HC Deb 09 December 1960 vol 631 cc1622-44

Order for Second Reading read

1.23 p.m.

Mr. Christopher Chataway (Lewisham, North)

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

This is a limited Measure, but I hope that it will commend itself to the House as a useful and necessary one. The law in regard to printer's imprint is at present in disrepute. There is great uncertainty about when an imprint is required and when it is not. The ancient regulations on the Statute Book do not meet the needs of the modern printing industry. They take no account of new printing processes, nor of the varied products of the printing industry today. More important, the law as it stands in its present vague and archaic form on occasions produces, as I shall show, serious injustice.

I hope the House will bear with me for a few minutes if I attempt to set the Measure in its historical perspective. The imprint is as old as printing itself. Printers have always wished to use this form of advertisement for their existence and their work. The false imprint came very much into vogue in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. In particular, there are delightful fanciful imprints from Puritan authors and printers who were campaigning against the Church. They were in considerable danger themselves and, therefore, took any measures they could to conceal the origin of their work. "An Epistle to the Terrible Priests" in 1588 is one example, where the imprint is, "Printed oversea in Europe within two furlongs of a bouncing priest."

Before the eighteenth century there was no legal obligation for a printer to put an imprint upon his work. It was customary after the Engravings Act, 1734, for engravings to bear the name of the man who had produced them in order for him to be afforded some protection of copyright.

The present law dates from the Unlawful Societies Act, 1799. There was then an insurrection in Ireland and there were dangers of revolutionary ideas spreading from the continent. In March of that year a Committee of Secrecy reported to the House on the whole problem. It was as a result of that report that the present law was introduced. The Report spoke of the propagation of these destructive principles which originally produced the French Revolution. The Committee reported that The most effectual engine employed for this purpose has been the institution of political societies of a nature and description before unknown in any country and inconsistent with public tranquillity and with the existence of regular government. It was to meet this threat that the Act of 1799 was introduced. It was a wide and very severe Measure. Some thought that it was too severe. According to Woodfall's Parliamentary Reports: General Walpole rose and said he thought it was his duty to oppose the measure as tending to take away from the general security of our liberties. He ridiculed with much humour several passages of the Report of the Secret Committee. Despite that, the Act was passed, imposing swingeing restrictions on Press and political freedom. Most of these restrictions have by now been repealed, but the regulations governing the printer's imprint remain almost intact. With certain narrow business exemptions, an imprint is required by that Act upon every printed matter. There is a penalty provided for of £5 per copy for every violation. The intention was to hamper political societies and to prevent the French from using British presses. There have been only minor amendments in subsequent Acts, and nearly all the regulations in the 1799 Act were re-enacted in 1869.

These restrictions today impose a serious handicap upon the industry, because there are many articles upon which it is impossible or undesirable for the printer to put his imprint. Examples are, visiting cards, letter headings, wrappers, cartons and 101 other articles which are produced today but which were never envisaged when the 1799 Act was passed.

Yet, if the printer leaves his imprint off these articles, he breaks the law. Admittedly, the Director of Public Prosecutions has not in recent years taken action against any printer for a purely technical offence, but by the provisions of the Act of 1799 the printer cannot claim payment upon any article if there is a technical infringement of the law.

In recent years there have been a number of instances where customers have defaulted on their obligations because of just such a technical infringement. Very often customers ask a printer to leave his imprint off. As a rule, the printer is only too anxious to have his name printed, because it is a good advertisement. But with many articles, the customer says that he does not want the imprint. There have been a number of cases where, despite the fact that the customer has specifically asked the printer to leave the imprint off, when it has come to paying the bill, the printer has found that he has been unable to enforce payment because he has technically infringed the law. That in itself is a justification for the measures which I propose.

Clause 1 (1) exempts all articles upon which there is no possible reason for an imprint to be required. Anything which carries a message will still need an imprint. Any publications which could conceivably be seditious, obscene, pornographic or libellous will still require an imprint. Thus, Clause 1 (1, a) provides that words grouped together in a manner calculated to convey a message will require to have the printer's imprint upon them, unless they are words calculated to convey only a greeting"— such as a Christmas card, or a greeting card— an invitation"— such as an invitation card— or other message in a conventional form". Then one can think of forms, order books, catalogues, and so on.

Equally, by subsection (1, b), pictures, photographs and cartoons will still require to have an imprint upon them but trade-marks and purely formal designs will not. Thus, the intention of this main Clause of the Bill is to release from the obligation of an imprint certain articles for which one cannot think of any reason for them carrying an imprint.

