§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.43 a.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I have no doubt that it is with a sense of some relief that the House relaxes from the drama, tension and excitement of the last week. It is probably with an even greater sense of relief that the Government watch the House turn its attention away from one form of indecency that we have witnessed in the country to another form of indecency.
However relaxed the House might be, this is a moment of some excitement for me. After 13 consecutive years of taking part in the Private Members' ballot, this is the first occasion on which I have had a sporting chance of having a measure put on the statute book in my name.
The difficulty is to select an appropriate measure to present to the House. I have given considerable thought to a Bill to amend the abortion law, which continues to cause much anxiety and which has engaged the attention of the House on a number of occasions. I considered presenting a Bill to end the unnecessary suffering caused to animals by research for cosmetics. I considered presenting a Bill to replace the oath by affirmation in all legal matters, as recommended by the Criminal Law Revision Committee in 1972.
I considered the possibility of introducing a Bill dealing with the co-ownership of the matrimonial home, as proposed by the Law Commission last summer. I considered a Bill to give effect to the proposal that I have put to the House on a number of occasions that all district councils should publish and maintain a register of public land within their districts. I hope that all those measures will find their way on to the statute book.
For a variety of reasons, not least because I wished to select a short measure which has already been probed in some detail and which might stand a reasonable chance of completing all its stages in the shortening life of this Parliament, I 908I turned my attention to a subject upon which I have received many and persistent complaints from constituents over a number of years. The subject is the public display of indecent material which causes grave personal offence to those who do not wish to see it.
In particular, there are three areas which give rise to wide public concern and against which my Bill is principally directed. The first area relates to the displays upon cinema hoadrings, the fronts of strip clubs and the window layouts of sex shops which are visible from the street.
Few hon. Members would not be perturbed by displays of this kind which can be seen in the streets of Soho within a few yards of a public market and a junior school. The Greater London Council has sought to restrain some of these displays and the enthusiasm of the advertisers by voluntary agreement, but it has met with only limited success. The GLC would welcome this Bill in order to strengthen its powers. Hon. Members will agree that the centre of our capital city should not be a place where visitors with their children cannot go about without being exposed to gave offence.
The second area with which my Bill deals involves magazine covers which are put out in newsagents' corner sweet shops and railway stations. This is a matter of anxiety to parents and teachers. It is not right that schoolchildren cannot go into those places to buy sweets or comics without having their eyes and their minds assaulted by sexually explicit pictures or pictures depicting scenes of violence and sadism. My Bill covers such displays.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
Such magazine covers, on the whole, show pictures of women in various states of undress. Every morning, page 3 of The Sun publishes the same type of picture. If page 3 of The Sun is displayed in a public place, will that be caught by the Bill?
§ Mr. Rossi
The hon. Member should know better. He was the spokesman for the Labour Opposition when the Bill on which mine is based was going through Committee. That matter was argued in detail. The hon. Member knows the answer to his question. It was given to him in Committee. He was told that a picture 909 within a magazine or newspaer is not displayed. The offence under the Bill is to display a picture. The offending picture must be presented openly for public gaze in a public place. To have a picture within the fold of a magazine is not to make a display of that picture, and the hon. Gentleman knows that very well.
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
In accordance with his quasi-definition, will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether a newspaper which carried the notorious pictures of Joyce McKinney on a rack outside a newsagent's, with the nude photograph on the front page, would be guilty of an indecent display?
§ Mr. Rossi
We shall no doubt come to that matter when we deal with the detailed provisions of the Bill. Perhaps we can now deal with the question of what is or is not indecent in the appropriate place.
If I may continue, the third area against which my Bill is directed are those advertisements of an indecent nature that come unasked through the letter box. While the law of indecency and obscenity remains so uncertain in the absence of fresh legislation, advertisers have become more adventurous in sending material which Parliament sought to restrain under the Post Office Act 1969.
In seeking to deal with these three areas of major concern, I must add that the Bill does not seek to prohibit the sale or private viewing of indecent, or even obscene, material by those whose commercial interests or personal tastes happen to lie in that direction.
§ Mr. Rossi
The hon. Gentleman shouts from a sedentary position "Why not?" I think that this is a question of what happens in private, and that can be dealt with after the Williams committee has reported. I feel that these "Why not?" matters, to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, should be left to major legislation to be presented by Government.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South East)
My hon. Friend has spoken of the three areas covered by his Bill. Why has he let slip the opportunity of his luck in the ballot to include television broadcasting material? Is not my hon. Friend aware of the deep and widespread concern in the country about the wanton indecency to which children are exposed in the living rooms of private homes? Is he not also aware that many hon. Members on both sides of the House have received strong protests from their constituents over a long period about utterly unsuitable television material to which children are exposed in their homes but which they are expressly forbidden by law to see in the cinema? Can he explain this extraordinary contradiction?
§ Mr. Rossi
I am, of course, aware of the grave concern expressed by many people over some programmes broadcast on television. Like all hon. Members I have received complaints from constituents about this matter. I considered it very carefully, but at the end of the day I felt that at this stage, rather than get into a very controversial Bill—a situation that I sought to avoid—one should rely upon the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act 1973, which specifically puts the duty upon the television companies to satisfy themselves thatso far as possible the programmes broadcast by the Authority comply with the following requirements, that is to say—So the provision is already there in a statute. Hon. Members may well ask why these provisions are not being enforced, and that is possibly a matter to which the House might direct its attention on another occasion.(a) that nothing is included in the programmes which offends against good taste or decency, or is likely to encourage or incite to crime".
I have referred to the Act relating to the Independent Broadcasting Corporation, but the charter of the BBC contains a similar provision. One day we may have to consider whether the BBC is acting in breach of its charter in producing some of the programmes about which our constituents complain. However, I did not think this was a matter that should be covered by my Bill, though if it is raised in Committee we shall obviously have to give very full 911 consideration to any amendment that is tabled along those lines. Not only are television and radio broadcasting excluded specificially from this Bill, but there are also excluded specifically those indecent displays which take place within premises which members of the public have paid to enter for the specific purpose of seeing those displays—in other words, cinemas, theatres and clubs which people pay to enter in order to see what is being offered for their entertainment. That is a matter of privacy and is not covered by this Bill, because all I am concerned with is what affronts the public in a public place. Similarly, there is nothing in the Bill which makes it illegal to sell or to possess anything that is indecent. The offence is simply to display something which is indecent in a public place or to send it through the post.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
Will the hon. Gentleman clarify one point? If he goes inside a shop and is there affronted by something he sees, is he in a public place or not?
§ Mr. Rossi
Yes. I have mentioned specifically that the Bill is directed against newsagent and corner shops. An indecent display within such shops would be an offence under the Bill. In short, I suggest that the Bill concerns itself not with matters of censorship but with a form of public nuisance. One way of putting it would be to say that this Bill is an extension of the Town and Country Planning Acts which are concerned with the control of unsightly advertisements which could be said to be a form of environmental pollution.
§ Mr. Rossi
That could well be another name for it. But, put another way, it is a defence of the liberty of those subjects who do not wish to have thrust before their eyes things that they do not wish to see. No inhibition or restraint is placed upon the liberty of those wishing to see what others might consider to be offensive, provided that they do so in places or circumstances in which offence is not caused to those other people.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
I understand the principle which the hon. Gentleman 912 is enunciating. It was also enunciated by the Tory Government in 1973 when they introduced their Bill. However, clause 4 seems to be an addition to that former Bill, and it seems to offend against the principle that he now enunciates. It suggests that the mere advertising of such material is not in itself indecent but that advertising indecent material would be a breach of the Bill. How can it be said that that is in line with the principle which he has stated of trying to keep pollution from the eye or the ear of those who might be offended by it in a public place?
§ Mr. Rossi
The hon. Gentleman is aware that that matter was argued at great length in the Committee of which he was a member. He had the answer given to him then. It is principally a question of trying to prevent a loophole whereby the main provisions of the Bill could be circumvented. But if the hon. Gentleman becomes a member of that Committee and wishes to go through that ordeal a second time round, no doubt if he wishes to put forward an amendment the matter can be considered sympathetically if he feels that this is something that is outside the general principle underlying the Bill.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)
Is not the whole principle of my hon. Friend's Bill the fact that one shall not have the outrage of public decency? That is the ratio decidendi of the whole of his Bill.
§ Mr. Rossi
I agree with my hon. and learned Friend, and that was the argument put forward in Committee. I do not want to contradict too blatantly the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon). I put it in a more neutral way by inviting him to bring forward this detailed matter at a later and more appropriate stage.
In seeking to draft this Bill, I have been more than fortunate because, as I have already indicated, on 13 November 1973 the Cinematograph and Indecent Displays Bill was presented to the House by the then Robert Carr as Home Secretary. That Bill followed recommendations of a working party of the Arts Council, a study group under Lord Longford, and a report by the Society of Conservative Lawyers. The House gave the Bill an unopposed Second Reading—I hope that I shall be equally fortunate 913 —and it completed its Committee stage after 11 sittings in Standing Committee B. It proceeded no further because of the general election of 1974.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
The hon. Gentleman said that a committee of the Arts Council had recommended that such a Bill should be introduced. That is not in accordance with my recollection and I do not think that that claim should stand on the record without challenge.
§ Mr. Rossi
If I am proved wrong, I shall of course make a correction, but my researches led me to the conclusion that that was the case and I stand by what I said for the time being.
Apart from two matters, which I shall deal with in their place, my Bill restates the whole of part II of the 1973 Bill as it stood after amendment following the most detailed scrutiny in Committee. I am presenting a Bill the provisions of which have already had detailed scrutiny by the House and would, no doubt, have been on the statute book long since if events in our electoral fortunes had taken another course.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Brynmor John)
The hon. Gentleman will recollect that the Conservative Government in 1973 acknowledged some of the weaknesses in the Bill and had introduced some amendments for the Report stage which had not been incorporated into the hon. Gentleman's Bill.
§ Mr. Rossi
The then Minister of State, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle), in answer to points raised in Committee, said, as is usual on such occasions, and as, no doubt, the present Minister has also said, that the Government would look at some matters further and consider whether suitable amendments should be introduced subsequently. I could find no specific amendment on which a firm undertaking was given, but, if the Home Office now wishes to give a different brief to the Minister in charge of the Bill, I shall listen with great respect and attention to what is said about any amendments that may be required.
Given the history of this matter, it was with some dismay that I received a letter from the Home Secretary saying that his attitude was to be rather negative. The reason that he gave was that 914 the whole of the law on obscenity and indecency was under review by a departmental committee under the chairmanship of Professor Bernard Williams and that it would be "premature" to introduce a reform of part of the law before the committee reported towards the end of this year. I understand that that is still the view of the Government.
§ Mr. Rossi
I have no idea. I am told by the Home Secretary that it is hoped that it will report towards the end of the year, but I do not know whether that hope will become a reality.
In answering the objections raised by the Government to what is proposed in the Bill, may I tell the Minister that what is proposed is not, as is said in the letter, a reform of the law in the full sense of that term? It is not carrying out a fundamental change and bringing forward something new. The Bill seeks to bring up to date the existing law—to bring nineteenth century law to terms with the circumstances of the twentieth century.
Since the Vagrancy Act 1824, the law has referred, in the words of section 4 of that Act, to:'exposing to view, in any street, road, highway, or public place, any obscene print, picture, or other indecent exhibition".Similar provisions are to be found in the Vagrancy Act 1838 and the Indecent Advertisements Act 1889, as amended by the Indecent Advertisements (Amendment) Act 1970. In addition, we have the Unsolicited Goods and Services Act 1971, which sought to extend the prohibition to indecent matter sent through the post.
The difficulty of relying upon those earlier Acts is that they treat "indecency" and "obscenity" as synonymous, and that approach has become imposisible since the restricted definition given to obscenity in the Obscene Publications Act 1959. In addition, the penalty imposed by those nineteenth century statutes is 40 shillings for an offence. One can see why those provisions are not imposed by the law authorities. What deterrent is a 40-shilling fine to someone making considerable sums out of the display of indecent material?
§ Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull)
Is not my hon. Friend's Bill designed to deal with something which is a daily affront in London and all our great cities to a very large number of decent citizens? Why on earth should we wait to deal with that?
§ Mr. John
I am sorry to intervene again, but the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) must not mislead the House on a point of law. I am not arguing about the adequacy or inadequacy of the penalties, but there is no longer a £2 maximum fine. Under the Indecent Advertisements Act, the fine has been increased to £20, with the possibility of imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month. For one of its provisions, the penalty is £50 with the possibility of imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months. I do not suggest that the hon. Gentleman would regard those penalties as adequate, but the penalty is certainly not the derisory figure that he is trying to foist on the House.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)
My hon. Friend will be aware that 20 Labour pounds are worth a lot less than were 40 Victorian shillings.
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Does my hon. Friend accept that the chief constable of Manchester has managed to make a reasonable amount of sense out of existing law but that no one else has succeeded in doing so and that, therefore, people in our part of the world will tremendously welcome my hon. Friend's attempt to strengthen the hands of those who are more faint-hearted than Mr. Anderton?
§ Mr. Rossi
I know that the citizens of Manchester are most grateful to their chief constable for the action that he has been taking. I believe that other chief constables have been deterred because they regard the law as still being uncertain 916 and inadequate. We hope to be able to strengthen their arms by the Bill.
I believe that it is possible to separate the public nuisance aspects of offensive displays from the substantive matter of obscenity and what may or may not be done in private. The Bill is concerned with the public nuisance aspect and I do not believe that we need advice from the Williams committee before taking steps to protect the public when they are demanding protection so loudly.
There are already two precedents for legislating in this area before the publication of the Williams report. The first is the Protection of Children Act, 1978. The Bill was introduced 12 months ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend). It was reluctantly accepted by the Government, under the pressure of public opinion, in breach of the "Wait for the Williams Report" principle.
The second exception is the amendments contained in the Criminal Law Act 1977 to the Obscene Publications Acts 1959 and 1964, in so far as they relate to films. I agree that those amendments were made as a result of agreement between the two Front Benches, but it still remains a breach of principle that the Home Secretary has tried to bring forward to dissuade me from presenting the Bill. I hope that he will accord to a Back Bencher now the same rights as he accorded to the Conservative Front Bench when a breach of this principle was agreed.
