§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. C. T. DYKE ACLAND (Cornwall, Launceston)
said, that in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, 932 he did not wish to detain the House more than a few moments; but it was a subject he had long had on the Notice Paper, and he was, therefore, anxious now that an opportunity had arisen, to bring it before the House. It would be remembered by many hon. Members now in the House, that in the year 1883, on the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld), certain Acts which dealt specially with certain diseases and certain places, were repealed. The Government of the day contemplated some further action, he believed, to remove whatever evil might have been the result of the repeal of those Acts; but subsequently the Government thought it right to abstain from taking action, and nothing whatever had been done from that day to this. He (Mr. Acland) had spoken in the debate which occurred upon the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax, and protested strongly against the proposal of that right hon. Gentleman. He had been anxious that the good which was indirectly done by the Acts to which he referred, should not cease, and he had been moved to speak by the pressure of other persons and the interest he felt in the ports of Plymouth, Portsmouth, and elsewhere, representations having been made to him by clergymen, magistrates, and others who were anxious for the preservation of morality in these towns to the effect that the Contagious Diseases Acts were necessary from that point of view. He believed these persons were right in thinking that good was done indirectly by the Acts; but, on the other hand, he appreciated the strong agitation, he might say the invincible agitation, which had not yet ceased, and which at that time had sprung up against these Acts wherever they were in force. He agreed that they were a blot upon the Statute Book, standing as they did. The Bill of which he new moved the second reading was an attempt to minimize the evil effect which had been produced by simply repealing the Acts and leaving matters in that state that the result in our garrison and seaport towns had been a vast increase of immorality. In many places, especially in these garrison and seaport towns, it was perfectly impossible for young soldiers and sailors to go from their quarters to respectable recreation 933 rooms, without being accosted and beset with temptations most difficult for them at their time of life, and with their immature judgments, to resist, and that upon every side. He believed that many young soldiers and sailors would get through their career without yielding to those temptations, were it not for the manner in which the temptations were brought in their way. He had given some attention to the manner in which measures had been taken to deal with this evil in other places. At one time, he had thought that the provisions of the Glasgow Act might be applied to other portions of the Kingdom; but, on looking into the details of that Act, he had found difficulties connected with the maintenance of houses of refuge and other matters which would render that particular measure impossible of general application. He had not attempted that, therefore; but the proposal in the Bill was that, where habitually and constantly a large number of people congregated for immoral purposes, and were known to congregate in certain places for those purposes, and to practice their trade to the annoyance and injury of persons living in those places, it should be possible for the inhabitants to complain of the annoyance to the police authorities, and that then the police authorities should be bound to take measures to mitigate the nuisance. Now, he knew there were many who thought themselves justified in believing that the police were not fit to be entrusted with this duty; but there was no other body that he knew of which could be trusted with it, and he could not believe that it was necessary in this country to leave unrestricted the constant daily and open exercise of a pernicious trade to the injury and annoyance of the people in whose neighbourhood it was carried on. It would be observed that in the clauses of the Bill the phrase "concourse and resort of numerous persons" was used. It might be said that "concourse" or "resort" were difficult to define, and that "numerous persons" was a vague phrase; but it was not necessary to use more definite phrases than either of these for the purpose of complaint. If a complaint could be sustained, it was simply necessary for the ratepayers to say that there was a concourse of persons to their annoyance. They had to 934 prove this annoyance, and that, he thought, was a thing which could be easily proved, and he certainly thought, that if there were an annoyance, they had a claim to have it mitigated. Then, again, he had made it a point in the Bill to deal with both sexes alike. He believed one of the great defects of our law up to the present time had been that the main operation of the law had been directed against one sex alone. That was a great evil, and even if the Bill were reduced to this one clause, he should be glad that it should be passed; but he certainly did wish this to be borne in mind, that though it might be said that practically, in dealing with these matters, the police mostly went against one sex and not against the other, this was at least true, that the sex against which they proceeded were really plying a trade for their living, which was not to be said of the other sex. That, in his mind, made a very considerable difference between the sexes in