HC Deb 24 November 1960 vol 630 cc1289-90
13. Dr. D. Johnson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has considered the communication sent to him by the hon. Member for Carlisle on the subject of the working of the Obscene Publications Act, 1959; and whether, in the light of the procedural precedent created by the case of Lady Chatterley's Lover, he will appoint a committee to which publishers may submit their publications on a voluntary basis and whose certificate will be an absolute defence against prosecution under the Act.

Mr. R. A. Butler

I have carefully considered by hon. Friend's suggestion, which would require legislation. At present, the court decides whether a publication is obscene; and I am not convinced that it would be right to withdraw the decision from the court where a publication has, on the initiative of the publisher, secured the approval of a censorship committee.

Dr. Johnson

Will not the operation of this Act in its present form inevitably, as time goes on, turn the publication of any literature dealing with sex into a closed shop? Does he not agree that whereas we must respect literary merit, this varies from generation to generation, and that it would be no bad thing to have the opinion of people of common sense?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir, I do not think that the new Act is any less severe in regard to obscenity and, in fact, it is a great deal more severe in regard to pornography, but it does now give the chance to bring in evidence on certain terms decided by Parliament. After that, we must leave the matter to the jury.

Mr. Fletcher

Does the Home Secretary now recognise that it was a great mistake ever to have launched the prosecution against Lady Chatterley's Lover?

Mr. Butler

A prosecution has nothing whatever to do with me as Home Secretary.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Will the Home Secretary consult the Lord Advocate of Scotland, who has taken a much more common-sense attitude than has the Attorney-General? Is he aware that a lot of money would have been saved, and far less advertisement given to Lady Chatterley's Lover, if the excellent example of the Lord Advocate had been followed in England?

Mr. Butler

I will certainly ask for a conversation to take place, but, in these matters, the original responsibility is one for the Director of Public Prosecutions.