§ Considered in Committee [Progress. 24th March].
§ [Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]
§ Clause 1. —(WORKS TO WHICH THIS ACT APPLIES.)
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins (Birmingham, Stechford)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 13, after " a " to insert " normal ".
With your permission, Sir Charles, perhaps the almost similar Amendment in the same line standing in my name might be taken together.
I am sorry that we have to turn so quickly from a Motion which we were all able and very glad to support unanimously, concerning the father of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Home Secretary, to a matter concerning the right hon. and gallant Gentleman himself, on which perhaps we might be a little less unanimous. I can comfort him by saying that I propose to move my Amendment very briefly and shall not detain the Committee very long. This is not one of the important Amendments. There are more important ones to follow.
The Amendment raises an issue to which the spokesman of the Government should apply his mind. He should tell us what he has in mind in bringing forward the Bill, which is inevitably a censorship Measure. Are we concerned with the normal child or with the abnormal child? If we were considering, in a Measure which went rather wider than the Bill, works which might be held to be objectionable to some people but which were nevertheless of considerable literary merit, it would be intolerable that we should take up the position that the 90 per cent. normal people or children should be prevented from reading something which might be of value and benefit because of the possible deleterious effect which such a work might have on the minority with abnormal tendencies.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman may tell us that it is impossible for any such work to be proceeded against under the Bill. He has said that on a number of occasions, and I accept that he has said 50 it with the greatest sincerity. Some of us are worried that it may be possible, even though not strictly within the intended scope of the Bill, for a case to arise in which, in spite of all the good intentions of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and other Government spokesmen, a work of real merit will be proceeded against in a way entirely contrary to the present intentions of the Government. Such a position has arisen before under statutes of a roughly similar kind.
We are here concerned with a great censorship issue. Is one to prevent something which might be of value to the majority being read by everybody because of its possible harmful effect upon a minority? A later Amendment will provide for the rebuttal of a charge on the ground that a particular work is of literary or other merit. If that Amendment could be accepted or looked upon sympathetically, it would make the present Amendment a good deal less necessary. If it is the view of the Minister that no work of literary or other other merit could possibly be brought within the purview of the Bill, he would lose very little, and perhaps nothing at all, of his objective in this Bill by accepting an Amendment which allows literary or other merit as a ground for rebuttal of such a charge.
In dealing with a minority of people who may be abnormal, and who read horror comics and commit undesirable acts after reading them, it is extremely difficult to be sure, or even to be reasonably sure, what effect the horror comics have had upon their course of action. It is important, in this field, not to confuse cause and effect—not to say that because something has happened after someone has read horror comics, then it has happened because he has read horror comics. This is a field in which there is necessarily very grave doubt about the effect of reading and other experiences upon the human mind.
As to some extent there has already been anticipation of Amendments, I hope that the Attorney-General will first give us an assurance that he will look reasonably sympathetically at the later Amendment which provides for rebuttal on grounds of literary or other merit. If he cannot do that, perhaps he will give us some idea of what is in his mind in bringing this proposal forward—whether it is corruption of the normal 51 or of the abnormal who might already be corrupted and whose position is made worse, or which class of children he has in mind in dealing with this matter.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)
This Amendment seems to me to be the most plausible and most dangerous of all which we have so far debated, and I sincerely hope not only that the Minister will resist it, but that my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins), after he has heard the debate, will withdraw it.
Incidentally, my hon. Friend suggested that there is doubt about the influence of crime comics on children. I refer him to the work of Dr. Wertham, the eminent American psychiatrist, whose study of the crime comic was brought about as a result of his own clinical observations in dealing with children in America who had gone astray.
I am willing to admit that there may be some children in the world—indeed, there are some children in this country—who could not be hurt by horror comics. In America, where this battle has been fought, as it has been fought in this country, the horror comic industry engaged professional psychiatrists to defend their industry, and their defence was just the defence of this Amendment—that the crime comic would not hurt anyone who was normal; that if a comic incited someone to acts of sadistic cruelty, he must have been that way inclined before; that the child who sits glued to a sensational comic, reading it over and over again, as some children do, is neurotic anyway, so why worry about him?
I discussed this question a fortnight ago in New York with Dr. Wertham, whose major work on crime comics has often been referred to in the debates on the Bill. He has said:Obviously, one cannot make any hard and fast rule according to which children can be divided into stable or unstable.Or, as the Amendment would say, normal or abnormal.Every normal child is immature growing, and to that extent unstable and vulnerable. And even if he does nothing wrong, temptation exposes him to emotional conflict, and that, coupled with other factors, may do him subtle harm, immediately or later on.I ask the Committee, how can we define a normal child? Is it only the 52 psychopath who is hurt by the portrayal of filth and horror? Are not children who are very sensitive also normal children? Are not children who are richly endowed with emotions normal? Are not children with vivid imaginations normal? Or do we mean by the " normal " child just the impassive, phlegmatic, tough child whe would not be hurt by a crime comic? Are we sure that even the average child is not hurt because he does not show it and because he does not go out and do violent deeds?
I often wonder who the average child is. In my experience of hundreds of thousands of British children, I have never met the average, normal child. Every child is an individual. But I am certain that if the Amendment were accepted the purveyors of crime comics would make great play in the courts of English law over this unhurtable, incorruptible, mythical figure.
If we believe in education, we believe that there is some positive value in surrounding all children, even so-called normal children, with good and beautiful things, all the positive influences of beauty and tenderness, Arnold's " sweetness and light," if hon. Members like, good music and good pictures, good words, well-written or well-spoken. If we believe that, then surely by the same token it is unhealthy, it is a negation of education, it is a negation of what the State is spending vast sums of money in providing for the well-being of our children, to submit even the normal child to morbid, neurotic, sadistic, fascist and perverted imagery.
Let us remember what we are talking about—not about Hogarth's " Rake's Progress," which was mentioned last week and which is a highly moral work; not about Goya's paintings, in which he poured out his passionate hatred of war.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
On what grounds is my hon. Friend so sure that those two works which he has mentioned would not come within the purview of the Bill?
§ Dr. King
I refer my hon. Friend to the second part of the Clause which we are discussing.
Let me give an example from the comic which gives the story of the blind boy with a teddy bear. The father rips out the teddy bear's eyes to equate it with the boy, who cannot see. Or from the 53 American comic, passed by the Comic Purification Syndicate of America, which gives a torture scene with the caption, " His arms will be wrenched from their sockets." Or one which tells of the raping of a 16-year-old girl by a sheriff, who tricks an innocent youth into confession, after which the youth is lynched and beaten to death, the caption reading, " Crunching, crushed bone." This last was published by a society calling itself Tiny Tots Incorporated. That is the kind of thing against which the Home Secretary is legislating.
But I will take the matter from another and much more serious point of view. If we have in our midst neurotic children, is it our business to feed the neurosis or to check it? If we have in our community potential sadists, is it our job to stimulate and encourage their cruel fantasies? If we have potential killers, is it our duty to provide them with pictorial illustrations of the best and nastiest ways of killing? If little Lord Fauntleroy likes pulling the wings off flies, must we provide him with a handbook of instructions as to the easiest or most painful way of doing the job?
No wonder that Walter Lippman has written:The comic books are purveying crime and lust to an intolerable degree. There can be no real doubt that public exhibitions of sadism tend to excite sadistic desires and to teach the audience how to gratify sadistic desires.I urge the Committee not to divide children into sheep and goats, and not to accept this Amendment, which would allow as a defence to a crime comic purveyor, " I admit Johnny stuck pins in the eyes of an animal after reading pictures which taught him how to do it. But Johnny always was perverted anyhow, and I can produce dozens of children before the court—good, clean, healthy children—who have looked at these pictures without following up their reading by such wicked acts as Johnny's. I ask the court to punish wicked Johnny and to let my clean and pure-minded client continue his work of entertaining British youth with pictures which hurt only those children who were originally perverted or sinful in any case."
I urge the Minister to reject all specious pleas for an Amendment which would take all the teeth out of the Bill and make it almost useless.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth)
It may be convenient if I take this opportunity to reassure the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) that the Government cannot see their way to accept this Amendment.
The argument of the hon. Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) was based on a misapprehension. The test laid down by the Bill is not to reject the abnormal child. The words " children or young persons " in this context mean the general run of children and young persons. If we were to include the word " normal " in the two places in which the hon. Member proposes, it would mean that a court would have to take a particular class, the class of normal children or young persons. I am not quite sure how the court would interpret that, but the probable way would be to say, " We have to reject, on the one hand, intelligent children and, on the other hand, dull children."
I think it was the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) who, on Second Reading, made the very sound point that it was the dull children who were peculiarly susceptible to the effect of these publications. The same point was made by other hon. Members. The effect of the Amendment would be to tell the court that it ought to disregard the dull child when considering this matter. I think all hon. Members would agree that the dull child ought not to be disregarded. It is right that the court, in considering the effects of these publications on children and young persons generally, should bear in mind their effects on all such children, including dull children.
The hon. Member for Stechford said that it was possible that the wording of the Clause might be construed in a different way at some remote period. I do not think he could have heard my right hon. and gallant Friend indicate, when the Bill was last considered by the Committee, that he would regard sympathetically one or two Amendments which would put a time limit on the effect of the Bill. I (do not think the hon. Member need worry on that score. I advise the Committee to reject the Amendment.
§ Mr. Ede: (South Shields)
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has given the 55 intimation he has about the intentions of the Government. I think that this word " normal " would be completely meaningless in the courts. I do not know what the normal child is. As a schoolmaster, I had to deal with very large groups of children in the days when I taught and I am quite certain that I never met a normal child. I am sure that most people will say that they would not be normal after they had passed through my hands. I am also sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) was not a normal child, at least in the eyes of his parents. I had many conversations with his distinguished father, when he was a Member of this House, about the precocious and brilliant infant. I do not think that my hon. Friend's father would be supporting him in the line he has pursued on this Bill.
What can possibly be meant by a normal child? It is not merely the dull child. There are all sorts of children who have peculiar experiences at home, at school, or on the way in between, who are particularly susceptible to this form of corruption. I very sincerely hope that we may get this Bill, because I think we need something on these lines and the Committee needs to make it quite emphatic that it does not intend to provide loopholes through which the corrupters of children can find their way in an effort to make a little filthy lucre out of corrupting them.
§ Mr. John Foster (Northwich)
I think this Amendment unnecessary because, paradoxically, if it is not carried, the Bill as it stands will achieve most of what the hon. Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) wants. It does not say " any child." Therefore, as my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary said, the Bill, as drafted, would take the average child—normal in that sense—the general run of children. If we put in the word " normal " we would begin to carve out classes of children and might have to say, " a child who could hear, a child who could read," and immediately we would get into very great difficulties.
I appeal to the hon. Member to withdraw the Amendment. As he knows, I have sympathy with some of the Amendments in his name. On this occasion the Bill as it stands is nearer to what he wants than is the Amendment.
§ Mr. M. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)
I profoundly disagree with this Amendment. Not only is it in my opinion a stultifying Amendment, but—I am sure, without my hon. Friend so intending—it is a mischievous one as well.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has said that if the word, " normal " had to be interpreted in court it would be absolutely meaningless, but in the connotation of the Clause, it would have, in my view, a very serious meaning. I have no doubt that it has a meaning which the Solicitor-General, as well as the Minister, would appreciate, namely, that, whereas the provisions of the Clause would apply only to a normal child, if the Amendment were accepted it would not apply in the case of a perverted child. The adjective " dull " is quite inadequate. The Amendment, if accepted, would excuse the case in which a perverted child was corrupted or depraved. That is the very case for which we want a Measure of this kind.
If such a case came before the court, the court would say, " This publication has had a devastating effect upon this child, but we can do nothing. This child is a perverted child and, therefore. the case does not come within this Section." But that is just the case we want to bring within the Clause. As I say, the Clause would become stultifying and ludicrous. What is worse, although I am sure it is not intended, in the last analysis it would become mischievous. Therefore, I ask the Committee to reject the proposed Amendment.
§ Mr. William Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I do not intend to discuss the merits or otherwise of the Bill, as I think they have been well covered, but I wonder whether the Committee is trying to protect children, or lawyers and publishers. Is it a Bill intended to protect children? Is it a Bill to prevent the continued distribution of horror comics? Most of the Amendments we have considered, like this Amendment, have been absolutely wrecking Amendments. This is a wrecking Amendment—we might as well recognise that. It seems to me that a deliberate effort is being made to make the Bill useless, whereas, generally, the House has felt disposed to do something in the interests of children.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan), to whom I willingly gave way—
§ Mr. Jenkins
— questioned my motives in this Amendment.
I have three children, which is as many as most hon. Members who have spoken. I do not think it fair to suggest that we are not considering the children. I do not think most hon. Members are less concerned about the protection of children. However one may be concerned about children, it is not right, nor in accordance with the wishes of the Committee, that a Bill, however circumscribed it may be—and in essence it is a censorship Bill—should be allowed to go through without every provision being very closely argued. There is no other way of doing that except by moving a series of Amendments.