this matter. He need hardly say more on this occasion. He thought he had explained sufficiently the intention of the Bill, and he only wished further to add this, that owing to the necessities of our trade and commerce and our military and naval defences, we were bound to have large aggregations of men in certain garrison towns and seaports at a time of life when the passions of the men were strongest and their judgments and experience were weakest. He should be glad if, by so doing he would be more likely to carry the Bill, to eliminate the Metropolis altogether from its provisions; for he admitted that London was a special case, and was too large for a private Member to deal with; but our garrison towns, he thought, in some way or other, might be allowed to be touched. He considered that the community had a claim upon the Government so far as those towns were concerned. The Government, for the purposes of the Army and Navy, brought heaps, he might say thousands, of young men into particular places under the circumstances he had just explained. These young men afforded a specially favourable field for the plying of that horrible trade to which he had adverted, and the result was that in our garrison towns were congregated nearly all the poor wretched girls who were ruined in other parts of the country. Having no 935 chance of obtaining an honest livelihood in their own neighbourhood, they took to these places in the hope that they might be enabled somehow or other to survive. He hoped the Government, if they could not accept this Bill as it stood, would at least not allow the subject to escape their attention, considering that the position in which the questions had been left by the repeal of the Acts in 1883 was not a credit, but, on the contrary, a distinct evil to the nation, both morally and physically. He bogged to move the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. S. SMITH (Flintshire)
said, he rose to second the Motion of his hon. Friend (Mr. Acland). The Bill which the hon. Member had just proposed should be read a second time, dealt with a gigantic social evil in this country. The state of our large cities was disgraceful, and no such sights could be witnessed anywhere in Europe as were to be seen in the streets of London and of all the large cities of this country at night. He did not agree with his hon. Friend that London ought to be exempted from the operation of the measure, because he considered that the state of certain streets of the Metropolis at night was simply a disgrace to civilization. It was perfectly well known to those who had had to look into the social state of the Metropolis, that large sections of the city in the neighbourhood of Regent Street and Piccadilly after 12 o'clock at night became a perfect Alsatia. The streets swarmed with the vicious of both sexes, and it was almost impossible for respectable people to pass along without being insulted. He would just relate what had been told to him by an eminent clergyman of this town a little time ago. This gentleman, who had held a religious Watch Night Service at St. James's Hall, stated that as his congregation passed into the street on leaving, the women were insulted so outrageously that it was scarcely possible to protect thorn safely to their homes. Numbers of young men, respectably dressed ruffians, coming out of music halls and theatres, offered them gross insults. When the police were applied to for protection, they declared that they were powerless to interfere with the existing state of things, and this clergyman stated that undoubtedly the police either wanted the power or the will to take action, and he proposed that there should be a band of 936 special constables formed for the purpose of grappling with this evil. He (Mr. S. Smith) was glad that the Bill of his hon. Friend dealt with both men and women, for the conduct of the male sex was often worse than that of the other. Those who had followed the evidence given before the Lords' Committee a few years ago were aware that Lord Shaftesbury and many others testified that it was a habitual practice of a number of young miscreants to wait at shop doors at night when shops were being shut, and follow the women who had come out to their homes, persecuting and molesting thorn wherever they went. So far as he knew, nothing had been done to abate this annoyance. Our young women had no protection against miscreants of this class, but this Bill proposed to deal with the matter. It might not do so in the most perfect way, but if anyone could propose a better, those who promoted the Bill would be exceedingly glad to hear of it. Many people took great objection to increasing the powers of the police. Well, he was quite aware that there were black sheep amongst the police, and he did not for a moment defend many things which had been done by them, and he thought there was grave reason indeed to inquire into the management of the force, but they required some machinery to put the law into motion, and he did not know if any better machinery than that proposed in the Bill existed. If anyone could invent a better, let them do so, but one thing was certain, they were bound to put down this intolerable evil. The fact was that there was a large part of this city in which young persons were subjected to such temptation that, unless something of the kind proposed in the Bill was done, it would become a second Sodom. Parts of London were a disgrace to civilization, and he did not think that anything worse existed in any part of the world. He begged to second the Motion.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. C. T. Dyke Acland.)
§ MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
said, he rose to move that this Bill be read a second time that day six months. He respected fully the philanthropy of the hon. Gentleman who had just supported the Bill (Mr. S. Smith), 937 but he had spoken as if the Bill were one for providing some means of punishing those young men who insulted and importuned young women. So far as the 2nd clause of the Bill was concerned, and so far as it would provide a means of punishing the men to whom the hon. Member referred, he (Mr. James Stuart) was sure the Bill would receive the support of all for whom he was entitled in any way to speak on this matter, although he could not see why the proposers of the Bill were not content with the enforcement of the existing penalties, but transferred the matter to the Vagrant Acts, unless their desire was to obtain a severer punishment. He should like the House to observe that, whereas under the existing Acts quoted in the Memorandum to the Bill, a 40s. fine or 14 days' imprisonment was capable of being inflicted, should this Bill become law the punishment would be raised to a month's imprisonment with hard labour. But the point on which he wished most distinctly to move the rejection of the Bill was not the equalization of the law as between men and women, of which he fully approved, for there were due safeguards which seemed to him to be fairly introduced in Clause 2 of the Bill, but because of Clauses 3 and 4. Now, there was a specious appearance about these Clauses 3 and 4, and as if they were in some way or other safeguarded. The House would observe that it was stated in the memorandum at the beginning of the Bill that the Bill proposed to deal with the matter by requiring annoyance to be proved in ordinary cases, and so on. Now there was an appearance there as if it would only be in extraordinary cases that Clause 4 would come into operation. Twelve ratepayers were indicated there as the persons who might put the clauses into operation, and when it was remembered that these ratepayers might reside anywhere within a mile's radius of the place they might refer to in their complaint, and when it was remembered that there were 250,000 residents within a mile's radius of a given point, it would be seen that the whole Metropolis could be brought under Clauses 3 and 4—and there could be no doubt, from the arguments of the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Bill, that steps would be immediately taken for placing certain districts to which he referred, under cir- 938 cumstances which it was quite unnecessary for him (Mr. James Stuart) to trouble the House with, under the operation of Clauses 3 and 4. Therefore they had to look upon it in this light—what was the meaning and what would be the operation of Clauses 3 and 4 of the Bill? Clauses 3 and 4 were simply to take away from the police in prosecuting any man or woman under this Act the necessity of bringing forward witnesses as to annoyance, because it would be observed that in the Memorandum it was stated that practically there was great difficulty in proving annoyance even in cases of obvious public nuisance, and the Bill was to remove by means of those clauses the necessity of proving that annoyance. Now, in the few remarks which had been made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Flintshire (Mr. S. Smith), who had supported the Bill, the hon. Member had declared it to be almost impossible for persons to pass by in the streets in certain parts of London without being insulted. Well, surely if that were the case, it was possible to prove the annoyance or the insult from which those persons had suffered, and so far as the hon. Member's argument went, it was only an argument for the establishment or the adoption of the 2nd clause of the Bill, and in no sense whatever an argument for the adoption of the 4th clause. They were by the 4th clause of the Bill to put the crowded districts of the big towns of the country or of the Metropolis—and the hon. Member who had moved the Bill said he should be prepared to eliminate the Metropolis, though why he did so he (Mr. James Stuart) was at a loss to imagine, particularly, as from the observations of the hon. Member for Flintshire, it would appear most essential to deal with the condition of London—immediately under the control of the police. The 4th clause would give the police a freer hand in dealing with this question than they had before. There would, in fact, be no necessity resting upon them to prove annoyance. The hon. Member had spoken as if no way, no Act or law, existed in regard to this matter at the present time. It was said—"Could there be nothing done in London and nothing done in other large towns for removing the annoyance of solicitation?" But did hon. Members know what the law was in this matter? 