HC Deb 27 July 1966 vol 732 cc1721-4

3.31 p.m.

Mr. John Cordle (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to proscribe pornographic publications. One of the benefits which back benchers have in bringing forward a Bill of some importance under the Ten-Minute Rule is that the House is in session and there is a full audience.

The past two decades have seen a massive change in our attitudes to censorship in literature and entertainment. Much of this change I would not quarrel with. There are sound and cogent—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House has insisted that Ten-Minute Rule Bills be taken at this time of day. It must listen to hon. Members who are asking leave to introduce them.

Mr. Cordle

I was saying that much of this change I would not quarrel with. There are sound and cogent reasons why many subjects previously regarded as unmentionable should be discussed and written about in an honest and adult manner.

But there is, unfortunately, another side to this cry for greater freedom of expression. The margin between liberty and licence is always narrow, and I have no doubt that this margin has been overstepped in a number of important ways. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have been perturbed at the growing flood of cheap and trashy pornographic publications imported into this country, largely from America. A feature of such publications is invariably a lurid and highly salacious jacket, invariably featuring a scantily dressed woman in attitudes or situations which are provocative in the extreme.

The sole object of such illustrated depravity is, of course, to sell the books. With modern methods of display and self-selection, including selling books from vending machines, the publishers would argue that the more lurid and erotic the cover the greater the turnover for the particular book.

This situation, disgusting and unhealthy although I believe it to be, could per- haps have been tolerated when most of these books were sold and displayed in those strange establishments in Soho and other well-known parts of our great cities where the clientelle for such publications, largely male, middle-aged and psychologically mixed-up, could while their hours away perusing and choosing their favourite erotica. That was the situation a few years ago. The majority of decent families were not exposed to such sordid rubbish and the filth when the only dangers were from those curiously antiseptic naturalist magazines.

That is not the case today. First, most of this cheap pornographic trash, lurid covers and all, is now being openly displayed and sold in every—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House must be consistent in its attitude to Ten-Minute Rule speeches.

Mr. Cordle

I am very grateful to you, Sir.

I was saying that a good deal of this trash, lurid covers and all, is now being openly displayed in every possible kind of outlet. Respectable and responsible booksellers, both chain and independent, many newsagents and tobacconists, supermarkets and general stores, vending machines on railway stations, all now offer self-service racks filled with books whose jackets would make a sailor blush.

Only last week, I was interested to see that the Monmouthshire County Libraries Committee has been concerned with this flood of sex and sadism and is urging the county council's education committee to raise the matter with the County Councils' Association, in the hope of gaining support from other local authorities. I believe that they are rightly concerned about the effect upon young children.

Secondly, this practice of attracting custom by wrapping books up in jackets which go far beyond the bounds of decency has spread to many of the well-known classics, which are part of our literary heritage. I was fascinated to read in the Daily Telegraph the other day the publishers' blurb for a new edition. It read: Don't take our word for it. Experience for yourself this whirlwind of adventure and passion. The book? "Great Expectations", by Charles Dickens. Anyone buying the book on the blurb alone, or as a result of seeing the cover, which I do not doubt was an extremely salacious one, would find his particular expectations unfulfilled.

It could be argued that dressing up the classics in an erotic guise is the only way of selling them, and that it is surely good for everyone to read them, even if for the wrong reasons. This is a totally cynical and unworthy view of the British people and I reject that argument absolutely.

I have a few examples here, with illustrations. What worries me most about this problem is the effect it has on children and young people. The position now is such that no one can escape the flood of erotic illustrations, because one is as likely to meet it in one's local supermarket as in the sleaziest Soho bookshops. Largely anonymous publishers started the practice and I regret to say that more responsible publishers are now, seemingly, jumping on the band wagon. This problem is now growing and is affecting record sleeves; more and more long-playing records are being sold in sleeves bearing a picture of an unclothed young lady which has no possible connection with the music on the record.

What can parents do? What can school teachers do? We cannot forbid our children to go into shops, yet we know that day by day they are increasingly exposed to this filth. I think that what St. Paul said is true: Evil communications corrupt good manners". What was true then is true today. It is our bounden duty to protect our children in the character-forming years from illustrations which openly cover such subjects as flagellism, sado-masochism, voyeurism, lesbian relationships, transvestism, and virtually everything except the sex act itself.

My Bill would propose to set up a stautory body with power to control and stamp out this unsavoury exploitation. It would be composed of local authority and educational representatives, representatives of the Publishers' Association and of the retail trades. It could demand the withdrawal of books and records the covers of which depicted scenes which bore no resemblance to the story in the book or the music on the record. It could also require the withdrawal of books and records the covers or sleeves of which might fulfil this first condition, but which, nevertheless, offended public taste and which might have a depraving or corrupting influence on young people who could not help seeing the cover on public display.

I abhor restrictive and oppressive legislation, but, where the trade refuses to put its own house in order, I believe that Parliament must step in to protect those who cannot protect themselves. In that spirit I commend the Bill to the House. If publishers continue to fan the growing unhealthy interest in sex and sadism, then the gusts of lust which sweep our country today can bring in its wake an indictment which will shame this House and the British people in years to come.

I commend the Bill to the House for its genuine consideration.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Cordle, Sir Charles Taylor, Mr. J. H. Osborn, Mr. Goodhew, Mrs. McKay, Mr. Urwin, Mr. Evelyn King, Mr. Loveys, Mrs. Anne Kerr, and Sir W. Bromley-Davenport, Mr. Ron Lewis, and Mr. John Wells.