatever age she may appear to be, ought to pay for it and go to gaol, but we ought to protect the young man. By this Clause we would put temptations to blackmail in the way of a certain class of the most objectionable criminals in this country, namely, the people who encourage young girls to go about and entice young men into wickedness. These are the people we want to get hold of and legislate against, not the young boy who is led away by passionate sexual feeling, being encouraged by the girl to kiss and cuddle her. In such a case what is going to happen? Blackmail He is immediately informed that he can get two years, that there are two witnesses, and that a case will be brought against him if he does not immediately pay up £50 or £100, £10 or £5 or 10s., according to his class in life, and his appearance of wealth or otherwise. The so-called parents of this girl, who are really these disreputable criminals failing to get blackmail, will have the wretched boy dragged before the Court and he has no defence. He cannot say the girl encouraged him or led him on; the girl's age is proved to be under 16, and he has to go to gaol for two years.

In regard to Clause 2, again my right hon. Friend does not see there is a possibility of blackmail. Under Clause 2 the suggestion is that we should take away the defence that the defendant had reasonable cause to believe that the girl was above the statutory age. I am no lawyer, though I have been a magistrate for some years, but looking at it as a mere Member of Parliament it seems to me that we are now going to deal with the criminal law of this country in a manner different from that employed at any time in the previous history of the country. It used to be a great principle of the party which my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles is so ably leading at the moment that liberty of the subject in this country had to be safeguarded in Parliament. Is it liberty to charge a boy with a criminal offence and take away his only defence? What is that defence? It is that when he committed, what he knew and what the girl equally knew to be a moral offence, with her consent and encouragement, knowing it to be a moral offence, he had reasonable cause to believe that it was not a criminal offence.

That is the law of the land as it is to-day. A boy or young man commits the offence of having carnal knowledge of a woman: he has reasonable cause to believe that the woman who encourages him and commits the same moral offence as he does, who is morally as bad as he is, is, by her appearance, by her statement —possibly even by the fact that she shows him her elder sister's birth certificate—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"]—19 or 20 years of age when she is only 15. I am putting a special case. Young men and girls in a certain class of life very often walk out before becoming engaged to be married. Such a pair may be walking out together; they may talk of being married without being actually engaged. The girl is anxious to become engaged, and she produces a certificate—her sister's—showing that she is 18 years of age, though she is actually 15 years. With her encouragement and consent impropriety takes place. The moral offence—and I want to repeat and emphasise this—is just as bad in the case of the girl as of the boy. Then they quarrel; they never become engaged. [HON. MEMBERS: "Have you known a case?"] Even if I do not, it does not require much imagination to suppose that such a case might occur. I am only putting it in reference to the possibility of a birth certificate being used. Assuming such a case to be possible, the boy may fall in love with another girl and become engaged to her. The first girl is jealous; her parents are furious, and they charge the boy with having had carnal knowledge of her when she was under 16. He has no defence, although he has actually seen a birth certificate. He is not allowed to bring that evidence into Court. What would be the object of bringing that evidence into Court? Merely to convince the judge and a jury, upon which women may be sitting, that, although this boy knew he was committing the same moral offence as the girl was committing, he had reasonable cause to believe that he was not committing a criminal offence. Take away the defence of an inexperienced young man in charges of this sort, and you make him liable to a term of imprisonment, which, I believe, can be five years under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885. The Home Secretary will correct me if I am wrong in that.

Photo of Major Collingwood Hamilton Major Collingwood Hamilton , Altrincham

I think I understood from the hon. and learned Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Rawlin-son) that under Sections 5 and 6 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885, a term of five years could be imposed and that under Section 1 for an act of indecency two years was the limit. I may be wrong and perhaps one of my legal friends will look it up and speaking later on put the Home Secretary wise on the subject. We in this House do not all of us have to administer the law, but we are all responsible for making the laws. Is it right that we with our eyes open should pass legislation which has the effect of making a young man a criminal without allowing him to show to a jury that although he committed a moral offence he had reasonable cause which he could justify before a judge and jury to believe that he was only committing a moral offence and not a criminal offence? I appeal to the House to consider these two Clauses before they decide to vote in favour of the Bill. The Home Secretary and the right hon. Member for Peebles in discussing the possibility of Amendments in Committee seemed to argue that the whole of these societies—I have here a circular letter signed on behalf of 68 associations—were opposed to our view on this particular matter. This circular letter which was sent as recently as 26th May of this year to the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House, the Home Secretary, and, I believe, every Member of the House, contains paragraphs which indicate a rather different point of view. The letter says: We fully understand the objection to the Clause—the possibility of an innocent lad being charged, after falling a victim to some depraved young girl, purposely posing, before the offence has been committed, to be over 16. These eases are exuemely rare and could be dealt with under the Probation of Offenders Act, 1907. If. however, a further safeguard is considered advisible, to prevent the possibility of injustice to a young defendant, a proviso enabling the Court to abstain from recording the conviction would have our approval. Why should we in Parliament leave it to the Court to abstain from recording a conviction? All we ask Parliament to do is to allow the young man a chance to produce evidence that he had reasonable cause to believe he was not committing a. criminal offence. Surely it is much more sound that he should be allowed to produce that evidence, and if the judge and a jury of 12 of his fellow-citizens consider that evidence unsatisfactory, then he can be convicted. Let us, however, allow him the chance of producing evidence. This circular letter, which is signed by five ladies—at least two of whom I know very well, and admire very much—on behalf of these various societies, uses these words: The large majority of these cases are those where young girls are the victims of depraved men. Then it goes on: This defence affords a substantial protection for men…to seduce young girls and escape under cover of this well-intentioned, but pernicious defence. 5.0 p.m.

Really is that so? Do men, especially young men, for whom I am speaking, go about hunting for girls to seduce? That seems to be the argument of these various societies. Is that really the feminist outlook on males'? I have always been against feminism. I loathe feminism and the whole of that aspect of the feminist mind which looks upon man as a corrupt creature, hunting about to seduce someone is all wrong. I am confident of this, that the average decent woman, especially if she is a mother, is just as much against feminism as I am. Why should this attitude be taken up by these 68 societies of ladies—though, I observe, they include the Salvation Army, which comprises men, and also the Liberal Federation. What is the "well-intentioned but pernicious defence"? Merely to be able to prove, before a jury of the man's fellow-citizens, on which there might be women, that he knew he was committing a moral offence— equal to the girl's, and no worse—and that he had reasonable cause to believe that the offence was not a criminal offence. I have had consider able correspondence with my hon. Friend the Member for the Erdington Division of Birmingham (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) on the subject of the possibility of an Amendment of this; Clause, so as to remove my great objection to it. My hon. Friend wrote to me on the 20th March on this subject. That was just after I had the honour of meeting the Women's Advisory Committee upstairs. I may say I was asked to go there because the Chairman of the Home Affairs Joint Subcommittee had written to me saying that in all probability something could be done to meet my point for the protection of young men. After that meeting my hon. Friend, who presided over the gathering of ladies, wrote to me on the 20th March, and enclosed what he described as a possible method of meeting my ease, that some proviso should be added as follows: Provided that in the case of a man under 25 years of age the presence of reasonable causes shall be a valid defence on the first occasion on which, but for this reservation, an offence would have been committed by him under the Criminal Law Amendment Acts as amended by this Section. I replied immediately pointing out that that exactly met my point of view, that it was exactly what I wanted, and brought forward last time. I never before had thought of a first offence, but, of course, I agree that if a young man of 25 years of age, or less, is charged with this offence, and pleads "reasonable cause to believe," as he would under my proviso, and the jury let him off, and he commits the same offence again, and is charged again while still under 25 years of age— well, there is a good old maxim about dogs, and such a maxim ought to apply to a young man, who has misbehaved himself once, and been protected by the fact that he had reasonable cause to believe he was not committing a criminal offence. He has had a serious warning, and I certainly think on the second charge, whatever his age, he should not be allowed to plead "reasonable cause to believe." I wrote to my hon. Friend saying that I would accept that, but suggested, that instead of it being "under 25 years of age," it should be "of 25 years of age or under." My hon. Friend replied that he was glad to hear that this would meet my views; that, of course, he could not speak for all his association, but would communicate with them, and see what could be done. Gradually he came down to this, that he wrote on the 29th March to say that he found considerable opposition to the exact wording of my Amendment, and he suggested another Amendment. This is roughly the Amendment which the Home Secretary says was one point of view. These are the words: Provided always that where a person under the age of 21 is charged with an offence under Section 5 of the principal Act, the magistrate may, in lieu of committing him for trial, deal with him under Section 1 of the Probation of Offenders Act. I do think it is most foolish of these ladies to suggest that this alternative meets the case. All I ask is that the young man shall be allowed to plead "reasonable cause to believe" as evidence, and if he fails in that defence, let him be punished as a criminal; but if he succeeds in that defence, and the jury acquit him, he is not guilty of a criminal offence. But he has been charged with a very bad form of moral offence, and the very fact that he has been charged is enough stigma upon him. These ladies, however, do not only want him to be charged, but that he should not be able to defend himself, and that once it is proved that he did have carnal knowledge of the girl, all that is necessary is to prove that, and to prove she is under 16, then he is convicted at once of a criminal offence, without further evidence or discussion in the matter. I cannot accept that Amendment, and I am satisfied that if this House allow this Bill to go through as it is, it will be setting up new temptations to blackmail both under Clause 1 and under Clause 2. They will be encouraging the most pernicious creatures in the whole of this country, that is, those who exploit young girls, and tempting these pernicious men and women to go on with their disgusting trade of bringing over to this country well-developed young girls of 14 or 15 years of age from Italy and other warm climates, and exploiting them in the streets of our great towns. I say you are placing temptation in the way of such nefarious creatures, and I ask the House to show in the most outspoken manner that it will not pass such legislation, and that this House is determined that young boys shall be defended just as much as young girls.