939 The law was that a person should be liable to a fine of not more than 40s. or 14 days' imprisonment; and then a list of offences were given—he was speaking of the 2 & 3 Vict. c. 47—and amongst these offences was to be reckoned—Every common prostitute or night-walker loitering or being in any public place for purposes of prostitution or soliciting to the annoyance of any person or persons.If the police liked to enforce that law they had ample power to deal with the existing evil. When they saw the amount of blackmailing which the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Caine), whose name was on the back of this Bill, had attempted to prove—although he had not succeeded in his attempt—as against the police under the existing law, which he (Mr. James Stuart) had just read—if the hon. Member for Barrow was in his place, he would ask him whether he could imagine for a moment, whatever amount of blackmailing may exist now, it would not be enormously increased when there was less necessity for the police to bring proof of any accusations they might make? It was a well-known thing that a great deal of blackmailing did go on in this matter, although the hon. Gentleman the Member for Barrow-in-Furness had not succeeded in proving it; and there was no doubt that that would be increased wherever the police were released from the obligation of offering proof. And that held good not only in this country, but in all other countries whore the system of police interference existed. The House was asked to endeavour to moralize a people by means of the police. [Mr. C. T. DYKE ACLAND dissented.] The hon. Member who had moved the second reading shook his head; but what was he going to do? He was going to give the police greater power of action in the endeavour to put a stop to immorality, because he was not going to call on individuals who were annoyed in the streets to come forward with their complaints, but intended to allow the police to proceed upon their own motion. That was certainly an endeavour, so far, to moralize society by moans of the police.
§ MR. JAMES STUART
said, he thought he had pointed out how the safeguards against misuse of the powers contained in the Bill—the complaint of 12 ratepayers out of 250,000 within a circle of a mile—were wholly illusory. A dozen people out of such a number could at any time be got to make such complaint as was necessary under the Bill. They might let the police loose on the streets, and might make some sort of effort to deal with the scandal existing in some quarters of our large cities; but he asked the House to consider whether the causes of the evil they wished to eradicate, both amongst men and women, did not lie too deep to be removed by the action of the police, and whether solicitation would not elude the grasp of the police, however much they might leave that grasp unsafeguarded? However, he would content himself, without going further into the arguments, by saying that they had lately seen sufficient of the action of the police with respect to women to make them shrink entirely from giving them greater powers. He moved that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.
§ Amendment moved, to leave out the word "now." in order to insert the words "this day six months."—(Mr. James Stuart.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. H. T. DAVENPORT (Staffordshire, Leek)
said, he rose to support the Motion for the second reading; and he would not say more than a few words, for the reason that the subject was one with which the House, unfortunately, was too familiar. They were, all of them, more or less acquainted with the arguments both for and against the Bill, which made it unnecessary to dwell on the subject at any length. The hon. Gentleman who had moved the rejection of the Bill had done so principally on the ground that the 3rd and 4th clauses, which were, of course, novel but important clauses, did not sufficiently raise a case for extraordinary action on the part of the law, and did not sufficiently guard the public against the action of the police. These clauses were intended especially to enable the police to act upon an extraordinary and exceptional state of feeling as to the condition of 941 any streets and places of public resort, which were frequented by large numbers of men and women for the purpose already described, and they were proposed for the purpose of doing away with the difficulty of abating this nuisance. That the nuisance was a great one, everyone who passed through our streets and thoroughfares at night know; but at present the police could not grapple with it, as they were unable to interfere without an act of solicitation having taken place, and the person who had been solicited being willing to undergo all the annoyance of appearing as a prosecutor. It was because of that difficulty that our law was powerless to deal with this public scandal. Under the Bill, in a case where a thoroughfare was habitually resorted to by numbers of persons for purposes of immorality, a certain number of the inhabitants of the neighbourhood would be able to go to the police and say—"The state of such and such a street or such and such a neighbourhood is a nuisance, and we call on you, in the cause of decency, to prevent the nuisance." In this way the condition of the street or neighbourhood in question would be brought more directly under the supervision of the police, and if they found men and women loitering about there apparently for immoral purposes, they would have authority to apprehend them, and to initiate an inquiry into their conduct. Of course, it would be necessary for evidence to be given of the act of loitering or immorality. He could not see why, that being the case, it should be more difficult to prove a case of immorality or loitering under these two clauses, than it was in ordinary cases of vagrancy to prove loitering for unlawful purposes. The only extraordinary part of the provisions of the Bill were those which gave the same powers to the police to act, when requested by residents in the neighbourhood affected, for the abatement of this nuisance that they now had under the Vagrant Acts for the prevention of vagrancy. Though they were all more or less alive, of course, to the dangers of the system known as blackmailing, still he thought that the Bill was one of great value, and that it was worth while risking something to gain much.
