HC Deb 13 November 1973 vol 864 cc328-77

Order for Second Reading read.

7.27 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Robert Carr)

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

The Bill deals with two related subjects. It remedies some anomalies in our system of controlling the showing of films and strengthens the safeguards against the display and unsolicited distribution of objectionable matter.

I welcome the opportunity to bring these proposals before the House because I believe that they deal with a subject which is of great public concern. They go to one aspect of the quality of life in our community and they raise issues of considerable importance. They illustrate the balance which must be struck between the two traditional responsibilities of the Home Secretary—namely, on the one hand the preservation of the liberty of the individual and, on the other, the maintenance of public order.

These proposals are likely to be attacked by some as an interference with freedom of expression and an unjustifiable extension of censorship. They are likely to be attacked by others as not going far enough to deal with current trends in our society. To be attacked from both sides is not an unusual position for any Home Secretary to find himself in, but it can often be of some reassurance to him to feel that he has struck about the right balance between these two conflicting demands of freedom on the one side and a reasonable degree of public order on the other.

Discussion of this subject often tends to be influenced more by passion than by reason, and there is some danger of important distinctions being overlooked.

The main purpose of the Bill is to deal with an objectionable public nuisance. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will be familiar with complaints from their constituents about the character of much public advertising, the covers of books and magazines, and other forms of articles and merchandise publicly displayed, and also about things that come through letter boxes uninvited. I believe that it was right that the more excessive inhibitions of the Victorian age should be discarded and a greater frankness introduced into the public discussion of many subjects, the very mention of which not so long ago would have been frowned upon. But in my view this frankness has been exploited for commercial ends; it has been used not to broaden freedom but to exploit for commercial gain.

There has been a commercial competition to break down the ordinary reticences and to indulge with impunity in increasingly outrageous displays. At least, the overwhelming majority of people are outraged. This trend has been reinforced by some no doubt small but extreme radical elements whose avowed end is to break up society by uprooting all standards in this sphere. These trends are defended in the name of freedom. They are not an exercise of freedom but a negation of it.

We recognise the need to control material development in various ways to prevent the environment being polluted—I refer to buildings, advertisements, and so forth—but this is so not only in the physical but in the aesthetic sense. Exactly the same principle justifies the imposition of a standard of restraint on material which is publicly displayed.

In this, as in some other areas, the rôle of the criminal law is not to make a sharp distinction between right and wrong. Ideally, this is an area where the community should set standards of restraint which are generally observed, but experience has shown that the machinery of social restraint is breaking down in this area, and the criminal law must therefore step in to serve as a buttress to other standards and as a guide to the aims that society should set itself.

I realise that this may be attacked as an extension of censorship, but I stress to everybody that the Bill is not concerned with and has nothing to do with censorship. In this area there is a danger of allowing slogans to become a substitute for thought.

Censorship can take countless forms. In its strict sense, however, it is the power of the Government to suppress various forms of expression. No such power is introduced by the Bill in any way at all.

This whole issue is a good deal more complex than is often recognised. The call for an overall tightening up of the laws dealing with pornography is just as over-simplified as is the campaign for their total repeal. Our laws recognise that the circumstances of the various media differ substantially. Some media are aimed at the public at large, some are specially aimed at the home, some have special attractions for children, and the editorial control varies according to the organisation of the different media.

These differences are reflected in the existence of two standards in our law—obscenity and indecency.

Obscenity is a narrow standard, a long stop, which prohibits only material which is likely to cause positive harm, and this is prohibited in all circumstances, including private transactions. Indecency, on the other hand, is a broader standard which applies to material which may shock or disgust. Because this standard covers so much more, its use in the criminal law is confined broadly to the public situation as opposed to the private transaction.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)

Before leaving that point, will the right hon. Gentleman clarify what he said about the Bill's not introducing censorship? Clause 8 makes it an offence to produce indecent words.

Mr. Carr

For public display. It is not sufficient simply to deal with visual display. Certainly we are concerned with visual display, and I am not aware of audible display which has hitherto caused trouble. But when dealing with legislation we should cope with the possibility of audible display as well as visual display. I think that is all that the clause does, but I believe that it should do it. It is not introducing censorship into what can be said or done. It is merely saying that display includes the magnification, the uttering by sound in a public place, of material which, if displayed visually, would also be indecent. It is right to provide for that as well as for visual display.

We are on Second Reading, and no doubt that and many other matters can be argued in Committee. When my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State concludes the debate he will no doubt be able to reply to the hon. Gentleman on this and any other points that may raised. When drafting the Bill we believed that it was not sufficient merely to cover visual display, though I fully accept that visual display is the main, if not the only, cause of worry at the moment.

Every aspect of this subject has been extensively discussed in recent years. In particular, much work has been done voluntarily leading to the production of various reports. As Home Secretary, of all the matters on which I have to speak the easiest to be reported upon is any utterance on this subject. Therefore, this is clearly a popular subject, whatever else it is.

A working party, under the auspices of a conference convened by the Arts Council some years ago, while recommending widespread repeals, on the one hand, nevertheless believed, on the other, that we should retain safeguards for the young and against public display.

More recently, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and his study group produced an interesting examination of the whole of this subject with a variety of recommendations for substantial changes in the law which their authors hoped would serve to cut back significantly the availability of pornography in every way.

In addition, a sub-committee of the Society of Conservative Lawyers, under the chairmanship of my hon. and learned Friend, before he became Solicitor-General, produced a rather shorter report, which also recommended, with the same end in view, changes in the law concerning both obscenity and indecent display. Then, last Session, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Sir Gilbert Longden) introduced a Private Member's Bill, the aim of which was similar to the proposals contained in this Bill. I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend and to my hon. Friend for their contributions to the development of our ideas and of opinion generally on this subject.

All these discussions demonstrated the great difficulties of making satisfactory improvements in the general provisions which control the various media. However, they show a pretty wide general consensus for the view that, whatever people should be able to choose to read or see in private, there ought to be more effective control over what is thrust on the public when they have no choice in the matter. It is accordingly this aspect with which the main provisions of the Bill deal.

I should emphasise that the fact that the Bill does not deal with the substantive provisions in the obscenity law, which it leaves entirely untouched, is not to be taken as implying any relaxation in those provisions any more than any tightening up.

The number of prosecutions for obscenity under the present law continues to show a small but steady increase, and, more important, the seizures and destruction of obscene material by the police have been on a scale which appears now to be limiting the availability of this material. I certainly do not contemplate any relaxation in these endeavours, and it would not be right for there to be no control whatsoever on material that circulates even in private,

However that may be—there will be differing views—I must emphasise again that the Bill does not touch that aspect of the problem. But I believe that whatever people choose to see or read in relative privacy a much stricter standard should apply to what is publicly displayed. The analogy with street loitering is a close one. I believe that some of us too easily forget the appearance of many of our metropolitan streets before the passing of the Street Offences Act in 1959.

That Act played an effective part in making it possible once again for ordinary people and their families to go about without the affront and embarrassment of the sight of women loitering for prostitution. I believe that the time has come to make a similar clearance in our streets and public places of the offensive advertising and other displays which have become commonplace in recent years, and are spreading.

I emphasise that the object of the Bill is to remove indecent material from public view. The Bill does not remove it from circulation. Indeed, the relevant provisions in the Bill do not apply to places where people deliberately pay for the entertainment in question. What the Bill does is to remove this material from the public gaze, and I believe that there is wide support for that objective among people of varying views about the basic question of the law of obscenity.

Perhaps the single most important feature of the Bill is the meaning of "indecent." It will be seen that the Bill contains no definition of that word. I assure the House that this is a matter to which I gave a great deal of thought, and I shall be surprised if it is not a matter to which the Committee returns when we discuss the Bill at that more detailed stage. I have, however, been interested to note that most—not all, of course—of the comment that has been made so far has supported this omission, on the ground that any definition is likely only to lead to refinements of legal argument. It was precisely for that reason that no such definition was included.

I do not think that this is likely to lead to any difficulty in practice. The legal position is that the meaning of "indecent" in a statute has to be deduced from its context. In this context the word has featured in statutes for well over a century, and the courts do not appear to have found any difficulty, in practice, in interpreting it. Its primary sense is of sexual impropriety in the various forms that that may take. It is, however, clear that the sense of the word goes wider than that and covers material which outrages or affronts conventions. It would, therefore, cover, for example, offensive pictures of the deliberate infliction of torture.

I have seen it argued that the interpretation of this word, if undefined, is likely to vary from district to district, and that it is wrong to leave it to the decision of individual magistrates, but I do not believe that those are valid criticisms. Obviously, the meaning of a term such as "indecency" changes over long periods, and it is clear to many of us from our own experiences that there are variations in different areas. What is wrong with that? There are individual parts of the country where stricter standards of restraint apply than elsewhere—stricter perhaps than here in the metropolis—and I see nothing wrong in a provision which may be so interpreted that it enforces a greater degree of restraint where this is in line with the standards of the local community. I do not see merit in trying to seek a centralised, uniform, universal definition which does not take account of local variations in opinion and feeling.

I believe that the public themselves have a considerable rôle to play in the operation of legislation of this kind, by having the chance to make known to the enforcement authorities what it is that they find objectionable when publicly displayed. It is understandable that the ineffectiveness of the existing law may have deterred complaints of that kind from being made to the police, but when the Bill has been passed that excuse will no longer be available. I have no doubt that the task of the police and the courts in making these provisions effective will be greatly helped if individual members of the public make known to the police the kind of material the display of which they find offensive.

