§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins (Birmingham, Stechford)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 5, after "book" to insert "newspaper."
It is in some ways unfortunate, though inevitable, that this is the first Amendment we are considering. The reason is that most of the Amendments which I have down and which I hope we shall discuss later are designed to limit the operation of the Bill, whereas, on the face of it, this Amendment seems to extend it. I have put the Amendment down to give the Bill some sort of approach to logical form and to give the Government, through the Attorney-General or the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, an opportunity of explaining why they have chosen the rather mystifying form in which the Bill is drafted.
The effect of the Amendment would be that Clause 1, instead of reading at the beginningThis Act applies to any book, magazine or other like work which consists wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures,would read, "This Act applies to any book, newspaper, magazine" etc.
2299 It is not clear why, if they are convinced that it is necessary to bring forward a Bill at the present time and in the present form, the Government should specifically exclude its application to newspapers, I am very doubtful of the value and effect of the Bill. Certain newspapers, particularly Sunday newspapers, give more and more space to stories told in pictures. It will not be denied that these stories often portray, to use the words of the Bill, incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature. Sometimes they are pictures of crime.
I am most careful about imposing any sort of censorship on the Press. I take the view—and this is why I am doubtful about the Bill—that one ought to be careful about imposing any sort of censorship. It is not clear why we should include magazines and books within the scope of the Bill and, in advance, give specific immunity to newspapers. In the course of a very powerful speech on the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) argued with some effect that some of the most undesirable writing at the present time takes place in newspapers. I do not say that this Amendment is one of our major Amendments, but I would like the Government to tell us why they have chosen to give complete immunity to newspapers and not to magazines and other publications.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)
There is great logic in the proposal made in the Amendment. If the Government are to make fools of themselves, they may as well do it in wholehearted fashion. If a line is to be drawn, there is no logical reason why it should be drawn in such a way as to make newspapers immune and to put into jeopardy other publications which we have been discussing. We had a lengthy debate on the Second Reading in an attempt to discover from the Government how they were going to draw lines.
It might be argued that some newspapers have been making a big effort to clean themselves up in recent years. A campaign was recently conducted, or was conducted at any rate a few years ago, by Lord Kemsley, in the name of what he described as "cleaner journalism." Space was taken in the "Daily Graphic" and "Sunday Graphic" advertising 2300 Kemsley papers as those which published all the news and pictures fit to print. Just before the war a large campaign was run on those lines, and it was conducted and kept going till, I think, 1953, when an advertisement appeared in the "Empire News"—which comes from Kemsley. It said:The Bishop of St. Albans, writing in his diocesan leaflet, says:'We have a wide choice of Sunday papers The best of them are really good and hardly any more expensive than the trashy section. In choosing a paper we must remember that it is a choice for the family.'The children will read the papers we bring into the house, and we must ask ourselves what is to be the effect on them. Some people say they buy their Sunday papers just for the pictures, but what message are the pictures bringing their children? What standard are they setting before us?This appeared in the "Empire News" only a year or so ago.
The astonishing fact about the situation is, as anyone will agree who has seen the "Empire News" in recent weeks, that the "Empire News" is now the most pornographic newspaper in this country.
The House was asked during the Second Reading who would carry off the competition if we had to judge which was the most pornographic newspaper in the country. At that time I made an unwitting error. I gave the crown to Lord Rothermere, but having had copies of the "Empire News" brought to my attention since then, I must say that Lord Kemsley carries off the crown with hardly any competition at all. The "Empire News" is a product much worse than anything produced by Lord Rothermere, but it is not only in the "Empire News" that that has happened.
During the Second Reading debate many Members flaunted horror comics. I know that is not an agreeable practice, but here I have the advertisement of the "Daily Record":Scotland's daily newspaper. Exclusive. Women and crime. Frank revelations.and I thought that this pictorial revelation might come under the Bill. This paper is produced by Lord Kemsley, who for many years ran a campaign saying that he was trying to clean up the newspapers. We know there is great hypocrisy about the way in which the newspapers say they are cleaning themselves up, and I think Lord Kemsley 2301 owes a statement to the British public. There are newspapers in South Wales and other parts of the country owned by him. On the front of them we are told "A Kemsley newspaper. "The country has a right to know from Lord Kemsley whether, in fact, he agrees with all that is being done in the Kemsley papers in Scotland and all that is being done in the "Empire News" which, as I think everyone who has seen it would agree, is, without question, the most pornographic newspaper in the country.
It may be asked, as the Amendment suggests, why not bring newspapers within the scope of the Bill. As I said on Second Reading, I am against this legislation altogether. I do not think that the problem can be dealt with by legislation. This Bill is very dangerous in many of its other Clauses, and we have not yet been told whether we are to have any effective Amendments in regard to them. It would therefore be highly dangerous for us to widen the scope of the Bill at the very beginning, when the object of most of us who are critical of the Bill is so to narrow it that it deals with horror comics but leaves no risk of injury to free expression of opinion. If we start by widening the scope of the Bill, we shall widen its dangers.
I am, therefore, very doubtful about this Amendment. Indeed, despite its obvious logic, I would oppose it. I believe that it is necessary that public men and this House of Commons should state quite clearly what they think about this debasing form of journalism which is perpetrated all over the country, and particularly in Scotland. But the way to do that is to make plain to those who are dealing in this traffic, this pornography—and doing it purely as a commercial proposition—just what decent people think about it.
The way to show what we think is not by legislation which can be used against the just and the unjust, and which can be twisted, as previously legislation dealing with obscenity was twisted, to deal with publishers engaging in a perfectly legitimate trade. I hope that my hon. Friend will not press the Amendment to a Division. I believe that, if accepted, it would widen the scope of a Bill which we have yet to discuss and before we know whether the dangerous parts of it are to be withdrawn by the Government.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
On a point of order. I have no objection to the poster produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), but I should like your guidance, Sir Charles. When last a poster was produced in this Chamber it was I who produced it. It made a perfectly innocent offer of a reward of £2,000 to anyone who could trace the whereabouts of Queen Elizabeth I of Scotland. It was immediately ruled to be out of order. The poster now produced by my hon. Friend is pornographic and nothing else. Am I to understand that the only type of posters that are in order are pornographic ones?
§ Mr. R.T. Paget (Northampton)
Further to that point of order. Is not the test really that anything may be in order which is revelant to a debate? Here we are considering pornographic publications, and I should have thought that any display of pornography might be in order and relevant.
§ The Chairman
This is, of course, a debating Chamber, but we do bring in samples. I do not see anything wrong in what was done.
§ Mr. Rankin
It was, then, completely wrong to rule me out of order on that former occasion when I produced a poster dealing with another matter which at least was much cleaner than this?
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
There is obviously a difference of opinion about the suitability of this Amendment between my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) and my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot). Although during the Second Reading debate they seemed to be driving in double harness, I understand that on this matter they now desire to proceed in different directions.
I do not think that the question of pornography is other than incidental to the Bill. Its main aim is not at pornography but at something quite separate. Anyone knows that to a large number of the children whom we hope to protect by this Bill pornography has no interest at all. Even the amorous scenes in the cinema, generally speaking, 2303 only bore that section of the child community. Perhaps it is a very good thing that that should be so.
I merely wish on this Amendment to allude to something said by both my hon. Friends. Generally speaking, we on this side desire to see the Bill become law. That is not to say that we think that it is perfect or that there are sufficient safeguards already in it, but as far as concerns the type of publication at which it is directed—a very limited and notorious type of publication—we think that steps should betaken to prevent publication. That is not expressing any view at the moment about what adults may be expected to read and to enjoy. I am a quite unashamed follower of John Milton in his expressions in the Areopagetica, which contains the greatest expressions on civil liberty which have ever been addressed to this House. That was in the year of Master Moor.
I am not very much concerned, therefore, about this Amendment. I should, however, like an assurance from the Government that the Bill is drafted sufficiently strongly to catch a document that might contain all the matter now to be found in one of those books which were circulated during the Second Reading but published in newspaper form in an effort to escape the penalties and prohibitions provided in the Bill. I have no other observations to offer on the Amendment, but I hope I have made sufficiently plain the general view of my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side with regard to the main purpose of the Bill.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)
I am sure that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary will be grateful to the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) for his observations and for his indication about the approach of the party opposite to this Bill. For my part, I realise that to frame a Bill of this character is a difficult operation; one needs to make it as precise as possible to deal with a particular evil, and it is not easy to achieve that object, but of course we will carefully consider the suggestions which have been put forward.
The hon. Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) indicated that this was one of the few Amendments in his name 2304 which would extend the operation of this Bill. In one way, of course, it would if accepted. The right hon. Member for South Shields did not want the Bill extended in its operation but felt that the omission of any reference to "newspaper" might leave a loophole for escape in connection with horror comics. I want to answer both those lines of argument.
I would say, first of all, to the hon. Member for Stechford that the object of the Bill, as the right hon. Gentleman agreed, is to deal with one evil of a particular character. It is not the object of the Bill to interfere in any way with the liberty of the Press. The addition of this word as proposed by the Amendment would, in fact, make it appear at least as if the Bill were intended to operate in some way to affect the liberty of the Press.
The point raised by the right hon. Gentleman was whether, under the Clause as it now stands, someone who wanted to make money by publishing horror comics could avoid the operation of this Bill by publishing in the form of a newspaper.
§ The Attorney-General
The answer is, no. A horror comic as defined by this Bill could not amount to a newspaper. As the Committee will see, this Clause is very carefully drawn. It says:… work which consists wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures …It does not say, "work which consists of stories wholly or mainly told in pictures. "That is a very important point which seems to have been missed in some of the comments made on the Second Reading of the Bill.
For that reason, I say that it would be most improbable—indeed, one would think impossible—to publish a work wholly or mainly consisting of stories told in pictures which could ever amount to a newspaper.
§ The Attorney-General
My hon. Friend says that it is-not a newspaper. We had better not embark on that field. I would 2305 not go so far as to say that the "Daily Mirror" is a horror comic—if it is a horror comic at all—at which this Bill is directed.
The hon. Member for Stechford said that this is a narrow Amendment and is not as important as some which will be moved later. We are not able to accept it for the reasons I have indicated. I think the Bill is adequate in its present form to stop evasion of the kind to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. The addition of this word proposed in the Amendment would at least make it appear as if the Bill were intended to affect the liberty of the Press, and of course there is no such intention. Therefore, I do not think that the amendment of the Bill in this way is necessary.
It is perhaps a little unfortunate that we are dealing with this narrow Amendment first, because there are Amendments later on the Order Paper which might, and probably would, affect the Committee's consideration of some of the earlier Amendments. I do not know whether it would be in order for me now or perhaps on the next Amendment to indicate the Government's attitude to the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Stechford, in Clause 2, page 1, line 21, at the end to add:(2) A prosecution for an offence under this section shall not, in England or Wales, be instituted except by, or with the consent of, the Attorney-General.I can indicate that when we come to that Amendment the Government will be prepared to accept it. I mention that now because it seems to me that it would be convenient to the Committee to know that, since it has a bearing on some of the other Amendments.
I should like to make this general observation. One might ask why some such provision was not in the Bill originally. I take the view—and I am sure my predecessors in office also took this view—that one must be very careful indeed about inserting provisions of that kind in our criminal legislation, because it is a longstanding tradition in England that except in particular instances any individual can institute a prosecution without securing someone else's assent. Therefore, one feels that a strong case has always to be made out for the insertion in a Bill of a provision of this 2306 character and that it should not frequently be introduced.
There is also another factor which ought to be borne in mind when considering whether it should be introduced, and it is this. When the Attorney-General gives his consent, the fact that he has given his consent has to be proved in the course of the proceedings, and so it becomes known to the bench, perhaps in some remote part of the country, that that case has been considered by the Attorney-General of the day and that it is thought to be a proper one to be the subject of a prosecution.
That might conceivably—I hope it does not—affect one's attitude towards that case. But having listened to the views expressed on this point on Second Reading, and bearing in mind the difficulties that exist in defining precisely the horror comic, we feel that in this instance there is indeed a proper case for accepting that Amendment when it is moved, so inserting in this Bill a further safeguard to secure that prosecutions are not launched against publications of a character which do not really come within the evil aimed at.
I hope I have not exceeded the bounds of order in making those few remarks. I feel that perhaps in saying that at this stage the progress of the Bill may be expedited and that it may not be necessary to spend so long on the later Amendments. At any rate, I thought it only right that the Committee should know at the outset the Government's attitude to that Amendment.
§ Mr. Ede
I want to make a comment on what the Attorney-General said. He used the phrase "liberty of the Press" as if one distinguishes newspapers from other publications. The great early battles for the liberty of the Press were fought about pamphlets and books and not about newspapers, and the liberty of the Press means the liberty of the subject to be able to make his views known on any subject on which he feels that he has a call to address the public. I should not like it to be thought that we accepted the phrase "liberty of the Press" as applying only to newspapers. It applies to all sorts of printed publications.
§ Mr. William Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I did not intend to speak on this Amendment but intended to leave it to those who would raise different kinds of problems; but I am surprised that the Government are not prepared to accept the word "newspaper." It seems to me that their decision leaves the situation wide open.
The justification for the inclusion of the word "newspaper" was made more by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon-port (Mr. Foot) than by my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins). It seemed to me that he showed quite clearly that there were newspapers which did all the things which the Bill is designed to limit and probably to prevent.
I do not propose to mention these newspapers by name, but most of the mischief done in newspapers in this respect is done not in pictures but in the articles and the news which they accumulate. I cannot agree that youths are prevented from seeing newspapers. Wise parents today encourage children to read—they certainly want them to read the newspapers—and I think it would be wrong if newspapers were not included within these provisions.
I regret that the Attorney-General has indicated that the Government are not prepared to accept the Amendment. If they do not accept it, then newspapers will not be included in these provisions. I hope the Government will have second thoughts on the matter, because at present they are leaving the situation wide open. Do we intend to remedy the situation about which there has been a public outcry for the past year? If we do, then I am sure that when we have completed our deliberations we shall have cause to regret the omission of newspapers from these provisions.
§ Mr. Wilkins
I hope the Attorney-General will not feel that we are merely trying to be awkward or "cussed" about the Amendment. Unlike some of my hon. Friends, I regard it as a rather important Amendment.
Some newspapers already publish children's editions at the week-end, and it may well be that it will become a growing tendency for the great national newspapers to publish these week-end editions specifically for children. I have also in 2308 mind that we might see in this country a practice which exists in America of children's pictorial insets into newspapers, which are used as a medium for telling stories by pictures.
I am not suggesting that at present our national newspapers which publish these children's editions are in any way violating what we regard as the ordinary decencies of publication. Indeed, I think that they sometimes err in that direction more with adults than with children. We are to be able, more or less, to control what magazines and newspapers can publish. If the ordinary national papers transgress in a way which would be punished if it were done in books or magazines, then we should be stupid if we left ourselves in a position where we could take no action against those papers.
I want to ask the Attorney-General whether the sort of things which I have mentioned—insets or week-end children's newspapers—would be covered by the words in line 5, "or other like work …"Would the Attorney-General be able to bring such instances as I have quoted within the ambit of those words in order to exercise control over those publications?
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Paget
I am sure that the Committee will be grateful to the Attorney-General for having intervened so early in the debate on this important matter, but I am bound to say that from his point of view it might have been better for him to have waited a little longer, because he might then have discovered what the Amendment was about. From his speech, it seemed to be something which he had not then discovered.
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), I was immensely struck by the idea put forward that one preserves the freedom of the Press by excluding newspapers from these provisions. Newspapers are the freedom of a small band of people who can afford the necessary half-a-dozen or so million pounds. The means of expression for which it is important to preserve freedom are the means of publication available to those ordinary citizens who have rather fewer millions—pamphlets, which I presume are covered by this subsection, and books. I have not yet discovered any conceivably logical reason, other than the 2309 power and influence of the Press in the Tory Party, for excluding one set of publications which make use of pictures for telling a story and which belong to rich men while including another set which is likely to belong to people less powerful.
Let us see what this definition means. We have the phraseother like work which consists wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures …I raise the question of the "Daily Mirror." Let anybody look at the "Daily Mirror." I will deal with some others later. Hon. Members will find in the "Daily Mirror" about a page-and-a-half devoted to strip cartoons and nothing else. What do they do except tell a story in pictures? Hon. Members will find a large part of the rest of the paper consisting of pictures which are in no direct way connected with any article in the paper. They are simply pictures with a caption. Are they not pictures which tell a story? Do not the strip cartoons and the pictures with captions cover at least more than half of the "Daily Mirror"?
I am not saying for a moment, when I speak of the "Daily Mirror," that it falls within this definition, but I say that it is at least arguable. We have heard the Attorney-General's view. Maybe we shall hear the Solicitor-General's view and learn whether he agrees with him. We then may hear whether the hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) agrees with either of them, and possibly my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison)—who is not in the Chamber—may not agree with any of them. Where this sort of general complexity arises, should we pass it away like this? I raised the question of the "Daily Mirror" not particularly because it is pornographic. In that field it may have done some pioneering work, but it has long ago been outstripped by the "Daily Sketch," and everybody has been left an "also-ran" by the "Empire News."
§ Mr. Paget
It was used deliberately—it was finally outstripped, I repeat, by the "Daily Sketch" and now, with newspapers like the "Empire News" and the Rothermere Sunday Press, it is a com- 2310 plete "also-ran." We are not discussing this matter particularly in terms either of its violence or pornography, but as to whether it falls within this definition. There are many other newspapers which today—it is becoming progressively more so—mainly consist of stories which are told by pictures. If we wish to exclude them, surely we should use some words which plainly do so. I see no conceivable reason why they should be excluded and if—I feel this is most doubtful policy—it is desirable to use legislative machinery in order to cut out stories of crimes, acts of violence and incidents which are repulsive or horrible from any publications, I find no good reason why it should not be used to cut it out from all of them.
Finally, we were told—this seemed a most curious reason—that we should not persist with this Amendment because the Attorney-General is later going to agree to another Amendment which would make his consent necessary to prosecutions under this Clause.
§ The Attorney-General
That is a complete misrepresentation of what I said. I indicated at the first opportunity, whilst trying to keep in order, the attitude of the Government towards that later Amendment because I thought it would be of assistance to the Committee to know it at the outset of its deliberations.
§ Mr. Paget
I understood that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was asking us to reject this Amendment and he then proceeded to tell us he was going to accept another Amendment. What the relevance of that was to this discussion if it was not a reason why we should reject this Amendment, I do not know. I certainly think it seems an extremely odd one, because I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) is trying to make the Measure rather fairer in that it should hit everybody concerned instead of only just the little man. Here we have something which is to restrict even further the people who actually are to be prosecuted. It would seem that the acceptance of the provision requiring the consent of the Attorney-General was a reason which made the acceptance of this Amendment all the more necessary.
It may be said that we do not want gratuitous or fancy prosecutions brought against newspapers all the time, but if 2311 that is cut out, why on earth should we not have newspapers in? We have enough experience of the Press to know that it will do absolutely anything which sells newspapers. It will publish absolutely anything that sells newspapers. If we cut out the horror comic and there is a demand for it, the ethics of the Press will not prevent the Press from printing that kind of thing. We know very well that children go straight to the strip cartoon pages. If we are to deal with this matter at all, why should we not deal with the strip cartoon in the newspaper? If those cartoons go in for violence, sex, brutality, and crime, why should we not deal with them? In order to prevent fatuous, vexatious prosecutions, we have the Amendment which is promised later. Surely the Attorney-General can reconsider this question and try to make this Bill a rather better one?
§ Mr. W.R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
When I saw this Amendment on the Order Paper I was attracted to it, because, in principle, I am sure the Committee would not want to draw a distinction between the liberty of the Press and the liberty of a publisher. What is wrong for an author or a publisher must be equally wrong for a newspaper.
As I understood the observations of the Attorney-General, he certainly did not dissent from that view and would not for a moment distinguish between the way in which the liberty of an author and the liberty of the Press are to be treated. With a keen appreciation of the Bill, the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) pointed the moral when he said that the Bill deals entirely with what is known as the horror comic and not with what is known as pornography. Many of us in this Committee have seen horror comics, and we appreciate that the horror comic is quite separate and distinct from the class of pornography to which many hon. Members have referred. I have not seen indications that the horror comic as such—which should be prevented—is to be found in the newspapers of today. The horror comic which is being disseminated is frequently disseminated in secret and not in public. There are no means of preventing the increase of the horror comic in the case of the ordinary publisher without legislation, whereas 2312 there is the Press Council in the case of the newspaper.
I agree with the Amendment in the name of many hon. Members opposite, and also hon. Members on this side, which calls for a time-limit on this Bill. I do not think it necessary for the Bill to go further than the narrowest of limits. I think the Government are quite right here, on careful consideration, not to include the newspapers because, in fact, it is not necessary to include newspapers. If for one moment I thought that this was to be for the protection of the newspapers of this country as against the small publisher or printer, I would not support the Amendment under any circumstances.
It was indeed unfortunate that we should have had a typical, unprincipled, erroneous and scurrilous speech by the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr.Foot), who took this opportunity to attack, apparently, his pet enemy, Lord Kemsley. I thought the remarks the hon. Member made were wholly unjustified. It is quite wrong to try to use this Chamber deliberately—where one is privileged—for the purposes of attacking great newspapers of this country—or defending them. Therefore, to pick out, as he did, one newspaper proprietor by name, when in fact there are many other newspapers in this country which may also be at fault, was in my view entirely wrong. It was utterly irrelevant, and the issue to which the hon. Member referred—that of sex—is not even contained in this Bill.
What we are dealing with is incitement and encouragement to crime arising out of the portrayal in pictures, or mainly in pictures, in these terms. Here is the definition, as I see it, of a horror comic: publications which unduly emphasise or glorify the commission of crimes or acts of violence or cruelty or instances of a sadistic, perverted, wanton or unashamed form, for its own sake. That, I think, is a fairly comprehensive definition.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ The upshot of the argument of the hon. Member for Devonport was the glorification of sex. He produced a poster illustrating a woman looking like a prostitute. It is not that with which we are dealing today, and I hope we shall continue along more moderate lines to try to arrive at a fair conclusion.2313
§ Mr. Foot
I would point out to the hon. Member that the Amendment refers to newspapers. Surely, therefore, I was entitled to discuss newspapers, since the Amendment refers to them? If the hon. Gentleman likes to defend the newspaper he referred to, well and good, but certainly I am entitled to attack newspapers, and I do not think that any other hon. Member of the Committee would wish to say a word for the "Empire News."
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
Of course the hon. Member was entitled to discuss newspapers. What he did not mention in his speech was the term "horror comic" or the question of horror comics. What he dealt with exclusively was the question of sex, and in dealing with sex in the newspapers he very carefully chose one Conservative newspaper proprietor for criticism and deliberately left out every other newspaper and proprietor, including the "Daily Mirror" and others concerned.
