§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Major KINDERSLEY
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
In asking the House to give a Second Reading to this Bill I rise with a certain amount of diffidence, and at the same time with a certain amount of assurance. I rise with a certain amount of diffidence because the Second Reading of this Bill ought really to be moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for the Aston Division of Birmingham (Sir Evelyn Cecil), with whose name the effort to promote this legislation has been so long honourably associated. The luck of the ballot has given the opportunity to me, but the House will have the benefit of my right hon. Friend's knowledge and experience when he seconds my Motion. I rise with a certain amount of assurance because the objects of this Bill, whatever may be the differences of opinion about the methods of attaining them, have the approval and the sympathy of all parties in the House. I feel that I am particularly fortunate in moving a private Member's Bill which is not a party Measure, but one seeking to remedy a national evil which is very widely recognised.
At this stage I want to crave the indulgence of the House on the ground that it is impossible to deal adequately with this Bill without referring to various reports, particularly the report of the Royal Commission on Divorce and the report of the Select Committee on this Bill. That will necessitate making certain quotations. I have kept the quotations as short as I can, but I crave the indulgence of the House, because I know that hon. Members do not like quotations. Apart from the support which the Bill has in this House, it has a great deal of support outside, and I think I may claim that it has the support of the more serious and thinking members of the community. It also has the support of many religious bodies. I will read the names of some of the bodies which have passed resolu- 734 tions in favour of the Measure. They include the National Church Assembly, Wesleyan Methodist Conference, Church of England Men's Society, Mothers' Union, National Council of Free Churches, National Union of Teachers, and the National Council of Women. On 19th January of this year a meeting was held in the Central Hall, Westminster, and Mr. Peaker, who was President of the Institute of Journalists for three years, from 1923 to 1925, in speaking of these objectionable reports said:This kind of thing has to be stopped. I do not like legislation, but agreement being impossible, legislation has to be resorted to. Eighty per cent. of the newspaper owners are in favour of the suppression of unsavoury matter, but the others are not. We hear much about the liberty of the Press, but the only liberty that is in danger is the liberty to deal in filth. Nearly all journalists are in agreement with the Bill introduced by Sir Evelyn Cecil in 1923, and now entitled the Judcial Proceedings (Regulation of Reports) Bill, 1923. Its purport is to suppress the liberty or licence that is poisoning the next generation.Therefore, in asking the House to give the Bill a Second Reading, I am voicing a demand which is very widespread. With permission I propose first to deal with the history of the present endeavour. On 26th December, 1859, her late Majesty Queen Victoria wrote as follows to Lord Chancellor Campbell:The Queen wishes to ask the Lord Chancellor whether no steps can be taken to prevent the present publication of proceedings before the new Divorce Court. These cases, which must necessarily increase when the new law becomes more and more known, fill now almost daily a large portion of the newspapers, and are of so scandalous a character that it makes it almost impossible for a paper to be trusted in the hands of a young lady or boy.Seventy years have passed since those words were written, and I think we all realise how very true her late Majesty's words have proved. In 1859 the divorce laws had only just been passed and the number of newspapers was nothing like what it is to-day. Of course the facilities for divorce have been very much enlarged, and newspapers to-day are overwhelming both in number and in circulation. The latest statement puts the number of daily and weekly newspapers published in England and Wales at 2,169, and, as the House knows, many of these papers, especially some of the Sunday periodicals, have circulations running into millions. It is, perhaps, well that 735 at this stage I should state that I and those who support this legislation realise fully that the bulk of newspaper owners and editors have a very deep sense of duty in this matter and exercise a proper discretion. I wish to make it perfectly clear that this is not an attack upon the majority of newspapers or newspaper proprietors or newspaper interests. There are however, certain journals which it is needless to specify who deliberately exploit for gain, reports of judicial proceedings of an unsavoury character. It is a horrible traffic. One can scarcely imagine a more horrible traffic. In the words of the Report of the Royal Commission on Divorce and Matrimonial Causes—A mass of detail, more suggestive than actually indecent, is thus daily placed before the public notwithstanding the extreme propriety with which counsel, familiar with the work of the Court, conduct their cases.It may be at this point convenient for me to state what legislative steps have been taken or attempted in this matter. They are set out very fully in the Report of the Royal Commission on Divorce and Matrimonial Causes, to which I have referred, and, with the permission of the House, I will go through them very shortly, because they throw a good deal of light upon the method proposed in this Bill. In the first place, when the Divorce Act of 1857 was before this House, there was an attempt to make a provision in it that these cases should be heard in camera. That was not carried. In 1859, when there was an amending Act, a similar attempt was made, and again the proposal was rejected. I particularly call the attention of the House to that point. This proposal for hearing in camera was proposed and rejected by this House, and I want to say, because of certain suggestions which have been made, that I am convinced that hearing in camera is contrary to the legal tradition of this country, and that the constitutional method of publicity is to hear in open court. In April, 1887, this point was raised in the House by Resolution by Mr. Samuel Smith, and in May, 1887, a Bill was introduced by Sir Robert Finlay, to amend the law as to reports of proceedings in courts of law. That really was an attempt to give a discretion to the Judges to forbid reports of any particular portions of judicial proceedings. In 1896 a Bill was 736 introduced into the House of Lords with the same object, so that hon. Members will see that right along there has been before Parliament, either by way of legislation or by way of Resolution, proposals for dealing with this question. I wish the House to realise that those who ask for this legislation are not asking for any new thing, nor are they merely cranky people who have cropped up during the last few years. This brings us down to the Royal Commission on Divorce in 1912, and one may say that the present endeavour to abolish this evil is to be dated from that Commission. The Commission was asked, in the terms of reference,Should any, and, if any, what, provision be made for preventing or limiting the publication of reports of divorce and other matrimonial causes?Many Members of the House are familiar with Part XVII of the Commission's Report, which deals particularly with this subject, and the House will pardon me if I quote some passages from that Report. The evidence of the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Alverstone, was considered so important by the Royal Commission that they included in their Report certain questions put to him and his answers thereto. These I wish to read to the House in part, because of their bearing on this subject, and because they are the views of a man of high judicial position. In the course of his answer to Question No. 15,536 he said:Now I come to the evil of it. I have had for years brought to my attention the mischief done by the reports in certain low-class papers of the details of divorce cases. You cannot touch them for indecency in the ordinary sense of the word, or for obscenity. There may be gross cases in which you might be able to, but I am speaking of those which do as much evil, I mean the accounts which are put in headlines, the ladysmaid's evidence ' and the housemaid's evidence, which is followed up in these papers by a detailed account of question and answer; of the servant going to the room and saying what she sees, and incidents which the prurient mind fastens on, which could do infinite harm to young people. It has been said in evidence before this Commission that cases have been known where absolute evil has been done by these stories having been read by young people, and I cannot see the slightest ground for the publication.''The Lord Chief Justice was asked,Your view is that the greater evil by far is the detailed accounts?737 and his answer was:Yes, I do not- agree about it being a deterrent to the person who has come to the Court as a guilty person.I want the House to notice that point.
He went on:It is not a deterrent. The mischief done to the young is incalculable, particularly to boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 18.''There is another short passage in the Report which bears particularly on the matter under discussion. Paragraph 490 says:We have also had a number of witnesses representing the Press who agree with most other witnesses in thinking that the publication of minute details of these cases is an undoubted evil; and who have told us that while the abuse of publicity is mainly confined to papers of a certain class, yet that the better class of papers think themselves compelled by the competition of others less scrupulous to give more particulars than they otherwise would. It is admitted that many of the readers of newspapers complain of the publication of these reports.The Commission then express their hope—that the proprietors and conductors of newspapers will do their utmost of their own free will to check what they have acknowledged to be a serious evil. The witnesses who have appeared before us on behalf of the newspapers, have been unanimous in condemning the excess of This class of reporting and many a them have deplored the competition which, as they think, compels them to do more than they would desire to do, if they were free agents. We feel confident that the attention which has been drawn to this subject will strengthen the hands of those who desire to raise the standard in this matter and help them to exert their influence on the side of moderation.They went on to say:If it should be found that the provisions we have proposed have not the effect which we anticipate, it may be necessary for the Legislature to strengthen the law further in the direction of prohibiting reports which are deleterious to public morals.That was in 1912, and I think that most people must agree that the press, in spite of the attention called to the matter in that Report, have been what I may call singularly unsuccessful in making any efforts themselves to check this serious evil. At the same time, whenever any attempt at legislation has been made, such as the present attempt, a very great deal of criticism of any Measure proposed has always come from the press, and it 738 seems to me that the time has now come for the Legislature to take up this matter and to strengthen the law as suggested by the Royal Commission on Divorce. In 1923 a Bill, entitled the Matrimonial Causes (Regulation of Reports) Bill, was introduced into this House by my right hon. Friend the Member for the Aston Division of Birmingham, and it was read a Second time and referred to a Select Committee of this House consisting of 11 Members. This Committee heard very many witnesses, witnesses representing the legal world, the religious world, what I may call general ordinary persons, the press, and educational authorities, and in July, 1923, it issued its Report, which is a document of the very utmost importance, and with which, no doubt, very many hon. Members of this House are familiar. The Committee was quite unanimous that some legislation of this kind was necessary, and it thought that my right hon. Friend's Bill was what you might call on the right lines, though is suggested certain Amendments, and the Title of the Bill was altered to its present Title. It reported as follows:If, as we do not doubt, it is often the cumulative effect of evidence and statements, any of which would net be liable under the present law as being obscene, which do the mischief, the obvious remedy is to limit the publication of evidence and statements. The pernicious transformation of sordid stories into epics for profit cannot really be restrained in any other way. The flaunting of immorality before renders of all ages and positions must be injurious to public morals, and making light of such conduct challenges the whole structure of family life on which society is founded. The Bill puts all newspapers on the same basis, and does not close the door to adequate information about proceedings in the Divorce Court. If it be maintained that limiting publication hampers the chance of justice, the whole matter becomes a question of balancing the advantage of unrestricted publication to secure justice as against the disadvantage of publication in lowering the-standard of national character. Your Committee think that if a choice has to be made, the high standard of national character must he chosen.In' 1925 this Bill was introduced in another place by Lord Darling, and I want the House to realise that, while it was amended in the other place in certain details, the Bill that is before the House to-day is the Bill that was passed in another place last year, and that it comes to us with the imprimatur, if I may say so, of the very highest judicial 739 authorities, because it was supported by the Earl of Desart, an ex-Publice Prosecutor, the present Lord Chancellor, Lord Merrivale, who, as the House knows, is President of the Admiralty and Divorce Division, and the present Secretary of State for India, who, as the House also knows, is an ex-Lord Chancellor, and perhaps the House will allow me to quote the following passage from Lord Darling's speech:I appeal to your Lordships, seeing what is going on, is it not obvious that the public morals of the country are worse than they were? Who can doubt that the familiarising of all manner of persons with these disgusting cases is greatly to blame for the present deterioration of public morals? I should not have taken it (this Bill) up, but that after one or two notorious recent cases I was spoken to by representatives of foreign countries, resident and representing their countries here, as to the great evil which was done in England by the publication of details of those cases. I was told by them that such publications were impossible in their own particular countries; that the people of those countries formed their opinions of this country from those publications, and came to conclusions about us which those who spoke to me knew to be thoroughly unjustified.It is argued very often by those who oppose this Measure that the existing law as it stands is adequate to deal with this mischief, but Sir Archibald Bodkin, the then Director of Public Prosecutions, in his evidence before the Select Committee to which I have referred, considered that the existing law is inadequate to deal with reports which unnecessarily encourage familiarity with what ought to be avoided, and in consequence take away half the horror of it. It probably did more harm than good, he stated, to institute a prosecution and fail to obtain a verdict. This is very important, and I would ask the House to bear it in mind, because he went on to say that in that case the subject of the prosecution obtained the imprimatur of the jury, and rather than risk this mischief he refrained from instituting proceedings.
That is, in brief outline, the history of the present Measure, and I now come to the consideration of the Bill itself. I think the House will certainly agree with me that this Bill has one merit at least, and that is, its brevity. Clause 1, Subceedings, and this Clause really does little section (1, a), deals with all judicial pro- 740 more than define somewhat more fully the existing common law with regard to the publication of obscene or indecent matter. The present law on this subject is partly contained in certain Statutes, and, of course, the common law is laid down in certain eases, the chief of which, I think, is a case known as "Regina v. Hicklin." No doubt the House, or some Members of it, will be familiar with it, because it was the prosecution of a publication known as "The Confessional Unmasked," and it took place in 1868. The learned Judge, who was Chief Justice Cockburn, stated—and these words really are the test which is applied to obscene matter now:I think that the test of obscenity is this—whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influence, and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall. It is quite certain that this work would suggest to the minds of the young of either sex, or even to persons of more advanced years, thoughts of a most impure or libidinous character.That is the kind of test which has to be applied in these eases, and the prosecutor who is relying on the common law, and the magistrate, have to put to themselves the question as to whether the particular matter complained of comes within the words of that judgment. The statutes which deal with this question include the Law of Libel (Amendment) Act, 1888, and the third Section, which is the most important one of that Act, is as follows:A fair and accurate report in any newspaper of proceedings publicly heard before any court exercising judicial authority shall, if published contemporaneously with such proceedings, be privileged. Provided that nothing in this section shall authorise the publication of any blasphemous or indecent matter.There is also the Post Office Act, Section 63, the Indecent Publications Act, 1889, and the Obscene Publications Act, 1857, which is better known as Lord Campbell's Act.
Now, as to the method of procedure under the common law, at present, subject to certain exceptions in respect of newspapers, with which I will deal later, proceedings can be instituted by any person who thinks right to lay any information before a Justice and obtain a summons or warrant. The case is then 741 investigated before the Magistrate, and if he thinks a prima facie case is shown by the evidence, he commits the defendant for trial at Quarter Sessions having jurisdiction, or to the Assizes, and then the trial proceeds in the ordinary way. Newspapers, however, are in a somewhat privileged position at present, because before any prosecution of a newspaper for publishing obscenity, there has to be application to a Judge of the High Court sitting in Chambers, for a summons calling upon the persons responsible, or believed to be responsible, for the publication, to show cause why the flat of the learned Judge should not be granted. Newspapers, therefore, under the existing law, are in a somewhat better position from the ordinary person who has published obscene matter, but not in a newspaper. It is no defence, however, that a newspaper report of judicial proceedings containing obscene matter is an accurate and a true report.
What I want to point out is, that while proceedings under the present Bill can be taken before a Court of summary jurisdiction, the defendants, whoever they may be, newspapers or anyone else, have the protection of Clause 1, Sub-section (3), which provides that no prosecution for an offence under the Act shall be commenced by any person without the sanction of the Attorney-General. Therefore, it will be seen, that while newspapers are on the same footing as other defendants, everybody is protected under this Clause, which prevents frivolous actions. I have read a good many comments on this Bill in the Press, but it is a very curious thing that this Clause, which is a most important Clause, and gives a great deal of protection, is hardly ever mentioned or, if it is mentioned, is only just referred to. I think it is hardly fair that this should receive little or no attention from those who are criticising this legislation.
The Bill, after defining what may not be published under any circumstances, goes on, in Clause 1, Sub-section (1, b) to deal specially with a certain class of judicial proceedings, that is to say, for a dissolution of marriage, for nullity of marriage, or for judicial separation, and limits in this class of case what particu- 742 lars may be published, and those particulars are:
- (i)The names, addresses and description of the parties and witnesses;
- (ii)A concise statement of the grounds on which the proceedings are brought and resisted:
- (iii)Submissions on any point of law arising in the course of the proceedings, and the decision of the Court thereon;
- (iv)The summing-up of the Judge and the finding of the Jury (if any) and the Judgment of the Court and observations made by the Judge in giving Judgment:Provided that nothing in this part of this Sub-section shall be held to permit the publication of anything contrary to the provisions of paragraph (a) of this Subsection.That is the first Sub-section, which deals with all judicial proceedings. The reason it is found necessary to deal specially with this class of proceedings will, I think, readily be understood by the House. In the words which I have already quoted from the Report of the Select Committee:It is often the cumulative effect of evidence and statements, any of which would not be liable under the present law, or under Clause 1, Sub-section (1, a), of the present Bill as being obscene, which do the mischief. The pernicious transformation of sordid stories into epics for profit cannot really be restrained in any other way.I am convinced that, while the publication of such details is not necessary for the proper administration of justice, it is quite certain that they do incalculable harm by their suggestiveness, by what I may call their low moral tendencies to every class of the population, and most particularly to the young. You cannot pick out any particular sentence and say, "This thing is obscene," or "This thing is indecent," under the existing common law. It is the total effect produced upon the mind that is the thing with which we are trying to deal, and which cannot be touched under the existing law.