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

Is my right hon. Friend likely to give any guidelines to the Metropolitan Police about what might be regarded as offensive material? I ask that because of what he said about these provisions applying to matters not only of a sexual nature but of a sadistic nature.

Mr. Carr

I shall consider what my hon. Friend has said. My instinct—and I believe that it is correct—is not to give guidance to the police. There is some doubt about the extent to which Home Secretaries should give guidance to the police. I believe that once the law is brought up to date and made adequate it will soon become apparent to the police, from the complaints made to them not by the Home Secretary but by ordinary people—and, for that matter, by Members of Parliament passing on views which they receive from their constituents—what lines to pursue. I do not want to be dogmatic, but I rather shy away from the thought of giving such guidance to the police.

I now turn from the general principles to the specific provisions of the Bill. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State will deal with some of these in more detail at the end of the debate. There are, however, several matters which I should particularly like to draw to the attention of the House now.

Part I of the Bill resolves some anomalies which have emerged in our system of film censorship—and they really are anomalies. This system subjects films that are shown in the commercial public cinema to the control of the local licensing authorities, but other exhibitions are exempt from that control, just as they are from the operation of the Obscene Publications Acts unless they are given in a private dwelling-house to which the public are not admitted. It seems extraordinary that something that can be done in private in our own sitting rooms is subject to the law of obscenity, yet something that is done in a film club is not. I cannot believe that that is not an anomaly and that it should be allowed to continue.

Equally, we believe that those films shown under the label "clubs", for commercial gain, should not be exempt as they are now. The only way of dealing with them is through provisions in the old common law, which most people believe are so defective that the prosecution would rightly be open to criticism if it tried to resort to them.

Part I seeks to remedy the situation by ensuring that exhibitions which are now exempt shall in future be subject either to the control of the local licensing authorities or to the provisions of the Obscene Publications Acts.

The main category that will be brought within the scope of the licensing authorities will be exhibitions promoted for private gain, many of which are already virtually indistinguishable from public performances. In addition, film society exhibitions for which a charge is made and which it is desired to advertise will, in future, if the Bill is passed in its present form, be brought within the licensing authorities' control.

I know that that latter provision is causing anxiety to the film society movement. The provision is, however, intended as a long-stop to prevent the exploitation of controversial films by an irresponsible minority. The procedure has been kept as simple as possible. I stress that within the Bill as drafted licensing authorities have been given power to exempt organisations from its requirements, and, secondly, that the Bill provides a right of appeal.

Part II contains the main provisions concerning public indecent display. The principal offence is created by Clause 6. "Public place" is defined as any place to which the public have access, whether on payment or otherwise, subject to certain exceptions. The certain exceptions are extremely important. One of these exceptions comprises places to which admission is effected only on payment when the payment relates to the very material about which complaint may be made. That is to say, the exclusion does not apply to a railway platform but it does apply to a cinema or theatre. When one pays to visit a cinema or theatre one must be presumed to be taking a choice and not to have something thrust down one's throat, whether or not one likes it. I have already explained the principle which underlines this, and I believe that it is right. Other exceptions are public art galleries and museums, and anything done in the course of broadcasting.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

Is my right hon. Friend certain that all public art galleries are safely excluded? He mentioned the Crown and the local authority, and any body established for charitable purposes. Is my right hon. Friend certain that that definition covers all reputable musuems and art galleries? Will he also address himself to Clause 7? Does that clause mean that what the butler saw is now illegal?

Mr. Carr

On the first part of my hon. Friend's question, I accept that this a difficult matter. I think that he would be probably right on the museums and galleries aspect. We certainly found this a difficult matter of drafting. It is probably a particular area in which good discussion and views will be extremely valuable in Committee. I think that we have got it right on balance. But I confess readily to my hon. Friend that it is not altogether playing it safe. Therefore, good discussion would be welcomed. I promise the House that we shall not take up a rigid view. If we hear good arguments for changes, we shall not be stiff-necked about listening to them.

As to Clause 7, and what the butler saw, yes, it does mean that it is illegal, if what the butler saw was indecent. This was a difficult matter to decide, too, and I suppose that it is really of its own kind in the Bill. The point that I had in mind in including it is that although one has to pay to see what the butler saw, it is very different, as we all recognise, from paying to go to the cinema or the theatre. These machines are placed in arcades. I have particularly in mind that children are particularly prone to visit such arcades. Therefore, in view of some of the examples that have been brought to our attention of what one can see in these peep-show machines, I felt it right to include this. Clause 7 is of its own kind and is, in a sense, an exception to the rest of the Bill. Here again, we shall have interesting arguments in Committee, although I am not sure whether the rules of order permit us to have any visual examination of what I have in mind.

Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)

The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned broadcasting. Will that category of exceptions include closed-circuit television and film shows on cable television?

Mr. Carr

I should be able to tell the hon. Gentleman the answer to that. On the whole, honesty pays in the House, and I confess to him that suddenly, off the cuff, I am not quite sure of the answer. I remember discussing this matter a good many weeks ago with my advisers. I had better ask my hon. Friend to deal with that point when he concludes the debate. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman and to the House for being unable to answer the question straight away.

Broadcasting is already subject to a separate system of control. Both the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Independent Broadcasting Authority already have the obligation to prevent broadcasts which offend against good taste and decency. Therefore, it would not be right to bring them directly within the Bill. But the House may like to know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications has received assurances from the chairmen of both broadcasting authorities that they will interpret their responsibilities in the spirit of the legislation now being introduced, subject to its being passed.

Thanks to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke). I have said all that is needed to say about Clause 7 at present.

I draw attention to the fact that Clause 8 ensures that a ban on visual indecencies shall not be circumvented by resort to the use of offensive records and the like. This matter has already been raised by the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) in an intervention.

Clause 9 closes another loophole by making it an offence to advertise articles which are for sale or hire in public in terms which are not indecent in themselves but clearly suggest the indecency of the article advertised. This is also an area about which we shall need careful discussion in Committee.

Clause 10 deals with the nuisance of unsolicited circulars. Probably most of us, as Members of Parliament, would agree that this is the thing that has troubled many of our constituents more than anything else. The clause replaces Section 4 of the Unsolicited Goods and Services Act 1971, the provisions of which have been found to be defective in a number of ways. The clause will apply not only to indecent matter but also to advertising which suggests that what is being advertised is indecent. I believe that this will be welcomed by many people. The remaining clauses deal with penalties, enforcement and interpretation.

The provisions in Part II replace a group of provisions in the existing law which date from the nineteenth century. It would be wrong for hon. Members to think that we are introducing wholly new concepts into our law. Some of them are new, but most of the law covering this subject at present dates from the nineteenth century. Those provisions which were originally introduced to deal with the same mischief as the subject of the Bill but have proved ineffective for a number of reasons have been replaced. The scope of those old provisions has been shown to be uncertain. They were drafted with reference to circumstances very different from those of today. The penalties were often derisory, and they left a number of serious loopholes. Part II attempts to rationalise and strengthen those old provisions in order to deal with the mischief which I believe constitutes a grave public nuisance, which ought to be drastically restrained.

I repeat that the object of the Bill is not to censor. It is not to stop people believing and seeing and having transactions in private to the extent that they can today. The object of the Bill is to stop things being thrust down people's throats whether or not they like them. For those reasons I commend the Bill to the House.

7.58 p.m.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

I am sorry for the Home Secretary, who believes that every discussion of this subject evokes headlines. I can foresee that tomorrow's newspapers may be preoccupied with things other than public indecency. Nevertheless, what we are discussing, although it does not merit the kind of trailer which has been given to it, is an important Bill. The Opposition support the principle on which it is based.

Pornography is filth. We on the Opposition side of the House would take the view that if people in a free society want to see or read filth, it is a matter for their judgment and their conscience. But where filth is foisted upon people who wish to exercise the freedom to withdraw from this kind of literature, free people have a right to be protected if they are seriously offended.

For that reason, we take the view that the content of films, books or stage presentations is, in general, a matter for the individual and subject to the present law on obscenity, but where there is a public display which is likely to cause offence to reasonable people that display should be limited. Therefore, we shall not vote against the Second Reading of the Bill. However, I am bound to say that the Bill goes further than is necessary to support the principle stated by the Home Secretary today. We shall have substantial criticism to make in Committee of a number of parts of the Bill, and on Third Reading we shall want to see what progress has been made in reviewing its content.

Time and time again, the Home Secretary said that the Bill is not about censorship or obscenity, yet in a number of ways it extends the area of censorship. If he wishes to eschew that, clearly the Bill has gone too far and we must limit its provisions. The first area in which it has gone too far is in the fact that Part I ought to have been completely left out. It may be that what goes on in the average cinema club, particularly those in private houses where there is an admission charge, is totally reprehensible. But people have a free choice about whether to pay to see what is showing, and by extending to private cinema clubs the censorship provisions governing the public presentation of films one is undoubtedly extending the area of censorship, and that has to be justified. I do not think that it is necessary so to extend them, and we shall table amendments to restrict Part I solely to cover the definition of "obscenity".

The definition of "indecency" is the second area where the Bill is too wide. The Home Secretary said that the definition of "indecency "is best left to the courts, because standards change from time to time and between different parts of the country, and because—although he did not specifically use these words—it is a matter for subjective judgment which must depend to some extent upon the mind of the court which decides these issues. But because a general concept of this nature is already contained in our law and the courts have to exercise their minds in relation to it, that does not mean to say that we should not set some kind of limit to the way in which it is interpreted.