I hope that no hon. Member, on either side of the Committee, unless he takes the view that censorship matters are so easy and straightforward that all that one wants to do is to proclaim one's object and not worry about how it is to be carried out, will impute motives to those of us who are thinking of this Committee's duty on these matters. However, considerably convinced by what the hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 13, to leave out from " fall " to the end of the Clause.
The Amendment concerns part of the end of the Clause, where there is a semi-purported definition of " corrupt." It is not, in fact, a definition of " corrupt," but it appears, however, to give some guidance on it. I am asking the Committee to exclude the whole of the words which appear in brackets at the end of the Clause, so that it would read:This Act applies to any book, magazine or other like work which consists wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures (with or without the addition of written matter), being stories portraying—
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."
- (a) the commission of crimes; or
- (b) acts of violence or cruelty; or
- (c) incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature;
I am amused to note that there is undoubtedly, a Humpty-Dumpty in the Home Office, who has followed the usual line of saying:When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.I want to give that Humpty-Dumpty in the Home Office a word of advice. In the words of the March Hare:Then you should say what you mean.' ' I do,' Alice replied; ' at least I mean what I say—that is the same thing you know'.That is exactly what has happened here.
Unfortunately, that draftsman in the Home Office is a very bad lawyer. He is determined to try to make it easy for the bench of magistrates or the jury to decide what " corrupt " means, but he has fallen into the trap, and has made it much harder for them by trying to give a meaning which the word does not possess.
This is what " corrupt " means, taken from the Oxford Dictionary:To render morally unsound or ' rotten '; to destroy the moral purity or chastity of; to pervert or ruin (a good quality); to debase, defile.The chairman of a bench of magistrates or a judge or jury know perfectly well what corruption is, and when they have considered the work in question they will decide whether it corrupts. But let us see what Humpty-Dumpty has tried to do. He has put it in this way, and has said,into whose hands it might fall (whether by inciting or encouraging him to commit crimes or acts of violence or cruelty or in any other way whatsoever).The Bill contains five tests. The Government have not been able to define what is a horror comic, and so they have had to say that it is a work which, in a particular way, tends to corrupt. What they have done has been to provide five safeguards to the defendant. The first of these is to say that the work in question shall be only abook, magazine or other like workmainly or wholly comprised of stories told in pictures. That is the first way in which the field is limited.
59 The second thing that the Government have done is to say that the Bill shall apply only to
In other words, the Government have excluded all the sex stuff. Last Thursday I attacked—I think, rightly—the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) when he went into the question of sex matters and pornography, which the Bill does not cover. That, therefore, is the second safeguard.
- "(a) the commission of crimes; or
- (b) acts of violence or cruelty; or
- (c) incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature."
§ 4.45 p.m.
The third safeguard is whether
the work as a whole would tend to corrupt.
§ The work has to be considered as a whole as to whether it corrupts. The next safeguard is that the person affected must be a child or young person. Those are four of the safeguards in the Bill, of which we are trying to narrow the scope, and rightly so.
The Amendment concerns a quite diferent point. The next Amendment, in page 1, line 13, proposes to leave out the word " whether." By omitting " whether," we would go a long way to wreck the purpose which the Government have in mind, because " would tend to corrupt " would then be defined by the words
inciting or encouraging him to commit crimes or acts of violence or cruelty…
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I am coming to that.
By leaving out " whether," the purpose would be to deal with the class of horror comic which incited or encouraged the child or young person to commit crimes. We should then be left with the wordsor in any other way whatsoever.If we deleted " whether " and retainor in any other way whatsoeverthe bench might well regard the matter in accordance with the ejusdem generis rule, and say that that was inciting or encouraging a young personto commit crimes or acts of violence or cruelty or in any other way whatsoever,meaning " in any other cruel or violent way whatsoever." That is exactly why I 60 do not think the definition contained in the Clause is of any assistance.
The Clause seeks to give to a word a meaning which that word does not possess. If the Government are trying to extend its meaning, they do not need to do so. If the story in question is told in pictures and relates to the commission of crimes, and if the work as a whole would tend to corrupt, an offence is created. There is no need to addby inciting or encouraging him to commit crimes…The addition of those words simply provides unnecessary difficulties for the bench and for the jury. They provide no safeguards for the Government's desire to make the penalty severe.
This is not a " loophole " case. I am not arguing it on the ground that, by excluding the words, any greater opportunity is given to the defence; nor would the prosecution be assisted one whit. What I am saying is that it is wholly wrong, in Acts of Parliament, to try to give different meanings to words which have a perfectly ordinary, plain meaning and which can be left to the chairman of a bench or to the jury.
I agree with a great many of the observations which I heard the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) make last Thursday. He has personal experience as chairman of a bench, and I hope he will agree with what I have said in moving my Amendment, for I believe that benches and juries can easily be misled. We do not need to define words which are in common parlance, and I believe that the best thing that could happen would be the exclusion of these words.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
I do not for one moment suppose that the Government will consider accepting the Amendment, and I doubt very much whether the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) has understood the terminology of the Clause. He has assisted the Committee by extracting from the dictionary a definition of the word " corrupt," but that has no relationship whatever to the situation with which the Clause confronts us.
What we have to do is to consider the meaning in relation to the context of this particular Clause and not in relation to the dictionary. I say that because 61 anyone with any experience knows that the scope of corruption is boundless, just as the variety of the human mind is infinite. If the Bill is to be effective, that factor is a matter which has to be taken into consideration.
There are two viewpoints which, with all respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not think he has taken into account. There is a sense of the word " corruption " which may make it merely an abstract matter; that is to say, a horror comic may corrupt the mind of a child without that effect going any further. However, there is also another effect and meaning of corruption, namely, the commission of some crime or other act. That is a positive action and is an entirely different matter. I imagine that the draftsman at the Home Office is not quite so foolish or obtuse or as incompetent as the hon. Gentleman has suggested, because the draftsmen has obviously applied his mind to this very important refinement that it is necessary to cover if this provision is to be effective.
That is why the problem is not a question of defining, but a question of such a catalogue as the Amendment seeks to seclude. That is why these words are put in parenthesis, to guide the courts by showing that it is not merely a question of the corruption of the mind and no more, but that it is also a question whether the corruption goes further and results in the commission of some crime or some act indicated in the Clause. In these circumstances, it seems to me that the Clause without these words would be elliptical and would be ineffectual. Therefore, I am certain that the Home Secretary should reject the Amendment, and that it is right that it should be rejected.
§ The Solicitor-General (Sir Harry Hylton-Foster)
On a point of order. I am not quite clear, Sir Charles, whether it was the intention of the Chair that this Amendment should be taken in isolation, or whether it was the intention to invite the Committee at the same time to consider the next two Amendments, in the name of the hon. Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins), in page 1, line 13, to leave out " whether," and in page 1, line 15, to leave out " or in any other way whatsoever." In a sense they are interlocking.
§ The Chairman
They are not only interlocking, but it is impossible to save 62 them, and so they must be discussed together.
§ Mr. J. Foster
My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) argued, I think, that the word " corrupt " covered everything mentioned by the words in parenthesis.
§ Mr. Foster
Yes, in the light of paragraphs (a), (b) and (c). I would suggest to him that there are some cases of violence which would not come within the ordinary meaning of " corrupt." If I am wrong about that, I would still suggest to him that it is arguable that some acts do not come within the ordinary meaning of " corrupt," and that, therefore, the parenthesis does extend the word " corrupt " in a direction in which the Bill is intended to be extended and in which, I should have thought, one would have supported the intention of the Bill.
In other words, the Bill is intended to catch the horror comic which incites children to commit acts of violence, which, I should have thought, it was quite possible a court would have thought were not, in the case of certain acts of violence, within the ordinary meaning of corruption. Some might, some might not.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
Would my hon. and learned Friend help a layman? Can he be more specific about what acts of violence could come under that heading?
§ Mr. Foster
I had in mind a child who, after reading a horror comic, was always assaulting his little friends without warning them, coming up and sticking something in their backs, or hitting them hard. I should have thought it was not a strain of language to have said, " This is a terribly corrupted child who, after reading a horror comic, is always assaulting his little friends without any warning."
§ The Solicitor-General
My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) is, I should say, quite right in thinking that, perhaps, no enormous difference would be made to the terms of the Bill if we left out altogether the words in brackets. However, they are there to help, and it is my submission that they do help.
63 They are there to help the magistrates and they are there to help the courts, because we can get out of a dictionary very wide definitions of the word " corrupt ", perhaps wide enough to cover every category of the results of the portrait of these things enumerated in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) in respect of their effect on children and young persons. I believe it to be fair—and I talk in the presence of so experienced a magistrate as the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede)—to say that magistrates' courts are more used to the use of the word " corrupt " in connection with obscenity. That is the form in which it has been most busily used in legislation.
It was thought to be helpful to add something in explanation, in exegesis, of the word " corrupt " here to indicate some things about it first, that the type of crime referred to, the type of incident of a repulsive or horrible nature, was not one in any sense confined to sex, and that the tendency to corrupt was not one confined merely to exciting horror, shock or disgust at reading about it. We wanted to indicate something that takes a more active part in the process of perverting or corrupting a child.
Therefore, it was thought wise to give instances—they purport only to be instances—of the way in which this kind of publication might tend to corrupt, namely, by inciting or encouraging the commission of crimes or acts of violence or cruelty. But, having got as far as that, we should, in our belief, make the Bill too narrow if we stopped there, because clearly we could have corruption by works of this kind which did not go as far as to amount to inciting or encouragement to commit crimes or acts of violence just in that field—the naked violence field.
What I had in mind was the kind of state of mind that might be induced in certain types of children by provoking a kind of morbid brooding or ghoulishness or mental ill health that would result from matters of that kind, if we left out some further words, the words here " in any other way whatsoever."
I do not think necessarily, with respect to my hon. Friend, we adopt his applicacation of the ejusdein generis rule here. It 64 does not matter. If we left out these words, then, in our belief, we should be making the Clause too narrow once more, because while I think we all agree that sex is merely incidental in this connection we might none the less have trouble in that respect if, for instance, a crime was the crime of rape or if an incident of a repulsive or horrible nature was one with some slightly sexual inclination attached to it. So it seemed to us that we were maintaining here in its fullest sense the full meaning of tendency to corrupt resulting from this kind of work dealing with this kind of subject matter.
I think, perhaps, I ought to add that I am not very well read—I confess it to the Committee—in horror comics, owing to limited time. In order to give an illustration of what I was saying about sex which is only incidental, I recall, although I am not certain of the details, a specimen horror comic which I am not certain whether I showed to anybody on the other side of the Committee. There was the usual eternal triangle story. The variant was that the wife and the intended paramour arranged that they and the husband should take off in some kind of space conveyance to a suitable planet, where the wife and paramour would dispose of the husband for their own purposes.
They all wore space suits, beautiful transparent things inside which one is kept at an even pressure. When they arrived on the planet the wife and her paramour punctured the husband's space suit with a revolver bullet, whereby he perished in circumstances quite horrific. Having done that, the other couple found themselves unable to manage those matters for which they had purposely gone to the planet. I take that illustration from a horror comic to show that it is wise to keep in the Bill words like…or in any other way whatsoever).
§ Mr. Ede
In the first place, I ought to disclaim any right to be set up as a kind of person who, as chairman of the bench, might give intelligent guidance to my colleagues as to what offence could or could not be committed within the terms of the Clause. I approach this matter as one who may have to administer the law in court, and not necessarily as chairman of the bench.
65 I dislike having too many words in an Act of Parliament which I have to try to construe, because people will try to make each one of them mean something. That is why I had a considerable amount of sympathy with the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) in his desire to keep the words mentioned in the Amendment out of the Bill. I fear that in certain circumstances they might lead to more confusion, either in the jury room or in the magistrates' room, than need exist in order to do justice according to the desire that lies behind the Clause.
It seemed to me that the Solicitor-General was rather supporting that view because he said, in effect, " We did this so as to limit the Bill, and then we found that we had limited it a little too much, and we are putting in a few more words to expand it again." The space suit is going up and down in circumstances where its correct inflation is a matter of the highest importance and might lead to even worse complications than the incidents which the hon. and learned Gentleman adduced from his own study of the periodicals. I hope that between now and the Report stage the Government will consider this matter again, and that they will not intimate at the moment that they are indissolubly wedded to the words in the Bill.
§ Mr. F. P. Bishop (Harrow, Central)
I was not quite clear, from what my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General said, whether he was expressing the opinion that the ejusdem generis rule would not apply to the words,…or in any other way whatsoever).It seems to me rather an important point, because, if it does apply, it might exclude those cases of corruption in the form of corruption of character as distinct from crimes and acts of violence which he mentioned.
