HC Deb 22 November 1960 vol 630 cc960-2
23. Dr. Dickson Mabon

asked the Lord Advocate why he has decided not to institute any legal proceedings in respect of the sale in Scotland of the book, Lady Chatterley's Lover.

The Lord Advocate (Mr. William Grant)

At common law it is an offence to publish, circulate or expose for sale any obscene work devised and intended to corrupt the morals of the community and to create inordinate and lustful desires. Under certain statutory provisions it is an offence to publish, offer for sale, sell, or exhibit to view any indecent or obscene book.

To justify a conviction under these provisions, it would be necessary to prove that the book is of such a nature as to be calculated to produce a pernicious effect in depraving and corrupting those who are open to such influences. I have carefully considered the book in question, and I have reached the conclusion that it does not offend against either the common law or the statutory provisions.

Dr. Mabon

In view of these reasons, are we to take it that in respect of every test case that appears before the English Central Criminal Court the book in question will be read by the Lord Advocate before he issues his ukase for publication of the book in Scotland? If his decision in this case is a good one, why does he and his right hon. Friend not introduce a Bill to bring Scottish law into conformity with English law, rather than trail Scottish law and lawyers far behind English practice?

The Lord Advocate

I do not think the hon. Member is right in what he says. Although the law in this matter in England and Scotland may not be entirely similar, I do not think it differs as much as he suggests. In any event, although the proceedings in London and the verdict of the jury were in no way conclusive in respect of the position in Scotland, they were factors which I could not entirely ignore. But I came to the decision after considering the law as it is and after having read the book—which, whatever literary merit it may have, appeared to me to be extremely dull and tedious.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is the Lord Advocate aware that he has shown extreme common sense in this matter? He has shown much more common sense than the Attorney-General, who has wasted public money in Britain. It is clear that when a book is banned people are encouraged to read it. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that my illustrious constituents, Robert Burns and James Boswell, would heartily approve of him?

The Lord Advocate

While not going the whole way with the hon. Member, I am grateful for the first real compliment he has paid me since I came into the House over five years ago.

Mr. Hector Hughes

As the law in Scotland differs from the law in England, and as an English jury has had an opportunity of considering and deciding upon this case, does not the Lord Advocate think that it would have been a Fair and right thing to take the opinion of a Scottish jury on the same question?

The Lord Advocate

No, Sir. The recognised and proper procedure is that I should not institute proceedings in a case where I do not consider an offence has been committed.

Mr. Healey

If the Lord Advocate takes this extremely reasonable view, why on earth did he not use his influence to stop the Attorney-General instituting proceedings in an English court?

The Lord Advocate

My writ runs only to the Tweed, and no further South.

Dr. Mabon

On a point of order. In view of the constitutional impropriety which I consider is consequent in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Answer, and in view of the doubtful allies of the Lord Advocate——

Mr. Speaker

I constantly seem to be asking hon. Members to adhere to the traditional formula.

Dr. Mabon

I was trying to remember it, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.