I come to the question of publicity. The constitutional method, as I have said, of ensuring publicity in this country is by the public hearing in Court, and while, of course, it is quite impossible to restrain those who are determined to defile their minds unnecessarily with details of such cases by being present at the hearing, it is certainly not in the public interest that 743 such details should be broadcasted throughout the land, and thrust upon the attention of persons who would otherwise neither desire to hear them nor have any interest in the proceedings. If publicity in the Press be essential to the administration of justice, the logical conclusion would be that every case ought to be published. Because what happens now? Only those cases are published which the Press thinks make good copy, because they are grossly indecent, or because of the supposed social standing of the parties. Why should those people get the great advantage which the Press offers of publicity, and only those people? The argument is perfectly absurd. It is worse than absurd—it is the grossest hypocrisy. If this desire for the proper administration of justice be really the motive of the Press in publishing these cases, then, under this Bill, they would have a better opportunity, because this Bill limits the details which they may publish, and, therefore, they will be able to give the advantage of publicity to a larger number of cases. I commend that view to those who argue in this way. Then I come to the penalties. Subsection (2) of Clause I deals with the penalties which can be imposed for the contravention of the provisions of the Bill. Sub-section (3), to which I have already alluded, provides that no prosecution for an offence under the Bill shall be commenced by any person without the sanction of the Attorney-General. This, as I have said before, will prevent frivolous charges being brought. Subsection (4) protects the legitimate publication, for official, legal or technical purposes of judicial reports, provided they are bona fide intended for circulation among Members of the legal or medical profession.
Such are the provisions of the Bill to which I ask the House to give a Second Reading to-day. I believe that they contain nothing which is in any way in conflict with the legitimate freedom of the Press, the proper administration of justice, or the information which must he available to students and others of the legal and medical professions. This Bill is the result of very deep consideration, and it is supported by the highest legal opinion. If the House passes this Bill, 744 the practice of this country in these matters will conform to that already existing in many other countries, as was pointed out in the Report of the Royal Commission on Divorce.
There is also the wider aspect of this matter to which I should like to call attention. The circulation of some of the most offending of our journals is not confined to this country, and there can be no doubt that foreign nations and our Eastern Empire and the Dominions derive from the altogether disproportionate space given to cases of this kind an entirely wrong impression of the social and domestic life of this country. This does infinite harm to our national prestige, and lowers us in the eyes of those to whom English domestic life and civilisation have in the past been an example and an inspiration. This House is occupied in the main—and rightly so—with legislation dealing with what I may call the improvement of the material conditions of the people of this country. I think that the raising of the moral tone of the nation rests largely with other institutions, religious, educational and social. But while the State can perhaps do little —and should do little—in a positive way, except as far as the improvement of material conditions can contribute, to raise the moral tone of the community, it can and should in this case, by the negative act of prohibition, do something to curb those who are ready to exploit for gain the weaknesses and passions of human nature.
But above all, it is for the sake of the-rising generation that I would plead that this Bill should be put on the Statute Book. Perhaps I may be allowed to quote some lines from a poet who is now rather out of date, the late Lord Tennyson. They are taken from "Locksley Hall—Sixty Years After";Authors—essayist, atheist, novelist, realist, rhymster, play your part.Paint the mortal shame of nature with the living hues of Art.Rip your brothers' vices open, strip your own foul passions bare;Down with Reticence, down with Reverence—forward—naked—let them stare.Feed the budding rose of boyhood with the drainage of your sewer;Send the drain into the fountain, lest the stream should issue pure.….Do your best to charm the worst, to lower the rising race of men:Have we risen from out the beast, them back into the beast again?
§ Sir EVELYN CECIL
I beg to Second the Motion.
This is the fourth year in which this Bill has been before the House, and I should like to express my warm appreciation of the speech of my hon. Friend who has just sat down, and of his action, after his luck in the ballot in bringing this question before the House. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has brought this important question once more before this House upon an occasion when it can be thoroughly discussed, and the House will be able to give a full and complete verdict upon it. I should like in that connection to express a tribute of hearty thanks to Lord Darling who was instrumental in pushing this Bill forward through all its stages in the House of Lords. At the outset, I should like further to express my unstinted admiration of the Press as a general and important national institution. I do not want anything that I may say to be misconstrued into my being supposed to think that the Press is not an exceedingly valuable adjunct to the Government of this country, and to the opinions which may be formed upon public questions.
I do feel that the nation has grounds to express its marked approval of the Press in general as an institution which has been carried on upon high traditions and which I trust has a long array of high traditions and sound management before it. During the last few years I have been at an advantage in regard to this particular matter because, if I may say so without presumption, I do not happen to be a member of the Government, and therefore I am a very poor target for the Press to shoot at. However that may be, I should like to reiterate what Lord Darling said in another place, and what my hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading has said, that perhaps the first cause which made me bring this matter prominently before the public, as I have endeavoured to do, was the criticism of some eminent foreign diplomatists, when some of these cases were reported in the newspapers and were before the public, because they told me that such things would never be allowed in their country, and they asked whether it was really necessary to publish them here. At first I argued that I was disposed to think it was necessary both in the interests of justice and on the general grounds of the freedom of the 746 Press. But the more I thought the matter over, the more I felt in doubt. The best remedy, of course, would not be legislation, but agreement by the Press amongst themselves. I tried in a humble way to attempt to bring that about in the earlier stages of this agitation, hut I was told in every quarter that that was quite impossible because there were rivalries and suspicions and indications that "our competitor over there will publish things we do not, and we cannot afford to lose the circulation and commercial profit which would be involved." The other obvious remedy was that the public should not support newspapers which published news of this kind, but, human nature being what it is, that is also a Utopian counsel.
Failing this some legislation becomes necessary, and if the Press cannot put their own house in order it becomes the duty of the legislature to do it for them. I am told that this object can he largely achieved by public opinion. I dare say that to some extent that is true, and if I can do anything to improve things by that means I will readily do it. But after all public opinion is largely created by the newspapers themselves, and if you are going to get a healthy and sound public opinion to carry through this improvement you will have to have all the newspapers on your side aiming at the highest possible standard, and all of them suppressing the filth of which we complain. I am perfectly aware that this Bill is not perfect, and I shall be very glad if it can be improved in Committee. I am no fanatic myself about it, and I probed for several other methods of procedure before this Bill was produced. I endeavoured to proceed upon the lines that discretion should be given to the Judges, and actually prepared a draft on those lines. But I found, after consultation with various Judges, that that would not be a practical course; that I should never get any further, and in the cod that draft was scrapped and the present draft substituted.
If there are difficulties about this Bill, I may still claim that even in suspense it has had some good effect. I have noted lately that the newspaper placards are not quite so prominent with objectionable features. I have also noticed greater circumspection in the newspapers so as not to transgress. Therefore, as I say, the Bill in suspense 747 has had some appreciable effect. But if you argue that that is no ground for legislation then I am afraid that I cannot agree. I am afraid that we must legislate. The difficulties may be considerable, but that is no reason for objecting to all legislation or creating difficulties. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hitchin (Major Kindersley) has just mentioned the wide support that this Bill has received from various religious bodies, from various public bodies, and from eminent Law Lords in another place, all of which seems to me to provide a very powerful argument in favour of legislation. I would merely like to say that in addition to the bodies which he mentioned there is also the Council of the Law Society which is the head of the solicitors' profession. They have passed a resolution which they have forwarded to the Prime Minister expressing a desire that facilities should be given to this Bill. Dr. Scott Lidgett, who represents all the Free Churches in this matter, has personally asked me to do my utmost to press forward the Bill.
The charge against a section of the Press is that to a great extent by insidious suggestion they debase national morals, quite unnecessarily so far as the interests of justice are concerned, and tend to pervert the mind of the youth of the nation at a very impressionable age. There is a story of Lord Chancellor Westbury, when he was at the Bar as Mr. Bethell. On one occasion the Judge interrupted him and said, "Mr. Bethell, you have used that argument twice already." Mr. Bethell, with characteristic insolence, if I may say so, replied: "Yes, my Lord, but it is only by the continual dripping of water on the stone that any impression is created." That is precisely what is happening here. You have this constant dripping of objectionable matter scattered widespread all over the Kingdom. It is read by the youth of the nation with very unnecessary and objectionable results as was evident from some of the evidence given before the Select Committee, and nothing is done.
You may say that it is puzzling to say what is indecent and what is not. That is one of the objections. It is difficult to define indecency, but it becomes more and more difficult when you read these 748 reports. The other day, for my sins, I had to look again at the evidence, as published most fully in one of the newspapers, in the Russell case, and I consciously felt that as one went on one began to ask oneself, "What is really indecent?" Your mind gets blunted, your perspective gets warped, and you begin to wonder whether anything is really intensely indecent after you have read a number of columns of this objectionable matter. Therefore, I am quite prepared to admit the observation that has been made. I cannot easily point to any single sentence upon which the Public Prosecutor could put his finger and say, "This is indecency, and this is not." It is the cumulative effect of the whole which does so much harm.
My hon. and gallant Friend who moved the Second Reading of the Bill devoted his remarks to the history of the matter and to an explanation of the provisions of the Bill. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Sir Ellis Hume-Williams), in moving the rejection of the Bill, I presume, means to challenge the whole principle of the Bill. In other words, I presume, he is going to say that he is against any legislation. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Basingstoke (Sir A. Holbrook), who is going to second the rejection, is, I suppose, also against all legislation. I will, therefore, deal mostly, this morning, with some of the objections which I imagine are taken to check or prevent legislation at all, or to pick holes in the present proposal. I have not heard quite lately so much about the freedom of the Press. That was a cry very much in vogue when the Bill was first introduced. The answer, of course, is, that the freedom of the Press is an excellent thing, but the licence of the Press is not. As the report of the Select Committee points out, there is legislation which restricts the sale of poison and which deals with sanitary nuisances, and I cannot understand why you cannot do the same in this department. What is this liberty? What is this free trade? It is free trade in scandal, and it is positively a perversion of the word "liberty" to use it in this connection. The kind of evidence which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bassetlaw gave before the Select Committee was very valuable. The two chief lines on which 749 he argued—he will correct me if I am wrong—were, in the first instance, that the Press was to be trusted, that it showed a wonderful discretion. I remember that in one of the papers which quoted him his portrait was published in appreciation.
§ Sir ELLIS HUME-WILLIAMS
I am afraid I did not see it.
§ Sir E. CECIL
The first argument was that you should trust the Press. The second argument was that it is a deterrent—that it is a question of the fear of publicity. As to trusting the Press, I have a good deal to say. I fully agree that, as I have already stated, the Press is, on the whole, carried on with great discretion, but I do not see why I should trust the Press any more than I should trust many others of my fellow creatures who are neither better nor worse. That seems to me to be a perfectly sound democratic principle. Indeed, when I look at what the Press has sometimes done, I feel that there is good reason why I should not always trust the Press. It is on record, in the Report of the Royal Commission on Divorce, that one paper —the Royal Commission asked for returns in this matter—that one Sunday newspaper, Which I need not name, published, in 1909, 238¼ columns on divorce, matrimonial cases, and the like. That seems to be a very large amount of space to devote to it, and the Commission commented upon it. It does not increase one's sense of trust in the Press.
As another reason, I noticed with much interest last year an advertisement of Lord Beaverbrook, who is much interested in Press matters, of a paper that he was bringing out, in which, in commending his paper to the public, he used this language:Readers want a higher view of humanity, religion and patriotism than is offered by these newspapers which spend six days of the week collecting the garbage of the Police Court and the Divorce Court, in order to publish it on the seventh. That way may lie, of course, a big circulation.The Royal Commission again gives an edifying instance which I should like to recall to the House. On the 4th August, 1906, Lord Gorell, who was then President of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division, directed that sketching in Court would no longer be permitted. On the 12th March, 1907, he intimated his strong opinion that illustrations taken either in or out of Court were undesirable. The 750 Royal Commission went on to obser[...], that this was a satisfactory way of touching a delicate subject, and it finished—this was written in 1912—with these words:Since that time, we understand that the rule laid down has been generally observed by the Press, so that illustrations, even from sources obtainable outside the Court, have practically ceased,I wish we could say that in 1923, 1924, 1925, and 1926. The value of that example, however, is that it shows that, oven if the Press on occasion has very properly and justly followed the expressed opinions and wishes of a Judge, you cannot be sure, without legislation, that that will continue over a series of years.
Once more, if I am to trust the Press, I should like to be confident that their opinions would always remain the same. There is an excellent North-country paper, of my own political way of thinking, so I shall not be accused of any bias, which welcomed the Bill in 1923, when it was first introduced. The paper used language of this character:The plea that publicity is a deterrent to vice will not bear a moment's examination. The innocent are pilloried equally with the guilty.… We should resist strenuously any Measure which really restricted the freedom of the Press,…but this Measure is not of that character; the only freedom which is removed is the freedom to do that which the geed sense of the whole community disapproves of… We welcome Sir Evelyn Cecil's Bill as a Measure for freeing the Press from an abuse which 99 out of 100 Pressmen dislike and resent,Those are excellent sentiments, but I was a good deal interested when, the following year, the same newspaper, in reference to practically the same Bill, used this language:The Bill—to sum up the case against it—is unnecessary because existing powers can be used to attain its object; it is unjust because it penalises the wrong persons for an offence which is both problematical and undefined; it is sociologically bad because it impasses ignorance upon the public and muzzles the Press in the performance of its rightful function.I am asked to trust the Press, and this is the language of the same paper in two consecutive years.
In giving one or two more instances, I shall look at the matter from a different angle. In the evidence before the Select Committee, we had a witness who represented the Newspaper Society, which is the society of provincial newspapers, and 751 he stated in his evidence that he had been the editor of the "Surrey Cornet" for a large number of years. I turn to the last few questions that were put to him by the Chairman, beginning with Question No. 1078:(Q.) In reviewing this matter as a whole, do you agree that it is really a case of balancing the advantage of publication to secure justice as against the disadvantage of publication in lowering the standard of national character?—(A.) I think that very fully expresses the attitude of my mind.(Q.) If it was put to you whether in that event you would vote for character or justice, which would you do?—(A.) I would vote for still greater discretion.(Q.) That is not an answer to my question P—(A.) Well, Sir, I am a journalist.Does that make me trust the Press? The final question to the witness was:—(Q.) I must take that as your answer, suppose?—(A.) I have been asked some very difficult questions.Once again, if I may take the personal side of the question, the way in which the Press states the argument about trusting it has been, I have noticed, that a Bill of this kind undermines responsibility. Then, I think, we arc entitled to ask, what exactly does the Press consider to be its responsibility? I was sent the other day a review called "The Brother hood World," of January, 1926, in which there is an article by the present editor of the "Westminster Gazette in which he uses these words:My own view, as a responsible editor, is that a newspaper is entitled to reflect the age in which we live, with its lights and Shadows. It is quite likely, of course, that undesirable trains of thought and an unhealthy curiosity may be aroused among the young in this way. But does not that throw the onus on the parents and guardians of such young folk of keeping a stricter watch on their reading? My main point is that parents must not ask working journalists in take over the moral oversight of children, which belongs primarily to them, and in a secondary degree, though still a large and important degree, to teachers.I fundamentally disagree with that idea. If the newspaper is to pass all responsibility on parents and teachers to bring up the young, and to be indifferent whether what they publish according to the lights and shadows of nature is deleterious or not to youthful minds, all I can say is that it is a very gross misconception of their duties, and I for one would never systematically take in any paper edited on such lines.
752 Let me now deal with the evidence given before the Select Committee as to publicity being a deterrent. I have great doubt whether in this kind of matter the people who appear mostly before the public are greatly impressed by deterrents in all cases. In reading the Russell case the other day, I noticed that Mrs. Russell wrote to a lady friend a letter in which this sentence occurred. This was before the trial was coming on—My solicitors are priceless, and I long for the fray. Do think of the rows of co's "—that is co-respondents—lined up for the trial.Does that sound as if she was particularly deterred by the fear of publicity? I should say not. I daresay my hon. and learned Friend says, as I think he said in evidence, this is quite an abnormal ease, but I suspect there are many other cases of the same kind.
§ Sir E. HUME-W1LLIAMS
She was a foolish woman.
§ Sir E. CECIL
That may be, but I do not think she is quite a unique woman. If he wants evidence from a newspaper source—I have purposely avoided mentioning newspapers by name but in this case as it is a newspaper beyond the jurisdiction of the Kingdom, I think I may name it—sometime ago I was sent by a friend in Canada a copy of the "Vancouver Times," with a portrait of myself in it, because of the action I was taking in this matter. And what do hon. Members think was the legend under it—He would ruin publicity stunts for actresses.The "Vancouver Times," at any rate, does not think such publicity a deterrent. There is one argument in favour of the Bill which I ought to notice was brought forward in, evidence before the Select Committee by Sir John Mellor to the effect that publication of some of these cases occasionally is useful in as much as members of the public wrote to him asking him to intervene in a case where there had been a decree nisi. On examination further before the Committee, Sir John said that cases in which he intervened were a small fraction of the whole, and of course those in which he intervened in consequence of the public having written to him must have been smaller still, so that though that was an argument 753 for publicity, I think it is entirely out-balanced by the number of other arguments against it.
