HC Deb 13 November 1973 vol 864 cc377-437

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Mr. Hamling

—to maintain what little grass roots support they still had in the constituencies. [Laughter.] The occupants of the Government Front Bench may laugh, but if they had announced a week ago what they announced in the House of Commons today I wonder what would have happened last Thursday.

The Bill make no attempt to deal with pornography or indecency. It is simply concerned with display. To that extent it is very limited, and a great deal of what has been said is irrelevant. We are simply concerned with hiding and covering up pornography and indecency. This is another Watergate Bill rather like the Street Offences Act, which set out not to abolish prostitution but simply to hide it. It was swept under the carpet. The Home Secretary tried to anticipate that argument, but singularly failed to be convincing about it.

The Street Offences Act did not abolish vice. Indeed, it may have increased it. Today prostitution is an important part of the big criminal operations in the City of London and perhaps other cities throughout the country. It is part and parcel of the big protection rackets. To that extent, that form of vice, which was swept under the carpet by that Act, is probably more dangerous now than before the Act came into operation.

I suggest that, in so far as the Bill seeks to sweep away or cover up certain social evils, it may make the production and sale of dirty books, the holding of indecent exhibitions and the showing of blue films even more an operation of big criminal rackets than they have been so far.

But the children will not see it. This seems to satisfy and comfort the Govern- ment, even though the vice and the social evils go on more apace than hitherto.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Surely the hon. Gentleman is in the camp that believes that hard porn should be allowed; that is, that whatever a person reads in his own home should not be the subject of a prosecution. I thought he was in that lobby. Is that wrong?

Mr. Hamling

If the hon. Gentleman will listen to my speech as it unfolds, perhaps at the end of the day he will be enlightened. He knows as well as any other hon. Member that I have always maintained that the more repression there is—this is a repressive Bill—the more we seek to hide, to conceal, and to suppress, the more the evil grows.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)


Mr. Hamling

It is all right saying "Nonsense". I am answering the particular question posed by the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet. I have made that point in previous debates, and that is the object of the Bill. In my view, the provisions in the Bill will not destroy the vice, the evils of dirty books and the pornography. They are not intended to do that. They will only conceal them. If that satisfies the hon. Gentleman, so be it. It does not satisfy me, and I am sure that it does not satisfy many right hon. and hon. Members.

I do not like many of the things that I see in the House. There are many things which are grossly offensive to me—the Government for a kick off. All their policies are grossly offensive to me, and if we were to import that into an Act of Parliament, Heath would be behind bars quicker than anyone else. But the hon. Gentleman knows that that is not the intention. Only certain things are grossly offensive in his nostrils, but many things in this House are much more offensive to us than pictures of nude women. The plight of starving children and homeless people is much more grossly offensive, but that is not covered by the Bill. Their suffering is grossly offensive, and if the Government were doing their job they would be doing something about that.

Many things are offensive to me, but I have grave doubts about whether the Bill will deal with the evils with which it sets out to deal. We enact statutes, but they do not stop the evils which they set out to stop. Having looked at the Bill, and having heard all the debate with the exception of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson)—I knew what my hon. Friend was going to say anyway—I cannot understand the Home Secretary's claim that the Bill does not extend censorship, particularly when one considers Part I.

The right hon. Gentleman's attention to Part I was of a most cursory nature. I understand that the Minister of State may deal with this in winding up the debate, but it is grossly unfair to the House—and grossly offensive to the House, if I may coin a phrase—to introduce a Bill which will make an important change in the law relating to films and not explain it to the House. That is the purpose of the Secretary of State's first speech in a debate such as this—to tell the House what the Bill says and what it means.

The right hon. Gentleman's attention to Clause 3 was non-existent. During most of the debate Part I of the Bill has been treated in a most cursory and unsatisfactory way, and I hope that the Minister will deal with it in winding up, particularly in view of the representations that have been made by film societies. I am sure that the Minister has received the kind of communications which I and others have been sent.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet referred to the GLC. Most cinema clubs are in London. For a long time the GLC has been unhappy about the position with regard to films. It asked the Government to undertake an inquiry into film censorship, but the Government refused to do so. That is my information. The GLC then went on with its own inquiry and, in particular, undertook a survey of public attitudes towards film censorship.

In the summer of this year the Home Office sent out a circular containing certain suggestions about what might be in some projected legislation such as that which is now before the House. The GLC refused to comment because it was busy with its own inquiries. The only proposal that the GLC welcomed was the proposal to strengthen the fire regulations. For the rest, the GLC said nothing.

In the light of the representations that were or were not made, it seems astonishing that the Government should proceed with Part I of the Bill after such inadequate preparation. I hope that in Committee we shall look very carefully at Clause 3 and the other clauses of Part I.

I come now to Part II and particularly to the definitions. It has been suggested that we might strengthen the definition part of the Bill, or that we should insert a definition by adding the words "grossly offensive" to cover such things as cruelty, sadistic behaviour, and so on. I am not sure that that would work, because the term "indecent matter" is not defined and the Government have no intention of inserting such a definition in the Bill. It is not true that the phrase "indecent matter" has not been defined. It has been defined in the courts. The Minister will be the first to admit that. The Home Secretary said that he could not define what indecent matter was. He said that it varied from area to area and that he would prefer to leave it that way. But the comments of one of his hon. Friends on that matter were very firm and quite contrary to what the Home Secretary said.

Mr. Rees-Davies

What is the hon. Gentleman's view?

Mr. Hamling

I am about to give that. If we are to have a situation where what is legal in London is illegal in Carlisle, this will make the law an even bigger ass than it is now. We have the definition in the case referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon). But the judgment in the case of Regina v. Stanley was not quoted. In that case Lord Chief Justice Parker said that he defined indecent material as something that offends the ordinary modesty of the average man—whoever the average man may be. Presumably, in the words of the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet, we need a jury to decide what an average man is and what he thinks. I am not sure about that. Lord Chief Justice Parker went on to say that it offended against the recognised standards of propriety.

This sort of definition is so loose and meaningless as not to be worth much consideration in the Bill. It reveals how extraordinarily wide the net is cast by "indecent material". It may be something that offends against the recognised standards of propriety and something which is grossly offensive to the public at large. These are not phrases which give much comfort to anyone who wants precision from the law. Surely, if we are to codify the law, as is the purpose of the Bill, we need much tighter definitions than we have had so far. What about violence? What about war films, and films of Nazi concentration camps? Are these covered? Are they grossly offensive to the public at large? Who knows?

What is the meaning of "display" in the Bill? It seems that what we shall have as a result is not perhaps fewer shops which sell dirty books, but more. There may, as a consequence, be a temptation for bookshops in the suburbs to open a little back room, perhaps charging for entry, and to extend the compass of the books which they offer for sale. It seems to me that that is not to improve the situation but to make it worse.

What about seaside postcards, such as have been on sale in Southport, Blackpool and other places from time immemorial? They are vulgar, but do they outrage propriety? Are they grossly offensive? They may be offensive to some people. They make the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet laugh, but he is not an average man; he is a very peculiar man. The average man may well be offended, and I can well imagine that some of the people who are trying to "clean up our public life" would be highly offended by some of these vulgar postcards. But I am sure that they do not do anyone any harm, although I was going to remark that the Women's Lib movement might be offended by some of them, which portray these very stout ladies. But I am certain that these postcards will be covered by the Bill, and that newsagents' shops in New Brighton and other places will be guilty of an offence. That seems to be taking a steamroller to crush a peanut, not a sledgehammer to crack a nut. What are the contemporary standards of public decency? We do not know. They are what any little magistrates' court in some obscure part of England decides they are on a certain occasion, and I am certain that it is not the duty of this House to pass laws of such a broad and sweeping nature as that.

We must certainly have a defence and trial by jury, but this Bill is very carefully drawn. Some of my friends outside the House have said that this is a sloppy Bill, but I do not believe it. It is my view that this Bill was very carefully drawn so as not to permit the defence to elect for trial by jury. There is no defence of artistic merit or of public good. These are not to be found in the Bill, and it seems to me that the defence would be at a very severe disadvantage.

Some very reputable authorities might come within the ambit of this Bill. I refer to Clause 6(3) which states: Nothing in this section applies in relation to any matter included in a television broadcast or in the display of any art gallery or museum which is provided by the Crown, any public or local authority", and so on. What about private art galleries? I can think of many very reputable private art galleries in London, in New Bond Street and elsewhere, which might, as a result of somebody laying information or bringing a private prosecution, be prosecuted for having a Rubens' nude in the window or elsewhere where the public could see it. There is nothing in this Bill which would prevent an occurrence of that sort.

Mr. Robert Cooke

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not hear what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said in reply to my intervention on this very point. I think that my right hon. Friend has taken this point on board.

Mr. Hamling

I heard it extremely well, and I noted the reply. But, as I said earlier, the Home Office has drafted this Bill very carefully. I doubt whether the Home Office is so sloppy that it does not know what is in the Bill. It shows the difficulties that arise once we venture into this field.

Clause 8 provides: (1) If any person produces by any means of sound reproduction or amplification indecent sounds (whether or not consisting of words) which are audible in a place to which the public have or are permitted to have access, whether on payment or otherwise, he shall be guilty of an offence … That could apply to the live theatre which nowadays uses mechanical sound amplification systems. Words which some might interpret as being grossly offensive could, if spoken from the stage of a theatre in London or elsewhere in the country, come within the ambit of Clause 8. At the National Theatre and elsewhere plays and musicals are put on by reputable managements, and words and expressions which some people may regard as rude are amplified. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent a private prosecution of a theatre company in such a case.

The House must take seriously some of the provisions in the Bill and understand that these provisions are not as marginal as we have been led to believe.

Clause 9 provides: Where any article is advertised as being for sale or hire in any place and—

  1. (a) the place is one to which the public have or are permitted to have access, whether on payment or otherwise; and
  2. (b) the advertisement is likely to be taken as indicating that the article consists of or contains indecent matter".
I believe that Penguin Books has published a book called "Sexual Deviations". I have not read the book. I am a bit old for that sort of thing, and I am rather past it. Some people who saw advertisements for a book such as that might well think that the book contained matter which was indecent. Is Penguin Books to think twice before putting advertisements in bookshops and elsewhere?

It has been said that it is not only pictures but words. I think of somebody advertising the play "'Tis Pity She's a Whore". Some people may not understand that that is a Restoration comedy and may think it is a highly indecent play. Perhaps in some people's minds "'Tis Pity She's a Whore" is highly indecent. However, artistic standards differ.

Many reputable books come within the purview of the Bill. Many reputable publishers come within the purview of Clause 9, and even more of Clause 10, which could perfectly well have been left to the Privacy Bill, provides: If any person sends or delivers to another any article which he knows or ought reasonably to know to be unsolicited and which either—

  1. (a) consists of or contains any indecent matter; or
  2. (b) advertises any article in a way likely to be taken as indicating that the article consists of or contains indecent matter;
he shall be guilty of an offence. Will publishers' circulars fall within that? I think of a publisher publishing a sex manual and many other books that appear in publishers' lists. Will they all be covered by the Bill?

It may be said that I am raising a succession of Committee points. I am not. I am drawing attention to a succession of bad clauses in the Bill. One clause after another, in my view, is wholly unnecessary, thoroughly bad and thoroughly misleading. If those clauses are taken out, what is left of the Bill? One is left with Part I, which, as I have said, has not been explained by the Home Secretary, has not been justified by the Home Secretary, and has not been justified by any other hon. Member in the debate.