Photo of Mr James Wignall Mr James Wignall , Forest of Dean

I am sure the speech to which we have just listened from the hon. and gallant Gentleman was one of sincerity and also one of great exaggeration. I am sure that he has very much exaggerated every point that he has brought out regarding the Bill. We do not find fault with him for that, because all that he has said is within the range of possibility, but we have to fall back upon our own knowledge of life, our own experience of things as we know them. Some of us have had experience of Courts of Summary Jurisdiction, and we have got to base our knowledge upon the things that we have seen and know, and I am convinced that all the points of exaggeration are far indeed from reality. I am supporting this Bill to-day because it is based upon a very long and an exhaustive inquiry that was set up by both Houses. For some period I had the privilege of sitting on the Committee that took evidence on this very important question. During the very many months that this Committee sat inquiring into this matter, they took evidence from all sorts and conditions of people, male and female, representative of various societies, people who were engaged in social work, and people who would be, probably, opposed to any legislation at all. Every witness was given fair play and free scope to advance views, and the members of the Committee questioned them-some of them very closely—so that there was one great mass of evidence which is printed and can be obtained, together with the Report.

After all, the evidence had been taken, and when the Committee had to come to conclusions on the very points that are embodied in the Bill, there was no question of doubt existing in the mind of any Member of the Committee that the law required altering. That was absolutely unanimous. To what extent it should be altered was a debatable point. So far as my memory goes at the moment, I do not think there was any Debate at all as to the first Clause in the Bill, that is, as to the indecent offence, and the taking away of the defence of consent. I do think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman did quite unnecessarily exaggerate the point of the kissing of a girl. I thought he spoilt his case by the exaggeration, because such things do happen, we know. But what is the idea of a Court of Summary Jurisdiction, what is the conception of a jury who will take evidence and convict on the testimony of a girl that a man kissed her? I should have thought the prosecution would have been one of assault—not of indecent assault. I am rather inclined to think that if everyone were prosecuted for kissing a girl, there would be a good many prosecutions, and that for kissing a girl of 16, or under, there would be a good many prosecutions. A lot more than that would be required to convict. I am all for protecting the girl of 16, and above, if necessary, not from the young man of 16, but from many of the old rogues who are in existence to-day, who are seeking to devour and to destroy the young girl.

Photo of Major Collingwood Hamilton Major Collingwood Hamilton , Altrincham

My proposal is to deal with the young man of 25 and under. I agree with my hon. Friend that we should go for the old rogues—of both sexes.

Photo of Mr James Wignall Mr James Wignall , Forest of Dean

I want to bear my testimony from the experience I have gained in a court of law. I can bring to my mind at least half-a-dozen cases in which this defence was set up, and in every case it was the elderly man, and not the young lad, even under 25. In regard to protection for young men up to 25, I do not know what is the hon. Members' conception of the protection needed for youths in their walks of life, but I know that among the people with whom I have lived and been associated when they reach 25., and long before that, they are expected to be able to look after themselves and to live a clean and decent life. I say I do not remember any real discussion or division of opinion in the Committee as to the taking away of the defence of consent. Each Member of the Committee, whichever House he or she represented, was anxious to do the right thing and to amend the law in such a way that it would not produce the evil effects that have been so very much exaggerated here to-day.

Photo of Major Collingwood Hamilton Major Collingwood Hamilton , Altrincham

The hon. Member refers to what was done in the Committee of which he was a distinguished member. Am I not right when I state that that very Committee added to Clause 1 something which is not now in the Bill? Could my hon. Friend, with his very full knowledge, tell us exactly what those words were, and what the effects were, and why his Committee added them?

Photo of Mr James Wignall Mr James Wignall , Forest of Dean

I have no recollection of them adding those words at that time. They may have been added, but I say that without referring to the Report I do not remember any very serious debate about taking away this defence of consent. On Clause 2 there was considerable debate, and there was a very strong trend of opinion in the evidence that the age should be raised to 18, and then there was a debate as to seventeen, and the unanimous opinion was reached that it was better to leave the age at 16 and take away the defence of "reasonable cause to believe that a girl was of or above the age of sixteen years," and I think I am right in saying to-day that if ever there has been a defence set up in law that has been abused it is this defence of "reasonable cause to believe."

Photo of Mr Henry Cautley Mr Henry Cautley , East Grinstead

What ground is there for saying that?

Photo of Mr James Wignall Mr James Wignall , Forest of Dean

I say that from common knowledge; first of all, from what we read and see for ourselves, and, secondly, from what we have come in contact with in courts of law and in police courts, and if the hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Cautley) wants anything beyond that, I am unable to furnish it.

Photo of Mr Henry Cautley Mr Henry Cautley , East Grinstead

Does the hon. Member disagree with the juries'?

Photo of Mr James Wignall Mr James Wignall , Forest of Dean

I do not know what my hon. and learned Friend is in trouble about. I think he has a knowledge of the law.

Photo of Mr James Wignall Mr James Wignall , Forest of Dean

I will not argue with the hon. and learned Member more than to say that, as an hon. and learned Member, he has a full knowledge of the process of law and of the cases that have been tried in the Law Courts, and if he gave a fair opinion of the position to-day, he would agree with me that there has been no defence that has been so much abused and taken advantage of as this of "reasonable cause to believe." Have we not seen and heard of a man pleading this defence and saying, "She had her hair bobbed," and "She had long skirts on," and "She looked in every way as if she were sixteen," and the man was probably a person of 40? If I had my way in the law, I would have a Clause in that he ought to be taken out and horse-whipped, in addition to the penalty that the law provides, for even setting up or taking advantage of such a defence. We support this Clause in the Bill because we believe that it has been abused, and we want to take away the defence that is set up, and I do not believe it will have any ill-effect upon the young men of our day in the way that has been described. Do we not see vice rampant in our towns and cities to-day? Do we not see young girls along our streets everywhere, young girls that are being trafficked in? Have we no knowledge of the white slave trade that is rampant all around us? The white slave trade could not exist if it were not for those who allow their passions to take possession of them and wreck and ruin the girls of our homes to-day. No punishment can be too severe for such vagabonds and scamps that are in our towns and cities everywhere. We want to make it hard to do wrong and easy to do right, and we can only do that by making the law effective and strong where it has been ineffective and weak before. It is for these reasons that I do heartily support this Bill, and having sat upon the Committee, listened to the evidence, and taken part in the Debates, my only regret to-night is that the Bill does not go so far as it ought to go, judging from the mass of evidence that we received as to the terrible effects of the evil things that we have to talk about here to-night. We are trying at least to deal with this question, and this Bill is an honest attempt, and I am glad that the Government have taken it over at last. It is a long-delayed Measure; it has been long deferred, it has been hindered in various ways, and probably it will be hindered again. I am willing to make safeguards, of course, so far as I am concerned, but I do not believe in attempting to create safeguards. Our own common knowledge and the information given to our boys at home ought to be the best safeguard.

Photo of Mr James Wignall Mr James Wignall , Forest of Dean

Yes, and the girls, and I believe that we and the parents are the greatest cowards in that direction, that we do not take them more into our confidence and explain the dangers that beset them in the world outside. In regard to the limit of 25 years of age, I am not with the opponents of the Bill at all, but I am prepared in Committee, so far as I am concerned, to consider any reasonable safeguard to protect the boys, and to protect the girls as well, as far as that is concerned, but I am not prepared to give even the boys full and free licence to do wrong. I hope the Bill will have a Second Reading, and that it will go into Committee, so that we may have a chance to debate in Committee something of the safeguards that are required, and which have been explained as being required to meet a real danger ahead of us.