§ The Solicitor-General
My own view, which I submit to the Committee, is that the words here are so wide that they would exclude the application of the rule.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I should like to say a few words rather in support of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). I should have thought that it was very much better if the words in brackets in 66 the Clause were omitted. It is not quite clear what effect they are going to have. Some Members take the view that the words in brackets extend the ordinary definition of the word " corruption." Other Members, including the Solicitor-General, take the view that they limit it. We are not agreed as to whether the words in brackets, if they stay in the Bill, will limit or extend the normal interpretation by the courts of the word " corruption."
If the words were intended to expand the ordinary definition of the word " corrupt," I should say that they were unfortunate. We all know what evil we are trying to stop by means of the Bill, and most of us know that at the same time we are anxious to prevent any unnecessary inroads into the ordinary laws governing the freedom of the Press. To take an example, it is notorious that any schoolboy novel contains inevitably some description of acts of violence, because schoolboys are notorious for knocking each other about and committing acts of violence which are not crimes.
The Bill talks about acts of violence or cruelty as something different from crimes. Schoolboys are notoriously cruel to each other. They always have been, and presumably always will be. Every schoolboy novel must contain some description of acts of cruelty by one boy to another or by a bunch of boys to other boys or by a master to boys, but no one hitherto has thought of trying to suppress schoolboy novels on that ground.
We may turn, by analogy, to schoolboy magazines, which take the form not of novels but of books or magazines consistingwholly or mainly of stories told in pictures…They may be equally as harmless as traditional schoolboy novels, on which the Home Secretary and I and probably everybody else in the Committee has been brought up. If one had pictorial representations of that kind no one would want to stop them, but inevitably they would contain acts of violence and of cruelty, because otherwise they would not be true of school life. Therefore, they ought not to be stopped.
We do not want in the Bill words which will make the publication of harmless books and magazines of that kind an offence. I am very worried that if we 67 extend the word " corruption " to mean something that may encourage a boy to commit an act of violence towards another we shall be drawing the line very wide indeed, far wider than anyone wants to draw it. After all, it is one thing to suppress crime, and the commission of crime is only one of the three matters with which the Clause deals. The Clause deals with acts of violence or acts of cruelty. I do not believe that we are ever going to stop acts of cruelty among schoolboys or that we are or ever going to see any honest, truthful, valid book about school life which does not contain some act of cruelty.
Consider " Tom Brown's Schooldays." Suppose that was reproduced in magazine form with pictures. It might well be said that such a magazine would tend to encourage acts of violence. Is it intended that that kind of thing should be stopped? I should have thought that the answer would be quite clearly in the negative, provided that the operative word in this Clause was " corrupt," and we left out the words in brackets.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
Is my hon. Friend not confusing two things. The propensity of a boy to violence or cruelty is one thing, and it exists without any book at all. But if a book so corrupts a boy's mind that it leads to acts of violence or cruelty, that surely must be an entirely different matter. That is not a natural propensity.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I do not think I am called upon to answer my hon. and learned Friend's question. I am not at all sure that I know what the answer is.
I do not know whether I am confused or not, but what I am anxious about is that those who administer this Bill should not be confused. What I am anxious about is that those who are responsible for passing this very tricky piece of legislation—as indeed it is—are not themselves confused as to what they are doing or as to what they are minded to do. If I am confused, then it is not so much of an admission as a confession, and for the life of me I am not quite sure how this Clause would be interpreted if it were put to the test.
My hon. and learned Friend talks about propensity. I suppose if at any time we have to consider whether a particular 68 child is corrupted by a magazine that it has read, we shall have to consider that propensity. It seems to me that if the context of this Clause fell to be interpreted by reference, for example, to " Tom Brown's Schooldays " the question for the court would be whether that book would tend to corrupt a child. Most of us would expect a negative answer. It may well be said that every boy has a propensity for a bit of rough play at school, and, therefore, would not be corrupted by reading such a book. On the other hand, if the question arose as to whether the reading of " Tom Brown's Schooldays " encouraged him to commit an act of cruelty, I should have thought that quite a number of juries might have said it would.
Whether it does or whether it does not, I am sure the Home Secretary will agree with me that it is not intended that a book of that calibre should be suppressed. We might in the future get an illustrated version of that book in magazine form or some other form, and a question of prosecution under the Bill might arise. I think that this is a most relevant illustration of what we are trying to define and limit by the Clause, and I hope that, on reflection, the Home Secretary will see that there is some wisdom in omitting the whole of the words in the brackets.
§ Mr. Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)
I should be inclined to agree with the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) about the word " encourage ". I find it a little difficult to see what the word " encourage " could really add in this context, but it is perhaps not a matter of great importance. The point I wish to put is this. I may be alone in this, but it seems to me, having listened carefully to the debate, that the point upon which the Committee has disagreed can be put in this way. No doubt when the hon. Member for Islington, East says that there has always been cruelty among schoolboys he is quite right, and where there are two human beings there is always the risk of cruelty from one to the other or from each to both.
This is the question I should like to put to the learned Solicitor-General. Am I right in thinking that the purpose of these words is that corruption must be such as is likely to tend to action or behaviour and not merely a corruption 69 that is worsening of the soul, so to speak, which escapes human estimation? Is the purpose of the words that the corruption must be such that it would tend to result in boys being more ill-behaved than would otherwise happen? If that is the purpose of the words, it seems to me that from the point of view of the anticensorship champions, with which I have very great sympathy, these words are helpful and that they tend to do no harm.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
I should like to join with those who wish to have these words left out. The more one looks into the possibilities the more absurd they become. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) referred to the situation which might arise if an illustrated version of " Tom Brown's Schooldays " were produced. There are many more intermediate examples of illustrated works which could be proceeded against under this Bill. For example, there are illustrated stories from the Bible, which are often put into very respectable, reputable children's magazines.
Take the story of David and Goliath. What could be more of a suggestion to some small boy thinking of an act of cruelty than that he should take a catapult and stone and use it as a weapon against a stronger adversary? Many small children have done precisely that before they ever read the story of David and Goliath?
But under this Bill it would be dangerous for a publisher to produce an illustrated story of David and Goliath because small children might be incited to follow that example. I do not know about Jezebel, but there is the case of Samson pulling down the pillars of the temple. There are all sorts of things that can happen, and one hopes the Home Secretary is not going to make it dangerous, if not illegal, for publishers to put out illustrated stories of the Bible. This is quite serious, because in the Bible there are many dramatic, vivid, exciting and valiant incidents which many publishers might well think of producing with illustrations.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Droylsden)
But these pictures have been exhibited for hundreds of years now. Can my hon. Friend recall a single incident in any 70 court where it has been proved that having looked at these pictures has resulted in the commission of a crime?
§ Mr. Maurice Orbach (Willesden, East)
On a point of order. I submit to you, Sir Rhys, that during the last 10 minutes we have not been discussing the Amendment which is before us. We have been discussing an Amendment already disposed of, because if you look at the Bill you will see that it states:…the work as a whole would tend to corrupt…None of the hon. Members who has spoken has been talking of the work as a whole. They have been talking about the insertion of a story in a book which might tend to corrupt.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
It is not for me to determine the validity of the argument, but the hon. Members have certainly been in order in what they have said in regard to the leaving out of these words.
§ Mr. Wyatt
As this is an attempt at censorship, perhaps I may express the hope that we are to be allowed to discuss all these details, because this is a thoroughly bad Bill, and is going to make the position of publishers and other businesses worse.
My hon. Friend the Member for Droylsden (Mr. W. R. Williams), by the example he gave, showed the absurdity of the position. He rightly said that these illustrated stories have been in circulation for hundreds of years and he then asks me, " Can you appreciate this particular situation arising from the Bill?" Of course I cannot, because the Bill has not been passed.
§ Mr. Williams
I did not say that. I asked my hon. Friend if he could point to any particular instance where this point had arisen.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I suggest to my hon. Friend that it would just be as easy in the future as it has been in the past.
It is going to be very difficult to determine whether any particular book and any 71 particularstory has this or that influence on any particular child. It can only be a matter of conjecture, it is not capable of proof, and in the accumulation of ideas which grow up in a child' consciousness nobody can say that it is one as against another which has incited him to perform a certain act of violence. It might well be that the story of David and Goliath in illustrated form in a magazine would put the final picture in his mind of the means by which he could perform his act of violence.
Indeed, it is far more reasonable that a child would perform a simple act of violence of that kind than one of the more complicated acts of violence often depicted in the horror comics to which people take exception. That is so, because no elaborate apparatus is required. For instance, I think that the story of " The Pit and the Pendulum," if illustrated, would not incite a child to violence because he would not think of constructing such an amazing artificial room the roof of which gradually descends to the swinging of a pendulum which cuts the victim in half as it gets close to him.
On the other hand, a publisher would be running a grave risk if he produced an illustrated version of " The Pit and the Pendulum " once this Bill becomes law. He would also run the risk of difficulties if he produced an illustrated version of " Billy Bunter," because " Billy Bunter " contains many incidents which might incite children to violence, such as jamming people between doors and pushing people into fireplaces. I imagine it would not be a great loss to literature if " Billy Bunter " disappeared, and it will disappear in illustrated versions once this Bill is passed.
Almost any great work of literature contains in it some act or acts of violence, so there are large ranges of literature which no publisher would dare to illustrate. In fact, it would even be difficult for the Lambs to write again their " Tales from Shakespeare." We shall not be able to have illustrated versions of " Macbeth " once this Bill becomes law because of the acts of violence in it which children might be incited to imitate. These words are so loose and would eliminate so much—
§ Mr. Keenan
On a point of order, Sir Rhys. Is the hon. Member dealing with 72 the Amendment, because to me it seems as if he has been reading last Thursday's HANSARD to get his material.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
If the hon. Member will look at the words of the Amendment, they are to leave out from " fall " to end of " Clause." It is not for me to determine.
§ Mr. Wyatt
It is important that hon. Members should understand what they are doing, what they are making possible. What they are doing is to make it difficult for perfectly reputable publishers, when trying to depict great works of literature in pictures, to risk undertaking anything which is not completely emasculated.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Major Gwilym Lloyd-George)
I am not very impressed by what the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) has said about the Bible, " Macbeth " and the other literature to which he referred. Everybody appreciates that the stories in the Bible, and also " Macbeth," have to be read as a whole. What has been happening is that a horrible theme has been taken out of what is called a classic and has been depicted by itself. At that point, it ceases to be a classic. So far as the catapult is concerned, I do not know what harm a small boy would come to, except that he would probably be stopped by the police for carrying it. As to the argument about the temple, I cannot imagine a boy trying to pull down a temple.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has been here throughout our debates. This Bill is for a special purpose and it is of no use publishers saying that they are being attacked by the Bill. They are not, and they know it. It will not affect publishers of literature at all.
§ Major Lloyd-George
If the hon. Gentleman will only do me the courtesy of reading the Bill, he will see that it cannot affect literature in any way. It is not my interpretation. The work has to be mainly in pictures. That is what we are fighting against. However, I do not want to waste the time of the Committee, and in view of what has been said I am prepared to look at the wording of the Clause between now and the Report stage.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
In the light of the friendly observations of my right hon. and gallant Friend, to the effect that he will look into the matter, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 2. —(PENALTY FOR PRINTING, PUB- LISHING, &C., WORKS TO WHICH THIS ACT APPLIES.)
§ The Deputy-Chairman
It may be for the convenience of the Committee to take the next two Amendments together.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 16, to leave out " sells or lets on hire."
This Amendment and the next one on the Order Paper deal with the same point. This is an important point and is entirely different from any which we have discussed so far in the Committee.
My argument does not affect the question whether those who publish or print horror comics should be prosecuted, or the terms under which they should be prosecuted, or the terms on which they should be convicted. It is entirely a question whether the prosecution should be confined to those who print and publish as opposed to those who also sell and let on hire these horror comics. I am proposing in this Amendment that the Government should agree that the Bill should be confined to the prosecution of those who print or publish the works and not those who sell them.
The first reason why I propose this is that it would be unfair to newsagents and shops which sell different forms of liaterature and magazines and newspapers. They should not be implicated in being prosecuted because of the dissemination of horror comics. It may be said, " Well. if these newsagents or shops 74 choose to sell this material, they ought to be prosecuted." That implies that everyone who runs a shop where horror comics are sold must survey carefully what he sells.
This leads me to the main reason why I think this is a good Amendment. If the person who may sell the horror comic or the material has to survey it and make up his own mind whether he will sell it, the censorship may be taken out of the hands of the judge and the courts altogether and put into the hands of the bookseller or the newsagent.
This is not a fantastic fear, as I am sure the Minister will agree. Under the law of obscene libel—and this is the only experience we have had in the operation of this kind of law, and, therefore, we are entitled to quote the experience under it—there have been numerous occasions where an undiscriminating censorship was exercised by the bookseller and by the newsagent in a way which no one in this Committee, presumably, would approve, and in a way which the courts would not approve if the matter had ever been brought before them.