The Home Secretary said that "indecency" has been held to include violence and the sadistic presentation of violence. We shall have to discuss that point in Committee, but I am not certain that "indecency" includes violence, although we would wish it to do so. That also seems to be the wish of the Home Secretary and of some hon. Members on the other side of the House. Therefore, it might be as well if some provision were put into the Bill to indicate that when we use the word "indecency" we intend it to refer to violence or to the sadistic presentation of violence. It would be better if we were a little clearer on this point.

The most recent case which dealt with the definition of "indecency" was that of Regina v. Stanley in the Court of Appeal in 1965, when the Lord Chief Justice said that the word "indecent" is the same as "obscene", save and except that they are all in a graduated scale and "obscene" is rather higher in the scale than "indecent". But if the word "indecent" means the same as "obscene", clearly the Bill goes rather wider than the Home Secretary intends.

The Home Secretary has said that a display does not include the contents of work, or some of the suggestions which my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) made. There has to be a display in the accepted meaning of the term, but it may be necessary for us to make plain that what we have in mind is a person walking along a public street and being offended by what he can see. I doubt very much whether it is necessary for us to go much further than that. Is it necessary for us to say that if he goes into a building to which he and other members of the public have free access he must be protected against what he might see there, when the nature of the building may be enough to warn him that what he sees will cause him offence? What we are really trying to stop is the unjustified and unsolicited portrayal of sex or violence which might cause offence. If a person chooses to go into a building knowing that he may find something that will give him offence, that may be regrettable but it is up to him to protect himself by not going into the building. Therefore, I should like to define a little more closely what is said about public display in Clause 6.

I accept that the moving picture machine has been a stock joke for many years. On the odd occasions when I have looked at "What the Butler Saw," he did not seem to have seen very much, and I doubt whether it requires all the majesty of the law to prevent it. I hear sotto voce whispers from the Minister that he has seen more than I have seen and even more than what the butler saw. That indicates the real difficulty in this field. Whenever one discusses this subject with Home Office or with the Director of Public Prosecutions, they always have more filth in their drawers than any pornographic merchant.

Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)

Does my hon. Friend mean by that that Ministers of State and other Home Office Ministers are corrupt?

Mr. Lyon

I shall come to that point in due course.

I emphasise what the Home Secretary said. The Bill is not, and should not be, about obscenity. It should not be about what might deprave or corrupt. It is simply about what might cause offence on public display. It is a public nuisance Bill. It is not a censorship Bill. If we could keep to that line I think that would be acceptable to the vast majority of hon. Members.

If the Home Secretary has been looking at what the butler should not have seen and has been corrupted, it is another area of the law which should deal with that and not this Bill. After all, the Home Secretary pointed to the discretion. One must pay to see what the butler saw. One must make the choice.

It is not an issue on which I would go to the stake. I merely say that one has extended to a small degree the area of censorship and one is not concerned about public display. By its very nature it is not public.

The next matter is the question of indecent sounds. I confess that I do not know what these are. I have a shrewd suspicion that the Home Secretary does not know what they are and that we are legislating for the future when modern technology may be able to project orally what at present it must project visually to promote porn. We had better wait till technology reaches that stage before we try to define what protection the ordinary individual should have in relation to it.

I will listen with interest to all the information available to the Home Office when we get into Committee on what might be indecent sounds, but I suspect that here again we are straying into an area of censorship, and, in so far as indecent sounds are taken to mean words as well, I am not at all sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Putney is not right in saying that here at least is a question of considerable importance. Let us take the case of someone on Speakers' Corner who is exercising his freedom to say what he likes. Though what he says is not obscene, it may be considered to be indecent by some of his listeners. If he is then taken to be orally displaying within the meaning of Clause 8, this might be an area in which free speech is in danger.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I remind the hon. Gentleman of the existing law, which dates back to 1828 under the Town Police Clauses Act, which provides that anybody who sings any profane or obscene song or ballad shall be guilty of an offence. This is merely widening that. Has not the hon. Gentleman had the opportunity of listening to the well-known record "John and Marcia", which records sounds made during sexual intercourse?

Mr. Lyon

I suspect that our sojourn in Committee will be of extreme interest and of educational value. I have not had the opportunity of listening to that record. No doubt provision will be made for playing it to us so that we know what we are dealing with. I look forward with interest to what the hon. Gentleman will have to say about that in Committee.

The next question is in relation to advertising. A somewhat hysterical article appeared in The Guardian this morning based upon a so-called legal opinion which was available to one of the societies which has been writing to us about the Bill. On most of the counts I found it of little help, but I think that there is something in the suggestion about advertising. I thought that I caught a whisper from the Home Secretary that he is a little uneasy about Clause 9.

It is obviously right, in relation to Clause 10 dealing with unsolicited material, that the law which was first put forward by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) has been found to be deficient. Although persons do not now send the indecent material, they send the advertising material which describes the indecent material and thereby gives almost as much offence to those who receive it. The gravamen of the mischief there is the unsolicited nature of the material. It is the invasion of privacy which causes offence there. To apply the same test to advertising in general goes too far.

I see that Mr. Paul Raymond, when asked how he would tell the passing public what was going on inside the Whitehall Theatre, was left to describe the naked ladies in his show. I assume that it was for that reason that the clause was inserted into the Bill, because the description itself might give offence. That would be pressing too hard the tender susceptibilities of anybody who might be passing by.

What I think causes offence at present is the portrayal of what goes on inside by means of pictures in the advertise- ments. If we can get rid of that, we shall have done all we need to do to reduce offence caused to passers-by. I do not think that we then have to go on to look at the kind of description in words which might be given in its place to advertise what is going on inside. We might very well trespass into the area of censorship generally if we were to try to limit words rather than pictures in this way.

I am therefore a little uneasy about the advertising provision, and we shall do our best to suggest helpful amendments. I am sure that the whole clause will need to be discussed carefully in Committee, and it may be that it is not needed in the Bill.

The next question arises on trial by jury. If we are to decide what is indecency by the standards of the reasonable man, which is the way that the law normally interprets these matters, the reasonable man ipso facto being the court which decides it, there is a case for saying, even in relation to this kind of offence which will merely be a public mischief offence rather than a more serious matter of obscenity, that on occasions judges would be assisted by knowing what a jury would say in relation to the kind of material that is being put before the court.

It is true that under the Bill the prosecution will be able to elect, if it wishes, to go on trial by jury and probably will choose so to elect in a case which causes it some difficulty. However, it would be much better if defendants were allowed to go for trial by jury in borderline cases. It is inconceivable that defendants would want to go for trial by jury in cases which were clearly proved because the punishment which will be available to the court on indictment will be so much greater than that available to the court on summary conviction. Therefore, I do not think that the election will be taken up in most cases but it is right that defendants should be able to elect for a jury trial if they wish so to elect and if they think that the law is being unusually onerous in their case.

For that reason I should prefer that Clause 11 were so amended as to make it possible to elect for trial by jury. This could be done by simply extending the term of imprisonment to four months. I have no doubt that the House would be prepared to accept that if it accepted the general principle.

I come now to a matter which causes us some concern on this side, which my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) has asked me specifically to raise; namely, the arrest provisions. It seems to us that in the present circumstances of pornography the law has not proved deficient merely because an officer has to ask for a warrant before he may make an arrest. If a bookseller has taken premises, obviously he will not change his premises because there is the possibility of an arrest. Where the display is on a public hoarding, or where there is some kind of permanent cinematograph display, for instance, it is inconceivable that it will be easily moved because a police officer is likely to apply for a warrant.

I cannot see why it is necessary to give the police this extra power of arrest, and there is one aspect of the matter which worries us a little. None of us wishes to over-emphasise any element of corruption in the police, and I do not think that we should, but it undoubtedly exists, and where it exists it is to be found mainly in relation to two areas of crime enforcement—one in connection with drugs; the other in connection with pornography.

If one is to give an individual constable on the beat the power to arrest, there may be the possibility of opening up another avenue of corruption. I put it no higher than that, but it is a risk, and I do not see that the risk is justified by any gain that we make by extending the powers of arrest of the average constable.

Mr. Norman Fowler (Nottingham, South)

The hon. Gentleman is making the mistake of assuming that the trader will remain in business. Surely, the main characteristics of this kind of trade are that front men are put in, and when a summons is served on the front men they disappear. We are not here dealing with a trader who remains in business over any period of time.

Mr. Lyon

On the contrary, it is the hon. Gentleman, I suggest, who is making a mistake about the context of the Bill. We are concerned here with public display, not with the character of the books or what is inside them or even the permanent operation of providing dirty books or dirty displays. The issue here is what one can see as one passes along the street, and that is likely to be there at least long enough for a warrant to be obtained, if one is required. We are not dealing in that sense, therefore, with a fly-by-night operation. At least, I do not think so. I am willing to be persuaded, but I do not think so.

I hope, as the Home Secretary hopes, that the upshot of the Bill will be that we shall clean up our streets in a way that will allow people to walk through Soho without any sense of distress. I hope that that is right. But I do not hope that we shall put burdens which we do not put at present upon the ordinary citizen who may wish to read or see pornography, it being his choice whether he wants to wallow in filth or not.

I give one illustration. It is clear from the Bill, I think, that the front cover of at least some editions of Playboy and Mayfair may in future have to be tidied up. I hope so. I shall feel a little easier walking into a W. H. Smith bookshop on the average railway station if that is so. But I consider that it would be going too far if such a document were taken by the average citizen into a railway train, on to the Underground or into some other public place, there to be opened by him in such a way as to make it visible, and he were then liable to be prosecuted under the Bill.

I see nothing in the Bill which excludes that, because it does not say that the public display has to be for commercial gain. It may be that this also is an aspect of the matter on which we shall have to amend the Bill in order to limit it to the purposes for which it was clearly intended, and which we should support.