§ MR. W. H. JAMES (Gateshead)
said, he did not wish to detain the House; but he desired to say that it 942 appeared to him that this was a measure introduced, into the House purely on the assumption that they could make people moral by Act of Parliament. He must say he greatly regretted seeing a measure of this kind introduced from that (the Opposition) side of the House, where one would expect to find protection for what was known as liberty of the subject. There were several important clauses of the Bill which provided against what was termed resorting in a public street or thoroughfare for immoral purposes. Well, was it possible to define in any Act of Parliament the words "immoral purposes?" He would not yield to anyone in deploring the shameful state of things which was to be witnessed in the streets of our Metropolis and large cities; but he contended that there was no more mischievous assumption than to suppose that they could make people better or protect them from inherent evils by the action of the police. What might be perfectly harmless to some, in others would lead to immorality. Hon. Gentlemen could scarcely be aware of the thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of persons who went out on Sundays and other occasions, sometimes for walks in the public parks and other places of resort which were to be found in all large cities. Many of these people might pass down the thoroughfares of which complaint was made to the police, merely for the sake of taking a harmless walk, and yet their conduct might give offence to some people. It was conceivable that a dozen ratepayers might have some spite or personal feeling against some particular individual and might set the police against them, and the provisions of the Bill might in many ways lead to the establishment of systems of espionage and blackmailing, the extent of the evil of which it would be impossible to conceive as affecting our social system. He believed with the hon. Member for the Hoxton Division of Shoreditch (Mr. Stuart) that the real remedy for the evil lay deeper than such legislation as this. It was, no doubt, a great misfortune that this evil should exist; but it was quite impossible, and an entirely wrong assumption which no reasonable person would venture to make, to suppose that they could by Act of Parliament put a stop to the evil practice against which this Bill was directed.
§ DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)
said, that the phrase they had just heard—that was to say, that they could not make people moral by Act of Parliament, was not warranted—he did not think it would bear examination—in connection with this Bill. They could undoubtedly make people more moral by removing temptation from the paths of the young and inexperienced. Under the existing law, annoyance in the streets might be proved individually; but look at the inconvenience and worry and expense, and perhaps even loss of character, which might be involved in the attempt to prove such annoyance. Difficulties beset the path of everyone who attempted to prove an individual grievance of that kind. But under this Bill, if it were passed, the police, set in motion by the ratepayers, would have power to disperse the crowds who constituted the evil, and in that way remove temptation—and very great temptation—from the path of the young. The Bill recognized the principle that a concourse of persons for an immoral purpose was a nuisance. He wished to say one word about the police. He knew it had become rather the fashion for certain Members in the House to abuse the police; but, for his own part, he did not think that the charge brought against their action in reference to this particular class of offence by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Barrow (Mr. Caine) was proved at all. He thought the hon. Member had founded his case upon very weak evidence indeed; and he believed that the investigation which had taken place had exonerated the police from all suspicion. The police might be fairly trusted to carry out the provisions of a Bill of this kind; because, after all, all that was to be done was to bring evidence before the tribunals of the country, which would try persons charged with offences under the Bill by the ordinary processes of law.
