HC Deb 21 October 1976 vol 917 cc1644-6
12. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he plans amending legislation on the law relating to obscenity.

Mr. John

My right hon. Friend has no present plans for legislation making fundamental changes in the law on obscenity, but when possible we want to legislate to give effect to recommendations of the Law Commission proposing certain amendments in the Obscene Publications Acts to compensate for the abolition of the common law on indecency.

Mr. McCrindle

I welcome the Minister's reply, but is it not becoming clear as a result of recent decisions that the law is full of inconsistencies and that we are placing responsibility for exercising value judgments on those who are ill equipped to carry out the function? I suggest that consideration be given to scrapping the whole of the present arrangement and reverting to straight censorship, no doubt taking into account the standards and values of 1976.

Mr. John

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the "deprave and corrupt" formula is criticised, but those who criticise it cannot suggest anything better to put in its place. Before the hon. Gentleman suggests changing the law, I beg him to consider the effect of the Law Lords' ruling in the case that was decided only yesterday.

Mr. Alison

Have the Government decided to accept the Law Commission report in respect of the common law function in this area? Many right hon. and hon. Members still feel that common law has an important role to play, and that it is much better in the film world, for example, than in books.

Mr. John

We want to legislate on the proposals, but to compensate for the abolition of common law on indecency rather than to supplement it, as the hon. Gentleman seems to suggest.

Mr. Fairbairn

Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied with the law that allows Government bodies such as the Arts Council or the British Council to spend taxpayers' money on sending Cosi- fan Tutte to have a bath in polythene chips in Milan and to hold exhibitions of other absurdities such as we have in London? Is that Government policy? Are the Government happy to see money spent in that way at this time?

Mr. John

I do not think that any body of human beings will make correct decisions in every case. However, the correctness of the decisions that are made is a matter of individual taste. I do not agree with many of the comments that the hon. and learned Gentleman makes, for example. The basic answer is that these matters are for the Arts Council. That body is autonomous, and the Government do not interfere in its affairs.

Mr. Robert Hughes

When public money is in very short supply, will my hon. Friend take into account the use that outside bodies make of it when it is being allocated?

Mr. John

I accept that. When grant is being considered these matters are taken into account. One can never expect correct decisions in all cases in which grants are made.

Mr. Cormack

Will the hon. Gentleman go to the Institute of Contemporary Arts to view the exhibition entitled "Prostitution" which is currently on display, which itself is a prostitution of the taxpayers' money? Will he have urgent consultations with the Secretary of State for Education and Science with a view to banning the grant given to that body, which is squandering our money?

Mr. John

As a matter of departmental responsibility, the exhibition is outside my control. As a private citizen, my leisure time is so limited that I probably shall not have the opportunity to go to the exhibition.

Mr. Hooson

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the House of Lords decision this week in the obscenity case has basically changed the attitude of the courts towards the test of what is obscene and the evidence that can be called? Many of the questions asked today are irrelevant in the light of the decision of the Lords.

Mr. John

I tried to invite the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane), who asked the Question, to study the judgment of the Lords. Basically, it introduces a refinement into the law as it was understood. It would repay study before questions are asked.