I will not go in detail into the examples which I cited during the Second Reading debate, of classic works which have had censorship imposed upon them not by the law of obscene libel but by a bookseller applying what he conceived to be that law. I am sure there is no hon. Member in the Committee, except possibly my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan), who has such a passion against publishers that he wants to put them out of business altogether—
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Foot
I understand. I have always tried to understand the difference between liberty and licence, but nobody has been able to explain it. If my hon. Friend can enlighten us on that point later he will have done something that nobody from the days of John Milton to the present has ever been able to discover. Apart from my hon. Friend, who has a positive desire to regulate publishers, I do not believe there is anyone in the Committee who would wish to defend the idea of a censorship imposed by the vague understanding of booksellers about what might be the law.
75 If we wish to escape that difficulty, we can best do it by means of my Amendments. If the Government do not like the terms of the Amendments, there is on the Notice Paper a proposed new Clause which would go far to meet the same point. If the Government cannot accept my Amendments, perhaps they will indicate whether they will be able to accept the new Clause.
§ Mr. Foot
I am merely trying to help the Government, Sir Rhys. Perhaps that is an error into which I ought not to stray. However, it has helped to make progress on two previous occasions when the Government have been given latitude by the Chair to say that they would accept later Amendments. I was only trying to telescope the discussion, as usual, by asking the Government whether they would accept the proposed new Clause if they do not like my Amendments.
It is important that newsagents should be relieved of what I believe to be a hardship imposed upon them. It really is a hardship for a newsagent, who is a busy person, with masses of stuff pouring into his shop every week, to have to go through material in great detail to determine whether or not it comes within the terms of the Bill. Very dangerous precedents and difficulties would be created if newsagents and booksellers had to exercise this kind of censorship.
I once wrote a book which W. H. Smith & Son Ltd. would not circulate and would not include in their bills. [HON. MEMBERS: " Hear, hear."] I notice that there are a few lovers of censorship on the other side of the Committee. It was not the " Tribune " or a horror comic of that nature. I am sure that if the " Tribune " had been guilty of such a crime we would have received a letter from the National Executive of the Labour Party about it, but, so far, that is one complaint that has not been made.
It was wrong that W. H. Smith & Son Ltd. should have exercised censorship in that case. If we leave booksellers and newsagents liable to prosecution under the Clause, we are inviting them to make 76 sure that they do not sell any of these commodities and we are thereby inviting them to exercise a general indiscriminate censorship which could go very much wider than the terms of the Bill.
Much has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee—the Government ought to take note that there have been as many Amendments and speeches from the Government benches as from the Opposition—about the difficulty of drawing a line. I admit that there have been powerful cases on both sides of the Amendments. The Government's defence all along has been, " We think we are drawing the line as carefully, fairly and precisely as we can." However, if we leave to booksellers the decision whether something shall be sold, as we are doing by leaving these words in the Bill, we shall abandon all the precise, carefully defined and carefully argued protections that we have discussed and leave merely to the vague opinions of booksellers the question whether or not they shall sell something.
We might well have a situation in which, although the Bill was certainly not designed to embrace a perfectly legitimate form of publication, booksellers and newsagents in many parts of the country might say, " It is too risky. Why should we run the risk? It is better to chuck it up and not sell the publication than to run the risk of putting it on the market." That could mean the victimisation of persons engaged in the production of quite proper publications which could not be described as horror comics at all.
By acceptance of my Amendment the Government would prove their good faith about the whole Bill and would show that it is directed to dealing with those who print and publish horror comics and is not intended to institute a new, vague and indiscriminate form of censorship exercised not by the courts but by booksellers and newsagents.
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)
I can understand the anxiety of the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) on behalf of retailers, newsagents and so on who might be caught under the Clause, but perhaps he would like to tell the Committee how he would deal with importers. [HON. MEMBERS: " Look at Clause 4."] As far as I can see, Clause '4 does not invalidate the point I am making.
§ Mr. Hall
Although the question does not arise on the Amendment, it is relevant to the Amendment, Sir Rhys. The hon. Gentleman is trying to delete from the Clause:…sells or lets on hire…It seems to me that an importer would be capable of importing horror comics into the country and then selling them or letting them on hire through libraries to the reading public, including children. I should like a little more information from the hon. Member on that point before I make up my mind about the merits of the Amendment.
§ Mr. Ede
I have listened to what my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) has had to say, and it is clear that once again we are becoming involved in the other Bill which is not now before the Committee. I tried to find out how my hon. Friends who are interested in the other Bill dealt with the problem in it, but they have just given it up. Their first Clause begins:Any person who shall distribute, circulate, sell, or offer for sale…Therefore, when they come to deal constructively with the problem they just have to give it up in despair or else admit that it is an unreal problem on which we need not waste very much time.
These are not publications that booksellers have to weigh up very carefully one way or the other and ask themselves, " Are they just inside the law or just outside?" This is not a case of " Jude the Obscure " or anything like that. There is nothing at all obscure about it. These publications openly flaunt their objectionable features, and the specimens which were produced and quoted on Second Reading indicated that nobody need have any doubt as to whether they have a horror comic in their hands or not.
A person who sells over the counter or hires out one of these publications can have no doubt about what he is doing. After all, Milton did not have so much difficulty in deciding between licence and liberty as my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) tried to make out. One of his famous lines runs:Licence they mean when they cry liberty.78 Let us be very careful that one of the crimes that may be committed in the name of liberty is not to give licence for these publications to be handed over the counter in dark corners of shops in an effort to defeat the law. I hope that the Government will not accept the Amendment.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) argued that those who produce these things are more reprehensible than those who sell them. I think that that is the basis of his argument. Just as there would be no thieves if there were no receivers, so there would be no publishers of horror comics if there were no retailers of them.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) made a very fair point when he said that no one who had one of these things in his hands could be mistaken about what sort of publication it was. It is, of course, essential that the Bill should apply to retailers as well as to publishers, if there is to be effective power to destroy harmful publications in respect of which there has been a conviction, or to prevent their circulation pending proceedings. Their circulation will normally come to the notice of the police as a result of retail sales; it is difficult to think how it will otherwise come to light. If proceedings can be taken against only the publisher, or the printer, there would be a considerable delay while the necessary inquiries were being made. The result would be that the mischief would be done in the meantime by the sale of the offending publications. It would not be an offence on the part of the retailer, and he could continue sales, if the Amendment were accepted. In those circumstances it is essential to keep the retailer covered by the Bill, if it is to be at all effective. I recommend the Committee not to accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
I am sorry that the Under-Secretary has not been able to return a more favourable reply to the Amendment, and I am also sorry that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) felt it necessary to take the extremely discouraging attitude on this Amendment which he has found it 79 necessary to take on most of the Amendments moved from this side of the Committee.
§ Mr. Jenkins
And the other side. He has adopted a slightly contradictory line in our discussions about the other Bill, the Obscene Publications Bill. If we mention the Obscene Publications Bill, he turns round reprovingly and says that we are using this Bill as a pacemaker for the Obscene Publications Bill and that he will not be a party to it. But if the Obscene Publications Bill happens to contain a provision which seems to be at variance with an Amendment moved by myself or my hon. Friends, he points out the contradiction.
I do not think that there is a particular contradiction here, because there are provisions in the Obscene Publications Bill which will strengthen the way in which prosecutions may be made, as is not done in this Bill. It is generally understood that the whole of the Obscene Publications Bill would be clarifying. It would also be a liberalising Bill. The Bill we are discussing today, although it is no doubt necessary, is not liberalising but restrictive by its very nature. Booksellers are confronted with a very different position after a restricting Bill, however worthy, has been passed than after a liberalising Bill has been passed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) mentioned a difficulty that will arise if this Amendment is not accepted. It is that booksellers themselves might begin to apply a censorship more strict than that which the law would sustain and there is obviously a very real danger of that. He said that if his new Clause were accepted that might to some extent ease that difficulty. There is also a danger, if one is to proceed against booksellers, of the possibility that the proceedings may be only against the bookseller. He may plead guilty to save trouble, and the other people concerned, whether the author—the artist in the case of pictorial publications—or the publisher, are then necessarily assumed to be guilty of publishing objectionable and corrupting publications without having any opportunity at all to offer evidence or a defence on their own behalf.
80 5.45 p.m.
Another new Clause deals precisely with that point, and if we could have an indication from the Government that they would look favourably at that, that might be another matter. There is a slightly new point in the Amendment. Under the existing law of obscene libel, the common practice—although not the invariable practice—appears to be that if proceedings have to be taken against a bookseller, they are proceedings merely for a destruction order. He is not indicted on a criminal charge. The goods complained of are merely destroyed, but invariably the criminal proceedings are against the author or the publisher. That puts the bookseller, who is necessarily less aware of what he is selling than are the author and publisher, in a stronger position, because he does not run so much risk. He is not tempted to apply this censorship as he would be if he were liable to criminal proceedings as are the author and publisher—as they should be, subject to proper safeguards.
Of course, there can be no defence that the author and publisher did not know what they were putting out. We now appear to be envisaging a position in which the bookseller, author and publisher are all equally liable to criminal proceedings. In the very nature of things, the bookseller cannot be expected to know what he is selling as exactly as do the author and publisher.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
Do I take it that my hon. Friend is suggesting that these newsagents have been unaware of the type of publication they have been selling?
§ Mr. Jenkins
If I may say so, that question, like so many of the points with which we are dealing, assumes that one is concerned only with the person who is obviously and completely guilty. What one is necessarily worried about in the restricting operation of the Bill is the marginal case. The person who does not make his living out of horror comics, but who may at some time or other have sold a certain number of publications which were on the borderline between horror comics and respectable publications, comes into that category. One cannot close one's mind to the fact that there are these marginal cases. I am concerned about these marginal cases, and I think that it is very likely that a great number 81 of them may sell these publications from time to time without knowing exactly what they are.
§ Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
In the commercial world there is, I believe, a doctrine known as caveat emptor—" the buyer has to look after himself." The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), who appears by virtue of his political training and beliefs to be willing to regulate everybody else's lives, seems to be unwilling to regulate his own profession.
It seems to me that newsagents and public libraries—this provision must cover public libraries as well as ordinary newsagents—must accept the same commercial responsibilities and obligations as every other business undertaking. In the business world if one buys something one examines it to see that it is in fact what one wants to buy, and one rejects it if it is not. I fail to see why newsagents or public libraries should be put in any different position from that of other members of the community.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman give an example of any other type of merchandise in which there is a tendency to corrupt some one into whose hands it might fall, and where that is a criminal offence?
§ Dr. King
We are dealing with an industry which is largely based in America. By the time the Bill becomes law there will be no printers or publishers of horror comics in this country. If we were to accept the Amendment we should leave in possession of the field the only instrument by which the horror comic can be circulated here. I hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. Fell
My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State seemed to dismiss the Amendment on the basic ground that in any case the Bill was directed only against horror comics and that we all know what they are. Do we all know what they are? Does the Bill tell everybody exactly what they are? If not, are there not strong grounds for accepting the Amendment or something like it?
I find it hard to believe the argument of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper) that everyone must accept this 82 as a commercial risk—that he must look at the product and see whether it is good, bad or indifferent. That is not the point. The point is that he has to interpret Clause 1. That is perfectly simple if it is merely a matter of seeing whether he is or is not being asked to sell a horror comic.
I think we know, and that all newsagents know, what a horror comic is. That is a simple point, but the Bill has not been able to define what a horror comic is. I am certainly not clear exactly what will come under the Bill, and, until I am more clear, I shall be favourably disposed towards the Amendment or something of a similar nature.
§ Mr. Wyatt
One of the difficulties that there has always been in arguing the law of obscene libel is that the judgments of magistrates vary so considerably about what is or is not an obscene libel. They often seem unable, perhaps through no fault of their own, to draw a clear distinguishing line between what is intended as literature or a serious work and what is intended to be obscene.
These are magistrates who are accustomed to exercising a judicial function. In the Clause we are asked, in effect, to give newsagents the same judicial function, as my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) said. The news-agent has now to look through all his stuff, read everything in it before he starts to sell it, and satisfy himself that it will not come within the range of the Bill. If I were a newsagent I should be very cautious about this and I should frequently rule out from s[...]e all sorts of publications which a magistrate might think it perfectly harmless and perfectly reasonable to sell.
Earlier, we had the example given that sometimes people, to justify an attempt to purvey sadistic material, will take some of the more violent circumstances out of the Bible and illustrate them and sell them in the guise of respectable literature. It would be very difficult for a newsagent to tell what had happened in a particular case. I think it much wiser to leave it to people who have to exercise a judicial function. That is what happens if we exclude the person who " sells or lets on hire."
