HC Deb 19 June 1961 vol 642 cc1041-67
Sir F. Soskice

I beg to move, in page 35, line 8, after "is", to insert "habitually".

I propose this Amendment because it seems to me that as the Clause to which it relates is at present drafted there is some room for obscurity. One of the objections which, under subsection (2), can be raised to the issue or renewal of a registration certificate is set out in paragraph (d), which reads: that the club is conducted in a disorderly manner or for an unlawful purpose, or that the rules of the club are habitually disregarded as respects the admission of"— that is the material part. What I seek to insert is the word "habitually" after the word "is", so that the relevant passage will read: that the club is habitually conducted in a disorderly manner or for an unlawful purpose, or that he rules of the club are habitually disregarded"— and so on. The purpose of my Amendment is this. There is an odd contrast between the absence of the word "habitually" in regard to the club being conducted in a disorderly manner, and the presence of the word "habitually" in the phrase dealing with the rules of the club being habitually diregarded. It seems to me curious, as a matter of drafting, that magistrates in future will be left guessing why it is that this contrast is introduced in this passage. It seems to me that the presence of word "habitually" in the first part of the paragraph is just as necessary and relevant as it is in the second part.

What we are arguing, when we are considering whether an objection should be sustained or not, is this question: whether is can be said that the club is habitually conducted in a disorderly manner. The fact that it may have been conducted on one evening in a disorderly manner six months ago is irrelevant. Equally, I should have thought that it was irrelevant that although the club may have been conducted in an orderly fashion for ten years there was a rather rowdy party going on at the moment when the objection was raised.

As I understand the language used, such an objection could be made however well the club had been run in the past, and I would have thought that, quite clearly, the objections could arise if it could be said of the club that it was habitually conducted in a disorderly fashion, just as an objection could equally arise if it could be said that the rules of the club were habitually disregarded. The word "habitually", meaning repetition of habit and consistency of conduct in an undesirable sense, is surely as relevant when considering the disorderly fashion in which the club is conducted as when we are considering whether the rules are disregarded, and I am puzzled why this contrast is introduced.

I put forward the Amendment because I should like to know if there is any adequate reason for it; if not, I would press the Government to make the change. The learned Solicitor-General may or may not be able to meet me, but I think that if there is this odd change, the benches in the future will be left very puzzled when asking themselves whether the things they have to inquire into includes the question whether, at the moment when they are considering objections, there is some disorderly behaviour going on and entirely disregard the past and the probability of future conduct. That seems to me to be a very topsy-turvy approach. In asking themselves, when considering whether a club should be registered or not, whether the club is one in which in the normal way was run properly or not, we should equally consider the question whether this was a club the rules of which were in the normal way observed or not. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman as a matter of drafting to bring the two into line in order to obviate any unnecessary ambiguity and remove legitimate and genuine doubt on the part of many benches in the future who will have to decide this question.

The Solicitor-General

This could hardly be a narrower point of construction and so I will come immediately to try to answer the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question. The omission of the word "habitually" is advertent. It occurs in subsection (2, d) as a possible ground of objection, that the rules of the club are habitually disregarded because the rules can be disregarded once or they can be disregarded more than once, and if they are disregarded more than a certain number of times they can be said to be habitually disregarded. That is to exclude their being disregarded on one particular isolated occasion.

Similarly paragraph (e) says: the club premises…are habitually used for an unlawful purpose because one could use the club premises on one occasion for an unlawful purpose or on two occasions, but that is not sufficient disqualification. They must be habitually so used, and so with regard to the other matters which are set out in that paragraph (e).

When we go back to the beginning of paragraph (d) a different consideration applies, because "conduct" in the sense

of the verb "to conduct" premises, conduct a club, carries the connotation of conduct for a period of time and, therefore, it contains within itself the very concept of "habitually". The club cannot be conducted in a disorderly manner or for an unlawful purpose on one occasion: it could be used on more than one occasion in that way. Therefore the Bill as drafted left out the word "habitually" because it would add, it was thought, nothing there.

That certainly answers the right hon. and learned Gentleman and I hope it satisfies him.

Question put, That "habitually" be there inserted in the Bill:—

The House divided: Ayes 92, Noes 194.