Even if the Williams committee were to report, as one hopes, towards the end of this year, it will still be two, three, or four years before Parliament will be able to find the time to deal with a major measure covering the whole of the law of obscenity.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
Would it not be a great advantage, when we come to legislate on the findings of the Williams committee, to have had experience of my hon. Friend's measure for two or three years?
§ Mr. Rossi
It would be very valuable indeed. When the major Bill comes forward, if it is found that some amendments of this measure are required, that would be the occasion on which to do 917 it. Meanwhile, the public will have the protection that they have demanded.
My final point in answer to the arguments of the Home Office is that the public response to the Bill has been such that it is beyond doubt that deep public concern exists about the present state of affairs. In the past two weeks, since the nature of my Bill became known, I have received representations on behalf of well over 1,000 people, giving me their full support and good wishes in what I am seeking to do. That is not a very large number compared with 55 million, but in terms of correspondence to a Member of Parliament it is very significant. Indeed, my hon. Friends who are around me this morning know this, because they have been complaining to me during the week that I have generated so much correspondence for them.
This support has come from every corner of the United Kingdom—from England, from Northern Ireland, from Scotland and from Wales. If Mr. Speaker had been here this morning I would have told him that I have received a great postbag from Cardiff. I have received support from 63 parts of England. The support has come not only from the churches and parish organisations, from which one would expect to receive representations on a subject of this kind, but also from doctors, teachers, students, welfare workers, cinema managers and newsagents. It might be thought that the commercial interest of newsagents would incline them to be opposed to the measure, but they welcome it because it would relieve many of them of the moral responsibility involved in the display of this matter and the effect on their conscience.
§ Mr. Paul Dean (Somerset, North)
Will my hon. Friend consider one additional reason why the Government would be unwise to wait for the report of the Williams committee, apart from the very powerful reasons already given? It is that parliamentary time is always at a premium, particularly in the early years of a Parliament. Ought not the Government to be extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for providing parliamentary time now?
§ Mr. Rossi
But there are many wrongs that we shall have to put right. Predominantly, I have found from correspondence that the support for my Bill has come from women, not only from the Catholic Women's League and the Mothers Union but also from representatives of women's lib. There was a letter from one of them in Tynemouth the other day, supporting the Bill on the basis that they want to do away with the debasing of womanhood that is the continual subject matter of the kind of public display against which the Bill is directed.
I have received only two letters expressing opposition to the Bill. One was from an acknowledged distributor of pornographic material. The other was written, I understand, on behalf of gay liberation. These are the only two letters of fundamental opposition to the Bill that I have received.
I ask the Minister, therefore, to take note of the public feeling that exists and to consider whether the Government have a duty to protect the public when the public are demanding protection of this kind. Parliament will deal with the matter, but I am seeking to persuade the Minister not to obstruct me today or at a later stage. I know that other hon. Members will have been encouraged by having received similar communications to those that I have received. I trust that the Minister will not take refuge today behind the Williams committee and thwart the Bill but will give it every assistance.
I turn now to the detailed provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 creates the principal offence, making it illegal to display indecent matter in a public place. "Public place" is defined as any place to which the public have access, whether by payment or not.
The clause contains important exceptions to the offence. First, it is not an offence to have an indecent display in places to which the public have access if people pay to enter for the purpose of seeing such display. I have already made this point. It covers cinemas and clubs. Second, it is not an offence if the material 919 is displayed in a public art gallery or a museum. Third, as we have already discussed, television broadcasts are also specifically excluded, because these are covered by their own codes of conduct.
§ Mr. Whitehead
It is, of course, true that clause 1 defines a public place very satisfactorily, but it does not define indecency. This is a problem which was raised in relation to the previous Bill to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Is the hon. Gentleman taking Lord Parker's definition of what offends the average modesty of the average man, or is it something else? How are we to know, and how are magistrates to know?
§ Mr. Rossi
It is not for me to take any particular definition. At the end of the day it is for the courts to define the term. But "indecent" or "indecency" are not new terms to this House or to the law. They have been enshrined in statutes since at least 1824 and the courts have had no difficulty in interpreting their meanings.
This sort of problem arises time and time again in Committee, when we consider amendments, in trying to deal with definitions. The nature of language is such that one can only define a word by producing another word, or two or three words, as synonymous to the first word as one can possibly find. At the end of the day, it is still left to the courts to decide what is the meaning of those words that we are substituting for or putting in juxtaposition with the original words.
The difficulty into which Parliament can get itself in regard to this area of the law is well known to hon. Members. We have in the past tried as a House, and Parliament has tried, to define obscenity. We have used terms such as "to corrupt" or "to deprave" in that connection. That led to greater difficulties and confusion, because we sought to define obscenity in a narrow way. That is why the Minister of State has his Williams committee, to see whether it is possible to redefine the term. I think that it is often far better to keep words which have old-established usage, to leave them alone and to let the courts, in the interpretation of statutes, deal with the matter in the light of the circumstances of each case and in the prevailing circumstances of society as and when they are delivering 920 their judgments. At the end of the day, it becomes a matter of common sense what a word means.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
I must press the hon. Gentleman on the definition of "indecency". It is difficult. The judge in the Oz case attempted a brief definition, which I shall read to the House:Or let us say you were attending an athletic or sporting event and the athletes, beautiful physiques though they may have, have not got clothing which fits properly, and as they perform you see their private parts. This is indecent.Is that the hon. Gentleman's definition?
§ Mr. Rossi
I take comfort from the fact that, judging from the exclamations in all parts of the House, the hon. Gentleman is being very naïve. If he and his hon. Friends ask me which of the judicial definitions I prefer, I go to that of Lord Reid in the House of Lords. Being a House of Lords definition, it is now the substantive law of this country. In Knuller v. Director of Prosecutions, Lord Reid said that the term "indecency" was not confined to sexual indecency; it included anything which any ordinary, decent man or woman would find shocking, disgusting or revolting. I am content to rely upon that definition as the interpretation of "indecency".
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the definition is not at all difficult here? As a matter of common sense, all people know what indecency is. The most that the judiciary can do now is to give examples of it.
§ Mr. Rossi
I agree with my hon. and learned Friend. At the end of the day the meaning of "indecency" is a matter of common sense. We must leave that matter to the judges. Hon. Gentlement opposite may object that we are leaving too much discretion in the hands of the judges to define what is meant by a term which has been in the statutes for over 100 years. But, whatever words we put in statutes, it is for the judges to decide what we intended by putting in those words. Frequently, to our dismay, we find that we use words which do not convey the meaning that we intended.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
My hon. Friend is quite right. We were not told what the 921 term meant throughout the whole of the nineteenth century in the Vagrancy Acts of 1824 and 1838 or in the Indecent Advertisement Act 1889. Is the twentieth century going to change the perfectly sensible way in which the nineteenth century dealt with it?
§ Mr. Rossi
Having thought about the matter for some time, and having read the report of the Second Reading debate on the last Bill and all the comments which were made outside in various articles and commentaries, I formed the view that this objection on the meaning of "indecency" was simply a clutching at a straw by those who knew of no other way of expressing their opposition.
§ Mr. Rossi
Clause 2 will make it an offence to provide a moving picture machine for the showing of indecent pictures in a public place. That covers machines in amusement arcades to which children may have access.
Clause 3 will ensure that the ban on visual indecencies is not circumvented by the use of offensive records. I am advised by the Home Office briefing to the former Minister that that is designed primarily to block possible loopholes in the law.
Clause 4 will close another possible loophole by making it an offence to advertise articles for sale or hire in public in terms not indecent in themselves but which clearly suggest the indecency of the articles advertised.
Clause 5 deals with the nuisance of unsolicited circulars. It will replace section 4 of the Unsolicited Goods and Services Act 1971 which has been found to be unsatisfactory in operation.
Clause 6 provides the penalties for offences. This is my first departure from the 1973 Bill. At that time the proposition was a fine of £400. But, because of devaluation, I thought it necessary to update the penalty to £1,000, which is in accord with levels proposed by the Criminal Law Act 1977 for offences of this gravity.
The clause also provides for trial either summarily or on indictment. When the last Bill was before the House there was much discussion as to whether that would 922 exclude the right to trial by jury. I understand that, since the passage of the Criminal Law Act 1977, a measure which provides for trial in either way requires the court to put to the accused the option as to which method he prefers—to be tried by the magistrates summarily or by jury on indictment. However, magistrates are beholden to draw to the attention of the accused that, if he decides to go for trial by jury, and is convicted, he runs the risk of incurring heavier penalties than those that the magistrates have power to impose. I hope that that objection has now been disposed of by intervening legislation.
Clause 7 will empower a constable to arrest a person who, he suspects, has committed an offence if that person refuses to give his name or address or gives one which the constable has good reason to believe may be false.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I am sure that the police service will be grateful for the crystal clear distinction that my hon. Friend has drawn between what happens in private, which is no business of the police, and an offence of publicly displaying indecent matter, which is very much the business of the police. Will my hon. Friend have consultations with the Police Federation before the Committee stage? If so, I shall do my part in expediting such consultations so that nothing holds up his Bill.
§ Mr. Rossi
I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. I should look forward to and welcome being able to do so, because the police can be of considerable help on the practical implementation of what the Bill seeks to do. The clause will also give the power of seizure of offending material.
Clause 8 seeks to make a consequential amendment to the Theatres Act 1968. The explanatory memorandum is defective to the extent that the clause has been omitted from it. What appears in the memorandum as clause 8 is in fact clause 9. I apologise for the oversight. The fault is entirely mine.
Clause 8 will put it beyond doubt that the Bill does not apply to plays. Section 2(4)(b) of the Theatres Act 1968 provides:No person shall be proceeded against in respect of a performance of a play … for an 923 offence under section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824 consisting of … an indecent exhibition".As the relevant part of section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824 is being repealed by the Bill, a substitute offence is created by clause 8, substituting a reference to the new offence in place of the old offence.
Clause 9 defines moving motion pictures and an article that contains indecent matter.
Clause 10 provides for enactment, which is in standard form. The original 1973 Bill extended only to England, Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland was specifically excluded. I do not see why the Bill should treat that part of the United Kingdom differently from other parts. I have consulted hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies and they welcome my extension of the Bill to include Northern Ireland.
The House has been patient in listening to my endeavours to explain what I seek from the Bill. The Bill, which has been previously considered, is long overdue and in such demand from our constituents that I believe that the House should grant it a Second Reading.
§ 12.31 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
In opening his case the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) said that he had been in this place for 13 years and that this is the first time he has succeeded in the ballot. I have been here for nearly 34 years and I have never had any luck in the ballot.
The House is indebted to the hon. Gentleman for providing a further opportunity to consider the provisions brought forward in the former Bill, the Cinematograph and Indecent Displays Bill 1973. As the hon. Member for Hornsey said, the Bill was introduced by the Opposition when in power as a Government and it fell when the Government fell.
The Home Secretary of the time, now Lord Carr, in moving the Second Reading, said thatthe object of the Bill is to remove indecent material from public view."—[Official Report, 13 November 1973; Vol. 864, c. 332.]As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, there are a number of other Acts of Parliament which deal specifically with the display of indecent material—for example, 924 the Vagrancy Acts, the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, and others.
The hon. Gentleman quoted from the provisions of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839. I remind the House of those provisions, which are still the law of the land and which are more specific than the provisions of this Bill, regarding the display of indecent material. Section 54(12) of that Act provides thatEvery person who shall sell or distribute or offer for sale or distribution, or exhibit to public view, any profane, indecent or obscene book, paper, print, drawing, painting or representation, or sing any profane, indecent, or obscene song or ballad, or write or draw any indecent or obscene word, figure, or representation, or use any profane, indecent or obscene language to the annoyance of the inhabitants or passengerscommits an offence.
It is true that those provisions have been little used and that the penalties differ. However, they are still the law and that branch of the law may be used until the committee now sitting examines the matter, as was said by the Home Secretary in the letter sent to the hon. Gentleman, and decides what changes should be made.
I am in complete sympathy with the objects of the Bill. In his excellent if interrupted presentation, the proposer said that the Bill is designed to protect members of the general public from being exposed to displays that they might find offensive. I appreciate that there is no intention to interfere with what is done or shown privately. That is a ready answer to those who argue that the Bill is an interference in the rights of the individual. It is essential to have a true balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of the general public.
There are many examples of displays outside cinemas and theatres of a highly suggestive character and magazines with highly suggestive sexual copy which are obvious examples of pornography. To be rid of these would be the wish of any responsible citizen.
I may be old-fashioned, but we have moved a long way from the standard of morality which existed in my early days—even in my middle-aged days. I believe that much of our literature has been sadly debased. Language is used and scenes are now described which would have been thought grossly improper formerly. However, that is not the subject of this Bill. Perhaps it is an evil 925 that may be tackled in future, despite objections to the effect that censorship is to be deprecated.
I believe that a criticism of paramount importance to which the proposer has not paid sufficient attention—indeed, he has belittled the many interruptions by my hon. Friends in this regard—is that in the title and throughout the various clauses the words "indecent matter" are used.
It was said on Second Reading of the 1973 Bill that omission to define the term was deliberate and that an attempt to do this would lead to refinements of legal argument that should be left to the courts. I gather that that is the view held by the proposer. My own view is that the absence of any definition will lead to such refinements of legal argument. We all have our own idea of what we mean by indecent matter, and I recognise the difficulties of defining exactly what it means. In the Indecent Advertisements Act 1839, which is to be repealed by the Bill, the words used are:something which is of an indecent or obscene nature".In the Bill the word "obscene" is omitted.
In another Act, indecent matter is specifically linked with syphilis, gonorrhoea, nervous debility or other complaints or infirmity.
The 1961 Act includes the criminal offence of indecent assault. In all previous statutes there is more precision and the offence may be more readily understood.
§ Mr. Grieve
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is an advantage that in the Bill "obscene" is not used? Few words have given rise to greater difficulty of interpretation. That has been so in the courts and in statute.
§ Mr. Weitzman
That is all the more reason for pointing out that "indecent material" may well give rise to greater difficulty in litigation. The Oxford Dictionary defines indecency as:Unseemly, unbecoming or outrageous conduct—a condition which offends against personal delicacy—a condition which offends standards of recognised propriety—tending to obscenity—gross—obscene.In 1965 a jury decided that certain films and a brochure were not obscene but indecent. 926 It seems to be difficult to draw the line.