Most of the questions which I have raised have been Committee points, but that was inevitable, given that we accept the general principle of the Bill. I hope, however, that I have said enough to show that it is not sufficient simply to state the principle and then hope that the Bill has translated that principle into effective legislative action. Indeed, I doubt that it has in this case. I think that it may do so by the time we reach Third Reading. I hope that that will be so, and that the Home Secretary and other Ministers will be willing to concede such reasonable amendments as we can produce in Committee. If that is done, the Bill will, I hope, do a great deal to ensure that ordinary people are not affronted in future as they have been in the past.

8.26 p.m.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

That was a cautious speech, I thought. The hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) reserved his position somewhat, and he confirmed the suspicion which I had before he spoke that we are probably in for a rather difficult Committee stage. Those who find it difficult to oppose my right hon. Friend's logic on the principle of the Bill will, I think, not hesitate to try to divert him—I shall not say defeat him—in detail, and some of the comments of the hon. Member for York confirm me in that belief.

Moreover, I am not convinced that the acceptance by the hon. Gentleman of the general principles, signifying, therefore, general agreement on the Bill in this Chamber, will in all respects necessarily affect opinion outside the House. I think that there will be a great deal of damning with faint praise, and also, I suspect, some outright opposition to the whole Bill.

I am glad, therefore, of this fleeting opportunity to commend what my right hon. Friend is trying to do, since it may be a short-lived triumph. As he himself said, every course he could have taken on this desperately difficult subject was open to attack either from Lord Longford's friends or from his enemies, and, as he rightly said, he has endeavoured to steer the middle course.

My right hon. Friend has chosen a course which some of us—I think that we are entitled to claim this—have been urging for some time, namely, an attempt to distinguish between private behaviour, which is not our business—or ought not to be our business—and public behaviour, which is. That is the broad approach of the Bill, and it was the principle, as my right hon. Friend said, which was adopted in respect of the Wolfenden proposals in regard to both homosexual behaviour and prostitution, and to some extent it was the approach which we adopted, though perhaps in a rather different way, in regard to gambling.

Before he has finished, my right hon. Friend will be accused of humbug, and of pushing the thing under the carpet, as was his predecessor when the Wolfenden proposals on street offences were put through. But he ought not to be overmuch concerned about that. Many charges, I am sure, will be levelled against my right hon. Friend by people who do not want anything done at all. I think that they are wrong.

The hon. Member for York has dwelt at some length—and no doubt quite correctly—on the Committee stage, I shall offer some general reflections on the Bill. I think that pornography, hard and soft, has become something of a growth industry. It is still growing. I do not see what is to stop its continual growth. I do not see any sort of end in sight. We do not have to prove that it is undermining our society. Emphatically, it is not. As my right hon. Friend has said, the machinery of social restraint is breaking down. Therefore, the criminal law must be brought in to redress the balance. Pornography is only a small part of that collapse of our social order.

It could be argued that much of the stuff which is being purveyed, and particularly displayed, is not doing some sections of our society much good either. One of the paradoxes—and there are a number of them here—is our growing and intense concern about mental health but our unwillingness to admit that there may be a minority—and I suspect that there is—which is adversely affected by some of this exploitation of human nastiness. That is not a reference to sex or the cover of Playboy. I am referring to sadism and perversion which is an increasingly popular form of commercial exploitation.

As to our rights to interfere, I have always been struck by an analogy which Lord Devlin put forward. In his essay about enforcement of morals he rightly said that every man had the right to get drunk inside his home every night of his life if he wished. We could not interfere with that. But suppose, said Lord Devlin, that a quarter of the nation, a third of the nation, or a half of the nation, decided to get drunk in their homes every night? Would the State not then feel a need to interfere? That is a rather good analogy. When we consider the public display of some of the stuff which we are now discussing it will be seen to come close to the example which Lord Devlin puts forward.

Part of Lord Devlin's argument was in opposition to the general doctrine of John Stuart Mill. The strange thing about John Stuart Mill and his essay On Liberty, often quoted, is that it is seldom read right through. Perhaps the hon. Member for York will remember that there is a passage in the essay in which Mill excepts from his liberal generalisations children and says that the State has a distinct duty to protect children, whatever attitude we may take about the right of the individual to do things which do not hurt other people. That exception seems relevant and in a sense it is the aspect which should be stressed. In 1955 we quickly enacted the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act to deal with horror comics. They were mainly imported. I do not recall any beating of breasts then about the obscenity of censorship or the fact that we were clobbering material which was otherwise circulating freely. It seems now that children may enter a bit into Clause 7.

Hon. Members will know who I mean by Dr. Benjamin Spock, who, I believe, has brought many American children into this world. He describes himself, or he did, as an uncompromising social libertarian. He seems to be a respectable chap for a Conservative hon. Member to quote. His views on this matter have undergone some change. There is one passage which is relevant to the Bill which I shall quote. It appears in his book which is entitled, "Decent and Indecent." He says: The abrupt and aggressive breaking down of inhibitions can be disturbing to a society as a whole and particularly to its children, even if sincere efforts are made to shield children. This seems more risky when a society already has soaring rates of delinquency and crime, an insatiable appetite for brutality on television and what I consider an unprecedented loss of belief in man's worthiness. That is an important passage. Dr. Spock has almost gone a cycle in his libertarian beliefs. He is there saying something which people should think about when we discuss the Bill in greater detail.

There is also the right to be protected from the outrageous, the shocking or the appalling, either singly or in family groups. That remains a valued freedom. It is not only children who merit protect- tion. Older people are shocked. I have received distressed letters from elderly constituents who have unsolicited material pushed in their mail. We need not dwell too much on the protection of young children. Nor do I accept the cynical view that they know all about it from six years upwards.

The elderly are deeply offended by some of the material which, at random, has been flying through their mail. In so far as Part 2 meets that obligation, I endorse it, but I am much less confident about Part 1. First, it seems that the film industry generally is in an almost unrescuable state of financial and moral collapse. Television has driven the film world into some very strange channels. Some of it is now in a state of malodorous decay.

We have our own methods of control, which Part I is designed to supplement. What I doubt—and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I have had exchanges about this—is whether even our existing controls contained in our certificate system, are working effectively in respect of children and young people. I doubt whether many young people are challenged about their age when they go to the cinema and even if they are often there are a great many minors working in cinemas. The age limit was raised from 16 to 18 in 1970. But this, like the question about where television stands—and I am not quite satisfied with what my right hon. Friend said about television and the two broadcasting organisations—is something we can take our time on in Committee.

I return to the nature of the challenge which my right hon. Friend will face over the Bill. I am not deluded by the relatively calm reception his Bill has received after a strenuous day in the House today. It has always seemed to me extremely odd that this outbreak of pornography and degradation for profit should coincide with our enormous concern about the environment. Leaving morality to one side, it can hardly be contested that some of the muck which is flaunted in London, particularly in Soho, is downright ugly. As Pamela Hansford Johnson, otherwise known as Lady Snow, said Yes, and raising ugliness all round us. No beauty, terrible or otherwise, is being born. Soho is a nightmare of ugliness, and so is the facade of many a cinema. That is true, yet to some to clean this up is a deprivation of liberty. Surely that is a great nonsense. We are appalled by smog, but not by pervasive smut. There is a great gap in logic and thinking there.

There is another odd aspect. There are a great number of radical figures currently striking attitudes about sex discrimination. That is the exploitation of woman by man, as I understand it. But what else are the strip clubs or the girlie magazines or those titillating cinema displays and, indeed, some of Mr. Murdoch's newspapers? Dignity seems to me to be indivisible here. I understand that my right hon. Friend is to produce a Bill about sex discrimination. I confess that the subject does not excite me, but there are radical people who are excited by it. There is no doubt a clear dividing line between exploiting women for prostitution, which is still subject to criminal punishment, and exploiting them for blue films, for kinky voyeurs. Where that line is to be drawn baffles me. Perhaps it will be clearer to other hon. Members.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Surely my right hon. Friend is saying that if we are to protect ourselves from the pollution of the environment we should equally protect ourselves from the pollution of the human mind in public. It is just a different form of pollution.

Mr. Deedes

I am asking, what about sex discrimination? People will defend all sorts of things being done in the name of what we are discussing tonight, but not in the name of office workers. The Obscene Publications Act has underlined the extraordinary difficulty of seeking any close definition of such words as "deprave and corrupt", and I am relieved that my right hon. Friend has avoided them. How those words are to be interpreted is to be left to the courts, and we should be unwise to exaggerate what the consequences will be. This is how the theatres were left after the censor was abolished by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss). Some managers then expressed the fear that they would be overtaken by prosecutions, that they would put on shows and would not know what was to happen to them until the third night. I do not think that in fact a single theatre has been prosecuted since the right hon. Gentleman's Bill reached the statute book.

There will be considerable disparity between the decisions of different courts. My right hon. Friend defends this and appears rather to like the idea. But one newsagent may well find himself in hot water whereas another, for something much more offensive, may keep out of it. My right hon. Friend, moreover, will be swimming against the tide of opinion in favour of standardised punishments, though it is not a tide which I support. There will be less difficulty about Clause 10, which deals with unsolicited articles through the mail, because the clause offers a flat standard of judgment and there will be fewer problems.

I do not believe that the Government can be accused, as I am sure they will be by some Members of the Opposition, of tackling this problem with a sledgehammer. It is a very limited curb on the rapid commercialised debasement of our culture, and I do not think that any reasonable man will be persuaded easily that it represents a serious invasion of his liberty.

