§ 2.44 p.m.
§ LORD PAKENHAM rose to call attention to the Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution (Cmnd. 247); and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to call attention to the Wolfenden Report. The Wolfenden Committee were appointed on August 24, 1954, by the then Home Secretary, now the Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Kilmuir" who has certainly placed the community in his debt by doing so. The noble Viscount, as he now is, set up a strong and representative body under a Chairman, as we all know, of high public spirit, wide familiarity with problems of youth, and dispassionate skill in disentangling the most complicated social issues. The Report was signed on August 12 this year and published on September 5. Some, at any rate, of the topics were described by the noble Earl, Lord Winterton (who I am very glad to see is going to speak this afternoon), in an earlier debate as "nauseating"; and I do not dissent from that account of them. They can also be full of tragic undertones, as I know well from my recent postbag, if I did not know before. In saying that, I am not for one moment trying to point any particular conclusion.
Whether or not one agrees wholly or partly with the Report, one can hardly fail to regard it as a social document of the first importance, and it was clearly our right, and I should suggest our duty, to discuss it as a House of Parliament as soon as we had been able to give serious thought to its proposals. Perhaps I might remind the House of the Committee's terms of reference. They were:
Most of us to-day are speaking for ourselves alone. This does not apply to the leaders of the Government nor does it apply to the leaders of the Church of England, who, I am glad to see, will be speaking to us in much strength to-day.
The Labour Party has not pronounced on the issues involved nor, I believe, has any other political Party. No doubt the position of the Church of England will be explained by the most reverend Primate. It is, however, public knowledge that the Church Assembly recently passed by 155 votes to 138 this resolution which, with your Lordships' permission, I will quote:
That this Assembly generally approves the principles on which the criminal law concerned with sexual behaviour should be based as stated by the Wolfenden Committee, and also its recommendations relating to homosexuality, but considers that the recommendations relating to prostitution require further study.
I understand (though no doubt the most reverend Primate will correct me if I am wrong) that there was a large majority for the first and third pants of the resolution—the first relating to general principles and the third relating to prostitution; but that there was a narrow majority revealed in the vote on the proposals in the Report relating to homosexuality.
§ I have received from the Free Church Federal Council a message that they have not yet reached a considered conclusion on the Report. If necessary I could read it to the House, but perhaps I should be correctly explaining it if I were to say that there are various views, rather than one main view, within the Free Church Federal Council. Evidence was given to the Committee by the Roman Catholic Advisory Committee on prostitution and homosexual offences, in which evidence a strong line was taken against the continuance of penal sanctions for homosexual offences in private between consenting adults. That was the evidence given by that Committee. Issues on this and other points they left open, as will be seen by a recent statement by the Archbishop of Westminster, for each Catholic to settle for himself. Clear guidance has been given to the Roman Catholic community regarding principles, but care has been taken not to prejudge questions of fact.
§ I hope that against that background, I shall not disturb anybody, or seem to be trying to secure an unfair advantage, if I say that, like the majority of other noble Lords, I approach this matter from a Christian standpoint. I say that, well aware of a fact which should be stated in passing that the record of the Jewish community in regard to crime in this country is quite outstandingly good, if 735 facts mean anything at all; but, having said that, I hope I shall be forgiven if I talk in a Christian sense. Christians of all denominations—and I suppose that most of us here this afternoon will accept the Christian ethic as a moral standard at least—will agree that some forms of conduct are not just abnormal, whether in their psychiatric origins or their social manifestation; they are not just antisocial in the sense that the community considers that it must stop them, but are grievously sinful and are a rejection of the will of God. We must go further forward from that point as Christians, and particularise. We must attach the label of "grievous sin" to all sexual intercourse outside marriage, whether between men and men, between men and women or between women and women; and I suppose that I must mention bestiality as well.
§ So much for the sin. But what of the sinner? We all know our duty there in principle: we must hate the sin and love the sinner. We know, too, how hard it is to carry out our duty in that respect, not merely in the sense that we may often have to choke down feelings of extraordinary repugnance, but because it is very difficult to know what, in practice, "loving the sinner" means when we bear in mind our duty to protect society and our duty also to induce the sinner to abandon his evil ways.