What are the standards of recognised propriety today? Clearly they are not the same as the standards of years ago. Presumably they are not the same as they will be in years to come. Television is excluded in the Bill, but it is pertinent to refer to the extract from the BBC's latest annual report, which states:The plain fact is that the theatre, the cinema and the written word have become, in recent years, far more permissive, and as a result we are under continual pressure to change our standards to theirs.Does indecency apply to violence, sadistic conduct or matters of that sort? Standards change. The views of judges, juries and magistrates may differ on the standard of propriety and on what constitutes indecent matter. Does the hon. Member for Hornsey think that we may eventually get a declaration of judgment by the Master of the Rolls? Varying decisions by the judiciary must present problems in future. Despite what the hon. Gentleman has said, in my view the lack of definition may impose insurmountable difficulties. It may lead to considerable legal argument whether the offence complained of comes within the provisions of the Bill. It may lead to different decisions by those who judge the cases that are brought. That is one of the most important considerations to be raised by the Bill.
I find clause 1 somewhat confusing. I appreciate that the intention is to exempt from clause 1(1) mattersvisible only from a place to which the public … have access except on payment".The words of clause 1(2)(a) tend to show that the offence in clause 1(1) includes matterdisplayed … or … visible from, any place to which … the public … are permitted to have access, whether on payment or otherwise".I find the language confusing. As a criminal offence, it is essential that the words should be clear both to lawyers and laymen. I hope that consideration will be given to those words in Committee.
§ Mr. Rossi
Even if the words in the Bill do not quite convey it, the intention is that every place to which the public have access is, for the purposes of the Bill, a public place, even if they pay to enter. Whether they pay to enter matters not unless—this is the point of 927 paragraph (b)—they pay specifically for the purpose of viewing indecent material. That is why it is necessary to divide the subsection.
§ Mr. Weitzman
I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman has said. I appreciated his intention. I have said so clearly. However, we are creating a criminal offence and it is necessary that the language should be sufficiently clear that laymen as well as lawyers understand it.
Has the proposer given thought to the possibility that medical or scientific matter may be displayed and made visible to the public that may contain matter that may be deemed to be indecent material? The Bill does not appear to provide for that.
I note that the Bill seeks to repeal section 4 of the Unsolicited Goods and Services Act 1971 and substitute another section. Section 4 makes it an offence if a personsends or causes to be sent to another person any book, magazine or leaflet … which he knows or ought reasonably to know is unsolicited and which describes or illustrates human sexual techniques.It is true that clause 5 seeks to deal with the advertising of an article thatconsists of or contains indecent matter".Section 4 of the 1971 Act is more precise. It spells out the exact nature of the offence. Clause 5 is more general and will involve all the difficulties of defining "indecent matter".
§ Mr. Rossi
Difficulties arose because section 4 of the 1971 Act was so precise. Therefore, the Home Office decided to make amendments in the 1973 measure. The definition of section 4 deals explicitly with "human sexual techniques". That covered medical books, or advertisements of medical books, sent to doctors. That was not the intention. That caused problems with reputable publishers of medical works. By substituting "indecency" there has to be something that shocks, corrupts or disgusts. That is entirely different. I do not think that a turgid, heavy medical book would necessarily do that.
§ Mr. Weitzman
By substituting "indecent material" we may be heading for further difficulty having regard to the doubts that I have raised on definition and how those words would be construed. 928 Great difficulties may arise by introducing those words and not leaving the 1971 section as it stands.
I have raised a number of matters, but I have not done so in a carping spirit. If the Bill is given a Second Reading, I hope that my arguments will be considered carefully. On reflection, I think that it would be better if the matter were left to the findings of the committee dealing with the whole issue of obscenity and indecency. If applied properly, the law still has provisions in it which will deal with indecent matter. If the public are so protected, surely it cannot be wrong to await the results of that committee's deliberations.
I congratulate the proposer on his introduction of the Bill and on the manner of his presentation of it.
§ 12.49 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)
Before I turn to support my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) in his able presentation of the Bill for Second Reading, I must instantly reply to the last matter dealt with by the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman), who has misconceived the whole purpose of our discussion. The measure before us is very largely a consolidation measure. It merely puts the existing law into simple and modern language, law culled from a number of existing Acts of the nineteenth century.
At present the world's moral standards are being attacked by immense commercial exploitation. In Holland, Germany and Denmark depictions of every kind of bestiality are published and put on public display. The form of repulsive commercial exploitation which is practised today reduces people's standards willy-nilly, regardless of whether they wish it, because it extends public displays which affront the public.
The Bill is concerned only with public outrage and the affront to public decency. It concerns itself with nothing else. I should know that, because, first, I was very closely concerned with writing part of the pamphlet published in 1972 by the Society of Conservative Lawyers, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page), who was concerned later, and 929 the then Solicitor-General, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers), who was concerned in writing it with me. None of them is in the House today.
That was in 1972, and we were concerned then with the outrage to public decency. As a result of the pressure which we applied, and which was also being expressed by the public at that time through Lord Longford and others, the Government decided to introduce legislation, which was based, save in one respect, almost entirely on the background of that report. The one important aspect which was not dealt with was the question whether one should use the word "indecency" and, if one did, whether one should define it.
In their wisdom, the Government decided that they would use the word "indecency". There was nineteenth century precedent for that decision, and, as the nineteenth century legislation had not defined it, did the Government. For reasons which I shall briefly elaborate later, I believe that the Government were right.
In 1973, Robert Carr, as he then was—Lord Carr, as he now is—as Home Secretary, moved the Second Reading of the Bill. I was present and I spoke on that occasion. There are a few matters of which I should like to remind the House which we raised on that occasion and which are apposite today. That Bill went to Committee and had, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey rightly said, 11 sittings. Unfortunately, it was lost solely because a general election was held, it being the end of January 1974.
In 1976, I had the opportunity to present another Bill and to have it ordered to be printed, supported by a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends, including my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) and my hon. Friends the Members for Harrow, West, Leominster and others. That Bill, introduced in 1976, was the same as that of 1973. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey—I am delighted that he has used this occasion—has brought forth the same, adding the two amendments, bringing the fines up to date and including Northern Ireland. At long last, it looks as though we shall have another chance.
930 My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey has wisely taken the opportunity of introducing this measure, but the tragedy is that it looks as though he will lose the Bill for precisely the same reason as we lost our Bill in 1974. However, it will be a happier occasion because this time we shall win the general election and I shall be there batting with him and the Front Bench to insist that his measure is hastened on to the statute book, notwithstanding the difficulties that will arise. I am sure that at least there will be a good Tory private Member on a Friday to present it.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I come back to this idea that there is any fantasy. There is not. It has nothing to do with Professor Williams. Professor Williams has an exceptionally difficult task to undertake—I go along with that.
Together with several of my hon. Friends I tried to find a proper definition for obscenity. Anyone who has read, as I have, the whole of the enormous volume of American evidence when it was discussed—I read the thing from end to end—realises the exceptional difficulty that there is with the laws relating to obscenity and would be humble and willing to await the outcome of a report. That is one thing. Let us not allow the public or any individual to get the idea that the Bill is a measure of censorship or a Bill through which we are trying to deal with obscenity. We could not get it through in a Private Member's Bill in the time available. Nor would we succeed in getting general homogeneity of thought and the general agreement which would be necessary. I entirely accept that it is right that those matters I have mentioned should be carefully considered by a committee, and I wish it luck.
My hon. Friends and I came up with a definition. One of the most important aspects of obscenity is cruelty and sadism. It is most important to include a definition of cruelty and sadism, which are probably the most serious aspects of obscene material.
No less a person than my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling)—as Home Secretary—looked at what my hon. Friends and myself had culled on this matter, which is 931 all in that report of 1972. Regrettably, he told me that he could not accept our definition as a satisfactory one, although he thought it was a jolly good shot at it. My right hon. Friend is a very careful man and he considered it. It has been considered by other Home Secretaries and they have failed. Professor Williams may succeed.
If we are to stop the outrage of commercial exploitation, we must do so now. It is no good our trying to stop it in two or three years' time. Furthermore, it needs no expertise. It is perfectly plain that there is really only one serious matter for discussion, and that is the question whether one seeks to define the word "indecency". There is healthy precedent to show that one should not define it, but I go further than that. I believe that the question of indecency must depend on the circumstances of every case. It must depend upon where the material is shown, the extent to which it is shown and the nature of the particular form of indecency.
There are indecencies which have nothing to do with sex or sexual perversion. At Victoria Station this morning, I saw something I believed indecent on the front page of a magazine. It was a picture of two nude women engaged in lesbian acts. That grossly offends. It would offend my mother, my aunt or any elderly lady. It would also be grossly offensive for children to see it—as they do every day. They quite often see the phallic symbol, waving there, of a man who is about to have intercourse with a woman. That is seen on bookstalls everywhere.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey was right when he told Labour Members that the Bill had nothing to do with what is inside the papers. Everyone who has looked at this aspect of the law thoroughly is quite satisfied that indecent exhibition, indecent display, merely means offensive display of material in the face of the public. It is with the face of the public that the whole Bill concerns itself.
If that be wrong, I am certain that my hon. Friend would amend any aspect of the Bill which did not meet that criterion, because it is that with which he is concerned. That is what our constituents, first of all, are concerned about. I am 932 not saying that they are not asking us to find an answer to hard porn. This is not hard porn. It is soft porn. Hard porn is never in the face of the public—at least, not the sort of things about which one is talking—bestiality, and so on. Of course not. Such material is kept under wraps inside the shop.
I share my hon. Friend's view when he says that the trade itself—bookshops, and so on—would welcome this measure. I believe that it would, because it would still enable the trade to sell the material, which will be kept in drawers, on shelves in shops, and even on bookstalls, too. The only thing that they cannot do is to have the appalling internecine warfare between, for example, the Silk paper and the other magazines, Men Only, and so on—all vying with each other to get an even more explicit and fantastic sexual display upon the front cover.
I recollect being one of those who were instrumental in securing the introduction of the Street Offences Bill. I was laughed at and scorned at the time. People said "Good God, Billy, what are you doing by trying to get rid of the tarts?" Being a fairly robust character myself, I must admit that the fact of there being prostitutes is not a matter which concerns me very much. But what concerned me was the same thing—"in the face of the public". There were those whores marching down Piccadilly, upsetting people, and seeking to pick people up in public. It was the public display aspect that concerned me.
We did not stop prostitution. What the Home Office did was to move in and introduce the Street Offences Act. That is analogous to this Bill. This was swept away. Some people said "You will merely put it behind wraps." I said "Yes, that is all that I am concerned to do. If prostitutes want to ply their trade, they must find some other way."
What happened next? The next time I was involved in this matter, as I remember, concerned the Shaw case, which went to the House of Lords. Little booklets were being produced as to what the girls could do. Unfortunately, the police moved in and said "That is living on the immoral earnings of prostitution." Up we went to the House of Lords to argue about what was "living on the immoral earnings of prostitution". The House of 933 Lords said that this was, so the women could not operate in that way.
The effect of this Bill may go a little further, possibly, than certain Labour Members like. It may be that some magistrates will take a fairly severe view as to what is indecent. But they can take such a view only on what is on public display. They cannot take it on what is under wraps.
I believe that the whole House of Commons and 95 per cent. of the population of this country will be in favour of the Bill, particularly once hon. Members and the public understand it. Perhaps the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Colquhoun) should ask her hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) what he thinks about this matter. He is not a man who agrees with me very much in political matters, but he is pretty sensible when it comes to this subject. I assure the hon. Lady, and others, that the overwhelming majority of Labour supporters, as well as Conservative supporters and—our Liberal colleagues are not present today, which is to be expected—any of those who vote Liberal at the next election, will all share the view that this is a wise measure. It is high time that it passed through the House, and quickly.
I do not believe that my hon. Friend will get the Bill on to the statute book, for other reasons, but, if he does not do so, I hope that our Government, as they will then be, will give an undertaking to him, to me and to all of us that they will see that this measure gets through as soon as possible.
§ 1.5 p.m.
§ Mr. David Young (Bolton, East)
I warn Opposition Members not to count all their chickens before they are hatched.
§ Mr. Young
While I have reservations on certain of the clauses in the Bill, and I think that one of the greatest weaknesses is the failure to define what indecency is, on this occasion I am supporting the principle of the Bill, not only because I feel strongly about it personally but because I have had a large number of approaches from my constituents, across the age ranges, across social 934 classes and across political divisions. These are ordinary people. They are not lawyers. They are not concerned with the definition of terms. They are, of course, concerned about the large and increasing amount of offensive display and offensive material that seems to be thrown at them and their children against their wills.
I think that they feel it in this way. If one accepts that one lives in a free society and that people have the right to purchase offensive or indecent material if they desire, there must also be an equal right extended to those who dislike such material to be protected from it and from the commercial exploitation that is taking place.
People are not, basically, asking for an extension of censorship. Indeed, in reading the Bill, I did not see that this was in any way indicated. What appeared to me to negative the censorship argument was that no restriction would be placed on the sale of indecent material to those who wished to buy it. The restriction is placed on those who wish to display it in public places.
I felt rather sorry that omitted from the Bill—and the reason has been explained—was any attempt to deal with the television broadcasts of films which would be confined to people over a certain age were they shown in a cinema. This has been explained, but I feel that it is of some concern to my constituents and myself that such a position should exist.
I may be old fashioned, but, personally, I believe in the unity of the family. Our society depends on the unity of the family. I believe also that this concept is not the province of any one party or political group. It is the basis on which this society, as it has existed, has depended, and on which I hope it will continue to exist and depend.
Many of the displays that one now sees in the streets of our towns and cities gradually erode the basis on which the family unit is securely founded. This is not simply my personal view; it is shared by many of my constituents. Therefore, I ask the House to consider that it is the duty of the law to provide and to redress the imbalance.
As I see it, the Bill, in principle, would not restrict the right of individual choice. 935 What it would do is to readjust the imbalance that has occurred between the rights of the individual not to have offensive material thrown at him and his family against his will and the right of those who wish to offer such material for commercial profit. One of the worrying points is this. This material is being pushed at the ordinary citizen for commercial profit. I am sorry that we have not heard more about that in this debate. I am just as concerned with newspapers as with magazines, although I am aware that newspapers are excluded from the Bill. I hope that when a more comprehensive Bill is produced it will cover all publications.