Bearing in mind the grave drafting weaknesses in the Bill, the serious difficulties of interpretation and the threats which it will present to reputable publishers, reputable art galleries and others of great reputation in the arts, we ought to think carefully before we make fools of ourselves by passing the Bill.

10.26 p.m.

Mr. Ian Percival (Southport)

I am glad to have the opportunity to comment at once on the speech of the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling). It will be no surprise to him or the House to learn that I disagree with almost everything that he said, and I am happy now to be able to express a contrary view on some of it.

The hon. Gentleman started by saying that the Government showed a strange sense of priorities in promoting this Bill so early in the Session. How wrong can one he? The degree of permissiveness which has been indulged in by some, encouraged by some and tolerated in the name of freedom by the rest of society has reached a point at which it is damaging to our society. I strongly agreed with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) when he said that. What is more, it has now reached a stage when it will no longer be tolerated by the silent majority. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) when he expresses the conviction that 95 per cent. of the people of this country will welcome the Bill.

The Bill is long overdue. The British people have been waiting to see some cleaning up done, and I, for one, am greatly obliged to the Government for setting about it and doing it so early in the Session. I hope that they will get on with it. I hope that their intention both to do something useful and to do it speedily will not be frustrated by a lot of niggling technical points such as have been forecast in some of the speeches today.

I agree with the hon. Member for Walton also in what he said about the importance of the family unit, and I believe that most people share that view. Nothing is more important. I agree with what he said about the need to protect children, too, but we are dealing here not only with children. What we have to put up with now, and have had to put up with for quite a long time, offends people of all ages. It offends because it is dirty. It soils our society just as much as any other kind of dirt does. I am astonished at the way in which so many of the people who talk about improving the quality of life cannot see that, far from doing anything to contribute to the quality of life, what we are here trying to stop detracts from the quality of life just as much as any other kind of dirt and dirtiness does.

Society is entitled to be protected from the damaging consequences of the indulgences of the minority. For long enough they have imposed their concepts upon the rest of us. For long enough they have enjoyed the tolerance of the majority of society. It is now high time that they showed some tolerance of and respect for the wishes of the majority.

I for one have not the slightest doubt that what the Government are attempting to do is for the good of society. I am sure that the majority of society will appreciate that and wish the Government well in their endeavours. I hope that the Bill will receive an overwhelming majority on Second Reading.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

Few hon. Members will quarrel with the contention which the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) has put forward—namely, that the public welcomes the Bill. I doubt whether any hon. Member would quarrel with the Secretary of State for the Home Department's contention when introducing the Bill—namely, that the public is looking to the Government, as it is entitled to do, for protection from offensive material being foisted upon it. My quarrel with the Bill is not so much for what it contains but for what it does not contain.

I hope to deploy an argument which I should not be allowed to put forward in Committee. It is an argument on behalf of an important group which has to handle much of the material with which we are concerned—namely, newsagents. Some hon. Members will think that they do not have to handle such material, but I hope to show that most of them do not have much choice. It is difficult for them to set themselves up as censors.

I have a family involvement. My brother-in-law distributes 10,000 to 12,000 newspapers a week. He is highly literate and was almost as fond of newspapers as I am before he undertook his present business some years ago. He says that now he never has time to read the newspapers. I understand that that is generally the position for those who are in the trade.

I hope that the House will understand my anxiety about this matter and will allow me to express myself on behalf of the trade and of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents. Like many hon. Members, I have been expecting such a measure ever since the Longford Report. I have been looking with anxiety for such a measure. But this is not the Bill which I and other hon. Members wanted. It does not help the trade in the situation in which it has found itself since the Longford Report. Since the report, police forces and notably the Birmingham, Norwich, Manchester and Burnley forces, have been raiding newsagents' premises. As a result, some newsagents have found themselves in court. They have been fined for selling publications that thousands of other retailers in other parts of the country have been selling.

My quarrel with the Bill is that it does not help newsagents to tackle the problem and does nothing to protect them. It leaves them in exactly the same position as under previous legislation. What is the position in which the Bill leaves them? A newsagent faces two alternatives when he is raided, he either submits to a destruction order without trial and loses all the stock which has been seized, or he attempts to defend himself, and if he takes that course he can finish up with costs which can put him out of business.

Recently a newsagent in the Midlands was rash enough to attempt such a defence. It cost him over £8,000. It is the contention of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents that if a member of its organisation purchases stock through a reputable wholesaler supplier such as W. H. Smith and Son Ltd.—most members must be aware of the policy and reputation of W. H. Smith in these matters—it is reasonable for him to assume that the stock is suitable for retail display and sale. If a publication is found to be offensive, the federation believes that any court action should be taken against the publisher.

It has been the experience of newsagents that the police, when making raids, enter their shops with a list, the contents of which are never disclosed. Therefore, newsagents have no idea for what the police are looking. Some of the titles seized have already been successfully defended in the High Court by the publishers. In many instances stock is seized and held by the police for many weeks, and even if it is eventually returned it is out of date and no longer saleable. The cost is borne entirely by the small retailer. In most cases titles seized are readily obtainable from most other distributors as well as newsagents in the country.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Under what law do the police raid premises in these terms?

Mr. Duffy

Under existing legislation, very simply, and I shall say a word about that.

Having given the broad picture, may I now mention a particular case which appeared in the Sunday Times this week? This does not affect a retailer whom hon. Members suspect to be located down a sidestreet, who is careless about his standards, is prepared to take a chance and go in for something which might be scarcely distinguishable from porn. This case concerns a wholesaler in Bath from whom just over a week ago police confiscated over 9,000 magazines, including The Times Literary Supplement, the Angling Times, the Exchange and Mart and Railway Modeller. That is an indication of the seriousness of the situation.

Also seized and returned two days later by the police were Commando, the Bookseller, Titbits, the Spectator, Sporting Record, Small Boat, Dalton's Weekly, Rolling Stone, Camping and Caravan, Weekly News, She, Reveille, Weekend, Date, Look-In and Autosport.

Twenty-four policemen were involved. They pulled up outside the premises in Bath with three Land Rovers. The premises belong to Johnsons, and the chief executive, Mr. Pearce, said he was flabbergasted by the raid. He said that the firm had been established in Bath for 87 years and had never had any problems before. Mr. Pearce's relations with the police had been very good up to now. He is on the Bath Crime Prevention Panel, which discusses crime in the city and which is organised by the police. Recently he was worried that such a contingency might arise many in the trade have experienced similar worries—and he approached the head of the Bath police, Chief Superintendent George Matthews. He asked to be told if people complained about any publications that were on sale. The Home Secretary said this afternoon that he did not feel it was necessary to give the police any guidance. Will the Minister bear that in mind when he replies? Does he not feel that the situation I have described calls for a comment from him?

Two days ago the Sunday Times in a news item said that two of the magazines that were seized were cleared on all counts only seven months ago by an Old Bailey jury. Another magazine seized is produced by an editor who was also cleared at the Old Bailey in February. The Sunday Times reports: … a spokesman for the Defence of Literature and the Arts Society says: 'Juries at the Old Bailey will acquit publishers but when a newsagent comes up against the prejudices of a magistrate on a seizure order, he has no chance.' Hon. Members will understand the trepidation with which that news item was read by many newsagents in the country, as I have had reason to discover in the past 24 hours.

The other major criticism of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents is that the Bill gives no guidance to the trade. There is no definition, for example, of indecency, nor does it repeal the Obscene Publications Act, which deals with a number of other indefinables, including those described by the hon. Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees Davies). It will be understood why newsagents feel that they will continue to be liable to seizures, despite the passage of the Bill. As The Guardian warns this morning, Respectable newsagents and booksellers will be vulnerable to prosecutions by well-heeled vigilantes bent on courtroom crusades against the permissive society. Against such people, the newsagent will have no remedy.

I remind hon. Members of what I said earlier about the physical impossibility of processing or censoring the vast amount of literature which flows into the premises of the average newsagent each day. Literature arrives from the wholesaler in bundles, some with the morning newspapers, and more with the evening newspapers. It is quite impossible for a newsagent to step back from his busi- ness and scrutinise what is coming into his shop at what is probably his busiest time of the day.

This legislation will only confirm in the mind of the newsagent that he bears a terrible load, and lengthy terms of imprisonment and hefty fines may await him. But they do not await the publishers of books or magazine covers.

The Bill does not attempt to define what is indecent. I understand the difficulties. As the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet said, it may be that this could not be done at the present time. But until it is done it will be decided by the personal opinions of ordinary people, magistrates and juries who, like us all, must have their own moral prejudices.

The Bill employs standards so vague and arbitrary that no citizen, not merely the newsagent, can know before a court has found him guilty whether he has committed an offence.

10.44 p.m.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

A good deal has been said about Part II of the Bill, and I listened with considerable interest to the speech by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy), which illustrated some of the difficulties which may occur.

I support the general aims of the Bill, as they have been described by my right hon. Friend, to stop undesirable and offensive matter being thrust at the public. I welcome that clause which deals with the prohibition of unsolicited matter which is sent through the mail and which gives such offence to old people and to parents whose young children see their mail.

But the part of the Bill that particularly concerns me is Part I, which relates to the exhibition of cinematograph films by reputable film societies, such as the British Films Institute and the British Federation of Film Societies. Not much has been said about Part I tonight. I want to draw attention to some of the difficulties that may result if the Bill is enacted in its present form.

Whilst I support the control of cinematograph exhibition promoted for private gain, I am concerned that the exercise of that control where it is concerned with payment for admission or the advertising of film shows will adversely affect the many excellent film societies which operate with the benefit of public funds. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already referred to the anxiety expressed by the film societies. I should like to amplify that anxiety.

Clause 3, which deals with the restriction on advertisements of exempted cinematograph exhibitions, is particularly difficult to follow, and may be regarded as somewhat ambiguous. Bona fide film societies are not allowed to charge at the door. Their members pay annual subscriptions in the normal way. However, guest tickets may be obtained, and they are usually obtained before shows. But if a society advertised the availability of guest tickets for a modest charge it might be in considerable difficulty under the clause.

The British Federation of Film Societies is anxious to extend the scope of its activities by opening them more widely to all sections of the community, which hon. Members will agree is a laudable ambition. But the societies will want to advertise their shows, to make the public aware that they can show films on subjects dealing with the environment, for example, and other types of pollution than that which has been referred to in the debate. If they cannot advertise those shows freely, the restriction will severely hamper their activities.

The exclusions referred to in Clause 3 are not satisfactory, because it is left to the individual local authority to decide whether a performance is exempt. Moreover, under the clause a film society would have to submit advertising to the local authority at least 21 days before a show if the exemption were not in force. The mind boggles at the administrative machinery involved in obtaining from a local authority a relatively simple approval for a specific show which is to be advertised and at which an admission fee is taken, which will add considerably to the expenses of the societies.

The very nature of some of the films which are shown to the public and are advertised precludes the satisfactory use of that machinery, because, if for no other reason, it will take far too long to operate. For example, a prize-winning film at a festival must be shown quickly while there is still public interest in its success. Often foreign films must be returned to their producers or distributors within two or three weeks of their arrival in this country. There is often little advance notice that a film is available for screening.

But most important of all, in Clause 3 there are no criteria as to what should or should not be permitted by way of advertising a show. How, then, are local authorities to know how to judge whether an advertisement is acceptable? I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to give me an assurance that that point will be considered, and that local authorities will not be entitled simply to ban an advertisement completely but will at least first have to seek a rapid modification of any offending matter.