§ It is worth pausing for a moment to ask ourselves whether the advance of modern psychology has affected this dual obligation of hating the sin and loving the sinner. I would submit that, in essentials it has not affected it at all; it has certainly not affected it in the sense of forcing us to regard crime or most wrong doing as disease. That heresy, that crime, or most of it, is disease, will not, I hope, receive much support this afternoon. But anyone who has had much to do with delinquents can hardly fail, in the light of modern psychology, to realise that some people are vastly more handicapped—are born as such or grow up as such—than others. Nothing has been discovered, or is likely to be discovered, which should impair our belief in recognising that one day we shall be judged on our conduct here. But within the framework of necessary legal penalties—imprisonment for example; we know that is an imperfect penalty, but in some cases we seem 736 unable to find anything better—consideration must be given to the welfare and reform of offenders.
§ There is a growing uncertainty, which can hardly be disputed, as to how far our human condemnation corresponds with Divine censure. In approaching sexual offences the Christian, surely, rejects, on the one hand, any kind of crude vindictiveness expressed by some coarse-minded person in such words as, "Hanging is too good for them." We recall (I was reading about it only recently) that in the 1830's two men, at least, were hanged on a separate scaffold as homosexuals so that they should not contaminate the ordinary recipient of capital punishment. I think that is a terrible indictment of the mentality responsible—or of the age, if you like. On the other hand, the Christian has no use for a frivolous attitude towards homosexuality—on that I would certainly be at one with the noble Earl, Lord Winterton—or a romantic attitude such as that glorifying homosexuals in other civilisations, or famous artists in recent times. And, except in very rare cases, the Christian certainly repudiates the argument that sickness provides an adequate excuse.
§ What have the Committee actually recommended? They have made thirty recommendations, and I shall not attempt in these introductory remarks to run through them in detail. Perhaps the most vital sections of the Report are paragraphs 13 and 14, which set out a fundamental juristic philosophy. The Committee set themselves a question: what acts ought to be punished by the State? They begin by drawing attention forcibly—as the most reverend Primate, the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, has recently drawn attention—to the distinction between crime and sin. I agree, if I may say so respectfully, with the most reverend Primate, that that is a most valuable educational service which the Committee have rendered, quite apart from the question of whether the distinction has been perfectly applied.
If I may once more quote the most reverend Primate,
A crime is a punishable offence against the man-made laws of society. Sin is an offence against God.
The Committee do not put it in that way, but I think they mean the same thing; or I hope so. Up to this point most of us can perhaps move in harmony. Now
comes the question: where is the line to be drawn? What sins are to be punished by society? We can leave out, to avoid complication, certain non-sinful activities, such as exceeding the speed limit, which have to be made into crimes, because they do not concern us this afternoon. The Committee are very explicit, and as this is tile only section that I wish to quote at length, perhaps the House will allow me to quote a paragraph of the Report in full. I quote from what the Committee say—and this is quite fundamental to the issue, much more fundamental than most of the detailed recommendations which flow from them:
The function of the criminal law in so far as it concerns the subjects of this Inquiry is to preserve public order and decency, to protect the citizen from what is offensive and injurious, and to provide sufficient safeguards against exploitation and corruption of others, particularly those who are specially vulnerable because they are young, weak in body or mind, inexperienced, or in a state of special physical, official, or economic dependence. It is not in our view the function of the law to intervene in the private lives of citizens or to seek to enforce are particular pattern of behaviour further than is necessary to carry out the purposes we have outlined. It follows that we do not believe it to be a function of the law to attempt to cover all the fields of sexual behaviour. Certain forms of sexual behaviour are regarded by many as sinful, morally wrong, or objectionable for reasons of conscience, or of religious or cultural tradition; and such actions may be reprobated on these grounds. But the criminal law does not cover all such actions at the present time; for instance, adultery and fornication are not offences for which a person can be punished, by the criminal law. Nor indeed is prostitution as such.
§ That basic statement of principles governs the whole approach of the Committee and animates their main conclusions. Can we accept it? And, first, can we simplify it? I think we can simplify it, though I hope not over-simplify it. Surely the point of view of the Committee comes to this: that if a man (and the same is true of a woman) is doing wrong the law must not intervene to stop him unless he is harming someone else; and if two or more men are doing wrong together, neither coercing the other nor taking advantage of his weakness, they must not be interfered with by the law unless their behaviour is harmful to a third party or parties. I think that is the simplest possible exposition of the juristic philosophy behind the Report.