Photo of Mr Joseph Green Mr Joseph Green , Leicester West

With some of the latter remarks of my hon. Friend—I hope he will allow me to call him my old and honourable Friend—the Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Wignall), I am thoroughly in sympathy, and it seemed to me that they formed a very strong argument against such a Measure as this. My hon. Friend said that the fathers and mothers ought to talk to the boys and the girls in their homes. That is exactly my view. I have no belief in promoting morality by Act of Parliament. Hon. Members may remember that many years ago—I remember it when I was a young man—a very distinguished and eloquent prelate of the Anglican Church remarked that he would rather see England free than sober. I need hardly say that some fanatical people said that that distinguished Lord Bishop was in favour of promoting drunkenness. He was in favour of nothing of the kind, but what he did believe in was liberty and he believed that the promotion of morality was the duty of teachers of religion and ethics and not the duty of Parliament by making certain offences criminal. It was made a sort of reproach by the right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), against my two hon. and gallant Friends who moved and seconded the Amendment to reject this Bill, that they were too young to remember certain things. I am not too young to remember. I am older than my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles, and I remember those incidents perfectly well, but I want to make a very strong protest against what is said with regard to some of us who believe it to be our duty to oppose legislation of this kind. An hon. Member of this House who is not present now, after certain action which we considered it our duty to take last year when this Bill was before the House, thought fit to go about saying that it was a lot of immoral men and old roues who were the only people who were opposed to this Bill in the House of Commons. I protest that those of us who oppose this Bill are just as much interested in the promotion of morality as those who support it. They have a right to their opinion, we quite agree, but we have the same right to oppose this Bill without being accused of being immoral people who have no concern in regard to the corruption of girls.

I agree with what the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean said with regard to the criminality of these offences, and that they are immoral, but I am surprised that a man of the age and experience of my hon. Friend does not know perfectly well that there are a number of girls, if not the majority, who are much more sexually advanced at a comparatively-young age than boys, and certainly any of us who have had any long experience of life must know that over and over again boys are tempted and seduced by girls, and it is not the boy who is the seducer, and I claim that boys of that age, at any rate, ought to be protected. Like the hon. and gallant Member for Altrincham (Sir G. Hamilton), I have no wish to protect disgusting old men who go about trying to get hold of girls, but I say that boys of 18, 19, and 20 are constantly led astray, and it is a perfectly monstrous thing, in my eyes, that they should not have the right of this defence. It is assumed by some of the supporters of the Bill that because, under the existing law, a man or boy has this right oil defence, therefore the judge and jury are bound to accept it. Of course, that is not so. We only claim that a man shall be able to put up that defence, and it is for the judge and jury to decide whether or not to accept it. Therefore, there is ample protection, for if the judge and jury do not think the man has a legitimate defence, well and good. My hon. Friend suggests that all those who have had experience are in favour of this proposed alteration of the law That is not in the least so. As was pointed out in the Debate last year by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge, the majority of judges are, and certainly the majority of the distinguished representatives of the Bar in this House in that Debate were, entirely against taking away this right of defence. My hon. Friend rather sneered just now at the idea of these stories of girls getting themselves up to look older than they are. Let me inform him that only last year a case was tried before a judge and jury at one of the assizes where the judge had his suspicions aroused by the girl coming into court with her hair down and dressed in an extremely young manner. The judge put to her the question: "Were you dressed like that on the night in question when you say this offence was committed?" The reply was: "No." The judge said to the girl's mother "Take your daughter home during the luncheon interval and bring her back again; put her hair up, and dress her as she was at that time." They came back, and the jury at once acquitted the man, because when they saw the girl dressed like that they were agreed that the man had a legitimate ground for the belief that she was over age. Certainly we all know that there are a great many girls under 16 who constantly look several years over, especially if they dress up to it.

I feel bound, therefore, to support the Amendment put forward, and I do suggest that this House will make a very great mistake if we try to legislate in this way, especially with regard to a question which has already been mentioned. I refer to the question of blackmail. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) said that during a certain period of his professional career, in one year he had experience of 200 cases of this sort. There was not one of them, he said, in Court where anything was said of blackmail. Of course not! If a man is blackmailed it does not come out in Court. If somebody comes to me and blackmails me, and I am foolish enough to pay, I pay up. The professional gentlemen who have cases of this sort in Court know nothing about that. Therefore, it seems to me to be a very feeble argument to say that the question of blackmail does not come out in Court. The whole object of paying blackmail is that it should not come into Court. It is no argument against those who say that this Measure would certainly, if this Clause were insisted upon in the Bill, open the door to a very large amount of blackmail. I hope that the House will reject the Bill until we get certainly a much more definite promise than we have had from the Government as to some mitigation of Clause 2.

Photo of Mr Arthur Steel-Maitland Mr Arthur Steel-Maitland , Birmingham Erdington

I put in my plea most strongly that the House shall see that this Bill gets a Second Reading, and gets it at the earliest possible moment. I cannot help thinking that the speech to which we have just listened, as well as the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir G. Hamilton), really show that this Bill does deserve a Second Beading. May I put, as briefly as I can, the reasons why? I am sure everyone was exceedingly interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Altrincham, even if they did not agree with the whole of it, and no one could doubt the force and sincerity with which he put his arguments. Practically the greater part of the arguments of the hon. Member were addressed to what should be the Amendment of Clause 2; his criticism was very largely addressed against the Amendment which others considered might be made to Clause 2.

On the Second Beading of the Bill, is it really reasonable to ask this House not to pass a Bill because one person favours one Amendment of one Clause and objects to another Amendment really designed to effect the same object? I am anxious at the present moment, as anxious as I can be, to see this Bill pass into law, and therefore, if the House will permit me, I should just like to point out how narrow is the point at issue at the present moment between those who, like my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham, have been objecting to Clause 2 as it stands and those who are willing to try to meet him. If the point be so narrow, then at least there is no reason for refusing a Second Reading to the Bill. The hon. Member for Altrincham says that he is quite willing to allow the elderly roué to be laid by the heels, and so from that point of view the elderly roué can no longer plead reasonable cause as a defence. He is quite ready that that defence should be taken away from the elderly roué, provided that there is protection for the young man who knows that he may be committing a moral fault, but does not realise that he is also committing a fault against the criminal law. I hope I have put that quite clearly.

It has been said that those who have been anxious in promoting this Bill—and it is perfectly right—have as their prime object to get rid of the guilty person who really knows the criminal law, and knows that he may be committing an offence against it. For the most part, this kind of person is the elderly roué. Therefore, provided that we can get the real people who know the criminal law, and know that they may be committing an offence, laid by the heels, we are quite willing, or at least consent, that there should be a protection for the innocent young man who is innocent in so far as he does not know the criminal law. Therefore, may I point out to the House that, so far as the principle of the thing is concerned, the two sides are pretty nearly at one. It is only so far as the application of that principle is concerned that there is a difference. The hon. Member wants the principle to be applied by retaining the defence of "reasonable cause." People on the other side want to give protection, and if I understood it in the proper way, by applying Section 1 of the Probation of Offenders Act. What I would urge upon this House is that here we are at the Second Reading of the Bill and a discussion of the general principle of it. If the difference of those who object and those who are promoting it is as slight as this, then, surely, there is no reason whatsoever—I am not referring to my hon. and gallant Friend opposite (Major C. Lowther), but if I may say so without offence to him, the speech by which most Members of the House were chiefly impressed was that of the hon. Member for Altrincham, whose force and vigour in putting his objections we admit —if the difference between him and the promoters is so slight—there is no reason for opposing the Second Heading of the Bill.

Photo of Major Collingwood Hamilton Major Collingwood Hamilton , Altrincham

I do not quite agree that the difference between us is slight. It is the difference between good legislation and bad legislation. My real point is that I am against both the Second Reading of this Bill and the hon. Member opposite. The Government has not given us any promise as to what they are going to do. If I could get a promise from them that they will meet us on Clause 2 of the Bill I will withdraw my opposition.

Photo of Mr Edward Shortt Mr Edward Shortt , Newcastle upon Tyne West

I thought I had said as clearly as possible that the Government are agreed that something should be done. [HON. MEMBERS: "What:"] But that having regard to the fact that there were two opposing forms of opinions as to the Clause, I thought it most desirable that I should not definitely decide between one or the other to-day.

Photo of Mr Arthur Steel-Maitland Mr Arthur Steel-Maitland , Birmingham Erdington

It will be within the memory of the House that the Home Secretary and I are not always of the same mind in regard to matters of public welfare. But I am bound to say that this does seem to me a perfectly reasonable attitude to take up. Both sides are willing to amend Clause 2. This is the Second Reading. Both sides are willing to amend so as to try to meet on Clause 2. I do appeal to the House generally; is not really the Committee stage and the Report stage, with the Third Beading to follow, the proper places to discuss the best form of Amendment in order to meet the objects on which both sides are agreed?