It is then asked—if we exclude the person who sells or lets on hire—what 83 will happen to works which are imported? There is a Clause which deals with imported works, and there are Customs officers to go through them. A good many officers are employed in that operation. In any case, provision could be made, if the Government so desired, to tighten up that Clause if a loophole were left after the words " sells or lets on hire " had been left out. It would merely mean a little further adjustment between now and a later stage. It is a very bad practice to make every newsagent into a forced judge of what is or is not harmful of the things he sells.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
It is clear that those who support the Amendment have very deep concern about the fact that this provision brings within its ambit the retailer and not merely the printer and the publisher. I have some sympathy with them. It is clear that one must oppose the Amendment as drafted, because there is a great distinction between the horror comic and the law of obscene libel. None the less, that does not mean that it is not possible between now and the next stage of the Bill to give them the substance of what they want by one of the well-known forms of proviso.
I will illustrate the point. Suppose we insert a proviso that if the retailer did not know, and could not reasonably be expected to ascertain, that the work was in contravention of the Clause, then we could give him the opportunity of going to the court and saying, " I did not know that I was is possession of a horror comic, and, what is more, I could not reasonably have known that it was a horror comic."
It is true that one may disagree with the views expressed by the hon. Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins), but they are not quite as puerile as the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) thought they were, because what he says is true. In 90 per cent.—probably 95 per cent.—of the horror comic cases the result is obvious: a certain conviction. But about 5 per cent. will be borderline cases, and that is where injustice occurs.
The only way to assist is by a proviso where the burden is on the accused to satisfy the court that in the circumstances he behaved reasonably. I do not want to 84 express an opinion one way or another. I am not sitting on their side of the fence or on the Government side; but I thought it right to point out that factor.
§ Mr. Foot
I am most grateful to the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) for his contribution to the debate. I only wish that it could have been made from the Front Bench on this side of the Committee. I do not think that anybody could listen to what the hon. Gentleman said and then doubt that there is a reasonable point in the Amendment. It is one which can affect the question of whether injustice is done to publishers and to the retailers as well.
Therefore, I do not think it right that the Amendment should be dismissed as trivial; nor do I think it proper that it should be dismissed on the rather strange ground put by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that in another Bill, which we are not discussing, somebody else had not been able to solve a rather different problem. It seems to me—
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Foot
Yes, he was provoked. If my right hon. Friend refers to this other Bill, it seems to me that my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford is entitled to refer to it as well. I do not think there is any grievance on that account.
My grievance was that my right hon. Friend dismissed these Amendments as being trivial and hardly worthy of consideration, on the ground, as I have said, that in another Bill, which we are not discussing, a different point has not been dealt with. That does not seem to be an adequate reason for not discussing these Amendments now.
The hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper) apparently thought that I was in favour of wrecking every industry but my own. He has now left the Chamber—I do not know whether he wished to know the answer. In this Bill we are dealing with a different kind of subject matter than, for instance, coal, steel, soap, or any other commodity. The principle connected 85 with the free expression of opinion is something with which one must deal on a different plane than when dealing with other topics. We should be more careful how we impose restrictions when dealing with the free expression of opinion I than with any other commodity. The hon. and gallant Gentleman, apparently, is claiming that he cannot distinguish between the free expression of opinion and the sale of soap, or whatever other commodity it is from which he makes his living.
Here we are dealing with an important matter, with the question of how the retailer and the publisher are to be protected. The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) argued, very reasonably, that this Amendment might not be the best way of achieving the purpose, and he outlined a very good form of words which could be used in an endeavour to obtain what I am seeking to obtain. I say that with the greater emphasis. because I think that there was a strong point in what was said by another hon. Member opposite, that this Amendment might make it difficult to deal with the problem of imported horror comics. I understand that a real difficulty exists there. But instead of rejecting these Amendments out of hand, the Government should at least be prepared to say that they will look at the matter again.
After the speech of the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet, I hope that the Government will be willing to consider this matter again—even though this Amendment is withdrawn and the others are not moved. As I said earlier, they will have an opportunity, later, to meet the point which has been raised. Perhaps a suitable Amendment could be made under the new Clause to which I referred in my opening remarks. The present words may not be good legal language, and I do not mind if the language is changed. But I hope that the Government will be ready to examine this problem afresh?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
While there is no question of accepting this Amendment—retailers must remain in the Bill—and though I do not wish to stave off a Division by making any promise, I can say that between now and the next stage of the Bill we will consider what has been said. I do not wish to mislead the hon. Member into thinking that I am making 86 any kind of promise, but we will give the matter consideration.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir Frank Soskice (Sheffield, Neepsend)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 18, after " hire " to insert:knowing it would have a corrupting effect as defined in section one of this Act.
§ The Chairman
I think it would be convenient if we discussed this Amendment together with the next two proposed Amendments to the same line.
§ Sir F. Soskice
I had hoped to catch your eye, Sir Charles, on the next Amendment, but I can deploy such arguments as I wish equally well, or badly, on this Amendment.
We have just decided that we should not leave out retailers and newsagents from the scope of the Bill. If they are kept in, the question arises whether we tend to put too much of a burden, not only on them, but on the printers and publishers and all persons who have these horror comics in their possession, by the wording which we have chosen in Clause 2. May I make it perfectly clear that I am convinced that this is a very necessary Bill, and that I should not wish to be a party to a change in its terms which would have the effect of unduly impairing its efficacy. In moving this Amendment, my task is somewhat abbreviated by reason of the fact that a good many arguments in support of it have already been canvassed.
As at present worded, the Clause does this: it puts the retailer—to take him as an example—in the position that he may have had a considerable stock of publications delivered to him. They may be publications which it is his intention to sell. He may not have studied them. He may scarcely even have opened them. Nevertheless, as I read the Clause, if the publication in question is a publication which conforms to the description in Clause 1, and if, in so conforming, it would tend to corrupt a child or a young person, he, by simply having it in his possession as part of the stock on his premises, commits an offence.
87 The question I first wish to raise on this Amendment is whether that is not putting an undue burden upon the retailer. Excellent as is the object of the Bill, it has been pointed out by many hon. Members—indeed, it is obvious—that we must weigh against its excellent purpose the danger of infringing too much upon the freedom of publication. I think we would all accept that. By this Amendment, therefore, I seek to put in the form of a question to the Government the following argument. Should not we make it necessary before a conviction can be obtained under Clause 2 against any of the persons therein enumerated—printers, publishers, newsagents, and so on—to establish affirmatively that there was on his or her part an element of volition or purpose?
Should it not be necessary for the prosecution to prove, either pointing to the very nature of the publication itself or to other circumstances, that the mind of the accused person had gone with what he did? In other words, that he was conscious of the fact, and intended that the publication in question should have the debasing effect described in Clause 1? I know there are dangers about accepting an Amendment in the terms in which it is proposed. Here we have simply sought the best wording that we could find in order to raise the question. We are not wedded to the terms of the Amendment, and we ask the Government to accept its purpose as distinct from its precise wording.
Should it not be necessary to establish that the newsagent, shall we say, who has a stock of these horror comics in his possession, knew what was their purport; that he knew what effect they were likely to have upon young persons, and intended, by their working on the mind of young persons, to earn money and to make a profit of selling the publications? I suggest to the Home Secretary that we are perhaps going a little too far if, as I read the Clause—perhaps the learned Solicitor-General will tell me if I am wrong—in effect what we do is to make a conviction automatic if it can be shown by an objective test that the publication in question would tend to corrupt; if, by that objective test, or any necessary test, it could be shown that it would have that tendency; and if it can be shown that it was part of the stock of the bookseller 88 which, in due course, he would have put out for sale. I suggest, for the consideration of the Home Secretary, that that is going too far.
One difficulty about an Amendment of this sort is that if we look at the aim of any of the persons who sell or write or publish these publications, their principal purpose is to make money out of them. They do not care whether they corrupt or not. That, obviously, presents a serious difficulty of drafting. Nevertheless, I think that if the plain facts of the situation demonstrate that they intend to make money by selling or purveying the publications, and they know and are fully conscious that the publications will have a debasing effect on children, they will then fall within the meaning of the wording which we have chosen. If they do not fall precisely within that meaning, I ask the Government to see whether they can find some words to prove at least that amount of intent.
We raised this matter on Second Reading, and we think that it is one of principle and of some importance. I should certainly not wish in any way to wreck the Bill or to make it inefficacious to achieve the purpose which we all have in mind, but I request the Government to give the Amendment serious consideration—as I am sure they have done since Second Reading—and to find, between now and the Report stage, some wording which will make it necessary for the attainment of a conviction to show that some conscious purpose to deprave existed in the mind of the person accused.
§ The Solicitor-General (Sir Harry Hylton-Foster)
The Government appreciate, as I am sure the Committee appreciate, the restrained way in which the right hon. and learned Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice) put forward this suggestion. We will most certainly look at it. I wish, however, to indicate what it seems to us are the difficulties involved.
We are all of one mind in wanting to put a stop to the publication, sale and letting for hire of this kind of offending work. That being so, it seems to us that by placing upon the prosecution the burden of proving either some specific intent of the seller, or knowledge on the part of the seller, that the work should have a corrupting effect, we shall make it almost impossible to stamp out this 89 kind of publication. That is our fear. I believe that were we to put into the Bill the words suggested by the right hon. and learned Gentleman in relation to intent, that is to say, if we placed on the prosecution the burden of proving the sale was with intent to corrupt children or young persons, it would be very difficult to see how the prosecution could ever attain to that proof.
One can pick up the obvious horror comic and say, " Here is someone intentionally selling this document which, by the objective test "—which, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman says is the right test—" would have a tendency to corrupt." One can then go further and say, " Here is somebody who is selling this object which must obviously have that tendency. One must presume him to intend the ordinary consequences of what he does."
If I rightly understand the position, it would be this. The right way for the magistrate and for the jury to direct themselves would be to say, " There is no must about this. You may draw that inference, but there is no must. You are only entitled to draw the inference from those facts that the seller intended to corrupt children or young persons if, on the whole of the evidence, that seems to you to be the right inference. If, on the whole of the evidence, it is in doubt whether or not that is the right inference, then you ought not to draw it."
It seems to us that one would get to the position that although the prosecution could prove the nature of the work, the horror comic, and, in the case of the retailer, the sale of it, it might be impossible for the prosecution to establish intent. If, for instance, the accused said, " This only came in yesterday in a bundle. I did not know what was in it," one could not then infer the intent. It would be very difficult to answer him because the prosecution would have no material for answering the defence of " I did not know " or " I did not intend," despite the publication of the work, which might well be proved.
It also seems to us that, by that method, one might well be setting a premium on ignorance, as it were, making it much to the advantage of the retailer not to know the content of his stock so that no one could infer the intent or the 90 knowledge against him. We feel that those are serious practical objections to approaching the problem in this way if we are seeking, as we all are, to stamp out the horror comic.
I only indicate these practical difficulties, because, as I have said, we will certainly look at the matter again—on the case put forward by the right hon. and learned Gentleman—to see if we can find some way of getting round the difficulty. On the face of it, however, it looks to us to be placing upon the prosecution the burden of proving the intent or the knowledge, thus making it practically impossible in a very large number of cases to secure conviction, which is something that would defeat the general purpose of us all.
If we were talking about some other topic, for instance that of obscene publications, which keeps cropping up in this discussion, the position might well be quite different, because there is there a conflict between two public interests—on the one hand, the interest of society in desiring to have complete creative scope in literature, art and the like, a matter in which society has an interest, and, on the other hand, the interest of society in seeing that its children and young persons are not needlessly exposed to corruption.
I appreciate the violence of that conflict in relation to obscene literature in general, but I submit that it does not really arise in relation to the kind of publications dealt with in this Bill and which are not likely to be serious works of art and literature. With the undertaking to look at the matter again, but without, of necessity, making any promise because of the practical difficulties which we think exist, I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the way in which he introduced the Amendment.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
The Committee would probably agree that, though the hon. and learned Solicitor-General has not been able to accept the Amendment, he has given it a very sympathetic reception. I think one can say that had we received such a sympathetic reception in regard to Amendments moved during the earlier stage of the Bill, we might have got along much better.
I thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman dealt in a very interesting way 91 with the distinction which exists between the publications which we are considering and the general field of literature. I was glad that he mentioned that distinction, because I thought that the Government were perhaps getting into a slightly unfortunate position so far as this wider field was concerned. If one is going to say that one cannot get any sort of conviction, or have any sort of valid law at all, unless one is going to make a test of what is objectionable, the old Hickling test, then it is not at all clear—that is what the Home Secretary seemed to say last Thursday—how one can ever get a reform of the law relating to wider questions.
I understood the Attorney-General to say that any retreat from the Hickling judgment would make convictions more difficult. But in the case of the horror comics and of this Bill we shall not so retreat, because we do not think that there are any conflicting considerations. In the wider case, we might be prepared to retreat because we think that there are considerations on both sides, and one has to weigh the one against the other. This is perfectly acceptable if, of course, one accepts the view that it is inconceivable that under this Bill publications of merit could ever be involved. That is one of the difficulties which we are up against. In view of what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, I do not think that we would wish to press this Amendment very much further.