Division No. 207.] AYES [8.13 p.m.
Ainsley, William Hoy, James H. Redhead, E. C.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Reid, William
Bacon, Miss Alice Hunter, A. E. Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Bence, Cyril Hynd, H. (Accrington) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Blyton, William Janner, Sir Barnett Ross, William
Bowden, Herbert W. (Leics, S. W.) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Boyden, James Kenyon, Clifford Short, Edward
Brockway, A. Fenner Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Ledger, Ron Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Lipton, Marcus Skeffington, Arthur
Castle, Mrs. Barbara Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)
Cronin, John McCann, John Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)
Crossman, R. H. S. MacColl, James Snow, Julian
Darling, George McLeavy, Frank Sorensen, R. W.
Dodds, Norman Mapp, Charles Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Ede, Rt. Hon. C. Marsh, Richard Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Edelman, Maurice Mason, Roy Stones, William
Evans, Albert Mendelson, J. J. Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)
Fernyhough, E. Milne, Edward J. Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)
Fletcher, Eric Oliver, G. H. Sylvester, George
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Oram, A. E. Symonds, J. B.
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Owen, Will Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Galpern, Sir Myer Paget, R. T. Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Ginsburg, David Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.) Wainwright. Edwin
Gourlay, Harry Parker, John Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Pavitt, Laurence Wilkins, W. A.
Griffiths, W. (Exchange) Peart, Frederick Willey, Frederick
Gunter, Ray Pentland, Norman Woof, Robert
Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Popplewell, Ernest
Hannan, William Proctor, W. T. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Rwly Regis) Randall, Harry Mr. Diamond and Dr. King.
Holman, Percy Rankin, John
Agnew, Sir Peter Bourne-Arton, A. Chichester-Clark, R.
Allason, James Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan) Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)
Atkins, Humphrey Boyle, Sir Edward Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)
Balniel, Lord Braine, Bernard Cleaver, Leonard
Barber, Anthony Brooman-White, R. Cole, Norman
Barlow, Sir John Brown, Alan (Tottenham) Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.
Barter, John Browne, Percy (Torrington) Cordle, John
Batsford, Brian Buck, Antony Corfield, F. V.
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Bullard, Denys Costain, A. P.
Bell, Ronald Bullus, Wing Commander Eric Coulson, J. M.
Berkeley, Humphry Burden, F. A. Courtney, Cdr. Anthony
Bevins, Rt. Hon. Reginald Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (SaffronWalden) Critchley, Julian
Bidgood, John C. Campbell, Sir David (Belfast, S.) Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.
Biggs-Davison, John Carr, Compton (Barons Court) Cunningham, Knox
Black, Sir Cyril Cary, sir Robert Curran, Charles
Bossom, Clive Channon, H. P. G. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry
Deedes, W. F. Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John Proudfoot, Wilfred
Delargy, Hugh Hughes-Young, Michael Pym, Francis
Digby, Simon Wingfield Hutchison, Michael Clark Quennell, Miss J. M.
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. M. Iremonger, T. L. Ramsden, James
Doughty, Charles Jackson, John Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin
du Cann, Edward James, David Rees, Hugh
Eden, John Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Renton, David
Elliott, R. W. (Nwcastle-upon-Tyne, N.) Joseph, Sir Keith Ridsdale, Julian
Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Kirk, Peter Robertson, Sir David
Errington, Sir Eric Kitson, Timothy Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Farey-Jones, F. W. Leather, E. H. C. Seymour, Leslie
Finlay, Graeme Leburn, Gilmour Shaw, M.
Fisher, Nigel Lilley, F. J. P. Shepherd, William
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Lindsay, Martin Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir Jocelyn
Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton) Linstead, Sir Hugh Skeet, T. H. H.
Gammans, Lady Litchfield, Capt. John Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'rd & Chiswick)
Gardner, Edward Loveys, Walter H. Smithers, Peter
Gibson-Watt, David McAdden, Stephen Stanley, Hon. Richard
Glover, Sir Douglas MacArthur, Ian Stevens, Geoffrey
Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham) McLaren, Martin Stodart, J. A
Godber, J. B. McMaster, Stanley R. Studholme, Sir Henry
Goodhart, Philip Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Sumner, Donald (Orpington)
Goodhew, Victor Markham, Major Sir Frank Tapsell, Peter
Grant, Rt. Hon. William Marples, Rt. Hon. Ernest Taylor, W. J. (Bradford, N.)
Grant-Ferris, Wg. Cdr. R. Marshall, Douglas Temple, John M.
Green, Alan Marten, Neil Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Grimond, J. Mathew, Robert (Honiton) Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Matthews, Gordon (Meriden) Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)
Gurden, Harold Mawby, Ray Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Hall, John (Wycombe) Mills, Stratton Vane, W. M. F.
Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough) More, Jasper (Ludlow) Vaughan-Morgan, Sir John
Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.) Morrison, John Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis
Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Nabarro, Gerald Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W).
Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd) Nicholson, Sir Godfrey Walder, David
Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Noble, Michael Walker, Peter
Hastings, Stephen Nugent, Sir Richard Ward, Dame Irene
Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Oakshott, Sir Hendrie Wells, John (Maidstone)
Henderson-Stewart, Sir James Page, Graham (Crosby) Whitelaw, William
Hendry, Forbes Partridge, E. Williams, Dudley (Exeter)
Hiley, Joseph Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe) Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Hill, Dr. Rt. Hon Charles (Luton) Peel, John Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk) Percival, Ian Wise, A. R.
Hirst, Geoffrey Peyton, John Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Holland, Philip Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth Woollam, John
Holt, Arthur Pilkington, Sir Richard Worsley, Marcus
Hopkins, Alan Pitman, I. J.
Hornby, R. P. Pott, Percivall TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives) Prior, J. M. L. Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison and
Howard, John (Southampton, Test) Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho Mr. Campbell.
Mr. Fletcher

I beg to move, in page 35, line 16, after "displays" to insert: or for any purpose conducive to the corruption of public morals".

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

I think that it would be convenient for the House also to discuss the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies), to Clause 28, in page 42, line 33, at the end to insert: (a) indecent displays shall be deemed to mean such displays as tend to deprave and corrupt members of the public generally.

Mr. Fletcher

I entirely agree that it would be convenient to discuss also the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) which you have mentioned, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Though it does not arise until we reach Clause 28, it is an attempt to define the words "indecent displays" by saying that they shall be deemed to mean such displays as tend to deprave and corrupt members of the public generally.