I do not want—for my business is not that—to raise a controversy, but rather to allay it at the present time. Consequently, I am in a particularly peaceful frame of mind this afternoon. But may I just hint that my hon. Friend's position before the House is illogical. He objects to Clause 1 because, he says, it is not in the form in which it was finally passed last year, and he objects to Clause 2 because it is in the form in which it finally passed this House last year. He cannot have it both ways. The point, however, is only a small illogicality. I do not want to lay stress upon it. Let us get to the main thing. Here we have two Amendments, both of them possible to a Clause, and we are on the Second Reading. Surely the Committee stage and Report stage are the places in which to decide between the comparative merits of these two kinds of Amendments when all are practically agreed upon the principle at issue? On this principle, the vast majority of us certainly are agreed upon.

Photo of Mr Arthur Steel-Maitland Mr Arthur Steel-Maitland , Birmingham Erdington

The right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London says, "No, no," in regard to people being agreed. But really in matters of social reform, he generally, if I may say so, has the honour of forming one of a very small minority, and that encourages me in my statement that the vast majority are in agreement. The hon. Member for Chatham (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) gave one or two general principles as to why he was opposed to the Bill as a whole. He said this was a movement in favour of asceticism, with which he was himself wholly out of sympathy, and which I think he said was dangerous, or, at any rate, was a bad move. He said that asceticism concentrated young men's attention upon games so that they might not be concentrated upon love affairs and the rest of it. If he is opposed to that kind of asceticism, I can only say I am perfectly in favour of it. I have had a certain amount of personal experience of what goes on in some Latin countries where there is not this movement in favour of that asceticism which he deplores, and I can assure him that the result there is not one that he would be delighted with if he came closer in contact with it. I can give him one instance, which, to my mind, was a terrible one, where in one of the schools where there was no movement in favour of asceticism, the father came and took away his son, a boy of 16 or 17, in the middle of the term for a week-end in a disorderly house that he might learn what life was. If it is between these two kinds of movements, I am all in favour of asceticism, and of concentrating the attention of boys and young men upon games. As to the other point, he said that it was a Bill in favour of one sex against the other sex. I can only say again it is not a Bill at all in favour of one sex against the other sex. It is a Bill in favour of public welfare as a whole. What we really have to ask ourselves is this: Are there a larger number of cases of indecent assault and bad behaviour against young girls or against young boys, and if the overwhelming majority should be found to be against young girls, obviously that is the type of case which most needs dealing with.

Lastly, we are told by the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Green) that he does not believe in morality by Act of Parliament. Of course, everybody knows you cannot make a man moral by Act of Parliament; in the sense that you cannot make him morally minded. But it is really an old game nowaday to profess that you cannot pass legislation which punishes a certain gross class of case of immorality or indecency. That has been the settled policy of this country for the last 50 years. Would the, right hon. Gentleman wish to repeal the whole of the Incest Acts and all the other Acts dealing with that class of subject? Certainly not. I am glad to see the right hon. Baronet agrees. To that extent then he would have men made moral by Act of Parliament. To object to the Bill on that ground is going contrary to the settled conscience and opinion of this country, and for that reason I ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading, and then the objections to Clause 2 can be dealt with by Amendments on the Committee stage and the Report stage.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Wintringham Mrs Margaret Wintringham , Louth Borough

May I offer my congratulations to the Government for bringing in and making a part of their programme the Bill which is at present before the House? I have great pleasure in supporting what has been said on this occasion by the Home Secretary, and one is proud to think that in the Speech from the Throne in February this matter was mentioned. One is proud to feel that one is English when such an important Measure is brought forward. I had no intention at first to take part in this Debate, because last year I was not here when the previous Bill was brought before Parliament, but I felt that I could not let one or two things which have been said pass without offering some reply to them.

It was with great difficulty that I sat still when I heard some of the statements which were made by the hon. Member for Cumberland (Major C. Lowther). He suggested that this agitation arose by fits and starts chiefly owing to the efforts of the women's societies. I would like to remind the hon. and gallant Member that that is not the case, and if he belonged to as many women's societies as I do, he would know that this agitation has been going on for years and years, and it was only last year that we managed to get this Bill brought before Parliament. The hon. and gallant Member said that this Measure was the result of the agitation of unreasoning societies in America. It is like saying that any reforms we want are unreasonable. We feel that this is a reasonable Bill, and I think it is rather a slur on the work of women's societies to call it unreasonable.

The hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir G. Hamilton) referred to Clause I and asked if kissing would be considered as an act of indecency. He is a magistrate, and so am I, but I do not think any of us can remember a case of that kind being brought up for indecency. In this matter I think the Court ought to have a wide discretion. The hon. and gallant Gentleman further stated that this Bill was supported chiefly by ladies' societies. We prefer to call them women's societies. Hon. Members talk about men's organisations, and we would rather talk about women's, not ladies', organisations. They consist of all classes, and looking down the list it would be futile to suggest that these societies do not include some of the best workers of the country. They are not anti-men's societies. We simply want to do what is best for our country.

I think this is a reasonable Bill and it does not ask for too much. We have not had any legislation on this subject for 35 years on these lines, and with one or two exceptions I think this ought to be considered a non-controversial Measure. After all, it is based on the principle of the protection of the weak which is the underlying principle of English law. We support it because it tightens the law and it does not support simply one point of view but all points. What is provided for one section of the community is also provided for the welfare of other sections. Girls between the ages of 15 and 16 need protection. At that age they develop a desire for individuality and independence and it is jus: at that time that the State ought to step in and give them protection. The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Wignall) said we want to make it easy for them to do right and difficult for them to do wrong. On this point I should like to read one or two quotations. Not knowing a very great deal about this subject, I read the Report of the Joint Committee which sat in 1918 and 1920, and in the 1918 Report, Sir John Dickinson, for whose words we must all have respect, said: If a man chooses to take upon himself the risk. I do not see why he should not be punished if he makes a mistake. I think the raising of the age would have a very deterrent effect.…With regard to the defence 'of reasonable cause to believe' I am satisfied myself that it has led to very many miscarriages of justice. Before the Joint Select Committee of 1920. Mr. Bigham, representing the Commissioner of Police, said: The Commissioner's view is that there should be, if I may use the expression, a clean cut at 16, and that any interference with girls under that age should be a criminal offence, and that the risk of it should rest with the man. Mr. Biģham further referred to the question of dishonest defence and said: Our experience generally is that the defence of 'reasonable cause is what? may call a dishonest defence, and that there is no ground for fearing that an innocent person will suffer from doing away with it. It is a defence which is constantly set up, and which appeals very easily to juries especially, and sometimes is strongest in the case where the victim suffers most. I mean that it very often happens that by the time the victim gives evidence at the court of trial she is in a condition which almost invariably makes her look a good deal older than she is, and it is therefore very easy to make an appeal to the jury by pointing to the girl and saying: You can judge for yourselves of her age. I apologise for making those quotations, but they seem to me to supply an answer to some of the criticisms which have been made. I appeal to the House to allow this Bill to go through without a Division, because, if necessary, it can be amended later on. I agree that it would be possible to put in a proviso such as that which was suggested by the Home Secretary, but I do hope that this Bill will be allowed to go through without much more controversy and without many Amendments being accepted.

Photo of Mr Dennis Herbert Mr Dennis Herbert , Watford

I am very unwilling to let the Second Reading go through without offering a few words of explanation of the vote I intend to give in favour of the Second Heading. For many years I have spoken and agitated for a tightening up of the Criminal Law Amendment Acts. With regard to this particular Bill, it has given me a very great deal of perplexity, and I have the very greatest possible feeling of reluctance in supporting this Measure as long as it contains Clause 2 in any shape or form whatever. Personally, I am not prepared to be satisfied, as far as my own wishes are concerned, with such an Amendment as was proposed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir G. Hamilton). In view of what I believe to be the honest and very widespread idea in the country as a whole that this particular branch of the law requires to be amended, I think it will be wise for us to send this Bill to a Committee, and do the best we can with it there.

I am not altogether satisfied with the Bill on other points, because I do not think it goes far enough. There are a number of matters connected with this branch of the law which are left untouched by this Bill, and which might very well have been dealt with here. There is one point which has been mentioned to me which I think it would be impossible to deal with in this Bill, because I am afraid it would be outside the title of this Measure. There arc offences dealt with under the Incest Acts and other offences of that kind which are abhorrent to all of us, and I refer to that trafficking in the bodies and souls of human beings to the profit of others. I think one of the things which might do most to prevent offences of this kind would be to introduce the, punishment of flogging to a very much wider extent than at the present time in cases of the worst offences of this particular type.