The only other point I should like to mention is that the hon. and learned Gentleman addressed himself almost entirely to the first Amendment, although we have been taking three Amendments together. The last of the three, which seeks to insert, after "hire":with intent to corrupt children or young persons, or who is reckless as to its having this effectmight make it slightly easier for the prosecution to get a conviction.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I should like to throw out another suggestion upon the question of intent. There are two places at which the requirement as to intention can be inserted in the Bill. We can say that a person who prints or publishes " with intent " shall be guilty of an offence or, in Clause 1, we can link the question of intention with the person into whose 92 hands the publication falls, so that the relevant words are:in such a way that the work as a whole would tend to corrupt a child or young person into whose hands it is intended to fall.I believe that the Government are clearly right in opposing its insertion in Clause 2. If we did so, a retailer would have the defence which the Solicitor-General mentioned, namely, that he had only just received the publication and had not read it. I regard it as impracticable to introduce the question of intention into Clause 2, but I do not believe that to be the case with regard to Clause 1. The Government have offered to consider whether they can insert some safeguard in relation to intent without at the same time creating a loophole, and I merely draw attention to the fact that, at the moment, anything which might fall into the hands of a child can be covered by the Bill.
Under the terms of the Bill, Goya's " Los Caprichos " is clearly a horror comic and would be covered by the Bill.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
The hon. Member indicates that it would not, but I respectfully take another view and say that the horrible details of the picture might well affect young children.
If we create a broad enough basis in order to show that this kind of literature is intended to fall into the hands of children, or is reasonably likely to do so, we are going a long way towards meeting the purpose of the Amendment without at the same time removing the necessary safeguards. It is for that reason that I certainly oppose such an amendment of Clause 2, but I invite the Government to consider Clause 1 and to see whether it would not assist the purpose of the Bill to insert the words " is intended to fall " in place of " might fall."
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
I was rising to commend the speech made in our discussion of a previous Amendment in Clause 1 by the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) and to apply it to this discussion. I am now rather embarrassed by the fact that the hon. Member has apparently withdrawn his proposal and has not applied it to this Amendment.
I should have hoped that the solution to this very real difficulty would have 93 been the changing of the burden of proof. I do not go the whole way with my right hon. and learned Friend in his argument. I think that it would put much too strong a burden upon the prosecution to ask it to dig into the mind of the seller or the hirer of a horror comic in order to try to find out how far he was aware of the difficulties and dangers involved, and how far he had considered whether or not it was the type of publication likely to attract children, and so on. That would appear to be going much too far in protecting a dealer in this type of literature.
As the Solicitor-General said, if the definition of intention includes the assertion that one intends the natural consequences of what one does, it may be that the burden of proof is not as strong as it seems to be to the layman. If one produces a horror comic and says, " Here is something which quite obviously must be intended to attract children and be read by children; it has gone out of its way, designedly, to catch their eye, through the type of cover it has, and so on," one might persuade a bench of magistrates to come to the conclusion that the intention was to corrupt children.
I find it rather difficult to follow the different directions given by my right hon. and learned Friend and the learned Solicitor-General about the law of intention, but if the law is as I have just suggested, the risks of the Amendment destroying the Bill would not be as great as they might otherwise seem to be to the layman.
I should have thought that the Government could safely go as far as putting upon somebody possessing this type of literature the burden of convincing the jury or the magistrate that he had some other object in having this literature upon his premises than selling it in such circumstances that it was likely to reach children. To put the onus any less strongly than that might considerably weaken the Bill. The prosecution already has to establish a reasonable amount. It has to establish that the person accused had the work in his possession for the purpose of selling it or letting it on hire, and that he is in fact dealing in this kind of matter. That, in itself, is sometimes quite difficult to establish. To put upon the prosecution the responsibility of establishing the intention with which such a person was dealing with it would seriously weaken the Bill, and the Government would be most unwise to accept such an Amendment.
94 I hope that, as a result of his consideration of the question, the Solicitor-General will be able to find some way in which the burden of proof shall first be placed upon the prosecution, to show that the person possessing the publication had the intention of selling it or hiring it out, and shall then be shifted on to the possessor of the publication, to show that he had some other purpose, of such a character that he would not reasonably have thought that it was likely to reach children or young persons.
It is unfortunate that we have to have such a Bill as this, but we must face the fact, fairly and squarely, that horror comics are pernicious and might have a corrupting influence upon children. In those circumstances, people who traffic in them for their own profit do so at their peril, and it must be accepted that they do so at their own peril. It is up to them to establish a very good reason for their having such literature in their shops if they are to escape prosecution under the Bill.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
My hon. and learned Friend adduced a very good reason why the wording of the Amendment should not be accepted, but his example also revealed the danger of the present wording. It might be possible for a fairly large retailer to receive a fairly large order and, under the present wording, to be guilty of an offence—and, presumably, subject to a very substantial penalty—if that order contained any of the literature which the Bill is designed to cover. Although the wording might not lead to an unjust prosecution of the printer or the publisher of such literature, it might do so in the case of the retailer, if he is included.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Sir F. Soskice
The Solicitor-General has given me a very courteous and careful answer, and the debate has brought to light what the difficulties are both against the Amendment and in its favour. If it lies in my mouth to do so, I, having moved the Amendment—which was not in my name—on the implied invitation of my hon. Friend, should like, in view of the Solicitor-General's answer, to withdraw it. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Beresford Craddock (Spelthorne)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 20, to leave out from " months " to the end of line 21 and to add:for the first offence, a term of twelve months for the second offence and a term of two years for each subsequent offence.The Amendment draws attention to two aspects of the penalty which is to be inflicted for this offence. Every member of the Committee agrees that publication of horror comics is an evil which should be stamped out. I want to be brief, so I will not indulge in the old controversy as to whether punishment is a deterrent or not; sufficient to say that I take the view that the penalty in the Bill is not nearly severe enough for the first offence.
My hon. Friends and I recognise that to a certain extent this is a matter of trial and error. We have not proposed to increase the penalty of imprisonment, namely, four months, but we feel that to give the option of imposing a fine weakens the penalty very considerably. As the penalty stands at present, we submit that there is a strong case for it to be imprisonment only.
There is one other aspect of this matter which I submit with respeet to my right hon. and gallant Friend. I understand that the majority of, if not all, the people who indulge in the publication of these pernicious horror comics have very substantial financial resources. It may well be that they would get off with a fine, and that a fine of £100 would be nothing to them. I recognise that there are arguments—and I appreciate them all—which my right hon. and gallant Friend may put forward why the option should be maintained in the Bill, but I noted with surprise that there is no penalty for the second and subsequent offences.
As I have said, a person may be fined £100, which is nothing to him at all, and start again. Therefore, it was with the object of drawing specific attention to this absence of penalty for subsequent offences that my hon. Friends and I put down the Amendment. We recognise that it is unlikely that my right hon. and gallant Friend will alter the penalty as it stands in the Bill, but I would respectfully ask him to give consideration to more severe penalties for second and subsequent offences.
§ Mr. Gower
My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Beresford Craddock) has said why we have framed this Amendment. One hesitates to put Amendments of this kind on the Notice Paper, but I think that, from what has been said in the debates, it is quite clear that Parliament means business in this particular case.
The intention of my hon. Friend and myself in tabling the Amendment was partly to show that by the punishment expressed in the Bill Parliament does, in fact, mean business. We recognise that there are some teeth in the Bill, but we believe that they are too small. I should like my right hon. and gallant Friend, even if he does have some opposition to the first proposal, to do something, if necessary at a later stage, which will give a cumulative effect to the penalty which may be administered for second and third offences.
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)
I should like to support the plea, put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Beresford Craddock) and my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower). I understand that my right hon. and gallant Friend may not be able to accept the exact words and penalties stated in the Amendment, but I reinforce what has been said and I hope the Government will be able to accept, by implication, that there should be increased penalties and increased punishment for second and subsequent offences. That is, to my mind, the main object of the Amendment.
It can be said that the penalties stated in the Amendment are rather severe, but this is a particularly nauseating trade with which we are dealing, and those who have put their names to this Amendment feel that it is worth while that there should be not only teeth in the Bill but that the teeth should be sharp enough and big enough.
§ Mr. F. P. Bishop (Harrow, Central)
I agree with much that my hon. Friends have said. I am sure we all feel that the strongest penalties are required in a Bill of this kind, so far as they apply to those who deliberately publish, produce or sell works of this nature. I hope, however, that my right hon. and gallant Friend will think well before he accepts an Amendment to take out of the Bill the option of 97 a fine, when we bear in mind that in the last Amendment we were discussing the possibility of convictions against people who, although they had committed an offence under the Bill were entirely innocent of any intention to do so.
That is a possibility which exists under the Bill as it stands. It would be rather hard if there were no option for the magistrates or courts to impose a fine in the case where that was so, as distinct from the case in which intent was clearly evident. I hope that the option of a fine will not be removed, but I support the Amendment so far as the penalties for second and subsequent offences are concerned.
§ Mr. Ede
I think I have given proof that I detest these offences as much as anyone in the Committee. I cannot, however, support the Amendment. My view is that if we make penalties too severe, so that juries are apt to regard them as too severe, they become very reluctant to convict.
To give an example, I am sure that one of the difficulties about getting convictions for driving under the influence of drink is the fear on the part of juries that if they convict a man for this offence he may be sent to prison. They object to sending middle-class people to prison—[Laughter.] Oh, yes. The only people who used to be charged with being drunk in charge of vehicles were carters who were in charge of horses and carts. There was no difficulty about getting convictions, no difficulty in getting doctors to say that they were drunk; but as soon as middle-class people came in, the doctors did not know what " drunk " meant. So the law had to be revised. I do not want to go further on that I give that as an illustration that if we make the penalties too severe we may defeat the very object that we have in view.
My own view is that the penalties in the Bill are quite sufficient to deter people. I think that they are also quite sufficient punishment in retribution where an offence has been committed and a conviction has been obtained.
The possibility of incurring a penalty of four months' imprisonment for a second or third offence will be a sufficient deterrent for a middle-class man or shopkeeper who has already offended the first time.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
In spite of the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Beresford Craddock) is one of my constituents, I must tell him that the Government cannot accept the Amendment.
The effect of it would be to make imprisonment the only penalty for an offence under the Bill and to increase the maximum term of imprisonment for second and subsequent offences very substantially indeed. There may be cases—indeed, a number of them were considered during the discussion on the last Amendment—involving retail sales in which it would be quite inappropriate to impose a sentence of imprisonment. The alternative remedy of a fine should be available to the court.
The proposed increases of the maximum terms of imprisonment for second and subsequent offences are out of all relation to the offence. The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) drew attention to the effect of making penalties too great for the crime, and I agree with what he said. For those reasons, I hope that my hon. Friend will see his way to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. Beresford Craddock
I do not regard my hon. Friend's reply as satisfactory, but as he is my Member for Parliament, and a very good one too, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
I beg to move, in page 1, line 21, at the end, to add:Provided that no person shall be convicted of an offence under this section if such printing, selling or letting on hire was for the public good, being necessary or advantageous to religion or morality, to the advancement of knowledge, to the administration of justice, the pursuit of science, literature, art, or education or otherwise.
§ The Chairman
It may be for the convenience of the Committee to take into consideration at the same time the next Amendment, in almost similar terms, in the name of the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Jenkins
As you have indicated, Sir Charles, the second Amendment is a slight variation of the first. In the course of my argument I will try to indicate the differences between the two and explain why we are putting them forward as alternatives.
99 The Amendment I have moved offers the possibility of rebuttal of a charge on the ground that, despite certain other things which may have been said about a publication, one of the things set out in the Amendment can be put forward in its favour, and that the publication is objectively for the public good in one of a number of specified ways. The second Amendment offers the possibility of rebuttal on the ground that the publication is subjectively for the public good in one of the same variety of ways; in other words, that the person who had put the publication forward thought that it was for the public good.
The stronger of these Amendments is the first. It is the more favourable to the Government and creates less difficulty in getting convictions. I seriously suggest, subject to the usual considerations that the wording might not be very good or exactly as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would like it, that the Government ought to look at the Amendment very favourably. Particularly is this so if the Government are anxious, as the Solicitor-General indicated in his speech on the last Amendment but one, to consider the question of intention in as liberal a way as possible without putting themselves in the position that the Bill does not do its job because it becomes impossible to obtain convictions under it.
If it is the case, as the Home Secretary has consistently argued, that the only object of the Bill is to catch horror comics and that there is no possibility of a prosecution being started against any publication other than one genuinely falling with the definition of horror comic, because of the need for the Attorney-General's fiat, there is nothing which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman can possibly lose by accepting the Amendment. It may mean that publications against which the Government wish to get a conviction and which might be shown to the satisfaction of the court to have corrupting effects in certain circumstances upon certain individuals, are none the less for the public good, and that the Amendment would cut the ground from under a great many of the arguments which the Minister has put before us. Nevertheless, I hope that he can see his way to accepting the Amendment, when some of the doubts which we have felt about the Bill would be removed.
