THE EARL OF MILLTOWN
, in rising to ask, Whether the police are, as has been stated "elsewhere," in the habit of arresting women in the streets of the Metropolis on the charge of unlawfully soliciting without formal complaint made by the persons alleged to have been so solicited; whether such arrest is not illegal; and, if so, whether the Home Secretary will take steps to put a stop to the practice? said, he would point out to their Lordships that when the Criminal Law Amendment Bill was before 328 their Lordships' House, it contained a provision empowering the police to arrest any woman soliciting in the streets on their own initiation without complaint made. At the time he (the Earl of Milltown) protested against that power being given to the police, but was not successful in preventing it, although, he twice divided the House in two successive years, and had the support of the late Lord Shaftesbury and the present Prime Minister. The clause, however, was, on a change of Government taking place in 1885, struck out of the Bill in the House of Commons by the Government of his noble Friend. Late occurrences had shown that he was justified in his action. It was, therefore, with some surprise that he read the statement made by the Home Secretary in "another place" that the police were in the habit of making these charges of their own motion, uncorroborated by other evidence, and that the magistrates were accustomed to convict on such testimony. It also appeared from the public prints that great complaints were still made as to the condition of Regent Street and other thoroughfares. If those complaints were well-founded, it showed that the action of the police had not been successful in freeing the streets from the nuisance; but, even if their action had had that effect, he did not think it possible that the people of this country would be satisfied that an innocent tradesman's daughter or workwoman should be liable to be arrested and dragged through the streets and her character ruined at the will of every policeman. Political capital had, he regretted to say, been attempted to be made in a Party sense out of the recent transaction; but he would remind their Lordships that provisions which would have rendered this outrage both probable and legal were introduced into the Criminal Law Amendment Bill by Mr. Gladstone's Government in the other House of Parliament. However, they were struck out by the Conservative Government which succeeded him and took up the charge of that measure.
§ EARL BROWNLOW
The police are in the habit of arresting common prostitutes in the Metropolis on the charge of unlawfully soliciting, without formal complaint made by the persons alleged to have been solicited, and without a warrant. I am advised that under the 329 2 & 3 Viet, c. 47, s. 54, such arrest is not illegal if, within view of the constable, the person solicited, by his conduct or language, manifests that he is annoyed by the prostitute. It is a question of evidence, the sufficiency of which has to be determined by the magistrate who hears the case.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord HALSBURY)
I think it is very desirable that it should not go forth on the authority of the noble Earl (the Earl of Milltown) that what has been done in these matters is illegal; because the form of the Question rather suggests illegality. Neither the Home Secretary nor anybody else has a right to interfere with an Act of Parliament, and I think it a very undesirable thing that an impression should be set abroad that any person can treat an Act of Parliament as he likes. If the state of the law is unsatisfactory—on which point I am not in disaccord with the noble Earl—then that law ought to be repealed. Now, the Act of Parliament expressly provides that if a policeman sees what the noble Earl (Earl Brownlow) has said, he has a right to arrest without warrant. I am not stating whether it is right or prudent in all cases to put that power in force; but the noble Earl asks whether it is illegal, and it clearly is not. I am not aware whether there is any peculiar force in the person against whom the annoyance is practised being the person to complain; but where any criminal offence is committed, any one of Her Majesty's subjects, whether a policeman or anybody else, may, unless the power is limited by Statute, put the law in force. In this particular case, the Act specially provides that a policeman may arrest without a warrant whenever he sees the offence committed. In saying what I have said, I trust it will not be supposed I am referring in any degree to the case to which the noble Earl has referred. I am speaking wholly in the abstract with reference to the state of the law, and without reference to the facts which have brought this condition of the law into prominence.