§ MR. T. FRY (Darlington)
said, he thought the suggestion made by the hon. Member who moved the second reading of the Bill, that he was willing to eliminate the Metropolis from the measure, showed the object he had in view. It was really to protect the health of our soldiers and sailors. He (Mr. T. Fry) hoped the House would pause before it consented to read the 944 Bill a second time, for it was nothing but an attempt to re-introduce, by the thin end of the wedge, the repealed Contagious Diseases Acts for the protection of the health of our soldiers and sailors. They all deplored, as much as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Flintshire (Mr. S. Smith) the condition of the streets of the Metropolis; and if a Bill of this kind was likely to be of any use at all anywhere, it would be in the Metropolis, which, however, the Mover said he was ready to eliminate, if necessary. If the police exercised the powers they at present possessed, they would be able to do all that was requisite to clear the streets.
§ MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
said, the Bill seemed to be the outcome of a delusion which appeared to exist in some minds. It was an attempt to combine two impossible conditions. It was an attempt to combine the outward decency of the streets of Paris with the absence of State-regulated vice which existed in that City. To do that was impossible. If they had a State-regulated system of vice, they would have decent streets, as in Paris; but if they had no State-regulated system of vice, they would see the condition of things which was now to be observed in the streets of London, and which every right-thinking man must desire to see abolished. What was the essence of this Bill? Why, to dispense with the necessity of proving annoyance—a thing which an hon. Member near him (Dr. Farquharson) regarded as its great merit. That hon. Member said, look at the worry, the expense, and possible loss of character which were involved in proving annoyance. Well, he (Mr. Pickersgill) was sorry to see his hon. Friend take up that position. He had thought—if he might be allowed to put it so—that his hon. Friend was a more strongly vertebrated animal than the position he had taken up seemed to show him to be; because the Bill was an indication of a tendency which, he was afraid, was rapidly growing amongst them—a tendency to get the police to do everything for them, instead of leaving the citizens to do something for themselves. It was because he saw in the Bill the mark of that tendency that he, for his part, was strongly opposed to it, and hoped the House would reject it.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
said, he must say that this was one of those occasions on which the House was entitled to look for guidance from the Government Bench. It seemed to him quite impossible that anyone could, with a clear opinion, or even a clear conscience, vote for an extension of the powers of the police, unless the Minister who was responsible for law and order in this country stated that the present powers were insufficient to keep up a certain average and reasonable propriety in our streets. He (Sir George Trevelyan) was certainly very much struck by the arguments which had been put forward as a reason for hesitating to agree to the Bill; and he should imagine that it would be almost impossible for the great bulk of Members of the House to acquiesce in a Bill giving such serious powers of interference with private action, unless the Minister who knew most about the state of our streets and the powers that already existed for keeping order, stated that the powers already possessed by the police were wholly inadequate. He (Sir George Trevelyan) rose, not as a Member of the House who had any special knowledge—he might even say any special opinion—on the subject of the Bill; he rose as a Member of the House who wished to be informed; and he asked the Government, and especially the Home Secretary, to say whether he thought that this Bill for extending the powers of the police was necessary?
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. MATTHEWS) (Birmingham, E.)
said, that but for the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman, he should not have taken part in this debate. No man, he supposed, could live in one of our large towns without feeling ashamed of the condition of the streets at night. This country was the most moral country in Europe, though the, streets of our towns presented an unfavourable contrast to those of Continental cities. One cause of this was undoubtedly the spirit of liberty which would not tolerate the police interference, which preserved in Paris an outward decorum by no means answering to the real state of morals. He did not think the law as it stood was insufficient. The two Acts of Parliament 946 —the Metropolitan Police Act and the Towns Police Clauses Act—gave ample powers for dealing with the difficulty, and it was by no means necessary in order that the law should be enforced, that application should be made by a person actually solicited. A tradesman who was habitually annoyed by a prostitute haunting his premises or frequenting, for the purposes of her trade, the pavement in front of his premises, could put the law in motion. The hon. Gentlemen the Mover and Seconder of the Bill had taken different lines, as the Mover disclaimed any desire to deal with London, and the Seconder referred to nothing but London.