§ Mr. Foot
What the hon. Member has said is quite untrue. I went out of my way to say that on Second Reading I had done an injustice, I now thought, to Lord Rothermere by giving him the crown for the competition in pornography. I said that, having now had the "Empire News" brought to my attention, I had to confess that I had done him an injustice. Obviously Lord Kemsley was the man in question. Therefore, I mentioned two proprietors. I could have mentioned some others, but I mentioned the worst examples.
§ Mr. Rankin
When my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) moved the Amendment he said that it was of a minor nature. I think that it has assumed a significance, since he moved it, that perhaps he had not anticipated. The feeling has been expressed, on this side of the Committee at least, that we do not want to do anything that would limit the freedom of the Press. In spite of his strictures of certain Press barons, I do not think my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) would disagree with that point of view.
However, while we may not want to curtail the liberty of the Press by introducing the word "newspaper" into the Clause, there is an aspect of the matter which so far has not been touched on, and that is that the newspapers have put 2314 themselves within the scope of the Bill, because a number of newspapers today are publishing newspapers for children. The "Junior Daily Express" and the "Junior Mirror" are samples of newspapers that are now being published for children.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
Is my hon. Friend really telling us that there is a "Junior Mirror"? Is he really telling us there is something more junior than the "Mirror"?
§ Mr. Rankin
My hon. Friend can develop that argument in his own time, not in mine.
It is a fact to be remembered that the newspapers themselves have projected themselves into the Bill, whether we like it or not. Therefore, I submit that if we leave the word "newspaper" out of the Clause we shall confer on the newspapers, at least at a certain level, a freedom—
§ Mr. Rankin
—a licence to be outwith the principle we want to establish. We are trying to limit the horror comic, and we are trying to bring it under control and to keep it away from children, but if there is not a very exact definition, a more exact definition than we have yet had from the Attorney-General, of what publication we have in mind we shall at the same time confer on newspapers, through their junior editions, a freedom or licence which we are seeking, in the interests of the children, to withdraw from other publications. That is a point about which, I hope, the Attorney-General will have something to say.
§ Mr. Ede
I want to emphasise a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins). The phrase in the Clause is:book, magazine or other like work …As I understand it, a book is a publication that, generally speaking, is either stitched or bound. I think that a magazine, generally speaking, is a work that is stitched. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South mentioned the case of an inset in a newspaper. We all know the sort of thing.
For instance, from time to time we get in "The Times" an engineering supplement, and there is an annual account that 2315 appears on 1st January of what has been happening in the preceding year. It is not stitched. That is the kind of thing to which my hon. Friend alluded. That seems to me to be one way in which the Bill could be evaded, by having some kind of pictures and stories put on to paper that is not stitched and which is sold inside a newspaper, or as a junior newspaper. I should like to be quite certain that that kind of thing is covered by the Clause.
We know that the supply of these books in this country has temporarily ceased, but we also know that at least one of the proprietors has said that if the Bill does not go through he will resume publication. He may be employing some lawyer—not an hon. and learned Member of this Committee, but somebody outside—to try to find a way round the legislation. I am quite sure that nearly every Member of the Committee is concerned that by no subterfuge shall these people be able to carry on a trade which we regard as morally harmful to the youth of the nation. I should like the Attorney-General to pay attention to that point.
§ The Attorney-General
Of course one pays attention to everything the right hon. Gentleman says, and in response to him, and in response to the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins), I should say that whether a production—to use a colourless word—comes within the description of'… book, magazine or other like work …"will be a question of fact which will ultimately fall for decision by the court.I would not agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that the question whether something constituted a book or not depended on how the leaves were attached together. I will certainly consider whether, for instance, by the insertion of the word "pamphlet" or "circular" the definition in line 5 of the Bill could be expanded, without at the same time making the character of the Bill so extensive that something other than the horror comic could be brought within its scope, because that is not what one wants to do. I can assure the right hon. Member for South Shields that we shall give consideration to his suggestion.
The Amendment deals solely with the question whether the word "newspaper" 2316 should be inserted. It was for that reason that I made some reference to the liberty of the Press. I, of course, share the views which have been expressed about the liberty of the small publisher to print what is proper. I was not seeking to draw any distinction, nor is there one to be drawn, between the big publisher and a little publisher, a big newspaper and a little newspaper, the big man and the little man, but I was dealing with newspapers in speaking to the Amendment.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) seemed to make a rather slighting reference to the way in which his hon. Friend the Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) moved the Amendment, in that he implied that one had not discovered from the way in which it was moved what the Amendment was about. I was sorry to hear that, because I thought that the hon. Member for Stechford had made it perfectly clear. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton seemed to express the view that the "Daily Mirror" clearly came within the scope of Clause 1.
§ The Attorney-General
It is for the hon. and learned Member to form his own view, but I would not go so far as to say that that newspaper consistedwholly or mainly of stories told in pictures (with or without the addition of written matter), being stories portraying—I really feel that I have now dealt as fully as I can with the points which have been raised on the Amendment. I should like to make it quite clear to the hon. and learned Member that he misrepresented my argument, because I was not arguing my case on the Amendment in relation to the acceptance or otherwise of another Amendment. I hope that the hon. Member for Stechford will now be prepared to withdraw the Amendment.
in such a way that the work as a whole would tend to corrupt a child or young person …
- (a) the commission of crimes; or
- (b) acts of violence or cruelty; or
- (c) incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature;
§ Mr. Paget
I thought that I had made it reasonably clear that the Clause is in 2317 two parts, one describing the sort of publication and the other describing what is in the publication as defined in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c). As to the first part, that is, the words:This Act applies to any book, magazine or other like work which consists wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures …I feel that it would be at least arguable that the "Daily Sketch" and "Daily Mirror" and various other newspapers are "other like work" consisting mainly of stories told in pictures.
I did not consider that the newspapers to which I referred did deal mainly with the commission of crimes, or acts of violence or cruelty and so forth, but that surely is the irrelevant part here because, whether it be a book, a magazine or a newspaper, it does not come within the Clause unless the conditions (a), (b) and (c) are fulfilled. What we are looking for is whether a newspaper which by definition does (a), (b) and (c) falls within the scope of the Clause or not.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ I think that the Attorney-General now agrees that the "Daily Mirror" and the "Daily Sketch" fall within the description. Therefore, if they comprise (a), (b) and (c) they fall within the Clause. If we are going to have the "Daily Mirror" and the "Daily Sketch" included, why should we not have other newspapers if they do likewise? That is what we are asking.
§ I cannot understand why the Attorney-General is so stubborn about the Amendment. After all, he himself pointed out what everybody knows—and he seemed to think that it was a triumph and something which he had discovered—that if the stories do not portray the commission of crimes, or acts of violence or cruelty or incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature which would tend to corrupt a child or young person, the newspapers are all right. Why should they worry? Books and magazines are all right. Why not let them all stand on fair terms with each other, and let some of the Sunday newspapers see that they do not consist mainly of accounts of the commission of crimes, or acts of violence or cruelty, or incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature. Let us see if they do not. It may be that the courts would decide. Why should we keep them out?2318
§ Mr. Hale
Those of us who have not been present at the Second Reading debate on a Bill are always in difficulty when speaking on an Amendment. Attention in this case must be directed to the insertion of the word "newspaper" and it would be out of order to deal with anything else, though I am by no means in favour of inserting anything at all. I do not like the Bill very much, apart from the good work it has done in improving Anglo-French relations. The first belly laugh heard since the war came from the Continent at the news that the British Government had produced, in the same week, a White Paper dealing with defence against the hydrogen bomb and a Bill to ban the horror comic.
I apologise to the "Daily Mirror." I expressed astonishment just now at the existence of a "Junior Mirror," but I have since learned that there is a "Junior Sketch. "This must be the most astonishing feat since Rutherford split the atom. I tremble to think what may appear in some of these newspapers from time to time under the popular, large-circulation newspaper proprietors, with one or two honourable exceptions. Lord Beaver-brook is entitled to special exception in this matter. He has kept the "Express" free from pornography, even if the standard of accuracy is not always high.
Let us consider what really has happened. There is a Sunday newspaper called the "News of the World." It is honoured by the regular writings of two hon. Members of this House. Everyone knows what that newspaper reports-buggery, sodomy, bestiality and rape. These are the special items on which reports are sent from all over the country. When I was a little country solicitor I never heard of the "News of the World" until some big salacious case cropped up, and out there would come the special reporters and interviewers and the photographers to take pictures on the doorstep. The paper has pandered to salacity for years.
The former proprietor of the "News of the World," who, like all newspaper proprietors, finished up in another place, was on terms of intimacy with distinguished Ministers and indeed Prime Ministers and archbishops. He was often consulted and he exercised great political influence. Suppose we had an illustrated "News of the World." In view of the
2319 sales of horror comics none of us would say that there is no demand for an illustrated "News of the World." Is such a publication to be exempted from the provisions of the Bill?
My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) made reference to this subject when he spoke. The hon. Gentleman who criticised him was very unjust, and it seems to me that he has not read the speech made by my hon. Friend on Second Reading, because my hon. Friend did, in fact, refer in very great detail to a number of publications. There is the "Weekend Mail," which I see being read in railway carriages wherever I travel. The "Weekend Mail" was a technical paper until a few months ago, when someone swung it over to salacity.
There is no question whatever as to what is the purpose of the "Weekend Mail." It is devoted to the modern cult of the mammary gland in every possible form or in every reasonably attractive shape. This is what distinguished men who rose as great men and substantial men are doing quite deliberately, and doing for money. If we are ever going to pass the Bill, I see no reason why these papers should be excepted.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
Would the hon. Member agree that the insertion of the word "newspaper" will not prevent publication of cases heard in courts of law such as he has referred to?
§ Mr. Hale
Of course, it depends on how they are treated.
The hon. Member will remember that the "News of the World" used to thrive on divorce cases. Nothing was more attractive than a juicy divorce case. Then Parliament intervened and prevented the recording of the details of evidence in divorce actions, and, apart from one or two publicity-hunting judges, the facts now brought out are such that they do not provide enough to sell the "News of the World," so it has had to extend its sphere. But the hon. Gentleman said that this Bill had nothing to do with pornography. I accept at once that it is directed against sadism.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I doubt whether the hon. Gentleman has read the Bill. Does he appreciate that it is a fact that there 2320 is not one word in this Bill which deals with sex—that it deals with cruelty and not with sex?
§ Mr. Hale
The hon. Gentleman is so inaccurate in what he says that I question whether he has read the Bill at all. Is rape a crime of violence? Does not rape come within the provisions of this Clause? Of course it does. A trial for rape could be deliberately presented in such a way as to stir up people to crime. The hon. Gentleman should read the Clause. I suspect that he has read it, but he does not understand it. For that I can willingly forgive him, because I do not think anyone can understand it.
Words like "tend to corrupt" are so vague and so difficult to judge that different juries will come to different conclusions, so that we are embarking on the whole business again in another form, and the possibility of having prosecutions directed against the very people whom we do not want to touch. In point of fact, the wording of the Clause is such that a pamphlet on cruelty to children issued by the N.S.P.C.C. could quite easily come within the scope of the Clause. We talk about tending to corrupt children, but statistical analyses from the United States of America show that 80 per cent. of the readers of horror comics in that country are in the adult age group.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) is not going to withdraw the Amendment. I cannot see why these gentlemen should be specially excepted. I see every reason why they should be specially brought in. I accept very much what fell from the lips of another hon. Member, that one just does not know what they are going to do and one does not know what attitude these papers will adopt when the horror comic has been wiped out and the desire for sadism remains an unsatisfied desire out of which they may be able to make money. The "Weekend Mail" is a classic example. "Reveille" is also a classic example. There is no question of what such papers stand for. Of course, they tend to corrupt morals. They are bought for that purpose, they are published for that purpose, and people who claim to be respectable cash in on this unhappy state of affairs.
2321 That, at the moment, is all I want to say, except for one general observation. Morals do alter a great deal, and anyone who talks about morals today should read the speech made in another place last week because it might make some people feel that even Christian values are altering, too. I am not sure whether in a hydrogen-bomb world we want to stop horror comics. I am not sure there will not be an increase in the demand for juvenile delinquents when we live in an age in which we contemplate the murder of 5 million or 6 million innocent people because we disagree with their rulers.
I am not sure it will not be necessary to harden the youth of the country, stir them up, have a few extra juvenile delinquents with a tendency towards criminal propensity which could make it tolerable for men to live in the hydrogen-bomb age. The whole aspect of morals does alter. There were times when people were concerned about a single life, when in this House we talked about the execution of an innocent man and the miscarriage of justice. How can people talk like that in an age when we think about murdering 5 million people who have done nothing wrong?
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Gordon Touche)
I think the hon. Gentleman is now getting very far from the Amendment.
§ Mr. Hale
I do not want to press the subject. I think I did make the point I was trying to make.
What I would suggest is that an illustrated brochure on the effects of the bombing at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or an illustrated brochure on the medical effects of the hydrogen bomb explosion in the Marshall Islands, might well come within the scope of this Clause, because I cannot think of anything more likely to corrupt the morals of the people than the Government White Paper on Defence, and if it were sufficiently illustrated it would tend to break down the whole morale of the people and introduce a new system of ethics and morals.
That is all I desire to say at this stage on the subject before the Committee, and I hope that I have kept strictly within the limits of the Amendment.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
As I think my hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. 2322 Rankin) said, we have had a fairly extensive debate on the Amendment, going perhaps wider than I anticipated at first. We have had two interventions from the Attorney-General which we always welcome, but I do not take the point of view of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) that the Attorney-General was necessarily saying that because he was going to accept a later Amendment we should not press this one. What I understood he was arguing was that, because the Government would accept a later Amendment, therefore he was hopeful of putting the Committee in a friendly frame of mind.
If so, I am bound to say that as we have on the Order Paper no fewer than five pages of very important Amendments, as the Home Secretary has himself indicated he is going to be very open-minded about Amendments, as "The Times" this morning wrote its third leading article against this Bill, saying that it hoped a great number of Amendments would be seriously considered, and as the Attorney-General, speaking on the first Amendment, asked us to go as far as the bottom of the third page of the Order Paper before finding an Amendment which the Government are willing to accept, all that is hardly likely to put the Committee in a frame of mind in which these earlier Amendments should be allowed to lapse.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I am glad to have that indication from the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies), but it would be very much more interesting to hear it from the Attorney-General. We are not going to have any such indication apparently, and I am afraid we have to assume that the position is very much nearer to that which I stated than that stated by the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ I consider that during the debate my hon. Friends have made a very powerful case for the Amendment. I do not think that either of the interventions by the Attorney-General answered the case at all. In fact, I feel that the only case against the Amendment was that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon-port (Mr. Foot), whose speech was the 2323 only one which gave me any doubt whether we should press the Amendment to a Division.
I thought it was possible that, in replying to the Amendment, the Attorney-General would say that it was unnecessary, and that if newspapers offended in such a way that they ought to be proceeded against they could atomatically be proceeded against. However, the indication that he gave in his first intervention was that it was almost unthinkable that newspapers could come within the terms of the Clause, or, indeed, the Bill. It is clear, from what some of my hon. Friends have since said, that that is not the position and that one can easily imagine a position in which, if it is desirable to have the Bill at all, it would be desirable to proceed against newspapers.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) pointed out, the Attorney-General was very unsatisfactory on the general question of his attitude towards freedom of publication. It is not good enough to draw a distinction between the Press and every other form of publication. Although the Attorney-General subsequently thanked my right hon. Friend for his remarks, he did not withdraw his own remarks, and as far as we know the position of the Attorney-General is still that he thinks that the freedom of the Press is safeguarded so long as one can prosecute anybody except newspaper proprietors. That is a very unsatisfactory situation.
§ In view of the Attorney-General's very unsatisfactory answer, and the very convincing speeches that some of my hon. Friends have made, I advise my hon. Friends to press the matter to a Division.
§ Mr. Nigel Nicolson (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)
I should like to make one or two points against the Amendment before we have a Division on it.
When I spoke in the Second Reading debate I disclosed at once my interest, as I do again now, in that I am a book publisher and include, among other books, children's illustrated books. It might, therefore, be thought that I should be in favour of including newspapers in the general ban which otherwise will be confined only to members of my own profession, the publishing profession, but 2324 I oppose the Amendment for the following reasons.
If any newspaper proprietor were to publish a horror comic in any conceivable form, he would not be saved from prosecution. Indeed, he would fall under exactly the same regulations as any other type of publisher. A newspaper is, by definition, a purveyor of news, usually daily news. No newspaper of which we have any knowledge:consists mainly or wholly of stories told in pictures….I understand the word "stories" as meaning fictional stories. If I am wrong, may I be told so? Are we not dealing with fiction and not with stories in the journalistic sense?
§ Mr. Nicolson
I was making that very point. Are we interpreting "stories" in the journalistic sense or in the ordinary sense that we use in common parlance?
§ Mr. Paget
With very great respect, Sir Rhys, what we are discussing is whether "newspaper" should be inserted after "magazine." If it is inserted after "magazine," it will then be defined by the words that follow; it will be a newspaper which:consists wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures …Therefore, I humbly submit to you that in considering whether we should include "newspaper" we must consider the definition of the newspapers which we are proposing to include.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
That matter may arise when we reach those words, or on the Question, That the Clause stand part of the Bill, when it will be appropriate, but so far we have not reached that point.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
We cannot discuss the word "stories" here. We might discuss the definition of "newspaper," but we cannot discuss words which appear in a later part of the Clause. It may be appropriate to discuss them when we come to the Question, That the Clause stand part of the Bill, or if there is an Amendment on the Notice Paper with regard to them, but we cannot discuss them at this point.
§ Mr. Paget
With great respect, Sir Rhys, the word "stories" appears here as part of the definition of "newspaper." I believe that you were not here during the earlier part of the debate when the matter was gone into. We have been discussing this subject for some considerable time. Here we have to discuss whether we are to put in "newspaper," not a newspaper generally but a particular newspaper as defined, and "newspaper," as defined, is a newspaper
"which consists wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures …"
§ The Deputy-Chairman
That is a definition of "newspaper." We cannot go on to the definition of "stories."
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
Further to the point of order, Sir Rhys. Have we not already reached the word "book," and after book" are we not proposing to insert "newspaper"? "Book" is defined in the Clause as being strictly limited to one consistingwholly or mainly of stories told in pictures. …If "newspaper" is to be inserted after "book" it will be a newspaper of the same character, dealing with stories told wholly or mainly in pictures. Have we not reached the word when we have already taken the word "book"?
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Might I put my difficulty to you, 2326 Sir Rhys? In common with other hon. Members in the Committee, I am being asked to insert in the subsection "newspaper." There is an argument that the insertion is unnecessary because newspapers which would comply with the other conditions of the Clause are already covered. Whether that is true or not may depend on what a newspaper is, and if a newspaper tells "stories," then the definition as to whether the "stories" are true stories or fictional ones becomes vital to the consideration of the question whether the word which my hon. Friend wishes to insert is necessary or not.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I must remind the Committee that we are going through the Bill line by line and word by word in Committee. We are, of course, entitled to discuss the definition of "newspaper," but we have not reached "stories." The argument about "stories" may be quite relevant when we reach that word, but not now.
§ Mr. Nicolson
Perhaps I might continue with my argument but omit that point.
On two other grounds a newspaper can never be a horror comic. If a horror comic is published under the auspices of a newspaper, then the sheet ceases to be a newspaper and becomes a horror comic. Newspapers contain news. [Hon. Members: "Not always."] They never consist wholly or mainly of pictures. Even the "Daily Mirror" does not wholly, or even mainly, consist of pictures.
Furthermore, a newpaper, as we understand the term, is published for adults. There are children's newspapers, but they are not newspapers in the sense that we usually mean that word. They are much nearer to being magazines. There actually is a publication called the "Children's Newspaper." But one will see that it is not a newspaper in the sense that the "Daily Mirror" is a newspaper. It is much more like a magazine.
My contention is that if any newspaper were to publish, as part of its newspaper, or as a supplement, or as a separate publication, anything which was remotely like a horror comic, it would fall within the definition in the Bill as it now stands. My argument is that this insertion of the word "newspaper" is totally unnecessary. I am entirely in agreement with hon. Gentlemen opposite that it is desir- 2327 able not to leave out newspaper proprietors and so exempt them from provisions to which other publishers are subject. I say that they are not left out, but are equally liable.
§ Mr. Rankin
Would the hon. Member tell us when a newspaper is not a newspaper? The newspapers published for children are registered as newspapers. Can he claim, therefore, that they will come within the definition of magazines?
§ Mr. Nicolson
So-called newspapers published for children could come within the definition of the Bill, because they would certainly be covered by the term "other like work." They are not newspapers in the sense the hon. Member used the word, but in the eyes of a jury they would certainly be covered by the Bill, although they are much closer to the magazine type of publication than to a newspaper, in the sense that we use that definition.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I do not propose to detain the Committee more than a minute or two, because I think that the argument with which I agree most has just been advanced by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson). I have heard nearly all the debate, and I have not heard that argument answered. I am bound to say that had he not spoken I would not have heard it put forward so completely, nor so lucidly. As I understand it, the position is this: let us suppose that a court has before it a printed publication—and I am deliberately using a neutral expression—and supposing that printed publication tells stories, either true stories or fictional stories, wholly or mainly in pictures. Let us suppose that that document purveys in those stories—Such a publication would clearly satisfy every requirement of the Clause.
- "(a) the commission of crimes; or
- (b) acts of violence or cruelty; or
- (c) incidence of a repulsive or horrible nature; in such a way that the work as a whole would tend to corrupt …"
Would the defendant be entitled in such circumstances to argue, "Although I have committed the offence defined in every detail in this subsection, nevertheless I am not liable to be convicted because my publication is registered as a newspaper"? I should have thought that such a defence would have been 2328 impossible. Every element of the crime would have been covered. The only possible way in which a defendant could escape would be by arguing that he was publishing neither a book nor a magazine nor any other like work. I should have thought that that would have been an impossible defence to maintain. I should have thought, therefore, that an examination of the actual definitions of the Clause makes it abundantly clear that a newspaper which was covered by every other element in the charge defined in the subsection would be covered by the subsection without the insertion of the word "newspaper."
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Paget
The great difficulty here is this. The view which my hon. Friend has put is exactly opposite to the view which the Attorney-General puts. The Attorney-General has told us that his consent will be necessary to a prosecution because of a subsequent Amendment. We are, therefore, in the peculiar position that my hon. Friend takes a point of view which is exactly opposite to the Attorney-General's point of view. The Attorney-General's point of view, rightly or wrongly, is likely to prevail, because he has to give his permission for prosecutions—unless we get another Attorney-General.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am much obliged to my hon. and learned Friend, because his question has cleared up some confusion. I very much regret that my interpretation of the Clause should differ from the Attorney-General's, and I readily confess that there is a presumption that he might be right and I wrong.