Subsection (2) of the Clause makes two effective changes. It releases the printer from the need to keep a copy of all these articles. Under the 1799 Act, he is required to keep for at least six months a copy of every article upon which there needs to be an imprint and there is a penalty of up to £20 for not doing this. Evidently, it is a burden to the printer nowadays to have to keep a copy of every label and every greetings card that he prints.

The second effect of subsection (2) is that it frees the publisher from any serious consequences resulting from his distributing any of these articles and it frees the printer from the obligation of restraining the publisher from distributing cartons, and so on. The publisher of an illegal document is today quite often the housewife, because the 1799 Act makes it illegal to expose to the public view any printed paper not having the name and place of abode of any person printed thereon." If one sees anybody carrying such an article, it is at present lawful, in the words of the 1799 Act, to seize and detain the person and deliver him or her to some constable or police officer. Housewives carrying a printed paper shopping bag in the High Street can hardly realise the terrible peril in which they walk. Subsection (2) will safeguard them for the future.

Subsection (3) extends the exemptions of the 1799 Act for letterpress to all the modern processes of the industry, like photogravure, lithography, and so on. The 1799 Act exempts certain business articles connected with the selling of goods. There was a case in Bournemouth four years ago of a printer who had supplied some travel brochures to a customer. They were of substantial value; the bill was something like £800. The customer refused to pay on the ground that the imprint had been left off, although, admittedly, at his request.

The printer took advice, hoping that travel brochures would be covered by the exemptions of the Act, but found, on the advice of two eminent counsel, that the Act extended only to certain documents involved in the selling of goods, not in the selling of services. Therefore, subsection (3) extends those exemptions to services. Subsection (4) is self-explanatory.

This Measure will be of substantial help to printers. It will, as, I hope I have demonstrated, release them from a number of difficulties under which they now labour. Also, by making the law clearer, it will help to ensure that the imprint is not omitted from those documents on which it should be placed. If the law is clear, as I hope it will be if this Measure is passed, the printer will be able to insist upon putting his imprint upon an article if it is required, even when he is asked not to do so by his customer.

Whatever views hon. Members may have of the French Revolution or of any French revolution, I hope that it will not be held that this is a Bill in the words of the 1799 Secret Committee, "inconsistent with public tranquillity." It will be of real value in the printing industry and it will serve to simplify the task of the printer.

1.35 p.m.

Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)

It is rather a coincidence—it may be a unique one—that our great printing industry has come under discussion in this House twice within six sitting days. In my experience, that is unusual. I never remember anything like it before.

I am not here today to offer serious objections to the Bill, the Second Reading of which has been moved by the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway). The House will, however, agree that when dual interests are involved in any Measure that comes before it, close attention should be given to the effect of those interests upon either of the parties who may be concerned.

To those of us who are members of the trade unions connected with the Printing and Kindred Trades Federation, this is an important matter and we have given close attention to the phraseology of the Bill. In particular, so great were our doubts about its phraseology that we thought it wise to take counsel's opinion on it.

It is interesting that when one has an opportunity of talking to colleagues about the Bill, my general impression has been that the doubts expressed to us in the printing trade unions by our counsel are confirmed by the views of Members interested in the promotion of the Bill in this House, the advice given to us being that it was rather unfortunate that the terms of the Bill were negative rather than positive. I refer to Clause 1. Subsection (1) begins with the word "Nothing" and in line 9 uses the word "neither". There are other negatives in paragraphs (a) and (b).

I ought to acquaint the House that being desirous of coming to a satisfactory arrangement by the Bill—in other words, not desiring to oppose it, but desiring to make it workable in the interests of both the master printers and of our trade unions concerned—we have already endeavoured to make representations to the promoter of the Bill with a view to finding a form of words that might satisfy both our interests.

At this point, because, while we are sitting as a House, it will not be possible for me to make a second speech, I hope that at least I may leave the thought with the hon. Member for Lewisham, North that he might think in terms of agreeing that the breathing space between Second Reading and Committee might be put to profitable use if our two organisations—the Master Printers Federation and the Printing and Kindred Trades Federation—again collaborate to consider the wording of the Bill. If they cannot find a satisfactory form of words, it might be that their counsel, on both sides, might be able to advise them as to something that would meet the case and satisfy both our interests.

It is true, as the sponsor of the Bill said, that Parliament—and this is interesting—has ever since 1799, I think it was, required that imprints should be placed upon most printed items. This was long before the trade unions had any interest in print whatsoever as a means of employment. Parliament in its wisdom, a century and a half ago, thought that this was a necessary procedure. We know, of course, the reason. There was a lot of seditious literature published in the early days of printing. By trying to enforce a legal requirement that the name of the printer should be imprinted on his work, offenders could be traced.