There are several other points which are taken by the Press. The latest and most fashionable argument is that the Bill is unworkable, and it is said to be futile. I am told I am an idealist, and that I bring forward a hardy annual. When I am told the Bill is unworkable I rub my eyes with some astonishment, because the document that tells me it is unworkable is a document that was circulated to all Members of the House the other day emanating from the Newspaper Proprietors' Association, 6, Bouverie Street, E.C.4, and it states, as one of the objections to the Bill, that the system of truncated reporting would be unfair to the parties and witnesses and unworkable from a technical point of view, and, in their opinion, that there is no half-way house between ordinary reporting and trial in camera. I rub my eyes in astonishment, because I recollect that from the same office, signed by the same secretary, on 28th, Tune, 1923, the following letter was addressed to the Clerk to the Select Committee. I hope, in all fairness, that newspapers will not hesitate to publish this letterDEAR SIR, I brought your letter of the 22nd instant before the Council yesterday afternoon, when I was desired to say in reply that they think it impracticable to nominate a person to give evidence on behalf of the Association, but that they see no difficulty in giving effect to the provisions of the Bill as drawn. The Council can suggest no alternative method which would be an improvement on that proposed.I do not know why in the world this should be now sent round to Members of the House, in view of that previous letter.
Next let me deal with the Bill being futile. I am conscious of many gaps in it. I know it does not deal with all the objectionable matters, and Clause 1 does not deal with murders such as the Bywaters and Thompson case, or with the Mr. A. case, or the Dennistoun ease which was for breach of contract, and others, but I am naturally willing to accept Amendments if they can be devised to improve its machinery. One or two newspapers of importance lately have been urging the argument of "in camera," and might be willing to adopt 754 the system of only publishing names and results on the French model. At any rate, they have expressed their willingness to accept some solution of that kind. I shall be glad to discuss either of these suggestions in Committee in a friendly way, the proposal of "in camera" and the French system. If they were brought forward by Amendment to the Bill from any quarter, I should be willing to consider them. It makes me reflect on the change from the situation three years ago. Truly, it is a case of Tempora mutantur, nos et mutantur in illis. If I had put forward these proposals at the beginning, I should have been howled at from all quarters as grossly infringing the freedom of the Press. I think there is much to be said for them now.
Another objection is taken that any suppression might work injustice. Why are newspapers so partial in their justice? They are ready enough to publish at full length, let us say, the divorce concerns of the relations of a Duke, but I have never noticed that they have been equally ready to publish the divorce concerns of the relations of an editor of a paper. I do not know why they should not mete out justice in both cases. Surely, the concerns of the relations of an editor are as important from the point of view of the citizen as the concerns of the relations of a Duke.
§ Mr. NAYLOR
May I suggest that it is a question of public interest?
§ Sir E. CECIL
The public interest rests as much on the relations of one person as on the relations of another, particularly of an editor, who occupies so prominent a position.
§ Sir ROBERT LYNN
As an editor, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he can give one single case where an editor has acted in the way he suggests?
§ Sir E. CECIL
I have said that I do not wish to be personal.
§ Sir R. LYNN
You are making a charge against the profession.
§ Sir E. CECIL
I strongly repudiate that. I merely put a hypothetical case. I said that if they publish one as a matter of justice, they ought to publish the 755 other. I have said that such cases might have occurred.
§ Sir R. LYNN
I do not know of them.
§ Sir E. CECIL
It is undesirable and unnecessary to quote them at this moment.
§ Sir R. LYNN
I am not aware of them.
§ Sir E. CECIL
Another objection taken is that it, is hard on the working journalist. I do not want to prevent the working journalist from making his livelihood, but I do not think it is essential that a livelihood should be made out of writing filth. If there is any real hardship on the working journalist, it is a Committee point which I should be glad to consider. The working journalist, even now, is working under the law of libel and under the common law of indecency, and this Bill is drawn on the same lines. Therefore, I do not, prima facie, see why it should be so much harder on him than it is already under the common law of indecency and the law of libel. I should be glad to consider any question of that sort.
It is argued that the question is one of supply and demand. It is not simply a question of what the public demands. The supply creates the demand. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Grotrian) has an Amendment down to the effect that the law is adequate now but that no serious attempt is made to enforce it. Virtually, his Amendment is an indictment of the Director of Public Prosecutions. In any case, that is rather a legal point. If the Director of Public Prosecutions does not feel equal to acting, it is because he is afraid of having a verdict against him, which might give the imprimatur of a jury to questionable phraseology. There are other arguments raised against the Bill. There is a general feeling that "our craft is in danger." Surely, that is a flimsy argument. It is also said that this is being made a new offence. I do not see anything wrong about that. You might as well object to a new tax being created. The argument that no new tax ought to be imposed must surely fall to the ground, however we may dislike a new tax. Equally I do not see that we can 756 argue that no new offence should be created. It is said that this Bill will lead to conflicting decisions by different benches of magistrates. I have heard criticisms about different Judges giving different sentences for the same offence. It is further said that this Bill does not include novels and plays. I dare say not. It is desirable that action should' be taken, if need be, in regard to novels and plays, but there are other means of doing that. Newspapers have a wider set of readers than have novels or than plays have of spectators.
There seems to me to be a considerable number of arguments which are brought against this Bill which are not to the point. It does not seem to me to be a very dignified attitude to run from pillar to post getting fresh arguments as the years go by, merely to prevent anything being done. The large majority of electors of this country intend that something should be done, and I am sure that a large portion of the Press will help us to do something. If those who are going to take up a non possumus attitude think that that will commend itself to the electorate, I venture categorically to deny it. Parents, notably through the Mothers' Union and many other bodies, have shown their disgust at the present arrangement and their repudiation of the filthy headlines and illustrations which have to be hidden from their children, forsooth, at the breakfast table. They detest the idea that these pictures should be displayed as a real sample of the decadent life of England. These things go out broadcast to our Dominions and to India, where they do an infinity of harm as my correspondence has shown, to the Continent, the Eastern nations and elsewhere, as though they represented the normal life of this country. And all this is done in the name of justice!
I am sure that the House must believe that this Bill points in the right direction. If the majority of the House think so—I am asking for the general principle of the Bill on the Second Reading to be approved—I hope they will approve it by a large and convincing majority, so that the Government may be induced to take up the Bill and show their agreement with what was said the other day by Sir Robert Bruce, the President 757 of the Institute of Journalists, that the moral sense of the overwhelming majority of the people is in favour of action of this kind.
§ Sir E. HUME-WILLIAMS
I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and at the end of Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."
I am sure of one thing, and that is that the House will entirely sympathise with the objects of those who are promoting this Measure, and a should like, if it is not impertinent, to offer, particularly to the right hon. Gentleman who seconded the Motion, my congratulations for the courage and persistency with which he has carried out his duty. He and those who think with him have one great advantage in bringing this Bill before the House. They bring it forward as being something which is a necessity for the better education and upbringing of the young, and that is a subject which must touch a sympathetic chord in every Member of the House. But at the same time it makes it all the more desirable that hon. Members should examine with a little care a Bill which on the face of it touches their sympathies perhaps more than their judgment. I am going to suggest to the House that this Bill ought to be rejected for three reasons. The first question is whether this legislation is needed at all; secondly, whether it will not do a great deal more harm than good; and thirdly, whether, if such a Bill is required, this particular Bill is workable even if subjected to any amount of amendment.
Let me tell the House what is the law at the present time. The avowed object of this Bill is to prevent the corruption of the young; the idea is that this matter which appears in the newspapers is largely read by the youths and maidens of the country, and that it has a corrupting influence. I think I shall be able to show that the law as it stands is not only sufficient to deal with an object of that kind, but is framed intentionally to protect the very people whom this Bill purports to defend. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading read one of the cases with which we are all familiar, but the existing law was very shortly stated by Sir Archibald Bodkin in his evidence before the Select Committee, 758 when he quoted from the remarks of a learned Judge, to this effect:It very often happens that for the purposes of justice our ears may be shocked with extremely offensive and delicate evidence, but, though we are bound in a Court of Justice to hear, evil persons are not afterwards at liberty to circulate it at the risk of those effects which in the minds of the young and unwary such evidence may be calculated to produce.Another learned Judge says:The provision of a fair report of what occurs in a Court of Justice is like free discussion allowed for the sake of public benefit, but it is equally clear that the publication of what tends to corrupt public morals cannot be lawful.I think it is clear that the existing Law is strong enough as it stands to prohibit the main evil which this Bill starts out to stop. As the Director of Public Prosecutions said in his evidence, before he initiates any prosecution he has to consider whether the offending matter is obscene, indecent, and calculated to affect the morals of the country — and that is the object of this Bill. Will this Bill interfere with the administration of justice? That is, after all, the main question and the important question which this House must consider. The present President of the Divorce Court was called before the Select Committee, and I should like to call the attention of the House to the question which was put to him by the Chairman of the Select Committee. This is the question:So far as general considerations go would you support the broad view of English law that the administration of justice, generally speaking, should be carried on with absolute publicity?And this is the reply—and the House will observe that "absolute publicity" entails reports in the newspapers:To my mind that is a foundation element in our administration of justice. I do not know anything else in this country in the administration of public affairs which seems to me more vital to the well-being of a country such as ours than that justice should be publicly administered. I may add, that it is not only a principle of English law but it is a tradition in our law. This country resents anything in the nature of adjudication in private upon the affairs of the citizens.The next question was this:As at present advised would you support a proposal to prohibit the publication of anything concerning divorce cases except the result?759 And this was the answer:No, I should not by any means. I think that would be a dangerous proposal. I will tell you the kind of considerations that affect me arising not only from general observation upon these questions but from my own experience.That is a very important consideration. Is there really any particular demand for the class of prohibitive legislation which is proposed in this Bill. There has been a good deal said about the Russell case during the discussion. I remember when that case was being reported, talking to a friend of mine who was very loud in his praise of the "Morning Post." He said, "The Morning Post' has not published a word of this filth. I think it has behaved nobly in excluding reports altogether of this dirty, horrible case." I was a little doubtful as to whether he was quite accurate in his statement and I questioned it, and he said "No, they have not published a word. I ought to know because personally I have to read it in 'The Times ' every day." Honestly, if you come to think of it one's own common sense will tell one that the publicity of divorce cases must act as a deterrent. Just let the House think for one moment what happens. Publicity consists of the reading of passionate love letters in the cold atmosphere of the court. All the things that seem so beautiful when they were written or received are read out in open court and made the subject of laughter and jeers. There is the vulgarity of the whole thing, the details 'of it, all stripped of every atom of romance—why, it is the greatest deterrent to a certain class of people, to the rich and wealthy certainly, which you could possibly imagine. I am glad that I find support in that view from the present President of the Divorce Court. He said in his evidence before the Select Committee, on page 2:I was going to tell you of my own experience during the great pressure there was in the administration of divorce jurisdiction after the War. That pressure, as you know, has happily almost entirely disappeared because our people have not become demoralised as some people thought they had. During that time I came to the conclusion, by very close observation when I was sitting sometimes for weeks together in the exercise of the divorce jurisdiction, that there was throughout the mass of people who were brought into the jurisdiction a sense of shame and of repugnance at the public consequences of the conduct into which they had been betrayed which 760 seemed to me. a most wholesome state of things. Now if you treat the administration of the divorce law as though it were a private affair between parties, the persons who will be relieved will be the people who seem to me to deserve public condemnation. I can well conceive that people who have been guilty of the grace offence of adultery, for example, would desire nothing better than that no publicity should be given to the matter. Speaking of the effect of publicity, I have observed, times out of mind, in the communications of parties in divorce which come to the Judge and are never read in Court, that the men who have gone wrong and the women who have gone wrong have had a very wholesome horror of the public opprobrium to which they had exposed themselves.Then my right hon. Friend (Sir E. Cecil) asks this question of his Lordship:So that you think publicity is a real deterrent?The answer is:I think so, and I think, too, it is very necessary in the administration of justice.Does the House think that in these days it is desirable to remove any deterrent from people going into the Divorce Court? The whole tendency, unluckily, of men and women is to go far too easily into the Divorce Court. In modern days there does not seem to be time for mutual consideration, for give and take, and for all that makes for happiness in the home, but people rush at once to the Divorce Court. If this deterrent is removed, it will make entrance into the Divorce Court easier still. I say without hesitation, and I say it because I believe it, that if this House passes this Bill they will earn the gratitude of every would-be adulterer in the country. That may sound a strong thing to say, but it is true. If the deterrent is removed, you are making it easier for people to go into the Divorce Court when it ought to be made harder. But there is a second point which goes to prove that the publicity of divorce cases ought to exist. Public opinion as a result of Divorce Court cases counts for a good deal. It is not right always that the details and facts of cases should be suppressed.
Let me give two examples that I have met in my own personal experience, concerning two men, both of them doctors. They are both men to whom public opinion means their bread and cheese. In the first case the man was being divorced by his wife under circumstances which deserve pubic execration. He had brought his mistresses into his home and 761 he had led for many years a life which should hold him up to public reprobation and in justice should affect his future life. The other man is also a. doctor. He married an excellent woman 20 years ago. There were temperamental differences between them, but there were no marital offences on either side, and they agreed to part. The doctor has always allowed her a reasonable share of his earnings, he has behaved as a father should to his child, there is no item in the relationship between himself and his wife which could be pointed to as improper. At the end of 20 years he felt the want of someone to carry on his home and he is anxious to contract a proper union. The wife is anxious to divorce him so that he may find happiness in his old age. He required to carry on his practice as a doctor and he could not face the ruin which an unexplained notice of his divorce, not setting forth all its circumstances, might bring upon him. I give these instances to show that publication of the details of divorce cases is very often perfectly just and the public should have an opportunity of judging. If this Act passes, all that is going to happen is that you publish the names and address's of the parties and the names and addresses of the witnesses. No doubt the newspaper will have a right to insert the judgment, but that in nine cases out of 10 consists of only some two or three words, such as, "decree granted."
Very often the publication of such cases does a great deal of good. There was a case of a young actress not very long ago who met with an unfortunate death under circumstances which, when investigated, showed that there was a practice of holding dope parties where cocaine and various other dopes were freely taken. The report of this case nut the police on the alert, which nothing else would have done but the fact that public attention was called to it, and the result is that the practice has been largely brought to an end solely through the observation drawn to it by the publication of that case. Take another example. Incest cases contain, as you may well imagine, details the publication of which would come well within the prohibition of this Bill. His Majesty's Judges have recently requested the publication of incest cases for this reason, that among some of the uneducated people in the 762 North there is ignorance of the fact that incest is forbidden by the law, and the practice was becoming so prevalent that the only cure was publicity, and as a consequence you will now see the reports of such cases which are tried at Assize by the Judges. Then there is the case of the King's Proctor. He depends almost entirely for his information upon the publicity given to divorce cases. He may not be a very popular official, but he is a person who is still acting as an official, and it is as well that he should have an opportunity of doing his work. He was called before the Committee to give evidence, and he was asked whether he thought that it would affect his work, and he replied, "Yes." He said in terms that the Bill, if passed, would add to the difficulties that he experienced in tracing collusive divorce cases, which it was his object to stop.
Finally, can it be suggested that to read a report of a divorce case would do harm to the young in the sense that it would cause any kind of sexual emotion? Can it do such harm to read a case where adultery, stripped of every atom of romance, stands out as what it is, an offence against Cod and man, where the all too common incidents are shown up of the betrayal of a friend, the abuse of hospitality, the breaking of a. plighted word, where the offender is exposed in consequence, to public contempt, public contempt from which this Bill will largely shield him, and to the result, the decree which should follow the case? Is it not foolish to try the dangerous experiment which is included in this Bill? Why do you leave in circulation books dealing with sex problems, described with anatomical accuracy in glowing language, salacious plays in which the timely curtain falls only just soon, enough to hide the obvious dénouement illustrations in the papers of veiled nudity, which are intended to, excite, and which do excite the feelings, the ideas and the imaginations of the young? If we are to leave all these out, how can we cleanse the Augean stable of public moralty? Had we not better begin with the serious things instead of the small? I want in the few moments still at my disposal to deal with the Bill itself and suggest that it is wholly unworkable. Let us follow it for a moment:I shall not be lawful to print, circulate or publish "—763 I suppose the result of that would be that every wretched creature who sells papers at the corner of the street would be circulating, and would come under the prohibition of this Bill—in relation to any judicial proceedings any indecent matter or medical, surgical or physiological details.These are not to be published if they arecalculated to injure public morals or otherwise be to the public mischief.My hon Friend found some difficulty, and I do not wonder at it in giving a qualification of the word "indecent." Opinions differ. There are those who may think the "Song of Songs" in the Bible or the Book of Job full of expressions that may be indecent; there are others that may think indecency lies, not in the language used, but in the suggestions contained. There are differences of opinion. You may think one thing; I may think another. Yes, but if the reporter under this Bill does not come to the right conclusion be goes to prison for three months and may be fined £500. It may be stopped too if it is to the public mischief. Let the House pause and consider what a dangerous phrase that is. Can we not well imagine a bench of magistrates sitting in the country and having some prominent citizen, some wealthy and well-known gentleman brought before them? What is to prevent the chairman saying just one word to the Press, "I think publication of this case would tend to the public mischief." It is all wrong. There ought not to be any such power. It may not be utilised, but no such power ought to be in the hands of anybody. Every action in every Court of Law ought to be open to the whole world. It ought to be the same for the rich and poor, distinguished and unknown.