§ Mr. Silverman
Nevertheless one dubious Member of the House of Commons is determined not to accept the ipse dixit of the Attorney-General, even from a most distinguished Attorney-General, but to look at the words himself and try to interpret them, certainly in the light of such advice as he can get. I unrepentently still prefer my own interpretation to the Attorney-General's, and I am fortified by the extremely lucid argument to which I listened a few moments ago.
2329 I do not agree with my hon. and learned Friend that any Attorney-General would fail to do his duty. His duty, if the obligation of deciding whether a prosecution should be brought or not brought lay upon him, would not be to distort a plain meaning of words in order to avoid bringing a prosecution which in every other case he would be bound to bring. Unless the argument that has been advanced can be more completely answered than it has been so far, I advise my hon. Friends not to take this to a Division because the Amendment is not needed. There is always a danger, if one puts in words which add nothing, that on a third interpretation of the Clause one might tend to widen its application to a measure which one would wish to avoid.
§ Mr. Hale
My hon. Friend is making two separate propositions. In the first he is conceding the remote possibility that the Attorney-General is right. Strangely enough, I think that he is right. He is conceding a point that should be cleared up by the House of Commons. Has he applied his mind to the well-known rule of ejusdem generis?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I am trying to keep this debate in some sort of order and not to have to listen to two speeches at once. In Committee hon. Members can speak as often as they like but not by inserting one speech in another.
§ Mr. Silverman
I should have thought, in answer to my hon. Friend's second point when he was saying that the interpretation of the words ejusdem generis was against my argument, that the words "other like work" were a plain and lucid English translation of the Latin phrase he used. We do not have to apply the rule of law when we have the plain words of the statute itself. It would be impossible to argue in the case that I have described that a publication of that kind was not abook, magazine, or other like work….
§ Mr. Silverman
I would not say that it would cease to be a newspaper, but that in those circumstances it would be 2330 irrelevant whether it was a newspaper or not. It would be covered by the Clause. That is the argument which I advance for consideration. I think that it is exactly the same argument as that advanced from the other side of the Committee by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch.
§ Mr. Ede
There is always a danger on Bills of this kind that we get involved in a lawyers' field-day. We started with two of Her Majesty's counsel learned in the law, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). Now we have had a dispute between two members of the other branch of the profession—my hon. Friends the Members for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and Oldham, West (Mr. Hale). It leaves laymen in the unfortunate position that this appears to be a subject which might very well, one way or the other, involve considerable expense in litigation to get the point solved after the Bill has left the House of Commons.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman gave an indication in his second intervention that between now and the next stage of the Bill he would consider whether the words were quite sufficient to deal with the kind of thing that we have been discussing now for rather more than an hour. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, having heard the whole of the arguments in which both sides of the Committee have participated, will be able to give an indication that he and his colleagues in the Government will seriously consider between now and Report whether the point has been sufficiently covered so as not to provide a way out for people who are determined, if they can, to continue to make profit out of the publication of the harmful publications alluded to in the Bill. If he could give such an assurance, I think that we might then pass to the next Amendment.
§ The Attorney-General
I really cannot add to what I have already said on this point. I said in my second intervention—I do not propose to make a long one now—in response to the point raised by the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins), that, of course, one would willingly look at the wording between now and Report; but I indicated that 2331 we should be looking at it not with a view to bringing within the ambit of the Clause something which the Clause is not aimed at, but with a view to preventing some breaking up of the magazine—the horror comic as it now is—into small fragments for the purpose of avoiding the operation of the scheme.
Many other points have been made. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) raised the point whether or not some publisher of horror comics might be able to evade the operation of the Bill if he produced a horror comic, not in the form of a book or magazine, but in the form of a section. That is a point which I said I would look at, and I will. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that we do not want to increase the scope of the Clause to bring within it something which is really not the kind of evil aimed at by the Bill.
§ Attorney-General has certainly not said anything to make us change our minds about what we should do on the Amendment. I was in a difficulty when I spoke last. No other hon. Member had risen and I assumed that that was the end of the debate. However, other points were raised and, as my right hon. Friend said, there was a dispute between lawyers.
§ The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) want newspapers to be within the ambit of the Clause. Though they believe them to be there already, they ought, for safety's sake and without doing any possible harm, to vote with us. I cannot see that we are doing any harm by pressing the Amendment to a Division, and we may be doing some good.
§ Question put, That "newspaper" be there inserted:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 123; Noes, 153.2333
|Division No. 48.]||AYES||[6.25 p.m.|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Hayman, F. H.||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Herbison, Miss M.||Proctor, W. T.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Pryde, D. J.|
|Benson, G.||Hobson, C. R.||Rankin, John|
|Beswick, F.||Holmes, Horace||Reid, Thomas (Swindon)|
|Blackburn, F.||Hoy, J. H.||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Hubbard, T. F.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Ross, William|
|Bowden, H. W.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Bowles, F. G.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Silverman, Julius (Erdington)|
|Brook, Dryden (Halifax)||Jeger, Mrs. Lena||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke-on-Trent)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Jones, David (Hartlepool)||Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Jones, Frederick Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Keenan, W.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||King, Dr. H. M.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Lawson, G. M.||Stross, Dr. Barnett|
|Clunie, J.||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Collick, P. H.||Lewis, Arthur||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford,S.)||Lindgren, G. S.||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Crosland, C. A. R.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||MacColl, J. E.||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Viant, S. P.|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||McLeavy, F.||Wallace, H. W.|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Warbey, W. N.|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Manuel, A. C.||Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Wells, William (Walsall)|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Mellish R. J.||West, D. G.|
|Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)||Messer, Sir F.||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Fernyhough, E.||Mitchison, G. R.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Fienburgh, W.||Monslow, W.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Follick, M.||Mulley, F. W.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Orbach, M.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Gibson, C. W.||Oswald, T.||Williams, W. R. (Droyisden)|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Owen, W. J.||Willis, E. G.|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Padley, W. E.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Palmer, A. M. F.||Yates, V. F.|
|Hale, Leslie||Pannell, Charles|
|Hamilton, W. W.||Pargiter G. A.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hannan, W.||Parker, J.||Mr. Paget and Mr. Roy Jenkins.|
|Hastings, S.||Plummer, Sir Leslie|
|Aitken, W. T.||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)||Odey, G. W.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Harris, Reader (Heston)||O'Neill, Hon. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon.N.)|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfd)||Page, R. G.|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J.||Heath, Edward||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Higgs, J. M. C.||Perkins, Sir Robert|
|Assheton, Rt. Hn. R. (Blackburn,W.)||Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Barlow, Sir John||Hill, John (S. Norfolk)||Pitt, Miss E. M.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Hinchingbrooke, Visoount||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)||Hirst, Geoffrey||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.|
|Black, C. W.||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence||Raikes, Sir Victor|
|Boothby, Sir Robert||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Braine, B. R.||Hutochison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh.W.)||Remnant, Hon. P.|
|Browne, Jack (Govan)||Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H.||Ridsdale, J. E.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T.||Iremonger, T. L.||Robertson, Sir David|
|Bullard, D. G.||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Campbell, Sir David||Kaberry, D.||Russell, R. S.|
|Carr, Robert||Kerby, Capt. H. B.||Savory Prof. Sir Douglas|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Leather, E. H. C.||Scott, Sir Donald|
|Clarke, Col. Sir Ralph (E. Grinstead)||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth.W.)||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Sharples, Maj. R. C.|
|Cole, Norman||Linstead, Sir H. N.||Shepherd, William|
|Colegate, Sir Arthur||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert||Lloyd-George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G.||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hn. H. F. C.||Longden, Gilbert||Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Sutcliffe, Sir Harold|
|Crowder, Peter (Ruislip—Northwood)||McAdden, S. J.||Teeling, W.|
|Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Davies,Rt.Hn.Clement(Montgomery)||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Thompson, Lt-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||McKibbin, A. J.||Turton, R. H.|
|Drewe, Sir C.||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Vosper, D. F.|
|Duthie, W. S.||Maopherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Wall, Major Patrick|
|Flnlay, Graeme||Marples, A. E.||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|Fisher, Nigel||Maude, Angus||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C||Webbe, Sir H. (L'nd'n & Westm'r)|
|Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Medlioott, Sir Frank||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale)||Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok)||Molson, A. H. E.||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Garner-Evans, E. H.||Moore, Sir Thomas||Wills, G.|
|Glover, D.||Neave, Alrey||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Gower, H. R.||Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)||Woollam, John Victor|
|Graham, Sir Fergus||Nield, Basil (Chester)|
|Grimond, J.||Noble, Comdr, A. H. P.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Crimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Oakshott, H. D.||Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith and|
§ Sir Ian Horobin (Oldham, East)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 5, at the end, to insert:not being a work first published before the year nineteen hundred and thirty-nine".This Amendment, and the next two Amendments in my name, in line 6, being directed to limiting the effects of the Bill, I should like first to make an observation about my own position regarding the Bill generally. The next two Amendments seek, after "stories" to insert "being fiction" and after "pictures" to insert:"not being reproductions of photographs.My position is similar to that of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). Could we be perfectly certain that 2334 this Bill hit only at what we all commonly call horror comics, I should be wholeheartedly in favour of it. Indeed, I may say that it was over two years ago that this agitation first started in my Settlement at Mansfield House, long before it was taken up elsewhere.
In common with the right hon. Gentleman and many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, I am extremely anxious and worried about the text of this Clause as it stands, because I am not yet by any means convinced that this Measure hits only what we desire to hit. I do not think that my exposition of this Amendment need take long. Most of what I wish to say on this and the other two Amendments could probably more 2335 appropriately be said on the Motion, That the Clause stand part of the Bill. I shall, therefore, endeavour to assist the Committee by moving the Amendment very briefly.
It raises an important point which, in my submission, should assist the Committee and the Government. Rightly or wrongly, the Government have in this Bill chosen to endeavour to find an objective test. They have tried—and I am afraid that they have not yet succeeded—to define a purely objective Measure which would put into legal terms what we generally call a horror comic. Many of us are not satisfied that they have yet found a sufficiently narrow definition.
This is the first suggestion being advanced to ensure that we do not catch the people that none of us, I believe, wish to catch. Over and over again during our debate on Second Reading, we had illustrations of the kind of publications—I use the neutral term used by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman)—which had got into difficulties in the past in obscenity prosecutions, which were definitely not what we would term horror comics, but which might be caught by the Clause as it stands. This Amendment is the first attempt to get rid of a great many publications of that kind which it is not intended should be dealt with.
The horror comic, as we know it, did not exist before the war. There is no special virtue in the year 1939. The fact that I am proposing or suggesting it to the Committee is in order to cut out, at one fell swoop, a great many of those difficult cases which might bring this Bill into contempt if and when it becomes law; to cut out a whole series of difficult decisions by the Attorney-General—if, as he has told us, we are to have that Amendment later—and, as it were, to narrow the field from the start by saying that what we are talking about in this Bill is something which has come into our disgusted purview only since the war.
I suggest to the Committee, therefore, that if it be true, as I suggest it is, that nothing which could possibly be called a horror comic existed before the war, we can avoid a great many difficult cases which we have discussed backwards and forwards ever since this Bill was first mooted, both in this House and in the 2336 Press. For a great many difficult cases do exist regarding publications before the war.
Is it not wise, if we are considering drawing up a Bill based on an objective test, to lighten the ship, as it were, from the start so that we do not become involved in discussions about Hogarth's "Rake's Progress" and the rest of it? Such cases have presented themselves to us and, as hon. Members on both sides of the Committee know perfectly well, they are the kind of cases which we do not wish to have cluttering up either the courts or the office of the Attorney-General. Why not, therefore, get rid of them from the start?
The horror comic is something which came into existence, worse luck, like the hydrogen bomb, after the war. Why not let us begin our deliberations—even if this Amendment were accepted we should still have a great many difficult matters of definition to deal with—by cutting out at the start any possibility of confusion and nuisance in dealing with publications with which we are not concerned?
I suggest to the Committee—and I hope that the Attorney-General may feel that he is able to be reasonably accommodating in the matter—that it might be wise to limit our definition by putting into the Bill some such Amendment as I am moving to reduce the area of possible confusion.
§ The Attorney-General
I think it may be helpful to the Committee if I intervene at this stage, because I gather, from what the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has said, that both sides of the Committee want to see this Bill passed. I hope that I shall be able to allay some of the fears put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin). I do not think that, arising out of the Bill, there will be any of the kind of problems which have existed in relation to prosecutions under other Acts.
The Bill is related solely to one particular evil—that of horror comics. If my hon. Friend is right, as he may be, that horror comics, as we know them, are an entirely new feature of our life, the Amendment certainly is not needed. The danger of our accepting the Amendment is that it may provide—and I will indicate why in a moment—a fairly extensive loophole for those publishing horror comics who want to go on publishing 2337 them. It seeks to lay down an arbitrary date, and to make the scope of the Bill depend on the date of publication. My hon. Friend has taken the year 1939. Let me take the case of some offensive work of a corrupting nature published before that date which is found by some of the publishers and printers of horror comics.
Supposing the Amendment was not put into the Bill. The Amendment refers tonot being a work first published before the year nineteen hundred and thirty-nine.A new edition of that work might well bring it into the sphere of the horror comic—by introducing new pictures drawn like horror comic pictures—and horrifying.
I must advise my hon. Friend that, while I appreciate the purpose of his Amendment, to accept it would, I think, be dangerous and harmful to the object which I was glad to note he wanted to achieve. Therefore, I would ask him to withdraw the Amendment, bearing in mind that, even if the Amendment were not accepted, no prosecution could be instituted without the Attorney-General's consent. That is the safeguard and will be the safeguard against prosecutions in what one might call extreme borderline cases, and a safeguard which does not exist in relation to certain other prosecutions. I would ask my hon. Friend whether we cannot perhaps proceed to a more substantial Amendment, and whether he will withdraw the Amendment before us.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Foot
I think that many of us in the Committee will be greatly disappointed by the remarks of the Attorney-General about the Amendment. I should have thought that it was a most reasonable and ingenious Amendment. The reply of the Attorney-General only adds to our fears.
I do not know whether the Attorney-General was present throughout the whole of the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill, but he must have known that in that debate concern was expressed on both sides of the House about the Bill; it was certainly not confined to this side of the House. Hon. Members opposite expressed their concern about certain aspects of the Bill in much the same terms as we did, and many hon. Members in favour of the main purpose of the Bill also expressed their fears.
2338 It adds to our fears when the Attorney-General gets up and says blithely, "I do not think that there is any danger of this Bill being misused as other Acts dealing with similar subjects have been misused in the past." We are now proposing the same kind of claim that was made, when it was originally introduced, about the obscenity law which led to so many miscarriages of justice. It was said at that time that it could not be used for purposes which would be anti-libertarian, but very soon it was proved that it could be so used, and it has been so used recently. Therefore, it would follow that the Attorney-General's reply has not taken account of the expressions of fear about this Bill and the way in which it could be used, which have been expressed on both sides of the House.
Let us take the precise objection which the Attorney-General makes to the Amendment. He says that it may leave a very large loophole, that is, that people who published something which was a horror comic before 1939 would be able to republish it now. I imagine that there were very few such publications before 1939. There may have been one or two publications of such a nature.
§ Mr. Foot
If that were so, perhaps it might be simpler to change the date to 1929. That, I should have thought, would have excluded all horror comics and any such danger as the Attorney-General has envisaged, even if there is such a danger. Instead of even considering the possibilities of an Amendment along these lines, the Attorney-General rather discourteously dismisses it as an insubstantial Amendment, and asks that we should get on to Amendments that are more substantial.
It was said by the Attorney-General earlier that he intended to accept a later Amendment which says that the Attorney-General would have to approve a prosecution. My hon. Friend, in commenting upon that, suggested that his understanding of the Attorney-General's statement was that that was to be the only Amendment we were to be permitted by the Government. I cannot really believe that that is the situation. After all, we are not dealing with the Boundary Commission now. We do not have to have everything accepted in advance.
2339 The Attorney-General must not think that he can treat the House of Commons in the way in which he treats the law courts. He cannot expect that with the dazzling eloquence which achieves him such fame in the law courts he can browbeat us in this fashion. Judges may quail, but the House does not mind his savage tongue.
I hope that the Attorney-General will approach this problem with a little more flexibility. Here is an Amendment moved by one of his hon. Friends in a most reasonable fashion. The hon. Member does not insist on the exact date, and he says that possibly a different date might be preferable; but it is an Amendment precisely designed to deal with one of the chief dangers that we have in mind, that classical works could be dealt with under this Bill as they have been dealt with under the obscenity law which was devised for an entirely different purpose.
I hope that the Government will not deal with the other Amendments in the spirit which the Attorney-General has indicated in dealing with this Amendment, because if they do there will have to be a very fierce and long battle about the whole of this Bill. It would be very much better for the Attorney-General to accept an Amendment of such moderate intention as this one, and to accept it in a wider spirit. He would find that a much better way of getting the Bill through the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
I should like to support, if support is needed, what the Attorney-General has said. He mentioned the point that this might well lead to a loophole if there were an illustration of some ancient work, possibly a classical one, which was produced at the present time by means of an illustration which was similar to that in horror comics.
There is another weakness, if I may say so with great respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin), who moved this Amendment. It says:not being a work first published before the year nineteen hundred and thirty-nine.and it does not say where first published. I doubt whether anyone is in a position to say what was published in America before 1939, or in France or anywhere 2340 else. This Amendment would not have the effect which my hon. Friend has in mind. It is always a dangerous thing, I think, to put in a suggested date in a Bill of this kind which is directed towards a principle, the principle which is behind these horror comics, and what they do.
The question of morality and corruption is not indicated by dates, years or centuries. It is a basic principle, and it seems to me that if we are all united in directing our attention to the horror comics—and prosecutions will only be brought with the concurrence of the Attorney-General—we should not complicate the matter further by introducing a date.
I do not think that the Amendment will lighten the ship; I think that, in many ways, it may well add some complications to the Bill and will leave more opportunities open to those clever gentlemen who wish to make money out of the publication of these things. I hope that my hon. Friend will see the force of the argument of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)
In my first intervention on this Bill, may I say that I hope that the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin) will accept the advice of the Attorney-General and will withdraw his Amendment? I have recently returned from America where tremendous financial powers behind the crime comics have successfully prevented the United States from dealing with this matter in any way.
Any weakening of the Clause as presented to us this afternoon would afford a loophole which unscrupulous people might easily use in order to destroy the whole purpose of the Bill. We did not invent the horror comic in 1939. There was horrific pictorial literature possibly in our childhood, and the mere defence of some modern purveyor, with all the new technique of modern illustration, that he managed to dig up his raw material from some period before 1939 seems to me to be a loophole which this Amendment would provide.
After all, one could take the works of the Marquis de Sade first published in France and published cheaply later. Anyone could select a crime from one of those works and plead as a defence that it was written in 1787, or thereabouts. 2341 I hope that the Committee will not accept Amendments which weaken this Clause. Let us freely safeguard, but do not let us provide loopholes which powerful syndicates can use in order to destroy the Bill.
§ Mr. R. Bell
I share the disquietude of the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) about the views which my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has put forward. I ask him to think again about this. Ministerial assurances given during debates are very deceptive. The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) referred to the assurance given by the Lord Chancellor when the Obscene Publications Bill was introduced in 1857. We all know how much weight that carries.
My right hon. and learned Friend has said that he is going to accept a later Amendment which provides that no prosecution can be brought unless it is by or with the consent of the Attorney-General. The anxiety which I feel about relying on Ministerial assurances is that they weaken as time passes. They always bind the person who makes them and the holder of his office for, at any rate, a certain number of years.
If my right hon. and learned Friend could tell us what is the general attitude of the Government towards some Amendments which appear later on the Order Paper and which deal with a time limit in the Bill, that would go a long way towards reassuring me about his attitude to this Amendment.
§ Mr. Bell
I do not wish to anticipate them, Sir Rhys. I merely wish to say that my attitude towards Ministerial assurances regarding how the Measure would be used would be very greatly influenced by the knowledge of how long the Measure is going to remain in force. If it is going to remain in force for only four or five years, or some such period, then the assurance which the Attorney-General has given—whether or not it is an adequate substitute for my hon. Friend's Amendment—would be reassuring. But if there is no time limit, then I do not think that we should be asked to rely on Ministerial assurances though they are given in entirely good faith and 2342 will remain available in the Attorney-General's office for some time to come.
I am very much attracted by my hon. Friend's Amendment. I think that it narrows the field and cuts out the immense majority of printed works from the operation of the Bill. The danger which my right hon. and learned Friend suggested and which was repeated by two other hon. Members, that old works of a horrific character might be dressed up in a new form as horror comics, and that thus this Amendment would provide a loophole, does not carry much weight with me.
It seems to me that if anyone takes old illustrations of a classic work and reissues them in a form which could be called a horror comic, he has, in effect, created a new work within the meaning of this Amendment. I cannot imagine how that could be done without a new work being created, and, on those grounds, I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to reconsider this Amendment and to realise that a good deal of genuine anxiety exists on this subject in all parts of the Committee.
§ Mr. Ede
We are getting into the usual trouble which occurs when there is a unanimous decision that something must be done. I believe that the House was genuinely of the opinion that something must be done to stop the corruption of youth by the horror comics. Of course, it is very dangerous lest in that frame of mind we should pass some legislation which we would afterwards regret.
Some of the speeches made on both sides of the Committee this afternoon indicate that some people are out to kill the Bill, some because they have an adopted daughter of their own whom they wish to put in its place, and which deals with something on which there is not nearly so much unanimity as there is on this Measure. Others, again, wish to kill it because they genuinely believe that the House ought not to touch subjects of this kind at all.
I still think that something ought to be done, and I think that in this Measure we have the basis of something very good and sufficiently limited. But I certainly do not want to see a date included, because, when I was Home Secretary, I had to deal with a Bill which was promoted for the purpose of removing the theatrical censorship. The stupidity that 2343 arises from putting in dates cannot be better illustrated than by what occurs there. I think it says that any play before 1843, or some such date, can be performed, with the result that all Restoration comedies can be played unexpurgated. But a certain phrase which George Bernard Shaw wished to put into one of his plays—a phrase which is used by 99 per cent. of the population—was excluded.
§ Mr. Ede
My hon. Friend being a Scotsman, I would not pollute his ears with the words, but, having been a sergeant-major myself, may I say that my vocabulary goes a great deal further down the alphabet than did George Bernard Shaw's?