Again, I ask: can we accept this doctrine? By and large, though it is for each Member of the House to decide
for himself, I believe that we can. I say that, not because I think it would be morally wrong for the State to intervene in all cases to protect people from themselves or their friendly associates, but because, from long experience, it has been found as a general rule that that cannot be done without interfering with private life and human liberty so drastically as to undermine the whole growth of moral responsibility. I would here quote some recent words of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster:
It may be that the civil law cannot effectively control such acts without doing more harm to the common good than the acts themselves would do. In that case it may be necessary in the interests of the common good to tolerate without approving such acts.
Then there is the question of blackmail which arises under the existing law in regard to homosexuality and which was emphasised by the noble Earl, Lord Jowitt—whorn we miss so much to-day—in our debate on May 19, 1954.
§ The Wolfenden Committee may be thought by some, even among those who agree with its findings, to have laid down its central proposition about the proper limits of the criminal law in too unqualified a fashion. Incest and bestiality inside the sexual field, and suicide outside it, are exceptions at the present time, additional to the law against consenting adult homosexuals. I am not sure. too, whether some of the difficulties which the Committee have run into when dealing with what are called "ponces", men who live in quite a friendly way on the immoral earnings of women without coercing them, are not due to a passion for intellectual symmetry. But surely we can all accept as a general proposition that the rule as stated by the Committee is normally sound and wise; that one departs from it at one's peril and only in very exceptional cases. We can accept the Wolfenden statement of juristic philosophy as a general rule. Surely we can accept as a general rule that the presumption should always he in favour of non-interference by the State with A and B except when they are doing harm to C. Surely we can accept that if there is to be interference the onus falls on the Government to justify it by exceptional considerations.
A major question before the Committee was whether homosexualism should continue to be treated in some respects
as an exception to this general rule of our law about non-interference with isolated immorality. The Committee's answer to that question has aroused far more controversy than anything else in the Report. But before coming to that, may I say a word about Part Three of the Report which deals with prostitution. To keep my remarks within some sort of reasonable length I must leave the proper treatment of the subject to others who will be dealing with prostitution later in this debate. The two most important agreed recommendations are Nos. (xix) and (xxiii). No. (xix) runs:
That the law relating to street offences be reformulated so as to eliminate the requirement to establish annoyance.
No. (xxiii) reads:
That the maximum penalties for street offences be increased and that the system of progressively higher penalties for repeated offences be introduced with three months in prison as a maximum penalty for a third or subsequent offence.
In fact that envisages three months in prison as a maximum penalty for a third or subsequent offence. It is emphasised, lest people should be much alarmed by the last suggestion, that it is not envisaged that many prostitutes will be sent to prison—perhaps none will be. Already, as the Home Secretary has recently emphasised, the prisons are grossly overcrowded. But it is believed that the presence of imprisonment as a possible punishment may make the courts anxious to try and the individual prostitutes more willing to accept the use of probation in suitable cases. But I am not going into that matter at this point.
In candour I should say that I am not myself averse to measures of this kind as part of a constructive attempt to deal with female prostitution. I cannot but be aware—particularly in consequence of the fact that it was known that I was to initiate this debate—that some of the most reputable organisations, and particularly their women members, who are most concerned about this terrible evil of prostitution, are opposed, in some cases strongly opposed, to a good deal of the Wolfenden approach on the subject of prostitution. On the one hand it is felt, to quote a memorandum of the British Vigilants Association, that
merely driving prostitution underground is only creating fresh problems.
On the other hand, the Committee is deemed by some very devoted people who are well versed in this problem to have been far too harsh to the female prostitute compared with her male customer—for example, the kerb crawler who apparently is going to get off scot-free—and the ponce behind her who is said by some to be featured as quite a good fellow in many cases and a stabilising influence in the life of the prostitute. Be that as it may, I keenly sympathise with the reservation of the three women members of the Committee, Mrs. Cohen, Mrs. Lovibond and Lady Stopford, who recommend an increase in the maximum penalty for the offence of living on the earnings of prostitution, from two years imprisonment to five. As these ladies point out in their reservation, the maximum penalties would not apply to the ponce when he was really harmless, but would apply only in the worst cases and few of us can think of any worse crimes than some of those which have occurred in recent times within this category.