It is no less important today that it should be possible, wherever we can enforce the law, to trace documents which are issued for public circulation. I ought not to be provocative in this debate, but I have a little document in my pocket which I was very tempted to produce here, and which was issued in the 1955 General Election, which emanated from the north of England and which we in the Labour Party regarded as being a scurrilous document. Fortunately, this man put his imprint on it—he was both publisher and printer—and we knew the source of it.

Hon. Members will know from their own experience, and you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will probably have experienced this, that there are people still around today who will drop a document on a café table, or leave it on a bus seat, or leave it lying around in a train, and we have no means of identifying them unless we enforce the use of the printer's imprint.

There are one or two things about this matter that I am not too clear about and which, I would say, I scarcely understand. Here let me say, first, to those Members in the House who are connected with the Master Printers' Federation that I appreciate their document setting out the reasons why they want this Bill and their courtesy in sending it to me, and it has been exceedingly helpful. However, I should like to make a comment on the document headed "The Printer's Imprint" and the criticism which the Federation has of the existing law and where it says It is not as clear as it might be what items are covered by the exemptions from the imprint requirements. In other words, what is asked for is more specific determination of the exemptions. Of course, it readily comes to my mind that perhaps a Schedule to the Bill would be the answer. Here again, we have quite a degree of sympathy with the master printers about this. We think that there would probably be some good in having a Schedule, but we also think that it might create a fair amount of difficulty, for if a Schedule were to be published, then immediately—there can be no doubt about it—everybody would come rushing in saying, "This ought to be left out," or "This ought to be put in," and so on. We do appreciate the difficulties involved. So I would suggest to the sponsor of the Bill and his hon. Friends that, as this is a Measure which could be an advantage to both sides of the industry, there might helpfully be consultations.

I would point out that we in the trade unions always like to see the use of an imprint, because it helps us considerably in our own business. In the printing industry—and I think that my friends who are on the masters' side of the industry would agree with me about this—we do suffer from the little one-man show which sets up in a back room and uses an Adana press and produces chemists' labels for bottles, and so on. I think that it is true that the majority of the printing houses in this country, particularly those houses which are responsible for the really high class printing which is turned out—and some of the finest printing in the world is produced in this country—are indebted to the law in that it requires them to put their imprint on their work. It is, of course, a very good advertisement for them and they are not ashamed to have it there.

I do not know whether any subsequent speaker from the other side of the House is prepared to give us any assurances. As I say, we do not want in any way to try to stop this Bill provided it can be so phrased as to meet what I am sure are the objectives of both sides. I have no doubt myself that both sides are after the same thing and will welcome its achievement, if we can find a form of words which will conciliate our viewpoints.

I think that we have a right to be concerned about the intention of the Bill because, after all, the Title of Clause 1 is: Relaxation of requirements as to printer's imprint, etc. and that very word "relaxation", of course, makes one open one's eyes and start wondering what are those relaxations and where will they end if Parliament permits them to take effect. It is reasonable, I think, that we should be concerned about that, but I cannot imagine that there could be any serious difficulty in coming to agreement on it. I cannot imagine so.

So I hope that there will be consultation before the Bill goes to Committee. One of the disadvantages we have suffered from today is that the Bill was available to us only on Monday and the intervening period has not been too great to permit of adequate consultations taking place. I think that we have probably all suffered as a result of that. Perhaps the Bill could have gone through almost on the nod if only all the parties concerned had had the opportunity of discussing the matter together beforehand.

I regret that I am not able to say that I can give a complete and absolute blessing to the Bill. I only hope that we can find some point at which we can reconcile any differences we may have, and that in Committee the sponsor of the Bill will not completely shut his mind to the possibilities of amending it if by being so amended it can become a wholly agreed Measure.

1.48 p.m.

Mr. I. J. Pitman (Bath)

We all ought to congratulate both North and South on coming together in this way—my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway) upon introducing the Bill and upon the very clear way in which he has dealt with it, and the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) for the welcome which he gave to it; because, if I may say so, I think that it was not so much that he was damning it with faint praise as praising it with faint damns—but not very serious damns, just reservations of the position which come from dealing with an extremely comprehensible Bill.

Mr. Wilkins

That is the word—"reservations".

Mr. Pitman

I am sure that I am speaking on behalf of both sides of the printing industry. For once I may be allowed to speak as someone interested in a printing concern. We have here a situation in which from both the craftsmen's point of view and the master craftsmen's point of view everybody is anxious to be proud of their work and to put their imprint upon it.