Let us see what would happen here. As I mentioned during the Second Reading debate, I was brought up on "Pilgrim's Progress," and I then produced an illustrated copy of it. A perfect example of horrific literature written in simple English is the fight between Apollyon and Christian. I invite anybody whose memory of it is not complete to re-read the details of that and the later fight with Giant Grim. In the edition which I brought to the House the picture illustrating the fight in which Grim was engaged seemed to show, in one picture, all the successive strokes that fell upon him. "Pilgrim's Progress" was written well before 1939.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
The right hon. Gentleman has told us that he was brought up on this book. He seems to have enjoyed the experience of seeing those pictures in his youth, but he now wants to stop other children from seeing them.
§ Mr. Ede
No, I do not. One picture describing the whole fight is one thing, but it is quite another thing to have a series of pictures, by which a child's mind can be diverted from the general tenor of 2344 the work to the particular matters which John Bunyan so graphically described, with no moral drawn as Bunyan drew it—although I was never quite sure what was the moral with regard to Apollyon, because he was allowed to survive to carry on his evil practices upon further pilgrims—
§ Mr. R. Bell
Surely the moral with regard to Apollyon was that his proper place was straddling the path?
§ Mr. Ede
Then it just shows the further difficulty that one gets into when one attempts to go into matters of interpretation. I hope that we shall realise that putting in this date will not afford any real safeguard for anybody, but may result in the most stupid and amazing anomalies, such as those which the present censorship law involves in other spheres. I certainly hope that the hon. Member will not feel that he ought to press the Amendment.
§ Sir I. Horobin
I cannot say that I am convinced by the argument, but I must obviously pay great attention to the combined opinions which have been expressed from both Front Benches in this matter. I am bound to admit that, generally speaking, fixed dates are a nuisance, but I am rather sorry at the very curt and cursory way in which an honest attempt to deal with a genuine difficulty was met by the Government Front Bench. I hope that it is not setting the pattern for subsequent Amendments.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
If the hon. Gentleman is going to say at this stage that he wishes to withdraw the Amendment, I can assure him that some of my hon. Friends would like to support him before he does so.
§ Sir I. Horobin
That puts me in a difficult position, but as there are certain more important Amendments which I still hope will receive friendly attention from the Front Bench, and as this one does not seem as important as those, it might be bad tactics to irritate the Attorney-General by pressing him to accept the Amendment. I can do no more than ask 2345 leave to withdraw the Amendment, but it may be refused. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)
I am extremely sorry that the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin) sought leave to withdraw the Amendment at such an early stage. I do not share his view that it is an unimportant Amendment. The whole burden of the Government's case has been that the Bill deals with an extremely narrow problem and an extremely limited category of publication. As I understand it, the Amendment is designed to limit that category still further by excluding completely any consideration of the classics.
I do not know whether the hon. Member has inserted the right date, but minor details such as that can be dealt with on the Report stage, provided that we get a reasonable response from the Government, which I am afraid we have not had upon this occasion. Like my hon. Friends, I was not at all convinced by the arguments of the learned Attorney-General in this matter. He seemed to be saying that although the Bill dealt with a very narrow problem, the Amendment, which was designed to narrow it still further, in fact opened up a loophole. The argument which he has used in that respect was effectively replied to by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell), but there is also another argument in favour of the Amendment which has not yet been mentioned.
If the Amendment were made, Clause 1 would read:This Act applies to any book, magazine or other like work not being a work first published before the year nineteen hundred and thirty-nine which consists wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures …I should have thought that that ruled out re-publication in a different form. The only matter which the Amendment protects is matter which was published in that form before 1939. It may well be that horror comics existed in the United States before the last World War, and that the date ought to be put further back.
§ Mr. Robinson
Yes. That might meet the difficulty. I do not share the dislike of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) for the insertion of dates in Measures of this kind. There is not the slightest parallel between this matter and the difficulty which he said he was up against in regard to censorship in the theatres. I do not share his distaste for Restoration comedy in an unexpurgated form.
§ Mr. Robinson
I should have thought that Goya's "Disasters of the War" might well come within the purview of the Bill.
§ Mr. Robinson
Yes. I believe that this is a perfectly reasonable Amendment, but the Government's reception of it has been most churlish and hostile, and I hope that the House will not give the hon. Member leave to withdraw it.
§ Mr. N. Nicolson
I think that it will weary the Committee if I go on disclosing my interest as a publisher. With the permission of the House, I make this third disclosure as the final one for this evening. I do not disagree with the Amendment, or with what the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) said about it, but it will cover only a tiny field. It will cover only those publications which were produced in pictorial form before the war and which a publisher today wished to reproduce.
It would in no sense protect the classics, which I gather was the main intention of my hon. Friend, and with which I entirely agree. I wish we could devise a form of words which would afford that protection to Bible stories, fairy stories and what we normally call the children's classics. The Amendment will not do it, because neither Bible stories, fairy stories nor children's classics—such as "Alice" and "Black Beauty "—were originally produced in pictorial form; they were all written down.
2347 The only category covered by the Amendment would be drawings made before the war from those stories, which a modern publisher might wish to reproduce, but the context of those stories—which is what matters—would not be covered at all. I am sorry that my hon. Friend has not extended his noble effort to try to cover the textual matter as well, but perhaps that would not fall within the general principle of the Bill.
Take a story like Robin Hood, which most of us regard as an innocuous story for children, although it contains many incidents of violence. The story is traditional folk-lore. It is not written down in an accepted text. Everybody who tells the story tells it afresh in his own words. There is no copyright. When it is told in pictures, there are again no standard pictures illustrating the story. Each publisher commissions an artist afresh to make new pictures.
Therefore, even Robin Hood, which might otherwise be coverable under (a) or (b), or indeed under (c), of the Clause, would not be safeguarded by my hon. Friend's Amendment. I support the Amendment, but I draw attention to the extremely narrow field it covers. I disagree with the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North who said that this was a matter of extreme importance. It is of very minor importance.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
It may, of course, be that what was said by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christ-church (Mr. N. Nicolson) has a great deal of force, but his approach is very different from that of the Attorney-General and of one or two other hon. Members who have spoken.
If the Attorney-General had said something like what was said by the hon. Member and had indicated that the Amendment was not as well drafted as it might have been—this is no reflection upon the ability of the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Sir Ian Horobin) as a drafter of Amendments—but that he would look at it and try to make it more effective, we could have felt sympathetic to his point of view. He has not done that. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch might have endeavoured to get the Attorney-General to say that he would look at it again, 2348 but the Attorney-General has not given us any encouragement along those lines.
The hon. Member gave what support he could to his hon. Friend who moved the Amendment. Whether the Amendment goes very wide or not and is a matter of great importance or not, the discussion upon it has raised one issue of very considerable importance. I understood it was the clear view of the Government that the Bill was designed to catch what are commonly known as "horror comics" and nothing else at all. Some hon. Members who have spoken on the Amendment would like to catch certain things which they regard as undesirable but which are not horror comics. To move over to that new principle is extremely serious.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) does not disagree with my approach to a lot of points connected with the Bill, but in his speech he turned the full force of his vehemence on me for my reference to another Bill which I have not yet advocated this afternoon.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I was not suggesting for a moment that it was. My right hon. Friend indicated that he differed from me about another Bill, and I thought he did so with considerable vehemence. I do not complain about that, but he cannot complain if I draw attention to it, which is all I have done.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) referred to Restoration comedy, saying that it gave rise to difficulties in putting a date into the Bill. He was on a very different principle. Whatever we may think about censorship of the stage, it exists as a general censorship. The Bill does not contain a general censorship. It is designed to deal with one specific evil, which is admitted on all sides of the 2349 House and which is a phenomenon that has arisen only recently. Whether it has arisen entirely since 1939 we cannot be quite sure. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) that perhaps we should put in an earlier date. He suggested 1929, and perhaps that would be appropriate. We could then say, "Since the late Lord Brentford ceased to be Home Secretary," which would be a very reasonable provision to insert into a Bill of this sort.
The Amendment has considerable merits. Unless the Attorney-General can be at least a little more sympathetic towards it than he has been so far to anything that we have put forward on the Bill, we ought to carry the matter further.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
I doubt if we can carry out the main purpose of the Bill unless we accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin). The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) has put the publisher's point of view. He said that every new pictorial publication had to be new because it had to be re-drawn and re-executed. I want to put the case of the danger that the Bill offers to books like Foxe's "Book of Martyrs," which is one of the earliest horror books produced in this country.
Sunday was made horrible to me as a child, because when we sat in the parlour Foxe's "Book of Martyrs" was opened. On Sunday night I was afraid to go to bed because of the hideous pictures of tribulations and sufferings of people that were engraved on my mind. I have no doubt that other children benefited from it much more than I did, and I have no doubt that Foxe's "Book of Martyrs" ought to be preserved, but the publishers of the original plates could not pretend that the book was not a horrific publication.
It was a publication showing the most bestial violence upon people, with tortures being applied in much the same way as in the American publications. There were whipping, branding, burning and all the paraphernalia of the horror comic without the comedy, if there is comedy in a horror comic.
A book like Foxe's "Book of Martyrs" is not curious, in the sense of the 2350 word used by the pornographic publishers, and I seriously suggest that it is a publication which ought to be permitted to go on. The publishers could be prosecuted under the terms of the Bill, as I fear the publishers of other such works might be. For that reason I support the Amendment.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
I support the Amendment. I dissent from my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) when he suggests that some of us who support the Amendment and other Amendments are out to kill the Bill. That is not so. I dislike the Bill and think it is unnecessary; the cure may be worse than the disease, but I am not out to kill the Bill. I am out to trim it to its proper shape, to narrow its scope and to sharpen its purpose.
The Bill is to deal with a specific evil, the nature of which we all understand and clearly visualise in dealing with all the Clauses of the Bill. Yet the Government have fallen into the temptation, natural in the drafting of all legislation, of saying, "While we are at it, let us make sure that it will catch this, and stop that loophole, and then we might conceivably prevent some fresh, hypothetical evil from emerging under the cover of the Bill." By the time they have finished the Bill has cast its net very much more widely than was originally intended.
If some of the works which were published for the first time before 1939 were horror comics we should have seen them, and should have legislated against them before now. We are now suggesting that these works published before 1939 will emerge as horror comics because there is some new taste for horror, and that the publishers, the evil-minded men who are seeking to profit from this traffic, will delve into the past and find works which they can present afresh in horrible form.
I submit that there is no evidence that that may take place. This evil with which we are now dealing has a modern context. It is in all the jargon, and presented in the form, which reflects this modern, troubled and wicked age. As far as my limited contact with horror comics shows, the trade is not going back into the history of literature for its material.
§ Mr. Houghton
I think that the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) made a very good point about the legal interpretation of what is a "work"—whether a work first published before 1939 would, in fact, be protected if it were presented in entirely new form.
I admit that there are difficulties of interpretation, even in the Amendment, but the Bill is absolutely littered with scope for all the lawyers in England to make enough money out of it to send their sons to Eton. Who is to condemn a well-intentioned Amendment like this on the ground that it possibly has some weakness in draftsmanship when the whole Bill is full of terms which will, quite obviously, give rise to the most serious difficulty?
We look to the Attorney-General to assist us in achieving our purpose. Notoriously, he never does assist the Committee to achieve its purpose. I can well understand the complaint of the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin) that he was dealt with cursorily and tersely by his right hon. and learned Friend. A Minister of the Crown to whose lot it will fall so frequently to return a negative answer really ought to cultivate the art of gracious rejection. It will smooth the passage of the Bill, and will at least give those who disagree with him the impression, it may be false, that he really sympathises with what they are trying to do and will assist hon. Members to express themselves in Amendments which are reasonably presented for the acceptance of the Committee.
We ought to keep this Bill firmly fixed on its original purpose—and even take some risks in keeping it to that purpose. We cannot make the Bill absolutely watertight from any point of view, either in respect of what it will contain or what it will do or what it will keep out. The Amendment does at least attempt to narrow the purpose of the Bill to the evil which we want to stop, and does not extend it far beyond that original purpose.
§ Mr. Reader Harris (Heston and Isle worth)
I am rather sorry that the Attorney-General intervened quite sc early in the debate. I could have hoped that he would have first heard some of the arguments that have been deployed
I support the principle of the Amendment. That we should have a hard-and fast date of 1939 is not so important, but I think that the Attorney-General should look again at the Clause and the Amendment with a view to narrowing the operation of the Clause. As at present draftee it is very wide indeed—much wider that the House of Commons intended. It now covers any book or magazine which tells its story in picturesbeing stories portraying … the commission of crimes.I thought that in introducing this legislation the House wished to deal with pictures portraying violence, sexual crimes and so on. The Clause just baldly says "the commission of crimes." I am ignoring the condition about tending to corrupt because that term is so wide as to mean nothing.
§ The Attorney-General
My hon. Friend should not leave out the words:… in such a way that the work as a whole would tend to corrupt …
§ Mr. Harris
The Clause, as drafted, covers an enormous number of publications which do not deal with personal violence at all; pictures of people breaking into a bank—violence on a door, not on a person—manipulating locks and safes, and making off with the money that has been inside. That tends to corrupt the young because it shows how easy it is to break into safes and take the money. I am not so sure that it would not cover the "Billy Bunter" series. Those boys used to break into tuckshops and so on; that is crime and might put ideas into the minds of young people.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. H. Hynd)
I hope that the hon. Member will not go further on those lines. He is now dealing with words which appear later in the Clause. This Amendment deals only with the proposed date.
§ Mr. Harris
I appreciate that, Mr. Hynd. I only mentioned that point to show that something is necessary to limit the Clause to what we intended. At present it is very wide indeed, and the 2353 Amendment does something to limit the Clause. I would ask the Attorney-General once again to give further consideration to the Clause.
§ Mr. William Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
Some hon. Members have attempted to justify anything which has been produced in the past. Some things may be works of art and considered by the artistic to be all that is desirable, but their reproduction may be just as bad, just as injurious and as vile as some of the publications produced in the last few years under the title of horror comics. In that respect, I see no justification for narrowing the Clause.
Do we or do we not intend that some limitation should be placed on what most reasonable people regard as a very undesirable social matter? The Bill may be a lawyers' paradise—though I do not concede that—but there is scarcely a Bill that is passed that is not a lawyers' paradise. Hon. Members must have noticed the number of lawyers who have participated during the last three or four hours in twisting this Clause up and down and down and up.
I would remind the House that there were publications before 1939 which we would be ashamed to circulate today. I have seen some of them, some of which were not published in this country, I think. There was one called "Photo Fun," or something like that. There are publications that are brought into the country from the Continent and elsewhere by our seafarers, and there is no justification for the reproduction of them.
I think that the Clause should be left as wide as possible so that we can deal with any attempt to publish such works. Behind the opposition to the Bill, the efforts to restrict it, and to prevent a good Bill from being passed, are journalists and people concerned with literature.
§ The Attorney-General
It is to be expected that when we have a Bill of this sort before us there will be those who criticise it on the ground that the line has been drawn too narrowly and that there will be those who criticise it on the ground that it is too widely drawn. The first Amendment proposed to the Bill was moved on the ground that the Clause 2354 was too narrow, and now it is suggested that the Clause is too wide. I believe that we have struck the right balance, and I hope that I shall satisfy my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite that the line here drawn is drawn neither too widely nor to narrowly.
It is difficult, as I am sure the Committee will appreciate, to define with such a degree of precision a horror comic that is it not within the bounds of possibility some other work could come within the description. I think that the Committee will recognise that. It is because I recognised that, and because my right hon. Friends did, that I indicated earlier—I am sorry the hon. Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) has been somewhat ungracious about it—that I should be accepting an Amendment, when it is moved, to provide that no prosecutions should be instituted without the Attorney-General's consent.
I am quite confident that neither I nor any successor of mine would contemplate for a moment instituting a prosecution in the case of something like "The Rake's Progress" or anything of that character, or in the case of what we might call a normal reproduction of the work. I am quite sure of that, because the Bill is aimed at what we know as horror comics.
I am sorry my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin) felt that I dealt cursorily with his argument. I dealt with it shortly because I did not think he would want me to deal with it at any length. Although we have, I think, to retain this wording to make sure of hitting the horror comic, with that other Amendment to which I have referred accepted there will be, in my belief, no risk whatsoever of a prosecution being instituted against the reproduction of such a work as "The Rake's Progress."
I would ask the Committee to reject the Amendment, first, on the ground that I do not believe for one moment that it is necessary, but, secondly, on what I believe is a much more important ground. Here I part company with my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell). I do believe that the insertion of these words would open a loophole.
Let us consider work published before 1939; there is a reproduction, a new edition—say, of "The Pilgrim's Pro- 2355 gress"—very generously illustrated, consisting of illustrations that tell the story in pictures, as it has to be told to come within the scope of the Bill. I can see a quite considerable argument, were this Amendment accepted or similar words put in the Bill, taking place in a court as to whether that pictorial representation was really the work first published. I think that ingenious efforts would be made to say it was, and they might prevail. It is for that reason I do not want to see that loophole created through which the people at whom the Bill is aimed might escape.
In my opinion this Bill is really very different from the ordinary law in relation to obscene publications. In relation to that law there is no provision requiring the Attorney-General's consent to a prosecution. That is the safeguard here, and I suggest to the Committee—those Members of the Committee who really want the Bill—that this is an Amendment it would not be wise to accept.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
The Attorney-General has drawn an important distinction between this and the general law relating to obscene publications, saying that prosecutions in the latter case do not require the consent of the Attorney-General. I wonder if he could say whether any prosecutions, as distinct from proceedings for destruction orders under the Obscene Publications Act, under the common law of obscene libel, have been taken in the past year without the consent of the Attorney-General.
§ The Attorney-General
I think that if I were drawn into that discussion I should run the risk of being stopped by you, Mr. Hynd. This is not the occasion to deal with that Bill, in which, I know, the hon. Member is most interested. When the time comes I will deal with that.
I wish to deal with this narrow Bill, which in my view is just on the right lines. I know it must be expected that there will be criticisms from both sides of the Committee on many Amendments—both ways. I am glad to hear the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) say that he is not out to kill the Bill. I hope I have been able to convince him that if the Amendment were accepted, although it would not kill the Bill, it would leave not so much of the Bill alive.
§ Mr. Rankin
The argument, as far as I followed it, of the Attorney-General was that this Amendment would create a loophole which would weaken the Bill. I think that if that were the case it would meet a good deal of opposition from both sides of the Committee, because it was made clear in the first two hours of the debate on Second Reading that arguments which seemed to bring in matters not pertinent to the Bill made the House hostile, and brought about a feeling of division; immediately we discussed the limited purpose of the Bill as defined in its Title the House was unanimous in supporting it.
I think it is not wrong to say that the feeling that was expressed was that the Bill should as far as possible be limited and that nothing should be done to extend its purpose. If I follow the argument of the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin), that is precisely what he is seeking to do, and in my view that is what the Attorney-General is seeking to undo. He says this Amendment may create loopholes. I think one of the functions of every Parliamentary Bill has been to create loopholes. I should like to hear the Attorney-General tell us of any Act of Parliament that did not create loopholes.
§ Mr. Rankin
I do not want to embark on the exploratory argument the hon. Member invites me to enter upon, but if he does not accept this Amendment he will create loopholes which he does not want to create.
At about the time of the Second Reading "The Times" drew attention to the fact that the Bill as presented to the House could bring under its definition of horror comics the time-honoured story of "Three Blind Mice" If the Amendment is not accepted, the Bill can still bring within its scope the story of "Three Blind Mice." That story is generally told in pictorial form and it is a horror if ever there was one. No single picture book today shows the final scene. No 2357 picture book dare show the three blind mice without their tails.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
Is the hon. Member really saying that a jury would say that that story tended to corrupt youth?
§ Mr. Rankin
If the hon. Gentleman is going to allege that pictures showing mice in that mutilated form will not harm or have a serious influence upon young children, I shall beg to differ from him. One could say the same of a whole library of those children's classics on which we have been reared. There is, for instance, "Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie." Who is going to say that one can catch living creatures, put them into a pie, bake them alive and then expect when one opens the pie to find them beginning to sing? [Laughter.]
§ It may be fantasy to hon. Members, but it is a fact to a child.
§ I do not think that "The Times" was being fantastic when it advanced the argument that tales of that nature might be endangered by the Bill. They would be saved by the Amendment. If the Attorney-General cannot accept the Amendment as it stands, surely he might agree to reconsider the matter and see whether some form of wording could not be devised for the Report stage on which the House and the Government might agree.
§ Question put, That those words be there inserted:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 70. Noes 143.2359
|Division No. 49.]||AYES||[7.43 p.m.|
|Blackburn, F.||Janner, B.||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Brook, Dryden (Halifax)||Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford)||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke-on-Trent)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Jones, David (Hartlepool)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Lawson, G. M.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Clurlic, J.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Collins, V. J.||McLeavy, F.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Crosland, C. A. R.||Manuel, A. C.||Viant, S. P.|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Wallace, H. W.|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Mitchison, G. R.||Warbey, W. N.|
|Donnelly, D. L.||Monslow, W.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Mulley, F. W.||West, D. G.|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Oswald, T.||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Fienburgh, W.||Owen, W. J.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Follick, M.||Padley, W. E.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Foot, M. M.||Paget, R. T.||Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)|
|Gibson, C. W.||Palmer, A. M. F.||Willis, E. G.|
|Grimond, J.||Parker, J.||Yates, V. F.|
|Hale, Leslie||Proctor, W. T.|
|Hastings, S.||Rankin, John||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hayman, F. H.||Reid, Thomas (Swindon)||Sir L. Plummer and|
|Houghton, Douglas||Ross, William||Mr. K. Robinson.|
|Hudson, James (Eaing, N.)||Silverman, Julius (Erdington)|
|Aitken, W. T.||Cole, Norman||Gower, H. R.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Colegate, Sir Arthur||Graham, Sir Fergus|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J.||Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hn. H. F. C.||Hall, John (Wycombe)|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Crowder, Sir John (Finohley)||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)|
|Assheton, Rt.Hn. R. (Blackburn, W.)||Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)||Harris, Reader (Heston)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Doughty, C. J. A.||Heath, Edward|
|Barber, Anthony||Drewe, Sir C.||Herbison, Miss M.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Higgs, J. M. C.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)||Duthie, W. S.||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Hill, John (S. Norfolk)|
|Black, C. W.||Errington, Sir Eric||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount|
|Boothby, Sir Robert||Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)||Hirst, Geoffrey|
|Bossom, Sir A. C.||Fell, A.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Finlay, Graeme||Horsburgh, Rt. Hon. Florence|
|Braine, B. R.||Fisher, Nigel||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)|
|Browne, Jack (Govan)||Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T.||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.)|
|Bullard, D. G.||Fraser Sir Ian (M'ombe & Lonsdale)||Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H.|
|Campbell, Sir David||Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok)||Iromonger, T. L.|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)|
|Clarke, Col. Sir Ralph (E. Grinstead)||Garner-Evans, E. H.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)|
|Clarke, Brig.Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Glover, D.||Jones, A. (Hall Green)|
|Kaberry, D.||Neave, Airey||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|Keenan, W.||Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)||Sharpies, Maj. R. C.|
|Kerby, Capt. H. B.||Nield, Basil (Chester)||Shepherd, William|
|Kerr, H. W.||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.||Studholme, H. G.|
|King, Dr. H. M.||Oakshott, H. D.||Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)|
|Lambton, Viscount||Oliver, G. H.||Sutcliffe, Sir Harold|
|Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Orbach, M.||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)|
|Linstead, Sir H. N.||Page, R. G.||Turton, R. H.|
|Lloyd-George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G.||Perkins, Sir Robert||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.||Vosper, D. F.|
|Longden, Gilbert||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Pitt, Miss E. M.||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|MacColl, J. E.||Powell, J. Enoch||Wall, Major Patrick|
|McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|Macdonald, Sir Peter||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|McKibbin, A. J.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Rayner, Brig. R.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Redmayne, M.||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Rees-Davies, W. R.||Wills, G.|
|Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Remnant, Hon. P.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Marples, A. E.||Ridsdale, J. E.||Woollam, John Victor|
|Maude, Angus||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.||Russell, R. S.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Medlicott, Sir Frank||Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas||Mr. R. Allan and|
|Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.||Scott, Sir Donald||Colonel J. H. Harrison.|
§ Sir I. Horobin
I beg to move, in page 1, line 6, after "stories", to insert "being fiction."