Then there are the weekend schools of the kind that have been organised by such reputable establishments as the Hull Polytechnic and the British Federation of Film Societies, where sometimes recent continental films are shown which are not indecent but are simply of a contentious nature and are seen by people who are interested in the art of the film in its broadest sense.

In neither of these cases will it be easier to obtain approval for appropriate advertising if the Bill becomes law without criteria being laid down to guide local authorities. We should, in other words, avoid setting up machinery which results in local authorities acting as censors of advertising for bona fide film shows.

Existing film shows organised by reputable film societies will now be subject to the Obscene Publications Act. This could impose severe and possibly unnecessary restrictions on the film societies' activities. I assume that the desire to involve the Obscene Publications Act results entirely from a wish to prevent advertising by cinemas which exhibit major certificated films designed to exploit sex for commercial reasons.

I cannot do better than quote from the current issue of Campaign, a well-known and respected publication concerned with public relations, which comments on the debate in another place: Lord Longford said that no one could be unaware of the large enticements at some cinemas in prominent places. In the Strand at the corner of Trafalgar Square one was asked in huge letters: "Do you want to remain a virgin for ever?' Surely, the way to avoid this predicament is to exclude from the provisions of Clause 3 all those organisations which receive grants from public funds; for example, the British Film Institute and the British Federation of Film Societies. These bodies are not the offending parties, because they exercise their own form of control which is much respected by the institutes, their members and the public.

I quote briefly from a letter which appeared in the last edition of the Sunday Times written by the late Secretary of the British Board of Film Censors, Mr. John Trevelyan, whose opinion of film censorship affairs is much respected throughout the country: Strip-clubs will presumably he free to continue as at present, provided that their advertising is respectable. But cinema-clubs will be controlled by the local authorities, who may refuse licences or attach conditions to them. Finally, I want to raise the question: what will happen in the case of a public meeting for which the public pay an admission charge where closed circuit television is used in an adjacent hall for an overflow meeting? Will such advertising have to be approved by the local authority?

I am sorry if I have brought in what may be considered to be Committee points. I did not wish to get too technical, but I wanted to mention the grave fears expressed by people involved in running these excellent film societies which are in receipt of public funds. Their position should be taken account of, and I hope the comments I have made will be considered in Committee.

10.54 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) showed that the Bill was dangerous from the point of view of the retail newsagent. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) showed that it was dangerous from the point of view of people who are interested in the art of the film, such as the British Film Institute and the British Federation of Film Societies. Whom, then, is the Bill for, if the people who are chiefly engaged in the main areas which the Bill affects are opposed to it, frightened of it and feel that it is unnecessary? The Bill is for public prejudice, just as the Industrial Relations Bill was for public prejudice.

This Bill has a great deal in common with the Industrial Relations Bill. It meets a flow of feeling that there is something wrong, just as the Industrial Relations Bill met a flow of feeling against the trade union movement. The Opposition felt that the effects of the Industrial Relations Bill would be very different from the effect expected by the Government's supporters.

Mr. Hamling

They had not read it.

Mr. Jenkins

Of course they had read it. Nor should we do my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) the injustice of suggesting that he has not read this Bill. Of course, having read the Industrial Relations Bill hon. Members opposite still did not know what the consequences would be when it became an Act.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walton is an honest man. He has read this Bill and says that he believes that his constituents will like it. He believes that there is an evil and that the Bill will do something about it. He, of course, knew what the consequences of the Industrial Relations Bill would be because he is a trade unionist and knew what he was talking about, and I can assure him that the people who know something about this subject know that the outcome of this Bill will be the same as that of the Industrial Relations Act.

The public liked the Industrial Relations Bill but dislike it as an Act. The public will probably dislike this Bill when it becomes an Act as much as they dislike the Industrial Relations Act, for then they will discover just what it means, just as they came to realise just what the Industrial Relations Act meant.

My hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe has described some of the consequences likely to be suffered by the newsagents; the hon. Member for Uxbridge has described some of the consequences likely to be suffered by the film societies and the British Film Institute. The film societies ask—and this is the hallmark of a Bill motivated by prejudice—what is the evil which the Bill seeks to cure?

Apparently, the object of the exercise is the commercial film clubs. They are supposed to be caught by the Bill. But they will not be caught. They are most careful in their advertising. It is not the commercial film clubs which spread the West End with these posters which so offend Lord Longford. It is the commercial licensed film which is advertised in these blatant terms—and the people are sold a pup because, once inside, they find that the film is not half as salacious as the poster outside advertising it.

Mr. Hamling

Is not that typical of capitalism?

Mr. Jenkins

That point has escaped some of my hon. Friends. I am glad that at least my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) has seen it.

Mr. Heffer

Would not my hon. Friend agree that whether the film is more or less salacious than the customers expected is irrelevant to the point? The point is that it is the posters on display outside that are the offence. One does not know what the film is going to be like inside, but it is the display outside which people are objecting to. Certainly, a majority of my constituents object to it. One tries to represent the views of one's constituents in this House, and on this occasion the views of my constituents are 100 per cent. my views as well.

Mr. Jenkins

I am delighted to hear that this is the case with my hon. Friend the Member for Walton. I shall come to that point later. The point I am making now—and I am not defending salacious advertising if one of the consequence of the Bill is that it is modified or goes—is that the type of show supposed to be caught by the Bill is not the type of cinema which is indulging in the salacious advertising my hon. Friend objects to.

There is another point which has escaped attention. It has been mentioned by the British Film Institute. The institute foresees financial difficulties arising from the necessity to obtain local authority sanction, which it will have to obtain in future, for the showing of its films outside London. The Film Institute also mentions the possibility of a political censorship being exercised on films shown under its aegis. These are some of the matters which give rise to grave doubts about the Bill. I should like to quote what was said on this point by a distinguished director, Mr. Carl Foreman: What does concern me is the possibility of heavier censorship, which I find depressing. I have always felt that if there had to be film censorship, then the British variety was the best of all. The Home Secretary said today that it was not a censorship measure. But the consequences of the Bill will have a repressive and alarming effect on some sections of the community, such as newsagents and film societies. It would appear that the Bill has been introduced without enough thought having been given to its ultimate consequences.

We see in Part II of the Bill: For the purpose of this section, any matter shall be deemed to be publicly displayed if it is in, or is visible from, any place to which, at the time it is displayed, the public have or are permitted to have access, whether on payment or otherwise …". In effect, what the Bill is saying is that if a person goes into a place, having paid, expecting to see an indecent display, it is all right so long as it is not mentioned outside. But if he goes into a place not expecting to see an indecent display but an indecent display occurs, there can be trouble.

It is obvious that this matter needs a good deal of examination in Committee. It seems to me that the consequence is that it is likely that a strip club will not get caught under the Bill. But it would appear likely that a play shown in the National Theatre or any other reputable theatre could be caught by Clause 6(2)(a). I refer, for example, to the production of "Heloise and Abelard", part of which includes incidental nudity.

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

The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) says that this is an important matter, and I agree with him. But can he show me anywhere in the Bill reference to theatres or cinemas where one pays to go in to see a performance?

Mr. Jenkins

Yes. For example, I refer to Clause 6(2) and Clause 8(1): If any person produces by any means of sound reproduction or amplification indecent sounds … which are audible in a place to which the public have or are permitted to have access"— that could be a theatre— whether on payment or otherwise, he shall be guilty of an offence. If the Minister of State is saying that this is not the intention of the Bill, no doubt he will accept in Committee an amendment to exclude what seems to me to be the reintroduction of censorship into the theatre by the back door by means of Clauses 6 and 8.

I do not intend to take up a great deal of time, and I propose to end by saying this. I believe that this is a thoroughly bad Bill. One or two of its clauses if tidied up would be worthy of support. I refer, for example, to Clause 10, which refers to unsolicited articles containing indecent advertising matter sent through the post.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), who said that we were likely to have a long Committee stage. I feel that we should throw out every clause except Clause 10.

Mr. Deedes

Will the hon. Gentleman answer a question which so far he has evaded? Does he accept as offensive certain displays such as one sees at the moment in Soho and in other parts of London?

Mr. Jenkins

I accept that some may be offensive to some people and ought to be dealt with, but I am saying that the Bill does not do the job carefully and goes far beyond that.

11.5 p.m.

Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)

I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) describe the Bill as being motivated by prejudice, particularly as its source of inspiration is a Home Secretary who, I think, is less tainted by prejudice than anyone could imagine.

The Bill is inevitably something of a compromise, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made it clear that he intended to try to steer a middle course.

The hon. Member for Putney seemed to demonstrate, if demonstration be needed, that we shall have criticism from both extreme views about the nature of the Bill and its capacity to deal with the mischief at which it is aimed. Inevitably, it will not satisfy those who wish to put an end to hard pornography, nor will it please those who believe that pornography, indecent display, and obscene publications can be looked at and listened to without any harm to the public. However, I believe that most people will see the Bill as some hope of protection against what it calls "indecent matter"; that is, the advertisements that appear on hoardings, the posters we see in the underground, and the indications, by way of photographs and in other ways, that appear outside cinemas and theatres.

The Bill is an excellent demonstration of the art of the possible. All attempts by the common law during the nineteenth century and later by statute to define obscenity have failed. The Obscene Publications Act 1959 has, in effect, been a lamentable failure. By defining obscenity it has created almost insuperable difficulties for the prosecution in some cases and has added a defence which has brought an artificiality to the courts in certain cases dealing with obscenity that is quite intolable. The 1959 Act has made it possible for the defence to adduce evidence by an expert—literary, artistic or scientific—in a way that can satisfy the court, and has done so in many cases, that the obscene publication is justified as being for the public good. In many cases—I do not want to specify them, certainly at this hour—that has made the law look very foolish. That kind of defence and that Act have made it possible for the most degenerate, damaging and corrupting of obscene publications to escape conviction.

In this Bill the essence of the law will be the word "indecent". No attempt is made in Part II to define "indecent". The hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) said that he would like a definition of "indecent". It is a good, plain, well understood word that has a long legislative history. Going back through the statutes of the nineteenth century, which were aimed at the kind of offences with which we are concerned now, time and again the word "indecent" appears without any definition at all. The difficulty arises when one comes to define words of this kind, when one tries to provide a definition of, for example, obscenity, that will make sense in a court. It is almost an impossible thing to do.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) spoke of pornography as a growth industry. I think that few right hon. and hon. Members would not agree that there are some people who have a voracious and insatiable appetite for this kind of material. I remember once being a member of a committee which was considering the law of obscenity. We were discussing a film which was then showing in London. I shall not give its name, nor shall I give a free advertisement to the cinema which was showing it, but we all said that it was clearly pornographic and ought not to be shown in a cinema and open to the public. Then we discovered that no one on the committee had seen the film, and I was told that I had better go off and see what it was all about.

I think that the worst part of the experience was buying the ticket. The box office opened on to a main thoroughfare, and I felt that I ought not to have left behind my soiled raincoat and dark glasses. However, I got a ticket and went in. It was a Swedish film, and it was nothing more than a moving medical dictionary.

