HC Deb 04 April 1955 vol 539 cc909-42
Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I beg to move, in page 2, line 38, at the end, to insert: Provided that an order made under this subsection by a magistrates' court or, on appeal from a magistrates' court, by a court of quarter sessions shall not take effect until the expiration of the ordinary time within which an appeal in the matter of the proceedings in which the order was made may be lodged (whether by giving notice of appeal or applying for a case to be stated for the opinion of the High Court) or, where such an appeal is duly lodged, until the appeal is finally decided or abandoned. It might be convenient also to discuss the next Amendment at the same time. They both cover the same point, and are moved as a result of an undertaking given in Committee to cover a point raised in an Amendment moved by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) providing that matter which had been seized by the police should not be destroyed pending an appeal.

The Amendment relating to England and Wales is necessarily somewhat complicated, but I think it speaks for itself. It is also necessary to provide separately for the different legal procedure in Scotland. I hope that the House agrees that the two Amendments meet the undertaking given.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

We welcome the two Amendments. They meet the point of an Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson), and I am sorry that he is unable to be here this evening. As the Amendment was originally in my name, perhaps I may say a few words now. My hon. Friend moved it because I thought the Committee were rather tired of hearing Amendments moved by me.

I welcome this Amendment, which goes a substantial way towards meeting the point, and I think there could be no possible objection to it, even from my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan).

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 2, line 45, at end, insert: and for the proviso to subsection (2) there shall be substituted the following proviso:— 'Provided that an order made under this subsection shall not take effect until the expiration of the time within which an appeal under section sixty-two of the Summary Jurisdiction (Scotland) Act, 1954, may be taken in respect of the proceedings in which the order was made or, where such an appeal is taken, until the appeal is finally disposed of or abandoned'."—[Sir H. Lucas-Tooth.]

7.27 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Major Gwilym Lloyd-George)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

We have had a long and what can be described as a wide-ranging discussion on the Bill. I make no complaint about that, because hon. Members have properly expressed their concern about the danger of any possibilities of interference with the freedom of expression. Nobody complains about that. In fact, I made it perfectly clear when I moved the Second Reading that the Government were fully aware of the dangers, and that that was why very great care had been taken to limit the scope of the Bill to this type of publication.

That was dealt with in Clause 1, which had a searching examination in Committee. In the event, the Clause is unaltered except for the omission of words which we have just agreed to omit. We feel that if the Clause is read in its entirety it succeeds in defining the type of harmful publication with which the Bill is concerned, as closely as that can possibly be done.

I am bound to say that I have not been convinced that there is any real danger that proceedings could ever be taken under the Bill against the serious publications which have been mentioned from time to time. I shall not mention them now, but many good publications were mentioned. I am not convinced that the Bill could be used to deal with them.

As the House is aware, the Government recognised that if there were any dangers of that sort we should do everything possible to remove them, without destroying the efficacy of the Bill. That is why we readily agreed to incorporate two very important provisions—first, that proceedings could not be taken in England and Wales without the consent of the Attorney-General, and, secondly, that the Bill would lapse after 10 years.

I wish to say a word or two on the question of the Attorney-General. I saw a suggestion in the "Manchester Guardian" this morning which was quite wrong. It was that the Attorney-General would give his consent to a prosecution under this Bill if it were Government policy at the time to suppress an attempt, in good faith, to describe accurately real things or things horrible in themselves to which public attention ought to be called.

The Attorney-General, in deciding whether or not to institute proceedings, is acting in a quasi-judicial capacity and has regard to the evidence available and to the public interest. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for St. Helens (Sir H. Shawcross) said, on 29th January. 1951, "he does not have regard to the effect on his personal or his party's or the Government's political fortunes"; no Attorney-General would consent to the institution of a prosecution under this Bill, merely on account of Government policy, in respect of something which really is not a horror comic. It is right that I should make that perfectly clear.

In two respects, the Government have done a great deal to meet the wishes of hon. Members in every part of the House. The Government have done what they can, by the Amendment of Clause 2 during the stage which we have just completed, about the question of the responsibility of retailers which was raised during the Committee stage.

The Bill received a unanimous Second Reading, and there is not much doubt that the majority of hon. Members on both sides of the House recognised the need for it. Of course it has been criticised inside and outside the House, mainly on two grounds. The first was that its scope was too restricted and the second was that the Bill was not necessary at all. At this stage, I cannot deal with the first criticisms, but I can say a word about the second.

It is always difficult to establish a case for legislation on a mischief which has not fully developed. It is true that the public outcry last autumn, and the decision to introduce the Bill, have stopped publication of" horror comics" in this country, but I am convinced that if the House had not shown its determination to deal with this evil, we should have been faced in a year or two with a much more serious problem, and one which would have been much more difficult to tackle. If any one has any doubt about that, he has only to look at what has happened elsewhere.

So in asking the House to give, I hope, a unanimous Third Reading to the Bill, I should like to express my gratitude to the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and to his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield, Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice) for the helpful and constructive attitude which they have shown at all stages of the Bill. I should like also to assure those other hon. Members on both sides of the House who, quite properly, have felt obliged to voice their criticisms of its provisions, that the Government have given the most serious consideration to their misgivings, and I think I can now say that they need not fear that under the Bill in its amended form there will be any danger of injustice being done.

7.34 p.m.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)

I should like to be the first to congratulate the Home Secretary on this Bill. I remember that I raised this matter in the debate on the Gracious Speech and I would remind the House that two or three years ago my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) asked for just such a Measure as the one to which I hope we shall give a Third Reading tonight.

In a way, the value and virtue of this Bill have been obscured, both on the Second Reading and in Committee, by the battle fought on behalf of the freedom of the Press and the freedom of literature, which several of my hon. Friends, particularly the hon. Members for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) and Devonport (Mr. Foot) have fought. I do not complain of that. It would be a bad day for Parliament if back benchers did not continually assert the personal vigilance which is the price of liberty, especially when we are discussing a Measure which curtails liberties to some degree. Their Amendments have been excellent reminders—and some of their speeches have been very powerful assertions—of the principle which every hon. Member who has supported this Bill holds as strongly as they do, that it is wrong to interfere with the free expression of opinion.

All the time we have been pressing for a Bill of this kind, we have asserted, on the one hand, our desire not to interfere with freedom and, on the other, our belief that it is the duty of adults to protect children, and that it is a negation of virtue in the name of freedom to permit children to be contaminated by the kind of stuff which has perverted the child life not only of this country but of many others.