It cannot be argued that Men Only is any more than a graduation from certain national newspapers, the pages of which contain photographs which a year or two back would have been regarded as abhorrent to most people. It is this gradual wearing away at the nation's moral standard which causes most concern to my constituents who believe in the family unit.
My support for the Bill in principle is based on my belief that it is necessary to bring a simple measure into law as soon as possible. Then, if a more comprehensive measure comes forward, I am sure that it will be a Labour Government that will be in power to implement it.
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Alison (Barkston Ash)
I share the support of the hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Young) for the Bill, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) for including me as a sponsor of it. I congratulate him on his producing it and on the light and humorous but nevertheless extremely effective way in which he expounded it to the House.
I wish to deal with the relationship between this Bill and the Williams committee. I believe that there is a basic difference in scope between the objectives of the Williams committee inquiry and the objective of the Bill. The Williams committee aims essentially to consider the nature and content of pornographic material and its effect upon those who are exposed to it, and, against that background, 936 to consider a suitable definition of pornography for legal purposes.
§ Mr. John
So many people have misquoted the Williams committee that perhaps it might be advantageous if I were to read out the committee's terms of reference, which are exactly in point on this Bill. They are:to review the laws concerning obscenity, in decency and violence in publications, displays and entertainment in England and Wales …
§ Mr. Alison
I am obliged to the Minister for getting that on the record, but he will know that the purposes of the Williams committee cannot be fulfilled without the most careful, analytical and detailed consideration of the material, with the display of which we are here concerned.
There is a real difference between the time that the Williams committee will have to spend on pornographic material and the kind of issues that we are concerned with today. We are not here concerned essentially with the nature of pornography as such. That issue is in dispute and indeterminate, and we hope for some light on it from the Williams committee. But we are concerned, in advance of any conclusions that the Williams committee might reach, with the display of the kind of material it is analysing and considering.
I can understand any hon. Member who is deeply opposed to the terms of reference of the Williams committee, and even to its establishment on the ground that the issue is irrelevant, being opposed and hostile to the objects of this Bill. What I cannot understand in logic is how anyone who would acquiesce in or even be agnostic about the setting up and terms of reference of the committee can be positively hostile to the Bill. That would be like someone who had genuine misgivings and doubts about the effects and properties of some pharmaceutical product and who was anxious that it should be examined by experts, fighting to the last ditch for the right of manufacturers and sellers of the drug to continue displaying and advertising it before any conclusions had been reached about it.
That is what concerns us today. If anyone has doubts about the harmful effect of exposure to pornography, he should in logic support the Bill, which 937 gives the benefit of the doubt to those misgivings in advance of any conclusions by the Williams committee. The Williams committee was set up because of misgivings about the nature and effect of pornography. I hope that the Minister of State will not use an excuse about the deliberations of the Williams committee as part of his advice to the House today not to proceed with this Bill.
I want the Minister to give specific information about the time scale of the work of the Williams committee. I understand that Professor Bernard Williams has now taken sabbatical leave and is no longer engaged in actively chairing the committee. He was absent from the committee when I went to give evidence to it with a group of Members from both sides of the House and from the House of Lords before Christmas. I was led to understand that he had gone to America on sabbatical leave.
I do not want to impugn Professor Williams. He is entitled to his sabbatical leave, and no doubt if that was what he intended to do it was cleared with the Home Office at the time. I do not want to pretend that the committee cannot function adequately under a deputy chairman, because it gave a courteous and helpful hearing to those of us who appeared before it. But I cannot believe, under any interpretation, that if Professor Williams has had to go away for some reason, that can be held to expedite the progress of the committee and its findings. The opposite is likely to be the case
The time scale of the end of this year is a long way off, and because of the need to protect people, in anticipation, and to give them the benefit of the doubt, I believe that we should hasten this Bill forward rather than delay it by awaiting the Williams committee findings.
§ 1.18 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Brynmor John)
As I understand the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi), both from his discussion with me on the Bill and from the way he opened the debate this morning, his intention is to prevent those who are unwilling to have encounters with indecent material from doing so. Such people do not want to see it, but it is thrust upon them. The hon. Gentleman is right in believing that 938 a great number of people would support him in that general principle.
Many people do not want the taste of others to be imposed upon them as they walk along the streets or as they eat at the breakfast table and examine the post or their newspapers. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Young) was right to bring our minds back to the way in which some newspapers which strike moral poses in certain editorials have done a great deal to change the habits and acceptances of the vast majority of the community.
Even those who accept the very minimum of restriction upon the freedom of publication, or the freedom of individuals to read or see what they will, recognise the equally important freedom not to have such material. Therefore, where indecent displays are a public nuisance the Government have sympathy with the principle that the hon. Gentleman outlined to the House and their attitude to the Bill is tailored accordingly.
I find increasingly that when an issue stirs our consciences we are ready to denigrate the second principle if the first is felt sufficiently strongly. The second part of our capacity as lawmakers is to take a look at the practicality and effectiveness of the legislation that we pass. Nothing can be more destructive to a principle to which we are sympathetic than to have on the statute book an Act which will not do the job that we want and which may bring into disrepute all the sympathy surrounding that issue.
In fact, the Cinematograph and Indecent Displays Bill 1973 provides a case in point. In that instance, my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon), speaking on behalf of the then Opposition, gave a welcome to the Bill in principle. All sides were united on the principle. But we indicated then that there were serious objections to the practicality of that matter. I believe that the Committee stage indicated that. It certainly indicated that there were formidable problems which had not been met.
I should like to deal with a matter where I believe the hon. Member for Hornsey unwittingly misled the House, aided and abetted by the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies), although I understand that what they said was based on their memory of 939 what happened six years ago. I appreciate that undertakings are given by Ministers in Committee, but it is not the case that the Government of the day gave undertakings that they would consider bringing forward amendments on Report to cover the inadequacies that had been shown up in Committee. In fact, the then Home Secretary, Mr. Robert Carr, tabled amendments for Report, which appeared on the Notice Paper on 6 February 1974. The working party on vagrancy and street offences sets that out, and I shall refer to this later.
§ Mr. Rossi
Of course, I did not wish to mislead the House. The Minister has an advantage over me, because he has a Department at his disposal which can tell him what took place after the Committee stage proceedings were recorded in the book to which I referred. The hon. Gentleman has been kind enough to say that he does not object to the principle of the Bill or to what I am seeking to do. He has reservations on one or two matters that require clarification by way of amendment. If there is that measure of agreement, will he agree to ensure that the Committee stage comes forward rapidly and is terminated quickly—these matters lie within the power of Governments—and in return I shall give him all the help that I can to ensure that the amendments that he has just mentioned find their way into the Bill?
§ Mr. John
Of course, the rapidity of a Committee stage very much depends upon the number of amendments that are moved and accepted. I shall certainly bring to my right hon. Friend's attention the suggestion that the hon. Gentleman has made, but I must tell him that last Friday's debate proved to be an equally important one, in that hon. Members made exactly the same point about the Committee stage. The hon. Gentleman will understand that I can give no promises as to when the Committee stage of his Bill will take place. Although I have never deliberately obstructed a matter, I shall not shirk from a proper discussion of a number of matters that I believe need to be clarified.
With no sense of shame, and with no wish to avoid the issue, I come back to the Williams committee. It is my advice—whether the House takes it is another 940 matter—that it is premature to legislate in advance of that committee reporting. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) talk about the courteous and sympathetic hearing which he and his colleagues had. That is in contrast to some of the questioning at Question Time yesterday, which sought to impugn the bona fides of the Williams committee.
When we set up a committee composed of a number of very distinguished people, it is highly dangerous for an Opposition to try to anticipate the outcome of its recommendations by attacking its credibility. That does not help to get people to serve on such committees. In the end, the quality of the legislation, and the quality of the suggestions that we receive, will be diminished if people automatically think that certain outside forces can say that unless they have all of their own persuasion on a committee it is of no use.
The hon. Member for Hornsey mentioned two breaches—first, the Criminal Law Act, where an exception was made for the Cinematograph Act. In fact, that is no breach because the Williams committee, although proposed, had not then been set up, and this was a matter of common agreement, which frequently occurs during the passage of a Bill. The second breach relates to the child pornography Act. I agree that that matter came into sudden prominence and that the House felt it needed an urgent interim solution. That measure passed into law with not quite the grudging attitude on the part of the Government which some Conservative Members have suggested.
But we are one year nearer the Williams committee report. The committee hopes to report later this year, not at the end of the year. Professor Williams is in this country and is actively chairing the matter. The taking of evidence is almost complete. About 1,500 submissions have been submitted, many of which, contrary to what some hon. Members have suggested, deal with the question of indecent displays and how to tackle them. Therefore, this subject is well within the committee's remit, because such evidence has been accepted and is being weighed.
Ideally, I believe that we must await this fundamental and detailed reassessment of the law which impinges upon this matter and adopt a comprehensive 941 approach. In effect, the committee will be reporting in a very short time.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I accept that this matter is within the committee's remit. I also follow the argument that Professor Williams may have some new ideas on indecent displays. But would not the hon. Gentleman agree that my hon. Friend's Bill is largely a consolidating one? A great part of it merely restates the law. The urgency arises because of commercial exploitation today.
§ Mr. John
The hon. and learned Gentleman seeks to have it both ways. He first says that because of commercial exploitation the Bill will have a novel effect in countering that trade. But at the same time he says that it merely restates the law. If it restates the law, there is then a cover for the situation. It is true that most of the matters described in it are covered by the existing law. In my view, there are respects in which the law as enshrined in this Bill, rather than meeting the objects which he and his hon. Friend enunciated, goes further.
I turn from my sympathy in principle and my argument that we should await the Williams committee report to the effect of the Bill. But I reiterate that it will be scant reward to people who serve on a public committee if having allowed them to work for a year and a half and to take 1,500 separate submissions of evidence, we say that we do not require their help. That is the gravamen of my advice to the House.
I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West that this body of law is elderly, dating from the nineteenth century. It needs some amendment to bring it up to date. But the inadequacies of the penalties were grossly overstated. The maximum penalty under the Vagrancy Act is £200, not 40 shillings. The hon. and learned Member was pretending that that was still the maximum penalty, and this aroused the usual cheap and easy laugh. The record should be put right.
There have been only about 20 convictions under the Vagrancy Act and the Indecent Advertisements Act in each of the last three years. That may be due in part to the reluctance of prosecutors in view of the antiquity of the statutes. But we should be deceiving ourselves 942 and our constituents if we did not acknowledge that much of the material that people find offensive would not be held in law to be indecent. It is therefore not a breach of the present law if we pass it through. What the law holds to be indecent is not necessarily offensive.
I do not deny the crudity and offensiveness of many of the cinematograph posters or magazine covers that offend people. As the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) made clear when he was a member of the Government, the portrayal of nudity is not necessarily indecent. That has been made clear over the last five years, especially in newspapers that strike moral tones in their editorials whilst peddling soft porn on every other page. Therefore, if nudity is not of itself indecency, many examples of what could be considered offensive would not be covered by the Bill and the law would have no direct impact.
§ Mr. Rossi
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but the point I wanted to make arose a long way back in his speech. It was possible under the old Acts to prosecute because the terms "indecency" and "obscene" were synonymous. But by later legislation we have given a particular meaning to "obscenity" which makes it difficult to prosecute for matters which, before we gave that precise definition, would have been caught by the earlier statutes.
§ Mr. John
The earlier statutes mainly put "indecent" and "obscene" in the alternative. But that is far from saying that they are synonymous. I accept that "obscenity" has been put in a particular way in the Obscene Publications Act, and we must hope to resolve that when the Williams committee reports. My point is that the meaning of the word "indecency" is not clear.
Hon. Members have spoken of newsagents coming to see them. The National Federation of Retail Newsagents has talked of the confusion that might arise, even with the most respectable and experienced newsagents, in deciding what is and what is not indecent. We have received similar representations from other bodies.
I have dealt in general terms with practical difficulties, but there are problems of detail in the Bill. The hon. Member 943 for Hornsey has sought to make it clear that he is not trying to prevent the sale of indecent material to people who genuinely want to buy it. He is less convincing on how it would leave unrestricted the sale of indecent material. The Bill prohibits what is displayed inside the shops as well as in the windows. Both he and I recognise that there are people who object to sex shops and feel that they should be banned. But if we are seeking censorship, we should say so directly. We should not legislate on a side wind.
§ Mr. John
I was coming to the point that, in considering what will happen to the Bill, the working party on vagrancy and street offences suggested that there should be an adults-only restriction where it is obvious that people under 18 are not admitted. Therefore, that should be outside the scope of the Bill. But not-withstanding the fact that people under 18 are not admitted to the shop, and that the shop is specifically designed for that purpose, at present any place that is open to the public and therefore open to people under 18 is contravening the law. The unfortunate and unintended effect of the hon. Gentleman's proposition would be to ban the sale of indecent material.
§ Mr. Rossi
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the matter could be dealt with easily by purpose sex shops charging a nominal fee for entry? They will then be a place to which people pay to see specifically what is within the premises. That small fee could be refundable on the purchase of an article.
§ Mr. John
I want to mention other places where no charge is made but which I believe nevertheless should be exempted from the Bill. There might be an exemption for premises that are guarded by a notice warning of the nature of the display and which seek not to admit persons under 18.
That is not all that the Bill ignores. I have mentioned the amendments tabled by the Conservative Government on Report on the 1973 Bill. Chief amongst them would have been the amendment to extend the exemption for public art galleries and museums to all art galleries and museums. Also, it would have excluded a display in a public building, which would have covered public libraries.
The amendments tabled in 1973 would also have made clear that the Bill did not overlap with other material which penalises indecent exposure of the human body and would have limited the offence to audible indecency by excluding premises licensed for public music and dancing. The proper remedy in those cases is, of course, an objection to the renewal of the licence.
I regret that none of those proposals tabled by the then Tory Home Secretary have found their way into this Bill, and I would hope that in Committee we might discuss this with a view to incorporating them.
