HC Deb 18 March 1971 vol 813 cc1636-9
19. Mr. Deedes

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent representations he has received about the need to amend the Obscene Publications Act.

35. Mr. Stanbrook

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received in favour of amending the law regarding obscenity.

Mr. Maudling

I have received very few representations recently about the Obscene Publications Acts, but a considerable number in favour of strengthening the laws against indecent exhibitions, advertisements and displays.

Mr. Deedes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, while hon. Members are unlikely to agree on what constitutes an obscene publication, probably we all agree that the mailing of unsolicited and offensive material at random which is designed to advertise such publications is a growing and indefensible public nuisance? Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the law bites on this abuse?

Mr. Maudling

Yes, Sir, and I am aware of the concern. The Post Office Act, 1953, prohibits the sending by post of material that is obscene or indecent. My right hon. Friend will have seen in the last few days that a conviction has been obtained under the Act. That shows that the law bites.

Mr. Stanbrook

Is my right hon. Friend aware that at least part of the reason for the Conservative Party's victory in the recent General Election was the belief that a Conservative Government would promote higher standards of moral behaviour.

Hon. Members


Mr. Thorpe

Arms to South Africa?

Mr. Stanbrook

Will my right hon. Friend cease to be complacent about a problem which is recognised as urgent by every decent citizen? Does he know of a sillier reason for neglecting to take action than the alleged difficulty of defining as obscene matter which disgusts every decent citizen?

Mr. Maudling

The task of the Government is to deal with abuses. We have a number of instances. For example, the public advertisement of films often causes great disapproval, and we are sending a circular to licensing authorities, which already have powers, recommending a more resolute use of their powers. I am also contemplating an amendment of the law to deal with the abuse arising from cinema clubs.

Mr. Callaghan

Was it in pursuance of the higher moral standards to which the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) referred that the Government decided to bilk the shareholders of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and Rolls-Royce? Leaving aside the hon. Gentleman's naivety, is the Home Secretary satisfied that the Post Office Act is sufficient for the purpose, in view of the large number of circulars which go out and which clearly never get caught? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the whole House will welcome a review of the procedures to prevent unsolicited circulars being distributed?

Mr. Maudling

Leaving aside the right hon. Gentleman's naivety, I am aware of the concern about this matter. I wanted to stress that the law already can operate where indecent circulars have been distributed, and there has been a recent successful prosecution. The Younger Committee is looking at these matters and, in particular, at the broad question of the propriety of people sending round unsolicited documents.

Mr. Selwyn Gummer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, notwithstanding that in recent days we have had such a case successfuly prosecuted, the major problem of obscenity is where it intrudes upon people who do not wish to receive it? Is not it still true that many people feel that it is the advertisements for films rather than the films themselves and the advertisements for books rather than the books themselves which cause grave distaste, and that the Post Office Act does not bite there? Is my right hon. Friend further aware that it is a surprise to many people to read that any kind of prosecution has been achieved, after all the months that we have complained about a certain company which has recently gone bankrupt?

Mr. Maudling

I think that my hon. Friend is confusing two things. The first is the circulation of indecent material through the post. Where there is evidence that this offence has been committed the police will prosecute, and they have recently been successful.

The other point is the control of the public advertising of films. I said a moment ago that I was sending out a circular to licensing authorities, which already have powers, urging them to use those powers to more effect.

Mr. Strauss

If the right hon. Gentleman is considering any broad amendment to the Obscene Publications Act, will he bear in mind that this is a controversial question, but non-political, on which there is a divergence of strongly held views about the value and efficacy of the present law? Will the right hon. Gentleman, before contemplating any broad amendment of that Act, consider following precedent and set up a Select Committee to consider the problem?

Mr. Maudlin

I have made it clear that I am not contemplating an Amendment of the Acts. I am taking action, both by urging the licensing authorities to use their powers and by considering an amendment of the law dealing with cinema club abuse. In those ways I am strengthening the existing law, which is often more effective than it is given credit for.