The extent to which imprints are put in notwithstanding that they are clearly exempt under the present Act is significant. For instance, all papers to do with the proceedings of this House are exempt, but when we pick up our HANSARD we find that Her Majesty's Stationery Office is proud to put on the front that it is responsible for that astonishing achievement which gives us a record of last night's proceedings on our breakfast table this morning. Likewise, has any hon. Member ever signed a share transfer form which has never had an imprint at the bottom stating that further copies can be obtained from such and such an address, although it is exempt from the requirement to have an imprint?

In other words, we are discussing the Bill in a context in which every printer and worker in the place wishes to be proud of his work and to put his seal upon it. There are certain forms of printing in which it is not practicable to do this without completely damaging the value of the craft as a masterpiece, and the purpose of the Bill is, indeed, one of relaxation in that respect.

The hon. Member for Bristol, South raised the question of the joint interest of the Master Printers' Federation and the Printing and Kindred Trades Federation. I think that I speak on behalf of everybody in the House when I say that the House always welcomes assistance from relevant bodies outside who really "know their stuff" and whose joint approval of anything that comes to us means that it comes with a far greater certainty of our being right when we give it the strength of Law. I am sure that I speak for all hon. Members when I say that we would strongly welcome it, if it happens outside—we cannot do it here—that these two bodies should get together and tell us whether there are Amendments which should come to Committee which would enable the Bill, when found acceptable to the House, to be as acceptable as possible to both parties in the industry.

I think that one of the difficulties which made the hon. Member for Bristol, South reserve his position and that of others in the printing and kindred trades is, as he rightly said, the extraordinary number of negatives in the Bill. The substantive Acts are all negative, and there is a great deal not only of double but of treble negatives in the Bill.

I should like to pay tribute to the staff of the Public Bill Office. When I read the Bill I thought that after serving fifteen years in the House I was becoming a complete dunce, because I did not know where I was. Thanks to skilled advice upstairs, I now understand that the effect of Clause 1 really is that any message, any sentence, must carry an imprint, with the one exception that if it contains only a greeting, like "Happy Christmas", or an invitation to tea, or a phrase like "Request the honour of your company at luncheon", or a message in conven- tional form, like "Keep your pecker up", it does not have to carry an imprint. But if the message says "Pitman: keep your pecker up" it should carry an imprint, because it would remove it from the class of the general and conventional to the particular and detailed.

I do not think that anybody in the House would feel that, provided we have left in the restriction that every message must carry an imprint unless it is of this very limited character, we are opening the doors in any way more than they ought generally to be opened, having regard to the fact that a printer always wants to put his imprint on, anyhow. The hon. Member for Bristol, South mentioned the possibility of people leaving leaflets on the seats of buses, in trains and on café tables, and so on. Let us face the fact that nothing we can do in the House will stop illegal actions. What we are out to do is to deal with the law-abiding printer and distributor and make his task easier. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North has already pointed out, the printer is already in a position of very great difficulty and sometimes even of danger.

The staff of the Public Bill Office tell me that the only relaxation that Clause 1 (1, b) gives is that all drawings, illustrations and pictures will have to have an imprint on them but that those which represent only a geometrical, floral or other design or a registered trade mark or any combination thereof will not in themselves require the printer's imprint. If there is a fleur-de-lys at the top of a menu card, that does not mean that when one later comes to write the menu on it one must put the printer's imprint on it. One can do it if one wishes, but one is allowed to leave it off. It seems to me that the relaxation given in subsection (1, b will prove not to present the difficulties to which the hon. Member for Bristol, South referred.

I should like to emphasise to the House, as has already been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North, that there is a real need for the Bill because the continuation of the existing law puts the law-abiding printer at the mercy of a shark. This is one of those situations in which law and practice have got so far divorced from one another that it is really impossible for the most law-abiding and honourable printer to carry out the law. Speaking not as a printer, but as a Member of Parliament, I would say that it is highly desirable that from time to time we should close the gap where it evolves in this way, and make it possible for the well-intending to be law-abiding printer to carry out the law, and cease to put him in a position in which it is quite impossible for him to do so.

I recommend the Bill, therefore, very strongly to the House. Having now drawn attention to so much of this matter in raising it, we are in a worse position if the Bill does not go through. Therefore, if the House has sympathy with its general principles, I hope that it will give the Bill a Second Reading.

1.59 p.m.

Mr. Percy Holman (Bethnal Green)

I should like to add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway) on his success in the Ballot and on his selecting this day for a Second Reading debate on the Bill when his prescience must have indicated no doubt that there would be a great measure of unanimity in the Chamber.