I would be ready, I repeat, for stiffer penalties for solicitation by prostitutes and stiffer penalties on their customers and financiers. Though I realise that the difficulties are very great, taken by itself that approach by way of penalty can only represent the edge or the corner of a policy. I realise that the Committee were concerned with the legal situation, actual and potential. What we now need is a lead initiated by the Government and providing at least some finance, even in these times, for voluntary bodies in an all-out crusade for rescue, prevention and research. I see the arguments of those who say that it is only tinkering with the problem to try to drive this kind of thing underground. I see the force of the arguments of those who say we shall never, while man remains man, stamp this thing out altogether. In this connection I remember some words of Lecky:
She remains while creeds and civilisations rise and fall, the eternal priestess of humanity, blasted for the sins of the people.
I would take another extract from a rather longer and more oratorical passage which precedes that one:
But for her the unchallenged purity of countless happy homes would be polluted, and not a few who, in the pride of their untempted chastity, think of her with an indignant shudder, would have known the agony of
remorse and despair. On that one degraded and ignoble form are concentrated the passions that might have filled the world with shame.
There may be a certain element of truth in that. But in every age there comes a moment, and sometimes there comes a band of men or women—and this has happened in our country—who are not prepared to shrug this evil off. I look to Her Majesty's Government, irrespective of Party, if they really mean to follow up—as I think they should—the Wolfenden deterrent proposals, to combine with them a genuine passion for the redemption of these fallen women.
§ And so to the recommendations of the Committee on homosexuality. The first proposal of the Report in this connection recommends that homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should be no longer a criminal offence. What difference would this make in practice? I will offer some figures which may have been published elsewhere, but if they have I do not happen to have seen them. If the House will be so good as to study the tables on page 138 of the Report they will observe that 876 persons were sent to prison for homosexual offences during 1955. We are not told explicitly how many were persons convicted of offences in private with consenting adults—people who would be exonerated if the change in the law now under discussion were made. From Table VI, however, we learn that in the three years ended March, 1956, 118 such persons were sent to prison over the three-year period. Perhaps for the purpose of making an estimate we shall not be far wrong if we assume that one-third of those were sent to prison in 1955. Probably that is not exactly right, but it will net affect the argument one way or the other. If that is so, we find that, out of 876 people in prison for homosexualism in 1955, about 40 were consenting adults acting in private.
§ Taking a larger figure, not only of those sent to prison but of those who were found guilty of homosexual practices, in 1955 2,782 were found guilty, and about 100 of those were consenting adults acting in private. So that, whichever figure we take, we find roughly the same results. In other words, the vast majority now penalised for homosexual offences would continue to be penalised under the Wolfenden proposals. The Report goes into details concerning the maximum 742 sentences which should be imposed in future as compared with those hitherto, but I do not think that your Lordships would wish me to follow them there. There are cases where an increase is recommended. For example, in the scale of penalties for acts of gross indecency, other than the extreme offence, committed by men over twenty-one with the consenting partner below that age, as well as where the maximum penalties are concerned, one cannot be sure that the average sentence will be heavier or lighter; but there are some grounds for thinking that, on balance, the penalties will be increased and certainly no grounds whatever for supposing that the Wolfenden recommendations are intended to weaken the protection which we try to afford our young people against unnatural assault. Indeed, the opposite intention is manifest through the Report.
At last I face fairly and squarely the "64,000 dollar question"—should homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private be any longer a criminal offence? Can we allow ourselves the toleration which the author of a well-known book found in a taxidriver who took him to a certain magistrate's court? I quote an extract:
Personally, and speaking man to man, I think it is a lot of (something) nonsense. If two chaps carry on like that and don't do no harm to no-one what business is it of anybody else's?
Or must we consent to the very powerful reservation attached by Mr. Adair to the Wolfenden Report? I do not think that anybody ought to make up his mind on this question until he has read the Report—that goes without saying—and also the reservation by Mr. Adair. I hope that I am interpreting Mr. Adair correctly if I say that in his view homosexualism between consenting adults cannot be regarded as their affair alone; they are not just corrupting each other, but are liable to spread the infection far and wide. He says:
The presence in a district of, for example, adult male lovers living openly and notoriously under the approval of the law is bound to have a regrettable and pernicious effect on the young people of the community … The more serious phases of such conduct have been recognised by our law as criminal for a continuous period of not less than 400 years, and a very heavy onus therefore rests on the advocates of the change now proposed to demonstrate by cogent evidence that the withdrawal of hitherto criminous conduct from the realm of criminal law is clearly justified.