This is a more important Amendment than the last, and I hope to help progress by introducing it very shortly. The point we must get clear in a great deal of our discussions in the Committee and on this Amendment is exactly what, in fact, we are trying to deal with. We have been told over and over again that the object of this Bill is solely to deal with what we call horror comics. I am not a lawyer, and it may be that "stories" is a term of art. I do not think it is, but the point of this Amendment is quite clear. When we talk about "stories" in this Bill, are we meaning stories in the fictional, imaginative sense, or are we dealing with pictorial records of things that have actually happened, even if that record is horrible?
On the last Amendment some of us were much concerned whether this Bill would, in fact, catch things which were not horror comics but works published years ago for reasons which have nothing to do with our problem. On this Amendment we are concerned whether the Bill as drafted will catch only the horror comic we all know, the purely imaginative, very disgusting and undesirable pictures of stories dealing with imaginary, unpleasant characters, or can it deal with stories in a very different sense, stories in the journalistic sense?
If I may put it in its simplest form, would a description in pictorial terms, 2360 whether by drawings or photographs—and I will not trespass on the next Amendment that will try to cut out the latter possibility—of napalm bombs in Korea or a description in "Picture Post" in pictorial terms of Belsen or a Japanese prison camp come within the terms of the Clause? That would be a story in one sense of the word. Would it or would it not be a story in the sense of this Bill?
If so, I submit that this Bill is in danger of dealing with things that we have been told over and over again it is not intended to deal with. In this Bill we are not attempting to stop descriptions, however horrific, even though they may fall into the hands of children and may have an evil effect, which are dealing with things that actually happen. I would deny altogether that the standard of what might corrupt a child must be the sole factor of what adults should be allowed to buy, sell or read about the world in which we live.
If this Bill has the result of making it impossible to put in pictorial terms some of the terrible things that happen in war or happen even in peacetime, then it is going outside what we are told is its intention. The object of this Amendment is to make it clear that this Bill deals only with that to which it is supposed to be limited, namely, horror comics.
We should not open the door or create a loophole whereby the Attorney-General or the courts could make it difficult, or impossible, or dangerous or a crime to put into a pictorial record the terrible 2361 things amongst which we have to live. I submit that it is worth very careful consideration and we should, therefore, limit stories to what I understand stories to be in the fictional sense and not in the journalistic sense, because it is with horror comics that we are supposed to be dealing.
§ Dr. King
I shall oppose the Amendment. It is very difficult for me to convey to the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin) that many of us who would vote against this Amendment share his view. I understand that what both of us wish to proscribe is something very specific and something very definite, but none of us would say that this Bill would do any of the things that he fears it might do.
But I rise again just to point out exactly what we are attempting to cope with. I am willing to grant that the horrific imaginings of fiction in the crime comic are something beneath anything that happened in history, and if we were to concentrate on mere fiction we should be eliminating part of the crime comic. But my experience is that one can make a crime comic almost out of anything. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) mentioned Robin Hood. I have seen Robin Hood turned into a crime comic. I have seen a crime comic of "Macbeth" and even of "Ivanhoe."
What we are after is not the basic subject matter but what this particular group of people can manage to make. If we said that the story must be some crime which actually happened, it is quite possible for the crime comic artist to select his crime from history, embellish it, as he manages to embellish Robin Hood, and produce a crime comic founded on fact which equals in horror anything which could have been produced from his imagination.
My fear throughout this debate is that Amendments proposed in perfectly good faith to protect serious works of art may be used as an alibi or a loophole through which the whole comic picture industry may wreck this Bill and go on, as it has done before, producing its works, not from "Frankenstein" and "Macbeth, "but from Jack-the-Ripper and a number of other well-known crimes. I hope it will be possible for the hon. Member to 2362 withdraw his Amendment. If he presses it to a Division, I am sorry but I shall have to vote against it.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
I associate myself with what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Test (Dr. King). I was one of those who approached any idea of legislating against horror comics with the very greatest distrust, and only very reluctantly and after a very considerable time was I convinced, on the evidence that I had in the field of work in which I am interested in connection with the courts, that something had to be done about it.
It is very important that, having decided that something has to be done about it, one faces up to the calculated risk that one is taking. It is a risk if one tries to carry out legislation of this kind. Once one starts trying to draw a line here and to cut out something else there, one has a situation in which one will not be able to direct one's attention to the mischief at which the legislation is aimed. This is a very good illustration of the point. I should think—I do not know—"stories" would cover any kind of narrative whether true or not. I think it should, and I think there is no case whatsoever for trying to draw some kind of artificial distinction between something which is called fiction—I am not certain of the definition of "fiction"—and something which is called true.
I remember that at one time there was a publication called "True Story Magazine" which published some very edifying stories which were said to be true. I had no means of proving that they were not true. However, I do not think that the corrupting influence of that kind of thing is made any less by the fact that somebody says it is true. One can get oneself into most awkward tangles. It is possible to make a most magnificent horror comic out of the story of Deborah or Samson. It would not be beyond the enterprising gentlemen who produce horror comics to produce one called "Bible Stories for Children" which would, under the facade of being Bible stories for children, be horror comics based on the more fruity passages from the Book of Judges.
If the defence is said to be that this is true and not fiction, how will the jury 2363 decide whether the story of Deborah is true or not? I can imagine it having to take flights into higher criticism and obtaining conflicting evidence from theological experts as to the probabilities of the story being true or not. The whole thing is completely unreal and would merely open the way to a great deal of abuse.
We are all fairly clear what we are trying to do. We are trying to stop the publication of corrupting literature of the horror comic type from wherever it may be drawn. The fact that it tries to masquerade under the title of a narrative, some historical event or some true story seems to me to be wholly irrelevant to the question.
Therefore, I think that one has to be quite brutal about it and say that one has to take a risk. We have to take the calculated risk that we shall never have an Attorney-General who is a bonehead; as long as that is so, we can take that risk and reasonably assume that when the question of a prosecution arises the matter will be looked at as a whole and a decision taken. Once we set out on this path, that is a risk that we have to take, however reluctantly we do it.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth)
My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin) asked what was intended by "stories" in this context. I think that the definition which has just been given by the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) is as good a one as I can find, namely any kind of narrative. It means stories in the natural sense of the word, and that is, of course, fairly wide.
The arguments which were used on the last Amendment are equally applicable on this Amendment. That applies both ways. The previous Amendment sought to exclude from the operation of the Bill older works, if I may so call them, on the ground that they could not be of such a kind as to be within the definition intended by the Bill. The present Amendment seeks to exclude from the Bill true stories, again on the ground that such stories cannot be intended to be—I believe that is the way my hon. Friend put the argument—with in the meaning 2364 of the Bill. The answer to that was given by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) on the last Amendment.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that by careful selection from the classics—he cited the case of "Pilgrim's Progress"—it would be possible to produce something which would be within the intention of the Bill by a process which might be called the reverse of expurgation. Similarly, by careful selection from real life—for example, from the disgusting crimes which sometimes take place—it would be possible to produce a very typical horror comic.
If the Committee wants evidence of that, there is an example which I have just found in a recently published book. It will be familiar to hon. Members. The example given is of crime detective comics, and at the top is written "Real police cases. "There is cited just the kind of thing which the Bill is designed to prevent.
If the Amendment were accepted, it would open a loophole with serious consequences, for it would prevent the Bill from operating properly. The Bill is designed to frustrate the efforts of people who will certainly take every advantage of any loophole left in it. The Bill must not be wider than necessary for its purpose, and, if it is to be effective at all, it must not have loopholes in it. The Amendment would provide a loophole, and for that reason I advise the Committee to reject it.
§ Mr. Ede
I hope the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin) will feel that at any rate on this occasion his Amendment has not been dealt with cursorily. A serious argument has been addressed to the Committee as to why it should not be accepted.
At a very critical stage in what is generally regarded as the most important trial in the history of mankind, the judge asked "What is truth?" Under this Bill, if the Amendment is accepted, judges will have to ask themselves "What is fiction?" How much of history is actually fact?
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
The prosecution would have to go further than that. It would have to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that it was fiction, and one could never do that.
§ Mr. Ede
That was precisely the point at which I was hoping to arrive, but I do notcomplain that the hon. Member has managed to get me there a little before I might otherwise have done.
I do not want to do other than to suggest that the argument which was adduced by the Under-Secretary is really quite conclusive on this specific Amendment. After all, there has recently been a series on the B.B.C. dealing with some of the historic legends of this country. For example, one programme dealt with the murder of the two children in the Tower and similar occurrences, and one might get involved about whether they were fact. Undoubtedly a great many people believe that the accepted story has no basis in fact at all. I hope that the hon. Member for Oldham, East will think fit to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Sir I. Horobin
I am bound to say that on this occasion the balance of argument is against the Amendment. Before asking leave to withdraw it, however, I want to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that the discussion on this and previous Amendment has shown the difficulty of arriving at a really satisfactory and completely objective definition. Although, as I say, the balance of arguments has been against the Amendment, it seems to me that the case for later Amendments will be enormously strengthened. Those Amendments will bring in the matter of intention.
It has become increasingly clear that we are in an impossible position. Without producing loopholes for these unpleasant people to walk through, we are making it possible to prosecute in cases where we have no desire nor intention of prosecuting. Everything that has been said hitherto strengthens the argument that the Government, with the best will in the world, have not so far succeeded in finding an objective test. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir I. Horobin
I beg to move, in page 1, line 6, after "pictures", to insert,not being reproductions of photographs.2366 I can very quickly put this point to the Committee. All those who have looked at these horror comics know that they do not deal with photographs, and for a very obvious reason, which is that one cannot photograph Dracula and the horrible beast in the lagoon, or whatever it is. Once again, some of us are very much afraid that we may be putting in danger productions of a quite different kind. I refer to the case I gave earlier of a "Picture Post" supplement on Belsen or the Korean war which ought to be published and read by adults, although it is unsuitable for children.
My submission is that we can conceive of photographs being used for the horror comic type of publication only if they are matters of sex. One can photograph, as we all know, extremely unpleasant things dealing with sex, although the photographic material is not the staple diet of the horror comic. If it were to be used by the horror comic, it could be dealt with by the ordinary obscenity laws. We do not require to put ourselves in danger once again by bringing in things which are not really horror comics, because if they are obscene photographs they can be dealt with by the law of obscenity. This Amendment is designed as one more attempt to see that we do not put in peril publications which are not horror comics.
§ Dr. King
I should like to support the Amendment. I know that there can be pretty repulsive photographs, but nothing in photography can approach the kind of thing which we are out to destroy by the Bill. The Amendment would provide some of the safeguards which the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin) has been seeking for quite a time this evening, and I hope that the Home Secretary will sympathetically consider it.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. N. Nicolson
I am sorry to oppose the Amendment, but I do so most strongly. If the Amendment is incorporated in the Bill, it could release a flood of concealed horror and pornography in publications designed for children. Both hon. Members who have spoken have said that one cannot by photography produce some horrific, bestial result as one can by drawings. That is not true. One can, by methods of trick photography and posed 2367 pictures, produce a most horrifying result. Indeed, the tendency in modern magazine illustration is to turn away from the drawing to photography and the posed photograph.
Children are much more easily attracted to photographs than to drawings. They prefer the photographs, and by the Amendment one would be providing a loophole through which a coach-and-pair could be driven. If the Amendment is agreed to, the publishers who have said that they intend to continue publishing horror comics if the Bill is not passed will rub their hands with glee. I most earnestly suggest to the Committee that the Amendment is highly dangerous and would thwart the whole purpose of the Bill.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I regret that I cannot accept my hon. Friend's Amendment. I should say at the outset that in its present form the Amendment is defective, since it might be held to cover works reproduced by photographic methods from an original drawing by an artist, or a so-called artist. In fact, that is one of the methods by which this type of publication is produced and it is for that reason that the words "photographic film" are used in later Clauses. I do not want to give my hon. Friend an answer of a purely technical kind. I should also like to answer him on the merits of the case.
His intention is to prevent proceedings against such documents as illustrated pamphlets drawing attention, for example, to the horrors of Belsen, or similar publications. I do not think that the method he has adopted is satisfactory. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) said, the Amendment would provide a loophole in just the same way as did the previous Amendment. For all practical purposes the Amendments are on all fours with one another.
If it is desired to exclude these particular works, and if it is thought that there is any risk whatever of their coming within the ambit of the Bill, then the right method is to make an Amendment which has already been referred to, and ensure that prosecutions are not brought in ridiculous cases. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will not press the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Foot
I beg to move, in page 1, line, 9, to leave out:(a) the commissions of crimes; or.I think that I can state the case for this Amendment very briefly. It is that in my view the inclusion of the words which I propose to leave out is either superfluous or very dangerous. It could be argued that the words are superfluous on the ground that they are embraced by paragraphs (b) or (c). It is difficult to imagine the commission of crimes which can also not be described as:acts of violence or cruelty; or … incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature.Therefore paragraphs (b) and (c) embrace the commission of crimes.
§ Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)
Under which paragraph—(b) or (c)— would the hon. Gentleman say that the forging of a cheque would fall?
§ Mr. Foot
That question brings me to the second half of my argument. I agree that we can get some forms of crime which might not be included in the definition which I have just quoted, but if there are such crimes I do not see why children should not be taught about them.
Either the words are superfluous or they are dangerous. I should have thought that, on the first ground, this might be considered to be a convenient drafting Amendment, but if it is claimed that there are special kinds of crimes which might be portrayed in these horror comics, and which the Government are particularly eager to catch, we come to the second half of the argument about their being dangerous.
We have had a large number of examples of books or incidents which everyone in the Committee would not like to see prevented by the operation of the Measure. However, I should have thought that many of them were the types of crime which children have been discussing, in one form or another, ever since the world existed. We had mention of Robin Hood a little earlier. Robin Hood was engaged in the commission of crimes. Therefore, a perfectly innocent and proper portrayal of the story of 2369 Robin Hood in pictures might, under the Bill, possibly involve penalties.
It may be argued that we have the words:…. in such a way that the work as a whole would tend to corrupt a child or young person….We all know that these words can be loosely applied, and that is a test which we shall debate later. It is a test which many of us do not like, but I suggest that it would be a simple improvement in the Bill to exclude the reference to the commission of crimes.
The "Dick Barton" stories could portray in a pictorial form something which might be thought to come within the scope of the Bill. I should not have imagined that that was the intention of the Government. We could take all the detective stories. Sherlock Holmes in a pictorial form might possibly be considered by some magistrates to be within the scope of the Bill. Again, I do not think that that was the intention of the Government.
If the Government knocked out the words which I propose to delete, they would not weaken the Measure in any way in dealing with horror comics. Real horror comics are dealt with under paragraphs (b) and (c). In one sense this Act is a test of the desire of the Government to bring the Bill to bear on the purpose which they have always declared to be their purpose, and that is to deal solely with horror comics.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I rise to oppose the Amendment, which I can do briefly. These words are not superfluous, because the whole of the crimes of forgery, theft, robbery and so on are included only in paragraph (a). They would not be:acts of violence or cruelty, or … incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature.On the other limb of the argument, the test under paragraph (a), that is the only heading under which sexual crimes come. Paragraph (b) does not deal with sex at all, nor does paragraph (c). Therefore, if we are to deal with sexual questions they must come under the first paragraph.
I will give an example. One could produce a horror comic quite easily and do it not fictionally but from truth, by telling the story of procuration—the Messina brothers, or some one like that. One could picture the procuration of 2370 young children or young women for carnal purposes or prostitution.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
No, it would not.
I do not think that that is what is meant by the words "repulsive" or "horrible" The word "horrible" means ghoulish, and the word "repulsive" means re-pellant in the sense which one finds the horror comic. I do not regard that as being synonymous with sex or lewdness. I am dealing with lewdness at the moment, and with the type of crime such as procuration or the procuration of young children.
I do not believe that at this point it is necessary to amend the Bill at all. This is a process of giving guidance to the bench or to the jury about the sense in which the words "tend to corrupt" should be translated.
I invite the hon. Member and the Committee to lend their support at a later stage to other Amendments on the Paper when we come to the words "is intended to" It is in that place and not in this that we need to amend the Bill.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
The Amendment would have the effect of removing what are popularly known as crime comics from the purview of the Bill. It is true that there are some perfectly genuine and proper publications of the comic variety which contain stories of crime, but that mere fact in itself would not bring a story or a publication within the scope of the Bill. The Bill applies only towork which consists wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures…portraying crime, violence, cruelty, or horror. I am not using the exact language of the Bill, but that is the effect of it.
In any case, it would be for the court to say whether the effect of the publication would be to tend to corrupt, as defined by the Bill. The fears of the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) that innocent publications might be caught as a result of the inclusion of these words are unfounded; in other words, there is no danger in leaving these words in the Bill.
He argued, alternatively that the words were superfluous; that it was unnecessary to include them in the Bill, because the 2371 commission of crimes was already covered by the other paragraphs. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies), some crime is not violent.
I cannot do better than give an actual example from a horror comic which I have seen. One of these publications, circulated in this country, depicts a child of 10 who murders her father and succeeds—to use an American phrase—in "framing" her mother and her mother's lover, who are electrocuted, thus enabling the child to go and live in luxury with her Aunt Kate. The murder of the father is not shown in any of the pictures, so in that case there would be nothing which would come within the terms of the other paragraphs.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
There is nothing actually depicted which is either cruel or violent. It is all left to the imagination. That, I should think, could be exactly the kind of story we should deplore and wish to prevent by this legislation. I do not think that these words are either dangerous or superfluous, and I hope that the Committee will not accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. Foot
I am not convinced by the statement of the Joint Under-Secretary, although I am sure that he has done his best to convince me. He has given the grounds on which he thinks that these words should be included, but I still cannot agree. I think it improper that we should take action to deal with stories which may be describing other sorts of crime which are notacts of violence or crueltyorincidents of a repulsive or horrible nature.These have been described to children in one form or another ever since the printed word came into being.
I should have thought that a Government, avowedly and determinedly setting out to restrict this Bill, as surely as they can, to dealing with horror comics, would have erred in the direction of saying, "At any rate, we can leave out the whole field of these other kinds of crimes which have 2372 been discussed in children's books ever since there were any children's books."
In fact, the Government have not been prepared to make any concessions about this. I am prepared to withdraw the Amendment, in order that the Committee may get on with the discussion of other Amendments. But I hope very much, from the Amendments of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee—even though they may be withdrawn in order to assist in the progress of the Bill—that the Government will realise that there is a very strong feeling among hon. Members on both sides of the Committee that, so far, they have not indicated a real attempt to carry out the alterations which were argued for during the debate on Second Reading.
We have not yet had an indication from the Government that they are approaching this Committee stage in the spirit in which we hope we shall deal with even more important Amendments later. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mrs. Irene White (Flint, East)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 12, to leave out "as a whole."
I am hoping that this will be the first Amendment accepted by the Government—at least, the first Amendment accepted in proper order, because the Attorney-General very much anticipated the debate by indicating that he would accept what is, I think, the twenty-fifth Amendment on the Paper.
As the Committee knows, I have very strong reservations about much of this Bill, which I think might be improved considerably, and which I hope will be improved by the acceptance of later Amendments. This Amendment is an effort to assist the Government to improve the Bill in the form in which they appear to have conceived it. I cannot understand why, for the particularly narrow purpose of dealing with horror comics, they should allow such latitude by saying that a work, as a whole, must tend to corrupt before any action can be taken against those responsible for it.
Surely it is perfectly easy to conceive of a publication in which the larger part consists of stories about the commission of crimes—"Dick Barton" stories and so on—including pictures of acts of violence. Pirate stories and Wild West stories, in 2373 themselves innocuous enough, might be used as a vehicle—as they could so well be used, if the Bill is left as it is at present drafted—for one or two stories or serials of precisely the kind which we do not wish to have put into the hands of children. If the purpose of the Government is to protect children and young persons from seeing such pictures and reading such stories, I should have thought it in their interests to accept this Amendment making it impossible to bring a real horror element into a publication which contained just sufficient innocuous matter to keep it within the law. Therefore, I hope that the Government will say that it is a commonsense Amendment which should make it easier for them to achieve what they have in view.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
I am delighted that at last I have found an Amendment which I can wholeheartedly support. It seems to me that, when discussing some of the other Amendments, Members have been rather anxious about this Bill and have been seeking to find someway in which to alter it. In this case I think that the words "as a whole" are entirely unnecessary. In fact, they make the intention of the Government weaker. If these words were deleted and the judgment were not upon the work as a whole but on any part of the work, I think that would fulfil the intention of the Government, and I hope that they will accept the Amendment.
§ Dr. King
I would briefly express the hope that the Home Secretary will consider carefully the arguments which my hon. Friends have put forward. I am always afraid of a loophole that the industry may make use of, and under this Clause it would seem to be possible for a crime comic to contain 49 per cent.of the kind of thing which we are out to destroy, provided that there is 51 per cent. of innocuous matter around it. If we took away the words "as a whole" we might remove that possibility.
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
I wish to support the Amendment. I think that the Minister will have very great difficulty in resisting it, particularly in view of his statements on previous Amendments. This is the one Amendment to the Clause which, I think, is of importance. I feel that the whole 2374 purpose of the Bill is to ensure that our young people are safeguarded from anything offensive that might be found in such publications. The purpose of the Bill, which I support wholeheartedly, would certainly be strengthened if the Amendment were accepted.