If the Director of Public Prosecutions carried out logically the Unlawful Societies Act, 1799, I am not quite sure where any of us would be. If I had a business card which bore the words "Paper merchant" that would be within the law although there was no imprint on it. If an hon. Member opposite had a business or professional card that said, "Insurance consultant" no doubt it would be illegal for him if it had no imprint.

Fortunately, in a great majority of cases, the Director of Public Prosecutions is a sensible and sane man and does not carry out the law to its logical consequences, and only interposes in conditions of extreme illegality when the subject matter of the message or the book is obviously contrary to the public interest.

The position of the printer is only, therefore, made difficult if the customer is unscrupulous—cases where, having slipped up, even at the customer's request, owing to the great uncertainty of the law, he is refused his proper payment for the goods. These cases are, fortunately, rare. It therefore gives me great pleasure to support the Bill in principle.

I hope that better wording can be found for the main Clause. I agree with the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) that the multiple negatives led one to read it many times before one was quite satisfied about its significance—and even then one was a little uncertain. I am pleased that we have had two adequate explanations from the benches opposite today about the significance of Clause 1, but I hope that in Committee it will be further studied in order to try to make it clearer, so that we shall not have to make legal interpretations, and the printers, both masters and men, will be able to carry on their business in greater happiness through feeling that the law is simplified and in accordance with modern requirements.

2.3 p.m.

Mr. Brian Batsford (Ealing, South)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway) on introducing the Bill. I am also most grateful, as are other hon. Members, to my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) for explaining Clause 1, because I was inclined to agree with the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) that it was fraught with double negatives. Its intention was by no means clear.

I welcome the minor relaxation of the law on printers' imprints which the Bill introduces. Nevertheless, there is a strong argument in favour of making it obligatory to put the publishers' imprints on printed matter as well as the printers', particularly nowadays when so much undesirable literature is produced.

Clause 1 (3) is intended to meet the revolutionary changes in reproduction in printing processes Which have occurred since 1869, such as in photogravure and lithography, but only in so far as it covers the printing of books by lithographic and photographic processes. We should, however, examine in Committee the definition of the word "engravings". If I understand it correctly, impressions of engravings were exempt under the provisions of the original Act. If that is so, then Clause 1 (1, b), when mentioning a drawing, illustration or other picture … which must now bear an imprint, should cover every possible form of reproduction by whatever process it is reproduced.

Nowadays the quality of reproductions is so high that there is considerable risk of some reproductions, unless they bear a printer's imprint of one sort or another, being indistinguishable from the original.

Mr. Pitman

Would not my hon. Friend agree that paragraphs (a) and (b) in subsection (1) of Clause 1 deal with what is reproduced and that it is Clause 1 (3) which deals with how it is reproduced? Would not he also agree that the only effect of Clause 1 (3) is to bring all printing processes into the position where there is no longer doubt as to whether the offset is an impression or by letterpress?

Mr. Batsford

I appreciate that point. I was trying to emphasise, on Clause 1 (1, b), where it says that a drawing, illustration or other picture … must hear an imprint, that great care must be taken to see that all forms of reproduction bear an imprint. I do not say, however, that each illustration in each book should bear an imprint.

I welcome the Bill and hope that it will receive a Second Reading.

2.7 p.m.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

Most hon. Members who have spoken in this debate have a direct interest in the printing trade. It is perhaps right that a little bit of fresh air from outside should be introduced in criticism not of the principle of the Bill but of the wording. The wording is very bad. It jumps backwards and forwards between neithers, nors and nots, until one does not know what one is talking about.

Might we not have begun simply by saying, "Notwithstanding anything contained in the Act, the following matters shall not require a printer's imprint"—and then follow with a list? In that way one is aware of the subjects and the whole thing is clear and simple. If it is thought and hoped to bring clarity to the lives of printers by this Bill, I am afraid they will have to spend a lot of time finding out what it means and will be in greater darkness afterwards than they were before.

Mr. Wilkins

We will have a field-day with this Bill in Committee.

Mr. Doughty

I hope that we shall, and it can start in the House. I am giving my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway) the benefit of some free legal advice by redrafting his Bill. Given more time and patience, I hope I will do a little better than I have done so far in making suggestions straight out of my head. It will take many hours of head-scratching and book-searching to find out what this Bill means.