Then we come to a phrase about which I think the promoters of the Bill must have been a little humourous when they inserted it. It is to be an offence unless you make a concise statement of the grounds on which the proceedings are brought and resisted. I wonder what differences of opinion there are on the question of what is a concise statement. I wonder how many times lion. Members have come to you, Mr. Speaker, and assured you that they are going to make a concise statement and then you have 764 called upon them as a result? I should like sometimes, if I had been able to penetrate into your mind to have found out what you thought afterwards as to whether the statement was concise or not.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I have a great many thoughts on that question.
§ Sir E. HUME-WILLIAMS
still more would I have liked to have asked the opinion of the other Members in the House, who were all waiting to make their speech, as to whether the speaker you. had called on was concise or not. Perhaps the principle is an excellent one and should be extended to speeches in this House. The first result would be that all Ministers and ex-Ministers would be undergoing various terms of imprisonment. It might be a good thing or not, but it would have one obvious advantage that it would give to the back benchers what they are always craving for—opportunity. It would have its advantages until the back benches themselves would of necessity go to join their leaders in captivity. I do not think the phrase is any better because it was put in in the House of Lords. Can the House imagine anything more ludicrous than such a suggestion?
Let Members put themselves for a moment in the position of the unfortunate reporter, taking down these cases for publication. All the time the sword of Damocles is hanging over his head and he must say to himself, "It must be concise or I go to prison. If it is too long, a column instead of a half column, it may mean three months or a fine of £500." Does the House really imagine that he can carry on under conditions of that kind? There is also a danger arising from the fact that reporters have to learn their business like every other trade. The class of reporter who is sent to attend the trials may be, and very often is, a beginner and lacking the experience that is needed to translate the speeches that we make, into proper English. It would indeed be fatal if reports of such things as public trials were not worthy of the attention of the leaders of the profession. We have all suffered, I suppose. from the young reporter. I remember that at the time when the National Health Insurance Bill was being discussed in this House I went into the country to address a diocesan conference. I spoke of the in- 765 justice of the proposed flat rate, as a result of which the agriculturists and the artisan were called upon to pay the same contribution. I confess that I was a little startled When, on reading the report of my speech, I found it dealt with in this way:The hon. Member concluded an interesting address by pointing out the injustice to the agriculturist who would have to pay for his flat a rate which included insurance.The report was duly circulated among the clergy of the diocese, and I am given to believe that the strongest language which the vocabulary contains was used in condemnation of the folly of sending a London lawyer to address an audience of agriculturists. What I am afraid of is that if this Bill is passed, even now at the Second reading, it will inevitably tend to this—it will not be worth any newspaper's while to send a reporter to trials. You may think it is well to suppress reports altogether. If you think so, say so, and let us have a Bill to suppress all reports of trials; let its go straight to the French system, under which no names at all appear in divorce cases and no publicity is given. Let us draft a Bill which will make divorce purely an agreeable domestic incident, a sort of happy interruption in the home life, bringing change into the love and affection of the family. Let us have divorce made still easier than it is now. Speaking as one with some experience in the matter, I beg the House not to make divorce easier. It has become to a great extent a public scandal. People seem to be losing their self-control; they seem to be losing all desire to preserve the sanctity of married life, and in the feverish age in which we live they rush pell-mell into the divorce court. If you remove what in many cases is practically the only terror. namely, the public contempt, opprobrium and ridicule to which parties are subject, you will he taking a terrible step towards making divorce easier and more common.
This Bill runs counter to the whole tendency of modern justice, which is to make all our Courts open, justice being administered in the light of day. There used to be trials in camera. Judges have set their faces against them. There used to be cases in which, for many reasons, the Courts were closed. They have practically ceased to exist. Now the law 766 is that the Courts have to be open to everybody, reporters and public, except in cases where the actual administration of justice would be harmed, because the witnesses would not be able to give evidence freely, or in certain cases affecting, say, the future of a child. The great case which settled this matter was the well-known case of Scott v. Scott in 1913. The whole tendency of modern adminitration is to court publicity. There have been opinions expressed by the learned Law Lords on this subject. Lord Halsbury said:I am of opinion that every Court of Justice is open to every subject of the KingMr. Evelyn in 1730 said:In other countries the Courts of Justice are held in secret; with us, publicly and in open view "—The applicantmust satisfy the Court that by nothing short of the exclusion of the public can justice be done.The mere consideration that the evidence is of an unsavoury character is not enough, and, still less, that the parties agree in being reluctant to have their case tried with open doors.There will be no necessity for parties to "agree" if this Bill be passed; this House will do it for them. This Bill will shut the doors of the Courts to—
§ Major KINDERSLEY
On a point of Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman is discussing the closing of the Courts. There is nothing in this Bill about the closing of the Courts.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
That is a point of argument, not a point of Order.
§ Sir E. HUME-WILLIAMS
The hon. and gallant Gentleman does me scant justice. I never suggested that the Courts should be closed. What he is suggesting in the Bill is that they shall be closed to the reporters, at any rate in part. The hon. and gallant Gentleman shakes his head, but what I state is true. If this Bill is passed, all that the reporters will be entitled to do will be to report the names of the parties and a few immaterial details. For ordinary purposes the Bill would close the Courts to the reporters, who are the eyes and ears of the country.
§ Major KINDERSLEY
It is the second time that the hon. and learned Gentleman has left out the summing up of the Judge.
§ Sir E. HUME-WILLIAMS
The hon. and gallant Member does not realise that in nine cases out of 10 particularly in the Divorce Court, there is no jury to which to sum up. What happens is, that the Judge listens to the evidence, and, having a great deal of work to do, in nine cases out of 10 he merely says, "Decree nisi, with costs." If that is called having the Courts open, I disagree. I have ventured to take up the time of the House because I think that the issue involved in this Bill is a much more serious one than the Mover and Seconder appear to have thought. The issue is something higher than the suppression of vulgar and unwholesome matter in a few of the less important journals. The Bill threatens the hard-won right—it is a hard-won right which had to be fought for—of every British citizen to a trial in any and every Court in this country in the light of day, which all can attend, which all can read, and, if necessary, which all can criticise. That the proceedings in the Courts of Law should be known to all is the very essence of justice in a free and democratic country. It is because I think that this Bill seriously threatens that, because I think that the existing law, if it requires strengthening, can be strengthened in a much better and simpler way than by practically closing part of our Courts, that I look upon this as a dangerous and retrograde Bill, a step backward instead of a step forward. I think it is fraught with danger to what is the most important thing in the history of our country, a pure, open and free administration of justice. For these reasons I offer the Bill my strenuous opposition, and I beg the House to reject the Motion for Second Reading.
§ Colonel Sir ARTHUR HOLBROOK
I beg to second the Amendment.
I wish to preface my remarks by expressing my deep sympathy with the object of the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill and to assure him that anything I may say is not inspired, in any way, by a desire on my part, or on the part of any news paper proprietor in this country, to encourage the publication of details which are calculated to injure public morals. The Seconder of the Motion said that 768 80 per cent. of the newspapers of this country did not publish these details. I would say to him that 95 per cent. of them do not publish such details. I have been running a provincial newspaper for many years, and details of this kind have never appeared in my newspaper nor in any newspaper in my district, so far as I am aware. We are not out, in publishing these reports, to interfere with public morals, but we take the view which has been so ably expressed by the hon. and learned Mover of the Amendment, that to suppress reports which are going to convict people of indecent conduct in private life, would be detrimental to the best interests of the country. The Seconder of the Motion said that the newspaper people had changed their minds and had taken different views on this matter from time to time. I am sure he will not make that. charge against me. When a Bill of this kind was introduced three or four years ago I put down on the next day an Amendment for its rejection. I did so, not because it was an interference with the liberty of the Press, but because it was an interference with the liberty of the subject.
I have strong reasons for taking that view. Fifty years ago, my father, my brother and I, were indicted on a criminal' information for an alleged libel printed in our paper, at a time when we were all absent from the town where the paper is published. The case was heard in the Queen's Bench and a rule nisi was granted. We sought shelter under an Act. which had been passed by Lord Campbell. in 1837, which provided that in a criminal prosecution for libel it should be competent for a newspaper proprietor to prove that the publication was made without his knowledge, authority or consent. It is a singular thing that for 40 years that law had stood on the Statute Book and no newspaper proprietor had sought its protection prior to that case We tried to get the point raised in the arguments in the Queen's Bench on the issue of making the rule absolute. We failed, the rule was made absolute, and we were all three sent for trial to the Winchester Assizes. We were all three convicted in respect of a matter with which we had nothing whatever to do. We appealed, the convictions were: quashed, and we were ordered to be tried 769 a second time. I was in a very delicate position at the time. Very shortly before the case came on. in October, 1876, I had become engaged to be married and I did not want my future wife to be in the position of marrying a criminal, so I had to keep on postponing my wedding while this wretched case proceeded, as it did for nearly two and half years before we could get it settled.
We were tried a second time, but I made up my mind that, whatever the result of the second trial, I should get married. We were convicted a second time, and again we appealed against the decision, and while I was a convicted criminal, awaiting the sentence which the Court was to impose, I was married and went on the Continent. I had scarcely arrived there before I got a cable to come hack at once as I had to surrender to the tipstaff of the Court on the following morning at nine o'clock. I travelled all night and arrived home in the morning. This was in May, 1878, and the case lasted for a considerable period while the Judges took time to consider their decision, which was not given until the following December—again in our favour. We established this time. as a matter of law, that a newspaper proprietor should not go to prison for something which appeared in his paper without his knowledge, authority or consent.
What. is the effect of this Bill? If it is passed. it will widen the field of criminal responsibility and not only bring in the proprietor, but the reporter who takes the note, the editor who passes the report., the printer, the publisher, the newsagent and the boy who sells the paper on the street. If some local gentleman who has some fad decides that a publication in the paper is prejudicial to public morals, he. can go to a Court of summary jurisdiction and as a result of his efforts, any one of these individuals can be sent. to prison for three months, though they probably know nothing about what has appeared in the paper. That is an extension of criminal responsibility to which this House ought never to agree. The question of the publication of detailed reports is a matter which is a little outside my scope but the criminal responsibility would remain. I might be sitting in this House; one of my sub-editors might put an article into my newspaper in Portsmouth and I might 770 find myself summoned on the following day by some local man to go down and answer in a Court of Summary Jurisdiction for something in that article which was alleged to be prejudicial to public morals. I should not know anything myself about the publication but this Bill would make me responsible for it. I say that does not show a true appreciation of English justice and the House of Commons ought not to give a Second Reading to a Bill of that kind.
Reference has been made to the harm which is done to young people by the publication of certain details. I quite agree. I have always realised my responsibility in that respect, and I am not alone. Newspapers proprietors generally realise their responsibility not only to suppress reports of cases which are calculated to injure the morals of young people, but they also exclude those filthy advertisements which are inserted in some papers and lose a large revenue because they will now allow their papers to contain anything which cannot be distributed in the family circle. That is the principle which I have followed throughout my career of 50 years. Every newspaper man already has his responsibilities and his terrors. He never knows when some slip may be made in his columns, and he may be served with a writ for damages. This Bill proposes to add to his responsibilities and terrors. It is suggested that we might publish a concise statement. Originally the word used was "pleadings." I pointed out on a previous occasion that if the pleadings in the Court were published they might contain some reflection upon an individual which would not afterwards be proved by sworn evidence, and a man whose character was thus impugned would have a civil action against the newspaper proprietor which might possibly ruin the newspaper proprietor.
That is what we have to face. If there is to be any suppression at all, suppress the whole case. As. far as I am concerned, and I think I speak for about 95 per cent. of newspaper proprietors—we are quite willing to accept the decision of the Judges that cases are not to be reported at all. But there is enormous danger in that. In France they do not publish these reports, and last year there were 50,000 divorce cases in France against 3,000 in this country. That is the danger to which 771 you may lay the country open if you pass a Bill of this kind. The hon. and learned Mover of the Amendment has already called attention to that danger. There is an instance of what the danger would be. The extension of facilities for divorce is a most dangerous step to take, and this House ought to be careful not to give any encouragement to it. Reference has been made to the difficulty of defining what is indecent. Does not that at once show the main objection to this Bill? You can imagine the position in which a man would be if there was some sort of difficulty, and he could not decide whether a thing was or was not decent. A man might be convicted, but the case might lead to all sorts of litigation afterwards, and other Judges might say it was not indecent and that it was merely a question of publishing the facts. We want to protect young people, but can we not do so better by turning our attention to some of the books which are placed on the market to-day? There are two books which I have seen lately. They were sent to me by a Member of this House to read, and they were published by a lady called Marie Stopes, who claims to be a doctor. She is not a doctor of medicine, but a doctor of philosophy, and I have read those two books—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I cannot help thinking that this is a little beyond the scope of this Bill.
§ Sir A. HOLBROOK
If those books are allowed to be published, I say that the law is not being put into proper operation. The law is strong enough to-day to deal with cases of that sort, and I, as a Magistrate, would not hesitate, if a man were brought before me for selling one of those books, to convict him of selling an indecent publication, and I should be justified in doing it. To start with the newspapers which are carrying out a public duty is not a fair way of dealing with this desire to suppress unwholesome publications. In Clause 1, Sub-section (1, a) of the Bill it says:in relation to any judicial proceedings any indecent matter or medical, surgical or physiological details.I say that that is a dangerous thing, and if that is going to be carried out the word "indecent" ought to be put before the word "medical" as well, 772 otherwise there may be some medical fact brought out which would not be at all indecent, but the publication of it would make the newspaper proprietor liable, under this Bill, for three months' imprisonment. I acknowledge the protection we have, by the case being submitted first to the Attorney-General, against what I would call petty prosecutions, but I contend that the newspaper proprietors should not be subjected to this great difficulty in carrying out their duties. We are of opinion that this Bill, if placed on the Statute Book, would be injurious to the public. Charges are often not substantiated, and it would be unjust if in publishing "pleadings" some reference might appear prejudicial to the character of a man which was not afterwards proved in sworn evidence. If we had to give only small details, we should always be in danger. If you cannot give the whole case, you are always in some difficulty as to whether a jury might not decide that you published something prejudicial to an individual and omitted something in his favour. If hon. Members have ever been to a Court and heard any of these cases, which, as a newspaper man, it has been my misfortune to have to do on many occasions, they would be amazed to find the discretion which is exercised to-day by newspaper reporters in omitting details not fit for the public to read, and it is only fair that those reporters should have some sort of protection. I yield to no Member of this House in my desire to establish a clean Press, but, while that is so, we must not be carried away by sentiment and establish a Press which is not protecting the interests of the general public. I second the Amendment, and T hope the House will not give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Mr. CLYNES
This, of course, is not a, party question, and the names on the back of this Bill indicate that all parts of the House are associated with its purpose. I am able to offer, on behalf of those with whom I act on this side of the House, a general support to this Bill, though I have no doubt that individual Members of the Labour party will freely express their views during the remaining stages of this Debate. There is no doubt that very many of my hon. Friends are still enjoying the repose which their continuous labours of the last two nights have 773 earned for them, but, even in their absence, I can speak generally in their name, and I would congratulate the right hon. Member for the Aston Division of Birmingham (Sir E. Cecil) upon the success of his continued efforts and upon the stage which the objects of this Bill have now reached. His success has been due to a growing disgust among the newspaper readers of this country and the public generally at what undoubtedly is a deplorable development of the more evil sides of the journalism of the day, and there is now an almost unanimous opinion and desire that some action should be taken to cope with what is an admitted evil. Public opinion, so far as I can measure it, is unanimously on the side of this Bill, which is supported by innumerable organisations of all characters, and not merely by religious bodies. It has the support of the Council of the Institute of Journalists, that Council having expressed its strong disapproval of the more detestable features of the sort of journalism to which I have referred.
The Bill is not the handiwork of cranks and busybodies. It is not the product of a few shocked sentimentalists who want to interfere with individual freedom. All law is, in some form or degree, an interference with individual liberty. Committees and other bodies that have investigated the subject before us have, with emphasis and with unanimity, suggested that some step should be taken through the medium of the law to deal with this evil. No one wants to interfere with individual freedom; we want to suppress what is really an abuse of freedom. We have seen that abuse carried to the length of certain newspapers paying very big prices to buy sensational material from some of the worst offenders, who have not only passed through the Courts, but spent their time in gaol. It may be that they are only, after all, a small section, but the general standard of journalism as a whole is lowered by this abuse on the part of that small section, and that is why all the more reputable journals, whether daily or weekly, are on the side of the objects of this Measure. It has been argued that the Bill is imperfectly drawn, and that there are defects in it. Which Bill is not? In Committee, the details to which the Mover and Seconder of the Motion for rejection have referred can be made as perfect as it is possible to make them.
774 It is no objection against this Bill that it does not deal with everything. Of course, it does not deal with books, or plays, or pictures. It has a definite object in relation to the Press, and there is nothing to prevent hon. Members of this House taking up the wider labours to which they have referred.
If this Bill is given a Second Reading, as I hope and believe it will be, by an overwhelming majority, I join with the right hon. Member for the Aston Division in. suggesting that the Government's responsibility should then intervene, and that the Bill should be taken over as a Measure desired by the country generally, and by the vast majority of Members of all parties in this House. It is a matter of such public importance as to warrant the intervention of the Government in the event of the House giving a verdict in its favour. We on this side of the House naturally, and, I think, properly, desire to have the fullest protection guaranteed to the working journalist, and to those who labour in connection with newspaper production, and I am glad to have heard what has been said under that head as to the willingness of those actively behind this Bill to see that those who must earn their living in carrying out the orders or instructions of their employers, are not made personally to suffer through the discharge of their duties.