I should, perhaps, also discuss another related Amendment which is not selected, but which deals with the same topic. It is the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black), in page 35, line 16, after "displays" to insert: including strip-tease, or displays of nudity or near nudity". We had considerable discussion in Committee on this subject which was not entirely satisfactory or conclusive. One of the reasons why it was not conclusive was no fault of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of State, because I think that he was under a handicap at the time for the reason that there was some obscurity in the law, as he pointed out, because an important case was then under consideration by the House of Lords. That case has now been decided in a very important, perhaps epoch-making decision by their Lordships. Therefore, the position has radically changed and I think that this requires the House to reconsider the subject.

The Clause contains the grounds on which objections can be raised to the registration or reregistration or disqualification of club premises. It is notorious that in recent years not only in the West End of London, but in certain other cities, there has been a considerable increase in the kind of club that caters for displays of nudity, near-nudity or strip-tease. There has been a general decline in the standards of entertainment of this kind over recent years which gives rise to a great deal of public concern. As the hon. Member for Wimbledon pointed out in Committee it is no exaggeration to say that some of these entertainments are degrading in the extreme, that they are calculated to deprave, that they deliberately appeal to unhealthy and undesirable instincts, and that they do a good deal to defame our national life.

It may or may not be a coincidence that in recent years there has been an increase in sex crimes, but it is certainly the fact that we should take the opportunity presented by the Bill to do whatever we can to express our disapproval of this very regrettable and widely advertised increase in our cities of this kind of unhealthy, depraved, debased, and corrupting so-called entertainment. I do not think that the Government would disagree with us in the objectives we are trying to reach. My right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) and I have tabled the Amendment because we feel that it is most important that public attention should be drawn to the subject. It is important that Parliament should express an opinion on the matter am: I think that we can make a substantial improvement in the Bill if the Amendment is accepted.

I turn now to the rather technical reasons why I think that these words are called for. It will be noticed that as the Bill at present stands objection can be made on the ground that the premises are habitually used for an unlawful purpose, or for indecent displays". The draftsmen have thought it necessary to use the specific phrase "for indecent displays". They did not regard it as adequate merely for an objector to point out that the club premises were used for "an unlawful purpose"; another ground of objection is an indecent display. One must, therefore, assume from the use of those phrases that an indecent display is not necessarily in the eyes of the draftsman unlawful.

8.30 p.m.

When we sought, in Committee, to be more specific and make it a precise ground of objection that the premises were used for strip-tease, or nudity, or near-nudity the Minister of State resisted our Amendment on two grounds. First, he said that it would be difficult to define "near-nudity" and "strip-tease". He also suggested, I thought, that the Amendment was unnecessary. He observed that what we wanted to stop was indecency, and he said that he was advised that indecency was a word which could be defined. As the Bill stands, there is no definition of it, but the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet would itself provide a definition and would, in my opinion, be better than nothing.

I ought to observe that the hon. Gentleman opposed our Amendment on grounds which I found very difficult to follow, but the Minister pointed out—he was quite right in doing so—that at that time the common law was uncertain, far from clear, obscure. Fortunately, such obscurity as existed at the time that we were discussing the matter in Committee has to a large extent now been removed by a decision in the House of Lords, to which I will now turn.

In doing so, I would point out that the words of this Amendment are taken deliberately from the decision of the House of Lords in the case of Shaw v. The Director of Public Prosecutions, reported in The Times of 5th May. The case arose out of a publication entitled The Ladies' Directory, to which a certain amount of public attention was given. The point at issue was whether or not there existed at common law an indictable offence for conspiring to corrupt public morals. The House of Lords, in its judicial capacity, decided by a majority of four to one that there was such an offence at common law. It is for that reason that I have adopted those words in this Amendment.

I should just observe that although, of course, it is now recognised that at common law there is a punishable criminal offence, conspiracy to corrupt public morals, a "conspiracy" involves the action of at least two persons. An applicant for registration of a club may be an individual, and it may be his object to corrupt public morals, but he might not be subject to prosecution for conspiracy to corrupt public morals if he acted alone.

Therefore, it seems very important that we should provide that one of the grounds of objection to the registration of club premises is that they would be used for the corruption of public morals, because that would catch the case of an individual applicant, an individual proprietor.

As Lord Tucker observed in his judgment: It had long been accepted that there were some conspiracies which were criminal, although the acts agreed to be done were not per se criminal or tortious if done by individuals. Assuming that the corruption of public morals by the act of an individual might not he criminal or tortious, did it follow that a conspiracy by two or more persons to that end was not indictable? Lord Tucker answered that question in the affirmative.

What is even more significant is that Lord Reid, in his dissenting judgment—this is why it is so important for Parliament to observe what he said—said: Notoriously, there were wide differences of opinion today as to how far the law ought to punish immoral acts which were not done in the face of the public. Parliament was the proper, and the only proper, place to settle that. That is why Lord Reid, although he dissented from the decision of his colleagues as to what the law was, recognised that this House is the place to decide what the law should be, and that is why I think that we should now legislate in this sense.

The Solicitor-General

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I should point out that what Lord Reid was saying was that Parliament ought to stipulate specific instances, and he objected to the wide use of the phrase "conspiracy to corrupt public morals", although, as the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, he was in a minority of one in that respect. Lord Reid was saying that Parliament laid down that this or that particular act is prohibited.

Mr. Fletcher

I appreciate what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says, because Lord Reid was in a minority and the judgment of the majority is the law of the land. I was calling in aid what Lord Reid said in order to point out that this is the concern of Parliament. I agree with what Lord Reid said in this case—that Parliament should say that such-and-such acts are contrary to public morals. If Parliament provides that something is contrary to public morals it should say so in an Act of Parliament and should not leave it to the judiciary to decide.