I come back to the point of clause 4. My hon. Friend the Member for York raised this question and I do not think that it has been answered yet. Clause 1 deals with indecent advertising. One understands that entirely. But clause 4 deals with a completely different category of material—advertisements which are not in themselves indecent but which may be taken as advertising indecent articles. For example, if there is an "adults only" sign on a shop, and if we agree that this is a way of stopping the unwary from being subjected to pornography against their will, under clause 4 that in itself may be held to be advertising indecent material and therefore a breach of the very principle that we are trying to uphold. It would be a very curious result if a warning to people not to expose themselves to the risk of seeing this sort of 945 thing were held to be an indecent advertisement. I hope that in Committee this provision will be looked at and amended.
It is also possible to look at clause 2 in a different perspective from the one which was possible five years ago. This is where hon. Members should be properly aware of the enthusiasm that sometimes overtakes us as legislators when we look at these distasteful problems. I am not trying to hide the fact that these things are disasteful, nor am I trying to hide my abhorrence of the commercial exploitation of sex.
In 1973, the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn spoke about the possibility of peepshow machines being placed in supermarkets, amusement arcades, public houses and other public places. Experience has shown us that this has not happened. What has happened is that these shows have been placed in sex shops to which young people are not admitted, and therefore some of the worries that occurred many years ago have not eventuated. We may have to take that into account in Committee.
I have tried merely to indicate to the hon. Member for Hornsey some of the problems that he will face in Committee if the Bill is to be debated properly and if a Bill which does us credit is to emerge. There is widespread sympathy for the objectives of the Bill, which I share, but I doubt whether the Bill as framed will meet the desired objecives. A misdirected Bill is worse than no Bill at all.
I have advised the House on what I believe to be the correct position, but if hon. Members disregard my advice, and if it is the general wish that the Bill should make progress, the Government will not seek to obstruct it. But, despite what happened six years ago, this Bill will still need very careful examination in Committee, and I believe that both the hon. Member for Hornsey and I would want to join in that careful discussion.
§ 1.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)
I am rather surprised at what the Minister has said about the Government's attitude to the Bill. It seems to me, and I have no doubt that it seems to him as well, that the objects of this Bill, which are simple and admirable, have attracted great public support, and that alone should have given 946 the Home Office cause to think before saying that the Goverment were indifferent. The Government are, in a sense, showing no leadership and they are giving no encouragement. They are merely saying that if the House wishes to see the Bill go forward they will not object. Yet this is the kind of legislation which the Government should be anxious to encourage.
§ Mr. John
I can understand that the hon. and learned Gentleman's concept of leadership is rather like that of the Duke of Plaza-Toro. He leads his troops from behind whenever there is a sufficient body of public opinion in front of him. I have given the House of Commons the leadership that I think is right on a Private Member's Bill by advising that I believe it to be premature, by expressing sympathy with the objectives and by telling hon. Members the matters that should concern the Committee. I cannot accept that that means I am showing indifference or lack of leadership. It seems to me that it is the hon. and learned Gentleman's desire to make some point—any point—that appears to be partisan.
§ Mr. Gardner
No, I am not. I am trying to point out that time and again the Home Office drifts along without any positive point of view. I do not accept that it is a good reason for doing nothing merely because a committee happens to be considering this problem.
§ Mr. Gardner
I am not certain of everything, and the Minister knows that full well. That was a really lamentable remark. It was also most personal and was not justified at all.
The Williams committee was set up for a particular purpose of looking at the whole field of pornography, indecency, obscenity and display. There are—and I 947 concede this at once—large areas where the law is uncertain and where it would be foolish, without very careful consideration and examination of the law as it is and the facts that we are seeking to alter, to embark upon legislation without giving that consideration. Then, of course, it is wise and necessary to have the expert and considered view of a committee.
But what we are looking at here is merely a segment of the problem. The problem of indecent display really does not require the services of an expert committee. We do not have to be told as a people that we need guidance in what we should do about a public nuisance, what we should do about pollution or what steps we should take to deal with the outrage to the eye and ear which is undoubtedly caused by indecent displays. We know what should be done. The Government know what should be done—namely, they should get rid of it.
The fact that we in this House express a public point of view does not mean to say that we are being led by public opinion. We have our own views on this subject. I have very strong views, and they may be considered to be wrong views. I know that the Minister will not give me any credit on this score, but I have some humility when dealing with the subject. We all see these matters from a personal, and sometimes a professional, point of view. We tend to look at them against our background, and we are also influenced by what others think.
The whole amalgam of opinion eventually focuses itself into a conclusion. I have a strong point of view on this topic. I believe that this Bill will not harm anybody but that its effects will be wholly beneficial. Nobody on an intellectual, political or commonsense level could possibly oppose the objectives of the Bill. The Bill seeks to safeguard the public against unwilling exposure to indecent material.
Why do we need to have the views of the Williams committee or any other committee to convince us that that is a proper objective? I very much doubt that the Williams committee will be able to assist the Government or anybody else in framing ultimate legislation based on the findings of such a committee. That will surely be a matter for Parliament. 948 If there were difficulties, I would submit a different view, but I do not see any such difficulty.
§ Mr. John
The hon. and learned Gentleman has rightly said that there is a consensus on objectives, but I believe that the consensus breaks down on solutions. I have made a large number of detailed criticisms as to areas in which the Bill does not meet the objectives of the Bill's sponsor. That is the kind of help which the Williams committee can give. Sympathy for the objectives of the Bill is only half the battle. We have to translate that into workable and legible legislation. We have failed to do that on one occasion, and we must take care not to do so in future.
§ Mr. Gardner
I agree with the Minister that on one occasion we failed. I am sure that the Minister has in mind the fact that the 1959 legislation, as Lord Denning said, misfired. It misfired on the restriction of definition and on its narrow application. That related to the definition of "obscenity" which includes indecency. There has been no such obstacle on the word "indecent". The customs consolidation legislation of 1876 and the provisions of the Post Office legislation which prohibit the importation of pornographic material rely on the words "indecent or pornographic". The word "indecent" has a good ancestry. It goes back to Victorian legislation, and indeed beyond it, and the courts have had no difficulty in defining the matter. To say that the courts will have difficulty in understanding what is meant by the object of the Bill, or by the way in which that object can be achieved through legislation, is to put up an artificial and unreal objection.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
The hon. and learned Gentleman suggested that there was no difficulty about the word "indecent". I pointed out one difficulty in an earlier intervention. On that occasion I quoted Lord Parker, and I should like to quote the noble Lord on the Post Office Act. He said:If you are on a beach with your children and a woman takes off her clothes, that is indecent. We just do not want that sort of thing in this country.Would the hon. and learned Gentleman go as far as that? If that is the case, the word "indecent" would appear to 949 exclude all nudism. I am not a nudist, but I am far from suggesting that all nudists should be regarded as indecent. Surely that would be wrong.
§ Mr. Gardner
I submit that there is no need to bedevil a simple English word, such as "indecent", with a definition of the kind which has made it impossible in many cases to succeed in the prosecution of the publication of something obscene.
Lord Parker was seeking to give examples of what he thought was indecent, without defining the word "indecent". Lord Reid in his speech in the House of Lords when dealing with the definition of "indecency" did no more than say that one should not confine indecency to sexual aspects. It goes beyond that and covers matters which are offensive for other reasons. They are also indecent. It did not attempt to be the final definition of "indecency".
I do not believe that Parliament, the courts or juries which ultimately may have to consider whether an offence has been committed under this Bill require the assistance of such a definition.
The Williams committee will anxiously examine the future of the word "obscenity" and how it can be defined. Everybody has the greatest sympathy for parliamentary draftsmen. I hope that those of us in this House who have had to consider this matter will be given some sympathy in dealing with the almost insuperable problem of reaching a simple and easily understood definition of obscenity. The difference is that "obscenity" includes indecency but goes far beyond it. The law has attempted, mostly unsuccessfully, to say how far beyond indecency obscenity goes. The tendency to deprave and corrupt is a concept which the law asks juries to understand. It was a criticism by Lord Denning that obscenity as defined by the 1959 legislation was restricted and defined too narrowly.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
This has happened because "obscenity" was originally left undefined. The 1959 Act tried to restrict it because of the difficulties faced by the courts where obscenity was left, as it were, at large. There is a difference between indecency and obscenity, but the difficulty is to show in what sense either concept is restricted so that a jury may 950 apply it impartially and similarly in every case. It is the subjective element in both words that arouses difficulty.
§ Mr. Gardner
I agree, but we do not face such difficulties in this Bill. We are dealing with the word "indecent" and I submit that, on the experience of more than 100 years of legislation, there is no difficulty about the courts applying the law or in juries understanding the law when the word "indecent" is used. What this Bill seeks to do is no more than to protect people, who apparently desire this protection, from the outrage of having to look at material which they consider to be indecent.
It is as simple as that and it is as good as that. It may be, and I would not seek to say otherwise, that when the Bill goes into Committee a great deal of work will have to be done to improve it and make it fully effective. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) is seeking to argue otherwise. In my view and the view of many other Members, there is a public nuisance or a pollution of the mind, call it what you will, which the public do not want, and there is no conceivable argument that should discourage the House from giving the Bill its full support, even though people might not mind others enjoying this material in the privacy of their own homes or elsewhere.
I submit that it would be shameful if the Government, bearing in mind the very healthy desire of the majority of people to do away with indecent displays, were to oppose the Bill. However, I now understand that they will not oppose it. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey on selecting this subject, because I regard the Bill as one which the country at large will see as being wholly beneficial and which can do nothing but good. I hope that the House will give it its full support.
§ 2.4 p.m.
§ Ms Maureen Colquhoun (Northampton, North)
I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) is not in his place. That is not a criticism, because he has been present all the time—it just happens that I have been called to speak in his lunch break—but it seemed that the hon. and learned Gentleman made 951 remarks referring to me. He said on one or two occasions "If the hon. Lady would ask her hon. Friend the Member for Walton". As I was the only hon. Lady on this side of the House it seemed that the hon. and learned Gentleman thought, quite wrongly, that I would be one of the sternest opponents of the Bill.
It also seemed that he took the view that everything was all right for male sexuality—which is what we are really talking about—as long as we get prostitutes off the streets. Apparently the hon. and learned Gentleman was successful in persuading the House to do that. However, in private, prostitutes are appallingly exploited as women while their male clients are totally protected by the law. The hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to argue that as long as we show photographs of lesbians for male titillation in private it is all right, and that lesbians are not deplorably exploited commercially.
I must tell him that he is wrong. Lesbians do not buy photographs of nude women wrestling, or with whips. Such photographs, if they are bought at all, are bought by heterosexual men, and that ought to go on record. I am just as offended as is the hon. and learned Gentleman when I get to Victoria Station and see this sort of sexual exploitation.
That being said, I hope that the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) will not be too disappointed when I tell him that I do not support his Bill in its present extremely badly drafted state. It is not the job of legislators to set up short-term piecemeal Bills which are inept. This Bill makes no advance on the Bill introduced in the last stages of the Heath Government in late 1973. It was proved in Committee that that Bill would, had it been passed into law, have had many unintended and ludicrous results, as, I believe, would the present Bill.
As a member of the Statute Law Society which monitors new parliamentary Bills as they appear to check their compliance or non-compliance with the principles recommended by Sir David Renton's Committee on the preparation of legislation in 1975, I ought to make clear that this Bill certainly is not in line with that Committee's thinking. The Bill could end, as many Acts of Parliament do, as 952 a paradise for lawyers and a restriction on the freedom of individuals. I also believe, as does my hon. Friend the Minister, that such a Bill ought to wait until the Williams committee on obscenity has reported. Only then, when Parliament has the Williams report, should the Government produce a Bill. I think that it would be a very different Act in legislative intelligence from the Bill we are discussing today.
The Bill is well meaning—or should I say well intentioned, because are not the words "well meaning" the worst thing one can say about anything? All the indecent displays that are shown in our cities and towns—and I think particularly of Soho—are so fundamentally anti-women and so totally degrade women that they prevent women from walking the streets of Soho at night. I am one of those women in the House who totally support the women who have made protests in the "Reclaim the Night" celebrations in Soho. Those women are seeking to show men, in a very important way, that they do not accept pornography and the violent attitudes that are reinforced by the kind of pornography that is shown today in Soho.
That type of pornography incites men to regard women as their property to which they should have sexual access whenever and however they want it. Soho is a national disgrace, and it represents an appalling harassment to women. I would welcome control by this House over that kind of harassment. Women have marched against it. There was a march a week or two ago by more than 2,000 women and an earlier march in October.
The women who marched then against sexual exploitation suffered the most appalling damage and harassment. I ought to tell the House what happened. The march started in a joyful atmosphere with many women in fancy dress in the torchlight procession. Only four policemen were present at the start of that "Reclaim the Night" tour of Soho, but within 10 minutes 40 policemen and 10 policewomen were making their first arrests. Whom did they protect?—not the women who were protesting, but the pornography merchants of Soho.
The owner of the New Swedish Cinema Club in Brewer Street, where the women 953 registered their first protest at the appalling and degrading sexist material on display, and one of his employees threatened the women with a stool and a hammer. The police seized one of the women, haphazardly. Reinforcement police arrived and waded in with wooden truncheons, hitting women at random on the head, dangerously near the temples, on the middle back, in the stomach and across the breasts.
The police violence against those women, who were making a peaceful protest against the pornography of Soho, escalated. Sixteen women were arrested and five were treated in hospital with head and facial injuries. The House ought to be told about that because in London, in Soho, the police, in our name, protect indecent displays and damage the valid right to protest at them by those most affected—the women who have been sexually exploited.
We have had a sordid example in the House which might come under the Bill. A number of hon. Members signed my early-day motion No. 51, "Honouring the Dead". The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell)—I suppose that I have to describe him as an hon. and learned Member—supported by one of the hard-faced Members from Ulster, and, I am glad to say, by only that hon. Member, tabled a sexually illiterate amendment, which was unable to define the difference between sodomy and buggery, and which exposed to me, as it did to many other hon. Members, the indecent and bigoted thoughts of those two Members. Any new Bill must include material published in the House. It is time that we lost the privilege that allows such amendments to be tabled.
On the surface, the Bill appears to be a reasonable piece of legislation, but I stress that in its present form it is unworkable. It will drag pornographic literature underground, as well as giving magistrates, watch committees and the police totally undemocratic powers to decide what the public can buy. That is something which I find utterly offensive. A penalty of two years' imprisonment, which is more than most people get for violent crimes, also seems totally out of proportion for the crime that the Bill seeks to define.