Nor am I persuaded that these infringements of human dignity—to put it mildly—add very much to the sum of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If they made everyone more cheerful, they might be excused. But they do not. However, so long as they add appreciably to the wealth of a minority, they will continue—as the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), when Home Secretary, said about gambling—to contribute a criminal fringe to the business. Where profits such as these are to be made there will be the roughest kind of rivalry, as we have seen in other parts of the world.

A check is overdue and, before the Bill is assailed for its omissions and because it is alleged to be unworkable, I believe that it should be said that the principle is right. Whether it is workable will depend not simply on my right hon. Friend or his enforcement officers but upon how strong-minded we are to prevent the destruction of our culture by techniques which, when seeking the demoralisation of subject races, the Nazis on occasion found most valuable.

8.43 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Davidson (Accrington)

The right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) is always very anticipatory. Oddly enough, it had been my intention to say, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested someone would, that this is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Unfortunately, although I go along with the intentions of the Home Secretary, I do not believe that he will crack the nut that he wants to crack with this sledgehammer. That is one of my objections to the Bill and the way that it is drafted.

If the Home Secretary was likely to succeed in getting rid of hard-core pornography, he would have no greater supporter than me. He will not get rid of it with this Bill. To do the right hon. Gentleman justice, he has not suggested that he will get rid of it. But a lot of people believe that that is what the Bill is intended to do.

The Home Secretary knows that those who profit by selling pornography will continue to do so. They will continue to operate, though a little more underground than present. Their profits will increase. They will carry on their sleazy trade. They will engage their protection boys to look after their interests. They will in no way be affected by the Bill.

My fear is that ordinary, decent newsagents and booksellers will find themselves in great difficulty as a result of the way in which the Bill is drafted. At present booksellers and newsagents sell some of the magazines which have been referred to, such as Playboy and Penthouse. I have never read them and have no wish to do so. However, they appear to be widely read. We are told that the Government believe in competition and free enterprise. People seem to buy the magazines; otherwise, they would not be sold. I fear that the newsagents will no longer be able to sell such magazines, which are certainly not pornographic, even if a bit indecent, but they will be sold underground by the hard-core pornographers. We shall then have a situation that the Home Secretary does not want. We are in danger of increasing the profits of the very people that everyone is opposed to.

I never lecture hon. Members on the law, because there are far more distinguished lawyers than I in the House. But one of the basic principles of the law is that if one creates a criminal offence one should define that offence. That is elementary, because if people are put at risk they should know how they are likely to offend the law. The Bill not only does not define what "indecent" is, but takes pride in not defining it. Newsagents will be perplexed to know whether they should display particular magazines. Perhaps they will not display them, when in fact they would have had no trouble with the law in displaying them. Because the law is so deliberately vague they will not dare take the risk. Once again, ordinary, decent citizens will be penalised, and we shall play into the hands of the very people who will take the risk and pocket the profits.

How far does the Bill go? I was brought up in a very Tory town, in Southport. There is no more respectable town in the world. A traditional form of amusement in seaside resorts is what might be called the suggestive postcard, of ladies with rather large bottoms and even larger bosoms, of henpecked husbands and rather suggestive jokes. Such cards could well be termed indecent as the Bill stands. Presumably we shall no longer be allowed to send them home.

I hope that when the Conservative Party next meets in Blackpool its members will be careful about sending such cards through the post. Not only will the newsagent be in trouble for displaying them, but they will be in trouble for sending them to me unsolicited. That illustrates the absurdity of the Bill. It is far too wide. It will hit the things that are basically harmless while allowing those that are menacing to continue.

I wish to refer to Clause 9, which deals with advertisements. Paragraph (a) defines what a public place is. That is all right, but paragraph (b) cannot stand. It reads: Where any article is advertised as being for sale or hire in any place and … (b) the advertisement is likely to be taken as indicating that the article consists of or contains indecent matter … the person advertising the article shall be guilty of an offence. To some people almost anything may be taken as likely to indicate that an article consistes of indecent matter, and to some people nothing is indecent. Once again, the wording is so wide that it would let loose a whole range of prosecutions, and I am sure that the Home Secretary does not want that to happen.

I agree entirely that the public should be protected from having indecent matter or offensive material thrust down their unwilling throats, but I also think that people should be protected from narrow-minded interfering busybodies launching prosecutions on completely trivial matters just because they regard those matters as in some way indecent. I fear that the Bill will open the floodgates to that sort of prosecution. There should at least be provision in the Bill to limit prosecutions to the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Attorney-General. Otherwise, there will be a whole succession of prosecutions and a whole succession of definitions given by different courts, which will lead to a throughly unsatisfactory state of affairs because everybody in the long run will be left in a state of uncertainty.

My instinct is to oppose the Bill, but I do not think that it is worth opposing. It is a lot of fuss over nothing because the evil that the Bill seeks to mend will not be mended by it. What is it that people complain of? First, they complain about material that they regard as offensive coming through their letterboxes. I quite agree that that is wrong and should be dealt with, and I am fully behind the Home Secretary in that. I do not think that his definition of "indecent" is correct. It is too wide. It should be made narrower and much more definite. As one who was involved in the introduction of the Unsolicited Goods and Services Bill, I think that it is wrong that private letter-boxes and doorsteps should be used for commercial ends.

The second complaint that is made to me is that there are too many sex films. That may or may not be so, but those films will not be affected by the Bill. If, as people say, their freedom of choice is limited because they cannot go into a cinema without seeing a sex scene, that freedom of choice will not be affected because those films will continue to be made. The danger is that they will not be advertised as such and people will go into the cinema believing that they are going to see one type of film whereas they will, in fact, see a film of quite a different type. That cannot be right. That is not protection. That is exposing the public to the very danger that they do not want to be exposed to.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

The Greater London Council is recommending that there should be displayed in the foyer a description of the film being shown so that the public are forewarned. In their confusion the Government appear to be recommending precisely the opposite to what the GLC thinks it right to do.

Mr. Davidson

The people should know what they are going to see, and this should be clearly stated. There is now showing in the West End a film entitled "I was a Teenage Virgin". One knows from the title what one is going to see One does not have to see the film, and, in my view, one is daft to go and see such a film. Certainly somebody does not have to stand outside the cinema and gaze at the stills to know what the film is about. However, I suppose that similar films will continue to be made and might be called by some other title. I hesitate to suggest one myself.

I wonder whether the Home Secretary can tell me how newspapers will be affected by this legislation. Newspapers are on public display. What will happen in respect of billboards advertising newspapers. We all know that the News of the World is a great upholder of morality and takes a high stand on social and political issues. But its front pages in two recent editions contained some rather explicit headlines. One headline on 4th November read "Poisoned wife's sex secret" with the sub-heading "I lost count of her lovers', says husband". If that were advertised as such, that advertisement would be likely to be taken as indicating that the article consisted of or contained indecent matter. Could that particular headline be exposed in that newspaper by being displayed in a newsagents' shop?

Another headline in the News of the World on 11th November read "Strip king's secret diary". That, to me, indicated something likely to consist of indecent matter. Can that headline be displayed or can it not? This is one of the uncertainties thrown up by the Bill.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

But that is not indecent.

Mr. Davidson

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) says that that is not indecent. My hon. Friend is an expert in industrial relations, and I would never dream of interrupting him—[Interruption.] There is nothing on which my hon. Friend has not ideas, as we all know. But there are many people who would regard the contents of that article as indecent.

Mr. Heffer

Since my hon. Friend is going out of his way to be insulting to me—and I was certainly not trying to be insulting to him—let me tell him what I am saying. I am saying that the headlines in a newspaper are not a display which would be offensive to people, and, having seen those headlines, people do not have to buy the newspaper. The point at issue is that ordinary people can walk down the street and see obscene displays that they do not wish to see. It is offensive to them and to their families. It is not the same argument, and my hon. Friend should know as much about this subject as I know about industrial relations.

Mr. Davidson

I know slightly more. Perhaps that would be carrying the argument too far. I do not wish to carry on a dispute with my hon. Friend, because I am very fond of him. It is a little odd for him to suggest that somebody else is insulting him. We all know that this is something he would never be to anybody else.

My hon. Friend is wrong in his approach. The headline would be on display; the advertisement on the newsstand would display the headlines. That display must come within the Bill's provisions, and, therefore, my hon. Friend, with great respect to him, is wrong. The Home Secretary must clear up the point. I could go on and on about the anomalies which the Bill would throw up.

The Bill is so badly drafted that inevitably it will cause a great deal of trouble for enforcing authorities in future. I feel that it is not worth opposing for the reasons I have given. Candidly, it is a litle odd that at this time, particularly on this day when we are faced with the worst balance of payments crisis in our history, we should be discussing a Bill of such triviality.

9 p.m.

Sir Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)

The hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) seemed to suggest that he was in agreement with the objectives of the Bill as described by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman quoted his words.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

I am in agreement with what the Home Secretary wants to do, which is to get rid of offensive or indecent displays to which people object as they are walking along the street. That is what the Home Secretary wants to do and I am in complete agreement with him on that.

Sir Gilbert Longden

I am glad to hear that. But the hon. Gentleman did not say how he would do it. Indeed, he devoted his speech to criticising the Bill, and most of that criticism was misconceived. The Bill has nothing to do with the content of films shown in cinemas, although it will sweep under the carpet the offensive matter that he dislikes just as much as we do. That is what happened to the prostitutes, but it has not led to an increase in prostitution. It is something to do that, The hon. Gentleman also underrated the intelligence of newsagents if he thought that they would not be able to decide what was and what was not going to cause offence. In short, I disagree with the hon. Gentleman's views.