About half-way through the film there was an interval. The lights went up, and ice-creams were sold. There were two men ahead of me, and the moment the lights went up I noticed that they were reading something. Both of them were obviously intent on what they were doing. Impertinently, I looked over their shoulders and discovered that they were reading an obscene magazine—during the interval of this film! I thought that that was about the best illustration and the best experience that I had ever had to satisfy me of the voracious appetite of some people for obscene material.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

How does the hon. and learned Gentleman know that it was an obscene magazine? It may have been like the film. Can he explain that?

Mr. Gardner

I have a certain judgment, which I try to exercise, and I came to the conclusion that it was obscene.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

If the material is not obscene in the sense that it is not going to deprave and corrupt, and if it is not thrust upon people who do not want it, how does the hon. and learned Gentle- man consider that it harms, for instance, the men whom he saw at that film? They chose to see the film. In what way would the material harm them if it did not come within the definition of the Obscene Publications Act of being either depraved or corrupt?

Mr. Gardner

I did not suggest that it was doing them any harm. That was their private business. All I am saying is that if people wish to satisfy their appetites for this kind of material that should not be done at the risk of exposing the rest of us to the kind of indecent displays which are being thrust in our faces and which the Bill aims to stop. That is the only point that I wish to make.

One can no more do away with indecent display or with the desire of some people to look at pornographic publications than one can do away with prostitution. But as we have driven the prostitutes from the streets by legislation, so we can do away with this public nuisance of public display by a Bill of this kind.

The hon. Member for Accrington will agree that the people of Lancashire whom we represent are about as broad-minded a section of people as one could meet anywhere. But broad minded people are the very people who find offence in having indecency continually pushed before them without their wishing to see it. I share the anxiety to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford referred when he spoke about the need for clarification of the intentions of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to deal with television. The flow of filth that can come through a television set into a person's home is just about the most insidious and damaging form of invasion of a person's mind that one could find.

I should like to be satisfied, as I hope that the House will be satisfied later, that steps are being taken to make certain that those people who now write in from the constituencies—broad-minded people—complaining about some television programmes will find that they no longer have cause to be disturbed by what I would describe as this particular kind of public nuisance.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman define what he means by the portrayal of filth on television? Is he thinking of Alf Garnet portrayals, or a programme such as "Hawaii 5–0", which contains a good deal of wanton violence? The hon. and learned Gentleman ought to define the term "filth". Does he include violence?

Mr. Gardner

It has become fashionable to use the word "obscene" in a wider context than was at one time intended. I certainly say that violence is obscene in that context. Indecent material that is offensive is put over on television. I do not say that it happens frequently, but it is often enough to make it offensive to a wide audience throughout the country. To understand the breadth of this audience one has only to look at the correspondence one receives from people who have watched these programmes. I shall not refer to any particular programme, but I am sure that the House and people who watch television will understand all too well the kind of material to which I refer.

11.19 p.m.

Mr. Philip Whitehead (Derby), North)

I cannot follow the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) in his excurses upon his adventures as a mackintosh man. I do not have such a lurid memoire to contribute to the debate. He appears to be saying to the House, as I suspect that the optimists in this argument on definition have been saying throughout, that although none of us can precisely define "indecency" we all know it when we see it.

Unfortunately, that is not strictly true. I shall come to what the hon. and learned Member said about television at the conclusion of my remarks. It is certainly not true across the whole field of the arts and communication. It has not been true either as a definition in the courts or in the general matter of public debate over a period on the whole question of how indecency should be defined. Is it, as some people say, that it affronts the ordinary modesty of the average man? Is it, as Lord Parker said in the Oz case, that 'indecent' means unbecoming and immodest, with indecent at the bottom of the scale? If you are on the beach with your children and a woman takes off her clothes, that is indecent because we just do not do that son of thing in this country. Is that what is said in the courts, or, when prosecutions are brought under this legislation—if it passes into law—is that what we shall mean by "indecency"? Is it not true that it is extremely difficult to provide a satisfactory definition?

There are many features of this Bill which I welcome. People have a right to be protected from the gratuitous insult of unsolicited material coming through their mails; of equally unsolicited advertisements displayed in public places, which assail and affront them as they are passing along public thoroughfares. I do not think there is a single person in the House who would not argue for a moment—and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) made this point very strongly—that here is an area where there should be legislation, and the contents of Clause 10 receive a very warm welcome indeed.

I have had constituents come to see me with material of a most disgusting kind, which was of course only advertising for the real pornographic material that was to follow, sent to them quite unsolicited through the post. To add insult to injury there has been a letter accompanying saying, "As you are one of our most valued customers", as the initial sentence, which is not only an affront to the individual but is very hard to explain to the wife. The difficulty is that even when we look at what comes through the mails, there can be differences of opinion as to what is indecent and what is not. Something which I received through the mails only the other day is a scatalogical cartoon of the reigning monarch seated upon the lavatory with the consort. It is a cartoon by Gilray and the reigning monarch is George III. Most of us would not now consider that material to be grossly offensive.

But there may well be people who feel that it is extremely indecent, and there are certainly people who feel that the work of the modern equivalents of Gilray—cartoonists such as Gerald Scarfe—is extremely indecent and should be prohibited; and that some of the covers of magazines such as Private Eye come into the area of indecent display which is dealt with in this Bill. I sincerely hope that when this Bill goes to Committee, and when we make Committee stage speeches upon it, these problems can be ironed out and that it will be a better Bill because of that.

I come now to the question of film clubs and what happens there, and I want to endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) said in this regard. All of us in this House have received a very strong statement from the British Film Institute on the question of the threat to bona fide film societies and local film clubs, which may be put at risk under Clause 3 of this Bill. The Institute said in its Press statement that it foresees financial difficulties resulting from the delay in obtaining local authority sanctions". Clause 3 makes it clear that, although there will be exemptions in the provisions regarding advertising, those exemptions will be wholly within the powers of the local licensing authority, and there will not be a statutory limitation on the powers of the authority to exempt or not to exempt the film societies concerned.

I do not think we need to stretch the point too far to see situations in which some local authorities might have objections to the activities of a certain film society which go well beyond the agreed definition of "indecency" which we would want to see in this House. It is for that reason that we ought to be careful about how we interpret Clause 3 when we come to the Committee stage. It is true that there have been difficulties for the police and others, when they have tried to get together material under the various Cinematograph Acts and the Obscene Publications Act in order to bring a prosecution against a film such as Andy Warhol's "Flesh", where there was an attempt to bring a prosecution. Nevertheless, it is true at the moment that films are not subject to other legislation which might bring them more within the ambit of public concern. Films are not, I think, as subject as they might be to the provisions of the Race Relations Act.

Nevertheless, we must be very careful that in exercising new powers over local film societies we do not in this area destroy genuine creative effort and genuine community activity which is not at all concerned with two or three shoddy pornographers getting together, running up a film called "Wendy Surprised by the Gardener" or something like that and showing it through what they call "a film society"—whether for gain or not—or perhaps for their own perverted pleasure.

Mr. Heffer

What about Warhol's "Flesh"?

Mr. Whitehead

There are some people in this country—I am not one of them—who believe that that film had artistic merit. There would be many more who would say that it was not made with pornographic intent, whatever obscure gratifications it may have satisfied in the minds of Andy Warhol and the peculiar court who hang around with him. Nevertheless, there would be an argument—my hon. Friend must recognise this—as to whether that film comes within the definition of deliberately created pornography, of which my hon. Friend spoke earlier.

On the rest of the Bill, I share the reservations which have already been expressed about the sufficient wideness of the other areas of exclusion in Clause 6, Clause 8, and later in the Bill. It is possible, under the Bill as at present drafted, for books and theatrical performances to be pulled in. It is equally true, as has been said already, that people who take an objection to a theatrical performance or a recording and who wish to use Clause 8 can do so, irrespective of whether many other people would agree with their definition of indecency.

There was a major debate recently about whether the recording of the song by Jane Birkin "Je t'aime, Je t'aime" is indecent because there is a good deal of heavy breathing on it which was alleged to be a simulation of the sounds of the sex act. Other people thought that it was simply a sign of the near despair of the two performers that they would ever reach the required notes of the song. Nevertheless, it would be possible at present for such a recording to fall within the ambit of the Bill.

That brings me to the area of broadcasting generally, to which several hon. Members have referred. I am a little concerned that, although we are told that radio and television and broadcasting is excluded from the provisions of the Bill—[interruption.] Indeed, that is specifically mentioned in two separate places. Sound or television broadcasts are mentioned as being excluded in Clause 8(2). "Je t'aime, Je t'aime" is, or was at one stage as it was broadcast by the BBC, a sound broadcast.

The point I want to make and which I made originally to the Secretary of State in his opening speech is that there are areas—these are growing areas in communications—which are not covered by this exclusion. I believe that under the Cinematograph Act 1952 cinematograph performances were taken to include closed circuit television. They were taken to include, therefore—I imagine—what we now call cable television, which is that area within which there is now an initiation of programming as there was not in 1952, although relay radio and television was well known at that time.

I should like to know from the Minister of State whether in this area, which is an expanding one and where I acknowledge that there are degrees of risk, we shall allow that same degree of exemption to local cable television as it develops as is allowed under the Bill for the rest of broadcasting.

I acknowledge immediately that, as cable television and cassette television develop, it is likely that some elements of hard core pornography will move in. I am already told by acquaintances of mine who are involved in the cassette market—the marketing of the so-called soft ware for the next stage of the communications revolution—that what they regard as the really lucrative area in the marketing of cassettes over the next 15 to 20 years is what they with a certain ambivalence call "soft pornography".

If we reach the stage where this stuff is being marketed, whether illicitly or otherwise, we must be sure that when we have television sets which are capable are recording and replaying the stuff the matter is covered in legislation. But, unlike the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner), while recognising that there are good intentions as well as bad, I should not like to see the intentions behind the Bill extended into the area of mainstream broadcasting as we have it now.

The hon. and learned Gentleman talked of an appalling amount of filth pouring out of the television organisations today. I do not believe that that is true. There are great differences of opinion about the taste, or questionable taste, of some of the material which is broadcast, but there are statutory bodies concerned to deal with those matters. That is what Section 3 of the Television Act is all about. That is why the BBC has its licence and charter, which are drawn up clearly and specifically to cover matters of alleged outraging of public taste or decency—which, I think, are the words of the Act. We should not, I believe, extend the Bill into broadcasting.

If the Bill is to do good in the country—and I believe that in some respects it can—it will do it by holding back the importuning of the pornographer, the importuning which sends material through the mail, which puts lurid advertising in public places and gives general distaste to us all. It will not do good if its provisions are extended into wider areas of communication in respect of which there are genuine divisions in the House and in the country as to what good taste is and, even more, as to what decency or indecency is.

11.31 p.m.

Mr. Norman Fowler (Nottingham, South)

It seems to me that there are two essential issues here. First, is the Bill desirable? Second, can it be enforced? We have not, perhaps, dealt fully with the question of enforceability.

On the question of desirability—here I take up what the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) said about cassettes—the House should recognise that we have moved a long way since it last passed legislation on this subject, in 1959 and 1964. It seems to me that we are dealing now with an industry which developed in the late 1960s and which is now established both in this country and in Europe for the deliberate production and distribution of pornography. Not only does it produce pornography in this country but it imports pornography from other countries. The profits are great, and the turnover in this country alone must run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. That, I suggest, is the context within which the Bill should be considered.

Nor can there be any dispute about the intention of the pornographers. We are not talking here about abstract ideas of freedom and principle. The pornographers produce their product with deliberate intent, and they have an interest in having it recognised, as it were, as pornography. We are, therefore, facing a new problem which has developed in recent years.