§ MR. C. T. DYKE ACLAND
said, that he expressed no unwillingness to extend the Bill to London, but stated that London was too large a subject to be dealt with by a private Member. His main object was the garrison towns.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
said, there was no reason to believe that the existing law was not sufficient for the garrison towns. No doubt the police would have to take action under the existing law, and there could be no doubt that seine Members of the House were answerable for attempts to discourage the police from taking measures. Under the Metropolitan Act he was fortified in his view by the almost unanimous opinion of the police magistrates—persons resident at Highgate, for example, might compel a prosecution of persons guilty of an offence under the present law committed in Regent Street or anywhere in the Metropolitan Police District. Any 12 persons in the Metropolitan area might under the Bill put the police in motion, who would thereupon be bound to prosecute any person frequenting or resorting to a place where numerous persons resorted for immoral purposes, and on a second conviction the offenders might be flogged. Of course, that was a very great draconic and stringent clause which could hardly be worked out well in practice, and he hoped hon. Members would cease to trouble him with questions about the action of the police if an enactment of the kind were passed. He trusted that that sort of remedy would not be regarded by the House as the best and wisest for its purpose. He felt the very great danger there would be in exposing a force like the Metropolitan Police, composed of 947 necessity of many men of indifferent culture and poor education, and not very highly paid, to the temptations which must inevitably accompany their coming into contact with the class of persons in question; and he thought that to expose them to it would be very undesirable. He sympathized largely with the object of the hon. Member who introduced that matter, and he recognized the honesty and frankness of the attempt made by the hon. Gentleman to deal with what was unquestionably a great social evil; but he gravely doubted whether those clauses would either be useful or adequate to cope with that evil.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
said, he thought it would be almost impossible to exaggerate the importance of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, himself an acute lawyer, and also the Minister responsible in an especial degree for the administration of the police law in London. The right hon. Gentleman had laid it down that that was a great evil and a grave scandal, and that there was no doubt of its existence. Nobody, he supposed, would deny that the state of the streets of London was a disgrace to the Metropolis, or that the evil was one which it was worthy of the House to attempt to put down. As an hon. Member had intimated, the evil caused great temptation to young persons at a critical period of life. But the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had fully admitted the existence of that great evil, and that it was not necessary in those cases to prove annoyance to a particular person who had been solicited. He understood him to say that the law could be put in force by any ratepayer or householder living in the locality that complained of the evil and also by the police who represented the public in that matter. The right hon. Gentleman had also laid it down that it was the business and the duty of the police to endeavour to remedy the evil. That had not hitherto been the prevailing rule in the administration of the law in London; but as the right hon. Gentleman said that if the scandal could be abated by the police it was their duty to do so, he thought his hon. Friend (Mr. Acland) might be content with that statement and call upon the right hon. Gentleman to carry out what 948 he had intimated that night. He (Mr. Henry H. Fowler) was sure that nobody on his side desired draconic legislation or espionage, or to make people moral by Act of Parliament; but they desired to prevent people from being made immoral by maladministration or the neglect to administer the existing law. The whole question was now placed on a different platform; they knew whore the power rested and who was responsible if the law was not put in force. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that a midnight meeting was not promotive of purity; but it had long been the custom with a large body of Nonconformists, and also with many English Churchmen, to hold on the last night of the year religious services, which closed shortly after midnight; and it was a disgrace to London that decent men and women on going out from religious service at Piccadilly should have been exposed to the annoyance which an hon. Member had described. He honed that the House had that evening taken one step towards clearing the streets of London from disgrace.
§ SIR ROBERT FOWLER (London)
said, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Henry H. Fowler) had intimated that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had in his speech that night taken a new view of the law. Now, for himself he believed the law had not been carried out outside the City of London, but the view of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary was the view of the law on which he had acted while he was at the Mansion House when persons were brought up on the charge of solicitation, and which was taken by other City magistrates. He trusted that the result of that debate would be to induce Metropolitan magistrates to be more strict in carrying out the law.
§ MR. C. T. DYKE ACLAND
said, that after the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary as to what was the present state of the law, he would move that the Order for the Second Reading of the Bill be discharged.
§ Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill withdrawn.