HC Deb 13 April 1973 vol 854 cc1686-751

Order for Second Reading read.

12.15 p.m.

Sir Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

In May 1971 the Society of Conservative Lawyers appointed a sub-committee to consider certain matters concerning what it summed up as being the pollution of the mind". The chairman of the sub-committee was my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General and its vice-chairman my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies). The Bill is one result of the sub-committee's deliberations and I am grateful to it for allowing me to profit from my success in the Ballot by asking the House to give it a Second Reading. If later my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet should catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have no doubt that he will expand upon the legal aspects of the measure. The hon. and learned Member for Warrington (Mr. W. T. Williams) may do the same.

I have received a number of suggestions, including one that the word "gross" should be omitted. In addition, fears have been voiced lest the necessity to obtain the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions may preclude the remedy of the common man under the common law. But perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet will say a word about those matters in due course. However, those suggestions will be considered fully if and when the Bill reaches its Committee stage.

I want to speak about the reasons for the Bill. As a starting point, the subcommittee tells us in its report that it concentrated upon the issue of whether the existing laws are sufficient to safeguard the general public from the public nuisances existing at the present time. The specific nuisance which is the target of the Bill is that whereby the public have thrust before them, whether they like it or not, by open display of one sort or another—for example, outside cinemas or on book, street or railway stalls—material which is clearly offensive to many of them. The sub-committee had in mind especially the great increase in that kind of material which is most undesirable if it is seen by children.

The sub-committee did not mention advertisements in the Tube. But in how many posters advertising films does one see a man holding a nubile and half-naked girl in one hand and a smoking gun in the other, both of them toys for masculine self-gratification? I wonder that Women's Lib does not object.

The sub-committee concluded that the present law did not provide sufficient safeguards. Hence the Bill, the object of which has the general agreement of many disparate schools of thought.

May I quote from recent speeches by spokesmen of all three parties? My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, speaking to a Young Conservative conference last month, is reported to have said: I regard this display not only on posters outside cinemas or elsewhere, and in Press advertisements, and on book covers, as having reached a level which is no longer an expression of freedom, but a commercial assault upon freedom. When their Lordships in another place discussed the Longford Report last November, Lord Shackleton, leader of the Opposition peers, was perfectly prepared to accept that pornography is disgusting and an offence and that it is wrong that the public should have it forced upon them. Later in his speech he added: I have already agreed … that public display of an offensive kind should be limited", and he hoped that we should be able to find a law to provide such protection.

Similarly the noble and reverend Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, a Liberal peer, assured their Lordships: I entirely agree with, I imagine, almost everyone in your Lordships' House in saying that I, too, will support legislation which will stop pornography or any offensive material of any kind being forced, unsought, on people who do not want it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 29th November 1972; Vol. 336, cc. 1265–70, 1274.] That is all that the Bill seeks to do. It does not attempt the difficult task of redefining "obscenity"; for different people at different times have had different ideas about what is obscene or anti-social. I have great respect for Mrs. Whitehouse and would take off my hat to her if I ever wore one, but I would not wonder if our ideas of obscenity differed.

Do you remember Emma, Mr. Deputy Speaker—that charming creation of Jane Austen—speaking of her little protegee Harriet and saying: The stain of illegitimacy unbleached by nobility or wealth would have been a stain indeed. Of course, dear Jane was being satirical. Fortunately for Emma, Harriet had been conceived by, I think, a marquess. But such satire would not even be understood today, because today it would not occur to us to blame anybody for his parentage.

Then there was the bishop who remonstrated with W. S. Gilbert for entitling an opera "Ruddy Gore". Sir William replied to the bishop, I suppose you would not mind if I said you have a ruddy complexion; but would if I said ' your bloody cheek'. Nevertheless the opera was rechristened "Ruddigore", with an "i" instead of a "y".

Coming to the present day, to me "The Dirtiest Show in Town" is the litter left behind in our streets and commons when more than about two people have visited them. The result is a total lack of consideration for others. That is thrust upon people whether they like it or not— most do not seem to mind—whereas if they pay for a seat in a theatre they have only themselves to blame if they do not like it.

It is not quite the same with television. It is all very well to say that one can turn it off if one does not want to see it, but that is not always possible or easy. I think it is generally agreed that the mass media do little to help.

Section 3 of the Television Act lays down that nothing is included in the programmes which offends against good taste or decency or is likely … to be offensive to public feeling". My noble Friend Baroness Young, speaking for the Government in the debate from which I have alreadyquoted, said: Our view is that it is unnecessary to subject broadcasting to obscenity Statutes, for the governing boards of the BBC and the IBA are already under an obligation to ensure that … programmes do not offend against good taste or decency and are not offensive to public feeling."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 29th November 1972; Vol. 336, c. 1280.] My noble Friend must know that most people think that that obligation and prohibition are ignored practically daily by all the mass media.

The Bill does not deal with television and broadcasting, nor with obscenity. It does not seek to stop people from pursuing their own way to hell by divers primrose paths of their own choosing. No Act of Parliament can, nor I think should, interfere with an individual's right to harm himself. Parliament cannot impose self-discipline. But when an individual begins to decoy others, particularly the young, down those paths, Parliament is justified in intervening.

I believe that the display in public of erotic and sadistic pictures is undoubtedly an offence and a stumbling block to many people, especially those with young children. It is comparable perhaps with the parade of prostitutes which used to be so ubiquitous here in London. When the former Mr. Butler introduced his Street Offences Bill in 1959, he did not imagine that it would put an end to prostitution. The Bill simply sought, in the words of the then Attorney-General, to put an end to what is no less than a scandal in our streets and … a blot on the fair name of London."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th January, 1959; Vol. 598, c. 1375.] That it has succeeded in doing, with perhaps the added advantage to the health and pockets of many young men that "out of sight" is often "out of mind".

But this public display of indecent material, so widespread today, is only the tip of an iceberg. Our country is in more than merely economic trouble. As was said long ago, Evil communications corrupt good manners", and too much of what is communicated today through television, stage and screen is evil. There is a concerted drive, for motives partly political, partly commercial, to undermine the morals and morale of the nation. We are taught to despise all past experience and to reject without question all present authority, with the result that too many of the present generation have no hope because they have no faith in anything. As for charity, that is only one characteristic of good manners, for good manners is only one way of describing consideration for others.

Is it not then time to stand up and be counted on the side of the eternal moral truths which no passing whims of fashion or of fancy can ever permanently deny?

In his book "The Story of England" Sir Arthur Bryant describes the decaying days of Rome. Rome had grown great", he wrote, out of greatness of individual character … but … the then rulers of the Roman world undermined the real values which sustained it … They made the moral shell so soft that it could protect it no longer. Juvenal had a contemporary word for it, Quid enim salvis infamia nummis", which I would freely translate as "What matter the mischief if there is money in it?" I hope that we are not as bad as that, but we are not living in a civilised society.

I will not abuse my parliamentary privilege by naming those many leading lights, men and women, in the literary and artistic worlds who are coining money by exploiting the worst side of our nature. It is not necessary. We all know them. In my view, only drug-pushers are equally damnable.

I entirely agree with this extract from a letter written by Lord Hunt to the Bishop of Leicester and quoted in another place: I do not believe it is possible for most people to absorb the spate of pornography being forced upon their attention through commercial channels at this time without a general lowering of human behaviour, a blurring of the distinction between right and wrong and damage to human relationships."— The noble and reverend Lord Soper, a Labour peer, in the same debate came to much the same conclusion. He considered that pornography was undoubtedly increasing and he added: it seems to be an extraordinary proposition that, of all the occupations to which man can addict himself, pornography is the only one that has no consequences. This seems to me to be utterly fallacious, and it is not borne out by the practical experience of those who repeatedly recognise, if not a causal relationship between pornography and evil practices, at least a statistical one. The noble Lord added: For the close association between the private violence of hard ' porn' and indeed violence of many kinds, and the sex act, or the contemplation of the sex act, is no quirk of the sentimentalist."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 29th Nov. 1972; Vol. 336, cc. 1259, 1287–9. It is the instigation to violence that matters to us all much more than overindulgence in sex.

The working party, somewhat predictably composed, which was set up by the Arts Council four or five years ago to study the obscenity laws, expressed in its report "some sympathy" with the then film censor who had said that he considered erotica as socially harmless, but confessed to feeling "not quite so sure" about the depiction of violence. Perhaps the finest gem in that report then followed. Mr. Trevelyan's doubts about the social harmlessness of depicting violence could well be due simply to the fact that most people, including him and the working party, do not like violence and do like sex. But a majority must resist the temptation to prohibit whatever it happens to dislike. Can one imagine a more amazing message than that most people dislike violence but most people must resist the temptation to prohibit it?

Madame Roland, upon the scaffold, apostrophising "Liberty", asked. O Liberty! how many crimes are committed in thy name! We can ask the same question of art.

Some promoters of "art" today remind me of the cook to Mr. Wilson Steer, RA. When praised by her employer for the excellent dinner she had served up to his guests the night before, the good lady replied: Ah well, you see, sir, there's an art in everything—even painting! Meanwhile I am afraid that I have to say, not for the first time, that parents and teachers, in their struggle to bring up the rising generation, deserve a much stronger lead than they are getting from our leaders in Church and State.

It may be that our elected leaders feel inhibited by the natural embarrassment which the ordinary Englishman feels at the articulate expression of ideals unless it comes from people whose position gives them licence to behave in so un-British a manner. The Church, the ordinary Englishman would concede, is in such a position, but the trumpet of the Church today gives forth so uncertain a sound that what on earth is the young seeker for truth to make of it all?

As my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor said in his Macleod Memorial Lecture to the Young Conservatives: We need to be tougher and to stay tougher than in the recent past. We need to be tougher as individuals, and tougher as an organised society. I believe that we do. The other day I asked the Prime Minister whether he did not think that both conservatism with a small "c" and liberalism with a small "1" equally represented a potential danger to our country. I believe that they do. The Bill is a tiny step towards more toughness, and I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading.

12.31 p.m.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

I am a sponsor of the Bill, and I gladly join the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Sir Gilbert Longden) in supporting it today, but large sections of the hon. Gentleman's speech almost dissuaded me from the course that I had adopted.

It is important to get it clear that the Bill is supported by people who represent differing views on the subject of the so-called threat to our society from the flood of pornography and other offensive material. I do not share the hon. Gentleman's views on the analogy of Rome and the tide that will drag our society down. There is a great deal of exaggerated talk on this subject, and I must dissociate myself from the hon. Gentleman's remarks on that score.

Where the Bill is an important step forward is that it recognises not that a lot of this material may deprave and corrupt—which is the basis of our present law—but that the scale of literature and cinema displays, particularly in the capital, is offensive to many people. That is why, in principle, I find myself supporting this legislation.

Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)

And it corrupts.

Mr. Steel

That is a matter of opinion. I do not think that there is any evidence on the question of corrupting.

One of the interesting features which lead me to support a Bill of this kind is that two prosecutions recently initiated by the Attorney-General have failed before two different juries to prove that certain publications depraved or corrupted, and because they failed we as taxpayers and our constituents have had to foot the Bill for those useless cases. We therefore have to look for some new definition by which to try to protect people, and that is what brings me round to supporting the Bill.

This measure follows from an amendment which I moved on Report to the Unsolicited Goods and Services Bill. The amendment was opposed by the Government then, but was, I am glad to say, carried on a free vote when we moved on to the idea not only that we should prosecute people for sending obscene material through the post—which we continue to do—but that we should create a new offence, that of sending through the post unasked for material which is offensive but does not meet the definition of obscene; and the practice of sending advertisements for sex manuals, and so on, which has plagued so many of our constituents for so long, was stopped. It is right—

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Mark Carlisle)

I wish the hon. Gentleman was right in saying that the practice had stopped.

Mr. Steel

I exaggerated, and I readily concede that the practice has not stopped, but I think the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that the flow of it has been substantially reduced. At any rate, the legislation has enabled cases to be brought against those who have indulged in this activity, whereas that was not possible before. In the Unsolicited Goods and Services Bill we moved on to this new attack against the flood of salacious material—and, I think, moved successfully—and I believe that this Bill is a logical follow-on from that.