I give full support to the principle of the Bill, and, in particular, I welcome that part of it which safeguards the public against being unwillingly exposed to indecent material. That principle, surely could be shared by almost everyone. Perhaps I should add that even in Denmark, the country which has gone furthest of all in dismantling the controls, there are restrictions on the public display of pornography.

Mr. J. Selwyn Gummer (Lewisham, West)

My hon. Friend will know that those restrictions came in after the original changes in the law were made because the Danish authorities found that, without such restrictions, the law itself was a public disgrace. They introduced the restrictions a year after they abolished all forms of censorship. That makes the point even more strongly, does it not?

Mr. Fowler

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I bow to this knowledge, and I acknowledge the value of his book on this subject.

The only argument that could be advanced against the principle of the Bill is that advanced by those who say that pornography does no harm in any event. It is an argument that has been advanced in Denmark and in several other European countries. In particular, it is claimed that liberalisation, as it is called, in pornography leads to a reduction, especially a reduction in sex offences.

Rather surprisingly, that argument has not been used in the House, but I think that it will be used outside and it is important that we should consider it with great care and great caution. The claim is based on research work done by Professor Kutschinsky from Copenhagen University, whom I met earlier this year. I do not doubt the intention of his research. What I doubt is whether it is conclusive in what it tries to prove.

It is based on a reduction in only one kind of sex offence and I cannot for the life of me see how research that by definition has been going on only since the change in the Danish law, that is, since 1967 and 1969, can in any way be claimed to be conclusive by this stage. I should have thought that it could not sustain anything but the most tentative impression.

When talking in Denmark and other countries in Europe about the problems of pornography, I thought that the point that came over most forcibly was that the reason why several countries had dropped their controls was not to do with principle, but was that it was difficult, and for them impossible, to enforce the law. That is an important factor of which we should take careful note, for the attitude of those countries means that we shall be faced with difficult enforcement problems.

That follows because it is now no longer an offence to export it. In other words, this is completely dissimilar from the drugs situation in which international agreement recognises the illegality in all countries. In this instance, the only offence is when the pornography is imported into this country. There is thus a danger that this trade, which has already grown to a vast extent in this country, will increase even more, and that is why it is so important that we should make the law enforceable.

On this issue I have two comments. First, at present the police are faced with serious problems in enforcing the existing law. The centre of the pornography trade is plainly Soho. Some of the shops there have been prosecuted and convicted several times and some many times. The reason is that the man who is convicted once or twice will not risk a third conviction, which may mean prison, and so his place is taken by someone else.

This is the point that I made in an intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for York. (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon). The ownership of the shop remains the same, but the men who are prosecuted are not the owners of the shops; the men who are prosecuted are the front men, who have a percentage of the takings of that shop.

Unfortunately, at present the owners of the shops rarely appear in court, because it is so difficult to find out who they are. One of the reasons is that the police do not have power to check with the Land Registry to see who is the freeholder of a property. If they were concerned with the ownership of a company, the police could check with Companies House, but they have no similar power to check who owns a freehold.

Even if the police had such powers, the job would still be difficult, because in an area like Soho there are leases and sub-leases. But such a power would help, and if our aim is to make the law enforceable, we should pay close attention to giving the police access to the Land Registry so that they may check the identity of freeholders of property. I cannot accept—I am, of course, open to argument—that there would be any conceivable argument about civil liberties. It seems that all that we are doing is duplicating what has been done already with full registration. If we want a good law then we must make it an enforceable law.

My second reservation concerns a matter which has been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House—namely, the lack of definition of "indecency". I accept that there are probably grave difficulties in producing such a definition, but we must be clear what we are doing. We are saying to the police, "You will define what you believe to be indecent and then the courts will check that definition." That may not have much effect on public displays but it could have a real effect on moving picture machines.

Although there has been a certain amount of sniggering about what-the-butler-saw machines, I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) was absolutely right. We are not talking about that kind of machine. It is all very well for the hon. Member for York to say that he envies the DPP and the Home Office for the access which they have to such information or at least to wish that he had more access. All that the hon. Member for York has to do is to walk into Soho to see the machines in the arcades.

Moving machines were, first, showing hard pornography, including sadism and bestiality: they are now showing what I imagine would be defined as lighter or softer pornography. Arcades in par- ticular are easily open to children. The machines there have not very much to do with the pier-end machines about which we were talking. It is that part of the industry which is now being extended to the greatest extent. The idea and the personnel come from the United States. The fact that we are acting against them is something which I welcome.

It should be recognised that it was considered doubtful by the police, and presumably by the DPP, whether action could be taken under present legislation. I am concerned that the courts, in the context of the Bill, may now look rather more tolerantly than I should like upon this kind of activity. Part II aims to safeguard the public against being unwillingly exposed to indecent material. It seems doubtful whether we can say that people who pay money to look at these machines are being unwillingly exposed to such material. They know perfectly well the kind of material which they will see. They would be disappointed if they saw other than that material.

It is my fear that the courts will have a different and a lower definition of indecency in this context than they may have in others. An alternative would be to licence the arcades. It has been done with arcades which are offering amusement and gaming machines. It would not be a licence for indecency. The effect would be just the opposite. It would mean that the licensing authorities would be able to prevent the showing of pictures which they considered to be indecent. In that way standards could be maintained and enforced without there being any doubt. It could also have the effect of killing stone dead the present trade which is booming most. The trouble with the present provisions is that they lay themselves open to challenge in the courts. Our experience with illegal gaming has shown just how drawn out such challenges in the courts can be and the extent to which they can reduce the law to a state of uncertainty. Uncertainty is the one thing we must try to avoid in these matters.

Good intentions are not enough by themselves. We must also have a law which is clear and can be readily enforced. I hope that in Committee attention will be given to the enforcement of these provisions.

11.46 p.m.

Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Kensington, North)

I share the view of others who have spoken that the ostensible purpose of the Bill is good. It is, as set out in the Explanatory Memorandum, to control cinematograph exhibitions and to safeguard the public against being unwillingly exposed to indecent material. However, the Bill goes much further. I am afraid that certain clauses are comparable to those passages in the Immigration Act which we later discovered had totally different effects from those which the House envisaged when the Bill passed through the House.

In particular I refer to Clause 9. It provides that when any article is advertised as being for sale or hire and the advertisement is likely to be taken as indicating that the article consists of or contains indecent material, the person advertising the article shall be guilty of an offence. This is not a Committee point. The Bill represents a virtual repeal by the back door of the Obscene Publications Act 1959. The hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) let the cat out of the bag on that point. He wanted, I believe, the repeal of those provisions in that Act which place an obligation on the prosecution to establish that an article was going to deprave and corrupt those into whose hands it was likely to fall, and also provide the defence that publication is for the public good, on grounds of artistic, literary, scientific or other merit, that the article should be made available to the public. As it is impossible to sell any book without some advertising or publicity material, and as any publicity material for any book, however serious, dealing with any sexual subject, must necessarily indicate that the book will come to some extent within the category of indecency as that term has been defined in the courts, we are likely to be back to Victorian standards of censorship.

Under this Bill there is no defence of public good, nor any question of the prosecution having to establish that an article would deprave and corrupt.

But the cover or other publicity material for a book, however serious its intent, whatever its literary merit and whatever the extent to which it was quite clearly outside the professed ambit of the Bill will nevertheless come within that ambit if anything in the publicity material for the book indicates in any way that it may be indecent or if such material is likely to be taken as indicating that the article consists of or contains indecent matter.

A book which carries on its cover the warning, This book is for sale to adults only is indicating clearly that its contents are likely to include indecent matter, however plain the cover. A great many of our current films have sex passages slotted into them simply so that they may get an X-certificate. That X-certificate in itself indicates that the film may contain indecent matter. However, I am more concerned with the kind of literary matter at present available for sale which might be taken by a prurient policeman to consist of or to contain indecent matter.

I have personal experience of cases in different parts of the country where prosecutions have been embarked upon by police forces which, in the eyes of a great many people, would be regarded as almost perverse. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) gave an example of the kind of prosecution that is likely to occur. In that case, the prosecution was unsuccessful. I should hope that it was, in view of the list of publications involved.

It is clear from the terms of the Bill that it is not only Playboy and Private Eye which are liable to prosecution because it is indicated that articles published in them consist of or contain indecent matter. The same might be said of "The Nude" by Sir Kenneth Clark. Any material advertising a book which could be taken as indicating that it consists of or contains indecent matter would be at risk as Clause 9 is drafted at present.

It is proposed that the test should be that of indecency and not that of obscenity. This is likely to involve a degree of censorship which goes far beyond the basic concept which has motivated the Home Office in the presentation of the Bill. As I understand it, the idea is that articles which are likely to deprave and corrupt continue to be prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act. What has to be got at is the public display of indecent matter.

It could be argued that the objective of Clause 7 could be achieved in other ways. As for Clause 10, I do not wish to support the sending of unsolicited material through the post. But much of what is intended by the Bill could be achieved in different ways, though only if the specific suggestions made by the hon. Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) were incorporated, especially that requiring the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions before a prosecution was instituted. In that way, there would be a uniform standard throughout the country. No longer would a police force be able to decide to take all the magazines in its locality, from Playboy and Private Eye onwards, before a bench of magistrates many of whom would be only too delighted to say that Private Eye was indecent and should be banned, as W. H. Smith has done already.

We must have the consent of the DPP before there are prosecutions, and we must have juries determining whether articles are indecent, rather than magistrates. Many stipendiary magistrates tend to become stereotyped in their ideas. In a way, they become depraved and corrupted themselves after sitting in court day after day. They get a somewhat different view of human nature from that of the ordinary member of the public.

The most serious effect of the Bill is to impose a degree of censorship which I am sure was not intended by the Home Secretary and which I hope he will ensure is corrected in Committee.

If we are to have a greater degree of censorship, which is an inevitable consequence of the Bill as it stands, those concerned should be able to obtain clearance from the Director of Public Prosecutions for individual books or a certain class of journal, so that they know that it is not likely to lead to a prosecution. It is not possible to obtain such guidance from the Director of Public Prosecutions at present. A few years ago I wrote to him on behalf of clients, asking for his guidance on the book "Last Exit to Brooklyn". In reply, he recited the provisions of the Obscene Publications Act, with which I was already fairly familiar, saying that it would be for the court to decide whether the book was obscene and whether a defence was made out. He concluded, in effect, "If you find, as I am afraid you will, that this reply is of very little assistance to you, I can only say that I myself derive very little assistance from the terms of the law as it stands." That was the situation that resulted in my clients having to defend a prosecution at enormous expense, not that I conducted the defence in the circumstances. They were ultimately successful in the Court of Appeal.

If the Home Secretary intends to persist with the sort of provision contained in Clause 9, which has a vastly wider effect than anything suggested as being the purpose of the Bill, I hope that he will ensure that censorship becomes open, that publishers can at least obtain guidance from the Director of Public Prosecutions that such and such an article will not be prosecuted. If the Director indicates that he will prosecute the publisher can still proceed at his own risk. The Director of Public Prosecutions should be able to give the public advice as to what will not be prosecuted, and thus resolve the problem set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe.

There must also be a provision that only a jury, and not a magistrate, will be entitled to determine what is obscene.

11.58 p.m.

Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith (Chislehurst)

I join in the congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on introducing the Bill. It requires courage to tackle so lucrative and entrenched a corps as those who are ready to make as much money as they can from pornographic displays and pornographic films and material.