I know what is in my hon. Friend's mind, but he has not expressed it very clearly or happily. It is not until the end of paragraphs (a) and (b) of Clause 1 (1) that one realises that he has made a definition. But he has arrived there in a most vague manner. I know the object he has in mind, namely, why there should be an imprint on a wedding invitation card printed by Messrs. Jones, Smith and Brown when all people want to know is the time, place and date of the wedding and who is getting married.

There is another factor. Printers and publishers are liable for libel. If somebody outside this House chooses to print a serious libel on a Member of this House he will be mulcted in heavy damages and perhaps an injunction will be issued to restrain him from doing it again. That is one of the advantages of having an imprint, unless someone has forged it. It may be said that this does not matter because all we are concerned with are such things as Christmas cards and wedding invitations. But what greater libel could there be to an already happily married man if wedding invitations were sent out announcing his wedding to somebody he had never met.

When printers get orders for wedding invitations, they check whether the partners are anxious, ready and willing to get married. If my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman), who I know is, a happily married man, received an invitation to attend his own wedding to somebody he had never met, he could take no steps in the matter if this Bill were law. I ask him to bear that in mind very much indeed.

A greeting card may be a courteous one, which no doubt is what my hon. Friend had in mind, one that talks about "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year" with a picture of a couple of robins playing in the snow, although it is nearly always foggy at Christmas. Yet a greeting could be a most discourteous one. Far from its being "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year", it could be "A painful Christmas and a horrible New Year", and if that were the case we should like to know the name of the printer who had published anything so unpleasant.

Perhaps at some stage of the discussions we may be told what a message in the conventional form is. Some messages in conventional forms can be most discourteous. We might wish to send to those whom we do not like messages in a conventional form of a most discourteous kind, and what is conventional in Wapping may not be conventional in Westminster. The phrase in the Bill is of absolutely no meaning at all. We may know what my hon. Friend had in mind when the Bill was drafted, but his purpose is not expressed in the words contained in the Bill.

Mr. Chataway

I do not want to interrupt my hon. and learned Friend's field-day too much, but surely any message which is in a conventional form is, by definition, unlikely to cause any offence to anybody or to break the law. Anyway, if society had broken down to such an extent that it was conventional to pass messages which broke the law, there would be very little that we could do about it. I suggest that we are not likely to get to that point.

Mr. Doughty

A conventional form of message between two people who do not like each other and whose language is customarily, to put it mildly, rough, could easily, if printed and sent through the post, cause a breach of the peace. I am sure that my hon. Friend does not wish that to happen in connection with the very excellent ideas that he had in mind about Christmas cards, wedding invitations and so on.

We are living in days of political cartoons which are probably not nearly as good as those of the eighteenth century—

Mr. Wilkins

One yesterday was.

Mr. Doughty

I have more in mind a most unfair one about the Minister of Health two or three years ago which I thought was rather stupid and unfair. But those of the eighteenth century were very good. The skill of the artist in drawing those and in drawing the present ones is very great, and I would question whether it is beyond them to draw political cartoons by means of: a geometrical, floral or other design. I have seen in nineteenth century issues of Punch, as I am sure other hon. Members have, flowers out of which have been growing the faces of well-known politicians of the time. Those could be said to be floral designs, and it was very likely that they could be said to be libellous of the politicians concerned. We know that fair criticism of a politician inside or outside the House is perfectly all right, but it could be libellous in the circumstances which I have been talking about, and I question whether it would be right for the printer to be protected by means of the Bill.

Mr. Chataway

It is only to a floral design.

Mr. Doughty

How nice to argue on a lawyers' field-day "It is only a floral design." There might be a picture of the top of a flower out of which was growing the face of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Department, or the hon. Member for Bristol, South, but if the wording underneath was of a libellous character, they would both rightly object and no doubt rightly wish to take proceedings against the printer for printing such a libel. If there was no imprint, they would not know for whom they should go, because his name would not be on the cartoon or pamphlet.

Mr. Pitman

If it were a sentence which was not of a conventional kind in general, it would come under paragraph (a) as well as under paragraph (b).

Mr. Doughty

I have dealt with paragraph (a) and the difficulties in that respect. Now I have gone on to paragraph (b) and am dealing with the geometrical or floral designs.

Mr. Pitman

My hon. and learned Friend referred to the caption underneath the design.

Mr. Doughty

Let us leave the caption and stick to the faces. What I am thinking of is faces of flowers representing public figures, with the stalks of the flowers underneath.

Cartoonists are very ingenious. The Bill speaks of geometrical designs. We might have square pegs going into round holes or round pegs going into square holes. I have the ideas, but unfortunately, I am quite incapable of drawing such things and so hon. Members need not worry on that score. In connection with the geometrical design, I can think of a square peg going into a round hole and there being somewhere on the picture a face or something else to indicate who is being referred to, and that might be highly libellous.