I congratulate the Home Secretary on his courage in facing up to the sticky problem of attempting to define a horror comic. I am not a lawyer, nor am I expert enough to comment on the success of the definition. Some countries have attempted to write the term "horror comic" into a Bill, but the first Clause of this Bill sets out what all of us know are the salient features of the evil we are attempting to combat.

I also congratulate the right hon. and gallant Gentleman on his resolute determination to get the Bill through the House unweakened. The Amendments that have been made are ones that we can conceive will safeguard the proper interests of British citizens, but we have resisted any Amendment which would weaken the Bill and would enable the purveyors of the crime comic to smash the purpose of the Bill. I am sure that the vested interests in horror comics will do their best to wriggle through it, but they will find it difficult.

In urging the House to give the Bill a unanimous Third Reading, I would remind hon. Members of what it is we are attempting to destroy. I shall refer once more to Dr. Wertham, whose work in America on this subject is of such enormous value to child life throughout the world. As a psychiatrist, he has said that the increase of violence in juvenile delinquency has gone hand in hand with the sensational increase in the circulation of horror comics. He has said: You cannot understand present day juvenile delinquency if you do not take into account the pathogenic and pathoplastic influence of the comic books … Fortunately, he has defined those erudite terms, which mean the way the books cause trouble or determine the form that the trouble takes. He says, also, that his own clinical studies and those of a famous New York clinic, the Lafargue Clinic, with which he has been associated for many years, have convinced him that comic books represent the systematic poisoning of the well of childhood spontaneity. In the clearest condemnation I have heard of comic books, he said that they immunise a whole generation against pity and against the recognition of cruelty and violence. These are the words of one who has brought to the problem of the comic book not some predeliction of opinion but his painful experience in analysing the young criminals brought to him in a famous New York psychiatry clinic. The Police Commissioner of Philadelphia, Thomas Gibbons, has said: Crime comics teach children refined cruelty to other human beings. The Chief of Police for Washington has said: A steady diet of violent crime in comic books is fed to our young people day after day … I think that it is reflected in the serious personal assaults that we come in contact with. Our own Kingsley Martin has said: Comic books teach that everything that Christ thought is sissy. The Association of District Attorneys of the United States has gone on record demanding legislation of this kind. The best and noblest attack on the horror comic that I have seen is one that I came across in St. Louis, published by the Roman Catholic Church of that part of America.

Therefore, I am certain that what we are doing tonight we are doing on behalf of enlightened opinion, not only in our own country but throughout the world; on behalf of decent parents, and the bulk of parents are good folk; on behalf of the teaching profession, which has been unanimous in its condemnation of the evil that we are trying to destroy; and on behalf of magistrates and social workers who have voiced exactly the same opinion. All of these want the Bill to be passed.

If one can sum up what we are trying to destroy, it is the glorification of violence, the educating of children in the detail of every conceivable crime, the playing on sadism, the morbid stimulation of sex, the cultivation of race hatred, the cultivation of contempt for work, the family and authority, and, probably most unhealthy, the cultivation of the idea of the superman and a sort of incipient Fascism.

There are, of course, other evil influences with which our children have to cope. The Bill does not solve the problem of juvenile delinquency, but it is a contribution, and it does seek to remove from one corner of British life one of the most evil influences to which children can be submitted.

Many children get into trouble through no fault of their own. Very often it is the grown-ups who ought to be punished for subjecting children to the environment which leads many an innocent child astray. In this Bill we are, at any rate, cleaning up one corner of our commercial culture and removing one influence which may harm some of our weakest and most imaginative children and may do harm which is not so patently revealed to the children whom we discussed at an earlier stage, normal children.

I am glad that the Bill refuses to leave censorship in the hands of the horror comic producers. American experience has shown how impossible it is in this matter to expect the poacher to turn gamekeeper.

The other evening my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) poked poetic fun at us for pausing, in the midst of a world obsessed with nuclear power, to clean up the literature to which we subject our children. However, I would suggest that these two are not unconnected. It may be doubtful whether man will be moral enough to control the forces of nature that he has loosed in the world, but, at any rate, man will have less chance of controlling the nuclear forces which threaten to upset the world if he is breeding his children in the hate and violence which is the very thing that we fear in the application of nuclear energy.

I suggest that it would be a kind of defeatism if we said that, because there are great problems in the world that we have to confront, we would neglect to clean up the literature to which we are subjecting our children. The battle for civilisation is being fought in our schools, in our nurseries, in our playgrounds and in our homes. We may lose it. In the long run, modern pictorial technical skill may deprive the younger generations which are yet to come of reading altogether. One of the fears of the present day is that we are moving into a period of illiteracy.

The Bill marks a piece of fighting on behalf of reading ability and on behalf of culture in the truest sense. In a world where there is so much beauty and terror, so much that is fine, evocative, happy, and purifying in the literature that we have had handed down to us, and which it is our duty to hand down to our children, it is right that we should remove from our children the corrupting influence which might destroy all that we are attempting to do in the passing on of that literature and art to our youngsters.

The Bill seeks to stamp out, not the work of James Joyce, not the work of a great artist, but the work of bastard, mongrel artists who have created types of unhealthy amusement merely to please and make profits for a commercial syndicate, types which are harmful to children throughout the world.

I hope that with the passing of the Bill—I am sincerely hoping that, having fought their battles on it, my hon. Friends will unite in giving the Bill a unanimous Third Reading—we are giving a lead to the good, right-minded people in America who are alarmed about this and to the good-minded people in Germany who are alarmed about supermen, for which they have paid so bitterly in two world wars and which come seeping back into the minds of young German children through the horror comic. I hope that we are playing a part, maybe a historic part, in moving away from one corner of commercial culture which is poisoning the minds of children in almost every part of the world.

7.47 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Nicolson (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)

On behalf of publishers, I should like to say a final word of welcome to the Bill. I was among those who, on Second Reading, criticised the Bill rather heavily for including in its definitions publications which were not particularly harmful. I now think that my criticisms at that time were exaggerated, and that they have been entirely removed by the Amendments which my right hon. and gallant Friend has been able to accept or himself incorporate. I should have no fear at all if I had to stand before a jury and be judged on the basis of the definitions and qualifications contained in the Bill as it now stands.

My only regret is that the Bill contains, in Clause 1, no attempt to include any of the sexual matters which form a large part of the present-day horror comic. I also regret that it has not been possible to excise the provisions which give a police constable powers to look around while he is searching an office and lay his hands upon anything else that takes his fancy. With those two exceptions, the Bill is first-rate, and is warmly welcomed by the publishers, of whom I am one.