I want to say a word or two with regard to my view of Clause 2. My objection to it is not based upon any particular necessity of defending the boy, but my objection is that it is contrary to the whole spirit of British justice, and moreover that it is absolutely unnecessary and is not calculated to bring about any real reform. I will try and give shortly my reasons for that view. Let the House remember what we are dealing with here. A man may be convicted of many technical offences for which he is punishable and for which he is only punished by a fine or imprisonment, or other sentence inflicted upon him by the Court. In the case of a conviction under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, a man suffers a far greater penalty if his reputation is worth anything at all to him, and, thank Heaven! the very large percentage of the manhood of this country have reputations which are of value to them, no matter to what class of society they belong. Therefore you have to remember that when you convict a man under these Acts, you are damaging his reputation probably for life, and, at any rate, you are putting him under a very black cloud from which it would be very difficult for him to escape. Consequently you should exercise very particular care when you are dealing with the right of a man to defend himself under these Acts.

6.0 P.M.

A man is brought up on a charge of this kind. He has committed an immoral offence, but with that we have nothing to do. It will be admitted by the keenest supporters of this Bill, whatever view they may take on the matter of morality, that it is not advisable and not possible at the present moment that it should be made the law of this country that it is an offence against the law for a man to have sexual intercourse with a woman who is not his wife. Equally surely, we do not want a man to be put in that position I have described if that is the only offence of which he has been guilty. I agree that the law is justified in protecting the immature girl, even in spite of her consent. The person we are dealing with now is the accused man. The accused man, in the case I wish to put before the House, is a man who has every reason to believe that the girl is over the age. That man, therefore, so far as intention is concerned, is an absolutely innocent person, and blameless under the law of the country. Is it worth while, is it right or just, to convict him of an offence under these Acts on a mere technicality, namely, that he was misled, and misled in spite of precautions, on a point which he could not decide for certain, namely, the age of the girl or woman in question? There might be something to be said for it if a great deal were going to be achieved by this change in the law, but inasmuch as nothing is to be achieved by it, could it not be better done in another way? This Clause, it is said, is for the protection of young, immature girls under 16.

The danger which has been mentioned by many, and which we have to beware of, is the case of the mature girl under 16 or the professional prostitute under 16 who is herself responsible mainly for the man committing this offence. You do not want to protect them. If you want to protect the innocent and immature girl do your legislation fairly, and say what you mean, namely, to legislate against seduction. One of the foolishnesses of our law at the present moment is that there is no penalty for seduction except under a legal fiction; the father may be able to claim against the seducer because of the fiction that thereby he has lost the services of his daughter. If you want to be honest over this, be reasonable over it. Listen to the other side. Consider whether it is not better to legislate against seduction rather than to legislate in such a way as to convict, and to convict in a way in which the accused person is ruined for ever, a man who has had no evil intentions and no intent against the law whatever.

I would like to say a word with regard to what has transpired in this Debate about those who are moving the rejection of this Bill. I disagree with the course they propose to adopt and with much of what they have said, but I was greatly impressed with the speech of the right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), although I am perfectly sure he did not intend to convey the impression which his words did actually convey to me. That impression is typical of the way in which not only those who are opposing this Bill but those who criticise it are being and have been treated by many of those who have been unreasoning and fanatical supporters of hasty legislation of this kind. The right hon Gentleman said they were entitled to give their opinions in this House on this question. Has it ever been necessary to say that before? Does that not show the spirit of fanatical unreasoning displayed by the supporters of hasty legislation of this kind? They condescendingly say that we are quite entitled to express our view, but they also convey their impression that if one is not a blackguard it shows he must be at least a fool. That is the way in which the critics of this Bill have been dealt with. I hope it will not be the spirit which will animate the supporters of the Bill in Committee, I hope they will show the broadest possible mind towards the critics and will give them every credit not only for being respectable people but for possessing that character which they have admitted them to possess on other occasions—not for being fools but for being some of the most careful and some of the most experienced people in matters of legislation who are to be found in this House.

Photo of Mr James Kidd Mr James Kidd , Linlithgowshire

As in my opinion Clause 2 of this Bill cannot possibly be amended, I give that as my excuse for intervening in this Debate. Speaking with 25 years' experience in a large professional practice in the Criminal Courts, I hope I shall not be regarded as being without some qualification to discuss this particular Clause. Reference has already been made to the speech of the right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) and I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman is not in his place to hear what I desire to say with reference to his speech He said with regard to the defence under the present law to the effect that a girl looked like 16, that many who should not escaped conviction on such a defence. I am sorry to hear such a statement coming from one who is a lawyer. I have always understood that a man is presumed to be innocent until he has been proved to be guilty, and I have never heard of a man, and much less a lawyer deploring the fact that an accused person has not been convicted. The right hon. Gentleman further stated that this Bill had the support of those who are engaged in the administration of the criminal law of the land. The hon. Member for Louth (Mrs. Wintringham) quoted some remarks in this connection by Sir John Dickinson, but I think it comes to being pretty near a grave misrepresentation of the fact to say that this Bill has the support of those engaged in the administration of the law in this country. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman could mention a single judge in support of that statement. He also, as I understood, sought to convey the impression to the House that he had made a somewhat critical study of the. development of our law on this subject, and he twitted hon. Members who spoke before him with not being acquainted with the terms of the Act of 1885. I want to tell the right hon. Gentleman that to any lawyer who heard them his words would convey the impression that he himself entirely misappreciated the spirit of that law. Why is this defence that a girl looks 16 allowed? It recognises the fact that there is no uniformity in the maturity of the female sex. There is a vast variation in different cases, and that variation is dictated it may be by birth, it may be by race, or it may be by many other causes, and therefore the law very properly made the provision that any girl who looked like 16 had no case against a man for criminal assault where she had given her consent to the connection. I was particularly pleased to hear the singularly relevant observation of the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. J. F. Green), who pointed out that not only had this defence to be put forward, but that it had to be substantiated to the satisfaction of the jury under the direction of a learned judge. I hope I am not behind other Members of the House in my desire to get rid of the evil at which the Bill is aimed, but I want to point out that the promoters of the Bill, in seeking to overtake it, are threatening to do injury to thousands of innocent people. I decline to subscribe to the doctrine that there is anything inevitably immoral in carnal intercourse between unmarried persons or that an act which is consecrated by the benefit of clergy is of necessity and always less innocent if it is committed without that benefit. As illustrating the danger of Clause 2 of this Bill, let me refer to two? cases which have come to my own knowledge. This is, I admit, a very delicate topic. I approach it reluctantly. But I am speaking not merely as a lawyer—I speak as a father with sons and daughters—jealous and proud of his daughters, but not unmindful of his duty to his sons.

Here are two cases which have come within my own knowledge. In Scotland we have a law providing that every poor person shall have the services of a lawyer, and every lawyer in turn, it matters not what the quality of his practice may be, has to undertake that office- for one year. At a somewhat early stage in my career, when I held that office, a case came before me of a girl, aged 12 years and 3 months, who gave birth to twin children. A man was indicted, and, as lawyer for the poor, I acted for him. The man who was guilty was sentenced and rightly heavily punished. The next time I made the acquaintance of those twins was in a medical jurisprudence lecture-room in one of our universities, and it rather amused me to hear the learned professor expound a wonderful medical theory to account for the precocity of the mother. I ventured to point out to him that his theory was wrong, and indicated to him from my knowledge of the facts that the father of the mother of those children was a Turk. I suggested that this explained the youthful mother's precocity, the racial instincts having been transmitted from the Turk, and I think the professor agreed. Two and a half years later, when I was again lawyer for the poor, that same girl was involved in another case. She had risen from her bed and got into the bed of a sleeping man aged 22. I pleaded in defence that the girl had the appearance of being 16, but it was established that, while that was indeed the case, the man knew that she was under 16, and he was sentenced. It was a modified sentence, certainly, of six months' imprisonment. I only mention these cases to show the reason behind the law as it stands at present, affording as that law does the plea that the girl while not 16 may truly seem so, and these cases correspondingly condemn Clause 2 of the present Bill.

The law as it stands to-day gives all the protection that one can ask for to the female, and gives the corresponding protection which ought to be extended to the man. Let me state another ease as showing the absurdity of this Clause as applied to Scotland. In Scotland a girl may marry at the age of 12, with or without the consent of her parents. A boy may marry at the age of 14, with or without his parents' consent. I would ask hon. Members to be reasonable. Why is there this disparity in age? Does it not confirm the plea put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for North Cumberland (Major Lowther) and the hon. Member who spoke after him, that maturity in a girl comes earlier than in the case of a boy. That is the raison d'êetre of the difference between the marriageable ages in Scotland. Suppose a case of illicit intercourse between a girl approaching 15 and a boy of, say, 18. Then, under the law in Scotland, if the man marries that girl, there is no illegitimacy; the child is legitimate as a matter of course; but they were not married when the act of intercourse took place, and, therefore, if this Clause is allowed to stand, it would be possible for a father to be prosecuted for the act of intercourse which begot the child with his legal wife.