I concede that it is not easy for the courts to determine what is and what is not offensive, but I suggest that it is worth a try. It may be very much easier for a jury, representing the public at large, which is the definition in the Bill, to say that certain displays outside cinemas and in shop windows are offensive to many people, and I think that it will be easier to get a jury to agree that something is offensive than it would be to get its members to agree on something that is said to deprave and corrupt. It has proved difficult to produce evidence on that score.

I do not believe that we ought to move in the direction of more censorship. I dare say that some who support the Bill will argue that case, but I do not. However, I do say that those who resist the attempts to censor film material or publications have an obligation to support a measure of this kind which leaves people the freedom to write and to publish what they want and to see what they want in a cinema. We have an obligation to make sure that the result of that freedom is not complete licentiousness and a depravation of the city centre, which is what we are seeing in London. As one looks round the cinemas which used to portray Tom and Jerry, Walt Disney and various other characters outside their buildings one finds that they are now given over to the most lurid sex films, with displays—

Mr. Dan Jones

The hon. Gentleman says that there appears to be no need for censorship. Is he not prepared to agree that there is a big difference between youths who leave school at 14 and go to work in the mines, in factories or in some other occupation, and those who have the privilege of a university education and become more sophisticated creatures? Surely the hon. Gentleman is prepared to agree that the first section of society to which I have referred deserves more protection than the latter, and in that context have we not a special obligation to protect the unsophisticated element in our society which has not had the opportunity of the greater education available to some?

Mr. Steel

I do not think that I could agree to protect people on educational grounds. I agree that young people have to be protected, and our present system of film censorship allows for different grades or certificates to be granted. In that way those under 16 are protected. I am not prepared to go further than that along the road towards censorship. But the Bill holds out an opportunity and is in line with what the Home Secretary said recently when he spoke about being anxious to tackle this problem by aiming at the offensive nature of many displays which would not themselves satisfy the definition of obscene or tending to deprave or corrupt.

My only question is whether the definition of "public place" in Clause 1(2) would apply to cinemas. If so, the Bill would have to be amended. As I understand it "public place" would include displays in the street outside a cinema. If the Bill were so drafted that it applied to what was shown inside cinemas, that would be something which I do not think was intended and it would be difficult to maintain. It would have a disastrous effect upon film makers and upon the cinema industry as a whole.

With that as my only query, I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading and that we shall move in the direction in which the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West has pointed.

12.40 p.m.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Sir Gilbert Longden) on offering the Bill, of which I, too, am happy to be a sponsor. The Bill makes in essence what has always been to me an important distinction —the distinction between private behaviour and public display. It has always seemed to me ironical that, despite the enormous public concern about our environment and pollution of all kinds, resulting in a movement to try to improve our surroundings, there is nevertheless increasing casualness about the sort of manifestations my hon. Friend has in mind.

When one is reading of attempts to improve the appearance of the capital and its architecture, it is paradoxical to walk down certain streets, which I shall not name, and see what this kind of display can achieve. Without offering any moral judgments, I think that the most serious charge to be made against the sort of display my hon. Friend has in mind is that it is so downright ugly. If hon. Members doubt that, let them visit different parts of New York City, which has gone even further in this sort of thing than London has. Leaving aside the moral content of these displays, and even accepting that people have an absolute right to see or to be forced to see whatever anyone likes to offer, the result is violently in contrast with what we, with hand on heart, are declaring we want to see in our cities.

The Bill is also wholly consistent with the philosophy of that much-quoted writer John Stuart Mill in his famous Essay on Liberty: that the private individual should be left free to do what he wished even to his own detriment, provided that his actions did not impinge on other people and cause damage to them. I think that the Bill falls squarely within that definition. But in a rather less often quoted passage, Mill specifically excluded children from the consideration he was advancing. He said that the children should not be subject to this philosophy. He defended the powers of the State— which seems relevant to the Bill—in considering the family group at large. Indeed, children cannot be excluded from displays to which all the citizens of the capital may be exposed.

I do not underrate the difficulties of my hon. Friend. Although the Bill is a valuable attempt to nudge or at least encourage the Government to give some indication of their thinking, I believe that this is an extraordinarily difficult subject for a private Member, if for no other reason that when the Bill reaches a later stage—which I hope it will—other people who have other ideas can move amendments which the Long Title of the Bill will enable them to put because it is widely drawn. In that sense we shall get into difficulties, one of them being that of definition in the context of the words: grossly offensive to the public at large". However, in the last century great use was made of the word "indecency" in a number of Acts without qualification, and it was found to be effective. No doubt we shall have guidance from my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State on what form of words is more or less effective.

The other reason why my hon. Friend will find himself in difficulty is that, however reasonable his proposition may be— I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) giving the Bill support—he will find that there is a determined minority of people who get extremely excited when anything of this kind is being discussed. They advance various reasons for opposing any interference of this kind. I point out—and do so in attempting to assist the further progress of the Bill—that there are three considerations which the minority who feel that any such attempt as this is in a sense reactionary and contrary to public interests ought to bear in mind. First, it is fair to ask whether a Bill of this kind is being restrictive or is defending an important sort of freedom. I think that the citizen has a right—this is an important sort of freedom—not to be grossly offended and not to have his family grossly offended by a display which in a sense may take him by surprise. The freedom not to be offended in this way seems to me much more important than the small element of restriction entailed.

Secondly, the minority who would attack this or any other such measure should weigh carefully what will be in the best interests of free speech. Those who would defend free speech must ask themselves whether the excesses which are now all too clearly to be seen may not in the long run prove detrimental to the cause they claim to have at heart, because sooner or later there will be a much more violent public reaction to some of the things being thrust upon people. I believe that the majority will react, and when they do and bring pressure on Governments one is apt to get disproportionate results out of line with what really should be done. In some areas I believe that we may not be far from that.

Thirdly, those who defend free speech in a sense have an obligation to ensure that those who are grossly abusing it, primarily for commercial reasons, do not imperil the ideal which the defenders of free speech seek to uphold. Theirs is not a simple political or ideological defence of freedom. We are in this matter, for example, dealing with a very commercial and highly profitable industry. Her Majesty's Customs and Excise last year seized a million items falling roughly under the category of obscenity or pornography. That was seven times the total of 1971, which in turn was seven times the total of 1970. It suggests an ominous change and that very large sums of money are being made by a minority in this trade. That is not the least of the difficulties which my hon. Friend may run into.

Both my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles mentioned violence. I get much more interested in public display which involves violence than I do in public display which involves sex. But these are highly subjective judgments. I believe that the Obscene Publications Act which has so far mainly failed in its purpose, would have a much better chance if it operated against violence than if it operated against sexual material. However, that is not strictly relevant to the Bill.

Oddly enough, I agree with what the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles said about censors. I have little faith in censors either for the system operating for cinemas, although it has a respectable history, or in the form of a viewers' council or any post hoc attempt to deal with what has already been displayed. My ideal is that all should be subject to the law of the land, as clearly defined as possible, in the sense, for example, that the theatre now is. The law of the land should be known and should be applied to all—television, films and other displays. Everyone would then know where he was. That would be the fairest way to deal with the matter, notwithstanding the fact that definitions are very difficult.

If there is an objection to the Bill, it is that my hon. Friend is perforce tackling an extremely limited objective and will leave out of account many things which some will think even more important. It is for that reason that I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State will give us some hope that the Government will be prepared in the near future further to assist my hon. Friend.

This is now a matter which not only a private Member but also the Government have a duty to take seriously. Pamela Hansford Johnson—or Lady Snow—writing about this sort of thing not long ago, declared the right of any of us to be appalled. That is a very important right. One thing that concerns me very much today is how far people are becoming progressively conditioned to what is offensive and what in the long run could be corrupting. I have no doubt that the definition which my hon. Friend has put into the Bill grossly offensive to the public at large has in itself moved a long way in the last decade. There will be those who say that it has moved to the point where much to which one objects is now acceptable, and may in the next decade move even further. I do not find that reassuring, because this condition can lead not necessarily to corruption but to a very affectless society, a society which has lost the sense to be appalled and which is not moved or disturbed by what it should be disturbed by.

Mr. Dan Jones

That is even worse.

Mr. Deedes

While it remains an affect-less society there will always be a tiny minority who will be adversely affected, perhaps damaged. So there are wider considerations in this matter than lay, perhaps, in my hon. Friend's mind when he produced the Bill. I hope that what we hear from the Government Front Bench may encourage us to think that the Government take this matter seriously.

12.52 p.m.

Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)

I am obliged to the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Sir Gilbert Longden) for introducing the Bill. I count it as a privilege to support it. If the Government spokesman today says that the Government cannot support it, I hope the Government will at any rate give sympathetic consideration to the Bill and possibly extend its scope to some degree.

I give my reasons for that declaration. As a father and a grandfather, I am convinced beyond a shadow of doubt that permissiveness in our country has not only gone too far but has gone dangerously too far. The right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) mentioned the acceptance of new standards. That raises the greatest danger of all. The fabric of civilised life and the happiness which should belong to each and every part of society is really being corrupted.

I hasten to say that I do not approach this subject in any "holier than thou", pompous or sanctimonious manner. My approach is based on a healthy, wholesome and Christian regard for people. To those who might object to the word "Christian", I offer this challenge immediately. If they would take away the Christian philosophy I shall listen very carefully to what they would want to put in its place.

I base my contribution to the debate on two points. The first is the intolerable licence that has now grown in people's lives. The second is my experience as a youth.

I am pleased that today we have the almost unique situation that, although the Bill has been introduced by a member of the Conservative Party, its sponsors are also to be found within the Liberal Party and the Labour Party. I am very pleased that the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) is present. He will find that some of my criticisms come home to him. I hope that he will be kind enough to accept them.

This House is responsible for a good deal of the permissiveness that now pervades our society. I have been a Member of Parliament for some time. In the last few years this House has made homosexuality legal, and thus respectable. This House has brought about divorce reform which has devalued the institution of marriage, which is clearly challengingly, the cornerstone of a civilised form of existence. This House brought in the Bill concerning abortions, which has been a serious prejudice to the youth of the country and certainly to the medical profession.

This kind of legislation is compounded by clearly identifiable commercial interests. Those interests have exploited the youth of Britain in a most shameful manner, realising that young people are virile and that in too many instances they are by no means possessed of the maturity that can guard them against the many temptations that are abroad in society today. Young people today have far more money in their pockets than at any time in our history. It is the money that young people possess which the commercial interests are after. Those interests have been very successful. They have not only degraded these people but made them terribly unhappy in the process.

If the kind of permissiveness to which I am objecting were making people happy, I could understand it and begin to tolerate it. But there is an abundance of evidence that it is depraving our young people.

I do not know how many hon. Members have been in some of the areas where some of our young people are recovering from taking drugs. It is tragic to witness these young people.

I mention as a contrast that last Saturday I went to speak to 50 or 60 young people in my constituency of Burnley. They were all members of a Christian church. I was late in arriving there, and the minister asked whether I would like a cup of coffee before speaking to our friends. When drinking that coffee I witnessed the young people singing a very joyous hymn which I know very well. I could not help noticing their features, which were buoyant and happy. They were a very responsible collection of young people. Obviously, here was the tremendous influence of the Christian chuch upon them. I felt very happy. I could not help then comparing my experience among other young people I have met who are now suffering the withdrawal symptoms of drug-taking.

We have made the mistake of believing that society is as sophisticated as this Chamber can be. That is wrong.

I was raised in a Christian home. I went into the coal mines of the Rhondda Valley at the age of 14. The transformation was remarkable. The language, the conditions and the whole character of life were vile. The unfortunate part of it was that within a couple of years I was as bad as any of my colleagues. I had been conditioned.

This is the point that Parliament has missed. We believe that we have an attitude to life which is universal throughout the country. We do not stop to think of the young lad or lass who leaves school at 15. Many young people come from homes that do not care. I know, because I visit them. With such influences, is it any wonder that the casualty rate is so high?

Mr. David Steel

The hon. Gentleman will agree that some of what he is saying goes well beyond the purposes of the Bill. However, I take him up on one point about the responsibility of the House. I know that he opposed all those pieces of legislation, but, even though he disagrees with them, I hope that he will accept that the reforms which the House made in the laws on homosexuality, divorce and abortion have brought a great deal of diminution of human suffering.

