HC Deb 10 March 1976 vol 907 cc426-9

3.40 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet West) I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make fresh provision with respect to the display, advertisement or distribution of indecent matter and the use of machines for the viewing of indecent pictures; and for purposes connected with those matters.

The Second Reading of an equivalent measure was given by this House in November 1973. The Bill passed its Standing Commmittee stage on 22nd January 1974. It commanded the support not only of virtually the whole British nation but also of all parties in this House. It was given a Second Reading without a vote and was supported by hon. Members ranging from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). It can therefore be said to have had the widest measure of all-party support.

I believe that my Bill should be introduced now. Pollution of the environment is very much a matter of concern to the public and there is concern with visual pollution. My Bill deals with pollution of the mind and seeks to control a grave public nuisance.

For the past 200 years, there have been laws making it a misdemeanour to outrage public decency and public morality. There is also still in force an indecent Advertisements Act which was passed in 1889, but these Acts are not in everyday use. My Bill seeks to deal with the display of indecent material which is thrown in the face of the public. If this material were displayed in public, it would be considered a public nuisance under the Acts to which I have referred.

A Report by the Society of Conservative Lawyers in 1972 recommended that the law should be brought up to date and that public indecent displays should be properly controlled. The Arts Council convened a conference and recommended the retention of safeguards for the young and laws against public display which was offensive. Lord Longford's study group made further recommendations, and in 1973 Sir Gilbert Longden introduced a Private Member's Bill with a similar aim to the proposals in my Bill. That received a Second Reading and the then Conservative Government, as a matter of Government policy, introduced on 13th November that year a Bill which was the substance of the measure I am now proposing.

The provisions of my Bill were contained in Part II of that Government measure. Part I dealt with cinematograph aspects which I have not included. They raised some controversy. I believe that those measures were right, but I have merely included the provisions of Part II in my Bill. There was a powerful Standing Committee stage for the Government Bill and Part II was passed unamended, with only one controversial debate. Then came the General Election and the fall of that Conservative Government. We have heard no more of the Bill since.

My Bill deals with any indecent matter which is publicly displayed if it is in, or visible from, any place to which the public, at the time it is displayed, are permitted access, whether on payment or otherwise. It shall not be deemed to be a public display if it is visible only from a place to which the public are not permitted access except on payment which is, or includes, the admission to the display. It excludes art galleries, museums, public and local authorities and television broadcasts because there are other adequate methods of control in these cases.

The Bill covers moving machines for the viewing of indecent pictures and for the reproduction of indecent sounds which are displayed to the public.

The sense of the Bill is that a person can buy what he wishes providing he goes into a shop or elsewhere. I am concerned only with the willy-nilly confronting of the public, young and old, with indecency, whether by advertisement, in shop windows, by sound or in viewing machines. Likewise, the public advertisement of indecent matter is covered, as is the unsolicited sending of indecent articles, either through the post or by delivery.

The Bill contains penalties of a £400 fine or three months' imprisonment, with higher penalties for conviction on indictment, and powers of arrest when a con- stable has reasonable cause to suppose that an offence has been committed.

The main purpose of the Bill was the general intention of the last Conservative Government and it has always been something of a surprise to me that the present Home Secretary, while he is very much against gambling of any kind, seems to have a slight penchant for "porn". I greatly hope that he will change that attitude. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's Under-Secretary, who is here, will convey to him that, whether or not he believes in a form of censorship, this Bill is not a censorship measure. It does no more than cover the situation in public. It does not deal with private transactions and is not concerned with the test of obscenity.

The standard of decency is a broad standard which applies to filthy or disgusting material, and the Bill seeks to protect the public, while making our quality of life cleaner and preventing the pollution of the minds of the public, whether children or elderly people. It will prevent the public from being confronted, without regard to their decisions, with what they clearly regard as indecent.

It is right that decisions should be taken by juries and equally clear that indecency requires no further definition. It will be for each jury to decide in the circumstances what it regards as indecent in the face of the public. I have not included other matters which go wider. This is a narrow measure which has had support from many of those who are opposed to censorship or even to a limitation of hard-core pornography.

By re-introducing this Bill, I seek only to ensure that we have cleaner streets so that people can walk about without being confronted with filthy and disgusting material of all kinds which cannot be avoided and so that they can walk out of railway termini without seeing every kind of indecent material from sadistic perversions to lesbianism displayed on our pavements and streets.

This is a thoroughly worthwhile measure. The Government have not seen fit to introduce it hitherto, but I hope that I shall have the full support of the House and that all hon. Members will give me leave to bring in my Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies, Mr. Mark Carlisle, Mr. Edward Gardner, Mr. John Page, Mr. Peter Temple-Morris, Mr. Tim Renton and Mr. Jonathan Aitken.