§ Mr. G. H. Oliver (Ilkeston)
Like my hon. Friends who have already spoken, I think that this is the one Amendment we have had up to now that I can support. I recognise that while the words "as a whole" stand, quite juicy paragraphs or pages could be inserted in some journal portraying crime, violence or cruelty, or incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature which, by reason of these words and because they did not represent the work as a whole, would appear to escape entirely the intentions of the Bill.
If a portion of a work has odium attached to it which this Bill seeks to destroy, that is no reason why an exception should be made in that case. I agree that if it were a comparatively small portion of the publication it would be easy for the publisher to know that it was there. It would be easier for the printers to know that it was there and for the writer or drawer of the illustration to know that it was there, but it would be very difficult for the person selling the thing to discover that it was there, because it would necessitate the seller going through the publication to discover exactly what it contained. I recognise that is a weakness, but, on the other hand, if it contains objectionable features which this Bill seeks to prevent, I can see no logical reason why it should be immune.
§ Mr. Ede
I wish very strongly to support this Amendment. I have not found it possible to support any of the earlier Amendments with any great enthusiasm. I was only convinced about the need for the first Amendment when I heard the third speech of the right hon. and learned Attorney-General on the subject. But, with regard to the others, I have had no doubt that they were intended to weaken the Bill, and I am exceedingly anxious that it should not be thought, without very good reason, that this Committee regards with any enthusiasm at all the trade of the people who have been engaged in publishing these books.
This Bill is aimed at dealing with publications intended for children or 2375 young persons, and the phrase under discussion is one which has been taken out of legislation dealing with general publications, but mainly with those for persons of adult opinions and adult standards of judgment. I suggest that anyone with a knowledge of children knows that one picture of the kind which this Measure is aimed at preventing, being the main subject of the book, can have the most harmful effect on a child's mind, even if it is the only one of that type in the publication.
That is the case which I hope the Government will consider. We are not dealing here with the adult mind but with the child mind. It may even be that one horrific picture of the most detestable kind would make the more impression if, in fact, it were the only one of its kind in a book which was otherwise unobjectionable. That is the case which I wish to put to the Government. It has been well spoken to by my various hon. Friends who have addressed a few remarks in support of the Amendment, and I earnestly hope that the Government will feel that the Bill as drafted, with the inclusion of these three words, fails to that extent from the general purpose that they have set themselves.
§ The Solicitor-General (Sir Harry Hylton-Foster)
Of course the case has been well spoken to, of course it is important, and of course we shall see whether in any way we are taking a wrong view about this matter. I assure the Committee that the difficulty is how we can be fair to the supposed defendant without these words. This issue may be tried, not by experienced magistrates like the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). but by a jury, and the judge sitting with that jury would have to tell them how to view the matter.
If we left out the words "as a whole" and just left it to the members of the jury to take the publication to their room to consider whether it would tend to corrupt, and so forth, they might innocently get down to picking out from the book, not one story, as the hon. Lady suggested, but perhaps one picture, and by concentrating on that one picture they might arrive at a conclusion which was not really fair or just to the defendant.
On the other hand, I should have thought that one could tell them, "Go 2376 and look at this work as a whole, and, if you find one picture which is so horrific or repulsive—so representative of the element of a horror comic—that you regard it as predominant, and as a clue to the whole of the work, you can, if you please, treat the work as something which tends to corrupt."
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Blackburn
It is not a case of asking the jury to look at the work as a whole; the Clause contains the expressionthat the work as a whole would tend to corrupt.That is the danger as I see it.
§ The Solicitor-General
I follow the hon. Member's point, but I beg to assure him that I am not arguing a different point; I am dealing with precisely that point.
It is the work as a whole that the judge wants the jury to look at when deciding whether or not it would tend to corrupt. I should have thought it right to tell the jury that looking at the work as a whole involves looking at some part of the work and assessing its degree of importance in relation to the whole, in the context of which we are speaking, and that if, viewing the work as a whole, they find one part which they think is so predominant and important that it is true to say that the work as a whole would tend to corrupt, they would be applying a just test in the matter.
We are here trying to hit a well-defined target in a well-defined manner, and it is merely a question of providing the right scheme for the purpose. I cannot think that I should be right in commending this Clause to the Committee without the words "as a whole" because I think that it might produce an unjust result. To that extent I should not be prepared to ask the Committee to accept the Amendment. I ask the Committee to accept the view that, as the Clause now stands, it provides the fairest solution. In reply, however, to the request of the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), I undertake that we shall consider as best we may, before the next stage, whether or not the view which I present to the Committee is entirely right, or whether we can make some improvement less than the total omission of the words "as a whole."
§ Mr. Paget
I am somewhat confused here. I cannot understand how a work 2377 which tends to corrupt cannot, as a whole, tend to corrupt. Can the Solicitor-General give me an example of a work which tends to corrupt but which, as a whole, does not tend to corrupt? I cannot conceive how the difference can arise.
§ The Solicitor-General
Does it not arise regularly in relation to allegedly obscene publications? We have had plenty of recent instances where juries have been told, in relation to certain novels, "You must look at this book as a whole and decide if it tends to deprave or corrupt. "It might well be that if one picked out of the book some page, that page would be manifestly corrupting—frankly, what the hon. and learned Gentleman and myself would call dirty—but if one took a fair view of the whole book, the view might be quite different. I think there is a distinction.
One might find a page, a passage, or a picture, which, naked and without adornment, would manifestly tend to corrupt, but one's judgment of the value of the work might be entirely varied if one looked at the work as a whole. It is, therefore, important, when looking at what is being measured as tending to corrupt, that one should look at the whole and not at part of the whole.
§ Mr. Ede
With the greatest of respect, I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman has really directed his mind to the point which we have raised. His retort to my hon. and learned Friend has been entirely in the context of dealing with adults and with publications in respect of which prosecutions have been instituted because, taken as a whole, they tend to corrupt adults.
Adults, one may assume—although in some cases it would be an unwarrantable assumption—can assess a work as a whole; but we are dealing with children, and in the main with rather illiterate young persons. All the evidence goes to show that the great sale for these comics is among children under 12 or 13 years of age, and persons above that age, up to 17 or 18, who are only semi-literate at the best. That type of mind is not capable of assessing a work as a whole when there is one definitely terrifying and corrupting element in it. That is the case which my hon. Friends have put before the Government, and I hope that it will be considered from that point of view.
§ The Solicitor-General
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I did not want to make another speech, but I want to indicate, as not lacking in courtesy to him, that I have not failed to take note of that point. What was in my mind was that in the event of a trial by jury the persons who would have to assess whether a work tended to corrupt a child or a young person would be adults. That is the point.
§ Mr. Ede
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman not neglecting the point that the Attorney-General would have to give his fiat before there could be a prosecution? Let us assume that the Attorney-General—and I hope it will not be long before the hon. and learned Gentleman himself will occupy that position for a few days—gives his fiat. Before he does so he has to look at the book in the light of these words. He would find it difficult to say that one, only one, terrifyingly corrupt picture was a sufficient ground for giving his fiat; whereas it might have the most appalling effects upon a considerable number of children.
§ Mr. N. Nicolson
May I, as a publisher, state my view? My hon. and learned Friend has indicated that he will look at the matter again. [An HON. MEMBER: "Has he?"] He has. I should be perfectly happy to be judged upon the phrase without the words "as a whole." It would give me sufficient safeguards.
The word "work" is a generalisation because it does not refer to any specific part of the work. The word "tend" is a generalisation. The word "corrupt" is a generalisation. These three generalisations would give me sufficient freedom within which to make my own case to a jury, and would allow them to take a reasonable view of the matter. The words "as a whole" simply add a fourth generalisation. I would not be upset if they were excised from the Bill.
In a work of literature it would be difficult to have one's work judged as a whole, but weare talking about pictorial corruption. There, I think, it is perfectly fair to take one page, one sheet of illustrations, and, if it does contain some elements which are corrupting, then the publisher of that sheet should stand the consequences. It is not so easy to take a picture in context as it is a phrase or a paragraph of text. Therefore, with- 2379 out great enthusiasm for this Amendment but without any strong feeling of opposition to it, I would concede that there is a good deal in the arguments advanced from the other side of the Committee, and I should be pleased if my hon. and learned Friend could accept them.
§ Mr. Houghton
As this seems to be of those occasions when one can speak one's own mind without getting into too much trouble, I propose to express a view differing from that of most of my hon. Friends who have spoken on this side.
I propose to look at this, as the Solicitor-General suggested, from the point of a member of the jury. Even if these words are not put into the Bill, I believe that it will be necessary for the court to use them in explaining the law to the jury. After all, if the words are not in, how will the Clause read? It will read… in such a way that the work would tend to corrupt …Even to a reasonably intelligent person like myself, it would be necessary for the judge to say that the work must be interpreted as meaning not just one isolated piece of the work but the work as a whole. In explaining this particular phrase he would drift almost unconsciously into those words.
I agree with the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) that one picture or one group of pictures in the work as a whole may be so horrible that they would predominate in the impression which would be made on the mind of the child, but I cannot conceive of a work as a whole that was innocuous as to the most part but was offensive and corrupting as to a small part. Surely there would be some general theme, a general presentation of whatever the book was trying to get across. I think also that, in certain circumstances, there would, in looking at the work as a whole, be some mitigation of the offence that a particular picture might give.
It is very difficult to theorise about this and to think of the hypothetical context of a book which might contain some part of objectionable material which, on some kind of quantitative analysis, might not be the work as a whole. In explaining 2380 this to those who have to judge, I think it would be presented in this way: "You must look at this thing as a whole, of a piece, and if part of it predominates in your mind as having a possible influence on the mind of a child, then the work as a whole has to be judged by reference to that particular part of it."
If the Solicitor-General could think of words which could replace these and which would be an improvement—I confess I cannot think of any at the moment—the purpose of this phrase might be served. I do not think that it would improve the Bill to leave the words out altogether.
§ Mr. Cole
I should like to ask the Solicitor-General seriously to consider the possibility of inserting words with a view to their effect on the Bill as a whole. During Second Reading I drew attention to this point in this Clause. I quoted the example of a clever publisher who would take an existing horror comic of so many pages, put it in a larger publication, the rest of the new publication being of such entirely innocuous matter that the work as a whole could not be regarded as corrupting. It would have exactly the same effect, because the people would not bother to read the innocuous matter.
If we are not careful about these words "as a whole," I am afraid that what we are trying to do will be nullified by legal niceties in a court. I do not see why we cannot use simple English to convey what we want to do. I suggested on Second Reading that we should use the words "in such a way that the stories would tend to corrupt." What is wrong with that? We are, after all, talking about stories, not written matter. Why not simply say what our object is? Our object is to ensure that stories which tend to corrupt shall not be conveyed to children and young persons. Why should we say "the work as a whole"? Why not use the word "stories"?
I am afraid of these words "as a whole. "An unscrupulous publisher could insert a horror comic in a much larger work, an innocuous book, and the book would be bought for the horror comic portion. He would not lose anything in sales. Books are today sometimes bought for certain portions of them. It would 2381 be difficult for a fair judge and jury, considering a book of 60 pages of innocuous matter but containing five pages of the sort of noxious matter we have in mind, to say that the book "as a whole" tended to corrupt. If one prosecution brought against such a work were thrown out, other publishers would promptly follow the suit of the publisher who won that case. I do suggest that my hon. and learned Friend should consider some such words as I have suggested.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Erdington)
I hope that the Solicitor-General will consider this part of the Clause again, because it seems to me quite clear that without the words "as a whole" it would fulfil the purpose the Government intend. Let me read it without the words "as a whole":… in such a way that the work would tend to corrupt a child or young person….It is not a question of one photograph or a few words taken out of their context, but a question of the work. I agree with the hon. Members who say that there is no real difference between the passage with the words "as a whole" and the passage without the words "as a whole."
A jury, considering the Clause with these excessive words, may ask, "What is the object of having these words 'as a whole,' when already the passage speaks of the work tending to corrupt?" The Solicitor-General knows very well how the mind of a jury works, and he knows that a jury may say—I do not say that every jury would in every case—that those words mean that unless the whole or the bulk of the work is corrupting no offence is committed. I do ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to consider the matter again.
§ Mr. R. Bell
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) is under the impression that every picture tells a story. He put forward the point of view that every individual picture tells a story, and I do not think that that is quite correct in the interpretation of the Bill. I thought that we were all fairly clear as to what we wanted from the Bill. We wanted to strike at horror comics and nothing else. Therefore, every form of words which provides a distinction between horror comics and other publications exactly fulfils our purpose. The words of the Bill help that purpose.
2382 Hon. Members have been speaking about the possible corrupting effect of one picture or one sheet. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South said that five pages out of 60 might be corrupting. We are getting a long way from horror comics and are beginning to think of books.
§ Mr. Blackburn
Would the hon. Member not agree that if the words "as a whole" remain in the Bill it will be quite possible for the people who are now publishing horror comics to continue publication, making 51 per cent. of the contents unobjectionable and 49 per cent. objectionable, and get away with it?
§ Mr. Bell
That is most certainly not true. Let us consider the purpose for which the words were inserted. The Government, in drafting the Bill, obviously wanted to be very sure that we should confine our attention to horror comics. It would be quite wrong to convict someone because one picture in the middle of the book was horrifying. The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) gave a good example of that when he referred to a picture of Christian fighting with Apollyon, which he said was horrific, and might have profound and unfortunate effects on a child, and tend to corrupt.
The Bill is expressly framed so as not to strike at that sort of thing. One could imagine "The Pilgrim's Progress" pictorially represented so as to bring it inside the definition in the Bill, that is, a story told mainly in pictures. Some people might think that perhaps 5 per cent. of the pictures were horrific, but that would not bring them within the scope of the Bill, because the general tendency of the work was a moral one and did not tend to corrupt. Therefore, although the pictures themselves might be horrific, the work as a whole would not be a horror comic within the meaning of what we are trying to strike at through the Bill.
2383 We have all seen horror comics or know of them at second hand. There is no horror comic that I have seen or of which I know which would not be struck at by the Bill, and there is nothing which is not a horror comic which the form of words in the Bill would not exclude. Certain hon. Members opposite and my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South have said that if we strike out the words "as a whole" we do not alter the meaning legally. If that is so, there is no justification for striking them out. [Hon. Members: "Or for leaving them in."] There is a merit in leaving them in. We make doubly sure by keeping them in, and in the Bill we want to make doubly sure that we do not strike at anything which is not a horror comic.
Let us emphasise that all that we are aiming at is a work which "as a whole" tends to corrupt, and that anything else which does not as a whole tend to corrupt, and which may indeed have a high moral purpose, should not be in any peril from the Bill because that work contains rather dreadful pictures. Hilaire Belloc's "Cautionary Tales" or something like that does not tend to corrupt, and because there are some ghoulish pictures in it, that does not matter. I look on these words as a sort of assurance which I should not like to see dropped from the Bill.
§ Mr. Paget
I have an objection to putting into a Bill words which mean nothing when that Bill is to be handled by the law courts, because the people who handle the Bill will be deceived into thinking that those words mean something. The words "as a whole," I respectfully submit, mean absolutely nothing at all. It makes not the slightest difference whether they are left in or taken out.
Here we have the wordswould tend to corrupt.If there is a book many inches thick, and it contains one single picture that tends to corrupt, then it is a book that tends to corrupt, although 999 pages of it may be perfectly innocent. On the other hand, if there is one page which shows a highly successful crime and taken alone would tend to corrupt, but 2384 on the next page is shown a criminal being successfully caught and brought to justice, then that work is not a work that tends to corrupt. Whether these words "as a whole" are in or not does not matter a solitary chipolata. If these words are unnecessary, as I say they are, I would ask the Solicitor-General to take them out.
§ Mr. R. Bell
Would the hon. and learned Gentleman consider this question? Has he not completely destroyed his argument by referring to the next page and implying that the picture is to be understood in its whole context? If the total context is material then the words "as a whole" carry us a very long distance.
§ Mr. Paget
Let me deal with that point. Let us think of the phrasewould tend to corrupt.If the work, in page 1, provides the solution to a successful crime, and in page 2 shows the chap being caught, that is not a work which would tend to corrupt, and whether there is "as a whole" or not in the Bill does not make a sausage of difference.
§ Sir Hugh Linstead (Putney)
I think that the Committee is in some danger, in its desire to destroy the horror comic, of getting the size of the problem out of perspective. I think I am right in saying that the horror comic is already dead, and that, in fact, it is no longer possible to buy one. As I said on Second Reading, the purpose of this Bill has, in fact, been achieved, and its success will be judged by the fact that probably no prosecutions will ever have to take place under it. That is what I suspect all of us would hope.
I think that the danger is that, in taking out the words "as a whole", we shall be depriving the publishers and the other people struck at in Clause 2 of the whole defence provided by the last four lines of Clause 1. If "as a whole" were taken out, and each particular object or picture or succession of pictures could be looked at by themselves, then it would stand to reason that paragraphs (a), (b) or (c) in Clause 1 would automatically be caught up by the remaining words of the Clause, and those words, which are supposed to be a defence, would no longer serve as one.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ There are, after all, what are commonly called Westerns, cowboy and Indian tales, any one of which may, in an isolated picture, portray an act of violence. Surely we do not want to strike at a whole series of that type of publication on which many of us were, so to speak, brought up, and which anyone would expect a jury to look at as a whole in order to decide whether or not the publisher should be convicted.
§ Surely the Government are justified in retaining "as a whole" if there is any doubt at all whether the words add or do not add anything to the Clause. We have had legal opinion from both sides of the Committee saying that perhaps the words add something and perhaps they do not. If there is a doubt of that kind, the words should be retained.
§ There is a danger that in our anxiety to destroy the horror comic we may become rather fussy adults and tend to forget that children have very much more resilient and less morbid minds than most of us are tending to credit them with at the moment. I very much hope that we shall rely on the resilience of the children rather than on our own attitude, in theory, to some of these things. I certainly urge the Government to keep in the Bill a perfectly fair defence, to which bona fide artists, publishers, and so on, are surely entitled.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
While I do not wish to take a particularly strong line against the Amendment, I agree more with what my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) and the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) have said than with most of the other points which have been put forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) is clear that she- is putting forward this strengthening proposal in relation to a censorship Bill only because it is a particular sort of Bill which, in her view, deals only with pictorial publications. In her opinion, that gives a very special connotation to the words which she has used. That may be so, and there may be some force in the argument.
I find it difficult to agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) that the words "as a whole" could not possibly make any difference at all. I agree with the 2386 hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South on this. He made the case against it by saying that one could have a situation in which one picture, considered alone, might corrupt, but if one turned over the page and read what came after, it might not corrupt. What is of importance is whether the courts, juries or anybody else, will be instructed to turn over the page or whether they will be encouraged not to do so.
§ Mr. Jenkins
That may be so, but—I do not want again to incur the wrath of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) in getting too wide of the subject—after all, the only parallel in existing law to which we can turn in considering what will be the practical effects of what we are doing is the existing law relating to obscene publications. It is impossible to study a number of the cases of obscene libel which have occurred without taking the view that there is room for a very substantial difference of approach according to whether one considers a work as a whole or isolated passages in it.
There is no doubt a tall that certain prosecutions have been brought and have been sustained on the basis of isolated passages. Therefore, I cannot accept for one moment the view of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton that it makes no difference at all. It is still possible to see the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East that there is a certain difference, because one is not dealing with a continuous novel but with something which should be put into its component parts. However, that is a different argument from saying that there is nothing in these words.
I can see some point in what my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East said, but this is one of the few respects in which the Bill moves in a slightly more liberal direction and I would have a little doubt about taking out one of the few liberal phrases that we now have in it. I recognise that there is a distinction with pictorial publications, but I am not sure that it is strong enough to make us take out these words which go in a liberal direction. Nor do I think that the first 2387 Amendment we make should be one that is not in a liberal direction, but towards a tightening up.
I am entirely unconvinced by the assurances of the Solicitor-General. I am sorry about that. He said he would look into the matter again, but he said it in a tone that did not carry much weight with me. I appreciate the feelings of my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins), my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) and the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) who are very much concerned with the amendment of the law in another direction. With that, as I made clear in the Second Reading debate, I am in complete and entire sympathy, and I most emphatically agree that the law of obscenity should be amended in the direction they wish and that for a work of art, a novel or a publication of that sort, it is quite wrong to deal with it other than as a whole.
But the Government's whole argument on this Bill is that they are not dealing with works of that kind. That was the whole point of the Solicitor-General's speech. The Government say that they are dealing with a specific type of publication which is not necessarily produced as a whole but which is very often a conglomeration of individual items not necessarily connected one with another. For that reason, I urge that to leave these words in the Clause is likely to have an effect on the mind of the jury which would be quite wrong. It brings a quantitative criterion into this matter which is quite unsuitable in the circumstances. The position is perfectly well met if these words "as a whole" are left out, because, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said, the effect we are really trying to reach is in the phrase "that the work might tend to corrupt." He would leave out the words which would make any jury say that they must look at this and see—
§ Sir I. Horobin
The hon. Lady has again used the word "jury," which has been used on this and other occasions in different parts of the Committee. From where does she get the idea that the person accused will ever be taken before a jury? This is a case of summary jurisdiction.
I am sorry. I was misled by a learned argument. There is a stage in the proceedings where a jury might be asked—
Whether it is a jury or a magistrate, whoever is trying to deal with this, if these words "as a whole" remain in, will tend to look at the publication and say that there are three, four, five or six stories, or serials, which are perfectly all right and therefore he must not do anything about the other one or two which might have a most depraving effect upon children.
Those of us who have had anything to do with children and their reading will agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that children would not look at it as a whole. Their attention would be concentrated on the one or two items which might well have been put in for the precise purpose that we are all trying to combat by this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) tells me that already in the United States the traditional Western story magazines are being invaded by precisely the kind of thing which we are out to prevent. Therefore, it seems to me that the Amendment is of substance.
If the Government are trying to deal only with the narrow point of horror comics, we should not be misled by arguments that would certainly apply to other types of publications but not to the types of publication about which we are trying to do something effective. Therefore, I am unable to be satisfied with the assurance given by the Solicitor-General, and I do not wish to withdraw the Amendment.