Those of us who defend the Bill can expect to be vilified and attacked. Those who defend the circulation of pornography will call in aid everything from Botticelli to Goya and from Shakespeare to Lawrence. They have a great deal of money to lose. They have no responsibility for the effect of their various displays and the results of the blue films that are shown in seedy little film clubs, many of which are quite unknown to members of the local council, because they do not have to be licensed. I have even known members of an authority deny most vehemently that there were any in their town. The only people who know about them are the police, who, because the clubs are not licensed do not have the same powers to enter them and deal with them as they would in a legitimately conducted and licensed cinema.

The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) read more into the Bill than is implied. We all know of the great interest of the hon. Member for Putney in the legitimate cinema, and how knowledgeable he is on it but I see nothing in the Bill which in any way impinges upon cinemas which are properly conducted, regularly licensed and properly protected against fire hazards.

We in the House have a responsibility to the electorate whom we represent. We are at the receiving end of the deep disquiet and distress of many parents whose children are so easily and unwittingly exposed and introduced to unwholesome, unnatural and disgusting exhibitions. Because it is so easy for children to see these exhibitions and read pornographic literature they tend to regard them as the norm.

The usual flood of intellectuals will no doubt tell us that we must defend the arts, but the authorities who will have to carry out the terms of the Bill will recognise the distinction in the mind of the ordinary, decent citizen between genuine art and filth and corrupt pornography. The public are sick and tired of seeing the House dodge the column and fail to deal with a matter about which they have been so vehemently protesting for many years.

We in the House frequently talk about safety. We have been vehement recently about the lack of fire precautions in some hotels. Yet there are hundreds of tiny cinema clubs, some in cellars and some on the fourth floor of buildings with no fire escape. They may be crammed with youngsters. Theoretically, an age limit is imposed, but give me tiny healthy, reasonably developed young girl of 12 and in five minutes flat with wig, lipstick and false eyebrows I will make her look 18 or 20. At West Central police station on almost any weekend night one can see girls declaring that they are 16 or 18. A knowledgeable policewoman will remove a girl's wig and find a much younger haircut underneath. The parent will say, "She is not 18, she is only 13, and I though she was staying with her friend up the street".

As Members of Parliament we must accept responsibility for preventing the offensive displays that pervade the arcades which are so freely open to young people and for the pornography that appears in films and magazines. We cannot just shrug off that responsibility or get out of it by saying that what we do might impinge upon legitimate art.

Some fashionable and widely distributed magazines started as house magazines of clubs with paid-up members of a minimum age of 21. I do not worry unduly if adult or middle-aged men—or women—indulge in this sort of titillation. But the publishers and owners of these magazines realised that if they could be sold on the book stalls they could enormously increase their profits and their advertising revenue as circulation rose, and so magazines which started for and are basically provided for the adult male or female member of a club became nationally distributed.

Today, one sees youngsters of 12 and 13 or even younger going to what we regard as the most public and legitimate book stalls on the railway stations and buying these magazines, of which the least dangerous part are the nude photographs, which, particularly with some of the contortions in which some of the young men and women are photographed disgust many people.

What is more dangerous are the articles and, in some cases, the pseudo and faked letters of so-called guidance. I have had representations made to me by a very experienced gynaecologist and also by parents deeply distressed at having inadvertently discovered literature which young girls have acquired and in which they read abnormal suggestions about home-made mechanisms which will enable them to stimulate themselves and lose their shyness and increase their ability with men.

This kind of literature can be bought on an open book stall by young girls who, lacking experience and in great ignorance, are in great danger, in the view of very experienced members of the medical profession, of irreparable harm. I believe that this should be dealt with. I do not worry if club members of adult age buy such publications; I do worry that they are openly available on the book stalls to boys and girls of very tender age. Parents and many other adults who believe in decent standards believe also that action about these offensive displays is long overdue in the House. We hear a lot about the environment year—doing away with filth in the air, filth in the streets, filth in the rivers. It is time we did away with the filth that corrupts the minds of those who are not sufficiently mature to be exposed to it unwillingly in the streets, in the shops and in the arcades.

12.8 a.m.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Walthamstow, East)

I agree so much with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith) has said and with the points made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) when he talked of the simple affront to public decency which is given by the photographs outside cinemas and the window displays of book shops.

Of course, I welcome the Bill. Since so many people have been claiming their part in bringing it about, perhaps I can lay my claim. In 1971, I introduced my own Bill under the Ten Minute Rule, and it was given an unopposed First reading. It sought to do something along the lines on which the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) has talked. It would have treated the whole thing as the sale of offensive literature, but I am sure that this Bill is much more comprehensive and will deal with the matter far more effectively.

But I wonder why it has taken so long for this measure to reach the floor of the House. In 1969, I took a deputation from my constituency—where we had just got a cinema club plus photographs—with a petition signed by 11,000 people to see the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams), who was then the Minister of State, Home Office. I remember the hon. Lady saying that she was hoping that the Home Office would bring legislation forward. At long last that legislation has appeared, and I welcome it. But, I repeat, I wonder why we have had to wait so long for action to counter the affront to public decency which has been growing since the Obscene Publications Act 1959 opened the floodgates to the sort of material we are discussing tonight.

I do not disagree with the attempt in the Obscene Publications Act to accept that there is a contemporary morality that is more lax and different from the morality before the Second World War. I welcome the idea that serious writers should be given as much licence as possible to write about human behaviour as they feel it should be described. But there is all the difference between D. H. Lawrence putting his ideas into a book like "Lady Chatterley's Lover" and the sort of material that has flowed through the loophole which the almost indefinable definition in the Obscene Publications Act created. Therefore, tonight to some extent at least, what we are seeking to do is to plug that loophole. For some reason which I find slightly strange, if not perverse, we seem to wish to hang on to the definition of obscenity as set out in the Act to tell the courts what is obscene but not to tell the courts what is indecent.

We also seem to believe that while we know what is obscene because we have passed legislation on it, we cannot define what is indecent. Yet we accept that there is such a thing as indecent display material. This is something of a paradox, if not illogical. If we think the 1959 Act definition has been a failure, why do we not admit it? Why do we not go back to the courts and let them decide according to contemporary morality what is obscenity? How can we honestly say we can tell what is obscene but not what is indecent?

Then if we are to depend on the Obscene Publications Act for our definition of obscenity, or on the Cinematograph Act 1952 and its view that private cinema clubs should be allowed a measure of artistic licence, we must bear in mind that those Acts sprang from the pre-dawn of the permissive society and indeed are the cause of the affront to public decency about which so many of us are so steamed up tonight. Indeed, with this Bill I cannot help wondering whether we are not just tinkering with the problem rather than getting to the root of it.

For instance, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) mentioned the position of newsagents. There is a suggestion that when the police raid a newsagents to see whether there is any obscene material there they do not act under the provisions of the Obscene Publications Act but use no fewer than eight different Acts, all of which give them varying powers to achieve their ends. If that is the case, then it is obvious that the Obscene Publications Act is not an effective means for controling the sort of literature that is going into far too many newsagents all over the country.

The Bill seeks to get rid of that affront to public decency of which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton spoke so effectively. I am referring to the disgust felt by people of all ages, both men and women, at some of the photographs and displays they see around them in public places, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, at a Press conference, described the concept of the Bill—indeed, he has used not dissimilar words today—as sweeping out of public view those affronts to public decency.

But I am fearful that out of sight may be out of mind. I hope that simply because the display material disappears and much of the material about which we are concerned finds its way into what will be more or less pornographic bookshops, all but licensed, it will not cause the police to close an eye to the sort of material that is available in them on the grounds that an adult must be free to read what he or she likes. That would be a dangerous argument. I do not believe that any hon. Member would wish to see literature that, for instance, tended to incite racial hatred being freely available. If we draw that line, why should we imagine that pornography does not also have a certain propaganda value?

But I come back to the concept of offensive or indecent literature on display and I repeat that we should seek to define indecency in this context if we believe that we can define obscenity, simply because there is an illogicality about being able to describe the one without the other. It might indeed be better to leave the meaning of both to the courts and to depend upon contemporary morality for their interpretation.

I turn now to the effect of the Bill on children. I understand that no Act of Parliament prevents children buying any sort of material that they wish, and there is certainly nothing in the Bill which prevents children doing it.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) referred to the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act 1955 which I believe was nicknamed the horror comics Act. No prosecution has been instituted under that Act. But among the concern expressed to me by my constituents has been not only their disgust at what they are sent through the post and have to see, but the fear that some of the material that is available in bookshops may fall into the hands of young people who are so impressionable. I should like to see a measure of protection for the young in the Bill and, as my Bill suggested, it might make it an offence for these shops to sell their material to young people under the age of 18 years. I am firmly convinced that we should not only protect adults from being disgusted, but, more important, concern ourselves with the kind of environment in which our children are growing up.

Lastly, I want to touch on Clause 1 and its relationship with cinematographic exhibitions. What will be the position of shops selling sex films for use at home? I am not sure that they are covered by the Bill. Also, if one buys a pornographic video cassette and puts it through a television set, presumably that is exempted by the Bill. Therefore, the point made by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) is worth bearing in mind and should be included in the Bill, because undoubtedly video cassettes represent a boom market in television. If that is to be a boom market in every other sense, can we doubt that the pornographers will get on to it and find a loophole in the Bill which will allow them to sell their material?

However, I repeat that I welcome the Bill. It will do a great deal to clear up the affronts which have caused considerable concern to far too many people. I do not consider it to be a slight Bill. It is important, because it adds up to a better environment for young and old alike.

Mr. John Fraser


Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

Order. Mr. Fraser.

Mr. Fraser

The hon. and gallant Gentleman would not be wearing evening dress if he had attended the whole debate. Therefore, I think it is right that I should wind up the debate for the Opposition now.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have never heard it suggested that because an hon. Member is wearing a horizontal tie he is not entitled to speak.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is a clear custom of the Chair that if a Front Bench speaker rises to speak he is called. If the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser) wishes to have second thoughts, the Chair will not stand in the way of that.

Mr. Fraser

I give way to the hon. and gallant Gentleman.

12.20 p.m.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser).

I do not believe that the House should sit in the middle watch, and therefore I shall make only one additional point. I do so in order to emphasise the problem as it affects children and young people.

I still have a young family, and I suppose that, like millions of parents, when I hear my children say that they are going to the movies I wonder what they are going to see. The same thought crosses my mind when they sit up late at night watching television or reading paperbacks which they can buy all too easily.

To hear or see indecent or shocking material often upsets and possibly, arguably, harms children and young people. Not to be able to see such material may be a slight deprivation to the hardened roué, but it cannot be said to be harmful. Let us legislate vigorously about this matter, and if in doubt let us lean over in favour of over-strictness. The Bill should be tightened to deal with the problem as it affects children and young people, because we are legislating not for ourselves but for future generations.

12.22 p.m.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

Mr. Deputy Speaker, The comparative absence of public complaint and the penalties imposed by the courts suggest that pornography causes less public unease than most other breaches of the law. Those are not my words, but the words of Sir Robert Mark speaking on oath in the Blackburn case. I had always been inclined to agree with him but the time that the debate has taken, and the thoughtful views that have been expressed from both sides of the House tend to show that there is more public concern about the matter than one might have believed was the case. This has been a satisfying debate, in that extreme views have not been expressed. They have all been serious views, and there has been unanimity about what we believe to be the central purpose of the Bill.

