Blackmail.

Part of Orders of the Day — Civil Services Supplementary Estimates, 1924–25. – in the House of Commons on 10th March 1925.

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Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

I agree with the Home Secretary in what he has said about the nature of this crime. My experience in the City of Glasgow coincides with his. The question of seduction of a woman by a man is never the object of blackmail in that city. The chief object of blackmail is the crime of sodomy. I may refer to a quite recent experience in the City of Glasgow itself. The City Prosecutor had before him a case in which a number of men who are well known to the police were concerned They were without dress, or any male attire, but with tight fitting jackets; and all that; with their hands finely chiselled—far more finely chiselled than, say, the hands of my wife; who called each other by female names, used the scents common to women, and even painted. They were known to the police. In nearly every charge of blackmail, or in nearly every case where blackmail was suspected, it was a comparatively well-to-do man who was concerned. It is very rarely that there is blackmail amongst the poor. I have my own views as to that, and I will merely say that I think working people are more moral. They do not lend themselves to this sort of thing. In the cases I have mentioned the Glasgow police knew these men and knew that they frequented a certain station particularly. Most of the cases went hand-in-hand with strong drink. I remember that in one case the police knew that a certain man was being blackmailed. Ultimately they arrested four or five men, who went under the vulgar name of "white hats." The whole difficulty was that the man who was being blackmailed, whose business was being ruined, would not come forward to give evidence because of the terrible effect it would have on his family and on his business life. The problem is that, generally speaking, the ordinary crime as between men and women is not the heinous offence that men need to be ashamed of so much as the crime known as sodomy.

My own feeling is that I would go almost to the extent of suppressing accounts of such cases: No man who was brought up in the strict Presbyterian circles, in which most of us were brought up, wishes to see or read that sort of thing, or cares to think that his children or relatives, particularly the young folk, would know anything of the sordid and cruel details of some divorce cases. One sometimes sees young people in our public libraries reading reports of these cases. I know that anything bad of that kind, read when young, may have its effect in after life. My moral sense tells me that something ought to be done to suppress that information. Yet you have to consider the other side. Suppose you make publication unlawful. What do you find then? You find that you have not kept the details of a case from leaking out. You find that the details come out against a man in the form of tittle-tattle, which very often is much more injurious to him than would be a statement of the whole of the facts. I remember a case in Scotland at the time when I used to visit prisons and take a keen interest in prison administration. I always found that the blackmailer was a man whom you very rarely caught. I am not sure that if you increase the punishment to flogging you would stamp out blackmailing. The crimes in question do not lend themselves to prosecution at all.

There is only one thing to hope for. I think that the great thing is to go back to education, to an attempt to deal with the social conditions of our own children in the future. That is the only way to try to deal with it, though I do not believe you will ever thoroughly succeed. The only hope is not in the direction of suppression in the Courts or the suppression of publication in the newspapers, for while it is not an evil arising purely out of social conditions, yet partly that is the case. Every one of the men who follow this trade of sodomy—and it is a trade, I am sorry to say among some men—an occupation—every one of those men is, more or less, the product of the cruel sort of social life in which they are brought up. It has partly grown up out of social conditions and I do not think you will stamp it out merely by repressive punishments like flogging. The only hope is that the country in the future may see to it that there is better education for the people, better social and housing conditions o and that we shall bring up a type of men who will rebel against selling themselves in this cruel and fearful fashion. Each of us must try, by spreading such knowledge as we possess among all the folk whom we meet, to create a detestation of this crime. I do not know of any subject which bristles with so many difficulties as the subject of blackmail, and I hope the Home Secretary, before embarking on any further steps, will inquire into the problem from all angles and will not be guided by the opinions of public prosecutors or Chief Justices or even of the legal profession generally, important as these may be. but will also take the opinion of the people in regard to a wider sphere of life and in relation to all classes of the community, and in that way gain a thorough and comprehensive knowledge. I agree with him as to dealing with the man who acts in such a cruel and brutal manner to his fellow human beings, but I hope that whatever steps are taken he will bear in mind what I have said. Our duty as Members of Parliament is not merely to suggest long sentences and floggings, but is to find some solution for the problem, and punishment alone is not a solution. We must find some means of preventing men from entering into criminal careers at all. I wish the Home Secretary well in his efforts, and I am sure I speak for all those associated with me when I say that if we can do anything to help him to stamp out this cruel crime it will not only be our task but our duty to this House, to our constituents, and. above all, to the working class.