2389 Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 124, Noes 82.2389
|Division No. 50]||AYES||[9.26 p.m.|
|Altken, W. T.||Cower, H. R.||Nield, Basil (Chester)|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Graham, Sir Fergus||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Grimond, J.||Oakshott, H. D.|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J.||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||O'Neill, Hon. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Page, R. G.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hn. R. (Blackburn,W.)||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Barber, Anthony||Heath, Edward||Pitt, Miss E. M.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)||Hill, John (S. Norfolk)||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Hirst, Geoffrey||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.|
|Black, C. W.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Bossom, Sir A. C.||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence||Redmayne, M.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Browne, Jack (Govan)||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.||Ridsdale, J. E.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T.||Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.)||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Bullard, D. G.||Hyltem-Foster, Sir H. B. H.||Russell, R. S.|
|Campbell, Sir David||Iremonger, T. L.||Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Scott, Sir Donald|
|Clarke, Col. Sir Ralph (E. Grinstead)||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Sharpies, Maj. R. C.|
|Cole, Norman||Kerby, Capt. H. B.||Shepherd, William|
|Colegate, Sir Arthur||Kerr, H. W.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Lambton, Viscount||Sutcliffe, Sir Harold|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hn. H. F. C.||Leather, E. H. C.||Teeling, W.|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Thompson, Lt-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)|
|Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Turton, R. H.|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Linstead, Sir H. N.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Drewe, Sir C.||Lloyd-George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G.||Vosper, D. F.|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|Duthie, W. S.||Longden, Gilbert||Wall, Major Patrick|
|Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|Errington, Sir Eric||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Fell, A.||McKibbin, A. J.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Finlay, Graeme||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Fisher, Nigel||Macpherson, Nial (Dumfries)||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Marples, A. E.||Wills, G.|
|Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale)||Medlicott, Sir Frank||Woollam, John Victor|
|Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok)||Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.|
|Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Neave, Airey||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Garner-Evans, E. H.||Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)||Mr. Kaberry and|
|Glover, D||Mr. E. Wakefield.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Hubbard, T. F.||Pryde, D. J.|
|Blackburn, F.||Hudson, James, (Ealing, N.)||Ross, William|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Janner, B.||Silverman, Julius (Erdington)|
|Bowden, H. W.||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Bowles, F. G.||Jones, David (Hartlepool)||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke-on-Trent)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Keenan, W.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney. S.)||King, Dr. H. M.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Lawson, G. M.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Clunie, J.||Lever Leslie (Ardwick)||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Collick, P. H.||MacColl, J. E.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Collins, V. J.||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||McLeavy, F.||Viant, S. P.|
|Crosland, C. A. R.||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Wallace, H. W.|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Manuel, A. C.||Wells, William (Walsall)|
|Donnelly, D. L.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||West, D, G.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Mitchison, G. R.||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)||Oliver, G. H.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Fernyhough, E.||Orbach, M.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Fienburgh, W.||Oswald, T.||Wilcook, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Gibson, C. W.||Owen, W. J.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Hale, Leslie||Paget, R. T.||Willey, Frederick|
|Hannan, W.||Palmer, A. M. F.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Hastings, S.||Pargiter, G. A.||Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)|
|Hayman, F. H.||Plummer, Sir Leslie||Willis, E. G.|
|Herbison, Miss M.||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Yates, V. F.|
|Hobson, C. R.||Proctor, W. T.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hoy, J. H.||Mr. Holmes and Mr. A. Allen.|
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
I beg to move, in page 1, line 12, to leave out "tend to."
It would obviously be unwise for me to say that I take the view that this is the most important Amendment that we have yet discussed. May I say that it is the most important Amendment of those in my name which we have yet discussed and that we are about to discuss?
This is an Amendment—I make no bones about it—which seeks to some extent to limit the operation of the Bill, but I hope that I shall not, and that any other hon. Members who support me on it will not, automatically be accused of trying to wreck the Bill. I think that it was generally understood when the Bill was brought forward for Second Reading that the Government were moving with great caution in this matter, and that they were very anxious to look as favourably as they could upon any Amendments which, while they would not limit the ability of the Bill to catch horror comics, at which the Bill was aimed, would, none the less, try to prevent certain difficulties associated with any censorship Bill if it should be drawn in too wide a way. This is one of those Amendments.
As the Home Secretary knows, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) knows, some of us have doubts, not about legislating against horror comics—in principle, I am not against that at all and I wish to make that absolutely clear—but about the basic principles on which the Bill is drafted, and this is one of a number of Amendments which I shall move in order to try to change some of those principles. I hope that in doing that I shall not automatically be accused of trying to wreck the Bill.
This is not in any way intended to be a wrecking Amendment, nor are the Amendments which follow intended to be wrecking Amendments. They are Amendments intended to allow the Bill to catch horror comics at which, we were told earlier, this Bill was exclusively directed; although we have heard certain disturbing sentiments from some hon. Members indicating that they would be quite glad to see the Bill catch a large number of other publications as well.
As I say, this Amendment is not in any way a wrecking Amendment. It is intended to allow the Bill to continue 2392 to deal with the specific object at which it is directed, but it is intended to subject what is, by its very nature, a difficult Bill, because it is a censorship Bill, to searching scrutiny, and, if possible, to make its dangers as little as possible.
This Amendment, to leave out "tend to," would, if it were carried, have the effect of making the relative part of the Clause read as follows:"in such a way that the work as a whole would corrupt a child or young person into whose hands it might fall …instead of,in such a way that the work as a whole would tend to corrupt a child or young person into whose hands it might fall …To that extent, the Amendment, if carried, would mark a move away—not a complete move away but an important move away—from the words of the relevant passage in the Hickling judgment of 1868. That, it seems to me, would be a desirable thing to do because the Hickling judgment, as I tried to indicate in arguments which I put before the House on Second Reading, and with which I will not attempt to weary the Committee at this stage, has caused a great deal of trouble.
One of my principal objections to the method by which this Bill seeks to achieve its thoroughly worthy object is that it lifts the language of Hickling and elevates it from a judgment to part of a Statute. That does not seem to me to be a very worthy or a very desirable thing to do.
It is not at all clear to me why we should have the words "tend to" in the Bill, except for the reason that they are part of the Hickling judgment. I very much doubt whether, if the words "tend to" were not in that judgment, it would ever have occurred to the Government or to the draftsman to insert them in this Bill. I hope that they were not put in merely on the ground that they have become common form.
I hope, too, that we shall hear from the Home Secretary for the first time, because I think that we should be very glad to have him contribute to our debate on the Bill, and to hear from him exactly what purpose it is thought that the words "tend to" will serve if they are kept in the Clause. What, for instance, will the Clause mean with those words in it which it would not mean if they were excluded?
2393 If one looks at the words "tend to" in the Oxford Dictionary, one finds a number of different meanings given to them. But the meaning which one could best apply in this context is "to be apt or inclined" to corrupt children or young persons into whose hands these publications might fall. That is really a very vague and roundabout test.
Is it really too much to expect, if people are to be convicted on a criminal charge because of publications with which they have been associated in one way or another, that the prosecution, which does not have to show that the publication is intended for young persons, should have to show, not merely that there would be a tendency for it to corrupt those into whose hands it might fall, but that it would.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields implied, in his speech on the previous Amendment, that that was in the Bill, but there is nothing in the Bill to imply that a publication might "tend to" to corrupt. There has to be the possibility that it might fall into the hands of the young. If one is merely dealing with the position in which something is apt or inclined to corrupt, it is really very difficult indeed to believe that the decision is left much more than a matter of taste on the part of the magistrates, or, if the case comes before a higher court, on the part of the judge and jury.
It is possible that these words do not serve any particular purpose, that they are unnecessary, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) thought were the words "as a whole" which we were discussing on a previous Amendment. In that case, there can be no point in having them in the Clause. But if they merely serve the purpose of making what has to be shown a much more roundabout, vague and indirect affair, and of making it very much more difficult for the prosecution to proceed on something which is not at all clear, then I suggest to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, who, I hope, is himself going to reply to this Amendment, that he should consider whether he cannot break away from this rigid Hickling judgment, which has done a great deal of harm, and take out these words, leaving something more clear and 2394 more definite on which the prosecution can proceed.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Bell
I support the arguments which have been put forward by the hon. Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins). The words "tend to" tend to occur in Acts of Parliament, and it is rather difficult to know whether they materially affect the meaning or whether they are merely stylistic. If the words do not add to the sense, I prefer the expression "would corrupt," but I am inclined to think that they do add to the sense, and that they thereby lower the standard of corruption which the Bill imposes, and which I think we should keep high, because this is a Bill to restrict liberty. The words "tend to" are too vague, and we should not put people to the peril of such a vague interpretation.
This Measure will be interpreted in a great many courts, usually before magistrates, and these words, being very loose in their meaning, could expose people to a very uncertain degree of peril. We have listened twice to the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) talking about "The Pilgrim's Progress," and he has expressed the view that the picture of Christian grappling with Apollyon tends to corrupt the young.
§ Mr. Bell
The right hon. Gentleman says that it did corrupt the young. I could not wish for a better example because, if he adheres to the view that the picture of Christian grappling with Apollyon does corrupt youth, what are we to expect magistrates to think might tend to corrupt? There is my case made for me, and I need add nothing to it.
§ Mr. K. Robinson
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins), I want to make it quite clear that I am in favour of legislating against horror comics and that none of the Amendments which he has put down—to some of which I have added my name—seeks in any way to wreck the Bill. Our sole aim is to make it a better Bill and to help the Government in their express intention to limit the application of the Measure to horror comics.
The purpose of the Amendment—which I hope the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will not consider an unim- 2395 portant one—is to take out two words which have an extremely unhappy history in the world of obscene libel. As my hon. Friend reminded the Committee, they represent the key phrase in the Hickling judgment, which has bedevilled the whole question for the last 90 years. They give far too much latitude for differences of opinion, differences of view and differences of taste on the part of magistrates. It may be that, strictly speaking, they add nothing to the Clause—in which case they should go—but now that we have come to the point of legislating upon this matter of horror comics it seems a pity to take this one phrase, which has done so much harm, and enshrine it in statutory form in a limited Bill dealing with one facet of this topic.
I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will pay heed to the pleas which have been made to him in this matter and will show a little more readiness to accept the view of the Committee than he has done in the case of earlier Amendments.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Major Gwilym Lloyd-George)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) for drawing attention to the fact that I am speaking for the first time in this debate. I can assure the hon. Member that had we proceeded a little more quickly he would have had that pleasure much earlier. That is a fact for which I cannot take any responsibility. I agree that this is slow progress for a Bill which had the unanimous approval of the House. However, we may get on a little more quickly later.
Let me say a word or two appropriate to the Amendment. We have done our best to draft the Bill as tightly as possible. We have only one objective, which is to deal with horror comics. That is why the Bill is very strictly drawn and it is one of the reasons why we hesitated to accept the previous Amendment, which would have widened the Bill, which we do not want to do.
The hon. Member for Stechford and his hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson), said they hoped to get a better reception for some of their Amendments than they had had up to 2396 now. I will deal with that point later, but I must say now that many Amendments on the Order Paper are designed to make it more difficult to prove an offence under the Bill. That is something which, when I look back at the general agreement there was about the purpose of the Bill, I am not anxious to encourage.
I would again remind the House that the Bill is designed to stop horror comics. Fears were expressed on the Second Reading, and have been repeated in the Committee, that the powers under the Bill would be used to suppress other publications. I have said again and again that those fears are greatly exaggerated. The wording of Clause 1 gives what we intended, a very narrow definition of the publications we are after.
Reference has been made today to what might happen to a publication which printed a magazine article on the horrors of Belsen. From the very narrow terms of Clause 1 it is clear that a single article of that sort appearing in a magazine, even if it were told in pictures, would not be sufficient to bring the magazine within the scope of the Bill.
I would remind hon. Members of the words of the Clause, because they are tremendously important. They have been misunderstood by more than one hon. Member today. The words show that the work must consistwholly or mainly of stories told in pictures";not, be it noted, "wholly or mainly of pictures." There is a very great difference between those two phrases. Therefore, the scope of the Bill is, as we intended it to be, very narrow indeed.
It has been suggested that the terms of the Bill are too narrow and ought to apply to a publication which contained any pictorial matter which would tend to corrupt young children. That was raised, I think, on the Amendment before the previous one, and has been said on one or two occasions. In drafting the Bill the Government deliberately avoided that. As I said just now, the Bill is designed specifically to deal with what we know as horror comics.
I have made it clear before, and I want to make it clear again now, that it is not the purpose of this Bill to suppress publications other than those at which it is aimed. There are four main ways of doing 2397 what we seek to do. The first is by very carefully defining the class of publication to which the Bill applies. The second is by requiring the consent of some central authority for prosecution. The third is by limiting the duration of the Bill itself; and the fourth is by adding a new ingredient to the offence, which would necessarily make it more difficult to prove.
As to the first method, I believe, that the definition contained in lines 5 to 11 in page 1 does define the publication within very narrow limits, but I am quite prepared to consider any suggestion that may be put forward with that object. I only wish to repeat that the object of the Government in drawing the Bill in its present form was to make it as narrow as possible, having only that one objective in mind.
The second method, that of requiring the consent of some central authority for prosecution, is followed in an Amendment in page 1, line 21 in the name of the hon. Member for Stechford, which my right hon. and learned Friend indicated earlier he was prepared to accept. The hon. Member for Stechford made some reference to the fact that that was done so early. The Amendment could not possibly have come earlier than where it is, and the sole purpose of my right hon. and learned Friend was to try to meet some of the hon. Gentleman's points. We thought that his fears would be allayed by the knowledge that the consent of some central authority would be required for prosecution.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
I did not, of course, in any way object to the Attorney-General announcing that he was going to accept the Amendment. All I said, and say again, was that the mere announcement from the Treasury Bench that one Amendment on the third page of the printed Amendments was to be accepted could not be regarded by those hon. Members having many Amendments on the Paper as being a great degree of concession.
§ Major Lloyd-George
I am very surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman say that. I should have thought it a great concession. Indeed, from what I heard during the Second Reading, I think it is a major concession. We thought it a courtesy to the House and to hon. Gentlemen to announce it in order to save hon. Gentlemen talking more than necessary. 2398 Obviously, we are disappointed. We thought it might be of assistance, because we know that hon. Gentlemen do not wish to talk more than they can possibly help. That has been my experience over a number of years. The alternative would have been for my right hon. and learned Friend to wait until consideration was given to the Amendment to Clause 2, in page 1, line 21.
The third method—limiting the duration of the Bill—was raised several times on Second Reading, and there are a number of Amendments about it. Here again I can say that the Government would look with very much sympathy on the ideas contained in those Amendments. The fourth method really brings me to the point of this Amendment. I apologise for going into this at some length, but it is a matter of tremendous importance.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ The fourth method is that adopted in the Amendment now under discussion and several others, that is, to add a new ingredient to the offence itself, which would make it necessarily more difficult to prove. Its obvious disadvantage is that not only would it lessen the risk of unreasonable proceedings—if there is such a risk—but it would make the Bill much less effective for the purpose of preventing the distribution of harmful publications, which is the purpose of the Bill.
§ If the Committee can be satisfied that the scope of the Bill is sufficiently limited as regards the class of publications to which it applies, and if the Committee is satisfied as to the circumstances in which proceedings may be undertaken and as to the duration of the Bill itself, then the essential question, it seems to me, the Committee has to consider is whether it is necessary, or, indeed, desirable, that the courts' powers should be so hedged round with restrictions that it will become exceedingly difficult to establish the guilt of persons engaged in the business of producing and distributing harmful publications.
§ Many of the Amendments on the Order Paper would, if they were accepted, make the Bill so full of holes that it would not be worth proceeding with. I want to make that plain to the Committee. One by one they may not be so bad, but, if they were accepted as a whole, they would whittle away the power of the Bill. When 2399 we have taken so much trouble to make the Bill as narrow as possible we simply cannot afford to take away any of the power that it contains.
§ It may be said, perhaps, of this Amendment and others, such as that relating to intent, which is a very important matter indeed, that they are of importance in the amendment of the law relating to obscenity generally. But the law relating to obscene publications applies to any form of publication and is not restricted to pictorial publications of a kind which, to put it at its lowest, is not a very likely medium for the expression of ideas, or likely to constitute serious adult reading.
§ It may be that there are features in the law regarding obscenity which require amendment, and, as the Committee knows, I am giving very careful consideration to the proposals put forward by the Authors' Society, which have been incorporated in the Bill which the hon. Member for Stechford introduced under the Ten Minutes Rule some time ago. I want to impress upon the Committee that we are not at this moment considering amendment of the obscenity law. The Government's view is that it would not be right to introduce into this Bill provisions designed to make it more difficult to enforce it and which, whatever their merits in the wider field of obscenity, are unnecessary for the purpose of preventing abuse of the powers contained in this Bill.
§ I think that some hon. Gentlemen are apt to forget what the Bill is for. This Bill is to protect children and young people. Sometimes, when I hear some hon. Gentlemen speak, I fear they are apt to forget—I am not suggesting any one disregards it—the main purpose of the Bill. In talking about obscenity and so on, they are apt to forget what the purpose of the Bill is. We are agreed about that purpose. There is an overwhelming majority in favour of it. There was no vote on the Bill on Second Reading. The purpose is to protect children and young people.
§ I say to the Committee with all sincerity that there is no real and practical need for these Amendments, which would make that object more difficult to achieve if they were accepted. I will do no more than repeat what I have already said—that in my judgment this Amendment, and other Amendments which follow, will 2400 do nothing other than weaken the powers of the Bill, and I hope, therefore, that the Committee will not accept them.
§ Mr. Ede
The Home Secretary used a phrase at the beginning of his speech about general agreement. I hope that it will be realised that those words must relate to discussion on Second Reading. The Bill was not introduced under any general agreement, before it was published, that it would be acceptable to anyone other than the Government. As far as I know, it was not shown to anyone other than the Government before it was introduced. Therefore, it cannot be said that the Bill was introduced as a result of any general agreement. But a general agreement with its main purpose was expressed on Second Reading, although that was hedged round by varying degrees of a desire for safeguards mentioned by hon. Members on both sides.
I want to make that clear, because I should not like it to be thought that hon. Members who have been critical of the Bill have been departing from any assurance given before the Bill was introduced that an easy passage was assured for it.
§ Major Lloyd-George
I was not intending that. I was rather thinking of the right hon. Gentleman's own words when he spoke earlier today about the unanimity with which the Bill was received. I never for a moment supposed that that was to be taken as applying to all its provisions.
§ Mr. Ede
That is fair, but I still feel that the Bill is being used as a pacemaker for another Bill, and I am not pledging myself to support any of the proposals in the other Bill. Nobody must assume that because speeches are made in certaindirections on this Bill that that pledges anyone as to what he is going to do if the other Bill comes along, because that is a Bill which raises a very great deal of controversy, far beyond anything that is involved in this Bill.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said that the Amendment does not wreck the Bill but fills it so full of holes that it will sink.
§ Mr. Ede
This is one of the many holes which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman thinks might be torpedoed into the hull of the Bill and might cause it to sink. Whether it is wrecked on the rocks or caused to sink, it becomes a total casualty in either event, and I will certainly not support any Amendment which will have that effect. I have been in the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's place and I would regard this as a wrecking Amendment, for how is one going to prove that a thing positively would corrupt? Has one to say, "Six children have been before a juvenile court and they said that they were led to do this thing through reading this particular comic"? If one cannot point to anybody who has been actually corrupted and will own up to it, how will one prove that the comic would corrupt?
§ Mr. K. Robinson
One cannot prove either that a thing would tend to corrupt. One can only express an opinion upon it.
§ Mr. Ede
Very well, now let us come to that. What will tend to corrupt may very well be within the competence of people who have been associated with children, and I hope that the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell), as the years go by, will have acquired the personal experience which will enable him to deal with that particular point.
§ Mr. R. Bell
I hope I shall never have the experience of the right hon. Gentleman who has admitted tonight that he has himself been corrupted.
§ Mr. Ede
But I have managed to reform; which is more than the hon. Gentleman is ever likely to do, judging by the performances he has put up tonight.
I suggest that to leave the words "would corrupt" in that positive form is to make it impossible to get a conviction. We all start off with the idea that we want to stop these publications. My hon. Friends who have criticised this Bill so vehemently tonight have not put forward a single constructive suggestion to say how, if this Bill is defeated, they would secure that a conviction could be obtained. Let us be quite sure of this. If they are relying on my hon. Friend's Bill, it will be a 2402 very long time before any Government brings forward a Bill of that kind. I venture to say that in the end the law of obscenity, if it is going to be amended, will be amended as the law on divorce was amended, by a Private Members' Bill which managed to secure in a good deal of cross voting in the House and in Committee the support of the House as a whole.
These are the kind of things that Governments do not like to tackle, because it involves them in controversy with their own supporters and they do not desire unnecessarily to get involved in that sort of thing. I believe that the horror comic is a great evil and has been a great evil in this country during the past three or four years. The opinion of all the teachers with whom I have spoken is that this is an evil that ought to be dealt with.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman knows that, although I had one or two conversations with him, I never suggested that he should bring in a Bill of this magnitude. I had hoped that a Bill dealing with sadism would probably have been sufficient to deal with it, but the Government have had the courage to bring in this Bill and, as it received a unanimous Second Reading, they are entitled to expect the support of hon. Members or constructive alternatives.
Clearly this Amendment is not a constructive alternative. It is an attempt to give a preliminary canter to an amendment of the law of obscenity that they hope will be in another race which will not take place this Session or quite possibly this century.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
The right hon. Gentleman explained how difficult it would be to get a conviction on a charge of publishing works which would corrupt a child. May I remind him that, in fact, that was precisely the charge upon which Socrates stood trial. Quod juventutem corrumperet, not that he tended to corrupt the youth but that he did corrupt the youth. He was tried and convicted on that charge. So it is not right to say that it is not possible to convict someone on a simple charge of that sort unless you get a child and cut it in half to see whether it has been corrupted.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
It is a question of fact whether one corrupts but it is a question of opinion for a bench whether 2403 one tends to corrupt, and the latter is much easier.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
I think it is a question of opinion whether one would corrupt or not just as much as it is a question of opinion whether one would tend to corrupt or not. At the same time, I agree with my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary that the words "tend to" add something.
The hon. Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) suggested that the words were otiose or that they were dangerous because they were otiose. I thought that my right hon. and gallant Friend answered that point very fairly and honestly by admitting that the words add something in the sense that the Bill is likely to catch more people than if the words are omitted. I believe that is right, and I support that view.
When we are dealing with children it is a different matter from when, as the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said, we are dealing with adults. As far as the definition of the offence is concerned, apart from the circumstances of the prosecution and the length of time which it should remain on the Statute Book, we have to go wide and we must take risks. For that reason, if we are to make the Bill effective, it is a risk that we have to take.
I would, however, demur from the rather quantitative view of the evidence that was taken by my right hon. and gallant Friend. He seemed to suggest that it was a matter of adding up the number of holes which were being driven through the Bill and ascertaining whether they amounted to enough to sink the ship. That seems to me to be not sufficiently discriminatory. Holes are of different sizes and shapes; some may not really be holes at all. It seems to me that one cannot take them and weigh them—
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
—as a whole. It seems to me that, although logically it is possible to accuse and convict someone of purveying works that corrupt youth, we shall certainly catch more people by the inclusion of the words "tend to" and we have got to catch them.
§ Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)
I have not been here very long, but I have been listening very attentively to this discussion. I have simply been trying to apply my ordinary common sense, if I have any, to the point under discussion. Having decided that this matter is regarded in the country as a definite and decided evil, we have prepared a Bill to meet the feelings of the people and to stamp out the evil.