Mr. Jones

That is a matter of doubt. If the hon. Gentleman states that as his personal opinion, I accept it. I contest it as a statement of fact. I have in my possession medical evidence with regard to abortion that staggers me, but this is not the time to quote it. If it pleases the hon. Gentleman I will pass the information to him.

I would still take this stand if I were the only Member of the House who believed that the House was responsible to a tremendous degree for the permissive element in society that has created a climate which in turn has made youth far more depraved than it would otherwise have been. I hope that the Minister will accept the Bill and that the Bill can be strengthened and its scope enlarged.

I want to quote a comment about a film that is to be shown. There is a possibility that the film will be shown on television, thus being transmitted into the homes of ordinary folk with their wives, mothers and daughters. The answer which is always given is that the television can be turned off; but that is not so easy when young people are around. Domestic discord can be created in that way.

I will not mention the name of the film because I do not want to give it publicity. Tom Stacey writes that it deals with incest, wife-swapping, lesbianism, animalism and cruelty, group masturbation and other forms of degrading obscenity. If any hon. Member wants those things shown in his home and is prepared to legislate accordingly, let him stand up and say so. If he does not want them in his home, why should he make it possible for such things to enter the homes of others?

My second quotation is on the question of racial intolerance and violence. Robert Dornan, who is a very responsible man and is running for the mayoralty of Los Angeles, says: I see 100 films a year in relation to my work in television and however much I considered myself a visionary, in no way could I have conceived three years ago of anything like the black exploitation films. Those that are now raking in the money at the box office"— Mr. Dornan mentions names are the most racist, violent, ugly, demeaning, films you could possibly imagine. Those films are on their way to this country, with the strong possibility of their being shown on television. Those films are not only demeaning and ugly but racist. We know the tremendous problems we have now on the question of colour. Are we to allow young minds to be polluted under the guise of entertainment with this sordid filth? It will bring shame on the House if such is to be the case.

It is a privilege for me to support the Bill. As it stands it is a modest Bill. I repeat that I hope that it can be strengthened, and I do not speak as one who is sanctimonious or pompous. I speak as one who has a healthy, wholesome and Christian attitude to life. I am prepared to take on anyone in the so-called permissive society, and I will sing a romantic song with more tenderness and warmth than any of them. That is a sign that I am very human. I will also participate in any sport with any of them, excluding the professionals.

The fact that we support a measure of this kind and because we associate it with the Christian philosophy does not mean that we are of the type that parades in the streets bearing placards saying "Your end is nigh" and "Doom is at hand". However, we are conscious that the momentum of society's fall is increased by what is happening in the House. It is time this was checked. The tide should be steadied.

I appeal earnestly to the Minister to give us some hope so that we can tell the British public that at any rate we are conscious of what is happening, that we do not like it, and that we mean to call a halt.

1.8 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

I apologise to the House and to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Sir Gilbert Longden), the promoter of the Bill, for not being here earlier. Unfortunately I had to continue with a matter in the courts before the Lord Chief Justice and was able to arrive here only a short while ago. However, I have a shrewd idea of what was said by my hon. Friend in view of the closing remarks of the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Dan Jones).

The Bill is a small measure, and designedly so, because a Private Member's Bill cannot attempt to traverse the whole field of obscenity. The Government recognise now that priority and urgency must be given to curing some of the problems created by pornography. Irrespective of party, the people as a whole are, I believe, united in the view that something should be done to deal with the grossly offensive public display when is thrust before their eyes, willy-nilly, whether they wish to see or read it or not.

Even fairly tough characters like myself, who daily see the seamier side of life in the courts, are upset by what we see. I have been upset in Victoria, near my own home, to have to walk along the street with a child aged 12 or an elderly lady—perhaps one's mother-in-law—and see the displays upon the hoardings in the bookstalls and in the shops. The shops are catering specifically not for what one might call art under the counter but for grossly offensive material of all kinds—photographs of acts of sexual intercourse, similar acts between lesbians, acts between homosexuals and so on.

The Bill is designed to deal with that kind of grossly offensive material thrust upon the public at large. It was this aspect of the matter which was the first question which the Society of Conservative Lawyers was invited to consider. My learned friend, as he then was—now my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General—was co-author with several other members of the society and myself, people with a fair working knowledge of the subject, of a report which sought to find the answer to the problems created by pornography.

The subject may be divided into three main sectors. The one with which the Bill is designed primarily to deal is the grossly offensive display to the public. Second—undoubtedly, the Government will have to go into this further, though I do not propose to discuss it in detail now—there is the effect in films and television and the question of what action, if any, is necessary there. The Bill impinges upon this at least in one respect, but it is not its main objective.

Third, there is the question of what action can be taken to change the law, if that be desirable, with regard to what is known as hard pornography. In my judgment this must be dealt with by the Government. We must not go on saying "Unfortunately we cannot find a proper definition, so we shall legislate for only part of the field". I strongly urge Home Office Ministers and their advisers not to be faint-hearted. There are difficulties, as all of us who have given thought to the matter realise, but action must be taken nevertheless.

It is common knowledge that the Government propose to take action in the autumn on at least some of the problems. I hope that we shall be given today an indication of at least part of the scope which they will cover. Plainly the public will not be satisfied unless they deal with the first element to which I referred, the display thrust at the face of the public, and I suggest that that must be considered also in relation to what people see in films and on television.

Before coming to the technical aspects of the Bill and what is required by way of amendment—I believe that it needs a small amendment—I must tell the House of the extraordinary state of affairs which my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General and I, accompanied by one other member of the Bar, found when we attended the Reviewing Committee of the Greater London Council.

We found that the Greater London Council had advised itself that it was bound by the Hickling test, that is, that it must grant permission for the exhibition of a cinematograph film unless it felt that the film tended to deprave or corrupt the public. The GLC has been following that test for some time. Thus although the censor himself, Mr. Murphy, is not bound, and never has been bound, by any kind of test—he just has to apply his common sense to every film he sees, without any criteria laid down for him —what may be regarded as the major local authority committee has held itself bound by the Hickling test and, in other words, had to feel that there was a sense of depravity or corruption before it could turn down a film. Other local authorities do not hold themselves to be bound in that way.

My plea, therefore, in regard to films and television is that in the autumn the Government, if they take the view that the Bill should not continue as a Private Member's Bill, should lay down clear criteria to be applied in respect of public exhibition. It would surely be in line with what the Bill would achieve with reference to public display if that were done in respect of public exhibition.

There are already the X and XX categories for films. There is no reason why this system should not be carried in television as well so that, at a late hour perhaps, people could be warned in advance that an X programme was about to be broadcast. The notice could say that an X or XX film was coming on and was unsuitable for those under a certain age, and unsuitable for grandma too. With a suitable marking on the screen, it could then continue.

In this connection I urge that the Government should review—it is probably not necessary to alter them—the existing criteria in the Television Act. Opinions will change as to whether the governors of the BBC and the others responsible are too liberal or not liberal enough in their perception and handling of television films and programmes. I incline to the view that the present terms of the Television Act are fair and suitable and may well not require amendment. On the other hand, pornography must be dealt with, especially pornography displayed in the face of the public. The public expect this Government to deal quickly with all the media in this connection, and this involves considering television as well, so that people may be able to see what they want to see, or be properly warned so that they do not have to see what they do not want to see.

Certainly in television there must be nothing which even approaches hard pornography. We must retain a test which will outlaw altogether certain matters which would be regarded as pornographic by the public.

If that is done and we bring in television, we can leave aside for this purpose the question of censorship. I do not want to go into that now, and it would be out of order to do so. But, whether for the censor or for the local authority, there ought to be some sort of criteria to be applied in the consideration of films for general public exhibition and films for which a special X marking could be given.

I hope that we shall virtually abolish the small private clubs. I know something about them. I have been concerned with the question whether, in order to be a member, one had to belong to a club for 48 hours. The Greater London Council was very concerned about this matter and it wanted to stop cinema clubs from mushrooming in London and to ensure that, if we were to have them, they were bona fide clubs. The council lost the case. There is now no obligation even to be a member for 48 hours, and the so-called clubs are a farce. Clearly they should be dealt with and brought into line with the general policy which necessitates the obtaining of a certificate for the viewing of any film.

I do not wish to deal, because I think that it would be out of order, with "blue" films made purely for private consumption. If the Government do not face the problems of hard pornography, I can tell them, and anyone who knows anything about the background of the criminal side to the importation of pornography can tell them, that we are rapidly on the way to having cassettes which are utterly and absolutely revolting, flowing in from America, Holland, Germany and other countries. I am talking about films of sexual bestiality.

The purpose of such films is rather interesting. There is some evidence that these horrifying acts of bestiality are being promoted for anarchic purposes. In Germany, Holland and elsewhere the purpose is to try to break down the decencies of human society. Certainly one or two people associated with their manufacture are anarchists and are seeing how far they can go down the line of depravity.

Let me give an example of a film which could in one sense be a splendid film and in another sense a film of repulsive depravity. Suppose that it was decided to make a film of what the doctors did to the Jews and other people in the experiments and atrocities carried out during the days of Hitler. Those who know something of the scientific background realise that such a film could be presented as a most important and valuable historical document. Presented in another way it could be a film of repulsive depravity. That situation could arise from a book or from a film. If the Government wish to deal with these matters, how can they argue that it is not their responsibility not only to cover what is commonly called "soft porn" in the face of the public and X certificate films for public viewing, but also to consider the outlawing of a certain class of film altogether?

I fully understand the desire of the liberal-minded right hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) to retain the proviso in the legislation about the public good and scientific benefit, but it does not arise in this Bill because it deals only with matters which are grossly offensive to the public at large. But it would arise if one was dealing with publications which one had to read or consider. I am not arguing against such a proviso, but it is of the greatest importance that the Government should consider the whole ambit because one phase of this matter runs into the next. It is a question of degree, and there are degrees which I believe even the most liberal of people will agree are a danger for the future, such as the repulsive and anarchic material which can be brought into the country.

The Bill is criticised in one respect. Clause 1(1) provides that It shall be an offence of public indecency for any person to display any material in a public place if it is grossly offensive to the public at large. The Bill is named the "Public Indecency Bill" because it deals with common nuisance. It is not strictly a pornography Bill. It is merely an enlargement of the sort of act which is no longer permitted, and which has not been permitted for many years—for example, two men committing acts of gross indecency in a public urinal. Such acts have been stopped because they are grossly offensive to the public, not because the two men are homosexuals. They have been stopped because what is seen is an act of indecency in public between two people. What is the difference between an act of indecency between two people that can be seen in public and a photographic act of indecency which can be seen in public? There is no difference.

If that be right, the Bill is correctly named. It deals with the display of any material in a public place", which means a place to which the public have access or where they have the opportunity of seeing the material. If people like to keep such material under the counter there is no objection. The objection is that grandma or someone's daughter may see it and be repelled by it or people with deep religious convictions may equally be offended by it.

The Bill refers to material which is grossly offensive to the public at large". But there is no definition of what is grossly offensive. It may be said that these are Committee points, but in a Public Indecency Bill if material is grossly offensive it must be offensive in the context of indecency. I still adhere to the view that no further definition is required and that what is meant is material which is grossly offensive in the sense of indecency. But if definition is required— and there are those who argue that it is —we would have to say that material was grossly offensive "to the sense of public decency".

However, I am anxious not to do that if it leads to discussion in which it could be said that something which was simply cruel did not offend the sense of public decency. Perhaps the worst cases are those in which there is evidence of whipping—not necessarily in the sexual sense but in the sense of flagellation and violence where there is often a sexual connotation, and almost inevitably it would be read in that way by the people with a perverted turn of mind. I would want to include in material which was offensive to the public at large material which I call repellent because of the undue violence that is involved.

Therefore, I do not believe that additional words are required in the clause, but I am sure that my hon. Friend would be prepared to accept the addition of the words "to the sense of public decency" after "grossly offensive" to underline that political matters were not involved. It is suggested that a picture of a Jew being pushed aside in humiliating circumstances would be grossly offensive. On the other hand, if the phrase were "grossly offensive to the sense of public decency" I am in favour of leaving it to the jury to decide.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

If indecency does not have a sexual connotation in the Bill, does it mean an offence of any description to a right-thinking person?

Mr. Rees-Davies

The hon. Gentleman is taking the effective point that if one does not give the phrase a sexual connotation it could have a political connotation without sex being involved. What I am saying is that even as the Bill stands it must have a sexual connotation because it refers to public indecency. The House desires that the Bill should deal with these matters and not with, for example, an undesirable political view expressed in a tract. The Bill is not designed for that purpose.

Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that many psychiatrists would say that pictures of acts of extreme violence have a sexual connotation? I am thinking of some of the excesses in Bangladesh and the Congo. To some people such picsures have a sexual connotation.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Certainly, but the situation is somewhat different with paintings on display in public galleries For some people even the paintings of the great masters may have a sexual connotation, but it is a different matter when they are displayed in a public gallery or museum. That is why the proviso in the Bill is needed for dealing with reading matter.

Mr. Carlisle

Is my hon. Friend saying that the Bill is not intended to apply, and does not in fact apply, to public museums and galleries?

Mr. Rees-Davies

I do not think that the Bill applies to a museum as being a public place because there is a charge for entry. I am sorry that my hon. and learned Friend has referred this matter to me, because it was one of the questions I intended to ask him. The Bill would not cover any place where a charge is made for entrance. This matter needs to be cleared up in Committee.

Mr. Hamling

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that if porn shops were to charge l0p for admission they would exclude themselves from the Bill?

Mr. Rees-Davies

I should like notice of that question. They would not then be showing the material to the public at large. If there were a charge for going into the back room of a porn shop, that material would not be on display in the window.

Mr. Hamling

That is not what the Bill says.

Mr. Rees-Davies

The Bill says that it must not be displayed in a public place. The question turns on what is a public place. Material which is not displayed in a window is not displayed in a public place, but material that is shown in a window is being displayed to the public at large, and that means to the general public. That is why I am of the view that the museum is excluded. Material that is exhibited to the public at large is different from that which can be seen in a gallery or museum on payment of an entrance fee.

Mr. Dan Jones

Are we not dealing with the embroidery rather than the substance? I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that our museums have contributed little to the pornography about which we are complaining.

Mr. Rees-Davies

We have been dealing with the ingenious and somewhat specious remark of the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) who was trying to find weaknesses in the Bill. These are Committee points.

My hon. and learned Friend the Minister referred to what is meant by "the public at large". My view is that it means the general public and would exclude visitors to museums even though they paid no entrance fee. We are dealing with a display which shocks the public and which they cannot avoid. The Bill does not seek to deal with avoidable pornography. If the material is lying under the counter, there can be no complaint and different laws apply.

If the Government introduce legislation in the autumn to deal with this matter and with films and television, we are bound to be invited—after all that has been said about the invalidity and almost uselessness of the present definition—to say that there should be a new test for hard pornography I think everyone agrees that this repellent and anarchistic material that comes in from abroad should be stopped. The material is designed to pollute the human mind and is successful in doing so. We must take action. The first test we must make is whether it grossly affronts the contemporary community standards of decency. The tests have not moved with the times.

The public would go along with a test for this hard pornography if a jury found as a fact in addition that it was degrading to the human mind. We are saying that what is forced upon the public and grossly affronts them is wrong because everyone is entitled to a decent environment which is not polluted, either by filthy photography or by filthy fumes. That is the law of public nuisance. The other law is a criminal matter because it involves an act which is criminal.

Today one's peers are saying, based on contemporary standards of decency, that people should not go so far as to publish material, print it and sell it, frequently for gigantic profits, when a jury is able to decide that its purpose and aim is to degrade. Instead of using the words "tending to deprave and corrupt", the test should be the straightforward one of whether the material degrades the human mind. That is a test which a jury is eminently suited to deal with. That would leave it to the Government to review the proviso to the earlier legislation. It may be that the proviso would not be needed. A fine work of art cannot degrade the human mind and therefore one would not need the proviso. The ''Decameron" does not degrade the human mind because it is a fine work of art, but it clearly degrades or seeks to degrade the human mind if what is involved is a film based on bestiality and sex. That surely must be degrading.

I invite the Government to look a! each of these tests. Certainly "depraving" and "degrading" are closely allied. "Degrading" goes a little further than "depraving". We have all heard of the defence in which a witness is put up in court and is asked "Did you read this and were you corrupted by it?" and because the answer is "No" the jury acquits. It is a ridiculous situation.

Mr. Neville Sandelson (Hayes and Harlington)

Is not the hon. Gentleman going wildly beyond the sphere with which the Bill is concerned? He is considering matters that are quite outside the Bill's scope and matters which were not in the minds of the Bill's promoters. The question of depravity and corruption surely is one which might provide a successful loophole for those whom one would seek to prosecute for public displays of the kind with which the Bill is concerned. We are concerned with the sort of advertising material that is assailing the public view daily and which might well be offensive to the public at large. But it might be difficult to establish that those displays deprave or corrupt so that a conviction can be obtained when the offenders are brought to court.

Mr. Rees-Davies

There is a great deal in what the hon. Gentleman says. I am only adverting to that example to draw attention to the problem, and if the Government decide to bring in legislation this would be only one small part of the whole problem. If the state of the law on pornography and under-the-counter publications is left alone we are leaving out an essential ingredient in handling the matter in a proper way.

It is one thing for a Private Member's Bill to seek to deal with a small part of the problem. It is quite another thing for the Government to attempt to do so. I recognise that the Government may invite the promoter of the Bill not to pursue it further, and I hope that they will be able to give an undertaking not only to pursue the principles of the Bill but also to undertake to review the whole field of activity so that they may come up with the right answers on a subject in which the public takes a considerable interest.

1.45 p.m.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

I apologise for intervening in this debate at an early stage. I intended to leave my contribution until a little later, but what I want to say is so directly relevant to what has just been said by the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) that I thought it might be helpful if I were to speak now, without in any way wishing to curtail debate.

The hon. Gentleman said that this is not really an area for a Private Member's Bill, and in view of what I shall say about complexities of drafting a Bill I subscribe to that view. But it must be said that in many ways this is an area for a Private Member's Bill because it cannot be a party issue. I hope that if in due course the Government decide to introduce legislation in this area, they will not do so in a party spirit and will not regard this as a matter for party whipping and party political attitudes. This is an issue on which hon. Members take different views according to conscience and on which they do not need to pay allegiance to party doctrine—because there cannot be such a doctrine.

Although on this issue I am speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, I must emphasise that I am speaking simply as an individual. I am not committing my party to any view about the Bill or on the problem which it seeks to remedy. On the other hand, I am sure that there is widespread sympathy among the Opposition for the motives of the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Sir Gilbert Longden) in what he is trying to do by his Bill. The public at large is offended by the exhibition of male and female bodies on hoardings in public places which can be seen from the highway both by adults and by children. That is the problem the hon. Gentleman is trying to solve, and I am sympathetic to his efforts.

I do not think that the Bill is the way in which to approach the problem. I believe that it goes far too far. It may be difficult to draft a Bill which meets the problem. In the end it may be that one would simply be penalising that which I have just described—namely, the exhibition of parts of the human body or whole bodies—and that, although that would cover advertisements or posters which in earlier times have not been found to outrage anybody's sense of decency, it would be necessary to limit that area of freedom for the sake of eventually obtaining a Bill which could be understood and applied with ease by the courts and by those who would have to operate it. Whenever one has to introduce an area of subjective judgment of decency, outrage, obscenity or tendency to corrupt one meets an area of dubiety to which it is difficult for any court to apply its mind, particularly if the court is composed of jurymen.

One of the difficulties is not, as the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet said, that the public is concerned about this area, but that in this whole area there is a market for pornography. There is nowadays a difference of standards compared with what existed in the nineteenth century. People will now buy and see what they then would not.

One of the difficulties about applying the existing rule, which is stern enough to deal with the excesses of pornography as understood by ordinary decent people, is that when ordinary decent people get into the jury box they take a view which is quite different from that being advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Dan Jones). It is that difficulty of applying a subjective judgment to an issue which is emotive that is at the root of the whole problem.

If we are to deal with this area of public nuisance, as it was rightly called by the hon. Member for Isle of Thanet, the definition must be precise and must relate to the exhibition of material which is generally considered by the House to be offensive. It may be that to be precise we would cover things which may not in themselves be offensive, but at least it would be worth prohibiting those for the sake of the whole. I submit that that would be a better way of dealing with this than the method employed in the Bill.

Mr. Dan Jones

May I ask my hon. Friend whether it is not just as necessary to be precise in human terms as in legal terms? He said that there is a market for pornography. That is accepted. Would he not agree that it must be the duty of this House to discourage that market, rather than the contrary?

Mr. Lyon

If my hon. Friend would allow me to continue my speech I am sure that he will be wholly satisfied with what I shall say because that is the major point I wish to make.

Before I come to do that, may I say what I think about the draftsmanship of the Bill? The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet has already hinted at some of the technical difficulties of these definitions. In a moderate opening speech, the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West said that he was concerned about public indecency. The way in which Clause 1(1) is drafted means that anything which is grossly offensive to the public at large is by definition public indecency. What is grossly offensive to the public at large may be much wider than the mischief we have in mind in this debate. It may be grossly offensive to the public at large that some pharmaceutical firms are making grossly excessive profits out of drugs. No one would regard that as involving public indecency.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet thought that this could be cured by adding yet again the word "indecent" after "grossly offensive" so that it was grossly offensive to offend a sense of public decency. That is difficult to define. I think I know what he means. I thought he originally meant that there was a sexual connotation. He disputed that because he wanted to go wider, and I could see why. There are things about violence by which I am offended. I do not think that we can have everything in one Bill. If we wanted to outlaw exhibitions of violence on the highway we would need to be explicit and say that in the same way as I have said we should be explicit about sex.

The other part of the Bill which I find difficult is the whole business of "public place". I mean by "public place" in relation to this problem Trafalgar Square and that offensive cinema in Trafalgar Square. The way in which this Bill is drafted means that anywhere where the public has the right of access is a public place. That would include an arcade or a museum—certainly a museum which had no entrance fee. I suspect that it would include one which did impose a fee. I am not at all sure that it would not include a cinema. It is highly debatable. There are authorities both ways according to the context of the legislation. The likelihood is that in this context it would be said that a cinema was not a public place. Clearly, that is not a matter about which at the moment we would think of legislating.

It is therefore better that we ask the Government to consider this matter in the light of what has been said today, and in the light of representations which I know have been made to them, and then to come forward with legislation which specifically aims at the exhibition, with a sexual connotation, of various parts of the body designed to arouse sexual stimulus, in the public highway or places akin to the public highway. That would need precise definition, and would meet this point.

Mr. Deedes

I see what the hon. Gentleman is aiming at, and it may be a good direction. How would he deal with letterpress?

Mr. Lyon

For the reason I have given, I do not think that in a specific piece of legislation which avoids these difficulties of subjective judgment we can go much further than that. I am prepared to accept any ideas which could be included in subsequent Government legislation and helped to keep it specific. If the right hon. Gentleman can produce a specific test which would outlaw letterpress let him do it. I will look at it. I have an open mind on that subject.

I come to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley. Here I seek to emphasise what was said by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West. I have always taken the view held by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) that in this area of morals it is right for the individual to be allowed to exercise his own personal judgment. For that reason I have supported those legislative matters which my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley denounced as increasing permissiveness. I do not bow to him or anyone else in my convictions about the importance of the Christian contribution to our social life. I believe that it was never part of that Christian contribution that these standards should be enforced by all the panoply of the law courts when the only offence is to one's own personal standards of morality and one's personal attitude to society. Where those standards, where those acts, affect society at large, it is right for society to intervene through legislation to enforce what it regards as being right and proper standards.

Unless that happens—and I am not convinced, with my hon. Friend, that it happens in some of the areas about which he is talking—I do not believe that the law is a useful instrument. Like him, I am deeply concerned that pornography has a degrading effect upon those who partake of it. I accept what the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West said, that it is not for the law to do this job but for those of us who contribute to the total mass of public opinion to stand strongly against this tide of pornography. Some of my hon. Friends who have similar views strongly underestimate this tide and the fact that it is engineered for commercial purposes by people who have a financial interest in promoting it.

Mr, Dan Jones

I agree with that.

Mr. Lyon

For that reason, I am less convinced than I was when these matters were first debated that we can leave it entirely to the administration of public opinion. But what worries me is that, whereas we all hoped that when a female body was exhibited to the public at large they would become sated with the novelty of it after a while and it would be just a normal part of the ingredient of social life, as one hopes now in modern families it is within the family context, it is clear that what has happened is that with every new development in this area where the public seems to be sated, and, therefore, the revenues from pornography are falling, we go one stage further.