100 We should have no difficulty about additional burden of proof being placed upon the prosecution. The Amendment would not open a loophole in the Bill. We have only the possibility that people who are proceeded against on a criminal charge would have a ground of rebuttal if they were able to produce evidence that there was merit of the sort described in the Amendment. If the Government are proceeding only against worthless publications, there is nothing to be said against their accepting the Amendment. It would do a good deal to remove our doubts about the Bill. I hope that, after a long period of stonewalling, the Government will be able to give a sympathetic answer on the Amendment.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
This Amendment is one of the acid tests of the Bill. I did not listen to, but I read with very great interest, the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) on the Second Reading. It was a speech of very great ability, and my hon. Friend did a great service to the House in making it. I have listened to certain of the observations of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield, Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice), and on the whole I agree that this is a useful Bill which we ought to pass.
I do not believe that it contains all the dangers that my hon. Friend has indicated. It is right that we should make clear what is implicit in the observations which my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) made at an earlier stage about some other Bill, to which we might not be in order now in referring, and which he said might pass in a hundred years' time. Why not? These are dangerous waters in which Parliament seeks to navigate. Is there not, therefore, all the greater need to see that the nearer waters are navigable? Ought we not to test the Bill on those lines?
I want to put what I think is not a fanciful fear and not a fanciful objection. In considering this matter we have to bear in mind the history of the past and the fact that whenever Parliament has declared its intentions on these matters, those intentions have nearly always failed to be carried out. These are genuine fears. I do not think I am 101 putting a fanciful objection at all when I recall that under nearly all Statutes limiting seditious literature, for example, peace propaganda has often been the single object of attack, and, in times of emergency, documents which were normally accepted as reasonable have been subject to successful prosecution.
I fear that if there were at present a very able peace organisation which was anxious to call attention in pictorial form to the dangers of the situation today, and if that peace organisation produced a pamphlet which dealt with the news which we have today of the possible detonation of atomic bombs high in the air, of the destruction of pilots, of the boiling of their blood, of the last decision of the pilot to fly down and release his deadly load on the town below; then, although it was a genuine peace organisation, genuinely anxious to call attention to something which it thought a grave international crime, in times of controversy and difficulty, the sort of times in which emergency regulations arise—for, as George Bernard Shaw said, Britain always suspends the Habeas Corpus Act the moment it is necessary—under the wording of the Bill prosecutions might be successfully brought in that period of hysteria.
It would be improper, Sir Charles, for me to call attention to a certain new Clause on the Notice Paper, but one of our difficulties in dealing with a very small Bill to which there are a large number of Amendments is that we have to have in mind what might happen. It seems to me that in this Amendment there is a perfectly reasonable protection, a perfectly safe protection, a protection not capable of being abused, which the Government ought to accept and incorporate in the Bill.
If we refer to our previous experience in these matters and look at what happened in the realm of religion, for example, we remember that Shelley was condemned throughout his life for atheism on the strength of a mild philosophical pamphlet which would hardly attract attention today, the title of which was suggested by Jefferson Hogg, and which did not deal with atheism at all. He was a great poet who preached a humanitarian religion and who, in one of his greatest poems, called attention not merely to that point but to some of our 102 difficulties today. He wrote, in " Adonais ":…he is not dead, he doth not sleep—He hath awakened from the dream of life—'Tis we, who lost in stormy visions, keep With phantoms an unprofitable strife, And in mad trance, strike with our spirit's knifeInvulnerable nothings.—We decayLike corpses in a charnel; fear and grief Convulse us and consume us day by day,And cold hopes swarm like worms withinour living clay.He might well have been describing the situation in the Committee today and our reactions to this legislation and the influence of events, but Shelley remained condemned all his life because of this allegation of atheism. Many of us recall the comment of his widow when she was sending her son to school and someone said, " Send him to a school where he can think for himself "; and she replied, " God forgive him. Send him somewhere where he will think like other people." She said that because she had endured the horrors—and the happiness, but the doubts and difficulties, too—of living with someone who thought for himself.
§ Mr. Hale
I did not want to develop this point at all, Sir Charles, but we are referring to science, morals, education, and the arts and literature, and the difficulty is that we are endeavouring to apply aesthetic tests; and aesthetic things can be tested only by aesthetic means and examined only by aesthetic experts—if there are such people; I do not know.
I am utterly incompetent to talk with knowledge on these matters, but we are in the realm of art and when we are dealing with pictorial art we must remember the revulsion which Ruskin felt for the beauties of Whistler. We recall the trial in which the judge wanted to know whether these were men on the bridge, whether that was the bridge and this was the river; and the intelligent juryman wanted to know why the river was flowing over the bridge and was told that if he turned it the right way up it would not.
These things have happened in this sphere. In the realm of music there was an organisation of young intellectuals as recently as 1914 who protested against melody in music and wanted to introduce cacophony. Although the movement did not live and they did not exist for long, their efforts proliferated and they affect 103 almost every human ear drum today. The Committee will remember that the leader of the movement spent his Saturday afternoons cycling along French lanes firing his revolver at the sky. When asked for an explanation he said that he was making a strictly formal protest against the beastly row which the nightingales were making.
These are not normal views, but they were the views held by the Dadoists, who claimed to have some authority in art at that time. Perhaps I may say, humbly, and, I hope, with due reticence, that although I appreciate things which Ruskin could not appreciate, I completely fail to appreciate some of the major examples of modern art. I cannot derive full spiritual food and comfort from those brilliant examples in which blocks of stone are turned by modern sculptors into a form of art which displays all the deepest symbolism of Euclid and the exquisite curves of a lavatory seat. But there it is, and those are problems on which it is as well that we should have expert advice and should have expert knowledge and on which it is as well that the defence should be able to put its case.
I have said that, in my view, this is a useful Bill and I do not want for a moment to frustrate it. All the people in my constituency who are concerned with juvenile welfare believe that this Bill should be passed. As far as I am concerned, that is good enough for me. But they would not wish us to spare an effort to provide a useful safeguard against the possibility of abuse in times of emergency or difficulty. I should be quite content to put it like that and to urge the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to adopt the Amendment.
I do not want to be discourteous to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman at all. In my view, if we find right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite engaged in something useful, however small, it is to be applauded. They have been engaged for so long in works of destruction that when they are on constructive work, even if the superstructure appears to be comparatively negligible, it is not a matter which we should disregard or about which we should appear cynical or critical. I have never concealed that in my view, in the light of current events and of contemporary 104 events, this is a utilisation of time which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman could perhaps spend better on Civil Defence or something else; but it would not be right for me to go into that now.
What we are saying tonight is that here is a chance to do something for the protection of the juveniles of the country, and, in the main, I support it. Maybe in later years, if history takes its course, appropriate recognition will be made of our labours today. It may be that, when London has disappeared and is being rebuilt Phoenix-like on the ashes of the old, an historian of the future will pay tribute to our modest labours today and do justice to what Parliament has done—and where could it better be done than as an epitaph of one of the victims which, in years to come, may well be expressed in some such words as these:Crippled, stunted, deformed and misshapen, he Dropped septic from a radio-active womb, Survived awhile and perished miserably In London's thermo-nuclear hecatomb, Yet need we not deplore too readily The tragedy of his final fate atomic, From one contamination he lived free, Parliament saved him from the horror comic.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
I had a feeling that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) hoped to make that speech at some stage of this Bill. I thought it was significant that neither he nor the hon. Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) gave any example of how this proviso would work. It seems to me that the proviso would strike at the root of the Bill. I only saw it on the Order Paper a moment ago, and perhaps I might be forgiven for not having given it the profound thought I should have given it; but I can see that it puts the arguments between those who advocate freedom and those who advocate control on a knifeedge.
The first Amendment has some saving grace, in that the defendant could not get away with an easy plea; those prosecuting him have only to show that in their opinion the publication is not for the public good for a conviction to be secured. But the second proviso is very much more dangerous, because it is not easy to prove what a man's intention is. Surely there is always a defence lying for the person who is prosecuted under 105 that proviso. However horrifying the cartoon or comment he has produced, he can always say under this proviso, " I did it in order to warn people against some worse danger, or worse situation, or a graver anxiety." Under this proviso he can always get away by saying, " I did it to show that ' the commission of crimes ' does not pay. I did it to show that ' acts of violence or cruelty ' do not pay. I did it in order to show that'incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature;'can never be committed with any ultimate salvation to the person who committed them."
Even in the most fantastic and horrifying of all comics—those depicting spacemen coming down and committing rapine, arson and things of that kind—the individual charged under this proviso could always say, " I did it in order to create a state of public opinion in favour of "—what shall we say?—" mobilising the Air Force against the deadly dangers that are coming to us from cosmic spheres." Any kind of argument could be produced to show that he knew there was some ultimate good in his plea.
I do very much hope that Her Majesty's Government will not accept either of these two provisos, but will stand fast on the Clause as it stands.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I think we are inclined at times to forget that it is horror comics with which we are dealing and that, according to the definition, it could be a work whichwould tend to corrupt a child or young person.I should like someone supporting the Amendment to say how such a work could possibly befor the public good, being necessary or advantageous to religion or morality, to the advancement of knowledge, to the administration of justice, the pursuit of science, literature, art, or education or otherwise.That seems the whole point of the argument going forward. If one of the signatories to the second Amendment we are discussing would explain how that could possibly come about and that a work which would corrupt a child would be advantageous in that way it would be helpful to the Committee.
§ Dr. King
I had hoped the Government would say that they would look at the first Amendment sympathetically. What has 106 defeated the Committee has been the fears of those who think that under this Bill, which is aimed at one specific evil, we should open the door for Government control of thought in any way. I would hope that the Government would accept either the first Amendment in the form in which it stands, or provide some similar form so that we may reassure the people of Britain that we are simply out to destroy an evil which all of us know. Even those who have been fighting this Bill bit by bit through the House share with us the view that the evil is an evil.
I think we can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) that, even without this proviso, musical cacophony does not come within the ambit of the Bill. If he looks at the Clause he will find that we are talking about pictures. By no means could the peace propaganda which he envisaged as coming under the terms of the Bill be prosecuted, because by no means could that peace propaganda be said to be inciting to violence.
§ Dr. King
No one questions the changing of a political view. I am talking about the words of the Bill, which we are trying to get through. Having said that I believe that all the safeguards we need are to be found in Clause 1, I think we could underwrite and make quite clear, not only to members of the Committee, but the whole British public, that we seek to have no tampering with artistic freedom, religious freedom, or scientific freedom. I know that lawyers who will be engaged by the crime comic syndicates are very clever, but I cannot imagine that any crime comic in the world could come under the description given in the Amendment, and I hope the Government will look at it very sympathetically.
§ Major Lloyd-George
I think the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) gave a very complete answer to this Amendment when he said that 107 we should remind ourselves of what the Bill aims to do. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) told us all sorts of things for which this Bill could be used. I think he said something about modern art, and something about a gentleman—I did not catch his name—who had gone out shooting at nightingales from a bicycle with a revolver. If that gentleman had been pictured as hitting one, the publication would be prosecuted under this Measure because it would tend to incite the child into whose hands the publication might fall to commit crime. There is an Amendment appearing later on the Paper, with which I have already announced the Government are sympathetic, in regard to the time limit of this Bill. That is the best safeguard the hon. Member could possibly have.
The two Amendments proposed to this Clause differ to this extent: one suggests that the action of the person concerned should be for the public good and the other that he intended that it should be for the public good. The object of the first Amendment is to enable a defendant to establish a defence that the work concerned served some useful social purpose, even though at the same time it might tend to corrupt children. If I remember aright in the Second Reading debate a great deal of reference was made—I think it was overdone, the fear was overdone—to this Bill attacking all sorts of things which would not be to the national interest. We heard about the " Rake's Progress " and other forms of art, and that if anyone wanted to publish a pamphlet about the horrors of Belsen in a magazine he would be liable to prosecution. I think that was grossly exaggerated.
Clause 1 is perfectly plain as to what it means. The work has to be all in pictures; that is the thing which matters. It does not have to be mainly in pictures, but all in pictures. The work must consist.wholly or mainly of stories told in pictures ";the stories themselves are to be entirely in pictures. If such works as were mentioned during the Second Reading consistedwholly or mainly of stories told in pictures,it is most unlikely that proceedings would be taken against works of that sort. I 108 think everyone in the Committee knows that to be so. There is something in the point that what the Minister says is his intention is not always satisfactory. There will be another Minister at some time and, therefore, the intention of the present Minister is not sufficient. I have always accepted that point of view, and I have made that point myself very often.
Leaving that out, however, surely the great safeguard is that proceedings would not be initiated in England and Wales without the consent of the Attorney-General, a provision which, as I have indicated, I am prepared to accept. That is a sufficient safeguard to protect works of this sort which have been brought into the ambit of the Bill.