Lord Simonds pointed out that it has always been the function of the courts of this land to act as custos morum of the people, and that the law courts have a residual power, where no Statute has yet intervened, to supersede the common law, to superintend those offences which are prejudicial to the public welfare. It seems to me that here we have a clear case in which there is a body of public opinion prepared to support the exercise by this House of one of its fundamental obligations. Parliament should not lag behind the judiciary in exercising the function of custos morum, as Lord Simonds said.

Therefore, although the Bill as it stands enables an objector to say that premises are used for an unlawful purpose, or for an indecent display, there are all these other vicious clubs formed expressly for the purpose of putting on shows involving nudity, sometimes in conditions of blatant lewdness and vulgarity, accompanied by advertisements which appeal to the basest tastes.

I hope that the House will take the view that we should make the law on the subject abundantly clear, by inserting words which would enable the courts to refuse registration or reregistration of any premises which, in their opinion, were being used for the purpose of "corrupting public morals". That phrase is now enshrined in the law of the land by the highest court in the land. It will be open for any jury in any particular case to form a decision as to whether the offence has been committed or not. It is a phrase which, I agree, is far easier for a jury to apply than to attempt a definition of nudity or striptease. It supplies a simple convenient and objective test, and I believe that it would be the wish of very large sections of the community that this Amendment should be accepted.

Mr. John Cordle (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)

I rise strongly to support the Amendment. I believe that strip-tease clubs are wrong. I was very surprised to learn today that in the Metropolitan area there are 14 such clubs in existence. I am very surprised also to learn that in the provincial towns there are numbers more and that the Home Office is not prepared to list the clubs which are acting in this way and providing what I would term "base entertainment."

Strip-tease clubs are a blot on our national morals and an offence to all decent citizens. Their existence can only bring us into disgrace and disrepute at home and abroad. I go so far as to say that the wind of change in our affluent society has brought in its wake a gust of lust which this country has never seen before. Our bookstalls and cinema screens are shameless and are sure proof of the sickness that is gripping us today. More sex crimes of every description before the courts, full prisons, and promiscuity and immoral behaviour are largely the result of providing such places as strip-tease clubs.

It was on my way back to the House that I made it my business to go into one of these places, not long ago. I paid my 7s. 6d. and was told that my ticket would enable me to go there again for another seven days. I was not asked who had sponsored me nor whether I had any connection with the club, which was then putting on its show. The place was dirty and sordid. A tape recorder was playing and I suppose that there were 30 to 35 men in the club, reasonably dressed and apparently fairly decent types, looking at a show which I thought was a disgrace.

In succession, young girls in their late 'teens were stripping their garments from their bodies and doing uninhibited things. The men did not seem to be really enamoured by it and one or two of them left even before half an hour. I stayed about that time and I was appalled to think that this country had something which I had seen only before the war in places like Montparnasse and Montmartre.

As the father of seven children, who could be exposed to these moral dangers by finding their way into one of these clubs, I hope that the Government will accept the Amendment.

Mr. Cole

We need not argue about the purpose which the whole House has in mind when dealing with this Amendment. There can be few hon. Members who would support this kind of thing, and I would pay tribute to their courage if they did. However, I am not certain that we are not laying up trouble for the future because of the way that the Amendment is worded.

In a recent case in London, a magistrate said, when finding an accused person guilty, that if the performers in respect of whose performance the accused was being charged had not done certain actions, he would have had no recourse in law to find them guilty. That may have been before the Shaw judgment, when there was no definition of indecency, but what he meant was that the actual exhibition of the male or female body did not constitute indecency at law. I doubt whether it will if the Amendment is accepted.

8.45 p.m.

We always fall over backwards to protect a person who is accused, whatever he is accused of, and the State is, as it were, always at fault, and must prove the person guilty. Lawyers will be involved in long arguments about the meaning of for any purpose conducive to the corruption of public morals and, indeed, over the meaning of such displays as tend to corrupt and deprave the public generally. What would happen to a charge brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions if a witness said: "I have been to these shows for twelve or fifteen years. I am a good father and I have brought up five or seven children. I am well respected in the neighbourhood, and I am far from being corrupt or depraved"? I cannot see why the Government, not only in this Bill but in many Bills, are frightened of being specific. I am not a young man. I have seen this happen many times. The Government lay up far more trouble for themselves by a generality of expression than by being specific. The Government might inadvertently exclude one or two cases if they were specific, but, on the other hand, they would achieve the object of this legislation.

We are not talking about strip-tease, or nudity, or near-nudity. We are talking about something more distant which will be conducive to the corruption of public morals. I do not know what that means, because, as was said several times when we were dealing with obscene publications, what corrupts one person does not corrupt another, and what depraves one person does not deprave another. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Cordle) consider that he is depraved for having been to the show to which he referred?

If I were a proprietor of one of these clubs, I would laugh. I would get a good Queen's counsel on my side the next time I was picked up, having made £25,000 in six months. He would make a good case for me and I would get a good run for my money. I do not agree that it is impossible to define "striptease". Any 25 people in the West End of London could give an appropriate definition. There would not be any difficulty in defining it, and I am not being innocent in saying that.