954 I make no apology for restating the major objections. There is no definition of indecency in the Bill. The late Lord Chief Justice Parker ruled in 1965 that the expression meantsomething that offends the modesty of the average man"—in the opinion of a court, that is. It ought to have included women, but in law in this country they are overlooked. I understand from my time in the House that "man" is a term which naturally embraces "woman". Lord Chief Justice Parker's definition is far too wide.
The provisions exempting indecent displays which the public knowingly pay to see could result in booksellers and newsagents banishing into back rooms books and magazines that are not pornographic but which a court might conceivably consider to be indecent.
Clause 4 is particularly damaging. It provides that it shall be an offence publicly to advertise an article for sale in a manner that islikely to be taken as indicatingthat it is indecent. How much more subjective or how much more vague could one get? It could lead to more people being shocked because dishonest advertising does not warn off those who do not wish to buy or see explicitly sexual material. I do not understand why the accused's intentions are relevant. Police powers under the Bill are far too wide and sweeping and the effect of clause 6, in conjunction with the Magistrates' Courts Act 1952, denies a defendant the right to choose a jury unless the prosecution agrees.
If the Bill gets a Second Reading, there must be amendments to make it workable and acceptable and these must include a "public good" defence, the proviso that the accused's intent is relevant, a statutory definition of indecency, the restriction of prosecutions to those authorised by the DPP—in order to avoid wasting public time and money through "cranky" complaints and prudish policemen and to ensure uniformity throughout the land—and a ban on common law or conspiracy prosecutions for indecency.
I should like the Bill to be sent to those policemen in Soho, and their superiors, who went to such great lengths in the latter part of last year to support 955 the hideous indecent displays in Soho against the women who were quite rightly objecting. The Bill, even in its present badly drafted state, could be a real lesson to them in their interpretation of the protection of the public and a guideline to what perhaps many hon. Members feel ought to be done about the degrading of society by these people and, in particular, the degrading of women in society.
This is a defective Bill and is very badly drafted. It has totally failed to recognise the importance of waiting for the Williams committee report on obscenity. That report needs to be considered and from it there should emerge studied thinking which stops the worst excesses of Soho and the indecent displays in some of our other major cities in a reasonable and responsible way.
We do not want wide powers to restrict personal freedom, but we must stop these offensive displays. If the Bill is given a Second Reading, it must be seriously amended.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Brooke (City of London and Westminster, South)
I am grateful for being called to speak immediately after the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Colquhoun), because her speech centred on Soho, which is in my constituency. I am motivated to speak by the subject that we are discussing and a constituency interest. I apologise if in some of my remarks I am parochial. I shall confine my remarks to Soho, although there is recent worrying evidence that the area around Victoria is becoming subject to the same trends as in Paddington, Euston and King's Cross. Such activity tends to grow up around main line stations.
I shall embellish some of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi). I warmly welcome his Bill. He made incidental references to Soho. He referred specifically to the advertisements at the Astral cinema. He did not refer to it by name. That cinema is close to the public market in Rupert Street and Brewer Street.
The stall holders of central London are men and women of the world. But they say that the end of the market close to the advertisements at the Astral cinema has been totally sterilised by the activity 956 which surrounds the cinema. The Greater London Council has made commendable efforts to get the advertisements removed. They were removed for a week, but they are back with us. That is an instance of the problems that local authorities have when operating under present legislation. It is a long and continuous battle.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey referred to the primary school at the corner of Archer Street and Windmill Street. About 200 children are educated there. The entrance to the school is festooned with pornography. My hon. Friend also referred to the bookshop opposite the children's playground in Peter Street, and Green's Court. The playground is the only one that is available to children in Soho.
It will come as a surprise to some hon. Members to discover that 200 children in Soho attend that primary school. It might surprise hon. Members to know that there are 1,500 residents of Soho on the electoral register and who live there because that is where they wish to live. I speak partly on their behalf. The residents of Soho belong to one of the most remarkable, vibrant and integrated communities in London. I am extremely proud of that community. But I recognise the way in which it is beleaguered by the forces which surround it.
Many hon. Members will have either lunched or dined in the Hungarian Csarda restaurant, which used to be in Dean Street. That restaurant was obliged to move north of Oxford Street into Charlotte Street simply because the neighbourhood in Soho was deteriorating. The proliferation of sex shops has eroded steadily the provision of any other type of shopping to the residents.
Perhaps there is an alternative method of attacking this problem to that in the Bill. Perhaps such shops could be licensed in the same way as bookmakers are licensed. That would mean that only one such shop could be established in a neighbourhood. But Soho is overwhelmed with sex shops.
The Bill represents at least a clarion call that some type of relief is on the way. It is easy to say that my constituents do not have to live in Soho. But they would contribute further to inner city blight if they left and Soho became a desert. I 957 understand the Government's view that the definition of obscenity is important. Anybody who has talked to the police who have to operate under the Obscene Publications Act recognises the difficulty of not having a clear definition.
Under the present legislation, my constituents are subjected to a plethora of shops and outlets of this kind. I am grateful, in a related matter, to the Home Secretary, because after some of my constituents and I had been to see him to discuss the way in which street walkers in Mayfair were laughing at the law, by the imaginative use of women police constables much progress is being made on that front.
I salute the police for the vigour which they have directed against the Soho trade in the last year. The number of arrests have increased. But the shops are still there. The shopkeepers laugh at the town planning laws which are the only weapons open to the local authority, other than advertisement legislation. A town planning case can take up to two years. At the end of the day the shopkeeper is faced with a fine of only £200. During those two years he takes £1,000 per day. My constituents look to the House for a remedy and relief. My hon. Friend's Bill is regarded as such in my constituency.
The Government must recognise that under the present legislation there is no effective bar to the multiplication of sex shops and the consequence of that, which is the deterioration of the environment.
I welcome the current police action. But I take issue with the hon. Member for Northampton, North in her criticisms of the police who operate from West End Central. When he was Home Secretary my father made a famous incognito tour of Soho. The police at West End Central have been helpful to me and I can now understand their problems.
§ Ms Colquhoun
Was the hon. Member present at the "Reclaim the Night" demonstration to which I referred? Has he ever been at the receiving end of a policeman's truncheon, as I truthfully described? Does he find the truth too distasteful?
§ Mr. Brooke
Many things happen in my constituency and I am invited to the majority of them. But I was not invited to that demonstration.
958 I salute the police for having streamlined the procedure for prosecutions. The Metropolitan Police Solicitor now has the prime responsibility, and a veto is retained by the Director of Public Prosecutions instead of the DPP's office serving as a bottleneck.
Two problems remain. One of them is covered by the Bill, but the other requires action elsewhere. The problems specifically concern Soho. The first problem is that the man in charge of a shop protects the money men behind him. He will say to the police "I was just asked to look after the shop for the day. I do not know the man who asked me to do it. I have been paid. I have just to put the key through the door when it is over." It is difficult to discover who is behind the shop.
I welcome clause 7, because it contains the capacity for arrest which increases the chance of discovering the people who are behind the trade. Even the fines which my hon. Friend suggests will not deter those who are involved. The Minister referred to £20 or £50. I think that £1,000 is not enough in the context of Soho because that is only the takings of a single day.
The numerous seizures which the police have made this year are not deterring the traffic. The financial losses involved in such seizures do not cause the business men to stop what they are doing. The business men provide the rewards which enable the man who is left in charge of such a shop to be an effective wall.
Only imprisonment will have a deterrent effect on this trade. I say that partly in the context of the people behind the man in charge of the shop, but most particularly in terms of making the man who is in charge of the shop more reluctant to protect the people behind him. The difficulty that we face—it is the difficulty to which I was referring outside this legislation—is that the courts have been extremely reluctant hitherto to impose maximum sentences, and very reluctant indeed to impose imprisonment. That is a problem which is separate from the measure before us. I welcome my hon. Friend's move in bringing this forward, because my constituents have asked me again and again "When will Parliament do something to help us?"
§ 2.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
As the hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) said, most of his more well-informed remarks were directed to matters outside the ambit of the Bill. He reinforced the argument of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, therefore, that it would have been much better if the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) had awaited the report of the Williams committee so that the issue could be dealt with as a whole.
I have not encountered any great excitement in Putney about the Bill in either direction, for or against. I have had three or four letters in each direction about it. The difference between the two groups of letters is surprising, in that those who have written to me saying that they would like me to support the Bill had not read it, whereas those who wrote asking me to oppose the Bill had read it.
If one were to take the Bill purely on its title or motive, naturally one would support it. It is only when one examines the Bill and sees the very grave defects and very grave possibilities for harm that one is given pause—so much so that a body as responsible as the Defence of Literature and the Arts Society has said that in its view the Bill ought not to have a Second Reading.
One of the problems is that the people on either side are often very estimable people. The president of the Defence of Literature and the Arts Society is Lord Gardiner. He is a man of such stern and eminent rectitude that he makes even Mrs. Whitehouse, on the other side, seem to be a bit flighty. It cannot be said, therefore, as has been suggested, that those who are opposed to the Bill are in some way morally inferior to those who support it. That is not so at all. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Minister of State has nothing to concede to anyone in terms of moral superiority, although he would not claim that for himself. Indeed, such is his moral superiority that he could not possibly claim it for himself.
The Bill has, therefore, both for and against it people whose intentions are of the best, and it is not a measure the supporters or opponents of which are to be found only on one side of the House. Among the many sponsors of the Defence 960 of Literature and the Arts Society is Lord Boyle of Handsworth, who is a Conservative. On the Labour side there are the Father of the House and the deputy Father who will succeed him after the next general election. Other sponsors include Viscount Norwich, critics such as Dilys Powell, and also Lord Sainsbury, Dr. Stafford-Clark, Tom Stoppard, Sir Hugh Willatt, who was until recently the secretary-general of the Arts Council, and Lord Winstanley.
What is it that has persuaded all these distinguished people to say that the Bill has within it very considerable dangers? The dangers have been fairly well illustrated by earlier speakers and will no doubt be dealt with by others who follow me. I want only to say why I think that the Bill is immediately attractive. One lady, a constituent of mine, sent me a letter written to The Daily Telegraph by Mrs. Whitehouse. Mrs. Whitehouse has been keeping a benevolent eye upon us this afternoon, but, now that I come to mention her name, it appears that she has departed. In her letter to The Daily Telegraph she stated thatthis Bill seeks only 'to safeguard the public against being unwillingly exposed to indecent material'.The key word is "unwillingly", and this is one of the points at which I think the Bill goes wrong.
I was a member of the Committee which dealt with the Cinematograph and Indecent Displays Bill, which might be said to be the parent of this Bill. That was really a bastard little measure. It was most peculiar. Its title indicates that. The cinematograph part of the title has been lopped off the present Bill. When the Cinematograph and Indecent Displays Bill was examined in Committee, certain dangers were exposed. It appeared to us that the Bill was going in directions in which the sponsors did not wish it to go and was failing to deal with some of the matters with which the sponsors would have liked it to deal. This was the fault of that Bill, and it has not been eradicated in the present Bill.
I do not think that the Bill, therefore, ought to be enacted while the whole subject is being subjected to examination in depth by the Williams committee. It relies very heavily on the key and undefined word "indecent". This word has been held to have a very wide meaning in law. 961 If the courts are given no guidance at all, one can envisage various possibilities.
Mention has been made of some of the displays in Soho which can be encountered by anyone walking about the streets. In that respect one would be bound to say that we ought to do something about it. I have very considerable sympathy with the point of view put forward by the hon. Member for Hornsey on this point, especially as it cannot be denied that many very unpleasant people are making far too much money out of displays of this sort. We know that there is a great deal of monetary exploitation behind the scenes. If the only object of the exercise were to deal successfully with that sort of thing, one's support for the Bill could hardly be withheld.
Suppose that a person were to walk into a shop and pick up an object which he found to be offensive. He could then claim, in terms of the Bill, to have been the subject of what amounted to an indecent assault, an assault upon the mind, and could claim that an offence had been committed. Upon conviction on indictment, a maximum of two years' imprisonment could be imposed, or an unlimited fine, or both. I am not saying that such a terrible penalty would easily be inflicted, but we ought to pause when we consider that there must be a tremendous market catering for those who like to see young ladies without any clothes on. Indeed, two of our most popular newspapers, the Daily Mirror and The Sun, on pages 3 and 5 rely upon this attraction to increase their sales. There is an enormous public market for what my hon. Friend the Minister of State has called "soft porn". I do not think that is the best description of it but, whatever we may call it, there is a very substantial market for the fringes of what is to be found in Soho.
We are treading on some rather peculiar ground here, because the kind of thing to be found in these popular newspapers appears to be widely enjoyed throughout the country. But at the same time we are dipping into an area which to many of us is grossly unacceptable. Therefore, we have to be very careful in any legislative action that we may seek to take.
The hon. Member for Hornsey suggested that the Bill does not do anything apart from seeking to clean up the edges 962 and that it leaves the rest untouched. Surely this is an argument against the Bill, not for the Bill. Surely we ought to tackle the problem properly and wait for the Williams committee to deal with the problem as a whole rather than shovel it under the carpet in the way that we are so frequently disposed to do in this country.
I have the greatest appreciation of the good intentions of the hon. Member for Hornsey, but I do not think that the Bill ought to have a Second Reading at this stage. If it receives a Second Reading, it will require a great deal of clearing up in Committee if it is not to do more harm than good. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider whether he should pursue the Bill any further having listened to the arguments. I shall listen to the arguments before reaching a conclusion on Second Reading. The argument so far seems to be in favour of substantial revision if the Bill goes into Committee, and on balance I think that it is against the Bill being given a Second Reading.
§ 2.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Mayhew (Royal Tunbridge Wells)
I should like to add my congratulations to those of other hon. Members to my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) on his speech in introducing this important Bill. He dealt with a complicated and far from simple matter with great comprehensiveness and lightness of touch. I am sure that the House is grateful to him for the special generosity with which he treated those on both sides of the House who wished to intervene.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend not only on his good luck in the ballot but on putting it to such good use by choosing to advance a measure of which millions of people in this country would say "At last Parliament is really trying to do something worth while." It is not often these days that a measure in this place gets that kind of response.