There was a lot of publicity initially about the introduction of a magazine from America which was regarded as being soft porn where ladies in a state of undress were exhibited alongside high-flown articles by eminent literary figures. The man who promoted it is now a multimillionaire. But his document found its way even on to the bookstalls of W. H. Smith, a company which has certain standards about these matters. Before long, however, his example was imitated by others who found that it was extremely lucrative. They also found that if they were to buy into the market their degree of porn had to move one stage nearer hardness, to the point where we have a gentleman—his name escapes me but he exhibits ladies along the road in Whitehall—who was wont to buy an otherwise soft porn magazine and transform it into what has now been prosecuted successfully as clear hard porn. Having seen some of its recent editions, I have no doubt that it is serious hard porn which is designed to titillate sexual emotions in a way which is obscene by any definition of the word.

For that reason I am now less sure that we can simply leave it, as some people argue, to the Danish example, where the more that the market is flooded with porn the more people get fed up with it and turn back to Jane Austen. I think there is a sense in which the commercial interests will go on extending it, and what has worried me more than anything else has been an article in the Sunday Times colour supplement, which is one of those areas of the news media which seek to extend this wholly unedify-ing literature. It was talking about a film which apparently has been made in America as an admitted "skin flick", a term which is apparently used where there is no suggestion of any literary merit in the film. It is done simply as hard core pornography. Apparently the lady who was the subject of the film found that she had a fetish for oral sex. But because the girl who did it apparently did it with humour, we are told that this is now an artistic contribution which is causing Americans to attend showings of the production in great numbers and that when it comes to this country it is expected that it may even get an X-certificate from the censor.

We have had sex on the screen. We have had normal sexual copulation. We have had Mr. Marlon Brando in various kinds of unnatural sexual copulation. Apparently now we are to have exhibited upon our screens the kind of sexual relationship which I find deeply offensive. I know that there are those more liberal in these matters who will tell me that that is simply a throw-back to my puritanical past which admits of an area of guilt. I deny that entirely. It seems to me that any society is entitled to say that there is a norm in sexual relationships which it wishes to encourage and that the norm that it intends to encourage is one which contributes to the wholesomeness of marriage.

I accept, of course, that the human being is capable of all kinds of sexual excesses. Having practised in the divorce court myself for many years, I subscribe to the world-weary view of one divorce judge who said that sexual intercourse could take place anywhere except on the ceiling. But that is not to say that that is the kind of relationship that I want to encourage.

We can behave in the end like animals. But the process of civilisation has been to try to encourage us to do otherwise. If we simply throw our backing behind the forces in our society which are in a sense anti-civilising we are degraded, and I have no intention of doing that. But I think that the kind of cri de coeur which I have just voiced is voiced only by those who take a positive stand against this kind of sexual immorality and should not carry with it the coercive nature of legislation. It is for us to put a positive voice against these forces in society, and for that reason, though sometimes I am a little apprehensive about the colour of their statements, I am sympathetic to some of the statements by Mrs. White-house and the Festival of Light. At least they are trying to add their pressure against the pressure of commercialism. I for one feel that we ought to do the same.

Mr. Sandelson

Before my hon. Friend sits down, he has touched on matters which I suggest are somewhat remote from the scope of the Bill. He began by saying that he was speaking personally about these matters. But I hope he is aware that there are many differing opinions about what he has been saying. Many of us would regard it as a serious invasion of essential individual freedoms if we were to legislate on these matters. At the same time we would feel equally strongly that the measures proposed in the Bill should be supported vigorously. There is that difference to be drawn. I feel that there may be some danger in adopting a carte blanche approach to the subject of public display as a whole, both on cinema screens and on the stage—and, for that matter, in book form—as distinct from the sort of public displays of material with which the Bill is essentially concerned.

Mr. Lyon

In view of my hon. Friend's intervention I can only believe that I have been less than my usual lucid self. I thought I had made that very point. I thought I said that in so far as I supported legislation it was only to kill this area of public nuisance, that I did not support legislation in any other area of pornography, that I should take a firm stand, as an individual who contributes towards the formation of public opinion, against pornography, and that it was to that end that my remarks were directed. I think I am entitled to make those points in a Second Reading debate even if they are a little wide of the Bill.

2.10 p.m.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker (Banff)

I rise to support the Bill and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Sir Gilbert Longden) on having brought it in. I was extremely glad and grateful for the opportunity of becoming a sponsor of the Bill.

We have had two legally based speeches. The speech by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) and that by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) brought out many of the difficult problems that must be faced in legislating on matters of this nature. It is a truism that we cannot in this House legislate to make people good, but we can legislate to prevent them, to some extent anyway, making fools of themselves. The definition of making a fool of oneself would probably take a Bill in itself, but I suggest there is a crying necessity for legislation such as my hon. Friend is proposing.

Various points have been made about the difficulties of definition. I sometimes think—this is one of the cases—that it is often necessary to make the law tighter, more stringent and all-pervasive than might, on the face of it, appear to be necessary merely to catch up with some of the excesses with which this country is faced today. I suggest that there is a crying necessity for this Bill for the protection of the public interest.

There are two aspects with which the House must come to terms when discussing and considering matters of this import. The first aspect concerns the family and the second the individual.

Thank God, the family is still the basic unit of our community. There are still parents with growing children who wish to protect them as far as possible from the excess permissiveness to which the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Dan Jones) referred. It may be old-fashioned to have standards of moral decency in the family—it may be said that children as they grow up, should have freedom of expression and the freedom to choose what they do, how they set about it, and so on—but there is no question that the Bill, if it became law, would achieve at least a degree of protection for the family, which I believe is so important.

In the Longford Report Sir Frederick Catherwood, in his dissertation on page 140, said: Duties of husbands to wives, wives to husbands, parents to children, children to parents and children to each other are spelt out in the New Testament in shrewd and understanding language. At the heart of this relationship are security and trust. There must, at the centre of society, be a social unit where everyone can feel safe. I suggest that security and trust is brought about not so much by discipline within the family, although that is necessary, as by the ability of parents to talk to their children and children to talk to their parents. Surely one of the most essential ways in which a family should develop is through the experience of parents, which should be readily understood by and available to the children who are growing up. Therefore, I suggest there is a moral and, indeed, religious context in all this.

There are commercial as well as other aspects of the exploitation of the permissive society. One has only to look at bookstalls to see this. It has already led to violence and to rackets. My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet referred in passing to some of the things that have happened and are going on.

Secondly, there is individual freedom. Here I refer to adults. Freedom of choice is an inherent part of our national life, but I suggest that that freedom should be without the opportunity of licence. Many weaker characters in society—there will always be weaker characters in all societies—could be led badly astray and off the track by some of the things on public exhibition today, whether it be in the streets of London, on the bookstalls, or elsewhere. I suggest that as a result of some of these things there will be further degeneration in public morals —notably in our weaker brethren—unless steps are taken to prevent such public displays.

What effects do these displays have? Again, I call in aid the Longford Report, page 412, where it quotes Professor Anderson: If what men read and view has no effect whatever on them, then why do industry and commerce spend millions of pounds each year in advertising (and pornography, it may be noted in passing, has more than a little of the nature of advertisement)? Again, why do the Government and individual parents spend millions of pounds on education, and why do teachers try to inculcate in their pupils a critical taste; … Why, moreover, would many of those who are most clamant that an artist must have complete liberty of expression and must describe life precisely as he sees it … make a significant exception in the case of books or plays which depict a member of one of the coloured races in a repulsive or derisory manner? We face an extremely difficult and perplexing situation. I suggest that the Bill is a means whereby the House of Commons can take action—action which I am convinced is called for by the vast majority of the British public.

One of the saddest aspects of the state of affairs in which we find ourselves is the lack of concerted effort by the United Kingdom churches against this kind of thing. The hon. Member for York referred to a notable exception—the Festival of Light, an inter-denominational body which has taken and is taking a stand against these things. I am sure that it would give its backing to the Bill.

It is equally sad that we are no longer a practising Christian nation. Were we of that nature, still practising Christianity, the need for the Bill would not have arisen. But, even if we are a nominal Christian nation, again I say that we in the House have a duty to the rest of the community to take action for its protection. If I may paraphrase St. Paul, "whatsoever things are lovely and whatsover things are of good repute, think on these things." I do not in any sense wish to preach a sermon, but it is far nicer and far pleasanter in the atmosphere of "whatsoever things are lovely and of good repute" to think of them rather than of some of the things which we are being almost forced to think upon as they come before our eyes during our daily lives in this city or in any town or village in the community.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) suggested that the Bill, if nothing else, might nudge the Government into action. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State is not here, but I hope that when he replies to the debate he will tell the House why it has been necessary for this nudge to be given. I hope, too, that he will be able to tell the House where the Bill is deficient and, more than that, the reason why it has been necessary for a Private Member's Bill to jog the Government into action.

Obviously, the present law is deficient. Obviously, the present law needs to be tightened. I ask my hon. and learned Friend to tell us how, if it is the Government's intention to do so, he hopes to tighten the law in a better way than the Bill seeks to do. If he cannot do that, why on earth cannot we have the measure?

It has been suggested that the Bill is deficient in certain drafting. One of the purposes of taking a Bill into Committee is to improve it. Why cannot the Government aid my hon. Friend and like-minded Members to ensure that the wording is put right? Why must we wait until probably next Session before a Bill is brought before the House by the Government?

As I understand it, this is a United Kingdom Bill. If the Government are to bring in a Bill in the next Session I ask my hon. and learned Friend to assure the House that it will be a United Kingdom Bill and not one confined to England and Wales.

I again congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing in this measure, and I hope that eventually what he aims to do will become the law of the land.

2.23 p.m.

Mr. W. T. Williams (Warrington)

I am happy to associate myself with the Bill and its intentions, and congratulate the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Sir Gilbert Longden) on introducing a measure dealing with a subject of great moment.

I think we have got ourselves into something of a tangle when it comes to dealing with questions relating to the publication of pornography and obscenity. I suppose one can take it for granted that a large number of people are offended by the extent to which permissiveness and the publication of pornography has gone; yet very often when matters which appear to be offensive are brought before the courts the whole discussion on whether such publications are legally permissible turns not upon the offence which such publications have given to large sections of the community but upon technical and, indeed, almost indefinable expressions such as whether or not they tend to corrupt or deprave.

The consequence of that, certainly in many recent cases, has been that publishers of articles, films and photographs which, on the face of them, are highly offensive have, nevertheless, not been convicted of offence.

I have no wish to pursue the illogicality of the situation, other than to say that, in the end, the consequence of such trials and acquittals has been worse than if they had never been brought. The result has been that following such acquittals the subject matter of the publication has, for all practical purposes, been released from any further activity by the law-enforcement authorities. Because of that, publications which otherwise might more discreetly—if that is the right word—have been put up for sale have taken their place in more public exhibitions and have received widespread publicity and larger sales.

Mr. Hamling

Is my hon. and learned Friend saying that publications which have been acquitted are thereby exempt from further prosecution? That is not so.

Mr. Williams

I am not saying that they are exempt. I am saying that in practice they are not further prosecuted and that when, as in the recent case— which is probably the one my hon. Friend has in mind—an attempt is made to bring a further prosecution and it results in another acquittal because of the legal difficulties surrounding such prosecutions, still further publicity is given, particularly when, as in this case, not only is there an acquittal but there is payment from public funds for the defence that was offered. I make no comment about that except to say that the long-term consequences for those who are offended are worse than if the prosecution had never been brought.

It is for that reason that I regard the debate on this subject at this time as of value. If there is a need for anything at this time, it is, in my submission, for legislation which will encourage those who wish to prevent the affront which is imposed upon, to use the hon. Gentleman's words, the public at large by the flagrant display of indecent and pornographic material.

There is a tremendous difference between the present situation and that which existed before the war. The right of a man to do what he likes in private appears now to have become the cardinal tenet of a new religion. I make the personal confession that I am unsympathetic to the extent of the development of permissiveness. But I have not sufficient certainty about my own Tightness, or, indeed, sufficient satisfaction with my own uprightness, to set myself up as the arbiter of another man's morals. Of one thing, however, I am sure. It is that if a man finds enjoyment by ways of nostal-gie de la boue, that is his own business, but he has no right to thrust it in the face of those whom it offends; no right to pour over those who find it offensive the litter from the waste paper basket of his emotional rubbish.