I am drawing attention to these facts in order to show how badly the Bill is drafted and how, through the desire of my hon. Friend to protect those in the industry, the general public, whether they be politicians or not, are perhaps being placed in danger by the taking away from them of the information that they require if they want to protect themselves from libellous and scurrilous attacks and matters of that sort, because they will not know who the printer is.

Having said that, I am certain that my hon. Friends who have the interests of the printers so much at heart will take the Bill away and clarify it or put it more accurately in Parliamentary form. I hope that they will redraft the Bill, deleting Clause 1 and inserting something entirely new and quite different, which will protect members of the public from the possibilities which are foreseen. It is no answer to me to say that respectable printers would not do what has been suggested. We must take it that printing is no better and no worse than other occupations and trades, and the public must be protected from those who are, if not exactly rascals, at any rate not quite so particular. I am sure that my hon. Friend will bear that in mind when reconsidering the drafting.

I would ask my hon. Friends to ponder over my words later on when they read them in the OFFICIAL REPORT. They should not look upon this as a lawyers' field-day; they should regard what I have said as a breath of fresh air inserted between the general public and those who are directly interested and concerned in printing, and say "What he said was right, but he gave his blessing to the idea behind the Bill. We must see that our idea is put into proper legal language which can be understood. Let us not endanger members of the public who are libelled or otherwise affected. We will do something better than this". If they did that, I am sure that the whole House would give the Bill its blessing. Otherwise, the Bill may have a rather rough passage when it returns to the House.

2.19 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Dennis Vosper)

If my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway) reads the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) in the OFFICIAL REPORT, he will find that at the beginning of his speech my hon. and learned Friend offered to redraft Clause 1 (1). In my ten years in the House I have always admired the skill which members of the legal profession employ in tearing to pieces the wording of all Bills—Government or private—but seldom are they incautious enough to offer to improve upon them themselves. The week-end lies before my hon. and learned Friend and my hon. Friend, and I shall watch with great interest their attempts to improve the Bill.

I have in my files some attempts by members of my hon. and learned Friend's profession to produce a formula to do just what we all desire to do in this Bill. I would in all seriousness advise my hon. Friend that if any improvements can be made upon the present wording of the Bill—I shall return to this point—he should examine them most carefully.

We are, as my hon. Friend said, reverting for a brief moment to the Napoleonic Wars when these restrictions were introduced in the interests of dealing with treasonable and seditious practices.

Mr. Wilkins

Is the Minister going to leave that point without saying anything about the alteration of the wording?

Mr. Vosper

I intend to return to it.

After the most lucid explanation of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North, whom, incidentally, I congratulate on his success in the Ballot, I do not think the House will require a long speech from me. I should also like to congratulate my hon. Friend on making what could be a rather dull subject a very interesting one. What the House will want to know from me is the attitude of the Government towards this Bill, and therefore I should like to say at the outset that the Government give it their full support. The Home Office have known for some years that the Federation of Master Printers has been anxious to amend the printer's imprint requirements preserved in the Act of 1869. My hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman), who also intervened in this debate, approached my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on numerous occasions, and my right hon. Friend in fact promised his co-operation. This Bill fulfils that expectation.

There is nothing that I personally at this stage would want to say by way of Amendment, but there are two or three points, including the point raised by the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins), which I should like to emphasise. In the first place, we should be quite clear that the Act of 1869, which this Bill proposes to amend, was in itself a liberalising Statute, but the provisions already existing relating to the printer's imprint were preserved in the Schedule to that Act. As my hon. Friend said, subject to a few specified exceptions which are mentioned in that Act, a person who prints any paper or book is required, first, to print on it his name and address, and, secondly, if the paper is printed for reward, to keep for six months a copy of every such paper or book marked with the name of the person for whom it was printed.

It follows from that, and I am here repeating for the record what has been said already, it is an offence to print, publish or distribute any paper or book which does not bear the imprint, and it is also an offence if a printer fails to keep the required copy. I do not exactly know the arguments for the retention of this provision in the 1869 Act, but, presumably, it was considered useful to protect the public from publications whose anonymity would breed irresponsibility, and also, as the hon. Member for Bristol, South said, to provide means of tracing those responsible for seditious, libellous or other objectionable matter.

When the Federation of Master Printers suggested that it would like the relaxation of this restriction, it was anticipated that there might be a case for complete removal of the imprint altogether. The hon. Member for Bristol, South dealt with this, and I would agree with him that it is undesirable to abolish completely the printer's imprint. I know that there have been at least five prosecutions since 1954, according to our records, and one of them was in respect of spurious Cup Final programmes.