The Amendment suggests the deletion of "tend to," therefore leaving it as an absolute fact that the publications must corrupt the children who read them. We can argue that whether we retain the words or delete them the judge or the jury will have difficulty in deciding the issue. Anyone who has to adjudicate on a point like this has to take into consideration all the evidence that has been supplied. By retaining the words "tend to" we give those who have to adjudicate a good deal more power in coming to a decision. Surely that is what we want. We want the Bill to be so framed that when people have to implement it they can feel that the actual provisions of the Bill give them some elasticity and they are not limited in coming to their judgments.
There is no question which is the better thing to do. The people who will have to operate the Bill must be absolutely satisfied that the publication could corrupt. It has been argued that we can have different opinions about that. Of course we can. We can have different opinions about most things. However, I think that we will all agree that it would be cramping and limiting the scope of people who have to judge these cases if these words were not left in the Bill. They must be given the opportunity of using their judgment in deciding, not whether there has been absolute corruption, but whether the whole tendency of the publication has been of that character.
When we are dealing with an evil which, it is unanimously agreed, should be wiped out, our general attitude ought to be—and I am positive will be—not to cramp and limit the courts in making a decision, but to give them a fair opportunity of taking all the evidence and then using their judgment. I am entirely convinced that the Amendment will not satisfy the people who are anxious to wipe out the evil. They certainly agree with the 2405 Government that the words in the Bill should stand.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
I hope that the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay) will forgive me if I tend not to be able to follow him completely in his argument. On the earlier Amendments to the Bill I have tended to find myself very muddled because of the legal opinions given from both sides of the Committee. I now find myself in the position that I tend to need the legal opinion of both sides of the Committee, because the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said that if the words "tend to" were left out, as this Amendment suggests, the words "would corrupt" would in fact get no conviction.
§ Mr. Fell
Yes, but I have the greatest respect for the right hon. Gentleman's knowledge of almost every subject under the sun. I also have the greatest possible respect for the knowledge of my right hon. and gallant Friend on almost every subject under the sun. However, I must say that I cannot accept either the right hon. Gentleman on that side or the right hon. and gallant Gentleman on this side when they say that the words which will be left if this Amendment is carried will result in no convictions being brought about. I wonder where all the great legal panjandrums have gone.
I notice that the hon. and learned Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) has gone. [Hon. Members: "He is not learned."] I sometimes think that he is very learned. I notice that the hon. and very learned Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has gone. [Hon. Members: "He is not learned."] I am very sorry, but I think he is very learned. I notice that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General is not here to correct the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields in what I think is an unwarrantable assumption on his part.
Therefore, I am left either to tend not to be able to make up my mind, as was the case on the last Amendment, or, as it so happens, in the absence of this great knowledge—
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)
I am sure that, quite unintentionally, my hon. 2406 Friend has overlooked the presence of the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels), who is sitting opposite.
§ Mr. R. Bell
Reference to the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester has reminded me that my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General is present.
§ Mr. M. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)
It is obvious that the hon. Member forYarmouth (Mr. Fell) is absolutely in the clouds, because the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester has not uttered a single syllable on this topic.
§ Mr. Fell
I apologise in a most profound way to the Solicitor-General, because I could not see, from a back view, that it was indeed such a distinguished presence that we had with us. I hope that he will give us his opinion whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields was right in saying, in following my right hon. and learned Friend, that there would be no convictions if the Amendment were carried.
Having said all that, I do not want to "tend" to say anything more. I want to say very definitely that, short of receiving these great pearls of wisdom from one of my hon. or right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, I propose to support the Amendment. My reasons are as follows—
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Fell
Hon. Members are perfectly at liberty to laugh at that which is funny. In my humble opinion it will not be very funny for those who get convicted under this Measure if they are wrongly convicted. The Bill speaks ofincidents of a repulsive or horrible nature" which would "tend to corrupt.I can imagine the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan)—[Hon. Members: "The right hon. Gentleman."]—I thought that he had been demoted. I 2407 can imagine the right hon. Gentleman for Ebbw Vale regarding the portrayal of a boxing match in all its grim and gory details as something of a great example to the youth of the nation. On the other hand, I can imagine the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) regarding the portrayal of a boxing match as the portrayal of incidents of a repulsivenature which would "tend to" corrupt children.
§ Mr. K. Robinson
In defence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), is not the hon. Gentleman confusing him with the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell)?
§ Mr. Fell
Seriously, there could obviously be that difference of opinion about what is repulsive—I hope that I am keeping within the bounds of order—between the two right hon. Members opposite who are so much together in everything else. Yet we had an hon. and learned Member—I hope that I am right this time—on this side of the Committee interjecting to say that if "tend to corrupt" was left as it was, it would be a matter for the juries rather than for the magistrates and the judges. I think that was the point that was made.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
My interjection in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) was to this effect. It is a question of fact for the judge and the jury if it is proved that the words would corrupt. There is a lesser burden of proof on the prosecution if it is a matter of opinion for the bench or the jury to decide whether there is a tendency to corrupt. Therefore, there would be fewer successful prosecutions on the ground that the words would corrupt though there would be some. On the other hand, there would be far more successful prosecutions where the jury or magistrates used their own opinion. I dare say that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General would agree with that.
§ Mr. Fell
It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to say that. It is one thing to get successful convictions and another to get the type of successful convictions that we want. There is only one purpose in the Bill, and that is to stop the circulation of what we know as horror comics. 2408 Until my mind is perfectly clear—[Interruption.] I presume that I am allowed to ask the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Gentlemen to help me clear my mind on this question. Until my mind is perfectly clear that it is impossible under the Bill for people to be wrongly convicted, people who may, for instance, have portrayed what might be a slightly bloody boxing match in some news sheet, then I am certainly not going to support anything which will make it more easy to convict those who may not be guilty of the crime of trying to seduce the minds of young people by circulating horror comics.
Therefore, on the arguments so far put forward—and there may be others—I shall certainly support this Amendment.
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) said that he was in some difficulty in considering the Amendment and also the Bill. I think that that is the state of mind of many hon. Members. Some of us have been hoping for some enlightenment from the lawyers. We do not always get it. We have been told that the Bill is a paradise for the lawyers. I have not the same feeling for the lawyers as some other hon. Members have. I am a journalist, and I always recall the statement made by William Hazlitt, the most famous journalist who ever sat in the Press Gallery of the House of Commons, that the only thing that gave him respect for the House was the disdain it had for lawyers.
In some ways this Amendment has provided the most interesting debate of the whole of the Committee stage. We have had an impressive agreement between the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields referred once again to the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) about the other Bill which he wants to introduce, and made the very remarkable charge that this Amendment is part of a conspiracy to introduce something which is really concerned with the other Bill, and that my hon. Friend is not concerned to try to improve this Bill. There is no real ground for that accusation.
What my hon. Friend is doing—and I should have thought he had every right to do it—is to recall the history of the 2409 law of obscene libel, because what happened in that case is likely to happen in this. If we are trying to test the justice of a certain Clause by experience, my hon. Friend has every right to recall what has happened under a similar Measure. I should have thought that the examples he quoted were for that purpose, and not to try to have an under-cover debate upon another Bill.
It is true that during the Second Reading debate my hon. Friend and myself, and many other hon. Members, expressed the view that it would have been very much better if the Government had brought in the other Bill and tried to deal with the subject as a whole-rather than in this fashion.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
I hope that the hon. Member is not going to enlarge the scope of the debate to cover a Second Reading point.
§ Mr. Foot
I was only following very directly what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields upon the same subject—and what was said by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, who was mainly concerned to say, "We had a unanimous vote after the Second Reading debate. Why are we having such a long debate upon the Committee stage?" My reply is that we are having a long debate because the Government have introduced the wrong Bill. We said during the Second Reading debate that it was very slipshod to deal with the problem by selecting this small part of the subject, and that we should get into great difficulties during the Committee stage because of that.
There is nothing wrong about taking that view. It may be that both Front Benches are agreed that this is the best way of dealing with the matter, but some quite eminent people take an entirely different view. I do not often agree with the leading articles in "The Times," but that newspaper has said repeatedly what I am saying, and has put it as strongly as it can. Therefore, our argument that this is an awkward way of dealing with the matter should not be dismissed by either Front Bench as being unworthy of consideration.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. Gentleman is now enlarging the scope of the debate to a Second Reading debate.
§ Mr. Foot
If you are calling me to order about that, Sir Rhys, I would point out that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman began to speak on this Amendment by saying what were the four protections under the Bill. It was a very impressive speech. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman made the most impressive case for the Bill that he has made in the whole of these debates. He made it impressive because he put into proper perspective anearlier concession which the Government had offered, about the Attorney-General having to bring a prosecution. He offered us another concession, which we are very glad to have. Therefore, if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, before coming to this Amendment immediately, said to the Committee, "We can only understand this Amendment if we consider it in the background of all the other protections which I am providing," surely we, in discussing the same Amendment, are entitled to refer to the protections which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned.
I am extremely glad to hear that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will make a further concession on top of that one that has already been made. We do not know exactly what its terms will be. He says that he will agree to an Amendment limiting the period during which the Bill will operate. That brings us to the fourth of the protections under the Bill to which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman referred. He said that we could have the protection which seeks to limit the kind of conviction which would be obtained under the Bill.
That brings me to the first "tend to" and to the Amendment. [An Hon. Member: "Hear, hear."] An hon. Gentleman says "Hear, hear." It is all very well for him to come in and say that when he thinks I have reached the end of my speech, when in fact I have not reached the end of it at all. Let the hon. Member listen to the whole of the debate, not come in at the fag-end of it and say, "Hear, hear." If he comes back a bit later he will be able to cheer much more effectively.
I come to the question of the words "tend to corrupt." We have had legal opinion from the back benches, but not from the Front Bench, showing that the jury or magistrate will have to make up their minds on a matter of fact if the words 2411 are "would corrupt" and on a matter of opinion if the words "tend to corrupt" are still left in. That may be right or wrong; we have not very much certainty about it. We are entitled to discover how these words have operated when they have been used in cases before. My hon. Friend said, in his original speech, that the main part of his charge was that the words "tend to corrupt," which were incorporated in the Hickling judgment and which have given rise to so many difficulties in another connection, have for the first time been put into a Statute.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman did not answer that argument at all. What is the origin of these words? Where did they come from? Why are they used? Is it not a fact that they were brought fromthe Hickling judgment and incorporated into the Bill? If that is the case, it makes us all the more suspicious, and we have a right to an answer from the Government on the point. Lawyers may disagree about it, but if we take the whole wording "work as a whole would tend to corrupt," or, as the Amendment would make it read, "in such a way that the work as a whole would corrupt" I think that it would be a matter of opinion for the jury or magistrate in both cases. They are both a matter of opinion.
If they are, that knocks out the main plea that has been made for the maintenance of the Clause as it stands. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman claims that the reason we get few convictions is that we have to settle on matters of fact, but surely in the whole Bill we are saying that the horror comics would corrupt. That is the purpose and the reason for the Bill; and the reason the Government are taking action is that they say that this kind of horror comic would corrupt and is corrupting.
If the Government say that, why do they not say it in the Bill? Why do they seek some other words, to be subject to some other kind of interpretation? Therefore, we are fully entitled to have from the Government an explanation as to where they got these words, why they have put them in; and although the right hon. Gentleman has gone further than he went before to make concessions in order to meet some of our objections, he has not dealt with the main objection 2412 we had on this particular account. I hope we shall have, if not assistance from him, assistance from the Solicitor-General.
We are all very sorry that the Attorney-General has had to go—or maybe he is coming back. It was said by my hon. Friend earlier that probably the Attorney-General had not mastered the art of gracious rejection. I have never had that feeling about the Attorney-General. My objection to him is not that he has not mastered the ways of smooth persuasion.
I have many criticisms of him, but I rather like the Attorney-General for the blunt, downright, John Bullish way in which he says these things to the House, and I am sorry that he is not here to tell us exactly what the Clause really means. I am sure, after all the confusing statements which we have had from all the lawyers in this Committee on this particular Clause, which deals with a matter that has worried courts and judges for the last 50 years in another connection, there is only one voice that can state so clearly what we would all understand, and with which we would all be satisfied, and that is the voice of the Attorney-General.
§ Mr. Gower
Very well, Sir Rhys, but that point has been made. I should like to submit that here the words which are complained of are obviously clear in their meaning, and it is just a question of the term. "To corrupt" is so much definite and affirmative that, as my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) said, it would be extremely difficult to get a conviction. My hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell), of course, put forward arguments which establish in his mind some doubt about the word "repulsive." I am quite prepared to admit that word might require greater definition, or might be an unsuitable word, but he said nothing to disprove or prove the need to alter this particular wording here.
§ Mr. Gower
I said that the objections being made by people who uphold this wording are not objections to the phrase "tend." They are really objections to the word "repulsive." Therefore, I feel that the Committee should agree to this Clause. As my hon. Friend said, extreme care has been taken to establish a narrow definition of the kind of evidence which we have in mind. This is not something vague and undefinable.
An obvious attempt has been made in the Bill to narrow the definition and to put clearly before the courts what is meant and intended by Parliament. In these circumstances we should not object to what is a quite reasonable wording, which will provide the courts with a reasonable chance of arriving at decisions in accordance with Parliament's intention.
§ Mr. MacColl
It seems to me that my hon. Friend the Member for Devon-port (Mr. Foot), in his very interesting speech, did not really address himself to the problem with which the Clause deals. The problem arises because children are such incalculable creatures. It is impossible to say in advance whether or not anything is going to have any effect on them. For instance, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) told us he had been corrupted by "The Pilgrim's Progress." I have never been corrupted by "The Pilgrim's Progress. "No one could state any reason why it should have had that effect on my right hon. Friend and not on me.
All one can say in advance about the effect of a horror comic on children is that children may be more likely to commit crimes of violence if they read it than 2414 they would if they did not read it. We cannot judge the matter on the basis that one child has shown signs of corruption after reading it. We can consider only the general likely effect of the publication upon children. That seems to me to be the simple, commonsense approach which we should take to the problem.
We can judge the direction of an arrow in flight, but we cannot judge whether it will hit the target, still less whether it will stick in the target should it hit it. All we can ask a court to decide is the likely effect of a publication on children, and if we accepted the Amendment we should very seriously handicap the court.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
I said, when I moved the Amendment, that I welcomed the prospect that the Home Secretary was himself going to reply to the debate upon it. I did not realise then that he would reply, in effect, not only to this proposal but to a great number of other Amendments which we shall consider later. Some of the difficulty of my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) arose because the Home Secretary made the debate very wide.
§ Major Lloyd-George
Twice I have been charged with making the debate wide. I did so in answer to a specific observation of the hon. Gentleman that I had done nothing at all in the way of promising any concessions.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Naturally, I do not in any way object—it would be quite inappropriate if I did so—to the way in which the Home Secretary answered the case for this Amendment, and, as my hon. Friend said, in so far as that enabled him to develop a general attitude to the Amendments and to the Bill, I welcomed what he did. However, it has meant that the Amendment has assumed an importance greater than that which it would have had if the Home Secretary had chosen to reply to it in a rather narrower way. I think that the Committee should appreciate that.
As I understood the Home Secretary, he took the view that this Amendment, and others like it, would in some way be a violation of the unanimity with which, so far as voting was concerned, the Bill was received on Second Reading. It is important to make it quite clear now 2415 that on Second Reading some of my hon. Friends and I expressed strong criticisms of the Bill, and that the Lord Advocate, winding up for the Government, said he would welcome Amendments in Committee, and looked forward to the Bill being improved.
Therefore, I do not think the view can be taken that because the Government are accepting two Amendments which, although of considerable importance—I do not deny that for one moment—do not, as it were, impinge upon the main feature of the Bill, hon. Members, in putting down Amendments which seek not merely to limit the time in which the Bill will be in operation, not merely to decide who made initiate prosecutions—
§ Mr. Jenkins
I certainly do not wish to get out of order, Sir Rhys, but, as I indicated, the Home Secretary did treat the Amendment as to some extent a symbol of other Amendments following it, and he replied to it as being one which would make a loophole in the Bill. He said that the undesirability of the loophole was that there were other loopholes which, added together, would sink the ship—or whatever was the metaphor. That was one of the main grounds which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman put forward in opposing the Amendment, but I do not think that he applied himself to the actual terms of the Amendment.
The main purpose of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech—and he put it very powerfully indeed—was that we should not worry about having too restrictive a Clause here, because the sole purpose of the Bill is to catch horror comics, and, since we would all agree about that, there was nothing more to worry about. But my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport indicated that we have had an unfortunate experience in this respect. "The Times" dealt with the subject matter of the Amendment this morning, and said that this is one of the respects in which the Bill is at once too narrow and too wide.
"The Times" recalled again the words of Lord Campbell, in introducing the Obscene Publications Act of 1857, which 2416 I quoted on Second Reading. They were remarkably similar to those used by the Home Secretary today. Lord Campbell then said that the sole purpose of the Act was to catch works which were pure pornography, and nothing but pornography. That was very similar to what the Home Secretary said, yet no one can say that that Act has been applied in such a way that at times it has not been applied to works which cannot possibly come within that term.
We therefore cannot accept the good purposes of the Home Secretary—which we do not for a moment deny. We cannot accept his or anybody's else's assurance that the intention to direct the Bill against horror comics as an argument for drawing the terms of the Bill as narrowly as possible. It may be argued that the use of words like "tend to" makes certain prosecutions more difficult. That may possibly be the case. However, I beg hon. Members opposite who may be a little impatient about this to consider further when they are inclined to say, "What do these arguments matter compared with the great object of stamping out horror comics and avoiding the corruption of children?" When they ask that, I would reply that once one is on the slippery bad slope there is no stopping before one is in a state of complete censorship.
The Home Secretary moved the Second Reading of the Bill very nervously, and said that when one was dealing with a censorship Bill of any sort one had to be very careful. Now the right hon. and gallant Gentleman says, "We have drawn it as carefully as we can so far as this type of literature is concerned," but one cannot be too sure. Too many examples have been given of works which are not pornographic but which might be proceeded against under the Bill. It is a sad decline from the Home Secretary's original approach that he is now saying that we must be very careful not to make changes at all which will make the job of the defence any easier or the job of the prosecution more difficult.
On this Amendment, at any rate, we who support it represent a minority point of view in the House, but I think it is an important point of view. I hope that the Government will consider allowing a free vote. I do not think they need 2417 worry about the result of this Amendment. I hope my hon. Friends will press the Amendment to a Division.
§ Mr. Hale
I rise to make a suggestion, but I would first make this observation. I do so with diffidence, but I am not one of those who believe that knowledge of the law disqualifies people from making it. I have spent a good deal of time giving advice, free or otherwise. Much of my advice is not taken. It gives me cynical satisfaction to know that I have been away from the office so long that practically all the advice I give is inaccurate. I agree entirely with those who say that the word "tend" is very difficult to define. I was sincere when I asked an hon. Member what it meant. He never told me. His speech showed some approval of the Clause, though he gave no reason for it.
I am prepared to give the Committee the result of my recent researches. The word "tend" has two different meanings, one of which has nothing to do with that which is indicated in the Bill. I have here the shorter Oxford Dictionary, and, therefore, it is a brief definition. It says:1. to have a motion or disposition to move towards;… To direct one's course, make one's way, move or proceed towards something; 2. To have a disposition to advance, go on, come finally, or attain to some point in time, degree, quality, state, or other non-material category; to be drawn to or towards in affection. … 3. To have a specified result, if allowed to act; to lead or conduce to some state or condition. … 4. To swing round with the turn of the tide or wind.This is a useful little Bill. I do not want to be facetious about it. Every time I make a statement of gravity I seem to create a wrong emotion. I agree that it is a good thing to do away with horror comics. They are beastly things. It will be a good thing to do away with them. What judge of assize, however, will rule to the jury on the word "tend" on definitions like that? What does it mean? I accept the view that if the words are left out the Clause becomes virtually a nullity. I do not believe that juries are going to convict. The jury would have to draw the inference that this is so bad that it must corrupt even the incorruptible. I do not believe there would be convictions. Therefore, I suggest that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, might consider some other words.
2418 I would suggest one word which is used constantly in the courts, though it is not an easy one to define clearly. That word is "reasonable" It has different connotations, but the "reasonable" man is now part of the legal literature and system. He is the man on the Clapham bus, if I remember aright.
§ Mr. Hale
Because a jury is charged with a specific duty. A judge has to sum up in the terms of the definition. He has to say to the jury, "You have to be convinced beyond reasonable doubt not merely that this is material which could corrupt, but that it does corrupt, must corrupt, and did corrupt."
I should have thought that "reasonably be expected to corrupt" was a perfectly fair definition. It is well in line with our legal tradition. I think that it is a fair definition. If one has to prove a lad has been corrupted, one is left to open to a wide defence. It could be proved that a lad had read horror comics for years, but had attended Sunday school regularly and was reasonably well behaved and had voted the right way at a political election. I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will seriously consider using some words which are less vague and more in accord with the tests that could be applied.
§ Mr. Ede
After all, anyone can take the shorter Oxford Dictionary and read out a definition of any word and have the best comic five minutes he is ever likely to have in the Committee. Nobody knows that better than my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), who came into the Chamber armed with a dictionary. However, I must say that the latter part of his speech impressed me and I hope that the Government will, between now and the Report stage, consider the suggestion which he has made. It would leave to a judge summing up—or, what is more likely, to a chairman of quarter sessions summing up—a better opportunity of explaining the matter to the jury than would the "tend" by itself.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman tells us—and he is now supported by the 2419 hon. Member for Oldham, West—that to leave out the words "tend to" would produce a state of affairs which could not be other than a wrecking of the Bill. On a matter of opinion like that, hon. Members on this side of the Committee are entitled to vote as they think proper. I shall support the Government in resisting the Amendment, because I believe that if it were carried we should have produced a Bill that would be inoperable for carrying out what was unanimously agreed to be necessary.
§ Amendment negatived.
The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Harry Crook-shank)
I beg to move, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
It was not the Government's intention to sit late tonight and I must admit that I thought we would have made more progress by now. I merely register my personal disappointment. I do not want to inconvenience hon. Members and I hope that the Committee will accept the Motion.
§ Mr. Ede
I see no reason for opposing the Motion. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I keep a close watch on the clock after eleven o'clock and we are getting into what I regard as a danger zone. To some extent I share the right hon. Gentleman's disappointment at the progress we have made. I hope that the Bill will reach the Statute Book and I also hope that it will be believed that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who have occasionally not been supporting the Government feel very seriously about any possible infraction of the liberty of the Press, using that word in its widest possible connotation. We must expect that discussions about this kind of Measure will excite feelings which will lead to the prolongation of argument.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.