I am slightly inclined to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) that there are greater priorities for legislation. I am not convinced that if the Bill deals only with displays of matters which are sexually titillating, that is the right priority. I am thinking particularly of the legislation that we might have seen on race relations, such as has been called for by Sir Geoffrey Wilson, and legislation on the control of firearms. It is strange that, even after the passing of the Criminal Justice Act 1972, the offence of supplying a firearm to an insane or drunk person will carry a lesser penalty than selling Playboy magazine on a news stand at a railway station. Be that as it may, there is general unanimity about the main objectives of the Bill.

What concerns me is not merely whether sufficient attention has been given to sexual deviations, examples of which have been given from books and films, but whether enough priority has been given to the problems of violence and the control of it in our society. That troubles me more than photographs of a naked woman. The Government must make clear the extent to which they intend to deal with the glorification, display and exploitation of wanton violence.

If it is intended that the Bill should prohibit the display of wanton violence, it ought expressly to say so. I am sure that the Home Secretary intends the Bill to cover that. We ought to devote a great deal more time, money and research into the causes of violent crime. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) will agree that the amount of money that is spent on research into the causes of crime in abysmal compared with all the other money that is spent on the law and order vote. One example of that is that sexual offences known to the police have decreased since 1969; not by very much, but they have decreased. But since 1969 offences against the person have increased by over 33 per cent., and robbery and assault with intent to rob have increased by almost 50 per cent., although there may be a very welcome decrease this year.

Where there is, perhaps, the greatest degree of public concern and public offence is in relation to injury which is not only an injury to a person's susceptibilities but an injury to his physical safety. Therefore, I hope that the prohibition of what is called "indecent display" will be extended to those matters which are likely to encourage or approve of violence. If the Bill is intended to prohibit public display that may be encouragement or a further approval of violence, its definition of "indecency" must be clear. There must be a clear definition.

I come to the word "indecent" on which the whole thing hinges. It is wholly unsatisfactory to ask Parliament to create a new offence without explaining the ingredients of that offence. It is not good enough just to leave it to the courts, for the new creature of statute either to wither or to flourish according to the interpretation of the word "indecent" by the courts.

I urge that the Bill should make it clear, in the words of a leading article in The Times. that indecency must be of a kind that is seriously and widely offensive. That is the view of the Solicitor-General. In writing in a Conservative lawyers' report, he defined indecency as being something which was grossly offensive to the public at large. Other views have been expressed this evening which support the view that the offence must be spelled out with a great deal more clarity.

Secondly, I hope that the Bill will make it clear that the portrayal of wanton violence is included in the definition of indecency. I believe that violence is seriously and widely offensive.

Thirdly, in order to achieve uniformity in prosecutions, and to stop private prosecutions by cranks and bigots and by people who lack the judgment to bring about a prosecution, it is right that prosecutions should not take place without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions. I take entirely the point made by the Home Secretary that what is not offensive in Soho may well be offensive in a South Wales valley. But I am sure that the Director of Public Prosecutions also has enough sense to take that point. We are embarking upon something that is rather dangerous if we invite every member of the public to lodge complaints and to embark upon private prosecutions. I thought that that was the burden of what the Home Secretary said.

Fourthly, I believe that the offence should be triable by jury at the option of the defendant, in order to test what is alleged to be seriously offensive to the public at large by the opinion of 12 ordinary and reasonable people. I support what was said by the hon. Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) in that regard.

Some kind of defence of responsible publication in the public interest should be available. When talking about indecent display, I am not attracted by the argument that there should be a defence of literary merit. That argument is not valid. There may be occasions when someone is offended, and someone may regard something as being indecent. Yet there may be a responsible publication in the public interest. That point would be worth while exploring in Committee.

Lastly, in terms of how the offences should be defined and prosecuted, I take the analogy of the Street Offences Act, which has already attracted the Home Secretary. In the early operation of a Bill such as this, there is bound to be a great deal of doubt and there will be a great deal more doubt if the word "indecency" is not defined. There is a great deal to be said for a method of cautioning, in the first instance, before wholesale prosecutions are embarked upon. The reasons for my urging so strongly a definition of the word "indecency" are as follows. There are two examples which may seem farfetched, but which I do not believe are absurd.

The Daily Mirror has from time to time used the epithet "bloody", even on its front page, and it has been stated—admittedly, in a case in 1911—that the expression, "You can report what the bloody hell you like" is indecent. It is not absurd to suggest that, if we allowed private prosecutions, somebody could start proceedings against a magazine or newspaper which used that epithet, which is probably frowned upon but is not regarded as grossly offensive. Then there is the Sun newspaper, which regularly publishes pictures of naked women on its inside pages, and which has no doubt increased its circulation on that account. Is the Sun newspaper to be prosecuted for an indecent display? It is not absurd to suggest that, when one looks at some judgments on the interpretation of the word "indecent".

My hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) clashed with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), when my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington suggested that the News of the World might be prosecuted. I do not think that is too far-fetched a proposition. I know of many families where the News of the World is considered to be an indecent newspaper to be kept out of the reach of children, and it is considered to be indecent although it does not appear, on the face of it, to be an insidious and corrupting publication. But where children come across articles in the News of the World by accident in their parents' home, people in some parts believe that they are corrupted by it.

I do not pretend to make any judgment upon the News of the World, but it was not far-fetched of my hon. Friend to suggest that some newsagents, particularly if we are to have local options for prosecution, might be prosecuted. After all, the News of the World is illegal in Southern Ireland and, if one lives in a district which is inhabited mainly by Roman Catholics from Southern Ireland, is it going too far to suggest that somebody might initiate a prosecution for a display of that newspaper, because it offends the susceptibilities of the majority of the people living in the neighbourhood? That example illustrates the need for greater clarity and greater definition.

There are many perfectly responsible newsagents, publishers, authors and advertisers who could be put at risk because of imprecise definition, or the vagaries of prosecution policy. I agree wholeheartedly with the speeches that have been made in defence of newsagents who are perfectly respectable and not peddlars of filth or pornography, but who, if we do not get our definition right, risk prosecution and the confiscation proceedings which have been described. People are entitled to look for certainty in the law and reasonably precise definitions of what they may or may not do.

What I want to see incorporated in our law—and I am sure that this is the wish of everyone who has spoken—is the certainty that the ostentatious display of matter which grossly offends the public at large, and which is intended to be intrusive and provocative and without regard for the public good, will be swept from the public view. There are people who intend, aggressively and ostentatiously, to offend and intrude into people's ordinary lives. It is that kind of intrusion that we want to prevent, not the cranky or bigoted prosecution of a magazine which is kept at the back of a counter in a newsagent's shop, which is not displayed prominently and which does not give offence to the public at large.

What I have defined is what we want to achieve. There is adequate precendent for that. We have precedents in town and country planning legislation. Many advertisements are prohibited, or permission for them can be revoked by local authorities. When talking about what is intrusive or visually offensive, there is adequate precedent so long as we are not to make this a law which can bring about censorship and bigoted interference in people's everyday lives.

In Part II, Clause 6(2)(a) may contain words which are too wide to achieve what the Government intend. It is the use of the phrase in … any place to which the public have access". It may well be that goods kept—not displayed—inside a place to which the public have access but about whose purpose they can have no misapprehension should not be caught. There is in Tottenham Court Road a place called "The Sex Shop" or "The Love Shop"—I forget which. Anybody going inside that shop can be under no illusions as to what is sold inside. If the matter is not displayed to the public going up and down Tottenham Court Road, the proprietors of that shop should within reasonable bounds be able to display and have on sale, inside the shop, that which does not offend ordinary passersby, because customers know in advance the kind of goods that are sold inside.

Clause 6(2)(b) says— shall be deemed not to be publicly displayed if it is visible only from a place to which the public are not permitted to have access except on payment which is or includes payment for the display. If a play has as an incidental part of it something which is considered to be indecent or offensive it could be alleged, again particularly if there are private prosecutions, that the person had not paid to see such display. The drafting should be reconsidered.

Clause 9, the clause dealing with advertising, should receive serious reconsideration. There may well be merit in warning people of the contents of a book, for the protection of children and people who do not want to come up against pornography. In my Army days, a paperback version of "Great Expectations" was published. The paperback had a lurid cover. Many soldiers in my unit were grossly disappointed by the Dickens content.

Equally, we do not want people to buy "Last Exit to Brooklyn" in the belief that it is a travel guide to some part of New York. There is an advantage in people being warned about the contents of books which may be considered to be, if not pornographic, at any rate risky or offensive.

I wholeheartedly agree with Clause 10. The essence of the Bill is to protect people's reasonable and fair expectations not to be assaulted with matter offensive to their ordinary standards of propriety.

I have doubts about Clause 12(2). The Government should look again at the seizure and destruction provisions and have at least the safeguard that if no prosecution is brought the goods may be returned or seizure may follow until the trial and conviction of the person who is supposed to be in possession of the matter in question.

Part I, which deals with cinematograph displays, must be seen in an entirely different light from Part II. Part I does not deal with unsolicited, aggressive and ostentatious displays which are a social evil. It deals with private and restricted showings—an entirely different matter. In my view, it would be right to accept the suggestion made by the British Federation of Film Societies, that all cinema exhibitions not covered by the cinematograph Acts, that is, those which are not licensed by local authorities, should be subject to the Obscene Publications Act, so that the limits on private behaviour would apply equally to cinema club showings as to showings of films in a person's own home.

If that were done, it would, I suggest, be sufficient. If one stopped there, it would put at considerable risk those who showed obscene films under the guise of a club or private viewing, and at the same time it would avoid the bureaucratic and irksome control of private exhibitions about which anxiety has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides, notably in thoughtful speeches by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) and by my hon. Friends the Members for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) and for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead).

We should in that way avoid bureaucratic restrictions on private showings, and we should avoid also what I fear will otherwise be gross disparities between one part of the country and another. Under the Bill, the licensing authority is the district council, not the county council, except in London, and I think that the disparity might well be so great as to bring the law into disrepute. I should be much happier if the Government simply stopped at the point at which all private unlicensed showings of films were subject to the Obscene Publications Act.

The Bill is not intended to Ix: an extension of the law on obscene publications, save in respect of private cinema showings. That has been made abundantly clear by the Home Secretary. The intention is to protect ordinary members of the public, and especially children. I welcome the provisions in that respect. If there is anyone for whom we should provide protection, it is those of tender years who are not able to form a judgement for themselves.

The purpose is to protect people, and especially children, from being importuned and assaulted by matter which they have no wish to see, and, whether that matter is harmful or not, people have the right to go about unmolested by what is grossly offensive.

I support that objective. Whether the Bill achieves it is a question which we shall have to consider carefully in Committee. Many of my hon. Friends have reservations, as I do, about whether the stated objective of the Bill is achieved by what is in it, or whether it may have untoward or unexpected results. We shall carefully scrutinise these matters as the Bill proceeds.

12.43 a.m.

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

The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser) said that we had had an interesting and wide-ranging debate, and I entirely agree. One prediction which one can make with some certainty is that we are in for a fairly long Committee stage, and I note the hon. Gentleman's concluding remarks in that connection.

