HC Deb 18 June 1974 vol 875 cc237-40

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Cinematograph Acts 1909 and 1952 and, so far as it relates to things done in the course of cinematograph exhibition, section 1 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959; to make fresh provision with respect to the display, advertisement or distribution of indecent matter and to the use of machines for the viewing of indecent pictures; and for purposes connected with those matters. In essence, this is the Bill which was before the House at the Dissolution of the last Parliament. It was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Carr). It foundered at the General Election, and many people in all parts of the House, and all over the country, regretted it. When it was introduced, it had a great measure of support from the then Opposition and from the Liberal Party. Although it was understandably amended somewhat in Committee and ran into certain difficulties, and although in its later form it still needed some amendment—a fact which I am ready to acknowledge—nevertheless I suggest that there is a basic need for this piece of legislation.

I am seeking to reintroduce it today because I was very disappointed when the Home Secretary intimated a few weeks ago that he had no such intention. I am delighted to see the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department with us. I trust that she will feel able to persuade her right hon. Friend to change his mind as a result of the considerable all-party support that this measure still enjoys.

It is very important to emphasise that it is not a measure of censorship. I do not hold with rigid censorship. I believe that it creates far more problems than it solves, and I do not suggest that we should embark on that sort of measure. But if we are not concerned—and I am not—with what people read and see, we should be concerned with the often tawdry touting for custom by third-rate hucksters whose sole aim seems to be to excite our baser instincts and to destroy the beauty and dignity of the human body for perverse commercial ends.

I do not wish to deny any man the right to amuse himself as he pleases. But I sympathise strongly with constituents of mine who find it embarrassing for their children to browse freely at railway station bookstalls and to wander inquisitively through the streets of our great capital and of other cities.

It is with children that we should be particularly concerned in bringing forward a measure of this kind, but not just with children, because there are many people who find their decency affronted and who find themselves offended by displays outside cinemas in this city and up and down the land and by the station bookstall displays to which I referred just now.

If cinemas find that words are sufficient in the Evening Standard and other such publications for advertising what they are showing, they should be obliged to rely on similarly sober injunctions on their hoardings, and I do not think that that would necessarily affect their takings very much, either.

Any legislation of this kind is fraught with problems. My right hon. Friend the then Home Secretary made this plain when he introduced the Bill and during its Committee stage, and we are embarking upon a very difficult task in reintroducing a Bill of this kind. But that is no excuse for not doing it, because this is a problem to which there should be a legislative solution.

The commercial debasement of sex and the exploitation of filth has increased, is increasing and, in the words of a famous motion, "ought to be diminished." I think that it is appropriate at this point to quote just what my right hon. Friend the then Home Secretary said on Second Reading: There has been a commercial competition to break down the ordinary reticences and to indulge with impunity in increasingly outrageous displays. At least, the overwhelming majority of people are outraged."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November 1973; Vol. 864, c. 329.] They are outraged, and they deserve the support of this House in curbing their outrage.

I paid a visit to Copenhagen last year with a parliamentary delegation. That beautiful and fair city, which is one of the most delightful capitals of Europe, has indeed been debased in many of its streets. Anyone wandering round is constantly affronted by lewd displays and by the tawdry commercial "sexploitation" confronting him. I should hate to think that our capital city got any nearer Copenhagen than it is at the moment. We ought to do all we can to make sure that this progress is halted and that people are protected from this terrible intrusion into their privacy.

Since coming to this House, my own postbag has had a steady trickle of letters—I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House have the same experience—from people who are affronted and offended in this way.

If we want a nation fit for our children to grow up in, we cannot afford to ignore this aspect of commercial sex. We cannot cure the appetite for this kind of literature and film, and I do not suggest that we should. But, just as the Street Offences Act drove from our streets scenes and events which were repugnant to many people, so this Bill could have a similar effect with regard to indecent public display.

Without detaining the House any longer, I hope sincerely that I shall be given leave to introduce the Bill, and I trust that the Home Office will think again and assist its speedy passage through the House in this Parliament.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Patrick Cormack, Mr. Emlyn Hooson, Mr. Malcolm Rifkind, Mr. Peter Mills, Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson, Mr. Ron Lewis, Mr. Edward Bishop, Mr. Simon Mahon, Mr. Raphael Tuck, Mr. Donald Stewart, Mr. Mark Carlisle and Mr. Norman Fowler.