It may be helpful if, in a brief span, I try to set out the general response of the Conservative Party to the Bill. It is a response which offers the Bill a warm welcome. That is to be expected, because, as the House has been reminded, the Bill reproduces part of a Bill introduced in 1973 by my noble Friend Lord Carr when 963 he was Home Secretary. That Bill received a general welcome, had its Second Reading and was considerably discussed in Committee upstairs.
I do not suppose that my hon. Friend, any more than any other Member who has the good fortune to introduce a Private Member's Bill, would claim that every word in his Bill was perfect and incapable of being amended upstairs. The 1973 Bill, which received a wide measure of support from both sides of the House, owed a great deal to preliminary work by, amongst others, the Society of Conservative Lawyers, which produced a pamphlet, already referred to, called "Pollution of the Mind". That was in 1972. I pay tribute to those who were involved in that work, including my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers), my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies).
We welcome the Bill for the same reasons as it is generally supported in the country. Judging from my postbag—I believe the same is true of all hon. Members—people complain that more and more filth is thrust into the faces of the public as they go about their lawful business or pleasure in the streets or wherever they may be in public places. The public want to be protected from this assault. Especially, perhaps, they want their children to be protected from it.
This is not a subject of division in the House today, as hon. Members on both sides who have spoken have recognised. People's reasons for wanting protection and action from the House could probably be expressed in this way: "It is one thing for the law to permit indecent displays where people know what to expect and can decide whether they want to see them, but it is quite another to subject them to the display of filthy material in circumstances which give them no opportunity to avoid it. Why should we have to put up with the disgust, annoyance and sometimes embarrassment that this causes? Why should we have to risk our children's curiosity being lured into these grubby regions because the law permits people to display filth for commercial gain?" That is how our constituents put it.
964 I do not believe that any mistake should be made. There is no doubt that commercial gain is the motivating force for the increasing amounts of indecent material which are on display in public. This issue cannot genuinely be described as affecting individual liberty. I agree with the hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Young) that this measure is seeking not to restrict individual choice but to redress the balance between the right of people to do what they like and not to be subjected to offensive material which they have no means of avoiding.
I should guess that the postbags of all hon. Members bear out what I have suggested are people's reasons for supporting the objectives of the Bill. If so, the public are entitled to effective protection, and the House should act to provide it. Above all, it should be the public, not the experts, who set moral standards for the law to uphold. I accept that is difficult. But that should be no reason for the House to shrink from attempting the task. It is for the public, not experts, whatever they may be, to set moral standards and it is for the House, which ought to represent the public, to give effect to what the public want to see achieved.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
The difficulty is that, if the House uses expressions which are capable of any misunderstanding, they may not reflect the public mood as expressed to a jury. Putting in general words, such as "indecency" or "obscenity", which have a subjective element, and leaving it to a jury to decide leads to inconsistent decisions which undermine the legislation. That has been the difficulty with these measures.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I should prefer to leave this matter to a jury than to a precisely formed definition made by the House in 1979 which in 10, 15 or 20 years might no longer meet the wishes of the public, even if it met them today. I have great faith in a jury as representing the standards of opinion from which that jury is at random chosen.
§ Mr. John
As the hon. and learned Gentleman says, this matter carries great weight. However, at the same time, concern has been expressed on these subjects in the House after acquittal has been made by a jury. If the jury is the 965 expression of public opinion, this House is out of step. If it is not, what my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) has said about precision in language is necessary in order to provide a framework for the jury to come to a conclusion.
§ Mr. Mayhew
It never lies with anybody in this House to blame a jury for an acquittal. If we are discontented with an acquittal at the hands of a jury, we should examine the legislation that the jury has to enforce to see whether it is adequate. That was the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey when he said that the law at the moment is in a mess. The law comprises statutes that go back to 1824, including statutes of 1826 and 1839. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West said, the Bill is a consolidating measure. [Interruption.] The Minister has had a good go at the Bill and has taken a long time over it. I am sorry to say that he was disappointing in his approach to it—he was prepared to wound but afraid to strike. Now, from a sedentary position, he is muttering.
It is not for hon. Members to complain about a jury if it makes an acquittal. We should examine the legislation. The three, four or five statutes dealing with indecent displays are expressed in the language of the 1820s. Words such as "rogues" and "vagabonds" are used. The statutes are unmodernised, unconsolidated and out of date, contributing to the present impotence—as most people would describe it—of the law to control indecent displays in public.
How can we make that protection effective? I shall deal later with whether there should be a definition of indecency. That is an important matter which has already given rise to an interesting debate. In order to make that protection effective, I believe that it is not enough to legislate against the hard end of the market, the obscene material—that has been done in the Obscene Publications Act 1959. However that is not enough. The public should be protected by the law against indecent material being sent unsolicited through the post or put on display in a way that affords no opportunity of avoiding it.
The Minister must face the question of why, if the law is now adequate, we 966 repeatedly hear complaints, as were so eloquently expressed 10 minutes ago by my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), of offensive material, displayed with impunity in public places, that causes distress and annoyance to ordinary men and women in this country. It must seem extraordinary to our constituents that protection has been lacking for so long.
After all, Parliament has not been neglectful of the environment in recent years. We have legislated to protect rivers and skylines, and against excessive noise, smells and smoke. As Lord Can said, it is odd that we have not acted effectively against smut. To that I would add indecent violence.
I believe that that omission suggests a legislative indifference to permissiveness and a subjection to sensuality. I believe that it is not something to be proud of. It is something that our constituents reject and wish to see reversed. Parliament has tried to deal with the problem, but the legislative time to get a consolidated and modernising statute on to the statute book has not been found. Therefore, we are left with these elderly Acts.
There is something absurd in the state of the law when under the Post Office Act 1953 it is an offence to send an indecent article through the post—"indecent" is the word used—and under customs and excise legislation it is an offence to bring an indecent article into London airport or any port, yet, in order to prevent the public display of that article, the law is unmodernised, unconsolidated and ineffective.
This is a convenient point at which to deal with the question of definition. There is no problem, nor has there been, in the courts having to apply the word "indecent". I believe it is far better for us to recognise that "indecency" is an ordinary everyday English word and that the courts will apply it as such.
It describes a concept, but it cannot describe all the facts to which that concept can apply. It is impossible to arrive at an exclusive definition of the concept of indecency. Courts, juries and magistrates will be told to apply the word "indecent" in its ordinary everyday meaning, which no doubt will vary from decade to decade and perhaps even from 967 place to place. But the fact that the concept is incapable of exclusive definition is no reason for us to shrink from legislating against the display of indecent and offensive material.
If it were such a reason, we should never surely have had on the statute book the long-standing offence of indecent assault. That has not caused any great difficulties of interpretation.
The Bill remedies in an important way the weakness that is leading to the display of indecent material with such impunity. We are told by the Government that we should wait for Williams. I do not believe that the mood of our constituents will permit that. They are impatient with delay. They are certainly impatient with this House endlessly saying that they must wait for somebody—this committee or that commission.
When the damage is being done, as was described by my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South, day after day and week after week, not only to adults, who perhaps can be thought to look after themselves, but to children, I do not believe that the country would take kindly to the effort by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey being wasted and allowed to run into the sand on the ground that Professor Williams' committee has not yet reported.
I thought that my hon. Friend dealt most effectively with that line of argument when he gave five reasons for not waiting for Williams, of which the most effective was that from two to five years' experience of the working of this Bill, if it is enacted, would be a very good guide to the recommendations of the Williams committee when it reports.
I believe, therefore, that the Bill gives the public a consolidated modern measure, an effective weapon of self-defence against the display of indecent material in public places. By giving no statutory definition of indecency, I believe that the Bill affords the best chance for the public to set the standards for the law to uphold. It gives this House an opportunity to say on behalf of all constituents that more than enough is more than enough. As such we warmly welcome it, we congratulate its author and we wish its progress well.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
Order. I remind the House that this debate must finish at four o'clock, and there are still eight hon. Members who have been present throughout the proceedings and are anxious to take part. I should like to accommodate each of them, but that is up to the individual hon. Member as he is called.
§ 2.57 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
It has been repeatedly claimed that there is massive public support for this Bill. I have not received one letter about it, but, even if I had, I would oppose the Bill. I say that not because I do not accept that there is a problem, nor because I am incurably depraved or a frequent visitor to these sleazy joints about which we have heard so much, but, first, because I think that the law will be largely unenforceable and, secondly, because the problem of indecency and obscenity is not the basic indecency and obscenity of our society. It is a basic immorality of the private enterprise system to which the Conservatives adhere.
I think when we have these debates that there are few sights more ridiculous than this House in a moralising mood, determined to protect the public. This is a party political exercise. It has no hope of becoming law, but it is a run that just happens coincidentally to come before a general election in the hope that a few thousand votes will be garnered here and there.
The indecency and depravity arising in our society arises not from pornographic displays in Soho or anywhere else but from slum houses, slum schools, slum hospitals, the slum environment, the poverty trap, the dole queue and the rest. These are the depravities with which I am concerned. I am not concerned so much about the depravities that we are told exist in large measure in Soho and elsewhere.
It is interesting that clause 1 indicates that indecent displays are to be illegal and penalised but not sales resulting from them. It seems that sales will be legal. The commercial profitability of the whole exercise is proper and normal. That is what one would expect to come from capitalist mouths. Depravity is to be accepted so long as it is done in private 969 behind closed doors, under the blanket and not in front of the children. What hypocrisy that is!
In the letters that have appeared in the press throughout the country, it has been made clear that indecency is a multimillion pound industry. Indeed it is. The demand is insatiable, not least in the House. I do not know how many hon. Members know, but in the Library there is a porn cupboard. It contains at least 60 volumes. They have to be kept under lock and key. I am told that if they are put on the shelves they are pinched. Hon. Members, especially Tories, like to keep themselves well informed on these matters. I am told that the books are bought not on the initiative of the Library staff but at the instance of Members of Parliament requesting that certain books be obtained. The book that is missing at present is "Fanny Hill".
I am told that the cupboard used to be locked. I made inquiries this morning and I found that it is not locked now because someone has pinched the key. The books on sex law are especially prone to purloining. No doubt our grasping lawyer colleagues seek to inform themselves well on the law in these matters. Let us not pretend to be above others and to protect poor people from their own weaknesses, for they are here among ourselves.
The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) referred to the Bill clause by clause. I do not have time to do that. The hon. Gentleman referred to newspapers and said that only if indecent matter appeared on the first page would it be illegal. That is a peculiar principle. It seems that if it appears not on page one but on page three, it may be as lewd and indecent as it likes as it will not be covered by the Bill.
§ Mr. Rossi
The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the full purpose of the Bill. We are concerned merely with the display of material that will cause offence to those in a public place. What is inside is a matter for other legislation. I wish that we had sufficient time and that we had the material before us so that we were competent today to deal with other matters—for example, what is obscene, what people in a healthy society should or should not be able to read and what should be circulated. However, there 970 would have been even greater objections from Ministers if I had tried to go into those areas. In that event, the objections about the non-reporting of the Williams committee would have been absolutely right.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I hope that you will allow me extra time, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to take account of the hon. Gentleman's intervention. I promised you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I should speak for not more than 12 minutes.
The newspapers that bear obscene photographs, or whatever we care to call them, on whatever page appear in public libraries and are freely accessible to children and others. If the hon. Gentleman wants to protect children—I suppose that that is one of the basic objectives of the Bill—this is not the way to do it. The News of the World is porn from the first page to the last page, almost including sport. It has the greatest circulation of all our Sunday newspapers. Let nobody pretend that the Bill is anything other than a party political exercise. After all, those who purvey this kind of matter are just confirming the Tory philosophy of private initiative, private enterprise and profit without morality. That is what the whole system is based on. These people are just practising the Tory philosophy.
I shall illustrate the kind of hypocrisy epitomised by Opposition Members. I remember when I was billeted with a civilian family in Huddersfield during the early part of the war, where there were two middle-aged spinster sisters. It was a good family and they treated me very well. They were very religious and went to church every Sunday, but there was a fight between the two sisters to get at the News of the World first before going to church. I do not know whether they were just depraved, or curious, or perhaps envious about what they were missing.
To return to the Bill, I suppose the best joke in it is in the rubric to Clause 3, which refers to "indecent sounds". The mind boggles at the implications behind that expression. The hon. Member for Hornsey, the sponsor of the Bill, referred to recordings. What sounds other than those on records has he got in mind? Is he thinking of body sounds, sounds of heavy breathing, or squeals of sexual 971 delight? If they are on records, I suppose that they would be indecent.
If I were on the Standing Committee—and I think that the hon. Member for Hornsey might hope that I shall not be by the time I finish—I would propose a new schedule listing the indecent sounds. But before I did that I would urge the News of the World or The Daily Telegraph, in the interests of public participation, to run a competition on what readers thought were the indecent sounds which should come within the ambit of the Bill. We might get some interesting results from that.
The hon. Gentleman has no hope of getting his Bill through. I can imagine the kind of discussion that would take place on clause 3 regarding what sounds are indecent sounds such as to offend people. Could the hon. Gentleman tell me at some time, either privately or publicly, what sounds he finds indecent? He can put it in writing or give me a nod and a wink.
The more I see of this Bill, the more I think how ridiculous it is to waste the time of this House—a whole day—on a silly little Bill at a time when the country is in uproar and turmoil and facing enormous economic, political and social problems. Here we have a silly little Bill designed simply to get a few extra votes at the next election because the Tory Party has nothing else to say.
§ 3.8 p.m.
§ Miss Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake)
I was disappointed by the contribution made by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). I thought that it was unnecessarily insulting and that it lowered the whole tone of this debate. I shall waste no more time on it.
I warmly welcome the Bill and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) on the way in which he introduced it and dealt with the various questions about it.
It should be recognised that many people are upset by the offensive material that we see all around us. Would that it were only in Soho, but it is everywhere that one goes in city centres. It is very unpleasant, and I think that for ordinary women the right word to use is "embarrassing". I believe that we should 972 take steps to offer some modest protection to ordinary women. What is more, children are very susceptible to these influences. I speak as a former teacher, and I am deeply concerned about the effect on children.
My hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) graphically described the difficulties of a primary school in his area where pornographic material is on blatant display nearby. If I were a parent of a child, I should be very reluctant to send that child to school if it had to pass such displays.