7.49 p.m.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

As the Home Secretary and the House know, I was one of those who expressed grave misgivings about the Bill on Second Reading. My hon. Friends and I did not divide against the Second Reading, but it was borne upon me during the Committee stage that there may be some disadvantages in not dividing against the Second Reading of a Bill of this sort, because one is then constantly reminded that it was given a unanimous Second Reading, and this has had an inhibiting effect upon what Amendments it would be reasonable to move. However, I did not divide against the Second Reading, and I do not propose to divide against the Third Reading.

I certainly recognise that there is here a problem to which the Home Secretary has had to apply his mind. Horror comics as they exist, and as they might build up, were something with which he probably would have had to deal. However, even at this stage I would beg leave to differ a little from my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) for whose kind remarks and tolerant attitude throughout the debate I am grateful, about the very great effects which he thinks these horror comics can have upon the psychological development of a whole generation. We still know far too little about the effect of reading matter and all sorts of other experiences upon the human mind to be as certain as he is.

My hon. Friend referred to work by Dr. Wertham, in America, on this subject and that, of course, is work of importance. But I would remind him and the House that there is a good deal of dispute in America coming from not merely the horror comic lobby as to whether Dr. Wertham has the whole of the truth. Dr. Morris Ernst, who has a very fine record on the whole question of civil liberties, differs very strongly with the line which Dr. Wertham has taken. I do not think that anybody would say that Dr. Ernst was in the pay of the horror comic lobby or anybody else.

While differing a little from my hon. Friend on the importance which he has attached to these matters, I would not deny that a point arises here. But I certainly started off with, and still have, a doubt whether this problem can be dealt with only by legislation and I also doubt whether any censorship Bill might not cause almost as much harm as the evil it is called upon to destroy. Some hon. Members on both sides of the House have declared, "Of course, we respect the freedom of the Press and the freedom of opinion, but what possible argument can there be?" To those hon. Members and to others who have put forward arguments of that sort, I would say that it is important to argue in favour of the freedom of the Press and in favour of the freedom of opinion only when there is something to which somebody is objecting. If no one is objecting, there is no issue and it is only in these marginal cases that it is important to remember that there are two aspects of the matter which must be studied.

I freely admit that the Bill has been improved in Committee and on Report and I should like to express my personal gratitude to the Home Secretary for the Amendments to which he has been able to agree. I should have liked him to have gone further, but I do not minimise the distance he has gone and, such as it is, I am very grateful to him for it. The most important Amendment is that which makes the permission of the Attorney-General necessary for any prosecutions. That has put a heavy weight on the shoulders of the Attorney-General, and we should remember how much of the argument in favour of the rest of the Bill has been based upon this single Amendment.

We should remember how important it is that the Attorney-General should exercise his powers very circumspectly in this matter. He seems to have been aware of the weight which it involves, because, since making the announcement that the Amendment was to be accepted, he has hardly been seen in our discussions on the Bill. I hope that he will bear in mind how important it is and exercise his powers as carefully as he can.

The "Manchester Guardian" this morning raised a point of criticism which, I suppose, many of us noticed. Perhaps we have a greater opportunity of studying the "Manchester Guardian" at present even than we have on normal occasions. It is a remarkable state of affairs in which one can say that the national Press was unanimous this morning in its criticism of the Bill as it now stands, and I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Home Secretary will bear that in mind. He countered the criticism by saying that the "Manchester Guardian" was not on sound ground because it was inconceivable that the Attorney-General could ever start prosecutions against anything other than a horror comic because of matters of Government policy, since the Attorney-General would be acting in a quasi-judicial capacity in these matters.

The Home Secretary quoted my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Helens (Sir H. Shawcross). There, again, we are up against the difficulty that we are dependent on what the Attorney-General and future Attorney-Generals may or may not decide. I think that there was implicit in the right hon.

and gallant Gentleman's reply to the "Manchester Guardian" an admission that while the Attorney-General would not do such a thing and that no future Attorney-General would do such a thing, it would be possible, under the Bill, to start a prosecution against a publication such as that to which the "Manchester Guardian" referred, if a future Attorney-General were sufficiently misguided to allow that to happen.

I hope that future Attorney-Generals will bear in mind what has been carefully, repeatedly and forcibly said by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and other Government spokesmen and that the fears which I and other hon. Members have about the Bill will prove to be unfounded. I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will not prove to be like Lord Camborne, who made a great number of statements about a Bill when it was going through Parliament, but then found that those statements did not work out. The ten-year limitation will help to prevent that being so. I very much hope that when the ten years are up the House will not find it necessary to re-enact the Bill, because it is better that we should go forward without this censorship Act on the Statute Book.

7.56 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

I should like to adopt the language of the horror comics for a moment and say that I am very glad that the House is to endeavour to bury the slimy, reeking, squalid rash of putrefaction of the horror comic. I believe that that is the appropriate language to be found in these very special documents. The House is dealing with a very special case, and we have tried to deal with it on Second Reading, and very carefully in the Committee stage.

It would not be right for the Bill to receive a Third Reading without stressing the fact that it is a special case, and that it is not in any way to be regarded as a precedent when we come to consider the whole of the law of obscene publications. That is of the greatest importance. I rather expected the hon. Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) to make that point and save me the trouble.

I appreciate from the outset that publishers, like my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson), and the hon. Members for Stechford, Devonport (Mr. Foot) and others, have been particularly concerned, and have shown their concern in the course of the debate, that publishers, printers, newspapers, retailers, and others who are in honest employment and endeavour may be affected by the Bill. It has become quite apparent that the Home Secretary was absolutely right when he said that no author, no publisher and no retailer could be effected by the Bill, and he really put his finger on the main issue when he said that nonetheless that was not sufficient for him.

I was not prepared to see the Bill go through without adequate and proper safeguards, and it was for that reason that a number of us put down Amendments. The Bill has improved in four important aspects. The first is that the Attorney-General must now decide to prosecute. Secondly, we have been assured that this is a temporary Bill, and those who discuss it later may well say that there is no precedent in this Bill or we should not have made it a temporary Bill.

The third point is that we have refused—I am glad to say with the support of the Government—to allow the word" corrupt "to have a further confusing meaning attached to it in the first Clause. This deletion was proposed by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) in the terms of the Amendment which I moved in the Committee stage. I am very glad that the Government were able to meet that point.

Even more important, not only for this Bill, but for later Bills, and at any rate going half way to meeting the point raised by the hon. Member for Devonport, was the giving of some protection to the retailer. Many of us know fun well that under the Obscene Publications Act there is little defence for the man who is in possession of obscene material and who can be prosecuted under that Act.