As my right hon. Friend said, on 13th April I moved the Second Reading of a Bill which had all-party support and sought to do what parts of Part II of this Bill seek to do. My Bill, as he also said, was the result of the deliberations of a sub-committee of the Society of Conservative Lawyers, of which my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General was then the chairman and my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) was the vice-chairman. My Bill was their Bill, but I had been lucky in the Ballot, and, with their assent, I appropriated their Bill to give what my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) called a "nudge" to the Government.

It was a good debate, as the Home Secretary has admitted. I had many letters from all over the United Kingdom and the United States about that debate, as it was widely reported there, too. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State responded on that occasion by promising legislative proposals to deal with this issue as soon as opportunity permitted and asked me to withdraw my Bill.

Now, only seven months later, opportunity has permitted. Therefore, I wish to take this opportunity of thanking him and my right hon. Friend most cordially for being as good as their word.

I will confine what little I have to say to Part II of the Bill. It will be little, because I expressed my views at much greater length in the debate on 13th April and I do not want to repeat them now.

In a nutshell, the object of Part II is to prevent the public display of indecent matter and to protect people of all ages from having thrust upon them unsolicited material which is offensive to them. I support everything that my right hon. Friend said about the commercial exploitation of prurience which is not by any means on the decrease.

In the debate on 13th April I ventured to quote a line of Juvenal which I translated as, "What matter the mischief if there is money in it?"

Mr. Hamling

Good old capitalists.

Sir Gilbert Longden

They are all capitalists, I am sorry to say. They display the least acceptable face of capitalism.

Mr. Hamling

The hon. Gentleman defends them. We do not.

Sir Gilbert Longden

I do not defend them at all. That is the motive that motivates them, "What matter the mischief if there is money in it?" It all happened in the days of ancient Rome and Juvenal was commenting upon it.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Walthamstow, East)

May I remind my hon. Friend that at least one State corporation advertised a "weekend in London, plus girl", so it is not just capitalism?

Sir Gilbert Longden

State capitalism is the worst kind of capitalism.

The Bill does not deal with the word "obscene", and that is as well, considering some of the most extraordinary decisions that have been made on that word. Here it is a question of decency, and it is an eloquent commentary on the present age that the meaning of even that word is in doubt. According to the Oxford Dictionary, it means "propriety of behaviour", or "what is required by good taste". The Customs and Excise Department has never had any trouble in deciding what is decent or indecent, and I do not think that many of its decisions have been challenged.

Most of us—I am sure most magistrates and most newsagents—would have had no difficulty in coming to a just verdict a short time ago. But it is extraordinary how quickly times have changed, and values with them. Who could believe that only 25 years ago Mr. Churchill listed the upholding of the Christian religion first among nine principles of Conservatism. Who could believe that only 25 years ago Dr. Edith Summerskill, as she was—then a Minister in the Labour Government—complained bitterly about a film then being shown in London? I am sorry that I cannot remember the name of the film, but when I read it struck me as being no more offensive than Mary Poppins. Today, on the contrary, we hear the film censor expressing the opinion that to refuse a certificate to "Clockwork Orange" would be anti-social, even, immoral. To my mind, a society which acquiesces in the showing of a film such as that deserves all that is coming to it, and one thing that may come to it is the realisation that there are worse things than censorship.

But at least such films need not be witnessed. It is the offensive material which must be viewed, in one way or another, which is the target of the Bill. No doubt the Bill is susceptible of amelioration by amendment in Committee—what Bill that was ever drafted was not?—but I hope that it will not be watered down. For example, I find myself wondering why television broadcasts are exempt. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, in another place expressed the Government's view—and it was repeated today by my right hon. Friend—that the governing boards of the BBC and the ITA are already obligated by statute not to offend against good taste or decency. Apart from the fact that they sometimes do so offend, I can find only Section 3 of the Television Act which imposes such an obligation on the ITA. Where is there a similar provision affecting the BBC?

I wondered, too, why a picture has to be "moving" in order to be indecent. I am sure that many butlers were titillated by quite static activities.

Mr. Hamling

They came from the still room.

Sir Gilbert Longden

These are Committee points. I simply cannot understand how any hon. Member could wish to vote against the objects of the Bill, and I am glad to hear that that is not to happen.

I conclude by quoting some words of Lord Ardwick, because they seem to be a most apposite summing up. He said: I believe that people expect some leadership to help them sort out their own attitudes. I think that we should do this not as moral guardians of society but rather as communicators advancing a point of view. We should not be afraid to condemn what we regard as obscene simply out of fear of being regarded as illiberal … We have to clear our own minds, so that we can distinguish between the desirable, the tolerable and the intolerable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 21st April, 1971; Vol. 317, c. 745.] That, I hope, is what the Bill will help us to do, and I shall heartily support it.

9.9 p.m.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

As a previous speaker has mentioned, on a day of such considerable events it is possible to raise only two and a half cheers for this piece of legislation. Its objective is certainly one which I and my colleagues would wish to support on the understanding that it is the Government's intention to deal with the whole question of what has been called visual pollution and that it is that which is their target, and not on the understanding that it is the Government's intention to extend the realm of censorship.

A number of speakers in the debate, particularly the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) were busy trying to quote J. S. Mill without having quotations in front of them. I suppose it is appropriate that a speaker on the Liberal benches should quote what he said. He said The only purpose for which power can be rightly exercised over any member of a civilised community against his will, is to prevent harm to others. Mill went on to say: It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say that this doctrine is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties. We are not speaking of children, or of young persons below the age which the law may fix as that of manhood or womanhood. That, too, is important, particularly when we come to the section of the Bill dealing with slot machines.

I have no doubt that the most important area in which people complain of salacious material is that received through their letter-boxes, be it the material itself or the advertising promotion of dubious material. I very much welcome the two parts of the Bill which the Home Secretary believes will successfully tackle this problem.

We have moved a long way from the time that the Unsolicited Goods and Services Act was being debated in the House. I moved a new clause to that Bill, which the Government resisted. We defeated the Government on a Friday afternoon and persuaded them that they must look again at this matter. An attempt was made to redraft it in the other place. The Government say that it has not proved effective. I hope that this Bill will be effective and that offensive material coming through the letter-box will be stopped.

Secondly, advertising, particularly street advertising, including the exteriors of cinemas, is another area in which the term "visual pollution" ought to apply. The right hon. Member for Ashford was quite right to include this in our general concern for the state of the environment. Some of the displays that we see are utterly offensive, particularly in cinemas in London, although they are spreading to other cities as well. People want these displays to be stopped, and it is right and proper, as a matter of public policy, that the Government should stop them.

Thirdly, and perhaps more difficult, is the question of displays in shops, such as newsagents and so on. I am not certain how far the Bill goes in this respect. I suspect that it goes further than is reasonable. It is reasonable that the public should be protected from displays in shop windows or in other places which they have, unavoidably, in their line of vision. I am not so certain that it is right that we should try to control any further what is on sale inside shops which clearly exist for the purpose of selling material of this kind. I am not at all certain how far the Bill goes. People do not pay to go into a shop to buy magazines and books of this kind, but the shop is a place to which they have access. I am told that in Sweden—I have not seen this in recent years—which is a country noted for the liberality of its legislation on matters of obscenity, the Government are very strict on the question of public display, but once inside a shop which exists for the purpose of selling this material the sky is the limit. If that is so, that seems to me the basic definition of preventing offence to the public at large while not denying the right of the individual and his freedom to buy what he wants.

If the Bill is to be effective, it may tackle what the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) described as a particularly indecent edition of one of the popular "girlie" magazines on display at a railway station newsagents, and it may be right and proper that it tackles that. But, on the other hand, we do not want to go so far as to stop the sale of material which may be more indecent but is behind the doors of a small shop. If that is the intention of the Bill—perhaps the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—I think it is a reasonable one.

Similarly, I agree with what the Home Secretary said about slot machines. If these machines are in arcades to which children frequently have access because they want to play on other machines, it is wholly right and proper that they should be stopped. But if these same machines are inside premises to which the public have access only because they pay to go there, I do not think it is right that these machines should be stopped. I am not certain whether or not the Bill covers that situation. I hope that the Committee will make an attempt at defining "indecency", simply because I believe it is right that violence ought to be included and I am not certain from the decisions of the courts whether it is. My only concern about Part I of the Bill is that it is possible that the genuine film society may find its activities hampered. Perhaps the Minister will say something about that point.

As regards the drafting of the Bill, I think that as a House we ought to protest about the wording of Clause 1. It seems to me that to have an Act of Parliament which tries to add exemptions to exemptions is quite wrong in principle. We shall have three Acts covering the licensing of films—the Acts of 1909 and 1952 and this one. There is surely a case here for consolidation of some kind, so that we get a sensible piece of chapter and verse.

For some reason which I have not been able to understand, Clause 5 does not apply to Scotland. Perhaps the Minister will assure us that there will not be free rein in Scotland because of some oversight, and perhaps he will explain whether there is some reason for this exception.

I would end as I began, by saying that this is not by any means a vitally important or essential part of legislation, but it is something which merits the full consideration of the House.

9.17 p.m.

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

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) and other hon. Gentlemen, I welcome this Bill and the Government's prompt action following the introduction of a Private Member's Bill by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Sir Gilbert Longden) in the spring of the year. I have no doubt at all that by the time this Bill leaves Committee it will be a better one than it is at present.