A display of nudity surely means a display of nudity; nothing more, and nothing less. I cannot see why we must take this roundabout way of trying to include it. My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) fought this in Committee upstairs on a specific definition and I imagine that is why the Amendment in his name has not been called tonight. I am sorry about that, because the people who run these shows will take much more notice of a warning in black and white than of a vague vague expression such as for any purpose conducive to the corruption of public morals One of these clubs has 40,000 members. Are all those people corrupt or depraved, or do they have to see a certain number of shows before they reach that stage? It is said that these displays tend to deprave and corrupt people. They will corrupt a youngster of 18, but will they corrupt someone of 60 who has spent a lot of his life at Montparnasse and similar places? That is how I should argue, and the magistrate would have no option but to administer the law as it is laid down in the Act, not as it is interpreted by my right hon. Friend. The Act makes no reference to strip-tease or other practices, but merely refers to something which tends to corrupt or deprave.

I hope that we have not seen the end of this. I hope that we shall put something into this Clause to make it clear beyond all peradventure to the people who are making tainted money exactly what we are after, instead of trying to define something which will be the subject of arguments of academic interest to lawyers. Let us put in plain, simple, unvarnished, if necessary Anglo-Saxon, language what we are after, and exactly what we intend to legislate for.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

It is not often that I disagree with the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) on matters of this kind, but on this occasion I feel that he has completely misconceived what my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) seeks to do, and the history behind the words which he seeks to insert. Those words are embodied in the law, and if they are inserted the courts will in future be in a position to interpret them.

Mr. Cole

Will the right hon. Member bear in mind that judges will also know that these words sprang from a prosecution of quite a different kind—concerning the publication of a directory—and if he would care to judge between that case and a strip-tease case he will find no basis for doing so in these words?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

The hon. Member may be right about that. We shall hear what the Solicitor-General has to say. I believe that the courts will put on these words a wider interpretation than that which the hon. Member seeks to put on them.

The Clause deals with objections to and cancellations of registration, and the disqualification of premises, and the subsection with which we are dealing gives, as one reason for disqualification, the fact that premises are used for indecent displays. When we dealt with this matte: in Committee the Minister of State expressed the general view that those words were sufficiently descriptive to cover the case with which many hon. Members sought to deal. We cannot say whether this will be so until the courts have to interpret the subsection. But many hon. Members in Committee felt—and now the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) and his hon. Friends who have put their names to his Amendment feel—that some further words could be included with advantage. The question is, what they should be.

I formed the view that the words proposed in the hon. Member's Amendment were already covered, and that his Amendment was, therefore, redundant. Nevertheless, in view of an action which has recently been decided in another place, it would be useful if the Government would put in such words as have been there judicially noticed and which will from now on have meaning in law. That is why my hon. Friend moved his Amendment, which I hope the Government will accept.

I was interested in what the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Cordle) had to say. He has more courage than I have. I would not have the courage to go to one of those places. But we have all read about them. I should say that they are very boring and not the kind of place to which one would go for entertainment, or to spend money on an evening out. Nevertheless, they are there, and some people apparently find them places which are worth resorting to.

One of the reasons why the Bill was introduced was that it was felt by the Government that this type of sordid club had to be dealt with. Part III of the Bill does not seek to deal with the ordinary, decent working-man's club or any such club. It is designed—though it has to bite on all clubs to do so—to deal with the kind of club at which this subsection is aimed. I should like to see it strengthened, if necessary. I do not want to see it weakened. We should use the opportunity afforded by the introduction of the Bill to tighten up the law in the way in which I think that everybody is anxious that it should be.

The Solicitor-General

The problem with which we are concerned has been very well outlined in the speeches which have been made. The right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) has correctly broadened the issue by saying that Part III of the Bill is designed to deal with undesirable clubs of various sorts, including the kind which we have been canvassing on this Amendment, which we believe have been operating in London particularly, and, for all I know, in other large cities as well.

May I, first, give the existing law and the present position, then what the Bill does and then what the Amendment seeks to do. I am told that strip-tease clubs in London are of two sorts. The first includes such things as girls stripping completely and going through various obscene motions or gestures. As was said by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) they appear, if that is the correct description, to pander to some of the basest instincts to which it would be possible to appeal.

In recent months prosecutions under the existing common law have been brought against the proprietors of five clubs of this kind. When I say five, we must relate that to the figure given by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Cordle) that so far as we know, there are about 14 clubs which have been operating in London. Five were prosecuted and the head of the prosecution was keeping a disorderly house. In all five cases there were convictions and substantial fines were imposed. I believe that the most recent one was a fine of £5,000 with a month in which to pay or in default of payment, imprisonment for twelve months.

In the second sort of strip-tease club, I am told that the performance is relatively innocuous, the usual action being that the girl strips down as far as a G-string. I have asked what is a G-string and, so far, nobody has told me.

Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)

It must be something to do with a violin.

The Solicitor-General

I think that we are in a different sphere of artistry from the one which occurs to the hon. Gentleman.

The dancing is of rather poor quality. But in the majority of those cases the clubs are not registered clubs at all. In fact, they are not really clubs. Anyone can obtain entry by paying at the door, even though he may go through the formality of filling in a form of application for membership. I suspect that that was the type of establishment in which my hon. Friend found himself. In London and most of the urban areas, but not the country as a whole, it is an offence to keep a house for public dancing or music, or other public entertainment of a like kind, without a licence from the London County Council, or, elsewhere, from the local authority or justices.

9.0 p.m.