There is need for those responsible for the maintenance of public decency in public places to prevent affront, especially when it is from what is perhaps the basest of all motives, pure financial greed. It is right, especially at a time when the law is in a tangle about preventing the publication of things which, though offensive, have by case law not been able to be condemned, that some new legislation should be brought forward in order to ensure at least that, even if a man is entitled to do what he wills in his aloneness, the greater number of people who find such behaviour offensive shall not have it thrust before them, as is the case in so large an area of the streets of London and the hoardings of our large cities.

Perhaps more important is the challenge with which the present flaunting of things which are obscene faces us. I am not thinking only of sexual things but also of cruel things, of things that are offensive to decent-minded people in other ways as when pictures and other publications are shown of their fellow men being treated, not only in sexual matters but in other ways, with contempt.

More important than the offensiveness caused to adult persons by the display of things which are corrupting, indecent and offensive to public decency is the consequence upon children. It has been questioned—it may be a matter open to argument—whether things which are indecent or obscene have any relationship to general social behaviour. There are those who say that display of indecency and sadism is a way of emotional release that does no harm. Maybe that is right as far as it affects the person who is already perverted, but I would take leave to doubt whether the public display of hard pornography or other indecent things is without consequence in creating areas of social misbehaviour because of its corrupting effect upon innocence.

There has been a tremendous change in the pattern of social behaviour in my lifetime. In the valley in which I was brought up, life appeared, at least to me, to be very uncomplicated. Our faith was simple. We believed in the teaching of the chapel and in the Labour Party. All our troubles stemmed from the devil, the pubs and the Conservative Party, and the last was regarded by many of us as being the incarnation of the first. We had our fair share of drunks, especially on a Saturday night, but as far as I can tell we had no drug addicts, no muggers and no public adherence to acts of indecency.

In the result, although there was great poverty in terms of wealth, we had a certain richness. Our children could play on the mountains surrounding our valley without fear of corruption, and our old people could, and did, leave their doors open to welcome all callers without fear. I am not suggesting that we were a people without reproach. It may be that our society was not more wholesome but perhaps only more discreet or even, perhaps, more hypocritical. But, either way, it kept its worst hidden and shared its best with its children.

We have reached, however, a society in which, now that times have changed, not only is it regarded as right for a man to behave as he likes, so long as he does nothing that is able to be laid at his door as being publicly accountable for its consequences, but it has become fashionable even to flaunt the things which may be regarded by other people as indecent or obscene. I do not believe that we have a healthy society, and I believe that the time has come when those who may be corrupted by public display—display indifferent to the consequences—of perversions or cruelty, should be protected from corruption and having their innocence besmirched.

In the present state of the law, even when it is drawn up by expert draftsmen, it is full of difficulty. For any back-bench Member trying to bring his sense of order into this muddled and muddied area will be fraught with difficulty. We have heard a good deal in this debate already about the problems which would be created in attempting to enforce such a law as that which the Bill proposes. But, because the need to prevent affront and to prevent offence to innocence exists, I hope the Government will say that they recognise the need and the importance of meeting that need.

I hope the Government will say before this debate is closed that they are prepared, recognising the need, to do what they can to meet the claims of the great majority who, while willing to let a man do what he wills with his own life, do not wish society to be besmirched by public display of the lowest of man's desires and aspirations.

2.40 p.m.

Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)

In following the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington (Mr. W. T. Williams) I am reminded that there were seven deadly sins and not just one. In asking this House to turn itself into an institution in which we start laying down statutes in order to enjoin upon society certain moral standards, simply to think of one of the seven deadly sins is insufficient. There are six others.

What I find uncomfortable about the whole debate is that when hon. Members talk about morals they seem to think only in terms of morals in one aspect of life. The whole tenor of the debate seems to be that what is immoral about our society is in one narrow field only. My hon. and learned Friend, who comes from the Valleys, knows that there are many other sectors in which there is immorality which is deeply offensive to a great many people. If the young are not corrupted by that, they certainly will not be corrupted by this sort of immorality.

Sir Gilbert Longden

I should like to point out that the hon. Gentleman has talked about the whole debate, but he was not present when I opened the debate, nor was he present when my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) spoke. I wonder when the hon. Gentleman came into the Chamber.

Mr. Hamling

The hon. Gentleman knows exactly when I came in as he has been present all the time. I have been present for most of the debate. If the hon. Gentleman had not interrupted me, I would have apologised to him for the fact that I was not present when he spoke. I was engaged elsewhere in a discussion on this Bill. I hope that that will not be regarded as a "public display". It was hardly a public exposure —although I do not know whether radio might fit into the Bill, because that is where I was concerned. I was about to apologise to the hon. Gentleman for not having had the opportunity of listening to him.

Sir Gilbert Longden


Mr. Hamling

I have, however, listened to six speeches. It seemed that most of them were not about the Bill at all. Most of them were general speeches on the moral standards of our society.

Mr. David Steel


Mr. Hamling

Perhaps I should have come into the Chamber to listen to the first two speeches and then gone home.

I am a little offended by some of the arrogance of some who seem to think that the only people in our society who have moral standards are Christians and that the only moral standards which are moral are the Christian moral standards. I hope that those who hold such views will give other people credit for having other views.

This is not a debate about the Longford Report. It is a debate about the Bill. We have had long speeches about the Longford Report and the need to put the recommendations of that report into operation. If hon. Members refer to the Longford Report approvingly, those who have other views are entitled to make observations on those comments.

Mr. Deedes

In all friendliness I must point out that the hon. Gentleman did not hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Sir Gilbert Longden), or my speech —which was quite unimportant—or the speech of the representative of the Liberal Party. The hon. Gentleman must not offer a generalisation on the tenor of the debate without having heard what some of us said in rather moderate terms with him in mind.

Mr. Hamling

Characteristically the right hon. Gentleman commented on the unimportance of his speech. That leaves just two speeches. I have listened for a long time to other speeches which were supposed to be about the Bill, including one from my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon).

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

That was a good speech.

Mr. Hamling

My hon. Friend may think so. There are other views. I am entitled to comment on the speeches I have heard and on the tenor of the debate as I have heard it.

Mr. Carlisle

If I may interject as an umpire, may I suggest that what has happened is that the width of the debate has somewhat widened since the earlier speeches?

Mr. Hamling

That is exactly the point on which I have been commenting. Presumably I am allowed to comment on speeches I have heard and on the fact that we are supposed to be debating the Bill. Instead of debating the Bill, we have had interminable moral lectures which have had nothing to do with the Bill. I want to return to the Bill. That is what I should like the House to debate. The House is being asked to accept the Bill. Therefore we ought to be discussing the Bill and the evidence on which it is based, and not simply some general considerations of morality which have nothing to do with the Bill and very little to do with statute law anyway.

What is the evidence for presenting the Bill? The matters behind the Bill are covered by existing statutes. Prosecutions have taken place for indecent display in recent years. During the long time that I have been present in the Chamber, no one has commented on the fact that prosecutions have taken place for indecent display—although, perhaps the right hon Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) or the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West commented upon that matter. I am not permitted to comment on one case at present as it is sub judice. I am sure that the Minister of State is well aware of the case I have in mind.

Why bring forward a Bill when there is already a large body of law covering not only the particular narrow matters with which this Bill deals but the whole generality which has been covered in the irrelevant speeches to which I have been listening, according to the right hon Member for Ashford?

Let us look at some of this legislation. I think particularly of the Vagrancy Act 1825 and the 1838 amendment. The Jim Dines case and the John Lennon case were cases in which prosecutions took place for obscene display of things in windows. If prosecutions can take place already, why do we need a further law, particularly when it seems that everyone has looked at the Bill and said that it is not very good or precise anyway and that the definitions are not very good? If successful prosecutions have taken place under the Vagrancy Act for obscene display, what is the need for a new law?

Mr. David Steel

Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a difference between meeting the legal standard of an obscene display and those matters which have been referred to, certainly in the earlier part of the debate, which are offensive to large numbers of people and may not necessarily be obscene?

Mr. Hamling

Indecent, then. This is the trouble with the Bill and with this whole discussion. What is "obscene"? One of the supporters of the Bill said that we should go much further and he mentioned many other matters. The prosecutions that have taken place have not been confined to obscene display. In current dicussion and in this debate these terms have been interchangeable, but I do not know whether they are interchangeable.

I have examined the Bill closely. I am aware of some of the prosecutions that have taken place. I do not see that there is any need for further legislation or for tightening up. My view is that the present law is an ass, that it is too restrictive and that it should be liberated still further. My views on this are well known and have been expressed in the House on many occasions. I am in favour of the total abolition of censorship. That may terrify some hon. Members. But they look in the mirror so often that they must be terrified of an awful lot.

The Bill says, in Clause 1(1): It shall be an offence of public indecency for any person to display any material in a public place"— "any material"! — if it is grossly offensive to the public at large. Any self-respecting lawyer could make hay with at least half a dozen things in that sentence. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. William Wells), with his wide experience, could certainly do so. What is "grossly offensive"? One hon. Member is grossly offended by many things. I am grossly offended by many other things. These are matters of taste and of opinion. Are we to say that matters of taste and of opinion can be construed as being legal offences?

Because I think that something is "grossly offensive"—I am part of the "public at large"—am I to run every day of the week to the Director of Public Prosecutions and say "I am deeply offended. There should be a prosecution for this"? Some people spend a great deal of their time doing that, in one narrow field. There are many things that all of us could find grossly offensive. Are all of us to spend our time running to the DPP and complaining— that is, if the Bill is enacted? Is that what the House wants?

Or are we to say that the Director of Public Prosecutions shall be the arbiter? In that case, what have the public at large to do with the Bill if the Director is to be the judge of whether something should be prosecuted? This is putting on the DPP a burden which is far too heavy for him to carry. We ought not to enact legislation which is so wide and diffuse as to impose on the DPP the very heavy burden of responsibility and exercise of judgment which this Bill would.

That is the burden of my attack on the Bill. That is what the debate should have been about. Apart from the two marvellous speeches which I missed, I have heard no evidence in favour of the Bill, no evidence to suggest that there is anything precise in the Bill which would help the Home Office or the DPP or those of us who want to maintain high standards of public morality—because all of us do. Those of us who oppose the Bill wish to maintain high standards of public morality but we are not convinced—certainly I am not convinced— that the Bill will do that.

It may well be that the Bill would go much too far. The right hon. Member for Ashford, with his ministerial experience, knows this very well, as do some of my hon. and learned Friends. Although the House can pass a law and enact a statute, it does not interpret the statute or apply it. Therefore, a heavy responsibility lies upon us to ensure that we put upon the statute book only those laws which are capable of precisison and of precise application, not woolly and vague laws.

Mr. Deedes

If the hon. Gentleman agrees with me, as I am sure he does, that human dignity is indivisible, why is it more difficult to do what it is sought to do with the Bill than it is to do what it is sought to do with the Race Relations Act?

Mr. Handing

I am conscious of that. I have made public speeches on this point. Although I voted for the Race Relations Bill some years ago, on mature reflection and having in mind the discussions we have had I am now of the view that the Act leads to racial intolerance.

Mr. David Steel


Mr. Hamling

That is my view. The difficulty about the Act is that it deals with points of view and public attitudes. I do not think it is possible to legislate in that field. For that reason the Act is not satisfactory. I have expressed that view in public. It is all of a piece.

I realise that some of my hon. Friends will disagree—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] They may well disagree, but I ask them to remember that the passing of a law does not mean that members of the National Front do not express their point of view. Indeed, I believe that frequently the existence of a law reinforces their public attitudes, because they feel that their free speech is inhibited. The right hon. Member for Ashford knows from their publications that that is so.

To return to the Bill, I was saying that in my view we cannot legislate for taste, we cannot legislate for this kind of private attitude towards certain things, and we should be gravely in error if we did.

What about the words, any place to which the public have access"? I am in some difficulty here because of the sub judice rule in relation to a prosecution now going on, but I must say that one of the difficulties is that, if we were to enact the Bill, it would not stop at the shop window. Perhaps it would not stop even at things on the wall. What about things on display in a shop to which the public have a right of access because it is a shop?