When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary introduced the Bill he said that it would receive criticism on several counts—from those who are against the Bill, from those who think it does not go far enough, and from others. I put myself in the second category, because I do not think it goes far enough. Many features of our national life point the finger at a slither towards moral decadence, and it is true to say that unless some steps are taken—and this may well be one—to arrest that slither, the considerable lowering of standards will go on. It is impossible for the House to legislate to make people good, but we can legislate to prevent people either making fools of themselves or being exploited immorally and for private gain.

My right hon. Friend said that he would probably be taken to task—indeed, he has already been taken to tasks—for imposing censorship under the Bill or for curtailing freedom. In the context of the Bill there is a considerable difference between freedom and licence. Surely it is licence that the Bill seeks to prevent. With a great deal more money in the hands of the younger generation there is, for the weaker among them, a natural progression from drink, through sex, to drugs. That is a section of the community which we must try to protect.

I welcome the Bill. Indecent displays, blue films and the advertisement of them, and the like, undoubtedly corrupt in appearing to make the seamier side of life more attractive.

Earlier I questioned whether the Bill goes far enough. It is all very well to clean up the covers, but writing can be put on the covers of the present doubtful—to put it no higher—magazines and books indicating what is inside them. That in itself will not do much good. Are the Government convinced that the Obscene Publications Act takes care of the contents of magazines and books of the type to be seen in shops, on railway stations and elsewhere at present? It is no good sweeping the question under the carpet, or we shall be doing only one-tenth of the good that the Bill seeks to do. If the answer to that question is "Yes", why have there not been more prosecutions, and why are so many of what I call obscene and indecent books still available for sale in the shops?

A number of dilemmas already exist in the mind of booksellers and others. If that is so now, what about the future? I quote from a letter published in last Thursday's Evening Standard to illustrate the dilemma at present facing booksellers: As a retail bookseller I have been offered a supply of paperback novels which I should like to sell as I know they are much in demand. However, as the contents are, for want of a better word, 'sexy', I feel that they might become the subject of an obscene publications prosecution and before accepting them I telephoned the Director of Public Prosecutions. They informed me that there is no procedure for advising the public on this question, only that books may be submitted to a local police station who would then offer them for consideration to the Director of Public Prosecutions who would then give their opinion to the local constabulary. If this Bill becomes an Act, shall we be faced with the same sort of problem? Where are such people as booksellers to get their advice? If advice is now available, from what source does it come? It will, after the enactment of the Bill, be a pretty cumbersome method to take a case to court by way of getting advice from honest citizens.

The fact that television is exempt under Clause 6 has been mentioned. Television programmes go into many more houses than do sleazy magazines. Visible innuendoes can be quite as damaging as magazine articles and things on display. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State will have to be a little more convincing than was my right hon. Friend when dealing with this point.

Presumably, so-called sex shops will come within the ambit of the Bill. Will there be sufficient powers available to close them? I am informed that so far very few have been touched.

I welcome sincerely the application of the Bill to Scotland as well as to England and Wales, since it would obviously be ridiculous to have a tightening up south of the border while allowing licence to continue in Scotland.

The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) asked why Clause 5 did not apply to Scotland. I think that the answer is that the obscenity part, so to call it, of the Obscene Publications Act is already covered by common law in Scotland.

Perhaps my hon. and learned Friend will answer another Scottish question. Why are the cities of Edinburgh, Dundee and Perth excluded from Clause 3(7) whereas Glasgow and Aberdeen are specifically mentioned? Are we to infer that one or other of those two groups is at present more indecent than the other, or vice versa?

I give the Bill ready commendation. Nothing is clearer today than the fact that sex is being exploited for commercial gain. The Bill represents a distinct step in the right direction, and I sincerely hope that the House will give it a Second Reading.

9.27 p.m.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

I gather that I am almost in a minority of one, at least among those of my hon. Friends who are present in the Chamber, though I doubt that that is true of those who are not present. I give qualified support to the Bill. I do not believe that every dot and comma is correct, or that every clause should be accepted without amendment. There is a good case for amending several of the clauses, and I hope that in Committee—which, I hasten to add, I hope I am not put on—

Mr. Hamling

My hon. Friend can talk to the Whips about that.

Mr. Heffer

—good work will be done so that a better Bill will come back before the House.

I give the Bill support at this stage, however, and if there were a vote tonight—I understand that my hon. Friends will put up a great battle but are not prepared to carry it into the Lobby—I should vote with the Government. I do not think that I have ever voted with this Government on any occasion up to now, but I should support them in the Lobby tonight because I regard the Bill as a necessary measure.

If I thought that the Bill would introduce stringent forms of censorship, I should oppose it. I support the endeavours of those who wanted, for example, to publish "Lady Chatterley's Lover" without any cuts. I think that that was right. I recognise that some people are inclined to fall over backwards on this issue, rather as the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) did, and would go much further than is here proposed. I do not want that. But what concerns me, and what leads me to the view that one should argue in favour of some such measure as this, is the danger that the sort of excessive permissiveness which is now developing in certain directions will harm our society. I think that signs of that harm are already visible.

Perhaps I am old-fashioned. Maybe I have old-fashioned concepts about society and what society is about. I have long believed that the basis of our society is the family unit. If we destroy that we destroy society. I passionately believe in the family unit in our society. It is the essence of any decent, good and moral society. I am afraid that in our rightful demand to end some of the attitudes of Mrs. Grundy of the past we have tended to go a bit too far in the other direction and that we are undermining the basis of our society. That is why I feel as strongly as I do. That is why I have stayed tonight to speak in the debate.

I find it offensive when I walk along the streets of London, my own city or other cities with my niece and nephew—I have no children of my own—or with my mother-in-law, who is an upright decent woman, to come across some lurid posters advertising the sort of film which I personally would never go to see. I find that those with me find it offensive.

What people do behind closed doors and what they do in a private cinema, but not for gain—they may wish to do all sorts of things but that is a matter for them—is something which they must decide, and I protect their rights. However, I do not want them to impose their ideas and their concepts on us. That is all I am saying. I am saying no more and no less than that.

Many hon. Members must have had people writing to them, or attending their surgeries—probably ordinary, decent, solid citizens; Labour, Tory, Liberal or anything else does not matter; they may be God-fearing or non-God fearing—who have been offended by the type of literature which has been sent to them. I have raised the matter in the House, and other hon. Members have done so. That may make me a prude. I see in The Guardian that we apparently have a zeal for puritanism. I must explain to The Guardian writer that puritanism arose from a previous society which had a good deal of licence. Later the balance was put right, as we always eventually get the balance right.

That is what I think the Government, in their wisdom, have done on this occasion. As hon. Members know, I am not a great supporter of the Government. However, I believe that the Government are trying to get the balance right. For that reason hon. Members should give the Bill qualified support.

There are some people who, when talking about censorship, hold their hands on their hearts and pretend that it has nothing to do with commercial gain. They are not bothered about the profits that they will make from the abolition, as it were, of some form of moral censorship. My God! When I look around and think of the money which is made as a result of the excessive permissiveness which now exists in our society, such people are hypocrites. I do not think that I am dishonest. I do not think that I am a hypocrite or a puritan. I believe that we must protect society in the way that is being suggested by the Government.

9.35 p.m.

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

I agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). It is probably the first time it has happened and it may well be the last time for a long period to come. But I am happy to say that the hon. Gentleman and I are at one in our approach to this matter.

It seems to me that just as we are concerned today with the pollution of the environment—with the juggernauts that make too much noise, and the smells and all the other things that are wrong in our cities—so we are concerned with visual pollution, which is the subject of the Bill, because Part II concerns itself entirely with what is a public nuisance. It will certainly be most important for the Committee to have some understanding and appreciation of the history of the matter.

Very often precedents in politics have proved of the greatest value in the modern age in arriving at the right conclusion. First, it is in law a misdemeanour to outrage public decency and morality. It is possible to put forward a straightforward prosecution alleging that a person has outraged public decency and morality and to secure conviction and a fine with no limit, or a sentence of imprisonment.

That began a couple of hundred years ago, when Sir Charles Sidley stood upon the parapet of Covent Garden, stark naked, and did make water upon the people below. The judges of the King's Bench came together and were so fed up with that behaviour that they said that it had to stop, and stop it did. Sir Charles was apprehended and was put firmly inside. From that day to this the offence has existed of outraging public decency and morality. It can be indicted at any time and it is and has been used frequently.

It was used when there was an indecent exhibition of nude women on Epsom Downs in the middle of the nineteenth century, in the case of Saunders, and it has been used on numerous occasions since. In the early part of the nineteenth century Parliament was interested in not having a lot of rogues and vagabonds straying around the countryside, and it passed the Vagrancy Act of 1824. We are still concerned with various types of rogues and vagabonds. The section in question provided that every person who wilfully exposed to view in any street, highway, public place or in the window or any part of any establishment or other building situate in any street, highway or public place any obscene print, picture or other indecent exhibition created an offence.

That provision of as long ago as 1824 is very similar to the provisions in the Bill. In 1828 this House extended that position to cover those who offered to sell such material by saying that every person who publicly offered for sale or distribution or who exhibited to public view any profane, indecent or obscene book, paper, print, drawing, painting or representation—and here it comes—or sang any profane or obscene song or ballad, was guilty of an offence. As long ago as that it was unlawful to offer for sale or to distribute to anyone, in public, any paper or print. Such acts were considered a public nuisance and they were dealt with in this legislation because in those days a clear distinction was drawn and the commission of these acts in public was considered offensive to the public at large.

At the end of the last century the Indecent Advertisements Act of 1889 was introduced, with a £20 fine or one month's imprisonment. That covered the ground perfectly well. It said that any advertisement visible to a person in a street or the display in the window of a house or shop of any picture or printed matter which was of an indecent or obscene nature created an offence. In fact, the police have not used it.