In cases such as I have described where, although the premises are called clubs, it is possible for anyone to gain admission on the spot—in other words, membership is a mere formality—it is arguable that the public is effectively admitted. The clubs are then carried on illegally. I am also told that the proprietors of five strip-tease clubs of the second kind have been convicted recently for keeping houses for public music and dancing without a licence. In some cases, I am told, there will be appeals. In one case the charge was dismissed, but the prosecution is appealing. Proceedings are pending in the case of four other of those so-called clubs.

I give the House that information so that it can see that the existing law is by no means powerless to deal with these establishments when it is set in motion, but I ask the House to look at the Bill, because it goes very much further. What the Bill says is that it is a ground of objection that the club premises are habitually used for an unlawful purpose, or for indecent displays", so any indecent display in a club of this description is a ground of objection. From the description which my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch gave at first hand, and which the hon. Member for Islington, East gave, I suspect, at secondhand, it would seem that what was described fell clearly within these words—that they were indecent displays and, therefore, the Bill would cover them.

Mr. Cole

Would my right hon. and learned Friend care to define to the House what he means by "an indecent display"? If a display up to a certain stage is not indecent, are we to have degrees of indecency?

The Solicitor-General

I shall not try to define it; in fact, I shall quarrel with my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) when he tries to define it, because it is the sort of thing which is better left to a bench of magistrates to define. They know what an indecent display is. Of course there are degrees of indecency, but at a certain point it becomes an indecent display of which the law should take cognizance, and it is very much better left in that way.

Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)

I may have missed the point. The Solicitor-General has described the situation as it appears to be in the Metropolitan area and we would like to know whether the problem has been examined as it is now in the provinces.

The Solicitor-General

I mentioned that it is an offence in the provinces, in most urban areas, to keep a house for public dancing or music or other public entertainment of a like kind without a licence, in the case of places outside London, granted by a local authority.

Mr. Snow

What is the size of the problem?

The Solicitor-General

That I cannot say. I will see whether there is information in the hands of the Home Office. I believe that there is not. So far as I know, the problem is mainly a Metropolitan one.

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

It is screaming out for attention.

Mr. Ellis Smithindicated dissent.

The Solicitor-General

I am glad to find that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) bears out my impression. I am firmly of the opinion that there is no such problem in the area I represent, on Tees-side.

However, I emphasise that the proposal in the Bill extends to all areas. It is, therefore, a strengthening of the law and it is ubiquitous. If there is an indecent display in a club, wherever it is, that is a ground of objection. It would seem to me that all the objectionable entertainments that have been described to us, and which undoubtedly constitute a grave problem, will be covered, in so far as they are not covered by the existing common law, by the specific words in the Bill.

The hon. Member for Islington, East drew attention to the fact that we have used both the general phrase that the club premises are "habitually used for an unlawful purpose" and also the specific phrase that might well be included in it, "or for indecent displays" That is perfectly correct. Obviously, there is a large area of overlap, but we thought it right specifically to make habitual indecent displays a ground of objection, in case it could be argued that certain indecent displays were not in the existing state of the law unlawful. At least, it crystallises for the justices the precise ground of objection that they have to consider.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Can my right hon. and learned Friend deal with this one point, which goes to the heart of the question of whether amendment is necessary? He has outlined the unlawful purpose, and that seems clear enough. In what circumstances could there be an indecent display which was not also an unlawful purpose? To put it another way, could there be an indecent display which could be relied upon which was not one which would sustain a conviction for a disorderly house?

The Solicitor-General

I think that there might be such circumstances, but, with respect, I do not propose to argue the matter. What we wanted by introducing these words "or for indecent displays" was to avoid the difficulties of the further argument of whether there is an unlawful purpose.

There is also the consideration that keeping a disorderly house is the sort of offence which is tryable only on indictment and where it requires a fairly careful direction from a judge to the jury, whereas an ordinary intelligent bench of magistrates could perfectly well, in our view, decide whether there was an indecent display in the club premises on the evidence produced to them without going into these further recondite circumstances.

That brings me to the Amendment, which was moved so clearly by the hon. Member for Islington, East. As the hon. Member said, the formula which he puts forward is that derived from the recent case in the House of Lords of Shaw v. the Director of Public Prosecutions. In other words, the hon. Member says that it shall be a ground of objection that the premises are habitually used for any purpose conducive to the corruption of public morals". It is true that the House of Lords has recently decided that case, in which my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet argued the case for the appellant My hon. Friend argued the case with great ability, an ability which earned the rare tribute of a compliment from the learned Law Lord on the Woolsack at the time. That case laid down that a conspiracy to corrupt public morals was an indictable offence at the common law.

That decision has not escaped criticism. The ground of criticism generally is that it is too vague an offence. I by no means agree with that criticism. I think that the decision was a valuable one. It is a valuable instrument of last resort in the hands of those charged with the maintenance of public order. But it is not—I readily agree with the critics in this respect—an instrument to be used indiscriminately.

Therefore, I would say that a conspiracy to corrupt public morals is an offence which ought only to be used as an instrument of last resort in cases where it was doubtful whether a conviction could be obtained for any other offence where the areas of offence were, to some extent, coincident and, in addition, that it is essentially the type of offence which requires the most careful direction by the learned judge to the jury concerned.

Therefore, I disagree with the Amendment, although I fully understand the purpose for which it was tabled. It seeks to extend that concept from being a weapon of last resort and from an area where the offence would be triable on indictment by judge and jury to where it is a concept which must be considered by a bench of magistrates in relation to the registration of a club. That also crystalises the objection which I have to the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet, which seeks to define indecency in terms of corruption of public morals.