We have had all the argument about a right of public access even if people have to pay, and about what is or is not a public place. But if people go into a shop and see something on the counter, is that on display? If they see it lying on a shelf where it can be seen, is that on display?

Mr. Jeffrey Thomas (Abertillery)


Mr. Hamling

My hon. Friend must be jolly careful. He was not present earlier in the debate when one of the supporters of the Bill said something different. These defenders of freedom are very limited in their acceptance of the right of others to comment on speeches which they happen to have heard.

One of the present prosecutions is precisely of a shop where things were on on the shelf. It was not a pornography shop either, not at all. It was a sex aid shop. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend the Member for York would say that Ann Summers was in the same category as Modern Books and some of the other alleged bookshops. I call them porn shops, and if my hon. Friend thinks that the Ann Summers shops are in the same boat as that, all I can say is that his experience is extremely limited.

Mr. Jeffrey Thomas

Abertillery has not got them.

Mr. Hamling

Abertillery has not got them, no. Civilisation has not reached that far yet.

Mr. Thomas

I do not for a moment complain about the length of my hon. Friend's speech, and I should be the last to say that he has exposed himself for too long. Indeed, I am delighted at the length of his speech, having regard to the next Private Member's Bill on the Order Paper. But, seriously, will he not agree that what matters is the creation of a climate of opinion, and that is what the Bill is designed to do?

Mr. Dan Jones

That is it.

Mr. Hamling

That is precisely the trouble with the Bill. We cannot pass a Bill which creates a climate of opinion. The Bill lays down certain criminal offences and provides that those who contravene the law should be liable to certain penalties. That is not creating a climate of opinion. It is creating a criminal offence. It is not the job of the House to waste its Fridays passing Bills merely to create climates of opinion. Are we to introduce a Bill now to say that the House is against sin? That is all very well, but what happens when Clause 4 or Clause 5 lays down penalties? That is what this Bill does.

Mr. Jeffrey Thomas

I should support any Bill which said, in effect, "Yes, we shall abolish sin, but not quite yet".

Mr. Hamling

That is where I disagree with my hon. Friend. I am in favour of the abolition of sin, but not by statute.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon rose

Mr. Hamling

I hope that what my hon. Friend wants to say is about the Bill.

Mr. Lyon

My hon. Friend talks about not legislating against sin. We do it all the time, but we do it in respect of specific parts of sin. My hon. Friend registered his vote in favour of a Bill which became the Theft Act. We do it all the time. My hon. Friend is off the point.

Mr. Hamling

Yes, but that is sin with a difference. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Sin is indivisible."] We are dealing with the introduction of a Bill to change the law. It is a bad Bill in the sense that it is impossible to make the change in the terms of the Bill. The Bill will not work; that is all I am saying. If people say "We know that the Bill will not work. We know that it is badly drafted, that it is a bad Bill and is illogical, but we think that we should enact it as an expression of opinion", that is nonsense and I hope that the Minister will support that view.

It is not our job to pass Bills merely expressing an opinion, especially when this Bill lays down penalties—perhaps fines, imprisonment and trial by jury. Is that what our courts are for? I do not believe that it is. The Bill should be totally rejected.

3.6 p.m.

Mr. Peter Rees (Dover)

I have been moved to intervene briefly by the speech of the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling). The hon. Gentleman said that we should not attempt to create a climate of opinion. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Sir Gilbert Longden) on responding to a climate of opinion. I am well aware that there are many people in my constituency who are offended and disturbed by the present situation. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West says that there is no evidence to justify the introduction of the Bill. He must walk round with his eyes closed or operate by quite different aesthetic and moral standards from those of the rest of us.

I do not claim a monopoly of virtue for professing Christians, because this is ultimately a general moral and aesthetic problem. We should be failing in our duty if we did not occasionally legislate on these matters. I do not propose to follow the hon. Gentleman's metaphysical flights in discussing whether sin is divisible or indivisible because that is not the significance of the Bill. We are not legislating against sin, and if we were I do not think that it would be a criticism of the Bill because, as the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) pointed out, we frequently legislate against sin, although we try to do so in a practical and limited way.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West because he has diagnosed and responded to a definite feeling of public unease that the present situation is not right. This is ultimately a social question. We must strike a balance. We must not interfere too much with the personal, private concerns of other people. But the Bill, as I read it, does not intend to do that. Adults may regale themselves, up to a point, in any way that they choose in private, but the essence of the Bill is that they shall not carry their private predilections into public and offend the broad mass of their fellow citizens.

Every day we try to adjust the balance, and I agree that it is difficult, but if we start from the position, as I sense most hon. Members do, that we must draw a line somewhere—I exclude from that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West, who has left the Chamber, because he speaks from a special position that no line should be drawn anywhere; he is plainly so calloused morally and aesthetically that he can never feel any sense of outrage or, if he does, he feels that there is no occasion to prevent him and his kind from feeling that sense of outrage, and he is entitled to that opinion—

Mr. Dan Jones

In defence of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), may I point out that I know him tremendously well and that his speech was entirely contrary to his character?

Mr. Rees

That is a generous defence. In my heart of hearts I suspected that to be so and that the hon. Gentleman was teasing my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West in a delightful if slightly frivolous way. All the same, we have to take his argument seriously because that is the case that can be made against any Bill of this kind.

We have to draw a line somewhere, difficult though it may be, and the Bill represents a genuine and moderate attempt to draw the line. Ultimately it becomes a question of definition how and where the line is drawn. If I may echo the hon. Gentleman's words, as a self-respecting lawyer—although not one who practises in this field—I recognise that the definition is particularly difficult and that it is on definition that so many past laws on this subject have failed.

Ideally one would attempt to legislate by reference to an objective definition. One would say that the portrayal, for example, of sexual intercourse in public shall be an offence against the law. That would be simple, but, if we did that, by implication we should be saying that anything that fell short of that was within the law. All the ingenuity of those who display this type of material would be directed to producing material that was incredibly suggestive but which fell just short of what we had defined as being without the law.

We must, therefore, fall back on a subjective definition: how does a particular display strike the public at large? There is the well-worn definition of "to deprave and corrupt", but over the past decade that has been shown to be inappropriate to the generation which we represent. We have all acquired a spurious sophistication. We are reluctant to admit that we ever could be depraved or corrupted. We are too worldly for that. The most we would concede was that we were bored by something. That is the difficulty about the present phrase that is applied. I support the Bill because it adopts the phrase grossly offensive to the public at large With due deference to the hon. Member for Woolwich, West, that is a simple phrase that can be well understood by a jury of 12 good men and women. If we are forced back to a subjective test, we want a subjective test that can well be comprehended. There are those in my constituency whose opinions I respect who say that the phrase should merely be "offensive" and not "grossly offensive". But the definition "offensive" would be a little too onerous and oppressive. There are many trivial displays that offend me, but I do not think that we should invoke the full panoply of the law to eliminate them. The phrase "grossly offensive" imports a sense of outrage, and that is how it would be understood by a jury.

I would prefer this matter to be judged by a jury representing the community at large. I recognise the difficulty that juries in different parts of the country will give different verdicts and the administration of the Bill might be a little haphazard. But, as different standards prevail in different parts of our community, it may be right that there should be a different application in different parts of the country. The response of people in the Western Isles may be a little different from the response of people living in metropolitan London, and we should recognise these regional approaches to fundamental questions.

I do not find that to be a real objection to the Bill, and I therefore support the Bill as providing a step forward in a difficult sector where the ultimate application will be left to 12 good and true men and women representing our community at large. I hope that it will find a place eventually on the statute book.

3.15 p.m.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

I gratulate the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Sir Gilbert Longden) on his Bill, and I apologise for having missed some of the earlier speeches. The Bill performs a useful function in adding a brick to the wall which may help to stem the tide. The hon. and learned Member for Dover (Mr. Peter Rees) allied his legal acumen with a commonsense view on this subject.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy lenkins) once said that he thought the permissive society was a civilised society. My view is entirely different. I believe that the country has become permeated with a certain climate of behaviour which has not come to an end, and I believe that the Bill might in some way arrest the trend.

The growth of pornography is due to one main element. Misguided bishops and others have gone to court and said that certain books are literary masterpieces and all the rest of it; but what is behind the spread of pornography is commercial interests. There is money in it, and that is what pushes the flood of such literature forward. There are films showing in London today which deal with subjects about which earlier and wiser generations heard only from sailors who had visited Port Said or Alexandria. Those films are now causing much public disquiet in London.

I hope that this excellent, small Bill will do something to counter that sort of activity. All the displays, books and films which abound at the present time postulate that perversion is the norm and the view now taken is that people of earlier ages were out of step. There are many people who say that we no longer live in a Christian society, and, regrettably, I believe that is true.

The promoter of the Bill said that he hoped its provisions would apply to Scotland, and I agree with him. The situation is not as bad in Scotland, though I would not claim that the Scots are any less free from original sin than are the English—not to mention the Welsh. But perhaps through our isolation and our older traditions we have not reached the level of pornography which has been reached in the metropolis. The hon. and learned Member for Dover mentioned the sort of society which we have in the Western Isles. We think nothing of leaving doors unlocked. It is true that the Christian traditions there still remain strong.

I welcome the Bill because I believe it will be a useful step in stemming the tide —a tide which, regrettably, is bringing this country into disrepute and, I believe, will prove to be a danger to the coming generation. I hope that the Bill will have Government support.

3.18 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Mark Carlisle)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Sir Gilbert Longden) on introducing his Bill and on giving the House an opportunity to discuss this important subject. I have heard almost the whole of the debate, with the exception of the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker), and the debate has contained some interesting speeches.

My hon. Friend in promoting this Bill has given the House an opportunity to discuss a subject which undoubtedly is one of great public interest and concern. I know from the correspondence which reaches me as a constituency Member, as well as from correspondence which comes into the Home Office, that there is widespread public concern over these matters. My assessment is that the letters which arrive expressing general concern about pornography and indecency in general, letters complaining about contemporary standards in cinema and television, and complaints—I wish at this point that the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) were present —about unsolicited circulars which have been sent through the post are alarming. I have had letters complaining about the display of indecent material which gives offence and is found objectionable by many people. All these letters make up a substantial part of the postbag which I see in the Home Office.

We have to remember that the degree of offence caused by different kinds of material varies substantially and that the extent of the offence is also related to the varying susceptibility of the people exposed to such material and to the circumstances in which the exposure takes place.

It is, therefore, important to bear in mind certain important distinctions mentioned during the debate. The first is the distinction between the circumstances in which an individual deliberately chooses to be exposed to printed or pictorial matter of various kinds and those in which such matter is thrust upon him without his having the opportunity to reject it. The second distinction is that beween two standards of objectionable matter. There is that which is of so extreme a nature that it may reasonably be presumed to be likely to cause harm to any likely audience, that it is likely to corrupt and deprave. There is also the other kind which does not go as far as that but nevertheless undoubtedly causes considerable offence to members of the public.

The first of those two types of material is dealt with by the Obscene Publications Act. Here I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) and confirm that in the Metropolitan Police area alone last year more than 1 million items were seized under that Act. Although it may be true that the Act has its faults, it should be realised that a substantial amount of material is seized under its provisions. The other type of material is that which is not obscene but causes considerable offence, and it is this with which the Bill is primarily designed to deal.

I accept that there always has been, and probably always will be, a substantial argument over the definition of obscenity. This was raised again by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies), who wanted to remove the words "deprave and corrupt" and substitute "degrade". I am not sure whether that would make much difference. It is clear from the debate that there is a clash of opinion about what degree, if any, of censorship there should be and how much material should be banned. All the evidence suggests that if we look at the definitions of obscenity there is probably greater disagreement today in the community about the meaning of the various words than there has ever been.

The problem assumes a different complexion when the object is not to enact a general prohibition but only to deal with particular circumstances. It is one thing to decide that a book or a picture should not be printed at all. It seems another to decide that its character is likely to give offence to a large number of people and for that reason should not be publicly displayed. The debate in another place on the Longford Report has shown clearly that there is disagreement within Parliament as to how and in what way the obscenity laws should be amended.

There is a good deal of general support in the House and outside for the need to do something stronger about the public display of material which people find objectionable. Perhaps the very width of that support is found in this debate when one realises that the Bill has among its sponsors the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles and the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Dan Jones), both of whom made speeches directly contrary to each other but are able to support my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West as sponsors of the Bill.