I thank hon. Members on both sides for the general welcome which they have given to the Bill. In what I thought an impressive short speech from the Opposition benches, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) expressed the belief that the Government had attempted to get the balance right in the way that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had described. Although I am not sure that my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) did not exaggerate slightly when he said that 95 per cent. of the population were wholly behind the Bill, I have no doubt whatever that the intentions of the Bill have the support of the vast majority of the people in the country, just as they have, as the hon. Member for Walton put it, the support of the vast majority of members of the Opposition even if not of those who took part in the debate.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson) that both my right hon. Friend and I recognise the part he has played over the last few years in repeatedly putting to the Home Office the case for legislation of this kind. Having heard all but two of the speeches in the debate, I think that only two hon. Members wholeheartedly attacked the Bill. They were the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), whose speech I found slightly difficult to follow at times, and the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), who announced that the Bill was deplorable, but who, when pressed by my right hon. Friend, had to admit that he himself believed that there was a good deal of indecent display and that we ought to attempt to curb it further.

Some of the latter's strictures were based on a misunderstanding of the Bill. I invite the hon. Member again to consider the point that I put to him during his speech: I do not believe that the Bill in any way affects performances in theatres or commercial cinemas where the public pay for the right of entry. Despite what was said in a rather strange article in The Guardian this morning, I do not believe that Clause 6 or Clause 8 in any way affect the provisions of the law as it relates to performances in theatres or cinemas.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet, the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) and the hon. Member for Putney all mentioned Part I and asked me to say something about its effect. I am prepared again carefully to consider, as I am sure we shall in Committee, the actual wording of Clause 3. Its purpose, to use my right hon. Friend's words, is to get the balance right. We think that that we have met the genuine interests of the genuine film societies, but I am prepared to consider the method by which we have achieved that.

What I cannot accept is the argument by the hon. Member for York, to some extent supported by the hon. Member for Norwood, that we should abandon Part I as being unnecessary. We are here dealing with a lacuna in the law. The present position is that club cinematograph performances do not come under the Obscene Publications Act. Because these performances take place in a club, a place to which in law the public has no right of entry, they evade the provisions and the normal licensing conditions applying to commercial cinemas. There are, therefore, cinema clubs that avoid the control relating to practically all other forms of expression, through the Obscene Publications Act, or through the licensing system laid down for the commercial cinemas.

Let us be realistic and appreciate that many of these cinema clubs are nothing more than a plain racket. They are clubs only to the extent that it is necessary for them to be clubs to evade the licensing provisions that would otherwise apply. Many are merely commercially run, making substantial profits for those who are running them, and their only connection with clubs as we know them in the genuine sense is that before people may pass through their portals, they have to pay something that apparently grants membership of the club, as well as paying a sum to see the film.

I do not think that we are right to leave such a vast lacuna in the law. Therefore, we are proposing in Part 1 that when an exhibition is promoted for private gain it should be subject to the normal licensing procedure which applies to the commercial cinema, even if it calls itself a club and it is not as such admitting the public.

Mr. Shersby

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that there are many exhibitions, including the exhibition of industrial films, training films and many sorts of factual films which are made by producers and designed for showing to all kinds of entirely respectable audiences which involve an element of gain?

Mr. Carlisle

I accept that there are many thoroughly respectable cinema societies and clubs. I was saying that an element has moved in, which is no more than a commercial club, which is making use of the facade of a club as a racket to avoid the existing licensing system. It is that element which we aim to bring within the scope of the licensing control relating to clubs which are operated for private gain. The clubs to which my hon. Friend referred—of course, anyone who has a desire to make a film may show that film—are what we all accept to be genuine film societies.

The Bill says that film societies will become subject to the normal laws of obscenity, but that they will come within the existing licensing control only if they choose to charge admittance and to advertise publicly. If, although not a club for private gain, a club chooses to charge admission to a film and to advertise publicly, it will be required under Clause 3 to notify the local authority. The local authorities can impose conditions on a club's advertising or refuse to allow such advertising. We believe that in principle that is not unreasonable.

I remind my hon. Friend that we have specifically provided in Clause 3 that the local authority may give an exemption certificate for an indefinite or for a specified period to any club which applies to it. I have no doubt that the British Film Institute, which my hon. Friend specifically mentioned, would apply for an exemption from the provisions of Clause 3.

I now turn to Part II. I remind the House again that what we are dealing with is not the law of obscenity. We have deliberately avoided attempting to tackle any form of amendment of the obscenity law. We are not concerned with whether that which is harmful is produced accidentally or by design, or whether it comes within the terms of the Obscene Publications Act. We are concerned with the display of that which offends because it is displayed in a public place and because it is thrust upon the public whether or not it wishes to see it. That is the evil which we are attempting to tackle.

A point which has been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House, as well as various Committee points, is the basic issue of whether we are right not to have attempted to define indecency in the Bill. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fylde, South (Mr. Gardner) says that we should not attempt to define it. My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet says that we should have defined it. The hon. Members for York and Norwood and the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) all say that we should have done so. It was a deliberate decision not to attempt to define indecency. May I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, East, who said that surely it was illogical to have an Act which defined obscenity but not one which defined indecency, that many hon. Members on both sides of the House would argue that the difficulty of the Obscene Publications Act was that it attempted to define obscenity. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet the word "indecent" has appeared in many statutes over the last century. It has never been defined in a statutory way, however, and it has not, as far as we know, ever given trouble to the courts in deciding what is indecent.

One hon. Member was being cynical, I believe, when he said that you cannot define it but you know what it is. If the matter comes before either a jury or a bench of magistrates surely what they should bring to bear on the matter is their common sense as to what is indecent. That is preferable to this House attempting to lay down a definition which might not necessarily stand the test of time. By not defining indecency in the Bill the courts are allowed to take into account temporary values and regard what is unacceptable as indecent by those temporary standards. It is better to leave it in that way than attempt any statutory definition.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the same argument can be applied to obscenity?

Ms. Carlisle

Yes. I have said that there are some who would argue that if the present obscenity laws were in a mess—and I do not take that argument further—the mess was created by the decision to define obscenity in that law. Whereas I believe that most people would be able to say whether a thing is or is not to their mind obscene, they might find it difficult to answer the question whether or not it tends to corrupt or deprave.

The Government believe that to attempt at this stage to define indecent is a path we are better not to start down. However, we shall come back to this point in Committee. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet that of course we considered the suggestion in the pamphlet of which he was a co-author that we should include also that which was grossly offensive. But the inclusion of those words would raise a difficulty of interpretation and, while I am prepared to look again at the question of violence and at the protection of children, I recommend that we should be unwise to attempt to produce a statutory definition of indecent.

In case law, definitions have been tried out. The hon. Member for York was wrong to say that in the case of Stanley the Lord Chief Justice said that obscene and indecent were the same thing. He said that the words indecent and obscene conveyed the same idea—which is wholly different from what the hon. Member said—namely, offending against recognised standards of propriety, indecent being at the lower end of the scale and obscene at the upper end. He did not suggest that they were the same. He said merely that they conveyed the same idea of offending against the recognised standards of propriety.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

If indecency is such an easy concept for the courts, does indecency include violence? The only reference to that in the stated cases is in relation to indecency in an ecclesiastical building. For the very reason that it could not include sex, it must include violent demonstration.

Mr. Carlisle

For what it is worth, my view is that certain types of sadistic violence could be described as indecent. Whether it includes violence is no doubt a matter to which we shall return in Committee, where I shall listen to what is said about it.

It has been argued that we should limit prosecutions under the legislation to those taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions and that they should all have the right to trial by jury. In suggesting that, hon. Members are ignoring the type of matter with which we are concerned. While it is right that there should be power to go on indictment against serious cases, it cannot be argued that the alleged indecency of a poster is a matter which should require the prior approval of the DPP before a prosecution is brought, or that the defendant company or individual should have the right to trial by jury.

For many years we have had provisions in the statutes. They are old. They are in archaic language. Their penalties are unrealistic. That is why we have not made much use of them. They all involve offences of displaying indecent material. None of them requires the DPP to prosecute, nor the right to trial by jury.

I was asked whether the Bill was too wide in the area of display that it attempted to cover. It was suggested by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles that it was one thing to deal with a display outside a book shop but quite another to deal with a display inside the shop. That point was dealt with effectively, I think, by the hon. Member for Norwood towards the end of his speech. Limiting it in that way is difficult. It may sound attractive to say that the offence should be limited to what can be seen from the street but that a person going into what is called a sex shop knows what he is going into.

The House will remember that part of the evil with which we are concerned is not only that which is displayed in a shop window but that displayed on the covers of magazines inside the shop. Children may be going into the shop to buy sweets, older people to buy newspapers, and they are regaled by the displays that they see. It cannot, therefore, be limited in the way suggested.

I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) that this provision would cover the inside of a sex shop. In other words, it would be an offence to display in there that which was indecent. I do not suggest that everything displayed in such a shop would be indecent, but it would be an offence to display that which was held to be indecent.

I take note of the criticisms from both sides of the House of Clause 9, which is concerned with advertising. I accept that it is a provision which we ought to look at closely in Committee with a view to deciding whether we have it right.

The hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) was very critical of Clause 9. But it is not as wide as he suggested. First, there must be an advertisement. Secondly, the advertisement must relate to an article for sale or hire. Therefore, the clause would not cover an advertisement for the theatre or cinema. Thirdly, the sale or hire must be in a public place. Fourthly, the advertisement must be visible from a public place, and therefore the clause would not cover the advertising of books in magazines or newspapers.

But, having suggested that much of the concern about Clause 9 is because of an undue belief in the wideness of the clause, I repeat that it is one of the clauses we must consider very carefully in Committee. The Government will approach with an open mind whether we have it right.

On peep shows, I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) said. Hon. Members have talked about "What the Butler Saw". If they saw some of the recent advertisements the Home Office has seen of what is now available they would realise the need for a clause to control that type of show, which is aimed basically at younger people.

I welcomed wholeheartedly the general support given, even by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West, to Clause 10, which deals with unsolicited circulars. [Interruption.] I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman does not even agree with that. I have no doubt, as a result of my experience at the Home Office, that the type of material going unsolicited through people's letter boxes has become steadily more and more depraved. It is the area that gives the greatest concern, offence and distress to people, not only the young but the elderly, the widow, the spinster. They take great exception to the filth that arrives unsolicited through their letter boxes.

Mr. Hamling

I should like to make my position clear. I entirely accept what the hon. and learned Gentleman has just said. My quarrel is with the terms of the clause, which create difficulties in other directions.

Mr. Carlisle

We can consider them in Committee.

I cannot explain the reasons to my hon. Friend the Member for Banff now, but there are reasons why particular Scottish towns are referred to. They have to do with the present system of licensing in Scotland.

The hon. Member for Derby, North, has twice asked me about television. The BBC and the IBA control only general broadcasting. Other forms of distribution, such as cable television, need a licence from the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications. Programme content may be controlled by the terms of that licence. Cable television would be unlikely to be caught by the Bill, because it is not publicly visible; its control is therefore entirely a matter for the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications.

I am very conscious that I have by no means dealt with all the points raised in the debate. Many of them are more appropriate for consideration in Committee. I hope that the hon. Member for York will accept that the fact that I have not dealt with some of the points he raised at the beginning is because they are matters we can go into in Committee.

The Bill is an extremely useful measure. It meets the feeling of many people that, whatever standards of private morality we may choose, whatever views we may have on what people choose to look at and read in privacy, the House has a responsibility to protect society from the "pervasion of filth", which I think is how my right hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith) put it.

I believe that the Bill meets that matter of concern, the thrusting down people's throats or into their faces of stuff which they find offensive and indecent and which by being the licence of others is an offence to their individual freedom.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).