§ As I say, I feel that that argument must not only be studied but pondered on for a long time. These and other considerations which Mr. Adair puts forward cannot be lightly dismissed. If I thought that a repeal of the law would appreciably expand homosexual conduct, in my opinion that would be a decisive argument against change. I suppose that I have been engaged as much as anybody in the study of the causes of crime during the last few years, and I know how difficult it is to discover the facts. I confess my complete uncertainty as to whether there would be any effect at all in the direction Mr. Adair indicates, but I am bound to say that if there was an initial increase, it could be easily swamped and a great reduction effected on balance through a rational national approach to the whole question of homosexuality. Such a national constructive approach is out of the question so long as the energies of those who could help us most are engaged in this small sector of the battle. The Report recommends a research programme on an altogether new scale. That I heartily endorse; I hope we all do. I know of at least one project which is being conducted by an outstanding man and which is languishing for lack of moderate funds. I should have thought that in all this scientific exploration of human frailty, the leaders of the Christian and Jewish Churches should be invited to play the fullest part.
§ As I said, in the case of women, but it is still truer here, it is essential to be sure not only of what we do but of how we do it. Never let it be thought for a moment, even by the ignorant and ill-disposed, that if we bring our law into conformity with what is the general practice in Europe, apart from Germany and Austria, we are condoning homosexuality. We are doing no such thing. Not only where the conduct affects a minor, but even where it appears to concern only the guilty parties, we condemn it as utterly wrongful. But do we accept the general proposition that the State should not interfere except where third parties are directly damaged? Can we say, if we search our hearts, that this particular sin, embarked on between associates, is so heinous as to require treatment almost unparalleled?
§ Most of us who have been at boarding schools or had adult experience of living 744 for long periods in purely masculine society, must know that if we do that, we are saying something of some whom we have known and liked at the various stages of our lives. We must be aware, if we live in the present century, that there are men, some of them genuinely idealistic, who pass a life of agony in trying to resist these sinful impulses, and that some of these unfortunate people are denied by nature the normal fulfilment of marriage. Some of them, at least (I do not want to rest too much on this argument, but to me it is a substantial one and may prove more substantial as the years pass) might be prepared to seek medical or spiritual assistance, if the criminal taint were withdrawn, whereas at present they feel unable to lay bare their secret.
May I conclude by saying that the general conceptions of our law raise a powerful presumption in favour of the Wolfenden recommendations in respect of consenting adults in private. Accumulated experience as to what can and cannot be accepted by the law of the land may fairly be said to be on that side. I do not question, I need hardly say, the sincere anxiety which makes many hesitate lest an act of legal toleration be mistaken for one of moral approval. But when we think of the squalid circumstances which are liable to attend the enforcement of the present law about consenting adults; when we recognise the impossibility of organising a new approach that would be at once Christian and scientific to the whole homosexual issue while this one aspect remains in dispute; when we reflect on what torture is being suffered by many decent citizens, along with others less respectable, of course, I hope that we remember the injunction,
Blessed are the merciful".
One day this change will be wrung from us without, if it were long delayed, much credit to anybody. Let us take advantage of a point in time, while it is still in our power to do the civilised thing. If I may adapt some words of Ruskin:
Let us be merciful while we still have mercy.
My Lords, I support the recommendation in question of the Wolfenden Report and to commend the Report as a whole for the sympathetic consideration of your Lordships' House. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.20 p.m.
My Lords, it is always difficult to speak directly after the noble Lord who has initiated this debate, and unfortunately from my position here I seem quite often to have to do this. I would say that it has never been more difficult than it is to-day, after hearing not only a brilliant, but a so deeply sincere speech on this important subject. However difficult and controversial this subject is, I think we must realise that the Committee, after intense study and deliberation, came to certain important conclusions, with, I think, as near unanimity as in the circumstances could be practically possible. They were not easy conclusions to reach but they are very easy to criticise, especially by those people—and I think there are a considerable number of them—who would prefer to leave things as they are, even though they are most unsatisfactory, rather than to make a change the result of which might be difficult to envisage. I welcome this Report as a serious attempt to better the present position, and, generally speaking, I give it my full support. Whatever our views, we must be grateful to these people for serving on the Committee and for putting their names on to a Report which has since proved so controversial.