In those ways the Bill has been improved. I should like to draw attention to one aspect which should be underlined. We have not sought to define horror comics in the Bill, because one cannot define horror comics with exactitude. The Home Office had obviously studied the question and decided that it was not possible to get a definition to which objection would not be taken. Five safeguards have been given. It is only when we look at them that we see that no publisher, author or printer could possibly come within the ambit of the Bill, unless he is engaged in this class of traffic.

The five safeguards should be taken collectively: first, that it is a book, magazine or other like work; secondly, that it is a story "told in pictures"; thirdly, that it portrays the commission of crimes; or acts of violence; or cruelty or incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature; fourthly. that it would "tend to corrupt"; and, fifthly, that it is a "child or young person."

By hedging it, not by definition but by these five terms, we have been able to provide adequate safeguards for all those engaged in the honourable profession of being a publisher or those who are employed to print. It is for that reason that I believe that the temper of the House has changed entirely since Second Reading. Judging from the speeches delivered recently, I believe that everybody, even those who had some misgivings on some aspects, has come to agreement during the course of our proceedings. If that is not one of the greatest assets of the House of Commons, then I do not know what is.

I am sorry that the Press should not be in a position to publish the change of views which has taken place, but I hope that at least there will be some memory left behind, and that when we come to deal with obscene publications, as we may next year or within a few years, it will not be said from the Treasury Bench, whoever is in office then, "On the horror comics Bill you took this view; why should not you take the same view now?"

With those words of warning, I warmly commend the Bill. I associate myself with all that has been said about the liberal attitude and background of the most excellent Tory now in occupation of the post of Home Secretary.

8.2 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

I do not welcome the Bill. I thought it unnecessary when it was introduced, and I think it still less necessary now. Nevertheless, I certainly join with hon. Members on both sides of the House in expressing appreciation of the way in which the Home Secretary and his hon.

Friend the Joint Under-Secretary have dealt with their complex and difficult task. I am sure that the whole House is grateful to both of them for the tolerant and helpful spirit in which they have dealt with the many matters put before them.

I am glad to speak after my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) because, with his greater study of this problem, he has fortified me in the quite moderate criticisms that I express of the Bill. I had no opportunity of expressing my views during Second Reading and it would have been unsuitable for me to have sought to divide the House upon it. Had the opportunity occurred, I should certainly have voted against Second Reading.

It is true that there was an outburst of public indignation last year about horror comics, but I think that an expression of public indignation can sometimes be left to do its own work. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford that it does not necessarily follow that moral indignation should be written into legislation. In the whole of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King), to whom we all listen with close attention on matters of this kind, there was not a single word about parents. One would have thought that they did not exist, that they had no duties, or that, if they did exist, they were quite ineffective.

In the eloquent and vivid picture which my hon. Friend drew, his colours were much too heavily over-painted. That was the feeling I had when listening to his speech. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford that we know far too little about the impact of publications of different kinds upon the human mind. I wonder whether the formidable array of witnesses against me is really as strong as we are led to believe.

Recently I heard of a boy who was denied by his parents the pleasure of playing with toy soldiers on the ground that they tend to corrupt. He was given a fire brigade instead and, very shortly, the firemen were laying about on the floor. When his mother asked what had happened, the boy said, "A man has just been in and cut their throats and they are all bleeding to death." No doubt he was expressing something. I do not know whether he got it from a horror comic.

Did hon. Members see that short story competition in the "Observer" a few weeks ago, and the essay of a girl of 15, who wrote such an imaginative piece of writing that it received special mention? It was the most bloodthirsty story that I have ever heard from a boy or girl. I do not suppose that she was brought up on horror comics.

Yesterday I interviewed a young lad in my constituency who has been to a Borstal institution, and who was recently sentenced to a term of imprisonment for further crimes. I talked to him about the future. He has never seen a horror comic but he is thoroughly corrupt. What he seems to be corrupted by most is Leslie Charteris and the "Saint Club" and the whole library of detective fiction which apparently one can get from that source. Indeed, he appreciated it so much that he gave a donation to the "Saint Club" out of the proceeds of a theft.

When we are talking of corruption we are to a large extent in an unknown world. I think that, very frequently, grown-ups tend to think that certain things will corrupt children because they would corrupt them. There is much more horror in horror comics to grown-ups than there is to most children. However, I have the great majority of the House against me, and all the witnesses from the United States whom my hon. Friend, the Member for Southampton, Test recently brought back with him. I should still wish to dissent from the Bill but for the two things put in it during the Committee stage, to which the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) referred: first, the requirement that in England and Wales a prosecution requires the consent of the Attorney-General and, second, the provision, towards the end of the Bill, about its duration.

Those are the two redeeming features which make the Bill, if not acceptable, at least tolerable to some of us who otherwise would feel that it was a Measure which should still be opposed. After all, we are asked to legislate for some erosion, however slight, however worthy, into one of the fundamental freedoms in this country. That alone justifies the most careful scrutiny of what we are doing, and the closest examination of the reasons for doing it.

Liberty is eaten away in little bits. It is rare that it goes in one fell swoop.

One thing leads to another, and I rarely have any confidence that an Act on one occasion will not be used as a precedent on another. I have had far too much connection with public administration to under-rate the importance of precedents to those who have to deal with either administration or legislation.

We shall see how the Bill operates. I hope and pray that it will not be necessary for any prosecutions to be undertaken under the Bill. I hope that public indignation, coupled with the determination of Her Majesty's Government to legislate, if necessary, against this evil, will have achieved the purpose which all set out to achieve. I think it may be a matter for congratulation if, at the end of the day, we find that it has not been necessary to undertake prosecutions under the Bill.

I do not know whether the first act of Her Majesty's Government ought to be to remove the "horror comics" from the ceiling of the Crypt off Westminster Hall. There is depicted someone being boiled in a cauldron; there is someone being toasted on a grill; there is someone being stoned to death—all on the ceiling of the Crypt within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. If they are not comics, they are certainly horrifying. They are all of a repulsive or horrible nature, and I commend them to the attention of the Minister responsible.

I end on a serious note. If the House passes this Bill, as undoubtedly it will, I trust that those of us who have been critical of its provisions, who have supported Amendments with the intention of keeping this Measure narrowly to its avowed purpose, will not be misunderstood in our purpose. and that it will be believed that our convictions in this matter are still held just as strongly.

8.13 p.m.

Mr. F. P. Bishop (Harrow, Central)

I should like to say a word or two as one who has been connected with the Press for many years, and who believes, very strongly, in the freedom of the Press. I am the more moved to say something now, because a large part of the Press is in the unusual and very painful position of being unable to speak for itself.