I listened, as everyone listened, to the case made out by the hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the rejection of this Bill. I set aside, as one incompetent to deal with it, the purely legal side of the case which he submitted, and I turn to that part of his speech in which he dealt with the value of publicity as a deterrent upon the wrongdoer. He also argued that there had been a most lamentable increase in the number of divorce cases in this country lately. Indeed, twice in his speech he made an appeal to the conscience of the community to go slowly in the matter of divorce. It appears, then, that the greater the publicity, the greater the number of divorces. Those are the mutually destructive arguments to which I listened in the course of the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman. We are asked, "What is indecent?" Why cannot we answer, "What is libel?" and "What is sedition?" In short, in matters of this 775 kind, what is anything? These matters have to be determined by judgment, by the proper authorities on the facts of the case. We do not hesitate to incorporate the word "sedition" or the word "libel" in an Act of Parliament because of some difficulty in minute and perfect definition in regard to it. We leave these matters for the ultimate decision of those who are properly charged to deal with them. I think there is to be found in this Bill the widest safeguard against any frivolous proceedings or undue interference with journalists or newspaper liberty in this country. The Bill says thatNo prosecution for an offence under this Act shall be commenced by any person without the sanction of the Attorney-General.It is unlikely, therefore, that any risk will be run by individuals who desire to conduct their business properly, within the general terms of this Bill.
Finally, I do not share the view that this Bill, either solely or mainly, is designed to protect the young. That is one of its objects, but surely people of all ages are entitled to be spared the flood of disgusting matter which is to be found in certain of our newspapers on certain occasions. It is for the protection of all, no matter what age or what sex. Both Mover and Seconder of the rejection declared that they are in favour of the objects of this Bill. The objects of this Bill can be attained only by passing it; they cannot be attained by leaving matters as they are. Recognising what I conceive to he the growing public desire for definite action on this matter, I trust, as I have said, there will be an overwhelming majority in favour of the Second Beading of this Bill, and that that majority will convince the Government it is their duty to respond to the appeal, and give the Bill facilities.
§ Mr. WITHERS
I rise with very great hesitation to address the House. I hoped it would be some considerable time before I was stirred to take this audacious course, but, having had a certain amount of experience in litigation in the Courts of England, and also to a certain extent of newspaper reports of the same, I feel I am bound to place my humble views at the disposal of this House. I hope very much the Members of the House will par- 776 don my presumption in doing so, and extend their indulgence to me. In the first place, without any hesitation whatever, I would say that I support entirely the Report of the Select Committee, and also the main evidence which was given before that Committee. Accordingly, I give support to this Bill as carrying out the general principles. A great many points have been raised as to details, but, surely, that is a matter to be dealt with in Committee.
In the next place, I would like to pay a tribute to the Press generally, and particularly the provincial Press. I am bound to say that the good London papers, and practically all the provincial papers, are not offenders in this matter at all, and I should like to say. especially, that I think the way the London papers deal with nullity suits in divorce cases is beyond all praise from the point of view of propriety. What happens in these special cases which have been mentioned? A case is brought to Court of a romantic nature. but involving some physiological details. It is dealt with by the weaker brethren in the Press with flaming posters and almost verbatim reports. Almost everybody reads these particular papers, and, by degrees, in order that their circulation should not entirely go, the more respectable Press has, to a certain extent, to follow. The consequence is that the whole of the Press, in the end, is contributing something to the scandal, which grows to a tremendous extent.
There is one clear way in which it ought to he dealt with, and that is by the profession of journalists. In every profession, solicitors, barristers, doctors. the members have rules of conduct which they enforce upon their fellow members. If journalists are not in a position, as I understand from the evidence before the Committee, to do this, they cannot complain if the public through Parliament restrains them, and makes the weaker brethren in that profession behave themselves. I do not propose to go into great details as to the points on this subject. People have spoken quite properly of the freedom of the Press and they have pointed out that that is not the licence of the Press. They have pointed out the great demoralising tendency which these reports have on the young. I have had 777 innumerable statements made to me by masters at public schools and mistresses in girls schools as to what they think. They do all they can to encourage young people to read what is going on in the Press. Some day they find, without a moment's warning, that their girls and boys are reading these detestable details and it is difficult for them to say, "We will take the newspaper away from them at once, and we will not have any more for a fortnight." When such things as those are taken away from young people in that way it only increases the anxiety of young people to see them, and the best thing to do is to let the matter alone.
The point has been made that the present system is a deterrent to evil doers. No doubt that is a sound argument, but it does not deter the very bad ones, because they like to become heroes. They like to be snapshotted and treated as eminently disreputable persons. Although this is a deterrent, it is not altogether effective. Another point is that publicity brings to light evidence that otherwise would not he forthcoming. That undoubtedly is a good point, although it occurs very rarely. I think all those who have had the experience of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Baasetlaw (Sir E. Hume-Williams) will agree that, althought the case I have just referred to occurs sometimes, it does not happen very often.
Another point which seems to have been overlooked in this discussion, and which I think was overlooked by The Select Committee, be-cause they did not call for the evidence of any member of the legal profession who has to deal with these cases before they get into the hands of the Bar. The position is that these newspaper "stunts" interfere very much with the administration of justice, and it happens in this way. Somebody will come and see you and put a case before you in which they think they are being very badly treated, and they seek a way of obtaining relief. Unfortunately there may be connected with the case some unpleasant physiological detail, and the first thing they say is, "Will all this come out in the paper "Then you reply," I hope it will be passed over, but it might be fixed upon by the newspapers," and immediately your client says, "I would 778 sooner suffer any injustice rather than have a big cause celebre made of it." The consequence is that that person does not get the justice which he had a right to claim.
Very often in these cases evidence can be given by people whose characters are perfectly all right, and they are required to give formal evidence of some fact to complete the legal chain but directly those people hear they are going to be subpoenaed the first thing they do is to pack up and go abroad. I had a case myself in which a witness got wind that he might be called as a witness, and he went away and stayed in South Africa. That was a denial of justice because part of the ease could be proved simply because this man thought- it was going to be made a journalistic stunt, and he was going to be pilloried. What happens as a result of this kind of thing I Mrs. Smith says to Mrs. Jones, "Did you see that about poor so and so; she was mixed up with that Jones case and it was very improper?" These newspaper stunts really do interfere with the ordinary course of justice. I know there are pros and cons in this matter, but I think that the balance is largely in favour of action being taken by Statute. If the journalistic profession will not act themselves then we have got to do it, and in my humble opinion I think this Bill carries out as far as possible a practical scheme, and I shall support it. In the cause of public morals and justice I think this Bill ought to pass its Second Reading.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
We have heard speeches from learned lawyers and men who have considerable knowledge of the subject we are discussing this afternoon. We have heard the views of newspaper proprietors, but so far we have heard nothing stated on behalf of the man who is most primarily concerned, the working journalist. A statement has been made by the Institute of Journalists, but that institute, fortunately or unfortunately as one cares to look at it, does not represent the bulk of working journalists who are affected by this Bill, and as a matter of fact out of some 4,800 working journalists at least 90 per cent. of them are connected with the trade union called the National Union of Journalists, and the National Union of Journalists, so far from being active supporters of this Measure, have 779 passed a resolution against it at their delegates' meeting,' and have expressed themselves, for reasons which they have repeatedly given to the public, as being hostile to the Bill as it now stands.
I suppose nobody in this House has a good word to say in defence of the publication of the indecent filth and garbage which came out in the press towards the end of last year when there was a sudden outbreak of reported cases in regard to which possibly everybody who cared for his character and his opinion, and was interested, in journalism, was ashamed of the whole business. There are newspapers in particular which can be named that are a disgrace to the profession. I do not speak in this matter with very definite knowledge, but I am led to understand by eminent lawyers that some of these newspapers, at any rate, did contravene the Act as it at present stands, and that prosecutions could have been taken against them. I do not think that there is anything in the argument against this Bill that it only deals with one phase of a very grave evil. I do not think that there is anything in the argument that it does not deal with books. pictures, films, or something else. That is admitted. As a matter of fact, if we are going to embark upon a reconstruction of public morals in this country we have a very big job in front of us. But there are parts, there are phrases, there are Clauses in this Bill which. while they may not be matters of principle. still are of such serious import to large numbers of decent people that this House is entitled to consider very carefully whether it ought to give the Bill a Second reading unless the promoters are prepared to give an undertaking that in these matters Amendments will not only be considered but will be welcomed. Let us take, for example, the wordscalculated to injure public morals.What does that mean? Is everybody who causes to print, circulate or publish or procures to be printed, circulated or published matter calculated to injure public morals to be liable under the Bill? Consider who is going to be brought into the net. For example, you have the vendor of newspapers at the street corner. He is circulating. The actual printer can be brought into the net, the reporter can be brought into the 780 net, the chief sub-editor, who, I believe, causes to be procured matter to be published can be brought into the net. If you go outside newspapers and take books and publications of one kind and another that are printed without hindrance, there are a very large number of people who can be brought in under any wide interpretation of the words" injure public morals." If one goes into the Library of this House, one can get thousands of volumes which would he held in any Court of the land to injure public morals. You can not only get Wycherley's Plays there—and you can imagine very little worse than Wycherley's "Country Life"—but yen can get cheap editions of Boccacio and Rabelais, such as you can get in any second-hand bookshop in London. You can get Smollet, you can get Fielding's "Tom Jones," and you can get Shakespeare. Indeed, as one hon. Gentleman said, on a strict interpretation of the words "injure public morals," you can bring in the "Song of Solomon," published under the æegis of the British and Foreign Bible Society.
What do the words "public mischief" mean? One may have a vague idea, but what is the full import of the words? I can conceive that under certain circumstances it would he one's high duty to create public discontent and to make public mischief by preventing acquiescence in the social conditions which many of us on these benches believe to injure the morals, the physique, and spirit of the people of this country. I can conceive that hon. Members opposite, or many of them, would say that any man who urged communism as a theory war; creating public mischief. The Home Secretary is hero, and, if he said so, well, he would get all the William Morrises into his net. He would get people of the highest. moral calibre into his net. He would get great artists, men of high social standing, men of great ability, men who could be only technically brought in as creators of public mischief, but. who nevertheless on a narrow interpretation would come in. There are hon. Members who would say that anti-militarists create public mischief, that republicans create public mischief, that anybody who advocates vivisection makes for public mischief. Doctor Besant is 781 coming from India with a new Messiah. She will be a public mischief to three-fourths of hon. Members opposite, I suppose to the coal-owners, Mr. A. J. Cook is a public mischief, and to Mr. A. J. Cook, if he were in power, Sir Adam Nimmo would be a public mischief. Lord Inchcape to me is a public mischief, and to many people in this country the Home Secretary himself has been a public mischief.
Who is going to watch the watchmen Who is going to decide what is public mischief? It is not enough for an hon. Member to bring forward a Bill with the object of which, in theory, most of us are in agreement and in active sympathy. It is not enough to tack on to that Bill indefinite phrases which could be so construed as to end by putting us all in gaol for some ill-defined reason or another
§ Major KINDERSLEY
May I point out; that the hon. Member has made no reference whatever to Sub-section (3), which governs the whole matter?
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
That is so, but I am coming to that. In case I forget it, let me say at once that the right hon. Gentleman who seconded the Second Reading said that there was nothing in this Bill to which any journalist or reporter could take exception unless he were engaged in the purveying of garbage, debauchery and filth—I am not quoting his actual words, but I think that that was his idea. Let. the hon. and gallant Member who interrupted me turn to Sub-section (I,b,iv) which provides that the summing up of the Judge, the finding of the Jury, if any, the judgment of the Court and observations made by the Judge in giving judgment, are to he free—they are not to ire punishable. The Judge may say what he likes in his summing up, but the poor devil of a reporter who sits in Court and takes down what the Judge says in giving judgment can be had up and prosecuted and imprisoned for actually reporting what the Judge says in his summing up. I put it to the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved this Bill that he cannot justify that—he cannot possibly justify allowing a Judge or Jury to make observations in the case, and at the same time put in prison a reporter who actually takes down verbatim what that Judge or Jury have to say. On these 782 grounds many of us here feel very considerable apprehension about the details of this Bill.
Then, again, the Bill creates offences without defining them, and the hon. and gallant Member for Basingstoke (Sir A. Holbrook) who seconded the rejection of the Bill said what I believe is perfectly true, namely, that in France, where they try these cases in camera, or where, at any rate, publication of the names and addresses is forbidden in the Press, last year somewhere about 50,000 divorce cases were tried in the Law Courts, whereas in this country, where there is more or less open publication in the Press, these cases only numbered somewhere about 3,000. Then there is a serious objection to trying these cases in, camera. Publicity, if it can be properly arranged and properly limited, as a social weapon can aid the weak and the vicious to a course of good conduct. The desire to stand well with one's fellows is, after all, a greater urge in conduct than the fear of the policeman, and it is a good job that it is so. It is the feeling that we should all like to stand well with our fellows that keeps most of us out of the worst excesses of roguery and knavery, and if we take away this weapon of publicity, this, if you like, fear of going wrong, of acting so as to bring the blush of shame to the cheeks of our friends, I submit that it is possible, at any rate, that some people who now keep the straight path would go crooked. Whatever virtue there is in publicity—I know nothing whatever about the historical traditions —ought, I submit, to be maintained. I think it is a good thing that the wickedness of those in high places, who do not need to fear a fine, should have some bar of public opinion which might deter them, in the last resort, at any rate, from a course of conduct injurious to public morals.
Finally, I should like to say that the Lord Chief Justice, on the 25th October of last year, said:I have very strong objections to the concealment of a name in Court "—I am not going to give the names; it was not the celebrated "Mr. A." case, but another case altogether. The Lord Chief Justice went on to say:I shall not consent to any such course "—783 it was proposed that the names should be kept out of the Press—I shall not permit of the concealment of names except for very special reasons.After a decree nisi, with costs and so on had been granted, he continued:—It is one thing for the gentlemen of the Press, in the exercise of their discretion, to refrain from printing a name in a newspaper. It is quite a different thing for me to assent to the concealment of a name in Court. Against that course I have very strong objections.I submit that, unless the promoters of this Bill can give us an assurance that the working journalists, the printers and the distributors of newspapers shall not be subjected to unreasonable penalties, to unreasonable terrors in their lawful avocation, that they shall not, so to speak, be led unwittingly into traps, that every possible precaution will be taken to make this Bill what it ostensibly is, namely, a Bill for the safeguarding of public morals, and not a shield for wickedness in high places—unless the promoters of the Bill can give us such an assurance, I think this House ought to refuse a Second Reading of the Bill.
May I first say that I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Withers) with the greatest interest, and I am glad that on this matter we shall go through the same Lobby. Personally, I am supporting the Second Reading of this Bill more, because I agree wholeheartedly with its object than because I believe that its provisions will achieve that object. In the Law Courts, unquestionably, raw material can be found for sensational accounts, for accounts which can be made undesirable as much by the general presentation of the case as from its actual details. The evil of this is obvious. It is injurious to the young and to others, and, further, though none of us would adopt the ostrich as an example of public morality, I submit that the sensational presentation of domestic matters, not necessarily matrimonial, gives a distorted view of the life and morals of Great Britain. In order to realise fully how great and how serious is the injury done to the British name, and all that it counts for throughout the Empire, by the undue prominence which is so often given to matters that emanate from Courts of Justice, one ought perhaps to pay a visit 784 to the most distant parts of the Empire. The reports that are culled from English newspapers and sent out to the ends of the world not only give an exaggerated and misleading view of life in England, but they give an unfair impression of the tastes and sentiment of the reading public here. I say they give an unfair impression, because those reports give no indication of the condemnation in this country of the sins referred to in them, nor resentment at the manner in which these sins are exhibited so often in the brightest limelight. Yet I believe this condemnation arid this resentment are as strong in this country, and perhaps stronger than in any other.
This Bill applies to the Press of Great Britain only, but it might well be argued that in a matter of this kind it is for the Press of this country to give a lead and set an example. I know the arguments against infringing on the liberty of the Press in any way. Every Member of the House is a jealous guardian of that liberty. I hope I yield to none myself in that, but I cannot regard the principle embodied in this Bill as a menace to that liberty. A great number of journals imposed upon themselves, long before the legislators thought of doing so, restrictions far more severe in their application and far more efficacious than any contemplated in this Bill. In regard to other journals, the only liberty that is endangered is the liberty to carry on what few people believe is a public duty and may regard as a public and national disservice. Unfortunately, I find that the mere strongly one supports the principle of the Bill the less enthusiastic one is apt to become about its provisions. To imagine that it is going to bring about what has come to be known as a clean Press, can, I fear, only lead to disappointment. It proposes to erect fortifications, imposing and cumbrous, but it does not protect the water supply of the garrison against contamination and poison. Apart from a general Clause about indecency—and I understand the existing law is strong enough to deal with cases of indecency—this Bill confines its scope to matrimonial cases. One is tempted to ask, why single out matrimonial cases? Divorce proceedings and nullity suits are not the chief source of the evil that we wish to remove. These cases are usually rather a tedious repetition, with slight 785 variations, of a regrettable theme. Of the more recent notorious cases, the publication of which has stimulated the public demand for this Bill, very few have been actually divorce cases.