Although the report divides itself into two main parts, certain of the principles relate to the whole question. The first is that it is our duty in every way possible to protect the young from immorality of every kind; and the second, I think, is that immorality in public places, so far as is possible, must be suppressed. The former, which is infinitely the more important of the two, deals with homosexuality, whereas the latter deals mainly with prostitution. The former does, however, deal with general sexual behaviour, in that we must realise that in our aim to protect children their knowledge these days is infinitely greater than it used to be—and (though modern educationists will probably not agree) not always to the children's benefit—particularly as a result of co-educational schools. When one comes to look at the definition of "youth", I find myself in some difficulty. I have never understood, for instance, why the age of consent for a girl is 16, whereas the age of call-up is 18, and the age for voting 21. If the law is to be changed—and I sincerely hope it will be 746 —I think we should look straight away at the question of raising the age of consent of these young girls.
I would deal, first of all, with the question of homosexuality, and I would say at once that I support the proposal to allow assenting adults to be free from possible criminal proceedings. I believe that we should allow adults, when they do not affect the public, to do what they like as a basic right in this country. Many arguments have been put up against this, one of which is that this particular licence would, in effect, hurt the public and would debase the moral standards of the community. The example is cited of those great countries of olden days which debased themselves entirely as a result of doing this particular act. But I do not believe that that example can be considered in present times; and if one looks at other countries which have changed the law I think they are none the worse for doing what they are now doing.
That this thing remains a sin is, of course, not only true, but its emphasis is of vast importance. I know that there are others far more qualified to speak on that subject than I am, and I know that they will do so. But this I do believe: that, even in these days, this particular point restrains people as much as, if not even more than, tile threat of criminal proceedings. Even the threat of prison (which I must say I regard as the wrong place to which to send these people) does not prevent considerable numbers from continuing in this way. To send these people to prison—and a famous doctor has recently said to me that that is simply making it into an infectious disease—where they live in close proximity to other prisoners, some of whom are there for the same reason, seems hardly the right action. But this is not the time to go into further details on that particular question. If the law is changed, that question will probably not arise; otherwise, I feel that we should at an early time discuss that most important question in your Lordships' House, because I am not at all satisfied that prison is in any way the right answer.
Then there are those who say that releasing this act from criminal proceedings will encourage others to do the same thing. I cannot agree. There are many things which are perfectly legal which 747 the great majority of people will never do, and the mere fact that they are criminal or non-criminal does not make the slightest difference. Then there is the question of the persuasion by a stronger character of a weaker. There is no question that that situation does exist, but it does not exist purely in homosexuality, and I can see no reason why it should be considered, so far as homosexuals are concerned, in any different light from any other question.
I do not intend to go into great detail of the causes of homosexuality or, if there are any, of the cures. But it does exist; and, purely from the nature of the thing, it is exceedingly difficult for the great majority of people genuinely to understand it. I do not believe that we are really a forgiving nation, and we do tend to avoid ugly things. One example is that we do not welcome as a full member of the community a person who comes out of prison, though these people have served their sentence and should have completely covered their offence. I believe that the ugliness of homosexuality is treated by us in much the same way. Nor do I believe that what to most schoolboys is a passing and normal phase has anything at all to do with this question, or that there is any lasting harm in the lapse. Further, I do not believe that a change in the law would in any way increase that, because I do not think that at that age they consider whether what they are doing is legal or illegal.
There are a number—I personally think it is a small number; others think it is a large number—of vicious people who will attempt in every way possible to benefit if we change the law. But they will still be affected by one or another of the ways of continuing punishment under the law as it will then stand. Looking at homosexuality as a whole, and at this Report, I feel that by far the stronger arguments are in favour of a change, provided—and this is strongly said in the Report—that the young boys are protected in exactly the way that they are at the present time. As to what the age of consent should be, I just do not know. I am quite happy with the age of 21, but it seems incongruous that these ages should differ from 16 to 21 in different cases.
