The position at the present moment is if a girl is assaulted against her wishes no matter what age she is an action lies if it is rape. An action lies if it is attempted rape. If it is less than rape or attempted rape an action lies for indecent assault, and if the girl is under sixteen it is a criminal offence on the part of a man. The Title of the Bill is very doubtful. It says "With respect to offences against persons under the age of eighteen." There is really no law at the present moment dealing with persons under the age of eighteen. The law, so far, is limited to persons under the age of sixteen. What the Deputy now, I understand, means to do is to introduce new legislation dealing with the period between sixteen and eighteen years and he says possibly sixteen and seventeen years. Section 1 states that it shall be no defence to a charge or indietment for an indecent assault on a child or young person under the age of eighteen to prove that he or she consented to the act of indecency. An indecent assault, as I have explained, falls short of carnal knowledge or attempted carnal knowledge. Under Section 5 of what is known as Stead's Act, it is made an offence to have carnal knowledge of a girl under thirteen and, as I say, there is a very heavy penalty indeed for that. There is another offence, to have carnal knowledge of a girl between thirteen and sixteen. The Deputy in this Bill does not attempt to raise that age at all for carnal knowledge; that is to say, he raises it for the lesser offence of indecent assault but, for the much more serious offence of carnal knowledge, he does not raise the age at all. We may take it that there can be a trivial indecent assault with the girl's consent. But, suppose a child is born, that would be, of course, the result of having carnal knowledge, and a person who under this Bill as it stands, could, if he was only guilty of indecent assault be punished, if the girl was between sixteen and eighteen, would if he had carnal knowledge of a girl between sixteen and eighteen go scot free. That seems to be very absurd. It goes on to say that if he thought the girl was over eighteen it shall not be a defence. Therefore the section will remain as follows, if this Bill become law as it stands:—
Any person who unlawfully and earnally knows or attempts to have unlawful carnal knowledge of any girl being of or above the age of thirteen and under the age of sixteen years shall be guilty of a misdemeanour—
The Deputy leaves this unaltered.
—and being convicted thereof shall be liable, at the discretion of the court, to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years with or without hard labour.
Provided that it shall be a sufficient defence to any such charge under sub-section (1) of the section if it shall be made to appear to the court or jury before whom the charge shall be brought that the person so charged had reasonable cause to believe that the girl was of or above the age of sixteen years.
That is how it stood. The Deputy still leaves this an offence when committed against a person between thirteen and sixteen years, but says: "if he thought she was eighteen." When I tried to get through the section as it stood, it appeared to me to be really absolute nonsense. That is the reason why I asked the Deputy does he wish to raise the age of consent, because he has not raised the age of consent. He has left the age of consent at sixteen, and simply said that it should be no defence that the girl was aged eighteen. I now see what the Deputy meant, but I again lodge a protest against this bringing in of these crude, undigested Bills without any effort being made to think out or apply even reasonable care before they are brought in.
This gives rise to a very big problem indeed. This question of the age of consent and whether it should be seventeen or eighteen is a very serious problem. Certainly I myself am of the opinion, to begin with, that it should only be seventeen. Deputies will understand that if a girl of eighteen is a loose woman she may become a most terrible blackmailer. She may look to be very much older, and she may become a most desperate blackmailer. I question very much whether this matter can be reasonably or correctly dealt with unless we deal with the other very big question of how to treat the prostitute or street-walker under the age of twenty-one, because if you raise the age to eighteen, and you have, as you may have, a large number of these prostitutes upon the streets, any person might be made the subject of a considerable amount of blackmail. I think if you raise the age of consent even to seventeen, unless you think out the whole problem of how to deal with the prostitute under twenty-one, you are not really grappling with the problem at all. That is another reason why I do not like this hasty, unthought-out legislation being introduced.
I have myself given an amount of time and consideration to a Bill of this nature, but I have come to no very definite conclusion. I had not completely made up my mind as to how this very serious problem should be dealt with. As I say, I do not think it is fair to the House to come in completely unprepared and without having thought out the problem in the slightest. There are other things in this Bill which I do not think are suitable for this country at all. They are copied out of the British Act, and they may be suitable to England. There is one thing which I do not think suitable to this country, and which seems to be the result of a very fantastic compromise. Before I come to that, however, there is another thing I want to say. There is a provision that proceedings shall only be brought within a period of nine months. That was the period in the British Act, I think, but I am not quite sure. I am rather inclined to think that they have now changed it to one year. It most certainly ought to be one year. In these cases very often the fact of intercourse having taken place is not known until after the child is born. The girl keeps the thing secret until the birth of the child. Proceedings may not be able to be instituted within nine months. The girl may not be in a position to swear an information, or her pregnancy may be concealed up to the last minute. I cannot see why it should be limited to nine months, and should not be one year. In the ordinary way, that gives a period of three months for the girl to make the information and for the proceedings to be brought. I cannot see how a charge brought within a year would be harder to meet than a charge brought within nine months.
Another thing which I think is rather fantastic is the provision:
Provided that in the case of a man of twenty-three years of age or under, the presence of reasonable cause to believe that the girl was over the age of eighteen years shall be a valid defence on the first occasion on which he is charged with the offence under this section.
I cannot see any reason for that. If you are going to have the age of seventeen, I do not believe the thought of the man should enter into the matter at all. I do not know how the age of twenty-three was hit on; why it should be twenty-three and not twenty-two or thirty-three. It appears to me that that is a mere fantastic provision and that it should go out altogether. It also says that on the first occasion on which he is charged that would be accepted as a defence. The next time he is charged, even though acquitted on the first occasion, he cannot rely on that defence. As I say, it is completely fantastic in my judgment. At any rate, though I know this is from the British Statute, it is not suited to our conditions and it appears to me to be the result of a compromise over there. I think that that should go out.
As I say, this is a very big problem and I think it is really part of a wider question. I cannot completely follow what the Title means or what would be allowed under the Title, because there is not at present any special law dealing with persons under eighteen. The Title seems to imply that there is a special law— there is not. It creates under Section 1, and I understood from Deputy Little it is meant under Section 2 to create a new offence—that is the raising of the age of consent. I do not see that that comes under the Title, and I suggest to the Deputy that he should consider the matter very carefully and that the discussion should be adjourned.