HC Deb 29 March 1955 vol 539 cc302-7
Mr. Roy Jenkins

I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 17 and 18.

This is another small Amendment with which I do not think it will take very long to deal. The effect of it would be to leave out subsection (3)— No provision of this Act, other than the provisions of the last foregoing section, shall extend to Northern Ireland. I have no particular desire to extend this Bill to Northern Ireland, or indeed to anywhere else. I certainly do not want to press this Amendment at all hard, but I should like to know what the Government have in mind about it.

The provisions of the last foregoing section are specifically applied to Northern Ireland because no doubt it is thought that there may otherwise be a loophole in the ringed fence so far as Northern Ireland is concerned. These publications could be bought in Northern Ireland and shipped from there, thus getting round the provisions in that way. What is the Home Secretary expecting? Is he expecting that the Northern Ireland Parliament might take some parallel legislative action? If that is not so, what is the position in the horror comic industry which uproots itself from Leicester or Glasgow, or wherever it has been firmly established, and takes itself to Belfast or London? What then happens? Has the Home Secretary considered the possibilities in that event?

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

I can briefly tell the hon. Member the purpose of lines 17 and 18. It is shortly this. If the Amendment were accepted, the effect would be to apply the Bill as a whole to Northern Ireland. Legislation on this kind of question in Northern Ireland is, of course, the constitutional responsibility of the Government of Northern Ireland, except in so far as the prohibition of importation is concerned. That is one of the matters reserved for the United Kingdom Parliament.

8.45 p.m.

All that the Clause does is to preserve, as the hon. Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) obviously knows, the Customs fence around the United Kingdom, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, so as to make more effective any legislation which the Northern Ireland Government may in their wisdom care to pass later on. Whether or not the Northern Ireland Parliament passes legislation to deal with this sort of publication, the Clause is needed to make the Customs fence effective without at the same time encroaching on the legislative functions of the Northern Ireland Parliament. Without it, it would be impossible to take effective proceedings against a person in Great Birtain for having imported works in his possession because he could always say he got them from Northern Ireland. I do hope the hon. Member will not press the Amendment.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

In view of what the Home Secretary has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. N. Macpherson rose

The Deputy-Chairman

It may be convenient to discuss the next Amendment, in page 3, line 20, at the end to add: (5) This Act shall continue in force until the thirty-first day of December, nineteen hundred and sixty-one, and no longer unless Parliament otherwise determines. with both the proposed new Clauses headed " Duration.

Mr. Ede

Is not the same issue raised—the date at which the Act shall expire—in the following Amendment in my name, in line 20? That Amendment seeks to add: (5) This Act shall continue in force until the thirty-first day of December, nineteen hundred and sixty-five, and shall then expire, unless Parliament otherwise determines, and upon the expiration of this Act, subsection (2) of section thirty-eight of the Interpretation Act, 1889, shall apply as if this Act had then been repealed by another Act.

The Deputy-Chairman

If the Committee is agreeable that Amendment could also be discussed at the same time.

Major Lloyd-George

It may save time if I indicate at the outset that I am prepared to accept the Amendment to line 20 in the name of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede).

Mr. Macpherson

I am quite prepared to accept that.

We took the view that perhaps ten years was a little long in view of the fact that experience could be got of the working of the Bill in a lesser time. It would surely be possible to obtain experience and to see how it was working in a shorter time. But, if it is the general feeling of the Committee that ten years is the appropriate time, I would be quite prepared not to move the Amendment which has been read out by you, Sir Rhys, and which stands in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay).

Mr. Ede

I beg to move, in page 3, line 20, at the end, to add: (5) This Act shall continue in force until the thirty-first day of December, nineteen hundred and sixty-five, and shall then expire, unless Parliament otherwise determines, and upon the expiration of this Act, subsection (2) of section thirty-eight of the Interpretation Act, 1889, shall apply as if this Act had then been repealed by another Act. The reason we selected ten years was this. One knows that the publishers of these publications in this country have temporarily gone out of business, but they have threatened what they will do if this Bill does not become law. We thought it would be as well to give them notice clearly that the House was determined to stamp out these publications. A period much less than ten years might not achieve that purpose.

Ten years would give any Government that was in power various Governments may be in power within ten years—ample opportunity of seeing how far this trouble has totally disappeared. It is unlikely that people who are hoping that with a short interlude they could start again would feel that they could hold their forces in reserve for ten years and start again. Of course, if a Government came to the conclusion, during the ten years, that the evil had disappeared they could quite well come to the House and ask for the repeal of this Measure. What we are concerned to do is to give the evil doers stern notice that we do not intend that this harmful traffic shall be allowed to continue.

Major Lloyd-George

I am sure that this Amendment, which I am willing to accept, is the one the Committee would prefer. I should like to add a word to what has been said by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) thought that perhaps 10 years was too long. We think three, or even six, years is probably too short. I agree with the right hon. Member that we want to make it perfectly plain that we really mean to do away with these publications. I have no doubt that if this Bill had not been brought in the publications would have been resumed. The bringing in of the Bill has practically stopped them. At the same time, we are anxious to make it perfectly plain that the Bill is aimed only at the publications which we have in mind. That is why I am glad to accept the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment.

Mr. Foot

I am extremely glad that the Government have accepted one of these Amendments. It deals with one of the main concerns which many of us on this side have discussed during the debates on the Bill: that is to say, we feared that an Act introduced for an entirely different purpose might, after a number of years, be distorted for a quite opposite purpose.

When my hon. Friend said earlier that he was desirous of trying to stamp out horror comics, and only horror comics, I accepted that that was what he had been seeking to do throughout, although what many of us have feared is that the Bill was not drawn sufficiently sharply to achieve that result and only that result, and we might have had differences of opinion on the matter.

Personally, I should prefer the Government to limit the period to a shorter term. It is a fantasy to think that in five or six years' time, if the evil of horror comics is stamped out, the Government would come along one fine day and say, " Here is a Bill which is not in operation and is not having any value. Therefore, we think we will wipe it off the Statute Book." It would be all the more unlikely that the Government would wipe it off if the Act were being improperly used at that time. I should, therefore, prefer a shorter period.

One of the main demands made during Second Reading was that the Government should fix a period. If they are prepared to accept this proposal, it makes a great difference to the rest of the Bill. I hope that the way in which this pressure was exerted during Second Reading, and the way in which it has influenced the Government, will make the Government understand—and, 1 would have hoped, make the courts understand when they operate the provisions of the Bill—what is the feeling of Parliament about it.

Although many of us on this side have been criticised by the Government and by the Leader of the House, who has expressed his disappointment that the Bill has not proceeded more rapidly, we have very considerably improved the Bill. We have not been perfectionist in our demands. We have not tried to make a silk purse out of the cow's ear that the Government have offered to us. [HON. MEMBERS: " SOW'S ear.") I am sorry—we have not tried to make a silk purse out of the sow's ear that the Government have offered us. I am sure everyone understood exactly what I meant. Nevertheless, we have done our best. Therefore, the Government ought to be extremely grateful to those who have imported some Liberalism into a Bill from which, when it was originally presented, that quality was absent.

Mr. Ede

Following the metaphor used by my hon. Friend, some of us feel that the Government had the right sow by the ear.

Mr. N. Macpherson

I agree with the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) that the climate of opinion and the political atmosphere could considerably alter in ten years' time. I feel that the Committee as a whole is grateful to my right hon. and gallant Friend for the way in which he has considered this matter.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.