I know that that will appear to some to be an exceptional case, but it is not so very peculiar as one might think. There are many of these cases, and I would ask hon. Members to believe me when I tell them that, although they may not be personally acquainted with them, that is due to the fact that they have had no occasion to make acquaintance with them. The lawyer who has had a large experience, and has been meeting with these cases almost week in and week out over a period of years, is a man whose views ought to be considered with some respect. I do not ask for any respect for my views as personal views, but these views and experience that I am narrating are common to very many lawyers throughout the country, at any rate north of the Tweed. For these reasons I say that, while this is the first time I have ever opposed the Home Secretary, on this occasion I must. The fact that Clause 2 stands as it does is in itself a sufficient proof that the Bill did not originate with the Home Secretary or the Law Officers of the Crown. I am sure that had they been charged with its original authorship it would have paid much more respect than it does to the law as it stands to-day. They would have realised the reason for the provision with regard to this plea that the girl seemed to be 16, and would not have sought to subvert a plea based on natural law, and framed to meet the variations in the different types of girl due to different causes, which I have already indicated. I therefore regret with others that this Bill has been adopted by the Government.

Photo of Sir Thomas Bramsdon Sir Thomas Bramsdon , Portsmouth Central

I intervene in this Debate because I am, I think, the only Member in the House who was a Member of the Joint Com- mittee of the Lords and Commons which considered this question in 1920, and the House will allow me to say that we had other points before us beside this. It was suggested to us that we should even extend the age beyond 16, and there were other matters which do not form part of this Bill. We examined a great number of witnesses of all kinds, and in the result we were unanimous as to the first three Clauses of this Bill. There was no difference between us, and the House has now before it, therefore, the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Committee of the Lords and Commons on this Bill. I had some doubt in my mind as to the plea of reasonable cause before I heard the evidence, but, after hearing all those who were capable of forming an opinion on the matter, I came strongly to the opinion that the plea of reasonable cause should be done away with so far as girls under 16 are concerned.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Kidd) has dealt with the lawyer's view of just and reasonable cause, but perhaps I may be allowed to say that it is owing to the efforts of the lawyers who defend these prisoners that this just and reasonable cause is proved to the satisfaction of the judge, rather than to the innocence of the prisoner. I am not at all surprised that the eloquence of my hon. Friend, if he were defending a prisoner, would succeed in convincing a magistrate or judge that the prisoner believed a woman to be over the age of 16 when the offence was committed. Perhaps I may also be allowed to say that, before the time when children were protected up to the age of 13, there were some terrible cases of criminal assault upon young girls. They were brought purposely into brothels and bad houses to encourage the horrible thoughts and acts of wicked roués. I think I am right in. saying that, since this Clause has been included in the Criminal Law Amendment Act, the number of assaults upon young children under the age of 13 has been very considerably reduced. My argument is that, if we extend the age to 16, and do away with the plea of reasonable cause, it will be found that men will not commit offences, because they know too well that if they do so they will be liable to prosecution and will not get off.

Do we not want to protect young girls? Is not the young girl's virtue her prin- cipal asset; and is there not a difference between the destruction of the virtue of a girl and the destruction of the virtue, if I may repeat the phrase, of a boy? [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] Perhaps hon. Members will wait a moment. If a criminal assault is committed on a young girl and she becomes pregnant, she is ruined for life; but a young man may commit any number of offences without suffering in a similar way. Too often in such cases men will deny their liability, and not be ashamed to get young girls into trouble, and lawyers know very well that they are put up to defend these men, too often successfully, in respect of an offence or a crime for which they ought properly to have been convicted. The hon. Member for Linlithgow quoted two or three cases, and I was surprised at his quoting them, because, in two of them at any rate, the defendant was justly and properly convicted, and why the hon. Member put them as illustrations passes my comprehension.

Let me mention a case that has happened quite recently within my own knowledge as a magistrate. A child who, on the evidence of the police, was 14 years of age, met a man in the street. She went to cinemas with him, and by and by he committed a criminal assault. He did so a second time, and after a time he said to her, "What is your age?" She said, "Guess," and he said, "Well, between 18 and 19." She said, "Right." It would be put forward in defence of the man, in those circumstances, that he reasonably believed that the girl was over 16 at the time he committed the offence. I could go on quoting such cases, but it is not necessary in this House. I know, however, that the House likes to have evidence based on experience, so I may say that I have been associated with institutions and societies for a great number of years, and am able to speak with some degree of confidence in reference to this question.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir G. Hamilton) spoke of the subject of blackmail, but did not quote any instances. He did not tell us that he knew personally, or had read in any satisfactory way, that there had been any of these offences committed. Let me tell him what my experience is. I have been for 33 years chairman at Portsmouth of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children; I am, and have been for many years a member of the central executive committee in London of that society; I am chairman of the Probation Committee of Justices at Portsmouth, and I have been a magistrate for some 32 years. During all my grownup life I have been interested in the welfare of children. I never heard of such a case, and I maintain that my hon. and gallant Friend has no justification whatever for a statement of the kind that he made. It is pure imagination. I am perfectly certain that my hon. and gallant Friend believes it himself, but he has been misinformed. He quoted as a fact and as a matter of law that if a girl was kissed by a boy, that might be held to be an offence under this Measure. It is alt very well for my hon. and gallant Friend to shield himself by saying that he is no lawyer, but such a thing is absurd beyond conception.

Photo of Major Collingwood Hamilton Major Collingwood Hamilton , Altrincham

May 1 point out that it has been held in law that for a young man to take hold of a girl and kiss her comes within the description of a criminal assault—an indecent assault?

Photo of Sir Thomas Bramsdon Sir Thomas Bramsdon , Portsmouth Central

The clear, cold, simple fact of a boy kissing a girl is not an indecent assault. There may be other circumstances connected with it which, coupled with the kissing, bring about the indecency. I have known many cases as a lawyer in which an accusation of this kind has been made, and the charge has always been that of common assault, and never criminal assault unless there have other circumstances which would justify that suggestion. I want to feel that young girls up to 16 are protected against themselves, and if men know that they must not assault a girl under the age of 16, they will not do it, and you will not get these cases. It will act, as other cases have acted before, as a deterrent, and it is as a deterrent that this Bill is brought in, and if we can succeed in preventing some of these cases we shall not have wasted our efforts.

Photo of Sir Gerald Hurst Sir Gerald Hurst , Manchester Moss Side

My professional experience has not included cases of this kind, but I think anyone who has lived in great towns and knows the life of great masses of people in industrial districts cannot but sympathise entirely with the principle embodied in the Bill. We have heard from opponents of the Bill that its supporters are guilty of unreason and fanaticism. I should like to ask where the unreason and fanaticism have been to-day, because I have never heard such statements as have been advanced as arguments against the Bill. We were told by one hon. Member that just as some Archbishop would rather have England free than England sober, so we ought rather to wish England free than England moral. He said the State and Parliament have nothing whatever to do with moral offences They ought absolutely to leave them aside so that morality could be taught by fathers and mothers in the home. If he carries that to the logical conclusion at which he was aiming it means that every sexual offence should go absolutely unpunished, and if a girl suffers rape, for instance, we have to shake our heads and deplore that in the home in which the offender was brought up he did not receive better instruction from his father and mother. If unreason and fanaticism mean anything surely they are symbolised by an argument of that nature. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Sir G. Hamilton) says he has always hated and opposed feminism and therefore, this being a case of conflict between men and women, or boys and girls, I suppose he ought to vote with the boys. Of course it is ludicrous. There is no conflict of interest in this case. It is the interest of both sexes, it is the interest of the whole country that a Bill of this sort should pass. It seems to me that opponents of the Bill are living in a world of illusions and delusions. They seem to imagine that the normal case of sexual offence is a case of blackmail; that it is an ordinary thing for young men to be blackmailed, and that it is the most extraordinary thing for any genuine sexual offence to occur at all, whereas I think most hon. Members will agree with what was put forward by the last speaker, that for one case of blackmail, or a put-up job, there are hundreds of cases of real offences of this nature. The hon. Member (Mr. Kidd) referred with a certain amount of sentiment and enthusiasm to Scotch law, and said girls could marry at 12 and boys at 14 in that country. That was in accordance with natural law, and we ought not to interfere with a natural law of that character. He also alluded to marriage as simply giving a conventional value or stamp to relations of sexual intercourse, and therefore 6exual intercourse without marriage being a condition precedent was, after all, nothing so very reprehensible. Does any hon. Member wish to see his own girls married at 12 or his boys at 14, or that they are to have sexual intercourse under 16? The whole thing is absolutely abhorrent when you really face the facts of the situation and are not led away by simple a priori reasonings founded on the intricacies and arcana of Scotch law.