All those three Acts still stand. When hon. Members look at the schedule they will see that the intention is to repeal those measures in whole or in part. We shall have to consider those repeals carefully. Each was probably drafted better by the parliamentary draftsmen of those days than similar provisions could be by parliamentary draftsmen of today.

Meanwhile, in 1882 we had an Act dealing with gross indecency between males. Then we come to the present century with the Obscene Publication Acts of 1959 and 1964 and the House of Lords decision in Shaw where it was held that it was still a common law offence to conspire to corrupt public morals.

That is the background. Turning from that to the Bill, I must emphasise, first, that I am indebted to my right hon. Friend for paying tribute to the Society of Conservative Lawyers. That society considers many aspects of legislation. Over the years it has made recommendations on almost all of them, and Governments of both parties have adopted many of its recommendations. The Street Offences Act resulted from one of them. There remain many others, including the rule of law. In the present case the real purpose of the society in the first place was to focus attention on what could easily be achieved by the present Government.

I regret that, in opening, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary suggested somewhat apologetically that the country would not necessarily find these proposals wholly acceptable. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) also said that there would be two different lines of thought. That is simply not true. In my view 95 per cent. of the population want to see this legislation on the statute book. They do not want filth and obscene matter thrown in the face of the public any longer. That is the overwhelming opinion.

Furthermore, it is not the opinion of many of the intellectuals who oppose on a limited scale and say that people should be free to read what they like. Even they support this measure. If anyone doubts what I say let him ask Louis Blom-Cooper or John Mortimer about Part II of the Bill. They are not opposed to it, even though they have totally different views from my own.

In due course I believe that there should be a further amendment to the laws of obscenity and that they should be strengthened in certain respects. This Bill is not the vehicle for that and is not intended to be. However there is nothing in Part II of the Bill which the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) need oppose.

All that Part II seeks to say is that indecent and offensive material shall no longer be allowed to be flung in the face of the public, whether it is sent through the post in an unsolicited fashion, whether it is written material or whether it is sound-recorded material.

Part II relates entirely to that which offends the public sense of taste. It has not been the law of this country from the 17th century to the present day that one could outrage the sensibility of the public at large without committing a criminal offence. The Bill is largely only a consolidating measure, seeking to put in simple language, and bringing up to date, the general feelings on the matter.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

The hon. Gentleman, who was the part author of a report by the Society of Conservative Lawyers, has just used the words which were part of the definition in that document, namely, that something is indecent if it is offensive to the public at large. That is not included in any definition in the Bill. Does the hon. Gentleman see any difference between the common law definition, on which the Home Secretary is relying, and his reference to the public at large'? His seems to be a somewhat tighter definition.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I am indebted to the hon. Gentleman for asking that question. I was about to deal with the matter briefly.

Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Kensington, North)

The hon. Gentleman referred to the public at large. Traditionally, that test has been applied by discovering the reaction of a jury. In Clause II the maximum penalty on summary conviction is limited to three months. I am not suggesting that there should be a heavier penalty, but that has the effect that a defendant cannot have a jury trial unless the prosecution agrees. The practice in recent cases under similar legislation has been to ensure that jury trials are not granted in those circumstances. As a result, the decision will not be what is offensive to the public at large but what is offensive to a magistrate, who is, almost by definition, of a somewhat older generation than the public at large.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I believe that the points raised by the two hon. Gentlemen are the only two upon which the report of the society is not in line with what the Government have in the Bill. The Government have decided to lay down no test as to what is indecent. We accept that, but I wish to add an amendment to make Clause 6 (1) read If any indecent or grossly offensive matter is publicly displayed the person making the display shall be guilty of an offence. The reason for the additional words is the desirability of ensuring that sadistic behaviour or cruel conduct, which might not be construed as indecent, comes within the ambit of the Bill.

Anybody who speaks on this subject and is in any way arrogant will soon be trodden on. It is a very difficult subject on which to be accurate. I say with due humility, and may be wrong, that in the view of a number of my colleagues and myself "indecent" goes a long way but not quite far enough in covering what is offensive to the public.

On the other matter, the trial by jury point, I quote from our pamphlet, which was called "The Pollution of the Mind". We said: We believe that you require two necessary restrictions. As 'grossly offensive' may be differently interpreted by different people,"— as would "indecent"— we believe the collective view of the jury is essential in a contested case, and therefore that summary trial should be available only where a plea of guilty is entered, and otherwise the case must be sent for trial by jury. That goes even further than election; it means not merely an accused has the right to elect for trial by jury but that the case should be sent for trial by jury.

We continued, in our second recommendation: We advise that prosecution should only be brought with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions or following the recommendation of a special committee appointed by the Home Secretary. It would be easy to widen the appropriate section within the department of the Director of Public Prosecutions to enable it to consider that. The purpose of that is to get consistency throughout the country. The purpose of encouraging trial by jury is to ensure that a jury rather than a magistrate decides what is offensive to the public. Those were the recommendations. In due course I shall be delighted to hear what the Minister of State has to say about those two matters, which I am sure have had the consideration of the Home Secretary.

"What the butler saw" was one thing in the days when people could afford a butler, but now that we cannot afford a butler it has become something different It has become what a careful American expert with lustful presentation and commercially exploited material feels that he can get away with in an arcade. Of course, the pictures are filthy, particularly those which deal with sexual behaviour between animals and women. That type of display shown in the form of a still in an arcade which is available to children is intolerable. That is why we have to prevent the viewing of indecent pictures in a public place. One might use a much stronger word than "indecent", but it seems that the Bill amply covers that point.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Is not that an obscene publication?

Mr. Rees-Davies

It might well become an obscene publication and be prosecuted under that heading or under the general common law, on the ground that it sought to deprave and corrupt those who were likely to look at it. These machines, which are available in public places, seem to be covered by the Bill and it is reasonable and logical that they should be.

Hon. Members will remember the Julian Press, which caused our constituents such a lot of trouble. I realised when I read it that the material that had been sent was not pornographic but merely titillating—it encouraged one to buy something which probably was pornographic.

Clause 10(b) deals with unsolicited advertising. It provides that any person who (b) advertises any article in a way likely to be taken as indicating that the article consists of or contains indecent matter; shall be guilty of an offence.

The term of imprisonment under Clause 11(a) should be four or six months. That at least would enable an election for trial by jury.

We recommended that the 24-hour film clubs should be stopped. They should be brought under the umbrella of the Cinematograph Acts. Why should small clubs be allowed to operate at which members of the public on the day on which they join can see a film which is a bit dirtier than an X or XX film? It seems right to include them. I am sure that we need not offend or make it more expensive for the Film Institute. I expect that it can get exemption, and I invite the Minister of State to deal with the Film Institute when he winds up.

I believe that it is right for the Bill to deal with films. The country wants us to deal with them. Unfortunately, we are unable to deal with the test for deciding whether a film should be passed. The film censor decides that entirely on his own judgment, but the GLC does not. The GLC is still using the old test of whether the film tends to deprave and corrupt. That is too stiff a test to be used today in judging what should be shown to the public.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General and I went together to see some films at the invitation of the Greater London Council. We came to the conclusion that they were films which we would not have accepted and would not have passed. Indeed, we found that the committee did not want to pass them but felt obliged to do so because of the Hicklin precedent, by which they felt bound in terms of the definition whether a film intended to deprave and corrupt. I felt that if the committee had been free to decide of its own volition on the films shown to it many films would not have been passed. I hope that we can reverse the policy and allow the committee to say what it believes to be right so that it does not feel bound by the Hicklin test.

9.56 p.m.

Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)

It would appear that a few hon. Members wish to extend the Bill and make its provisions even stronger than they are at present. I believe that the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) said that he would like the Bill to apply to television.

Mr. Deedes

Let me make clear that I said I wanted to see more clarification of television later on.

Mr. Hamling

I take the right hon. Gentleman's point. The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) was certainly concerned to see television brought within the ambit of the Bill and thought the Bill did not go far enough.

The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Sir Gilbert Longden)—whom I congratulate on being the first back bencher to have a Private Member's Bill accepted by a Government without asking—mentioned the film "Clockwork Orange" which he thought should not be shown. I did not see the film, but I read the book and did not like it. I had no wish to see the film.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) would like the Bill to go a little further, although some of the changes he would like to see would be, from the point of view of some of the Bill's opponents, an improvement rather than bring about any worsening of the situation. Having listened to the hon. Gentleman, I began to wonder whether rugby songs sung in public places would come within the ambit of the Bill. Quite a few of us have sung barrack-room ballads of one sort and another, and they could well come within the clause relating to rude noises. Clause 8 would appear to cover the situation of a song broadcast over a microphone or, indeed, accidentally sung over a microphone. I do not know how those provisions would affect that sort of situation.

I wonder why the Government feel such urgency to be necessary in introducing this Bill at this stage of the Session. It appears to show a strange sense of priorities when there are so many other important matters which affect the nation. The Government often talk of a housing Bill but we have not seen that yet. When we have so many grave problems to consider, why are the Government introducing this Bill when there are so many existing provisions to cover the evils of which they speak?

I believe that this Bill might have been much more appropriate had it been introduced as a Private Member's Bill rather than as a Government measure—a measure introduced by the Government with all the panoply of support from the Treasury Bench and with all that that implies in attendance at this late hour of the evening.

I wondered about the political reasons for the Bill being introduced until I read the accounts of the Conservative Party conference and realised that the Government were very concerned—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.