I wish to make it clear that I do not agree with the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) or with those newspapers which have expressed the opinion that this Bill is unnecessary at the present time. I think it is necessary, but I consider that it is a necessary evil. It is necessary because it is quite clear that the Government and this House had to do something to check the gross evil of the horror comic as it has been made known to us in the last few months. That duty I do not think the House or the Government could have avoided or should have sought to avoid.

However, the Bill, if necessary, is still in itself evil. In the first place, it is evil because all censorship is evil. I believe that freedom of publication in all normal circumstances, however much it may be abused, is better than a censorship, however high-minded it may be and however good the intention. It may be said that all legislation is a necessary evil, but I think that that applies particularly in a case such as this; because, normally, legislation brought in to deal hurriedly with an important and suddenly apparent necessity proves, in the long run, generally to be bad legislation.

This Bill has emerged from its Committee and Report stages in a form in which the worst of those troubles have been avoided. It is a better Bill than it appeared to be when it was first presented. I join with the hon. Member for Sowerby in his hope that prosecutions under this Measure will never prove necessary. The best that I can hope for it is that it may prove to be a dead letter. I hope that the exposure of the evil of the horror comic has roused public opinion sufficiently to enable it to do this job, which can be done better and more effectively by an informed public opinion than by legislation. Necessary evil though it be, in all the circumstances I reluctantly support the Bill.

8.16 p.m.

Mr. Foot

An hon. Member opposite said it was interesting to note how tempers have improved during our discussions on this Bill. I consider that there is something in what he said. although, if there has been any change in temper, I think it has been on the part of the Government.

The Committee stage was started with the Government adopting an almost totalitarian outlook. They seemed a little tetchy at the idea that anyone should propose Amendments. We were grateful to be informed, later, that it was quite proper to move Amendments and we appreciated that change of mind.

The Government learned that it was wiser to deal with the matter in an accommodating spirit and the Amendments we moved resulted in a much better Bill. Most of the bouquets showered on the Home Secretary this evening have reached him precisely because of the Amendments from one side of the House or the other. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman should be extremely grateful to us for enabling his hon. Friends to pay tributes to him in the terms in which they have been paid.

Had it not been for our demand that the Attorney-General should have the duty of ordering a prosecution; had it not been for our demand that the Bill should be limited in its terms; had it not been for our demand that the retailer should, at any rate, have some protection, it would not have been possible for the last two speeches by hon Members opposite to have been made at all. We now have a much more agreeable atmosphere precisely because the Government have made concessions.

The most interesting fact is that the Government, by an Amendment, have admitted the case advanced by those of us most critical of the Bill. It is rare that a Bill is introduced by a Government about which it is said, in the eloquent terms used by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King), that it is an excellent Bill, a marvellous Bill and should have been introduced earlier; and, at the same time, the Government say, "We shall bring it to an end in ten years' time." There is an admission by the Government that they are dealing with a very delicate subject.

It is such a delicate subject that all Bills passed in an endeavour to impose a censorship authority become perverted for some other purpose. The reason is that no authority is in a position to discriminate about what is liberty and what is licence; what is good and what is bad; what should be allowed and what should not. No authority can, over a long period, exercise such a decision in an impartial and proper fashion. Therefore, almost every Measure exerting a kind of censorship on the right to print or speak which has ever been introduced anywhere in the world, has almost always been perverted after a number of years; because it is impossible to establish a censoring authority which can do the job properly. This is borne out by almost every Bill of censorship which has ever been introduced in this or any other country.

Every Bill which is introduced for censoring something is introduced with the idea that it will stamp out something damnable. Nobody introduces a censoring Bill for the purpose of stamping out something that is good, or something that the persons who are stamping it out think is good. They always say that the thing is horrible beyond belief. That is what was said in the days when the censorship of plays was introduced in this country. It was done to stamp out the horror, filth and sexual perversion that was purveyed in the Restoration plays.

It may be that there was a strong case for that. One of my hon. Friends on this side of the House thinks that there is an extremely strong case for, as he said, regulating the publishers. This is why every proposal for censorship must be examined with special care, because it is almost inevitable that it will be perverted after a certain period. As far as I can recall, there is no Measure of censorship that has ever been passed by this House of Commons which has not been used for a bad purpose eventually, however highminded the motives of those who introduced it in the first place.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test made an extremely eloquent and powerful attack, as everyone will agree, on horror comics. He made it dogmatically, and he has every right to do so, with a great deal of detail supporting his dogmas. But there are many authorities in the United States who claim to have examined the subject quite as carefully as the authorities whom my hon. Friend quoted, who say that the publications which really do damage to the young minds of the United States are not the horror comics but the tabloids.

Many authorities in the United States say that if one gives to a child a portrayal of fiction, which is what the horror comic does, and compares it with the damage done by the tabloids, which are purveying truth in a sadistic fashion, as my hon. Friend described, the evidence points to the fact that those who are purveying the sadistic and the morbid excitement about sex, to quote my hon. Friend's own phrase—and there were many others that he used—have a much bigger impact on the child's mind in purporting to portray the truth in this sadistic fashion than in purporting to portray fiction. There are some very big authorities who make this claim.

Therefore, we get into the danger that if we are saying that it is good to provide this kind of protection, it is right that it should be provided by legislation rather than by parents doing it and by other means; that once we start on that, we must carry the censorship much further. That is why I cited, in our previous debates, the kind of stuff that is purveyed by some of the so-called popular newspapers in this country. In my view, it has a much more damaging effect upon young minds than what is done by the horror comics. Nevertheless, I am against legislating about them, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) is against legislating against newspapers who dabble in this kind of stuff. I think it is foul and loathesome, but once we establish the principle that we can deal with it by legislation, we are deep in the mire of censorship.

Therefore, that is why some of us have been so concerned about the Bill and is, first, the reason why we have tried to point out the general dangers; secondly, why we have tried to limit the operations of the Bill and, thirdly, why we have tried to argue that if the Government were to deal with this delicate subject they could have dealt with it much more comprehensively and in a way which would have put it into its proper context. That was why we had doubts.

Some of our doubts have been removed, but the Government certainly must not accept this Bill as a precedent for anything else whatsoever. Indeed, I would go further and say that although we have the limitattion of this Bill being removed from the Statute Book ten years hence, as we hope it will be, if this Government or the Government which follows them, and the Home Secretary who follows the present Home Secretary, introduce a Bill to deal with the general law of obscenity, I would hope that this present Bill could be wiped off the Statute Book and dealt with under the same law, when we could discuss the phrase, which I still think is the worst phrase in the whole of the Bill, "tend to corrupt".