I submit to the House that, although the existing law is by no means powerless to deal with the mischief with which we are concerned, the Bill goes considerably further and is a powerful instrument of control. The Amendment, for the reasons I have stated, is not desirable in this context. It may ultimately be available, because I cannot conceive of any circumstances in which displays put on which were conducive to the corruption of public morals would not have been the subject of an antecedent agreement between, say, the proprietor and the artist or whoever it was.

In that case, it would, if necessary, be indictable before a judge and jury as a common law conspiracy. Once that happened, it would follow that the club premises were being habitually used for an unlawful purpose. In that case, although it would come in as a weapon of last resort it would have come in via the judge and jury and after a careful review of the law and the evidence.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

The argument the Solicitor-General is now using, which I clearly take, would still be effective if these words were included. It does not mean that every time the subsection is invoked the whole of it has to be invoked. These are alternatives.

The Solicitor-General

The objection to that is this. First, it would be open to any objector to say that the display or conduct was conducive to the corruption of public morals". Nothing could stop him using that as a weapon of first resort rather than as a weapon of last resort. Secondly, he could say it to a bench magistrates without having prosecuted on indictment before a judge and jury. In a serious case it would still be possible to prosecute before a judge and jury and, on a conviction, to satisfy the magistrates that the club premises had, indeed, been habitually used for an unlawful purpose.

I cannot conceive of any habitual use of premises for a purpose conducive to the corruption of public morals which would not be an indecent display in this sphere. I can conceive of many acts which would be conducive to the corruption of public morals but would not be indecent displays, but in this sphere of clubs and displays in clubs I cannot think of any. Therefore, in that respect the words are unnecessary. For all those reasons, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied that it is not necessary to press his Amendment.

9.15 p.m.

Sir C. Black

The House should be grateful to the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) for having given us the opportunity to discuss this most important matter; and also, if I may say so with respect, to my right hon. and learned Friend for his careful and clear exposition of the law as it would stand if these words were written into the Bill. For the layman, this is, indeed, a complex, technical and complicated matter, and I suppose that those of us who have not had orthodox legal training find ourselves in some difficulty in deciding what is the right course to adopt.

I find myself still favourable to the hon. Gentleman's Amendment, on the grounds that I am very much inclined to support any Amendment that would have the effect of strengthening the law, even though it be the case that to write the words of the Amendment into the Bill might not add very much to what is already there. My right hon. and learned Friend said that successful prosecutions under the criminal law had recently been brought in several cases in respect of the kind of entertainment that we have been discussing, but I sought to amend and strengthen the Bill in Commitee for the very reason that I thought that the criminal law as defined by the lawyers was not really adequate to the existing situation.

I want to refer to some words used by a most experienced lawyer, chairman of quarter sessions, in the charge that he gave to the jury in a recent case over which he presided. He is reported as saying: Performances in the nude were not the beginning and end of the matter. If that was all that was going on the accused should be acquitted. If that exposition of the law by a well-known and experienced lawyer is the correct one, I believe that the law as it is at present does not go nearly far enough and is by no means adequately effective to deal with the kind of evil with which this House is concerned and with the kind of performance that has been described this evening by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Cordle).

In those same legal proceedings, the prosecuting counsel also said something that to me is illuminating and which, I think, also indicates the unsatisfactory and ineffective state of the law. These are the words of another experienced and able lawyer employed in the case: You have got to be satisfied, looking at this matter without prejudice one way or the other and as judges of fact, that the evidence has satisfied you beyond reasonable doubt that what was going on in these premises was obscene, lewd, lascivious, debauching and wholly disgusting. It is therefore quite clear that under that definition a performance has to be disgusting to a very high degree, indeed, before the law—as defined, at any rate, by this lawyer—is effective to deal with it—

The Solicitor-General

My hon. Friend will appreciate that that is not the test in the Bill. The test in the Bill is the simple one of indecency.

Mr. Cole

And as to definition or lack of it, if what the learned chairman of quarter sessions said is true, and I have no reason to believe that it was not, nothing about which he was talking would constitute an indent display.

Sir C. Black

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for his intervention. I appreciate that the Bill as it stands now represents some advance upon the legal position as defined in the quotations I have given. I take it that what we are considering is whether the Bill goes sufficiently far to deal with the kind of entertainment which which, I imagine, all hon. and right hon. Members wish to deal effectively.

Here, of course, those of us who are laymen are in difficulty in deciding what is the precise meaning and effect of particular words and phrases. I approach the matter from a simple point of view. It is difficult to believe that any harm could in any circumstances be done by the addition to the Bill of the words in the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Islington, East, but I can see that those words might in certain circumstances strengthen the purpose of the Bill and, therefore, make it more effective in dealing with the kind of evil with which the House is anxious to deal, an evil which, so it seems from all the evidence, is growing not only in the Metropolitan area but in other parts of the country.

I admit that a better formula can, perhaps, be found than the formula in the Amendment we are discussing. If my right hon. and learned Friend were prepared to say that he is content to look at the matter further in the light of the strong expressions of opinion made in the House today with a view to considering how the Bill can be further strengthened, I for my part should be satisfied to leave the matter there with that assurance. However, I gather from what he has said that he is entirely satisfied that the Bill is effective as it stands now. If that be so, I should be inclined to give my support to the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Islington, East.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)

The House is united in wishing to stamp out these degrading displays. We are all indebted to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Cordle) for his courage and good sense today in coming to the House and speaking as he did. We are indebted also to the learned Solicitor-General for the careful way in which he led us through the difficulties of phrasing this type of prohibition.