Turning to the actual Clauses of the Bill, I cannot admit as a lawyer that kissing is regarded as an indecent assault. I think my hon. Friend when he made that allegation really must have been under a misapprehension, and that many other circumstances must have accompanied the kiss to bring it within that description. The same hon. Member said it would be regarded as an indecent assault for a man to put his hand upon a girl; that happens so often and so lightly; it might happen, for instance, when they were dancing together, and that would be construed as an indecent assault. Of course, the idea is preposterous. No such charge could be made, and if there were such a charge no conviction, obviously, would follow. With regard to the second Clause, we may fairly welcome the promise which the Home Secretary has given to consider reasonable Amendments to it, but that is a question of detail. My hon. and gallant Friend said he was championing the case of the boys. The true case of the boys is to keep away from girls under 16.

He also said Parliament ought not to allow a discretion to be vested in any tribunal on questions of this sort, and that we ought to take the discretion into our own hands. That is against all the principles of criminal law, because we in Parliament do not know the facts of any particular case. All we can do is to confer a wide discretion on the judges and magistrates who decide these cases. The wider the discretion, the better it is, and the more they can consider all extenuating circumstances which the alleged offender can bring forward. Under the Probation of Offenders Act, 1907, it would be possible, if this Bill were passed in its present form, for an offender who could put up sound extenuating cir- cumstances to be conditionally discharged or to be let off practically without any punishment whatsoever. Any evidence which a young man, or an old man, wished to bring forward to show how he was misled or led on by the girl, it would be perfectly proper for him to bring before the tribunal, and if the tribunal attached weight to those extenuating circumstances, of course, they could be considered in any sentence which was passed.

Then we have our old friend the appeal to liberty. We were told that the Bill was an offence against English liberty. Liberty to do what? Liberty to commit sexual offences upon young girls, liberty to have carnal intercourse with female idiots, liberty to keep brothels. Is that the sort of liberty we want to preserve? It seems to me that an appeal of that sort is mistaking the shadow for the substance and disregarding the real facts of the present problem. I think the Bill is to be welcomed. I am glad it is supported by Members of all parties. I believe that to bring in a Bill at this time is a sign that we arc progressing in our outlook; that the whole nation is progressing in its judgment, upon moral questions because Parliament is not going ahead of public opinion in this Bill. Public opinion is ahead of Parliament. We are trying to catch up with public opinion, and it gives one hope that, after all, there is such a thing as moral progress in the world and such a thing as the ascent of man.

Photo of Sir Gerald Hohler Sir Gerald Hohler , Rochester Gillingham

I do not propose to vote against the Second Reading, because I shall wait to see what Amendment is made to Clause 2, which is the Clause to which I object. I am far from satisfied with the very vague statement of the Home Secretary. There has been talk about liberty to keep brothels. I do not think I have heard any germane argument in favour of liberty to keep brothels.

Photo of Sir Gerald Hurst Sir Gerald Hurst , Manchester Moss Side

I never said the hon. Member wished to retain liberty to keep brothels. What was said was that the Bill offended against the principle of liberty, and one of the provisions in the Bill refers specifically to the keeping of brothels.

Photo of Sir Gerald Hohler Sir Gerald Hohler , Rochester Gillingham

My hon. Friend surely knows that it is quite unnecessary in his speech to refer to something to which no one has objected. I honestly do not believe, from what I have heard, that anyone desires to prevent any thing being done to protect girls of 16. Certainly it is not my desire. I am only too anxious to protect them. But, as stated by the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir T. Bramsdon), it is not a question of assault at all. The legislation proceeds, and has proceeded, on the assumption of consent, and, therefore, when you speak of assault, it is really quite an error, and what we really have to consider, with a little fairness, is what Clause 2 means. I candidly admit that I see considerable objections. The hon. Member (Mrs. Wintringham) made an admirable speech and addressed the House in a much more reasonable frame of mind in regard to what was just than some of my hon. Friends. My difficulty is this: I am quite willing to afford every protection, but the difficulty is, that the interval between, say, 15 years and 364 days, or whatever it may be, and 16 years and a day is very small.

It may be that the facility offered to the prisoner is too great. It may be that some guilty men may get off. I do not think we are concerned much with that, but I should like the Home Secretary to consider whether or not he could make the gulf between 16 and reasonable cause greater. For instance, if you say it is an offence—unless you have reasonable cause to believe she was over 17, you would get a gulf clearly fixed, and it would be much more difficult for the man to escape in cases of this kind. In every case everyone really ought to know whether he is committing a criminal offence or not. Here there is no such standard set up. You are setting up an absolute standard in regard to a girl of the age of 16 who may be a day under, a month, six weeks, or more. But really she only knows her age by hearsay, unless she has seen her birth certificate. Practically at that age it is true to say only the parents know what the age is. When you are creating a criminal offence, for which a man may get two years and his character gone, are you to set up an absolute standard depending on a birth certificate, and is the man's guilt to depend on that? I am willing to alter the law, and I am willing, if a proper Amendment is made in this respect, to set up some intelligible standard which everyone may know whether he knows the girl and her family or not. I will assume that she is to him a com- plete stranger. Surely, then, we ought to set up some standard for him so that he may have reasonable means of knowing as to whether or not, in having carnal connections with her, he is committing an offence. I am not one of those who pretend for a moment, it would be ridiculous to pretend, that actual con nection between the sexes is wrong; but if you are going to set up some standard, it should be a standard which to the man would be reasonably clear, and which would enable him to judge. I suggest, therefore, you should make the interval greater. If he commits an offence when he has no reasonable cause to believe that the girl is of the age of 17 or over, he would be able to know, when he is subsequently charged, that he has done wrong, and that he had reasonable cause to know that he had done wrong. Ho cannot ask for the girl's birth certificate; he cannot get the information. It may be, in the circumstances in which the oftence occurred, that you might do a grave injustice to a man who never intended to do the least harm to a girl under the age of 16, and yet he might find himself in a criminal Court. He is taken to the Court, and he does not know whether he has committed a criminal offence, because there is no proper evidence of the girl's age. He has to wait until the case is brought before the magistrate and the birth certificate is produced. That is my objection to the Bill in its present form.

I desire to protect the girl; everybody who has spoken desires to do so. I do not believe in the taunts of those who say they are strong supporters of the Bill. The best way for them to get a Second Beading of the Bill, without difficulty, would have been to set their minds to consider what is the standard to be set up. I do not agree with the proposal of the hon. and gallant Member for Altrincham (Sir G. Hamilton). I do not think that the youth of twenty-one should be put in a different position under the criminal law than a young man of twenty-five or thirty. There ought to be one law for all, rich and poor alike. I hope that when this Bill goes to Committee some reasonable standard will be set up which will protect the man, to some degree. If that is not done I shall vote against the Bill on the Third Beading. I shall not vote for the Bill to-day. One of the reasons why I shall not vote for it on Second Reading is that it must not be forgotten that this Bill has been before the House previously. I do not say whether I agreed or disagreed with the Amendment then made. It is sufficient to say that I did not vote for it. There was an Amendment to the first Clause of the Bill when it was last before this House, which made it an offence in the girl equally as in the man. That went through Committee upstairs by a majority, and it came down on Report, and was passed by a majority. I did not vote for it, as I had certain views about it. What we do require from the Home Secretary on introducing the present Bill, is some explanation why the decision of the House of Commons in Committee and on Report has been ignored. It does not seem to me that the action of the Home Secretary tends to show that he is going to deal very sympathetically with this important matter, on which I found my whole judgment, namely, in regard to Clause 2. It does not seem to me that the Home Secretary is going to help us much, and if he does not, I shall vote against the Bill.

Photo of Mr Frederick Macquisten Mr Frederick Macquisten , Glasgow Springburn

The last speaker has suggested an Amendment to Clause 2, which I trust the Home Secretary will take into careful consideration. It would go a very long way to meet the views of some of those who are opposed to the Bill. I could support quite readily an Amendment to raise the age. I want the age of consent to be seventeen, and the age of "reasonable cause" to be seventeen. I am not like right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. I do not distrust British judges and juries. I trust them. They have the case before them. They know the facts in the particular case, and they see both the parties. It is a dangerous thing to make an abstract rule which admits all cases. The hon. Member for Louth (Mrs. Wintringham) has said that the Commissioner of Police states that the defence of "reasonable belief" was nearly always a dishonest defence. Of course, it is nearly always a dishonest defence. It is often the only defence the man has, and he will always set it up. Every man suggests it in these circumstances, and in nearly every case the judge and jury know it is a dishonest defence, and they give no weight to it. It is always set up, and it is always negatived.

