§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
At last we get on to this Bill. I should like to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) and my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) for all that they have done to try to ensure that the House would have longer to debate this important Bill.
In essence the Bill is the same as that introduced by my right hon. Friend, who was then the Home Secretary, in November 1973, a Bill that completed its Committee stage in January last year. This Bill, therefore, has had considerable debate and discussion both in the House and in Committee, although the time left to us today is brief. I shall make a short speech in order to get an indication from the Government of their attitude to the Bill. I trust that if the hon. Lady feels obliged to oppose the Bill, the House will at least have the opportunity for a Division so that hon. Members' views can be registered in the Lobby. This is an extremely important social measure. In saying that, I wish 898 to make it clear that this is in no sense a censorship measure. I know that the hon. Lady shares my concern even though she may not agree with me in every detail.
This Bill seeks to remove from public places those posters, pictures and lurid book covers which have effects on millions of people. I am glad that the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) is present because during the previous debate he said that he had certain moral objections to the Bill. I hope that his moral objections to the last Bill will be translated into moral support for this one.
I am the first to admit that the Bill needs further amendment even though it has already been extensively amended. I give an undertaking to the Government that if the Bill is considered in Committee I shall be as co-operative as is humanly possible to meet the Government on those points of detail to which they take exception.
The aim of all hon. Members and all parties is to protect the innocent from sights which cause offence. Recently I asked my young assistant to walk round in a casual way, some of the main streets of London and look at the titles of the films on show, but not to enter the cinema and see the films, and not to patronise any of the spurious forms of entertainment with which the West End is now dotted. If I read a few of the film titles currently on show, they will reinforce the case for this measure: "Sensuous Doll Wants Company", "Sex After Six", "Some Girls Do", "Sex is a Pleasure". He thought that the most offensive title was "Take This My Body", which will offend those with religious beliefs. He also made the valid point that the films were advertised outside cinemas by means of the most lurid posters, sometimes stopping short of almost no detail.
Many parents feel that this sort of public display constitutes a grave danger to their children. As the father of two small children, I share that belief. I have no wish to stop anybody reading or seeing anything they wish. I have no desire to prevent people from quietly amusing themselves as they see fit in their spare time. However, I take the greatest exception to such sights being thrust gratuituously upon any passer-by and especially upon young children.
899 Two sections of society are especially offended and liable to be hurt by such displays. The first section is the elderly. I have had many letters from widows who write that they find such displays peculiarly obnoxious and offensive. The second section liable to be hurt is children. I refer to material which can be purchased from any station bookstall, of which I have a copy, and which may be kept behind closed doors, under the counter, or behind plain covers. But I suggest that material of this kind causes offence and may tend to deprave and corrupt the young. It is that which concerns me, and the purpose of my Bill is to give a measure of protection.
I liken it to the Street Offences Act, which could not abolish prostitution—no legislative act of any assembly in the world could ever do that—but which at least took off the streets of London some of the most offensive sights and actions which were becoming a national and public disgrace. I submit that this Bill, suitably amended, would do for public places and for public decency what the Street Offences Act did some 20 years ago.
I know that the Government have reservations about the Bill, but I hope that they will accept the general spirit of my argument and allow a Division to take place so that the Bill may go into Committee and be debated exhaustively. I undertake to accept any sensible amendments so that at least an additional measure of protection will be afforded to the public. People look to this House for that protection, and in my view they thoroughly deserve it.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)
I am very sorry that the hon. Member for Staffordshire. South-West (Mr. Cormack) has not had the time to develop all his points in support of his Bill, because the Bill is concerned with many more matters than simply posters on display in London or anywhere else. It is not simply to do with displays of Penthouse in bookshops and matters of that kind. They are dealt with in Part II of the Bill. But Part I is quite different, and I object strongly to the Bill being given a Second Reading without all these matters having been adequately discussed.
900 It is not sufficient to argue that the Bill was a Government measure in a previous Parliament.
§ Mr. Cormack
I am prepared to meet the hon. Gentleman's objections to Part I. I believe that the provisions in Part II are essential.
§ Mr. Hamling
But if the hon. Gentleman had read the Committee proceedings on the previous Bill, he would have known that there were grave objections to some of those provisions.
§ Mr. Hamling
I think that we should have had a much fuller discussion, and I am very sorry that we have not been able to. There are many important matters contained in the Bill which I consider touch upon the rights of the public at large and which cannot be dealt with satisfactorily in a debate of some 10 minutes.
It might be argued that these matters could be discussed in Committee. But that is not the same. The normal procedure of this House is that, before a Bill is given a Second Reading, its general principles shall be debated adequately and shall have been accepted by the House. Only then are they discussed in Committee.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)
The hon. Gentleman will recollect that, when we considered an identical Bill in a previous Parliament, there was that discussion of the principles and that the overwhelming majority of Labour Members accepted those principles. I recognise that there were certain hon. Members with individual objections, certainly to that part of the Bill relating to the cinema. But there were no objections to the other part of it. In view of that, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman might be prepared to allow this Bill to have a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Hamling
I am fully sensitive to the hon. Member's point, but this Parliament cannot be governed—
§ Mr. Hamling
This Parliament cannot be governed by the decision of a previous Parliament. Many hon. Members—
§ It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Friday next.