Nobody knows what this phrase means or can define it. No court of law can really understand what it means. In other words, we give to magistrates all over the country a vague phrase which different courts can interpret in a different fashion. We think that that is wrong. In dealing with any matter of censorship, the law ought to be defined as strictly as possible, so that there cannot be any possibility of its being interpreted in this wide and different fashion. Therefore, although we give this Bill a Third Reading, I hope that it will be buried long before the ten-year period which the Government have been willing to accept in view of our entreaties.

8.25 p.m.

Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)

I listened with very great care to what the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) has just said. It is true that legislation sometimes becomes applied afterwards to matters different from that for which it was originally intended, but that is not peculiar to this form of legislation. I would go further, and say that if it is thought that legislation cannot always cover all possible developments of the next few years, that is no reason why we should not tackle the problem, which is what we have been trying to do specifically in this Bill.

I like to be a little more realistic about this matter. I appreciate the principles that the hon. Member for Devonport has stated, but I am concerned about the children to whom horror comics have been and might well again become, available; and that is the purpose to which the House has devoted itself in passing the Bill.

The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) treated us to an interesting analysis of corruption and horror. I agree with what he said. He said that many adults who read horror comics are more struck with the horror of them than a child would be. The word that the hon. Member needs to add is" consciously" struck. When one is dealing with the question of the corruption of a child it must be remembered that the child himself does not know what is happening to him. It is the corruption which becomes an insidious process in the child's mind, so that by the time he is an adolescent or adult, the pattern of his life, morals, and thought has been determined by what he has read in his earlier years.

The reason that we are here this evening is that we appreciate the horror and corruption which these comics and other things like them can bring. It is because the child does not appreciate the corrupting effect of these comics that we are legislating to prevent their being allowed to fall into children's hands. That is a realistic way of looking at the matter.

I have said before that we cannot look, through an adult's mind, into the reactions of a child in reading these comics or any other kind of publication like them. We have got to look into the child's mind realising that the child does not know, but realising that that child, over the years, if it sees sufficient of this kind of material, may well think that that is how the world is conducted and lives. The sooner we can take action to stop the child getting that wrong and corrupting idea of his fellow men, the better we shall be doing a good job of work in the House of Commons.

Faint praise has been given to the Bill during its Third Reading stage. I want to remind the House of a remark which was made, I think, by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) earlier in these debates. He said that one firm has indicated that if the Bill did not become law, it would start publication of these things again. I believe that that is quite likely.

What would have been the psychological effect, not only on that firm and on the other firms who are making money from this business, but on the people, our constituents, if we had abandoned or withdrawn the Bill once it had been introduced into the House of Commons? It would have been tantamount to saying either that we cannot tackle this problem or that it is not sufficiently important to demand our attention. In that case, within a few months we might have had a spate of these horror comics starting up again.

The hon. Member for Sowerby said he hoped that there would be no prosecutions under the Bill. I agree. We do not pass laws merely to facilitate prosecutions; we pass them to try to foster the welfare and comfort of our people. If the effect of passing this Bill into law is to stop the sort of action which will lead to prosecutions, I shall be happy. If all the legislation that we passed was observed by the people and did not lead to a single prosecution it would indeed be a happy state of affairs.

During the last two years much public indignation has been expressed about horror comics, but public indignation is not enough. There are always those who may want to purchase this kind of periodical. Public indignation, unsupported by legislation where necessary, is not sufficient to stop this evil, which is damaging our country.

In handling the Bill from its early stages right up to this final stage, my right hon. and gallant Friend has had a most peculiar task which does not often fall to the lot of Ministers. First, he had to bring forward legislation upon a matter which, for the time being, had ceased to be present in our midst—because the publication of these horror comics had stopped. He had to bring forward this legislation also in the atmosphere of wider legislation—which we all know will come in the course of the next few years—upon similar and allied topics. He had to bring it forward knowing that there were many people who, quite properly, were jealous of the preservation of our liberties. In those somewhat unusual circumstances he has succeeded in piloting through a Measure which will be to our future benefit, and will stamp out an evil.

I was glad when the Bill was introduced, and I hope that it will be passed into law without delay. I believe that it is framed in such a way as to stop not only those publications of which we have knowledge but publications of a similar character, with similar corruptive effects, which some clever publisher might try to evolve in an endeavour to get round the requirements of the Bill. We should be concerned, not only with horror comics, but with the ingenuity of man, of which we have all had experience. I hope that the Bill will be able, to deal with certain persons who may, for their own financial benefit, seek to publish material which will have the same corrupting effect as horror comics.

Finally, I commend my right hon. and gallant Friend upon the passage of the Bill through the House, and I trust that we shall give it a Third Reading.

8.33 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I congratulate the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for having had the courage to introduce the Bill. He must have known the kind of trouble he was going to run into—and I think that he has met it wisely. He has included all the Amendments which I asked for during the Second Reading debate, which shows that he is responsive to reason. It was not until we got beyond reason that he proved to be unresponsive.

I was brought up on Milton. About 1902 I bought the copy of Milton's prose works which I hold in my hand. Its present condition shows that I have paid it the respect of frequently consulting it. It has not been without notice that Milton has been quoted more than once in the course of our proceedings. I want to claim him as a supporter of the Bill. In one of the most impressive passages of his great work addressed to this House he says this: That also which is impious or evil absolutely either against faith or manners, no law can possibly permit, that intends not to unlaw itself. I say of the horror comic that it is evil absolutely; against manners in this country. The pressure that was brought to bear on the right hon. and gallant Gentleman by many hon. Members, when not a single syllable was said in defence of these publications, proves that there is a substantial volume of opinion in this country which does regard these things as absolutely evil. There is no redeeming feature in them at all.

At one stage, we were told that the Bill was suppressing ideas. Well, not all ideas are good; there are plenty of bad ideas held on the other side of the House, which I oppose as strongly as I can. These ideas which we are here legislating against are bad in morals. I do not accept the doctrine which was put forward by my hon. Friend for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) that we should leave this matter to the parents.

I have spent a great part of my life trying to protect children from parents who wanted to have them employed at unreasonable hours in unreasonable circum stances. I recollect that once, when I was a teacher, His Majesty's Inspector of Schools came into my room and questioned the boys on geography at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and at 2.15 one boy went to sleep. The inspector said, "That boy is alseep." I said, "I know he is. He has paid you a great compliment. When I take the class he goes to sleep at 2 o'clock. He has given you a quarter of an hour extra."

That boy had been to the railway station at 6 o'clock that morning to collect milk. During the dinner hour he had to clean out the float, and he was going back to a milk round for the second time after school in the afternoon. I said to the inspector, "The thing to teach that boy is that he has got one pal in the world, if it is only his teacher."