In any case, the Amendment is not sufficiently precise. The wordsadvantageous to…morality, to the advancement of knowledgewould give a defendant a very wide scope for his defence. The Amendment also refers to the pursuit of literature and art. I suppose that that is intended to protect works of literary and artistic merit, but I suggest that reference to literature is hardly appropriate in the context of the Bill, which has nothing whatever to do with literature in any shape or form.
As I said on Second Reading, it is dangerous to suggest that the Bill will have any effect on any literature. There is, however, one other thing. It would not be right that publications of the kind that we have in mind should be excused because of the artistic merit of the pictures. Indeed, I would go further and say that the greater the merit of the pictures the more the horror comic would be a horror comic, because the more real it is the more terrible I think it would be. The very fact that they are skilfully drawn would tend to make them even more effective from the point of view of corruption.
People who are responsible for publications of that kind would not be slow to take advantage of any defence, particularly of this sort, as is shown by the frequent use of the now common words " art studies " to refer to photographs and pictures. To put it quite mildly, I would not say that they were always entirely aesthetic. If any defence of this kind were required, it should be restricted to publications which can be shown to the satisfaction of the court to be necessary 109 to particular purposes, which ought to be specified, and could be specified, as exactly as possible. I do not think that it would be possible to put this proposal into the Bill.
I do not want to deal with the question of intention. If somebody said that he intended the work to be for the public good, that would make it even more difficult to get a conviction. So many of the Amendments so far—I say this not from any feeling of irritation—although they were not so intended, would have made the Bill unworkable. I readily admit that that was not the intention behind them, but anyone who cares to look through all the Amendments so far, particularly on Clause 1, will realise that had they all been carried the Bill would not have been worth proceeding with.
I beg hon. Members to remember that this is a Bill to do one specific thing. The very fact of its presentation in the House has had a very good effect already, and I think that the determination of the House to see the Bill through will have the effect that we want. Therefore, I hope that the Committee will not ask me to accept the two Amendments, because I cannot do so.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Wyatt
If it is possible to tell whether a thing tends to corrupt a child, surely it is possible to say whether it is for the public good. Neither of these tests is an objective test, and in neither case can one get a complete or absolute answer. In both cases one can only be on the whole correct in one's judgment. Therefore, any criticism which is levelled against the Bill can equally be developed against my hon. Friend's Amendment; but if those criticisms which are levelled against the Bill are resisted, so by the same reasoning can any criticism against my hon. Friend's Amendment be resisted, for in both cases we are asking that something which is not absolutely ascertainable should be considered.
In the case of the Bill itself, it is asked that it should be considered whether something has tended to corrupt a child. In the case of my hon. Friend's Amendment, we are asking that it should be considered whether it is for the public good. If we can tell one of those things, we can tell the other.
110 The Home Secretary went on to say that the latter part of the Amendment would be difficult to implement and that he did not like its choice of words. I do not think that my hon. Friend would stick rigidly to the choice of all those words. The Home Secretary has asked us repeatedly to take in good faith what he means and to assume that his meaning will not be abused. That is all that my hon. Friend asks in relation to his Amendment, and if the Home Secretary cares to alter its wording to get the sense of what he knows my hon. Friend means we would be satisfied.
Next it was argued that the Amendment would not make any difference anyway; that it would not do any harm and it would not do any good. if it would not do any harm, let us have it in the Bill, because it is thought by some people that it would do some good. It might be feebleminded of those people to think so, but nevertheless the state of their minds is as much a fact as the state of mind of any child who might be corrupted.
As it is so widely feared that the Bill which has been brought in with the best possible intentions—I support its general aim; I think it is correct to try to deal with horror comics—in bad hands or if used badly, could do some harm, and as the Amendment would clearly prevent it from ever being able to do so, then as the Amendment itself would not do any harm, I think that the Home Secretary might accept it.
§ Mr. Ede
I think that the speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) reduces the Amendment to appropriate absurdity. We are told that a court would find at the same time that a publication would corrupt a child and yet be for the public good. I cannot believe that even with the ludicrous things which some of the higher courts do on occasions, any magistrates' court would commit such an absurdity as that; and any chairman of quarter sessions who so summed up that a jury at quarter sessions would say the same thing ought, I think, to be removed at the next annual election.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
Two or three days ago, together, I imagine, with most hon. Members of the Committee, I received a publication from the Egyptian Embassy entitled 111 " Israel's Crimes at Gaza." It consisted of 24 pages of atrocities, showing corpses on the ground and blood coming from them, and mothers with young children who had been murdered, allegedly, by the Israeli forces at Gaza.
That was a document which might easily have fallen into the hands of my children. Like others who have young children, I give odd bits of paper to my small child to cut out and colour, and a lot of it comes from my correspondence. I admit that this is in a sense an absurdity, but it would be a great mistake if the House of Commons, in considering this Bill, which I wholly support and which I wish to see enacted, ignored the extent to which horror is publicly and openly used by Governments to foster political purposes.
The publication of the information about the treatment of British prisoners of war in Korea was a deliberate—and I do not say wrong—use of a horror story by the British Government to rebut Chinese assertions and to alert people to the dangers of the Chinese Communist forces. Similarly, of course, the Mau Mau oaths were published, admittedly privately as a secret appendix, when the Parliamentary Delegation came back from Kenya. Then there were the Nuremburg trials. There are plenty of examples of the deliberate use of horror by Governments for their own purposes.
Similarly and increasingly, partly because of the horror comic and partly for other reasons, bodies which wish to convince people are moving away from the written word to the pictorial representation. The election address of the London County Council which was recently pushed through my letter box by the organisation of the Party opposite included strip cartoons designed to show the waste of Labour members, and so on. I think it not inconceivable that if this Clause is allowed to go through without the man being allowed to plead public good, there is a possibility not only that the Egyptian Embassy will have to pay a fine of £100 for their recent publication, but also that a certain form of semi-legitimate political propaganda may be eliminated.
I do not agree with my hon. Friend, who said that if a man can prove that it was not his intent to corrupt that is 112 enough. I cannot agree with the second Amendment, but I believe that the first Amendment, in which a man is allowed to assert that it was for the public good and that the court is to decide, will provide some safeguards against dangers of this kind. If the court decides that it is not for the public good, the argument can be carried on further and Parliament, if it sees necessary, will be able to amend the law.
Along with many other hon Members on both sides of the Committee who wish this Bill well, I would like some assurance of that kind from the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
I found the observations of the Home Secretary entirely unconvincing and I hope that my hon. Friend will carry this matter to a Division. There was one argument used by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman about which I must protest. If I may paraphrase his remarks, he seemed to me to be saying, " It does not matter very much what is in this Bill or in this Clause because, later, I shall accept an Amendment whereby there will be no prosecution under this Bill except with the consent of the Attorney-General."
That is a dangerous argument to put before the Committee and I think the Solicitor-General will agree that, even though a Bill contains such a proviso, or even though the Minister in charge says he will, at a later stage, accept an Amendment to that effect, it does not in itself, and ought not, to absolve us in this Committee from our duty of seeing that this Bill makes sense. It is wrong that we should say, " It does not matter very much whether good works of literature or works conducive to the public good may technically fall under this Bill because, even if they do, people need not worry because they will not be prosecuted."
§ Mr. Fletcher
The Amendment reads:…being considered necessary or advantageous to religion or morality….It is no use the Home Secretary saying that people who may conscientiously want to produce works which they think are necessary or advantageous to religion or moralty need not be afraid because, he says, there will be no prosecution except with the consent of the Attorney-General.
113 Fundamentally, it is wrong in constitutional principle that this kind of argument should be used to prevent us from seeing that the language of the Bill is confined to the evil at which it is aimed. May I give two illustrations of the kind of absurdity which I think will be produced unless we have this Amendment. Suppose we were on the eve of another war with nuclear weapons, which God forbid. I have no doubt there would then be all kinds of patriotic documents, recruiting posters, and other works designed to encourage young persons to use acts of violence. Because that is what happens in wartime, people are recruited into the Armed Forces for the express purpose of using acts of violence against the enemy. There is no question that publications of such a kind would be exposed to any fear of prosecution by the Attorney-General.
But, Sir Charles, there would also be another kind of publication. There would be publications produced by pacifists and I am not a pacifist—designed to prevent people from going to war. There would be pictorial illustrations in these leaflets showing the horrors of war designed for the opposite purpose.
I am not arguing the merits of it. I am merely saying that one kind of publication may be exposed to prosecution because the Attorney-General of the day might say it was inimical and tending to corrupt young people, whereas I would have thought that in the case of people who have the right, in those circumstances, to put forward the kind of propaganda in which they believe—and, if they conscientiously believe that it is the best kind of propaganda in the public good, ought to be entitled to put forward that defence—it would then be for the courts to say whether they were right or wrong.
For those reasons, as well as those given by my hon. Friends, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) will press his Amendment to a Division, not necessarily relying on the precise words he used, but in the hope that the Home Secretary will then amend them in such a way as to bring the Clause more into consistency with the ideas which have been expressed.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) and the Home Secretary joined in saying that those who moved and supported this Amendment seemed to forget that this Bill was about horror comics. Of course it is primarily about horror comics, but the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said that many times. He need not worry about this Amendment so far as the mass of publications is concerned—I will not say literature—because the Home Secretary objects to the word; but there are possible marginal cases and it is reasonable that there should be this possibility of rebuttal in other ways.
My hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) thought that this was a silly Amendment because it was absurd, they said, that something which could corrupt children might still be for the public good—
§ Mr. Jenkins
But there is a long history, not under this Bill but under the previous Act, about publications which have been held at various times to tend to corrupt the generality of people in this and other countries, including publications of great literary merit. So, things which might not corrupt people as a whole might be held, still more strongly, to corrupt some people. Therefore, to suggest that there could be no possibility of conflict is to ignore the history of law on the subject.
The Solicitor-General, who said there was a possible conflict, showed earlier an awareness of the very point which my hon. and right hon. Friend completely denied. As I said in moving this Amendment, it is a moderate one and it would put a safeguard into the Bill. I am sorry that the Home Secretary is unsympathetic, and I hope that my hon. Friends will press it to a Division.
Question put, That those words be there added:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 63, Noes 191.117
|Division No. 53.]||AYES||[9.57 p.m.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Fell, A.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Campbell, Sir David||Finlay, Graeme|
|Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Carr, Robert||Fisher, Nigel|
|Arbuthnot, John||Cary, Sir Robert||Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Clarke, Col. Sir Ralph (E. Grinstead)||Fletcher-Cooke, C.|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Cole, Norman||Ford, Mrs. Patricia|
|Assheton, Rt. Hn. R. (Blackburn,W.)||Cooper Key, E. M.||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Craddook, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe&Lonsdale)|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hn. H. F. C.||Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Crosthwalte-Eyre, Col. o. E.||Garner-Evans, E. H.|
|Barlow, Sir John||Crouch, R. F.||Godber, J. B.|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Crowder, Sir John (Finohley)||Gough, C. F. H.|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Crowder, Petre (Ruislip-Northwood)||Gower, H. R.|
|Bevies, J. R. (Toxteth)||Davidson, Viscountess||Graham, Sir Fergus|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Deedes, W. F.||Grimond, J.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Digby, S. Wingfield||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)|
|Black, C. W.||Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)|
|Bossom, Sir A. C.||Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Hall, John (Wycombe)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Donner, Sir P. W.||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)|
|Boyle. Sir Edward||Drayson, G. B.||Harris, Reader (Heston)|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond)||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)|
|Braithwaite, Sir Gurney||Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Maccesfd)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T.||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Harvie-Watt, Sir George|
|Bullard, D. G.||Errington, Sir Eric||Hay, John|
Question put and agreed to.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
I beg to move, in 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.It was indicated earlier in our debates that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman proposed to accept the Amendment. Consequently, I move it formally.
§ Major Lloyd-George
My right hon. and learned Friend indicated in the debate last week that we would accept the Amendment when we came to it, and I now formally announce that the Government accept it.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Harry Crookshank)
I beg to move, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
We have now passed the second Clause of the Bill, although that is not as much progress as the Government had hoped to make today. But it is about the time which I said last Thursday would be time for the changeover between this business and the next. I should like at the same time to give notice that we shall continue the Committee stage of the Bill tomorrow.
§ Mr. Ede
I do not share the right hon. Gentleman's disappointment as much this evening as I did on Thursday evening. I think that there has been a genuine effort today to get on with the Bill. There are certain things in the Bill which raise issues which hon. Members are bound very meticulously to examine in order to understand what they are doing. I hope, now that we have got through these two Clauses, that we shall be able so to move that neither of us will be disappointed.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
I should like to ask the Leader of the House one question. I understand that discussion on the Bill will be resumed at the end of the other business already announced for tomorrow. A good deal of business for tomorrow has already been announced. Is it the intention to ask the House to suspend the Rule tomorrow?
§ Mr. Crookshank
We will have to wait and see. I cannot make a statement about that at the moment, but I think that if the hon. Gentleman studies tomorrow's business he will see that it is not quite so severe as it appears to be.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.