Then again if the Bill becomes an Act, even it should have the effect of stimulating vigilance in regard to indecency, even if it should prevent the publication of physiological details, is it only these details that tend to injure? Or is it the manner in which the whole case may be presented, with photographs, headlines and possibly the prominence over news of real importance. Surely a few well-placed asterisks can contain insinuations more indecent than a whole volume of physiology. When the legislator comes to amend justice as it is carried out in this country, based as it is on old established principles, his way is a hard one—perhaps it is as well that it should he so, for the effect of his Amendments may be difficult to calculate. There would seem to be a real objection to allowing cases to be tried in open Courts while forbidding reports of them. There is at once a risk of rumour, uncontradicted by the printed report, and liable as it spreads to increasing inaccuracy and consequent injustice. Yet I hardly think we are prepared to sacrifice the principle of public trial in order to give a logical strength to the Bill which it now lacks. I feel that we could proceed with this Bill with more entire confidence if we could calculate to what extent the veil that it proposes to draw over the Divorce Court may prove to be an encouragement and even a relief to persons who are now hesitating on the threshhold of the Divorce Court or who may be hovering on the brink of situations that lead to it. To those who desire notoriety, it is easily obtained. To the majority, it seems to me the deterrent to enter the Divorce Court may by this Measure be seriously undermined. For instance, letters written in moments of ill-regulated emotion will no longer appear before an unsympathetic, possibly a mocking public. Again one or more of the parties may have been guilty of conduct so gross and so inexcusable that publication of it would mean the pillory. Yet these parties would derive the same decent cover from this Bill as the victim of one of those tragedies of married life that provoke pity far more than indig- 786 nation, In attempting to lessen one evil we must surely consider the possibility of encouraging others.
In some of its details I believe the Bill can be amended to advantage and without much difficulty. I agree with the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) that no one can wish to punish a man employed in a subordinate capacity for acts done in the execution of his ordinary duty, in obedience to superiod authority which he cannot well dispute—and yet this Bill, as it stands, seems to impose penalties indiscriminately. Then, again, cases under it are to come before Courts of summary jurisdiction. In this, as in all other legal aspects of the Bill, I speak with the greatest deference to the opinion of more competent authorities, but in view of the public importance of the issues that may be raised, and of the heavy penalties contemplated, I would suggest that the proceedings should be by way of indictment. The fact that the Attorney-General has to give his sanction to prosecutions may be held out to the Press as a safeguard, and in many ways it is so; but the very fact that the Attorney-General has given his sanction might appear to constitute a judgment by a great official on the merits of the case, and might surely unduly impress a bench of magistrates. As I see it, even within its very limited scope, the Bill is an imperfect Measure. It would seem that, without sacrificing great principles, without incurring considerable risks, very little can be done by legislation. But in view of the evil that exists, and of the public demand for a remedy, I submit that we cannot and should not discard a Bill which, with one or two suitable Amendments, can be made more innocuous than it is now, and I, for one, shall certainly vote for it.
Perhaps we can do something in this House even more effective than by passing this Bill. It is true that ultimately the reading public is the most effective censor of f he Press, but it is very often difficult for them to formulate their protest. Some individuals may cancel their subscriptions to a paper because in their opinion it has transgressed, but as many more will gladly pay their pennies to read the offending article, by stealth possibly. To say that the two will cancel out each other will be optimistic, and yet every hon Member of this House must 787 know from letters he has received that there is a genuine and general desire throughout the country that something should be done. I suggest that we could do something by calling the attention of the Attorney-General to specific breaches of the law, either as it is now or as it may be strengthened by this Measure, as they occur, and that we should ask him at the time to take the necessary steps for correction which are within his power.
§ Mr. NAYLOR
I should like to associate myself with the expression of opinion that the motives of the Bill should be borne mind by the House. There can be no room for difference of opinion as to the wisdom of securing an, improvement in the reports given in certain classes of newspapers, but by no means the majority of newspapers, of a certain class of case. I am very anxious concerning the responsibilities that are put upon those responsible for the production of newspapers. While we may sympathise with the objects of the Bill, we have to study the Bill in itself in order to see that its objects.are likely to be achieved. I was greatly interested in the able speeches of the two hon. Members who moved and seconded the Second Reading of the Bill, and I am surprised that hon. Members showing such ability should have brought forward a Bill that is obviously defective for the purpose for which it was framed.
The first part of Clause 1 permits reports of all kinds of unsavoury cases, provided they are not connected with matrimonial relationships. I do not see the logic of that. Perhaps we may have an explanation why ordinary cases of indecency, assault cases and so on, are to be permitted to be reported, subject only to the provisions contained in Clause I (a). One would suppose that if it were permissible to report that class of case it might also be permissible to report divorce cases, nullity suits or separation suits. Neither the mover nor the seconder of the Bill explained why that differentiation has been made in the Bill. If we are to be expected to support. this Bill we ought to have some assurance from hon. Members supporting it that this difference will be made good. I understand the Home Secretary 788 is to speak later. Perhaps he will make it clear how he regards this inconsistency in the two sub-sections of the Bill.
The Bill will have to be more definite in defining the offence. I am not a lawyer and I cannot presume to speak with any knowledge of the law, but I took the trouble to consult an authority as to what is the present law in respect of publication of this kind. I will quote Lord Halsbury as an authority on what steps can be taken under the law as it now exists. Assuming it to be possible to take action in these cases under the law as it exists, there is no need for this Bill. A comparison between the statement made by Lord Halsbury and the text of the Bill shows that it will be just as difficult under this Bill as under the existing law to say what is or is not indecent in the matter of publication. Lord Halsbury says:Any one is guilty of a common-law misdemeanour who publishes any indecent matter tending to destroy the morals of society and to degrade and corrupt those whose minds are open to immoral influence.He points out that the motive is immaterial and that purity of intention is no defence. The House will remember the prosecution of the late Mr. W. T. Stead, in connection with the publication of certain articles in the "Pall Mall Gazette." That action was taken under the law as it exists. Surely, in a case like that, if the editor of a newspaper can be prosecuted and imprisoned under the existing law for publishing what was in the opinion of the Court improper matter, are we not entitled to ask what is the special need for this Bill? Is it intended to go further than that? Is it the intention of the Bill actually to aim at the limitation of reports of matrimonial cases only? I take it that that is the intention.
What restriction will there be upon the publication of evidence given in cases brought under this Bill when it becomes an Act? An editor may publish something which renders him liable to action by the Public Prosecutor. The case goes into, Court and quotations are given in Court of what appeared in the newspaper, and the Court may declare the person responsible guilty, but there is nothing in this Bill to prohibit the evidence in that case, brought under the provisions of this Bill when it becomes an Act, from 789 being fully reported. The evidence supplied in that prosecution can be published in the newspaper, because there is no prohibitive Clause in the Bill relating to it. Lord Halsbury goes on to say:The privilege which the law gives to reports of judicial proceedings does not extend to reports-containing matter of an obscene and demoralising character.There is no privilege whatever under the existing law for publishers or editors of newspapers reproducing any kind of matter that can be regarded as injurious to the public morals. Why this Bill? You are not going to secure any great improvement in public morals by the mere limitation to matrimonial cases while leaving the evidence in other similar cases to be published by the news papers, bounded by only the restrictions imposed by paragraph (a). With regard to the fourth exception, the reporter is permitted to take down and report the summing up of the observations of the Judge even in matrimonial cases, but he has to exercise his discretion as to whether or not what he is reporting comes within or is outside the provisions of this Bill. That in my opinion imposes a great responsibility upon the reporter. And why should this restriction be placed upon matrimonial cases and the reporter thus put in an especial and peculiar position in relation to his work while the same restriction is not applied to the reports concerning other cases which are equally injurious to public morals? Therefore, there is a great deal to be said for so amending the Bill as to make it deal more equitably and more comprehensively with every kind of case that, if reported, may be assumed to be against the public interest.
Now comes the question of responsibility. The hon. and gallant Member for Basingstoke (Sir A. Holbrook) mentioned the fact that he was the subject of a prosecution for libel, and after a series of appeals got a verdict from the Court that he, as the newspaper proprietor, was not liable for the libel that had appeared in his paper. That makes me rather anxious as to who would have been liable supposing the prosecution had carried the case against some member on the staff of the paper of the hon. Member. This Bill gives no protection to the working reporter and journalist. You may have the case of a newspaper proprietor who is prepared to run risks. He may give his 790 staff every encouragement to sail close to the wind in these matters in order that the reports may be as attractive as possible from the point of view of drawing circulation to the paper. And although he may give them that encouragement, provided that the legal aspect of the prosecution is satisfied, it will not be him, the proprietor in the background, who will be prosecuted but the editor or the sub-editor, or even the reporter himself.
On the other hand, you may have a newspaper proprietor who is seriously concerned about the purity of the reports in his paper. He may have in his employ an editor who is much more concerned with its circulation than with its reputation, and in that case the proprietor can be prosecuted for an offence for which the editor may be solely responsible. That is a defect in the Bill. In one case a man can be morally innocent and legally guilty, and in the other morally guilty but legally innocent. That is not good law. In the interests of those who would be made responsible under this Bill, and who will have to suffer very severe penalties, though not so severe a penalty as being disgraced in his profession, I think we are entitled to ask, if the House is going to accept the Second Reading of this Bill, that it shall be so amended in Committee as to safeguard the interests of the men who are in the employ of any proprietor and who may be morally innocent, yet who, under this Bill, may be proved to be legally guilty.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir William Joynson-Hicks)
Perhaps it would he convenient at this stage if I express to the House the position of the Government with regard to this Bill. They have, of course, had it under consideration. This is not the first time this question has been before the House, and quite naturally the Government must be prepared to express its opinion upon a Measure which may be said, on the one hand, to interfere with the freedom of the Press and, on the other, to have behind it the great volume of well considered public opinion of this country. Consequently we have had, quite rightly, to consider the Bill, and I should like to put before the House the view I have formed as to the way in which this country is behind other countries in 791 dealing with social and moral questions. We are the only country in the world that has not already dealt with this question. France has been referred to, and the hon. and learned Member for Bassetlaw (Sir E. Hume-Williams) rather led the House to believe that the French system meant any amount of divorce without the slightest risk of publicity.
He forgot to mention that the judgments in the French Courts are published, and you will see lists of people who have been divorced and the findings of the Judges in the cases. France has deliberately forbidden, under penalty, the publication of the evidence in divorce cases. Nearly every other country, including some of our own Dominions and some of the States of America, have endeavoured to deal with this matter not by prohibiting publication, but by hearing cases in camera. They have given power to the Court to close the Court, and I understand from the Lord Advocate that in Scotland, since the year 1693, power has been placed in the hands of Judges to specify any particular portion of the evidence which the reporters are not to give, and they do not report it accordingly. That implies the power of the Court to hear cases in camera if necessary.
In this country it has never been the policy to hear cases in camera, and I am very jealous indeed of the right of every man to have his case tried in public. In putting his case against the Bill the hon. and learned Member for the Bassetlaw, Division seemed to think that the very palladium of British liberty is the right of every man to have his case heard in public. That has been laid down by the House of Lords and in this connection the attitude of the Newspapers Proprietors' Association who have stated that there is no possible via media between hearing cases in camera and allowing things to go on exactly as they do at present, if that is right, raises a serious difficulty, because His Majesty's Government are not prepared to allow all cases which involve any kind of indecency to be heard in camera. It is perfectly clear, and it is laid down by the House of Lords in 1913, that the mere fact of indecency in a case and that the parties did not wish the details of their case to be heard in public in a Divorce Court was not in any 792 way a reason for the Courts allowing the case to be heard in camera. They declared quite emphatically, and I stand by that to-day, that the broad principles and the unalterable rule of English law required that the hearings in nullity suits should take place in open Court, and that that was the best security for the impartial and efficient administration of justice, and the best grounds for winning public confidence and respect.
I need not trouble the House with the actual judgment of the several separate Judges. Lord Loreburn applied the principle in certain nullity cases. Lord Haldane applied it in divorce cases, and they both made it clear that there must be a possibility of a miscarriage of justice before the Court could feel it necessary that a. case should be heard in camera. That is the first position that the Government take up in regard to this Bill. I expect that all hon. Members have had a circular dated 12th April from the Newspaper Proprietors' Association, dealing with this Bill, in which they say that the newspaper organisations consider that a system of truncated reporting would be unfair to the parties and witnesses and unworkable from a technical standpoint. In their opinion there is no halfway house between the ordinary reporting and trial in camera. I desire at once to say that nothing would induce the Government to agree to any Act of Parliament which would cause these cases to be heard in camera. It is an unalienable right that everyone should have their case heard in open Court, and if anybody chooses to go to Court and hear these cases the right of the English public must not be interfered with.
There is an enormous mass of public opinion who desire that something should be done in regard to this matter. I have made inquiries, and I have never known such an immense volume of public opinion as has poured into the Home Office in regard to this. Some of the societies involved were mentioned by the mover of the Bill. Let me mention some others. There is the National Union of Teachers. a very representative body indeed; there is the Presbyterian Church of Wales. the Westminster Catholic Federation, the Evangelical Free Churches, the Church of England Men's Society, the National Church Assembly of the Church of 793 England, the Scottish Wesleyan Methodist Church, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, and the Episcopal Church of Scotland. These resolutions have poured in since the Bill was printed and put before the House. I would add also the Congregational Union of England and Wales and the Law Society. There are many other societies, but I think those I have quoted are the most important. I venture to say to the House of Commons that it would be a very bad day for the wellbeing of this country if in the opinion of the House of Commons we were not to take on a question which is not a political question but a great moral question, the view of these great organisations. There is not, in my view, any such admirable channel as they represent for obtaining the public opinion of this country on a great moral question.
These societies represent the views of all great churches and of the important organs of public opinion. It may be said that they represent a particular school of thought. Of course the Incorporated Law Society does not come within that Land. But the churches and the masses of the people who are members of all these great religious organisations, are the very mainstay of the well-being of this country. They represent that great slid force of public opinion which stands for solidity, and for wellbeing in the Government and the future prosperity of our country, altogether apart from their political views. The Church of England nifty hold another side in political matters to that held by soma other church, but they are all desirous that the Government and the House of Commons should support this Bill. We have considered and considered very carefully all this, and we have come to the conclusion that it is impossible for us not to support this Bill, but that we must ask the House of Commons to support the Bill. The Prime Minister has asked me to say that he has been summoned by command to Windsor to see His Majesty this afternoon, but he has paired in support of the Bill. I would ask the House to realise that the Government is anxious that the Bill should pass its second reading this afternoon. There are of course criticisms in regard to the details of the Bill.
§ Mr. CLYNES
May I ask a question as to the Government's future intentions in the event of an overwhelming vote of the 794 House of Commons being forthcoming for this Bill? What are the intentions of the Government as to the future?
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
That is a very proper question. I would say at once that, subject to the exigencies of Parliamentary time, the Government, if the House of Commons, as I hope and believe they will, give almost unanimous support to this Bill, will do their utmost to find time for the further stages of the Bill. I cannot say further than that, because, as the House knows, there are grave anxieties confronting us in regard to legislation which is before the House at. present.
§ Sir E. CECIL
Can the right hon. Gentleman say anything about the Committee stage?
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The Bill will go before a Committee upstairs. I have no doubt whatever that, If the Bill gets through, it will go upstairs. I propose in that event that either myself or my colleague (Captain Hacking), will be present and state the views of the Government in regard to various Amendments, and such help as our staff can give in regard to the Bill will be given. After that stage, it is impossible for me to state what will happen. It must depend on the pressure of public business.
I would like the House to understand that all those connected with public justice arc in favour of the Bill. They may have doubt as to some of its details. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bassetlaw referred to the Public Prosecutor and quoted a sentence from his evidence in regard to this Bill, but the Public Prosecutor is in favour of the Bill. There is no possible doubt about that. It is quite clear from his evidence that he is in favour of the Bill passing. I would call my hon. and learned Friend's attention to the Public Prosecutor's reply to Question 253.It is difficult to conceive there can be any indecent matter or other details injurious to the public morals?The answer was:I think so, and I venture to think that paragraphs one to four give the public quite sufficient information. I do not know what else is intended.In another part of his evidence he said he thought the names of the parties were quite sufficient, and that all the informa- 795 tion necessary and the public wanted was provided under the provisions of the Bill. Lord Merrivale, when he was Sir Henry Duke, gave evidence, and was also in favour of the Bill. He was mentioned by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Sir E. Hume-Williams) this morning as being to some degree, at all events, against the Bill, but in regard to the question of indecent details, if the whole of Sir Henry Duke's duties is read, it will be seen that he was conclusively in favour of the principle of the Bill. The question (No. 54) was put to him quite definitely:May I put it in this way? Do you agree with Lord Alverstone when he says that it is undoubtedly a monstrous abuse, this indiscriminate reporting of details of divorce cases?Sir HENRY DUKE: I agree absolutely. I think it is not only a monstrous abuse, but a criminal thing.
§ Sir E. HUME-WILLIAMS
I do not think he said he was in favour of this Bill.