We have to protect children from parents who exploit their children, or who would exploit them. Fortunately, there is no part of the country now where such employment can take place legally. We had to fight parents as well as employers—in fact, sometimes, parents rather more than employers—in our efforts to achieve that.

The House, in the last 150 years, has legislated many times to give exceptional protection to children—in mind, in physique and in manners. Therefore. This Bill requires no justification as an invasion of the right of the parents. We are pursuing a policy which since the days of Fielden has always been the policy of this House. I am, therefore, wholeheartedly in favour of the Bill. The majority of my hon. Friends are also in favour of it.

We welcome the steps that have been taken to respond to public opinion. Let us be quite certain that public opinion is always stronger when it has made itself effective through a reasonable Measure passed by the House. Public opinion sometimes feels very strongly yet is unable to make itself effective because the House withholds its disapprobation of that which public opinion condemns. I was therefore very glad when my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) said that we had made this a very much better Bill. If it was not a good Bill to start with it could not be made better.

I share my hon. Friend's objections to some of the Sunday papers, to whose coroneted owners my hon. Friend dispensed not coronets but crowns. We know of Warwick the Kingmaker; here is Devonport the kingmaker in the realm of the Sunday papers. I understand that they are to be left to carry on their villainies in order that my hon. Friend may have joyful half-hours in this House denouncing them. I share his views, but I would not go so far as he does in advertising those newspapers. He had better direct adult opinion against them than rely on this House to do it.

I am very doubtful about such things as the censorship that we imposed on the publications of the report of divorces, and whether in the end we achieved what the promoters of the ideas wanted to achieve. For instance, there are a good many more divorces because people think that they can be obtained without publicity, than there would be if the full details were known.

I welcomed the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King). The philosophy which he expressed was sound, and represents, to my knowledge, the opinion of educational experts in this country and in other parts of the English-speaking world. Do not let us think that such legislation as this is confined to this country. Canada attempted it, New Zealand has achieved it, I think, and South Africa—whom I am reluctant to quote in anything that has to do with civil liberty—has been much more savage than anybody else.

Mr. Foot

What about Franco's Spain? Has it done it, too?

Mr. Ede

I rather think that Franco would like these ideas to get into people so as to make them really tough.

The Measure before us is an improvement on all the other Measures in the various parts of the English-speaking world because it has proceeded on the lines of what the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) called" the five safeguards" in the definition in Clause 1.

I am sure that these cases will go before juries—if they get to juries—and will not be settled in magistrates' courts. Every person charged under the Bill if any is charged—will take refuge in the fact that the maximum penalty is four months' imprisonment and that he can claim, therefore, to go before a jury. No one can prevent him from knowing that he can go before a jury, because the magistrates' clerk in the court of summary jurisdiction has to draw that fact to his notice before the man pleads to the charge. I am quite certain that the way in which Clause 1 is drafted—particularly now that the words in brackets have been removed—will mean that these cases will almost certainly be tried before juries.

This Bill is negative. The problem has to be approached positively as well as negatively. Milton, to quote him again from the same work as I have previously mentioned, said: And were I the chooser, a dram of well doing should be preferred before many times as much hindrance of evil doing. I hope that publishers will prepare for children, at about the same price as these productions sell at, suitable reading matter, suitably illustrated, that can take the place of those publications. There is plenty of good material that can be used. The wife of a right hon. Friend of mine complained that she could not get for her boy aged eight anything that he could read. There were plenty of books for girls, but few for boys.

I gave him a copy of "The Maneaters of Tsavo," which I used, as a teacher. to preserve discipline in the class. When the children started playing me up about Wednesday I said "I shall read you nothing of the Maneaters of Tsavo' on Friday afternoon." That was sufficient to ensure that reasonable discipline was preserved. Unfortunately my right hon. Friend's son got into trouble for insisting on reading the book after he had been ordered to put out his light at night. There are plenty of fascinating stories of that kind, with reasonable narrative, plenty of legitimate excitement, plenty of adventure, that can be used in place of these appalling things that the House has decided it will suppress.

I trust that there will be no prosecutions. I join with my hon. Friends in hoping that at the end of 10 years, it will not be necessary to renew this Measure. I want to make it quite plain, however, that I am giving no pledges about another Bill which we have heard during discussions on this one. I was doubtful as to the attitude which I ought to adopt about that until I saw the way in which it was used in the discussion on this present Measure. That convinced me that, if there is a free vote when that Bill is before us, I shall not support it. On behalf of the majority of my hon. Friends on this side I want to give this Bill a warm welcome, and to express the hope that it may be effective in stamping out an evil which is a disgrace to the people who have been propagating it in our midst.

8.49 p.m.

Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)

My interventions during previous stages of the Bill have at least had one merit—brevity—even though they may not have found universal acceptance. I cannot think that my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) would be pleased with any of my interventions. I should like to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) that my objection to the horror comic is not because of any fear I may have of its effect upon myself, but of its effect on immature minds.

It is not my intention to delay the House very long, but I should not like to part company with the Bill without expressing my own personal satisfaction that this attempt has been made to deal with a very objectionable social evil. Last year, the "Financial Times" published figures showing that 60 million copies of comics of alien origin were circulated in the United Kingdom in 1953, which shows the proportion to which this problem has grown. It is criminal that a single penny of foreign currency should have been spent in this way, whether for the comics themselves or for the matrices.

We all know quite well what we mean by a horror comic. but the difficulty arises when we try to define one. In fact, the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) pointed out that in the Bill there is no real definition of the horror comic. However that may be, in my view, though they may not be a perfect definition, those words are adequate for this purpose and will not prove difficult of interpretation.

During the previous stages of the Bill, there was at times a tendency to overlook the fact that this was a Bill for one specific purpose, and one only. I never shared the fears of some of my hon. and right hon. Friends that the net cast by the Bill might bring in the wrong fish.

However, the Amendment which was accepted by the Government and now appears in the Bill in Clause 2 (2), providing that no prosecution shall be instituted except by or with the consent of the Attorney-General, means that no prosecutions will be frivolously undertaken. That should relieve the anxiety of the most ardent defender of the literary or artistic licence. Personally, like some other hon. Members, I anticipate that there will be very few prosecutions, for I believe that the mere fact of the passing of this Bill will to a large extent achieve the object which hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House have in mind.

There is one small criticism that I should like to make. I regret that the Government have not thought fit, on Report, to specify penalties under Clause 4, which deals with importations. However, having said that, I should like to express my thanks to the Home Secretary for having so readily acceded to what I believe was the general wish of both sides of the House.