I do not agree with the people who suggest, as the Seconder of the Amendment suggested, that we should not legislate upon such matters. I think we should legislate upon them; but one of the faults that I find with this Bill is that many important aspects are missed out. Last Session, when this was introduced as a Private Bill, not only was there an Amendment put in, but there was an important new Clause, which I proposed, and which was accepted by the promoter of the Bill in the House. The hon. Member for North Leeds (Major Farquharson), who had charge of the Bill, accepted the new Clause, and it was carried by an almost overwhelming majority. The Leader of the House voted for it. Most Members of the Government voted for it. Most Members of the Labour party voted for it. I have here a paper called the "Shield," a review of moral and social hygiene, which gives the history of the origin of this Bill. The paper has been sent to me. It calls it "Our Bill." It goes on to say: The Criminal Law Amendment Bill was wrecked in the House of Commons.… The Bill was deliberately wrecked by those in the Commons who are determined not to give girls under 16 effective protection. Then they proceed to blame their own supporters who were in charge of the Bill for accepting the new Clause. They blame me, the right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), and several other Members for supporting the new Clause for the purpose, they say, of defeating their Bill. This is a most reprehensible and unfair statement, after the new Clause had been accepted by the promoters of the Bill. It is not conducting the criticism of Parliamentary business with any justice or fairness. When people have themselves accepted a Clause, they turn round, repudiate their agents, and say that the Clause was put in for a nefarious purpose. I had the curiosity when I got this paper to read other matters which it contained. It mentions, in respect to the new Clause, that a certain Member of Parliament was taken to task because she voted against the Clause to include women within the scope of Section II of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885, which at present only refers to men. Then it goes on to say that this particular Section in the Act of 1885 is to he found in most of what you might call the Anglo-Saxon countries, Austria- Hungary, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Russia, Bulgaria, and the State of New York and most of the Swiss Cantons, but in the Latin countries there is no such law. The particular Section, Section II of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885, is directed against gross acts of indecency between male persons. The Amendment I proposed sought to extend that to female persons. Then you get this extraordinary statement from those who are promoting this Bill, and who have jeered at the idea that this particular Bill may be used for the purpose of blackmail: It is slowly being recognised that these laws provide the most fertile source of blackmail against both normal and abnormal men; that the offences are extremely difficult either to prove or disprove, and that modern scientific opinion is opposed to laws which attempt to punish very severely, not only the vicious pervert, but also the invert. Then they quote from Mr. Havelock Ellis, who has gone deeply into these matters, and who objects to these cases of gross indecency being made a penal offence.

These very peculiar people express the view that that is the right attitude. I gather from them that the promoters of this Bill are prepared to put us in the condition of Italy, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and other places, and to repeal all legislation against this particular kind of offence. It may be that they are right, but it is a very extraordinary point of view, because these offences are the beginning of decadence in all nations. When once these offences creep in and spread— the extent of their spreading in this City of London can be seen by the enormous development of the cocaine evil which is one of the concomitants of them—it is a very bad thing for any nation. Anyone who knows anything about this particular branch of the Criminal Law knows that the nervous state of the victims of these vicious practices results in their flying to these dangerous and damnable drugs, and it seems to me an extraordinary thing that the promoters of this Bill, after they Had accepted my Amendment, and had let it go through the House, when it came to another place, they wrote to a number of Peers, including the Law Lords, protesting against the new Clause. I have here their statement and it is practically an invitation to the Peers to throw out the new Clause which was put in in this House. They say that they wrote a letter to a selected number of Peers, stating that they protested against a serious Amendment of the law which had been put in by the Commons "in so ill-considered and hasty a fashion," and they practically invited the Lords to dispose of the new Clause, with the result that they lost their Bill.

7.0 P.M.

I do not believe that the view expressed by these particular people are the views of the vast mass of the people of this country. I know that they are not the views of the people of Glasgow, and Scotland generally. I warned the supporters of the Bill to be very careful not to commit themselves to certain views that are expressed on this question by those who write in a paper of this sort. I cannot imagine anything more dreadful or more wrong than that the legislation which we have enacted for hundreds of years against this particular vice should be made null and void, as in some of the Latin countries. There is one further matter which I wish to see added to the Bill. Firstly, I will deal with the total destruction of the present defence of reasonable belief that is effected by Clause 2 of this Bill. I would much rather see the age of consent raised than leave in this Clause as it stands. There arc ghastly women who carry on a nefarious trade of this kind. Time and again they get some poor, wretched young girl, whom they practically farm out, and upon the proceeds of whose shame they live. If you are going to have this particular Clause without having in it some escape of the kind provided at present for a man who is innocent, and who has had sexual relations with a girl who to all intents and purposes is a woman, then these ghastly procuresses and some of these souteneurs, who come from Continental parts and live on the earnings of shame, would make it their business to obtain mature-looking girls. There would be a run upon the mature-looking girls under the age of consent. They would manufacture evidence of some kind to show that they were over age, and this would add blackmail of the most horrible description to the other evil.

A good deal of that goes on now. The ramifications of the blackmailing fraternity are some of the most extraordinary things in criminology. You never hear of them, but a private inquiry agent to whom, at one time, I expressed surprise at their being able to procure evidence of misconduct and adultery against a husband who had been at a holiday coast place told me that the Scotsman on holiday was fair game for the blackmailing fraternity. We have a very just law in Scotland which gives equality between the sexes in marital relations. We have had it for hundreds of years. It has often been objected to in England when a change of law has been suggested. Where a man has been unfaithful to his marriage vows, the wife can divorce him, and perfectly justly so, in my opinion. I asked this inquiry agent how they got the evidence against these men on holiday, and he told me there was a regular chain of blackmailers, who made it their practice to get in touch with the women of loose living in the various watering-places in England. They made it their duty to discover who their clients were, especially those who came from North of the Tweed.

Thereafter, following the lapse of a month or two, the woman having supplied the information, some disreputable solicitor would write, having ascertained in Scotland the state of the man's affairs. If the man were only a clerk or a person of small means, they would take no notice of it. If, however, he were a man of substantial property, they would then write to him, making a charge that he had seduced a particular woman, and demanding such a sub-tantial sum of money as would not break him, but which he would be likely to pay rather than have a scandal. If he failed to do so, they would take the opportunity of informing the wronged spouse as to the misconduct of her husband, and she would then be provided with the necessary evidence for a divorce. It sounded incredible, like a tale out of the Arabian Nights, but there were the facts in this particular case and in other cases. The blackmailing fraternity get their gain cither by selling their evidence or suppressing it. There is a great organisation for that in this country, and if this Clause is passed without providing any possibility of escape, it will lead to a tremendous power for blackmail being put into the hands of one of the most evil and vile sections of the community.

There is one other omission in this Bill, and I think an attempt should be made to set it right. We have heard a great deal about the girls, and I do not agree with the hon. Member opposite who said that there was not the same ruin for a boy who began a life of immorality young as for a girl. He said that a girl was liable to have a child, but this Bill does not deal with that and is not limited to these cases. I believe in an equal moral code for both sexes. I believe it is just as demoralising for a boy of tender years, and just as likely to bring him to ruin, if he is early initiated into sexual error as it is for a girl, and the psychological effect is just as damaging. I have known more than two or three cases of young boys, of from 12 to 14 years, who have been taken advantage of by women of more than double their age and even older than that. I think endless cases could be discovered of the initiation of boys into vicious practices by middle-aged people. The horrible thing is this, that once a boy starts he becomes a public danger; he has got no restraint. Once a boy of from 13 to 14 is initiated into vice, he goes on. He will be the boy that he struck at by the Bill as drafted. I have had to defend many cases, often of violent conduct by young lads; and hon. Members would be astonished how often boys of from 16 to 18 or 19 have been concerned. If you inquire into the history of these cases you will find that the boys were earlier initiated into a life of vice by older women. I think, if you are going to pro mote morality, that a Clause should be added extending the same protection to young boys under 16 or 17 as to young girls. Hon. Members will agree that there is no sadder or more graphic description in literature than that of the young man void of understanding who is waylaid by the strange woman— Passing through the street near her corner, and he went the way to her house,In the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night:….For she hath cast down many wounded, yea strong men have been slain by her.Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death. I wish to see these young men protected, and if you make this Statute equally apply to both sexes you will do a tremendous lot to promote morality and sexual purity. A great deal of the vice which exists is engaged in by boys of comparatively tender years, who are led astray by those who often would not submit to the em- brace of a full-grown man, and who compound their consciences with the youth of their co-delinquent. I trust that an Amendment of the kind I have suggested will be accepted in Committee, together with an Amendment making an appreciable gap for the defence of reasonable cause of belief—that is, if a man has reason to believe that a girl was 17 or even 18. You must leave something to the discretion of the judge and jury to deal with an individual case. With the Statute amended on the lines I have indicated, and after putting in the new Clause that was passed by a large majority last year, the Measure would be of immense benefit in protecting all young people. The first Clause of the Bill protects both sexes. It says: It shall be no defence to a charge or indictment for an indecent assault on a child or young person under the age of sixteen to prove that he or she consented to the act of indecency. If you extend that to the second Clause, and if you add the other Amendment to which I have referred, you will pass a wise piece of legislation.

Mr. FILDES rose

Photo of Mr Edward Shortt Mr Edward Shortt , Newcastle upon Tyne West

May I appeal to the House to let us have the Second Reading now?