§ Sir E. CECIL
He said it in another place.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I am dealing with the evidence before the Select Committee.
§ Sir E. HUME-WILLIAMS
If Sir Henry Duke said before the Committee he was in favour of this Bill, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will give me a reference.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Without going over that, I think the hon. Member knows quite well when witnesses are in the position of Judges, and are called before a Select Committee of this House, they go through the whole of the Bill, and they advise on questions in regard to it. He did advise in regard to the Bill, and when he came to his place in the House of Lords and took part in a Debate as a peer of Parliament and at the same time as a Judge, he spoke in support of this Bill.
§ Sir E. CECIL
Sir Henry Duke, or rather Lord Merrivale, in another place on the 16th July last. year, began his speech on the Bill.My Lords, I support the principle of this Bill heartily.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
It is quite clear that Lord Merrivale, and, indeed, all those Judges who expressed opinion in the House of Lords were in favour of the principle of the Bill, and Lord Merrivale was undoubtedly in favour of the details of the Bill. Great play has been made by some Members, and particularly Members opposite, in regard to some of the details of the Bill. I have no doubt when the Bill has passed its Second Reading and comes to the Committee stage I shall be prepared to make some suggestions to the promoters of the Bill to obviate any difficulties such as have been raised. The hon. and gallant Member for Basingstoke (Sir A. Holbrook) said it was rediculous that a newspaper boy might be liable to three months' imprisonment and a £500 fine for selling copies of a newspaper. The moment one saw the Bill and looked at it from a legal point of view one saw there were details of that kind. I have been for some time past in close negotiation with the Newspapers Proprietors' Association, as I wanted, if possible, to carry them with me in this great reform, and up to a fortnight. ago I thought I should carry them with me.
They were prepared to agree to a much more stringent Clause in the Bill particularly in regard to divorce cases, forbidding anything but the mere names of the parties, and the results to be published, but they said that if that was the case we must try all cases in camera. I venture to submit that this is not the question we are deciding to-day, and we are not here in the House of Commons to accept the domination of the Newspaper Proprietors' Association as to how our proceedings should be conducted in the Courts. We were rightly bound to ask for their views in regard to the question of reporting and publicity, but in regard to whether cases are to be tried in camera or not, we intend to be bound by general principles and to insist on them being tried in open Court. The Select. Committee of this House took the view that there was a via media between the present promiscous reporting of divorce cases in the papers and trial in camera. That via media has been found in the terms of this Bill. It is quite possible it may be altered in Committee, and I shall he prepared to ask the hon. and learned 797 Gentleman who is promoting the Bill to make it quite clear, in the clearest possible manner, that the servant, the journalist, the boy who sells the papers, is not to be prosecuted. I have a Clause here which I would suggest to the House something of these words, though I do not bind myself to it:Provided that no person shall be liable to be convicted under this Act if he shows to the satisfaction of the Court before whom he is charged that the act in respect of the offence with which he is charged was done by him in the ordinary course of his duties under a contract of service, and that he was a person employed in a subordinate capacity only.It is the editor and the proprietors who must be responsible in dealing with this matter. The unfortunate reporter who goes to report, I quite agree, cannot be held liable for whether he puts too much or too little in the report. He does it in a hurry and it is given to the sub-editor and subsequently to the editor, and they decide whether or not the matter should be excluded.
The hon. and learned Member for Bassetlaw tells us that the newspapers would not send reporters to the Divorce Courts in future. Personally I do not much mind whether they do or do not. But why will they not send them if this Bill is passed? Is it because there will be no money in it?
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
That is the thing they are after.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I want to make a very clear distinction on the point made by the hon. Member for South-east Southwark (Mr. Naylor) between criminal cases and divorce cases. He asked me why the whole reports of criminal cases should not be forbidden in the same way as divorce cases. It Ts clear. The criminal case is a matter of which the State takes cognisance. It is a crime against the State and an offence against the community, but a divorce case is a matter between the parties, and, except in regard to the general question of morals, a matter with which the State is not concerned. The effect. of divorce proceedings on other people and on publication is a matter in which the State quite rightly takes a, view, and it is entitled to exercise that view.
§ Mr. NAYLOR
The principle of publication in the two cases is the same.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
No I think not. In a criminal case a man is convicted of a particular crime. It is essential in the interests not merely of morality, but of the law and the administration of the law that the crime should not be repeated and people should know he penalty for the crime. Lord Darling raised very particularly the question of incist in regard to that matter, and I say it is very desirable however unpleasant that cases of crime should be reported in order to deter other people by making them realise what is the punishment for committing that crime. But the same thing does not exactly apply to the case of divorce. I hope the House will not think me reactionary in this matter, but I do not quite agree with the view expressed as to the deterrent effect of this publication on divorce, but for a reason that has not been advanced in the Debate. I am not quite sure that you have a right —for adultery is not a crime by law, and until you make it a crime by law, I am not at all sure you have the right to add to the effects of adultery all this publication. If the House decided that adultery was so contra bongs mores—bad for the morals of the community—that it should he stamped out and that part of the penalty should be wholesale publication in order to deter, that would be another matter. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate reminds me that it used to be a capital crime in Scotland. The deterrent effect means this: You are putting into the hands of an irresponsible journalist the application of a moral force against the committing of adultery. I do not think that that is desirable. It, must be remembered that the journalist is using that power for financial reasons and for his own benefit. That is the distinction between criminal end divorce cases.
There is no real need for these very long reports of divorce cases. If hon. Members will look at the report of the Royal Commission they will see that some very remarkable figures were extracted from the files of the newspapers in the British Museum, so as to show the number of columns devoted to the reports of divorce eases in the years 1909 and 1910. Take the London "Times" as a. standard newspaper. In the year 1909 it published 82 columns of divorce reports; the "Daily Telegraph," 126 columns; the "Morning Post," 35 799 columns; the "Daily Mail," 115 columns. In 1910 the totals were a little more. When you come to the evening papers you find rather a jump. The "Evening Standard" published 132 columns. In the provincial newspapers there is a decrease; the provincial papers do not think it necessary to publish so much of this divorce matter. When you come to the Sunday newspapers you find something very different. I have given the figures for the "Times" and the "Morning Post," which publish 310 issues per year. The Sunday newspapers publish only 52 times a year. What do we find? The "News of the World' in 1909 published 118 columns, and in 1910 it published 174 columns. The "Umpire," which I think is now defunct, published 238 columns in one year and 311 columns in another.
If the London "Times," the "Morning Post" and the "Daily Chronicle"—the "Morning Post." ultra-Conservative, and the "Daily Chronicle," thoroughly Liberal—find it possible over a series of years to publish all that, in their opinion, it is necessary for the public to know of these unsavoury details of divorce reports, in 33, 40 and 80 columns in a year, the Sunday newspapers might publish at the same rate per issue as the greater London papers do. Instead of that we find that they publish five and six times as much. Some of them simply rake the garbage heap of the Divorce Court for their own personal profit. They distribute this filth through the country on the one day of the week when we might be saved from it.
I hope that. I have not spoken too strongly. In minor details we shall be prepared to advise my hon. Friends to meet the newspaper proprietors. I think perhaps the words "otherwise be to the public mischief" might be altered. I have already told the newspaper proprietors that, so far as the Government was concerned, they would use every effort in Committee to obliterate those words. So far as I have responsibility for the guidance of the ill in Committee. I shall do my utmost to make it fair to the newspaper proprietors and to make it absolutely impossible that the newspaper worker, either journalist, printer, or seller in the streets, shall be affected by its provisions. But I wish quite definitely, on behalf o 800 the Government, to say to the House that I think the time has come to stop the unnecessary reporting of unnecessary details in these cases. It does not tend to public morality; it does not tend to any good purpose whatever. I am quite convinced of that, and I think those who care to consult with His Majesty's Judges—who. after all, are concerned with the administration of justice in regard to these particular cases—will find they are in favour of the principle. I welcome very much the maiden speech to which we listened with so much interest of the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Withers). Everybody knows his great legal experience, and he is in favour of the Bill. I ask the House this afternoon to show, unhesitatingly, that they desire to fall into line with the best opinion throughout the country, and do something to check this evil. The Bill may not be perfect: it may have to be amended, not only in Committee, but possibly afterwards in another year, but it will be an effort, and I ask the House of Commons to make the effort to purify the Press of the country.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON:
I should like to add my voice to the others which have urged the House of Commons to give_ a Second Reading to the Bill. I listened carefully to nearly all the speeches and I have been particularly concerned to weigh up and do my best to judge the arguments put. forward against the Bill. The hon. and learned Member who moved the Amendment made a very powerful and persuasive speech and he marshalled all the arguments and raised all the chief difficulties by which a fair-minded man might reasonably be impressed, before deciding to vote for the Second Reading of this Measure. But it seems to me that his speech and also the. speech of the hon. Member for South-East Southwark (Mr. Naylor) were less effective than they might have been, because in substance, neither of these opponents of the Bill admitted that there was any real evil to be remedied at all. Neither of them really thought that we were in the presence of a serious existing evil, but on that point it seems to me the House should be unanimous. If one considers the known facts, there cannot be any doubt that there is, as things are, a serious evil in our midst.. We ought to draw the sharpest distinction between the way in which the great mass of decent 801 newspapers deal with this subject and the very sad lapses and rare exceptions which are notorious especially among some Sunday newspapers.
Nothing is more admirable than the way in which the responsible journalist and the public-spirited editor, in a very large number of the newspapers of the land, control the temptation, if it be a temptation, merely to minister to the base appetite of vulgar people, but it cannot be seriously disputed that there are, on the other hand, very grave exceptions, and, if I may put it plainly in an illustration, should ask to be allowed to tell the House of Commons an experience of my own when I was recently visiting India. I was coming back from a Christmas in India some three or four months ago, and travelling across the country, and the train stopped at a large wayside station. I got out, and it happened to be one of those stations where there was a bookstall, and, to my considerable surprise, I found that it was possible to buy an English newspaper at this wayside station. I had not seen English news for three weeks or a month, and, to tell the honest truth, in India you do not care about English news or anything else except the interesting things you are seeing. But it was the first chance that I had had of seeing an English newspaper for three weeks or a month. I found a number of people buying it, as there were a great many copies there, and it was a paper that says it has a very large circulation. I bought one. I saw a number of educated Indian natives, who could read English as well as I, buying it, fellow subjects of ours, who are sometimes very critical of English ways, and who claim that their own standards of decency and morality are as high as or even higher than ours.
This sheet, when I bought it, contained in every prominent part of the paper nothing but an utterly unnecessary and elaborate account of a series of cases, the Hayley Morris case, a number of divorce cases, eases the importance of which to that proprietor was plainly measured not by their public interest, but by the extent to which a detailed report might be supposed to attract the pennies of vulgar people. felt ashamed. I thought it was an intolerable thing that an Englishman travelling in India should be 802 led to feel that the natives round about him were buying that paper and learning from that sheet what was to them an epitome of English life. I do not think it can be disputed that, as things are, this is really a very serious evil. One other illustration which must occur to many of us in our experience arises in the country on a Sunday, in a country village. The Sunday papers largely circulate there. There is a section of the population, the working agricultural population, which very often only reads a Sunday paper. I cannot think that it is tolerable that, in the case of these people, many of them ignorant people and poor people, many of thorn young people, girls and boys, to so large an extent, their source of public information, their knowledge of what is going on in the great world of London, should really be presented to them in this guise, without Parliament making some effort to set up a better standard.
I quite agree that it is no good passing Acts of Parliament merely to try to prevent some people from being vulgar and other people from being covetous for money. There is no doubt that vulgarity and cupidity are evils which must be corrected by improved public taste and by the contempt of decent folk, but still, that there is really illustrated in this section of the Press at this time a serious existing evil, a serious public evil, does seem to me to be unquestionable. Now comes the really practical point: Can we do anything by passing legislation which will correct or help to correct. that? Allow me to say, first of all, that I think that, if Parliament passes an Act which expresses a true public judgment upon this, and deliberately proclaims a better standard, the mere passing of that Act of Parliament. will express, as the House of Commons ought to try to express, the better mind of the nation on this point. If this Bill passes, I do not expect to see many prosecutions under it. I should not judge the success of this Bill by giving a list, year by year afterwards, of how many people have been prosecuted, but I should hope very much, if we did pass a Bill such as this, that we should thereby be expressing, in the very best way we could, on behalf of the nation, something, at any rate, of what is the standard we 803 should expect this important section of public servants to set up for themselves and to obey.
I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Withers) in his most admirable maiden speech—in regard to which may I be allowed to tender my most respectful congratulations—that no doubt it would be better if it were possible for publishers and journalists to regulate this thing for themselves. There are some professions in which it can be done. There are professions in which, if any member grossly exceeds the standard set up by that profession, he suffers for it; but the mischief of 'this particular case is, I am afraid, that those who grossly exceed the standard which is so honourably observed by the mass of decent newspapers, do not suffer by it. They gain by it, and that circumstance makes it, no doubt, not only very difficult to control, but, I am afraid, puts decent newspapers and decent editors in a position in which they ought not to be put. I am quite certain there are many editors of the most reputable papers who are heartily sorry that so much of their columns, in two or three recent notorious instances, were occupied by reports, decent in themselves, of some temporary popular case, but who, no doubt, felt, and who were bound to feel, the pressure of competition from people not so scrupulous as themselves. Therefore, I say if this Measure were not a Measure which was going actually to do all that was expected of it, still I believe that to give it a Second Reading would be to give expression to an overwhelming public opinion as to the necessity of such legislation.
Three main objections have been put forward. First of all, it is said that if you carry legislation like this, you must accept the position that divorce cases in substance must be tried in camera.I agree with the Home Secretary. If that were the result, I would oppose this Bill tooth and nail. I do not agree with the Home Secretary in all the reasons he gave, but I do think it is essential, for securing public justice, and for preventing the possibility of improper decisions, that you should leave the doors of the Court open, in order that the case may be there tried in the presence of the 804 public. I am utterly opposed to trying divorce cases—indeed, practically any kind of cases—behind closed doors, unless the case be of so extreme a character that justice really cannot be done to the parties in it if you expose some party to giving testimony actually in the presence of onlookers. It is not true that that is the alternative which this Bill brings about.
It is, I think, wholly desirable that there should be in the newspapers, within decent limits, a report of the decision arrived at, and the claim made or resisted even in matters of private dispute, so long as the matter is clearly a matter of public interest. It is necessary that people should know, for instance, 'as regards public men whether they have or have not been exposed to contempt and derision in the Courts of litigation as being liars, or scoundrels or adulterers. Therefore I do not think it is in the least desirable that there should be no report of these matters, but having a sort of honest decent report and the effect of an open Court is quite a different thing from a specially organised broadcasting of dirty innuendoes and salacious details in circumstances which are spread about the country in millions of ways. It does not seem to me that there is any ground to suppose that a Bill like this will drag us into having such trials in camera. Then it is said that if you try to lay down limitations of this kind by statute you must. be careful to say what they are and he sure they will work. I think that is really important and it is rather a difficult- point. For example I think in Committee we shall have to be very careful in revising the language used as to what. is permitted to be reported in a divorce case. To say that you may havea concise statement of the grounds on which the proceedings- are brought and resistedmust mean that. you are td have a decent summary of what. was alleged and proved or what was alleged and disproved. That cannot of course refer to what are called the pleadings, because they may contain a number of cases of infidelity or cruelty or the like when as a matter of fact it may only be necessary in the course of the trial to establish one or two of them. When the Bill refers to the grounds on which proceedings are brought and resisted, does it mean that there is to be 805 some concise summary or statement of what was the case proved on the one side or the defence 'established on the other? 1 listened to tile hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston), who seems to be concerned because the proviso at the end of the Sub-section providesthat nothing in this part of this Subsection shall be held to permit the publication of anything contrary to the provisions of paragraph (a) of tins Sub-section.The hon. Member says that this provision will get journalists and others into difficulties. I sympathise with his anxiety on this point, but I doubt if it is a real difficulty, because the House will appreciate that even as things are now, although a newspaper can say that it is a fair and impartial report of judicial proceedings, that is no defence if the report, however fair or impartial, involves the. publication of matter which it is a criminal offence to publish. Journalists have to bear in mind that it is not enough to give a fair and impartial report, and they have to be careful that they do not offend against the law in so doing. It has been argued that we should leave the present law to do the work, but the present law does not do the work, and it is not an effective prevention of that which I think the whole House of Commons:regards as an evil, and therefore we must have more clear definitions and more simple machinery if we are to prevent this evil from continuing and growing.
The point has been made in this Debate that this Bill is an attack upon the liberty of the Press, "that great palladium of British freedom," and all the rest of it. Really that is a misuse of terms. The liberty of the Press is a very splendid tradition and a very proud heritage of the British people. This Bill does not deal with that subject-matter at all. The liberty of the Press, as everybody knows who has ever read John Milton's famous pamphlet, is that principle under our law by which you may print and publish without previously getting the licence of some licensing authority. If anyone chooses to go to the Library of the House of Commons and look up Milton's prose works and turns to his famous pamphlet, "Areopagitica," he will see that another title for it is, "A speech for the liberty of unlicensed printing," and what John Milton was doing in this speech, written 806 for the benefit of the Lords and Commons of England and having in the end a great influence upon British constitutional development, was to challenge what in those days was the rule, which he quotes in the course of his famous pamphlet, to regulate printing: "that no book, pamphlet, or paper shall he henceforth printed unless the same is approved and licensed "by such and such authority. That is what is meant by the freedom of the Press. It is a system which has obtained at different stages of the world's history and which obtains to-day in some parts of the world, by which you have to get the licence of some authority before you can print and circulate a book. That has nothing to do with this subject.