The existing Act provides a safeguard, and this is why the law is seen in some disrepute, against unreasonable enforcement of the imprint requirement, because it is necessary to obtain the consent of a Law Officer to a prosecution, a point to which the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Holman) drew attention. Obviously, this is not a very satisfactory position, and the Government therefore prefer my hon. Friend's solution, which is that of an extension of the existing restrictions. Since the imprint requirements were first imposed, the uses of printing have greatly extended, and it now seems quite impracticable and unsuitable to require an imprint on such things as paper bags and Christmas cards. At this season of the year, hon. Members might care to examine their own Christmas cards to see if the law has been strictly complied with. Although I have not had the chance to examine those printed by the House of Commons, I cannot believe that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General would consent to a prosecution in this case.

Nevertheless, it seems to me good sense to bring the law up to date and to make it enforceable. As both my hon. Friend the Members for Lewisham, North and Bath have said, the printers themselves are much concerned about the effect of failure to comply with the imprint law upon the enforcement of payment for a contract. They have been advised in the light of a decided case that failure to comply would render a contract for printing unenforceable. Thus, a defaulting customer could, and has been known to, be able to avoid payment by pleading the illegality of the omission. One of the benefits of extending or widening the exemptions in this Bill would be to limit this kind of plea. It could be argued that it would be preferable in a Bill of this nature to print the exemptions contemplated in a Schedule. The hon. Member for Bristol, South has put forward that suggestion, though I think that he himself later rejected it. I have evidence that that was considered. The difficulty, as the hon. Gentleman made quite clear, is that any Schedule would be almost certainly incomplete and would almost certainly need revision from year to year.

Consideration was then given to the question of printing the exemptions required in a Schedule, and also giving power to my right hon. Friend to amend it by Statutory Instrument from occasion to occasion. That was thought to be unacceptable to the House, and so opinion crystallised in favour of inserting in the Bill the provision of the formula to which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East has taken exception. This formula, in fact, provides the cover the exemptions required by the Federation of Master Printers, and I am advised that that body considers that this is the best formula that can be devised.

Like the hon. Member for Bristol, South, I dislike the double negative, but I think that he will find that it stems in the first place from the original Statute and secondly, from the Long Title. I am advised that at this stage it would not be possible to amend the Long Title in order to remove the double negative from this Clause.

Mr. Wilkins

That is a rather astonishing statement. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that the Government want the Bill in its present form, and that although a private Member sponsored it, he must not agree to any alteration in the phraseology of the Bill if an amicable arrangement can be made between the interested people? Is that what the Minister is now saying? Is he adamant on the question of alteration, because I am quite sure that we were hoping to be able to talk about this. If we could find a formula which was more satisfactory to both sides of the industry, and would bring amity between them, will the Minister close his mind to that?

Mr. Vosper

The hon. Gentleman must not get too alarmed; I shall come to that point. I was saying to my hon. Friend that in view of the Long Title and the principal Statute, he will have much difficulty in avoiding a double negative. I was going on to say that my hon. Friend has had counsel's opinion about this formula. If he can find a better solution, if he will see my hon. Friend and consult with him and perhaps with me, we will examine whether there is a better solution. All I am saying now is that many of my hon. and learned Friends have looked at this matter and think that this is the best formula that can be found.

Mr. Doughty

Does my right hon. Friend see any objection to the formula which I myself announced to the House, to this effect: Notwithstanding anything contained in any previous Act, the following matters shall not require a printer's imprint; and then follow with (a), (b), (c), (d) and so on?

Mr. Vosper

I am not a lawyer and would not like to give an off-the-cuff answer to that, but I should think that there would be many objections. I am awaiting my hon. and learned Friend's amplification of his suggested amendment, and I sincerely hope that the hon. Member for Bristol, South will consult with him or with me, or all together, so that we can see whether this formula can be improved.

Mr. Wilkins

I have already consulted the hon. Member for Lewisham, North, but up to the moment the hon. Member thought that we have not reached any sort of agreement about it.

Mr. Vosper

I think the position that we have reached is this. The House generally is in support of the principle of this Bill, which is that the relaxations should not extend beyond those provided in the Clauses of the Bill, but some of my hon. Friends, and the hon. Member opposite feel that the formula in subsection (1) could be improved upon. If that is possible, the Government would be pleased to give their co-operation and on any other point, such as that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Batsford) on subsection (3). Apart from that, I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).