I support the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) who, I thought, completely made out the case for the inclusion of the phrase or for any purpose conducive to the corruption of public morals". The expression "unlawful purpose" which occurs a few words earlier in the subsection is a general expression covering an unspecified number of infractions of the general law. The same virtue of being a general description covering an unspecified but quite definite group of offences against public morals is possessed by the phrase which my hon. Friend proposes in his Amendment. I suggest that if we were to combine the two general phrases "unlawful purpose" and or for any purpose conducive to the corruption of public morals we should be on safer ground in leading the courts in their duty of dealing with this class of offence. In fact, here I run counter to the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) and possibly to some of my hon. Friends. I would not be averse to seeing the disappearance of the specific phrase "indecent display", because I suspect—and I agree with the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies), an unusual occurrence in Committee and in this House on this Bill, with what he implied in his Amendment—that this phrase, was dragged in in order to meet the emotional outburst on the specific subject of strip-tease. Like every other hon. Member, I condemn this kind of offensive activity, but that is not the only kind of offensive activity which we ought to try to deal with in this Clause.

I think the only safe way is to keep to general phrases which, nevertheless, can be and will be interpreted in the courts, whether by magistrates or otherwise, to cover every kind of unlawful purpose within the meaning of the Clause, or, indeed, and this perhaps does no more than explain the phrase "unlawful purpose", or run parallel to its meaning—within the meaning of the phrase "conducive to the corruption of public morals." Once we try to specify the kind of offence with which this Clause is supposed to deal by implying the exclusion of other offences, it may make it possible in the courts to let off people who clearly are guilty of infractions of the spirit of this Clause.

We should keep to what I take to be the traditional, well-tried method of expressing the intentions of the law in this country by using common-sense general definitive phrases like "unlawful purposes" or "conducive to the corruption of public morals." Then the courts cannot be in any danger of not being able to deal with any and every offence that comes within these broad general definitions.

Mr. E. Fletcher

May I, with the leave of the House, say that I listened very carefully to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said? I think that this debate has served a useful purpose, and I was impressed by his argument that these words may not add a great deal to the strength of the Clause as drafted. I think the whole House will have learned with considerable satisfaction that, even as the law stands at present, a number of prosecutions have been launched against strip-tease clubs in London. I hope that the Bill as drafted will very considerably strengthen the hand of the Home Office in this respect. It is the desire of all of us that every possible step should be taken to stamp out this insidious evil. In view of what the learned Solicitor-General has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I beg to move, in page 36, line 13, to leave out "twenty-eight" and to insert "forty-two".

This is a very simple and straightforward Amendment with which I can deal extremely briefly. Under the subsection to which this Amendment is offered, when an alteration is made in the rules of a club registered in respect of any premises notice has to be given within 28 days by the secretary. If it is not given within that period of time, the secretary would be liable to a fine not exceeding £10.

9.30 p.m.

The next Amendment on the Notice Paper, which is to be moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of State, has exactly the same purpose—to alter "twenty-eight" to "forty-two" as the time required for notice of a change in the particulars of a club. That is what I and others would wish to do in this instance. I, for one, cannot see the difference between notice having to be given when there are changes made in the particulars of the club, and notice having to be given when there are changes in the rules of the club; at least, although there is a difference, it is not a very great one. If presently, the Minister of State is to suggest to the House that we make it 42 days for particulars I see no reason why my Amendment, which would make a like period of time applicable to rules, should not be acceptable.

In Committee, a suggestion was raised by the right hon. Gentleman himself, and it was then said that during the summer months, when people are away on holiday, 28 days might not be enough, and through sheer inadvertence, or because at that time committees do not meet as often as they otherwise do, 28 days might elapse and the club secretary inadvertently lay himself open to a fine of £10. That is not as much as £50, which is the penalty prescribed in Clause 23, to which we shall be directing our attention presently, but, nevertheless, £10 to some clubs is a considerable sum, and certainly could be to a club secretary, for whom, indeed, it could be quite a lot.

Therefore, I see no reason why, if only for tidiness, the right hon. Gentleman should not accept my Amendment. An extra fortnight makes little or no difference to the Home Office, but it could make all the difference to a local club.

Mr. Vosper

As the right hon. Gentleman has said, the Bill imposes two requirements on clubs, one that they should notify the justices of alterations in the rules and the other that they should notify them about alterations in the clubs themselves. The Bill as published gave a time limit of 21 days in both instances. In Committee, I agreed that this time limit should be extended to 28 days in both instances.

In Committee, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) pressed me to go even further in the question of the time required to notify alterations in the clubs themselves, and he argued that there should be a longer time allowed for the secretary to notify a change in the particulars of the club than changes in the rules themselves. He said: Rules are not altered except by a deliberate act, and a club should he in a position to notify a change in rules within a period shorter than that required for notification of particulars of the club."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 20th April, 1961; c. 1195.] As a result of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's intervention I have tabled an Amendment, which we are just about to take, to increase the time to 42 days, so I have entirely met the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point that there should be a difference between the two provisions. Now the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) wants me to equalise them once again. I find myself in some difficulty, therefore, in accepting his Amendment.

Mr. Glenvil Hall


Amendment negatived.