HC Deb 22 July 1971 vol 821 cc1659-60
14. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has recently received on the operation of the laws governing obscenity ; and what replies he has sent.

Mr. Maudling

I continue to receive a large number of complaints about offensive material of all kinds and requests for more restrictive legislation. In replies I have described the wide range of existing legal provisions, have made it clear that specific complaints should be addressed to the police, and have pointed out the difficulties in the way of further amendments of the law.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

In view of the number of inquiries my right hon. Friend has received, could not he seek to shake off the indifference which his Department shows to a thorough-going review of the law of obscenity, over which public anxiety continues to mount? Would not it be much better to have an impartial Select Committee of the House appointed rather than leaving the matter to the private enterprise of Lord Longford?

Mr. Maudling

The legislation against obscene publications is the Act of 1959, which was based on the recommendations of a Commons Select Committee. Under that Act there were no fewer than 163 prosecutions last year.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that probably no country in the world has a satisfactory law of obscenity? Does he agree that whatever he does about the law he will be criticised, because there will always be those who consider either that the law is too liberal or that it is too restrictive? Will he bear in mind that perhaps just for once the law is about right?

Mr. Maudling

I am always prepared to consider suggestions for amending the law, but there are already laws being vigorously used, and a number of cases are before the courts.

Mr. Deedes

While I accept what the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) said, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he agrees that the present working of the law seems to cause the maximum public aggravation? Therefore, is not there a case for looking, even slowly, at the present processes and seeing whether in new circumstances we could improve on them?

Mr. Maudling

If it were possible to improve on the definition of obscenity in the 1959 Act, that would no doubt be a good thing to do, but I have not yet seen suggestions how such an improvement could be made. The police use their powers, and these matters have been before the courts on many occasions, and that seems the right way to go about things.

Mr. David Steel

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Amendment to the Unsolicited Goods and Services Act, which I proposed and which was inflicted on the Government by this House and improved in the other place, will have a good effect in reducing the quantity of offensive literature, not necessarily obscene, that people still receive in their home? Will the right hon. Gentleman draw the public's attention to that provision?

Mr. Maudling

More than half the complaints from Members of Parliament refer to the Julian Press. Whether that provision will apply to it, I do not know, but I understand that it has withdrawn its circular.

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