May I turn to the other part of the Report, the question of prostitution? 748 This, on the face of it, appears infinitely easy. In theory it is; in practice I think it is far more difficult. I think we should look straight away to see what we are really aiming at. I do not think we are aiming at the abolition of prostitution. Theoretically we may be looking for a Utopia; in practice it is not going to come. Two thousand years ago prostitution was a profession, and in two thousand years' time it will still be regarded as the oldest profession. Surely, what we want to do is to defeat all the publicity which surrounds this subject. We abhor far more those who sponsor prostitution, those who live on the earnings of prostitutes, than we do the prostitute herself. We are horrified at the way some of these girls are blackmailed by these people. I do not think we are dealing strongly enough with that question, although I think that the fifth reservation goes a certain distance. I should like to go even further. I think we are appalled at the fact that some of our famous streets, both in this great city and in others, are used, not only after nightfall but during the day, by women and by girls of 16 and 17 for one purpose only.
But when we consider the alterations we could make in the law, by increasing the penalties, by imprisonment or by a complete change in the law, the matter becomes extremely difficult. So far as sponsoring is concerned, let us by all means tighten up the penalties as far as we possibly can. So far as increasing the penalties for ordinary prostitution is concerned, we get into great difficulties. At the moment the penalties these women pay—a small tax—are much smaller than you or I have to pay for, I hope, justifiable rewards for hard work. But if we raised this tax, if we raised the penalties, or if we could put prison in front of them, then, instead of accepting this punishment, they will go all out to oppose it. What that means, if one goes to the final result, is that we shall have a queue of prostitutes waiting for admission to prison—and these prisons are already over full. In fact, we could not cope with the position at all. This has been attempted in one city since the war: Leeds decided to get rid of its prostitutes. In the days after the war the streets of Leeds were infinitely worse than the streets of London are to-day. They put up their penalties and started sending 749 them to prison. It was a complete and absolute success. What happened was that, because of the geographical nearness of other cities, the prostitutes simply went elsewhere, and their clients with them.
May I quote a small part of an article in the Yorkshire Post in which I think the question is very well summed up. It said:… nevertheless the flaw in the Leeds method of cleaning up the nuisance is that so long as there are alternative haunts one 'clean' city may mean another more unwholesome than ever.This is not the real answer. If one tackled it throughout the country as a whole, it would simply have the effect of over-filling our prisons, of hindering the execution of justice in the courts, as well as of sending underground the whole system of prostitution. So it seems that the disadvantages of this method are more than the disadvantages of carrying on as the position is to-day.
There is another way, and although I do not advocate it I think it must be mentioned, and that is the question of legalising prostitution. If our only desire is to clean our streets, then this is the obvious answer. You have only to look at France to see the result. Before the war there were no prostitutes in the streets. There was no need for them to ply their trade publicly. Since the war, they have come round to our point of view, with the result that if you walk from the Madeleine to the Opera or up the Champs Elysées you are accosted mere times than you can possibly count. I simply give those as examples. That is a fact, and that is the result.
Now this is not only a most important and serious debate but—let us be honest—it is very drab and very dreary. I am going to ask your Lordships' forgiveness for one minute if I raise it to a lighter vein. I was in India with my regiment during the war. Your Lordships will remember that in those far-off days India was part of the British Empire, and controlled by us. When our regiment arrived in Calcutta, one of the first letters 750 we got from Brigade was a list of licensed houses. It was in three parts: those fit for officers, those fit for N.C.O.'s and those fit for British other ranks. Against one or two of them were little asterisks, and if you looked at the bottom of the page it said, "Due for upgrading." I would remind your Lordships that that happened in the British Empire, and it does seem that we can be hypocritical. One thing I must say, and that is that the health of the troops deteriorated very rapidly when, after a period, those places were put out of bounds. But I do not believe that in peace time in this country it is the duty of the Government so to license prostitution that they can be accused of encouraging it. Though the streets would be clean, though health would improve, there are far more important principles concerned.
Although it is thoroughly unsatisfactory, I cannot myself see that any improvement will come from any changes in the law as it is at present. If you read the Report and you talk to your fathers or grandfathers, is the state of affairs any worse than it was fifty years ago? The venue has changed, but I do not think the situation has really become more serious. These prostitutes are driven by some peculiar force to certain streets in this city and other great cities, but you still have to find them, and it is still infinitely better here than it is in certain cities in other countries where the same laws exist.
My Lords, in one or two words to sum up, may I say that I feel that the law regarding homosexuality should be amended, and I say that because I believe that the really evil man will still be prosecuted as he is to-day. So far as prostitution is concerned, apart from the sponsoring, which I think should be dealt with as heavily as humanly possible, any change would be dangerous; and, unsatisfactory though the present position is, I think any alteration might prove to have far more serious consequences than is generally imagined.