I should like to make a few remarks about Clause 1 (1,a and b), because this is the crux of the Bill. Here we have a suggestion that the tariff of charges should be displayed, and also that it shall not be lawful for there to be any personal solicitation outside for custom.
I made a few remarks on Second Reading in which I said that this was a Bill to protect people who ought to know better. Since then I have had correspondence about those remarks, most of it agreeing with what I said. One or two of the letters have taken me to task, but these have merely confirmed my opinion about the Bill, namely, that those who complained were complaining not because of the high cost of the lemonade drinks but because they thought they were being taken into the refreshment house for a quite different purpose from what it turned out to be.
I had one letter evidently from a man who is very annoyed about this, who says:
The prices charged are not important. What is important is that these women are thieves posing as prostitutes.
In other words, if they were really prostitutes there would be nothing to grumble about, but because they were not prostitutes my correspondent says that they are really working under false pretences. I should like the Joint Under-Secretary to tell us whether or not the real purpose of the subsection dealing with personal solicitation is to protect people who think that they are, as it were, being done because they think a woman is a prostitute and then she turns out not to be one.
I much prefer the letter I received from a man who is, I suspect, an old-age pensioner. He says:
It would be much better for the time of the House to be spent helping the old-age pensioner as such to get a decent living.
He calls this "a silly Bill" and says:
Our male M.P.s seem to be getting dafter. Cannot we have an all-woman Government instead and get something sensible done? After all, it is the only Government we have not yet tried.
I shall not repeat the remarks I made on Second Reading, but I wanted to draw attention to the provision which seeks to protect people because they feel that a woman is a prostitute and then find out that she is not.
The hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) has touched again on a point which she made very elegantly in the Second Reading debate. I would begin by assuring her that the purpose of the Bill in general and the Clause in particular is not simply to protect foolish men from their folly but to remove a public scandal, and a public scandal which is imposing a great nuisance upon the police, because complaints are frequently made to the police about the conduct of these refreshment houses which require investigation even if the outcome is that the police discover that no offence has been committed and that nothing can be done about it. Naturally, one has no sympathy with the men who allow themselves to be misled in this way, and it is certainly not for their benefit that we are introducing the Bill.
The hon. Lady suggested on Second Reading that this was strictly a man's Bill for the protection of men, and she alluded again to this point by implication in one of the letters that she quoted. I have reflected carefully upon what she said during Second Reading, as I always reflect carefully upon anything the hon. Lady says in her very constructive speeches, but I have come to the conclusion that this is, in fact, a ladies' Bill for the benefit of ladies, if it is to be regarded as in any way discriminating between the sexes.
The intention is to ensure that foolish men can no longer patronise clip joints, because clip joints will be put out of business by the Bill. The effect will be to leave the foolish man financially better off, and this will, of course, ensure that those members of the opposite sex who are dependent upon him to a greater or lesser degree will have another opportunity to benefit from the money which has so been saved. At least, it is reasonable to suppose that this will be one consequence of making it impossible for foolish men to gratify their follies. On a slightly more serious note, one must not forget that a number of women are employed in these so-called clip joints in what amounts virtually to criminal activities—that is, obtaining money by false pretences.
The men who are thus fleeced, or clipped, thoroughly deserve it, and one has no sympathy with them, but I think it is a social evil that girls should be given the opportunity of being employed in this scandalous way, and when this avenue for easy money is closed to them, one may hope that they will look to more legitimate and respectable occupations. Surely, therefore, one may look on this as a ladies' Bill insofar as it may turn these girls who work as touts, hostesses and waitresses away from the fringe of crime into less anti-social activities. If I may make a concession to the hon. Lady, I have no doubt that once clip joints are put out of business these girls may be relied upon to be less foolish than the men they have previously preyed upon.