I welcome the Bill. It is short, but its importance far transcends its length. We can all take pleasure in legislation for the protection of children, but in this case we have legislated more particularly in the interests of the emotionally unstable and the mentally retarded, two classes in special need of protection. I hope that there will be a unanimous vote for the Third Reading of the Bill.

8.53 p.m.

Mr. E. Fletcher

Compliments have been showered on the Home Secretary about the Bill, but I rather agreed with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot). I should have said that it was partly due to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) that this Bill will be passed tonight, because I recollect the very moving speech, with all of which I did not entirely agree, which he made in the debate on the Address last November. Apart from my hon. Friend, I think the credit for the achievement in this Bill should go to my hon. Friends on these benches who put down a series of Amendments, many of them accepted by the Government, which, as far as we are concerned, have very considerably improved the Bill.

Like others on both sides of the House who have taken part in the debates, I welcome the Bill, with some reservations. There is an admitted evil to be dealt with, and the mere fact that a Bill has been introduced and is to be passed is having and will have a salutary effect in stopping the publication of horror comics. Moreover, the mere fact that during the debate hon. Members on this side of the House, and to some extent hon. Members opposite, have been so vigilant in seeing that the essential liberties of the subject and of the Press are respected will have a salutary effect on both this and future Governments.

Much has been heard about the Amendment accepted by the Government as a result of which no prosecution will be launched under the Bill except with the Attorney-General's consent. The House has come to realise that in many respects that has been the bedrock of the Amendments and safeguards which many of us have desired to see inserted. I want to say a word about the Home Secretary's observations on that subject on Third Reading.

It is perhaps not quite unprecedented, but it is nevertheless a very unusual feature in our criminal legislation, to pass such an important Bill as this and to insert in it that no prosecution under it shall take place without the consent of the Attorney-General. It goes to show what several hon. Members have felt—that the mere passage into law of the Bill will in itself have a deterrent effect and, we hope, will make it unnecessary for prosecutions to be launched.

But, as has been pointed out, it places a heavy responsibility on the Attorney-General. The Home Secretary told us that in exercising this discretion the Attorney-General would be exercising a quasi-judicial function. That is true, but it is also true that he may be exercising a quasi-political function because I imagine—I do not know—that his action in either giving or withholding consent to a prosecution will be the exercise of a Ministerial action which can be challenged in the House. At any rate, I very much hope that that is the case.

I hope that the Attorney-General's action, although quasi-judicial in nature, will also expose him to criticism in the House if any hon. Member thinks it unjustified. That is not an unimportant aspect because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) has already reminded us, the "Manchester Guardian" is still disturbed by the Bill in its present form.

I do not regard it as a perfect Bill, and I think it capable of improvement in this respect, and we should, therefore, still remind ourselves, while there is an opportunity of further revision in another place, of the very weighty criticism expressed in today's "Manchester Guardian" about this assumed safeguard of the Attorney-General's consent being required to a prosecution.

What the "Manchester Guardian" said—and it was not fully answered by the Home Secretary—was this: What one wants to see written in somewhere is a sentence to make quite sure that the Bill cannot be used to suppress an attempt in good faith to describe accurately real things or events, horrible in themselves, to which public attention ought to be called, whatever the effect might be on a young person into whose hands the publication might fall. Nothing in the Bill as drafted stops up this loophole. That is what some of us still think.

In view of what the Home Secretary has said, I feel that the consent of the Attorney-General may to some extent reduce the size of that loophole, but it is still one on which organs of public opinion with the tradition of the" Manchester Guardian" are entitled to be fully satisfied. I hope, therefore, that either by a re-emphasis of what the Home Secretary has said, or by an improvement in another place, this Bill, which has already been so much improved as a result of its passage through this House, may be still further improved.

9.2 p.m.

Mr. William Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

I have waited longo for this opportunity and perhaps I ought to congratulate myself on concluding this debate. First, may I suggest that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) might send a copy of Milton to the Director of Public Prosecutions. I am sure that that would be valuable.

I regret very much that the Government have agreed to two Amendments which, in my judgment, weaken the Bill. There has been too much concern for those responsible for this evil of the publication of horror comics and similar papers, as well as for those responsible for importing and peddling them. I have listened to that desire to protect them throughout every stage of the Bill. It has been said, "In the cause of liberty, do not let us interfere with freedom."

Mr. Houghton

It was not to protect those people, but to prevent injustice.

Mr. Keenan

I have always held the opinion that there is a great deal of justice in this country and that no one who is prosecuted in the courts receives injustice. Certainly, the legal profession is helpful.

There has been a great deal of talk about the freedom of the Press, about the freedom of this and the freedom of that, by many hon. Members during the Committee stage and again this afternoon. In my view, the opinions so expressed are often determined by commercial interests. For instance, those in favour of independent television were generally those who had an interest in advertising, and so on. There has been violent criticism of this legislation, for the purpose of clipping its wings, by those whose opinions are determined largely by commercial interests, by those who sell—

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that any hon. Member on this side of the House is commercially interested in the selling or peddling of horror comics?

Mr. Keenan

I did not say that. I was pointing out that they had a commercial interest in the trade which dealt with them and some part of which was responsible for publishing them. If I am called upon to clarify what I said, which the hon. Gentleman apparently requires, I meant to say that as between publisher and publisher, lawyer and lawyer, and journalist and journalist, they have rather similar interests and protect each other when occasion arises. I felt, and I still feel, that on this occasion we had expressions of that spirit in protection of the interests the operations of which the Bill is designed to curtail and limit.

Mr. N. Nicolson

I am the only publisher who has spoken in our debates. I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that in everything I said I tried to strengthen the Bill against the publishers of horror comics, and a few minutes ago I gave it, on behalf of the whole of my profession, the warmest welcome I could because it is directed against something that we want to root out.

Mr. Keenan

I heard the hon. Gentleman's speech about an hour and a half ago, and I know that he complimented the Government upon having brought the Bill to Third Reading, but I recollect that he was associated with, and, if I remember rightly, spoke to, certain Amendments with which I profoundly disagreed, and which I should have liked the Government to have rejected.

On this subject, a lot of nonsense has been talked from different quarters of the House about liberty, as though we ought to provide an anarchist-Communist State where all the people can do as they like and no one has any rules at all. That may be a very desirable State for the person who can get away with it, but in human society we cannot have that. After all, over the centuries we have built up legislation and regulations to protect people, and in this Bill we are trying to protect children. I agree with the hon. Member who said that we want to protect parents as well as children, and it was also said that the children require protection from some of the parents.

The feeling which has culminated in the Bill is a clear indication that children require to be protected from those publishers and people who will disturb the morality of the nation if they are allowed to do so. I welcome the in spite of its limitations.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.