I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet said. There is a problem about obscenity. However, I have to agree with the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) that that is not the problem which we are discussing today. To judge by the complaints which the public make, the problem which causes most widespread concern is the general public display of material which is rarely obscene but often indecent. It is very much easier legislatively to tackle the public display of indecent matter than it is to start amending the Obscene Publications Act.

There is broad general agreement that the public flaunting of indecent material is an objectionable public nuisance which ought to be dealt with more effectively by the law. Whatever the hon. Member for Woolwich, West may say, I believe that people resent having material which they consider to be indecent thrust in front of their eyes whether they want ii or not. From the letters that I see in the Home Office, it is clear that people resent coming to certain parts of London with their young teenage children and seeing the material to which they are subjected visually. I do not think that people wish to have this matter thrust into their view against their will.

Recently my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary described it publicly as a commercial assault on freedom "—

Mr. Dan Jones

A commercial assault on youth.

Mr. Carlisle

Both on freedom and on youth. People talk about the importance of the freedom of speech and of the freedom to disseminate ideas. Equally, we have freedom to choose what we want to see without having material which we consider objectionable thrust upon us.

For the various reasons that I have given, the Government wholly support and welcome the general objective of the Bill. We believe that there is a need to strengthen the law in regard to the public display of that which members of the public find indecent. I myself welcome this debate and the opportunity which it gives us in the Home Office to take into account the various speeches that we have heard.

The fact that the Government believe that there is a need to strengthen the law in this respect must not for a moment be assumed to be suggesting that there is not any law in existence on the matter. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West was right. But, if I may, I shall attempt to answer his question. If there is law, why do we want any more, and why is it not adequate? The reason is that the law dealing with public display has been on the statute book for about 150 years. It is old and, largely for that reason, ineffective.

By an Act of 1822 it is an offence to expose to public view indecent prints, pictures or other indecent exhibitions. That Act continued for only two years. It was then overtaken by the Vagrancy Act 1824. under Section 4 of which every person wilfully exposing to view in any street, road, highway or public place, any obscene print, picture or other indecent exhibition", may be deemed a rogue and vagabond and, therefore, subject to various penalties.

The Vagrancy Act 1838 extended the offence to exposure to view in the window or other part of any shop or other building situate in any street, road, highway or public place.

Eventually in 1889 we had the Indecent Advertisements Act, which created a number of offences concerned with the display of matter. which is of an indecent or obscene character". There are also local Acts and various byelaws.

The very use of words such as "rogue" and "vagabond" shows the antiquity of the law with which we are dealing, and there is the fact that the penalties have not kept account of what has happened in the last 150 years. The combination of laws passed to meet a situation of a wholly different nature, with penalties which bear no relation to present-day values, steeped in language which it is difficult to use with conviction in the courts in the 1970s, is a basic reason why the police find a certain degree of difficulty, to put it no higher, in enforcing the law relating to public indecency. Therefore, there is a need to strengthen, to modernise and to rationalise the law.

We must bear in mind that public display and advertising for commercial promotional purposes may take many forms. If restrictions are imposed on some forms of advertising technique, it is important to ensure that loopholes have not been left which will leave other forms open to be exploited. Therefore, it is important to ensure that as far as possible legislation in this sphere should be watertight.

In rationalising, modernising and strengthening the law it is necessary to relate it to the existing provisions. The Bill does not do that in any way. Therefore, it would be impracticable to pass it in its present form without at the same time undertaking a necessary and extensive review of all existing provisions.

Having made it clear that the Government support the principle behind the Bill, just as it has been supported by all hon. Members but one on both sides of the House, I should like to make certain comments about its individual provisions and suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West that, with the best will in the world, it is a matter of considerable complexity which it is difficult to invite a private Member to handle. Therefore I suggest that this is a matter more for the Government than for a private Member.

I refer first to the definition of "public indecency" in Clause 1. My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet referred to this. It comes from the paper produced by the Society of Conservative Lawyers. My hon. Friend was one of the authors of that document. The clause then defines "indecency" as being that which is grossly offensive to the public at large. My advice is that that definition is in itself subject to a number of objections.

First, one has to realise that because generally accepted standards today are peculiarly difficult to establish, any offence which is defined by reference to contemporary standards is in itself likely to be difficult to prove. At the same time, I am sure that those who do not themselves find offensive some material which is currently displayed would, nevertheless, accept that many other people do, and would agree that some steps must be taken to reduce the area of that display.

The use of the word "offensive" might, in itself, widen the scope of the Bill to include material which could not possibly be described as indecent. That was the point made by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon). Matters could be said to be grossly offensive to the public at large if they were objected to on religious or political grounds. I do not believe—and this is clear from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet that such a widening was intended by the framers of the Bill.

On the other hand, as my hon. Friend has accepted, it can be argued that putting in the word "grossly" makes the definition too narrow, because, whereas at the moment there is legislation against indecent display, to be found indecent under the Bill it would have to be found to be not only offensive to the public but grossly offensive. I am sure that I am not paying my hon. Friend any undue compliment when I say to him that he would spend many hours arguing in the courts whether something on display was "offensive or grossly offensive".

I do not think that the definition is suitable for the matter which the Bill is attempting to meet. Indeed, if I may suggest it to my hon. Friends the Members for Hertfordshire, South-West and the Isle of Thanet, where we have probably gone wrong in a lot of this area is in attempting to define. The real problem of the Obscene Publications Act seems to be the definition of what is obscene, and a jury might find it rather easier to decide whether something is obscene than whether something tends to corrupt and deprave.

If one is to legislate against indecent display, there is a lot to be said for not attempting to define the word "indecent" as it has never been defined in previous statutes, because a jury—or a magistrate —is likely to be able more easily to satisfy itself that something is indecent and know what is meant by that than decide whether it is grossly offensive, peculiarly offensive or whatever definition one has.

Mr. Jeffrey Thomas

I have a great deal of sympathy with the Minister's views on this aspect of the law, but would he not agree that one difficulty might be that unless there were some clear definition of obscenity a jury in one part of the country could take a different view from a jury in another part? In the end it would become a matter of value judgments on the part of individual jurors, and it could lead to a measure of injustice.

Mr. Carlisle

Of course there is that danger. That is one of the reasons for definition. The hon. Gentleman will find, however, that the courts have faced considerable difficulty over the definition of "obscenity" but little difficulty in the interpretation of "indecency" without attempting to define the word closely.

There is also the question of whether the word "material" is wide enough to cover the various forms of display with which we might be concerned. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West will not be offended if I refer here to my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet, but I do so because I feel that there is an air of his draftsmanship about the Bill. For example, there is the problem of the definition of "public place". The first part of the definition which my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet suggests does not make it wholly clear whether it extends to a place to which the public have access or whether it is affected by payment or non-payment.

Again, I find the second part of the definition extremely obscure. When I intervened in his speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet said that no place like an art gallery or museum would be included because the definition was not intended to include any place to which the public paid to have access. But that argument might exclude advertising on Underground or railway stations in that the public are not entitled to access to those places without payment. I remind my hon. Friend of yet another difficulty—that we had to redefine "public place" in the Offences Against the Person Act because a railway station had not been held to be a public place.

Then there is the question of whether the definition applies to cinemas and theatres. Our experience in this area shows that to be effective any legislation must be absolutely precise in defining the extent which it intends to cover. The second part of the definition— 'public place' means any place to which the public have access or where they have the opportunity of seeing the material "— presumably means any place where the public have the opportunity of seeing indecent material. If that is indeed the definition, it would cover anywhere where anything was displayed, irrespective of how far away from public gaze it might have been originally and however much one has to pay to get there.

I must admit that I again find myself in agreement with the detailed criticisms of the hon. Member for Woolwich, West.

Mr. Hamling

Why should not the hon. and learned Gentleman be in agreement with me?

Mr. Carlisle

Because on the whole I did not agree with the hon. Gentleman's speech. I found some of the other speeches more attractive to my point of view. But the hon. Gentleman criticised the use of the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions. I take the point that it really puts upon the Director the position of acting as a censor if he has to assess in every case whether a prosecution is to be brought. We feel that it would be better to leave this discretion, particularly in this kind of offence, to the prosecuting authorities.

Mr. Rees-Davies

But surely at present the Director of Public Prosecutions advises on almost every pornography case of any substance before action is taken?

Mr. Carlisle

That is true, but there is a difference between cases of substance which might lead to prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act and the type of case which would be triable in the summary courts, which is the mischief at which the Bill is aimed: namely the type of advertisement which the public find objectionable through its very indecency and its display in a public way.

There are other objections which I do not propose to mention. The only reason why I have mentioned those objections of which I have spoken is to suggest again to my hon. Friend that if we are to have effective legislation in this field great care must be taken to get the definitions and exceptions in the enforcement machinery exactly right, and so achieve a satisfactory result.

The problem with which we are seeking to deal forms part of a much wider problem, some aspects of which fall outside the scope of these proposals. As I say, there is the whole issue of hard pornography, but it is particularly in the area of the public dissemination of indecent material that we need more modern legislation. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already made clear that he is considering proposals that he has received from a working party, which we recently set up, for re-enacting the principles of the law of indecent display and advertisement in an up-to-date and enforceable way.

As the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles has now returned, I can tell him that we are also concerned about the stream of unsolicited circulars still coming through people's letterboxes, many of which circulars are of a thoroughly obscene nature—and I use that word confidently here, despite what definition is put on it. The trouble is enforcement because of the material having been posted from abroad and not from addresses in this country.

As I say, we at the Home Office are looking at the whole area of the problem. We do not rule out any solution to the various aspects, and I promise my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet that I will read again with care what he said about the scope of possible legislation.

Mr. David Steel

Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman could elaborate a little on the information he has given the House. There have been some cases in the courts brought under the Unsolicited Goods and Services Act— successfully, I believe. What is the difficulty in the other cases? Is it that the material is coming from abroad or that we are unable to detect the addresses of consignees in this country?

Mr. Carlisle

There is a case on its way to the divisional court so I had better not comment on the working of the Act. But much of the filth—and to call it that is to describe it very moderately—that is now appearing unsolicited in many people's houses presents the problem that it is posted from abroad and there is no means of getting at those who are trading in it. Alternatively, if the address is in this country it is usually an accommodation address of a fly-by-night company which may be there for only a short time.

I do not suggest that the hon. Gentleman's amendment to his own measure may not be of assistance in this field, but though there is a great deal of concern about this trade it is very difficult to enforce the law. I am quite satisfied that much of the stuff I see in the Home Office could be dealt with under the Obscene Publications Act on the ground of obscenity but, I repeat, it is difficult to get at the people who disseminate it.

Conscious as he is of public concern in this respect, my right hon. Friend has set up a study of the problem with the intention of legislating to strengthen the law against the public display in all its aspects of indecent matter. My hon. Friend will appreciate that there are many conventions which do not allow me to go very far in what I could say about future legislative proposals. My right hon. Friend hopes, however, to be able to bring forward legislative proposals to deal with this issue as soon as opportunity permits.

With great respect, I suggest to my hon. Friend that this is an area where the complexity is such that it would be better left to parliamentary draftsmen and the advantages of Departments of State. Having had the opportunity of an excellent day's debate, and when everyone has been grateful to him for the opportunity of expressing views on this matter, I urge him to consider withdrawing the Bill and leaving the Government to consider legislation in this matter.

3.51 p.m.

Sir Gilbert Longden

I thank my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State for having come to the House and for what he has just said. In the very first sentence with which I opened the debate I acknowledged my indebtedness to my hon. and learned Friend, but as only your deputy and I were in the Chamber at the time, Mr. Speaker, that did not get very wide publicity.

I agree that it would be much better for the Government to legislate. My main objective was to give the Government what my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) aptly called a "nudge". I have achieved that objective. I thank my 11 co-sponsors, of all three parties, for their support. I thank every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate, which has been of remarkable unanimity with one odd man out. I hope they will agree that in the circumstances I should withdraw the Bill.

I appreciate that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State cannot anticipate the Gracious Speech. However, I must warn him in all friendliness that if there is nothing in it to this end I shall seek an early opportunity of reintroduc-ing a similar measure.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill withdrawn.

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