Properly speaking, this Bill is not dealing with the liberty of the Press. This Bill is really endeavouring to legislate to promote publie morals. The. Bill has to do with public health very much more than it has to deal with the liberty of the Press, and, while I for my part hope that we shall always in this country insist upon the. principle that you May write, print, and publish at your own judgment, at your own pleasure, and according to your own sense of duty, we are bound to lay down rules which will punish offences against the law, whether they take the form of vending obscene photographs or selling columns and columns of carefully and elaborately extracted evidence from chamber maids and ladies' maids and all the wretched miserable business of the Divorce Court. That is not providing the public with anything which a man or woman, honestly, in the presence of his own family and children, would like to be seen reading. What is happening is this. A certain class of newspaper is leading young people, arid old people too to sit in corners licking their lips over some
little description, not because the thing is really honest information or even decent gossip, but because this particular kind of publication is calculated apparently to lead to very great profit and very large circulation for a particular class of proprietor who has not had the courage or manliness to stop it for himself.
The principal duty of the House of Commons in laying down regulations which are designed to promote public 807 health and social order is to consider whether we ought not to try and lay down by law as the standard for everybody that rule of restraint which decent people try to observe for themselves. On that principle it is absolutely necessary, as it seems to me, that the principle of this Bill should be affirmed on Second Reading, and that the details of of it—many of them very difficult details, which will need the most careful consideration—should be considered in Committee.
§ Sir FRANK MEYER
In spite of the very cogent arguments of the Home Secretary and of the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), and in spite of the very full exposition of the principles of this Bill given earlier in the Debate by the Mover and Seconder, 1 still find myself an unrepentant opponent, even though it may be in a small minority, of the principles embodied in the Measure. It has been stated by a number of the advocates of the Bill that there is a large public demand for this Measure, and, as an instance of that, the Home Secretary has mentioned the number of petitions or letters received from distinguished clerical bodies. If there is so large a measure of -support for this Bill, how is it that the newspapers themselves have not felt the power of such popular movement or opinion? Everyone knows that the editors of newspapers receive daily an enormous post-bag of letters, some for publication Which are not published, others not necessarily for publication at all. Any editor will tell you that he is constantly in touch with his public on matters of public interest through the very large post-hag he receives. If it be a fact that there is so large a public opinion against the publication of these reports, how is it that no newspaper has been sufficiently influenced by that public opinion to endeavour of its own accord to suppress such reports?
Can any one honestly, without self-deception, assert that, if any paper were to publish two editions, one which we might call the white edition and the other the red edition—not because their political views were in the one case red and in the other white, but because in the one case white would stand for purity and in the 808 other scarlet for sin—if any paper published a white edition and a scarlet edition, can anyone in this House honestly say they believe that the white edition would have a larger sale than the scarlet.? The truth of the matter is that, in bringing this Bill forward, you are bringing an indictment, not against the Press but against the public itself. This is a Measure to legislate to raise the standard of public taste. That may be an excellent thing, but it is at the same time, and no one can dispute this, an interference with the liberty of the subject.
I am not opposing this Bill from a legal point of view. I am, it is true, a member of the Bar, but my career at the Bar was so brief, and so briefless, that it is not as a member of the legal profession that I am now speaking. I do not speak as it journalist, or as being in any way connected with the Press, but I oppose the Bill as a member of the general public, and I still maintain, in spite of all that has been said in this Debate, that this is an infringement of the rights and liberty of the subject. It may be very wrong, it may be very reprehensible, that the taste of the public should be so low that they desire to read the details which are included in cases of this kind, but the fact remains, from the circulation of the papers that print these details, that the public do so desire, and it is up to the churches and institutions and teachers to raise the public taste; I do not think it is our duty here in Parliament, by prohibitive legislation, to endeavour to do so.
I object to this Bill, as I have said, because I think it is an interference with liberty. But I object to it more strongly because I do not believe it will accomplish what it attempts to do, that is, to raise public morals. Let us try to clear our minds of all cant and sham and pretence. Can we genuinely say that the fact of someone reading a report of a divorce case is going to make that person more likely to break the Seventh Commandment? Can we say it is going to make him more likely to be unfaithful? I deny that. I say it is more likely to be a warning. If there are Members here who think that reading such matter is going to lead to more infidelity and more divorce you must follow that up to its logical conclusion and say that reading about murder is 809 going to make murderers and reading about theft is going to make thieves. Therefore you must admit that this must be the thin end of the wedge, and if you are going to suppress the details of divorce cases, you must also suppress the details of all cases connected with crime and murder and other offences. That is the only logical sentience to passing a Bill of this kind. The Home Secretary drew a sharp distinction between the two cases, because he said in one case it was a matter between private individuals in divorce, and in questions of crime it was a matter between the Crown and the individual, and it was necessary that there should be publication of the matters in criminal cases to act as a deterrent. If publication acts as a deterrent in one case, surely it must be admitted logically that it acts as a deterrent in the other.
I do not want to elaborate other necessary consequences of legislation of this kind. If it leads to moral turpitude to read details of a divorce case in a newspaper how much more does it read to such turpitude to read novels, to go to plays, and to see films dealing with sexual matters and infidelity. If you are going to suppress what actually happens in real life in the newspapers, you must surely suppress the imagination of authors, playwrights, and scenario writers, because if one leads to a lowering of public morals, so surely must the other. If you do that, you will have to start with Shakespeare and work down gradually to Victoria Cross and Ethel M. Dell. You will have to suppress everything connected with matters sexual, because the reading of them may lead to a lowering of the standard of public morality. Is the House prepared to go to that degree? I cannot believe, on careful consideration, that it is. I expect the Second Reading will be passed, but I think, when it comes to Committee, it will be found that many of its details are such that they are really beyond amendment.
I give the greatest credit, as one is bound to do, to the motives which have inspired those who have promoted the Bill and worked for it, for years past. But whatever their motives may be the result of their work is bound to be un fortunate if it is carried into effect. I think we are trying to legislate for public morals. That has been tried in other countries, and not always with great suc- 810 cess. We have been told that foreign countries look askance at us because we publish the details of these cases. Is it from America that these contemptuous glances come? I hardly think anyone who has studied the American Press would think they would be very justified in any criticism of us. Is it from France that it comes? We heard of distinguished diplomatists who had expressed their horror to the seconder of the Bill as to what they see in the English newspapers. If the complaint comes from France, I would recommend anyone who thinks that France can cast a stone at us to go to a French bookstall and see there not the daily Press but other publications that are sold there.
I do not think that we need be ashamed of our Press in face of any nation in the world. I oppose this Bill because I object to attempts by legislation of this kind to deal with public morals. I think it indicates in those who advocate it an assumption of mental and moral superiority over the vast majority of their fellow citizens who read these publications. It is because I believe that, because I object to that attitude and because I think that the results of this Bill will not be such as the promoters anticipate, but quite the contrary, that 1 intend to vote against it to-day, and, if 1 can, to oppose it at every stage.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
The hon. Member fur Great Yarmouth (Sir F. Meyer) has elaborated the old, well-known argument about the liberty of the subject. If his argument were to be taken to its logical conclusion we should have to dispense with this House and anarchists would have full operation throughout the country and could take what they like. The liberty of the subject has gone, and having gone it has left in its place some advantages which we would not. willingly spare. The handling of this case to-day has given a very excellent tonic to the country. It is well that the House of Commons, and especially the Home Secretary who has spoken for the Government, should advocate the principle of the application of this Measure, while, of course, taking due cognisance of the necessary adjustments in Committee.
The country is in sore need of a matter of this kind being taken thoroughly in hand. It must have struck the general 811 public long before now that what we call the upper sections of society commonly known as high-class society have given such marked evidence of being the lower class of society that it is imperative that this business should be taken in hand. On this occasion it is not the down-and-out, not the middle class who are indicted but the outstanding representatives of many who have even frequented our royal courts and then, apparently, later developed features which have taken them to the Divorce Court, where King's Counsel and other distinguished representatives of the Bar have a capital interest in the proceedings, whether on one side or the other. As far as the public interest is concerned, it is a great advantage that in this House, especially on a Friday afternoon when our discussions are supposed to be academic, we should find so much acceptance of the principles of this Bill.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aston (Sir E. Cecil), who has been identified with this question for so long. I gladly responded to his invitation to become a backer of an earlier Bill. It is encouraging to find that a man can stand up for something, and keep plodding at it until the day comes when the desired result takes place, as on other occasions, when the Government and the House of Commons says, "We thoroughly agree with you, and we, are going on with the job." The supply of this immoral literature creates the demand, and we do not desire that the press should have facilities for making money out of the lowest elements in society. We have to raise the moral standard of the people. If the higher classes of society cannot do it, then the middle classes and the working people are prepared to take the matter up, and see that the class, which is known as the high class, is relegated to that obscurity to, which it is entitled.
§ Sir MALCOLM MACNAGHTEN
I should like to make it clear to the House that while some of us oppose this Bill we fully appreciate the evil and are as anxious as the promoters of the Bill that it should be eliminated. But in our opinion this Bill, if passed into law, would not only not remedy the evil, but would in fact aggravate it, and would indeed produce other mischiefs besides. If we are right in thinking that it will 812 not remedy the evil—and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Dover (Major Astor) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) were not very hopeful that it is going to do very much—if, in fact, it is not going to do much, what humbug it is to pass this Bill in response to the great demand made by the various societies that have been mentioned this afternoon. They are demanding a remedy for an evil, and you give them this Bill which you know is not going to be any real remedy at all. Sometimes the people of this country are accused by foreigners of being hypocrites. If we do this, we are hypocrites.
Is it going to be any remedy? What is the charge that is made? As to most of the newspapers everybody agrees that they act with great propriety and discretion, but there is an exception which rakes the filthy news for six days in the week and supplies the public with it on the seventh. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley says that although the Bill may not be very effective yet it will be a declaration by the House of Commons, and will have its effect. Can anybody suppose that a declaration of the House of Commons is going to have any effect on a person who is engaged deliberately in collecting filth for the purpose of retailing it for his own profit? It is idle to suppose that a person who is doing that would care one jot about a moral declaration made by this House. There is one other point I wish to make, to which attention has not yet been called. This Bill does not really alter in any way the Common Law definition of what is indecency, but it does do one thing which seems to me to be most mischievous. As the Law is at present, any person who publishes indecent matter, and anything is indecent which tends to corrupt the mind of the young or the old, is liable to be prosecuted, and when prosecuted the question as to whether he has published an indecent article is a question that has to be determined by a jury.
What this Bill does, and I hope the House will agree with the view that it is a most mischievous thing, is to take the question as to whether the article is or is not indecent from the determination of the jury and put it into the hands of a stipendiary magistrate or two county magistrates, with the right of appeal to 813 Quarter Sessions. That is a most mischievous proposition, and likely to do grave harm. It is quite true that it is very difficult to say that you can give any definition of what is indecent or obscene. You must have a tribunal to decide that. Is there any better tribunal than a jury of 12, drawn from the people, who have had the case put forward and who have been properly instructed by the Judge? Do not they compose the best possible tribunal for deciding whether the article in question is one deserving of credit or discredit? That tribunal, I contend, is far better than any individual judge. The House will recollect that in the past we have had discussions about the administration of civil justice and there were many Members who insisted strongly upon the right
§ of the British people to have these civil cases tried by a jury. The hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley was one of the champions of the cause of trial by jury and yet, by this Bill, you are taking the serious step of removing a criminal charge from the cognisance of the jury and you are putting it into the hands of the magistrate.
§ Sir J. SIMON
Cannot the magistrate to-day decide whether an obscene photograph is being circulated:
§ Sir M. MACNAGHTEN
That is quite true, but there is still the right of appeal to the High Court.
§ Question put, "That the word ' now stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 222; Noes, 3.815
|Division No. 168.]||AYES.||[4.0 p.m.|
|Ainsworth, Major Charles||Cunliffe, Sir Herbert||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M.(Hackney, N.)|
|Albery, Irving James||Curzon, Captain Viscount||Hume, Sir G. H.|
|Alexander, A. V (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Davidson, J. (Hertf'd, Hemel Hempst'd)||Hurd, Percy A.|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Davidson, Major-General Sir J, H.||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.|
|Allen, J, Sandeman (L'pool,W. Derby)||Davies, Dr, Vernon||Jackson, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. F. S.|
|Ammon, Charles George||Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester)||Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert|
|Apsley, Lord||Dennison, R.||Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)|
|Astbury, Lieut-Commander F. W.||Dixey, A. C.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Eden, Captain Anthony||Joynson-Hicks, Rt. Hon. Sir William|
|Atkinson, C.||Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Kennedy, A, R. (Preston)|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Edwards, John H, (Accrington)||Kennedy, T.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Elvedon, Viscount||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.|
|Balniel, Lord||Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith||Kenyon, Barnet|
|Barnett, Major Sir Richard||Evans, Captain A. (Cardiff, South)||King, Captain Henry Douglas|
|Barnston, Major Sir Harry||Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||Knox, Sir Alfred|
|Batey, Joseph||Everard, W. Lindsay||Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R.|
|Beamish, Captain T. P. H,||Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Fermoy, Lord||Loder, J. de V.|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Forrest, W.||Lord, Walter Greaves|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Foster, Sir Harry S.||Lowe Sir Francis William|
|Blundell, F. N.||Foxcroft, Captain C. T.||Lowth, T.|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Luce, Maj.-Gen. Sir Richard Harman|
|Briant, Frank||Galbraith, J. F. W.||Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)|
|Briggs, J. Harold||Ganzoni, Sir John||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Garro-Jones, Captain G M||Macintyre, Ian|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Gates, Percy||Maitland, Sir Arthur D. steel|
|Broad, F. A.||Gillett, George M.||McLean, Major A.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Glyn, Major R. G. C.||MacRobert, Alexander M.|
|Bromley, J.||Gosling, Harry||Makins, Brigadier-General E.|
|Burgoyne, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Alan||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn|
|Burton, Colonel H. W.||Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||March, S.|
|Butler, Sir Geoffrey||Gretton, Colonel John||Margesson, Captain D.|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel||Groves, T.||Marrriott, Sir J. A. R.|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Maxton, James|
|Campbell, E. T.||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Merriman, F. B.|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw|
|Cazalet, Captain Victor A.||Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.)||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)|
|Charleton, H. C.||Harland. A.||Moore, Sir Newton J.|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Hartington, Marquess of||Morden, Col. W. Grant|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Morris, R. H.|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Hawke, John Anthony||Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury)|
|Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)||Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.||Naylor, T. E|
|Cope, Major William||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Nelson, Sir Frank|
|Couper, J. B.||Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)|
|Courthope, Lieut.-Col. Sir George L.||Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Nicholson, Col.Rt.Hn.W.G. (Ptrsf?ld.)|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton)|
|Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islington, N.)||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Penny, Frederick George|
|Craig, Ernest (Chester, Crewe)||Hoare, Lt Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G||Perkins, Colonel E. K.|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)||Perring, Sir William George|
|Crookshank.Cpt. H.(Lindsey.Gainsbro)||Howard, Captain Hon. Donald||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)||Shaw, Capt. W. W. (Wilts., Westb'y)||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Philipson, Mabel||Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Pilditch, Sir Philip||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John||Viant, S. P.|
|Potts, John S.||Slaney, Major P. Kenyon||Wallace, Captain D. E.|
|Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton||Sitch, Charles H.||Ward, Lt.-Col.A.L.(Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Rees, Sir Beddoe||Slesser, Sir Henry H.||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Reid, Capt. A. S. C. (Warrington)||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)||Watson, Rt. Hon. W, (Carlisle)|
|Remer, J. R.||Smith-Carington, Neville W.||Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney|
|Rice, Sir Frederick||Smithers, Waldron||Wells, S. R.|
|Richardson, Sir P. W.(Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)||Snell, Harry||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)|
|Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Ritson, J.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)||Wilson, R. R, (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Ropner, Major L.||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)||Winby, Colonel L. P.|
|Ruggles-Brise, Major E. A.||Steel, Major Samuel Strang||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Salter, Dr. Alfred||Stephen, Campbell||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.||Withers, John James|
|Sandeman, A. Stewart||Strickland, Sir Gerald||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Bandera, Sir Robert A.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Sanderson, Sir Frank||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Sandon, Lord||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Scott, Sir Leslie (Liverp'l, Exchange)||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)||TELLERS FOB THE AYES.—|
|Scrymgeour, E.||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)||Major kindersley and Sir Evelyn Cecil.|
|Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Meyer, Sir Frank||Sir Ellis Hume-Williams and Sir|
|Womersley, W. J.||Malcolm Macnaghten.|
Bill read a second time, and committed to a Standing Committee
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.816
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.
§ Adjourned at. Eight Minutes after Four o'Clock until Monday next (19th April).