Further, I recognise that the Bill is a modest measure and that, in one sense, all that we can hope to do is to sweep the dirt under the carpet. I, for one, having a few—only a few—housewifely instincts, would like to get at the dirt under the carpet. Nevertheless, I recognise that that is a major subject and one which ought to wait for the Williams committee. But I see no reason why we should not tackle at least a part of the problem now.
For one thing, if the major report brings forward proposals into which this Bill, if it were enacted, could be subsumed, I cannot see that any harm would have been done. On the other hand, we should be taking action now, several years before there is any hope of a major and highly controversial Bill being introduced.
I note that in a letter to The Daily Telegraph one writer said that he regarded the Bill as the introduction of censorship on a massive scale, so I think that we can recognise what controversy there would be if we attempted to deal with the general law of obscenity. I shall not give that particular man any publicity by mentioning either his name or the obscure magazine which he publishes, but it is to be found in the 19 January edition of The Daily Telegraph if anyone wishes to see it.
I turn now to certain criticisms that I have of the Bill, although I hope to speak in a constructive sense and not in a destructive way, which I thought was the characteristic of some Labour Members.
Like many other hon. Members, I am concerned about the omission of any definition of "indecency". I make this a point of principle. I believe that if one 973 is making something a criminal offence, with heavy penalties of fine or imprisonment, it is right to give guidance to people concerned about what that is.
I recognise the very great difficulty that there is in finding a suitable definition. Perhaps I may suggest as a compromise that one might at least take one of the definitions offered by the courts on appeal, writing that into the Bill and then leaving the final and detailed interpretation to a jury. I see no objection to leaving it to a jury. Some hon. Members seem to find this strange, but I cannot think of a better test than allowing 12 men and women at a given point in time to make a decision in the light of what they consider to be public indecency.
Certainly this will vary from age to age, and perhaps in different countries, and the like. I heard in a radio broadcast this morning that the Foreign Office was offering advice to business men going to China that they should not offer their Chinese hosts and acquaintances a book containing a nude of any kind. Clearly, the Chinese would be more susceptible than we are in this matter, since I do not think that a nude, as such, causes great offence here if it is inside a book.
The Sun has been mentioned. Certainly I have noticed the predilection of Members of this House for The Sun. One finds it difficult to get hold of that newspaper anywhere in the House of Commons. The only place where it remains intact to the end of the day is in the Lady Members' Room.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. There is one copy lying on the Bench alongside the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon).
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
As you have drawn attention to the matter, Mr. Deputy Speaker, perhaps I may say that I intended to display it in the House, in order that the House could tell me—
§ Miss Fookes
One would like to know, however, whether they are Members' own copies or copies that have been purloined from a place where they have been stamped firmly "Not to be taken away."
§ Miss Fookes
Perhaps after that diversion I ought to return to the main theme of my remarks.
I am also concerned about what I regard as two important exemptions in the Bill.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
There is one way in which this difficulty of variation, and so on, can be dealt with without defining "indecency" by word. One could, of course, say that prosecutions should take place only by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions. In this way one can canalise and ensure that different criteria are not applied in different parts of the country so that matters which may be regarded as trivial would not be prosecuted. That is one way, whether it is right or wrong.
§ Miss Fookes
That is an interesting point, although it does not deal with the position that, as a principle, one ought to guide people as to what ought to be considered a criminal offence.
I turn now to two important exceptions in the Bill about which I am worried. First, public art galleries and museums are exempted. I presume that is because they are thought to be responsible authorities which would not show anything which would give offence to the public. I am not altogether convinced of that argument. I believe that the law in this respect ought to be universal. But I am far more concerned about the exemption of television shows, and to some extent even radio.
Although in theory it is true that television programmes are seen in the privacy of one's home, the fact remains that television sets can be operated by children and they can also be seen in public places. For example, they are frequently installed in hospital wards, hotels and the like. This is a very big loophole.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey said, it may be true that this is covered by an Act of Parliament with regard to the IBA and by the BBC charter. Not having read those documents in detail, I am not sure what the penalties 975 are for non-compliance. But, as an important principle, I suggest that the penalties ought to be the same if the offence is the same. For that reason, I would wish to see the BBC and the IBA brought within the ambit of the Bill.
I hope that no one will succumb to the Minister's argument that this very necessary Bill ought to await the outcome of the findings of the Williams committee. It deals with a very much wider range of subjects. As I have said previously, and repeat—because it is important—a great deal of good can be done by the Bill now, and I work on the principle that half a loaf is better than none.
§ 3.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
I agree with the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) about the difficulty of producing a definition of indecency. That has been one of the problems for Labour Members, as it was when we were considering the Cinematograph and Indecent Displays Bill five years ago. The great problem is that once one expounds one's own definition of indecency, one immediately fails to carry some of one's colleagues, let alone a wide section of public opinion.
The hon. Lady went on to say that she deplored the fact that the Bill did not cover television. Of course, as is the case with both public authorities, television is already covered by statute, because there are authorities charged with ensuring that no material appears on the screen which offends against public good taste and decency.
That is not the case with street corner pornographers. Everyone is against the street corner pornographer. Hammering the pornographer is obviously something which raises a good deal of support in the House and in the country. That traffic which intends deliberately to degrade human beings, to diminish and destroy all that is beautiful in human sexuality, and to associate sex with violence, is disgusting and should be deplored by every hon. Member.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) on seeking to tackle that aspect of the problem. I assure him that those of us who hope to be present in Committee will be mostly concerned as 976 to how far the hon. Gentleman is prepared to accept that there are genuine worries of definition.
Several hon. Members have said that they have been deluged with mail about the Bill. I have had a couple of dozen letters, which is a couple of dozen more than I have had about the fact that the country is in a state of collapse, that civilisation as we know it has come to an end or about any other matters that are raised daily in the House. Many of the letters that I have had take their inspiration from the same source, and the writers are no doubt sincere. I hope I have replied equally sincerely. But none of the letters is based on a knowledge of the Bill or is about the worries on various clauses that many of us here have.
We have a duty to the public to point out the dangers as well as the advantages of such a measure. It has been said that the public just want to see indecency stamped out and that they are not worried about the details. We are all against indecency and sin. We support moral values and the family. But, because there is no universally accepted definition of indecency, we must examine the fact that indecency may be said to lie in the eye of the beholder. The outcome depends on who the beholder is and what his motives may be.
I shall look at some of the clauses and indicate the areas where there is genuine concern among the bodies that tend to expand human consciousness rather than exploit or diminish it. The fact that there is no definition of indecency in clause 1 will lead to a heavy burden on the courts. We have not offered any guidance to the courts. There is no provision, if these cases come to trial, for the defence to call evidence on the prevailing standards. The standards of some of the elderly and now defunct lords chief justice who have been quoted in the debate may not be the prevailing standards when a prosecution is brought.
Although a number of exemptions have quite properly been made in the Bill—and the hon. Member for Hornsey referred to the theatre as being one—some of the clauses catch related artistic activities that are not covered in the exemptions—for example, the provisions in clause 3 can be used against street 977 theatre groups. These groups annoy some people because they are politically provocative rather than pornographic. They may annoy people because of rude words uttered or sounds made, and this may be covered by clause 3. Their agitation could lead to prosecution and diminish something which in the opinion of many of us would be an artistic activity rather than an act of exploitation or pornography.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Does my hon. Friend agree that there will also have to be a definition of an artistic activity?
§ Mr. Whitehead
I hope that we shall deal with that in Committee. The arts, the living arts in particular, should be recognised in the Bill. The Minister has said that clause 4, which deals with advertising, does not necessarily relate to an item found to be indecent in the event of a trial but only to material that appears to the complainant to be advertising that which may be indecent. We are dealing with prosecutions that might be brought on material that is not indecent at all. The Defence of Literature and the Arts Society has circulated a series of books that could lead to a complaint and prosecution, although they contain nothing pornographic. I do not have time to read the titles but hon. Members will have read the submission.
Most hon. Members would recognise that the Birth Control Campaign is a charity with decent and honourable aims. That charity has pointed out that, although charities are covered and exempt in an earlier clause, the provisions that guard against advertising about which there may be complaints could catch birth control advertisements. It is concerned that some of the sponsors of the Bill, and those wishing to widen its provisions, may find contraceptive advertising outrageous and, to some degree, immoral, wicked or even pornographic. Indeed, it sent me a copy of the comments in "Campaign" of Mrs. Mary Whitehouse, who is obviously one of the begetters—perhaps the only begetter—of this Bill. Her comments were made about the "small family car" advertising poster campaign. She said that she did not like this poster because it confronted her with the concept of intercourse and penises whenever she walked along the 978 road. If that is what she thinks when she sees a contraceptive poster, it may well be that she thinks it is indecent and she would like to be able to make a complaint and take action under this legislation. I do not think that any of us want to see that. I hope that the hon. Member for Hornsey will see that, for these reasons, because of the much wider powers given to the police in clause 7 and because there is no defence of the public good of the kind we all wanted and we all advanced in the Cinematograph and Indecent Displays Bill Committee five years ago, we have real reservations here.
We all want to see an end to the exploitation of the individual by pornographers or anyone else. But in the debate between liberty and licence which is going on now there is a greater danger of going too far in the control of liberty when we are attempting to control licence.
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Clegg (North Fylde)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) on introducing this Bill. He has done so in response to pressure over a long period. In my postbag I have received letters with complaint after complaint about this matter over many years. Some of these complaints have been referred to the Home Secretary of the day. More recently I have been getting the constant reply that we have heard in the debate today about waiting for the Williams committee to report.
When a great Department of State which is confronted with a problem throws it to an outside body of experts to produce a solution, it is most unsatisfactory. I doubt the competence of the Department of State concerned and I feel that that attitude tends to brush the problem under the carpet.
§ Mr. Clegg
I cannot remember that, I must confess. We have waited some time for the report and I am sure that we will have to wait at least another year. We have been told that the report is expected at the end of this year. I guarantee that it will be a long time after that before we 979 get any legislation. I do not think that Parliament should wait for Williams. We have here today a modest measure designed to cope with one aspect of a very big problem. I believe it would cope with it effectively. I do not share the concern of some Labour Members about the definition of indecency.
I believe that those who will have to define the word when the Bill gets on to the statute book are the magistrates and lay magistrates who are drawn from a wide area of society. They are not particularly prudish and they have a good sense of the prevailing public morality. If the decision is not to be made by magistrates, it will have to be made by a jury. Surely a jury is the ideal forum that one would choose to define indecency in the terms of current morality. Therefore, I believe that my hon. Friend is wise to leave this word in the Bill without a definition.
It seems to me that the House could wait for ever for a perfect definition of what is indecent or obscene. In the meantime we should trust magistrates and juries, who will be given the final say.
This is a modest Bill about modesty. One of the things that concerns me and many other people is that the children who live in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) should have a period of innocence that is not spoiled or brutalised by the sort of advertising or displaying of pornography that goes on in London.
For these reasons I support my hon. Friend. I do not think the Bill will be long in Committee. It is a simple piece of legislation and it should be kept so.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
I apologise to the sponsor of the Bill the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi), because earlier I had to leave the debate. I had to open an exhibition of photographs of Crossroads, the township in Cape Town. On the definition given by Lord Reid, that exhibition offended me, and it certainly was offensive.
That is the difficulty that faces me when I seek to deal with the provisions of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman in opening the debate reminded me that I led for the 980 Opposition when similar legislation was discussed in Committee in1973. The hon. Member invites me again to join him again in Committee. I am afraid that I must decline his invitation. Three months of filth and nonsense was enough for me on that occasion. I do not want another bout.
The difficulty on this occasion relates not to objectives, because we all share the objectives. Personally I find it offensive to walk across Trafalgar Square towards the House and to have to pass the cinema in that area with its displays of bosoms and bare bottoms. However, the position has been improved in recent times. I also found it offensive to walk past Paul Raymond's exhibition of similar parts of the female anatomy. Those who are even more delicate in their sensitivity than I no doubt find these exhibitions even more offensive.
We would like to stop these displays, but I wish to ask whether the law, particularly as set out in this Bill, is the best way in which these displays can be stopped.
§ Mr. Lyon
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) is very good at opening his mouth before he has heard the argument. If he would shut his mouth for one moment, I shall explain why I believe he is wrong. We have been told that there are at least three nineteenth century Acts which cover the scope of the Bill. It is suggested that they are inadequate because they confuse obscenity and indecency.
Let me deal with the first of the legislation—namely the Vagrancy Act 1824, section 4 of which prescribes a multitude of offences. Nobody can say that it is out of date or inadequate. One section of the Act, relating to those who are suspected of loitering, is used regularly in this day and age by the Metropolitan Police. One turns to the other part of the provision which says that it is an offencefor any person wilfully to expose to view in any street, road, highway or public place any indecent exhibition".That covers the effect of the Bill. The fact that it has not been enforced or has not stopped the display of indecent photographs on the covers of magazines in bookshops occurs because it is difficult 981 to apply the legislation in practice in the courts.
The difficulty arises not because of any lack of definition of "indecency" but because of the subjectivity of this concept. To say that something shocks and outrages us, which in essence is what indecency is about, is to beg the question of what it is that will outrage me rather than somebody else. That is the difficulty. It does not matter that the hon. Gentleman says that we should leave these things to the jury or to the magistrate. The difficulty is that in doing that we have a totally arbitrary test applied in different ways as between different benches or different juries, even within the same area and from one area to another. The hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) said that it did not matter much as between one area and another, and I can see some logic in that. If one lives in the north of Scotland or in one of those areas where the Free Kirk is dominant, one can understand that there may be a different kind of public opinion which requires a different kind of attitude to literature.
But the difficulty about applying that test in that way to books and magazines is that one cannot expect anybody who provides that material to have to decide before he publishes in which areas of the country he is allowed to publish and those in which he is not. Some people would say that it did not matter because, after all, if we could inhibit the publication of such literature in any way, so be it. But again that begs the question whether some of our people—and there has been a lot of talk about our constituents and what they want—want this material. Much of the material that we are discussing is sold because our constituents want it. The infinite variety of this material is what makes it so difficult to know where to draw the line.
You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with your usual insight and lack of consideration for protocol, have drawn attention to the fact that I have been sitting here with a copy of The Sun. I put a question today to the hon. Member for Hornsey, the sponsor of the Bill, and he quite rightly reminded me that I had put it to him in Committee in 1973. I put it again because it encapsulates the whole difficulty about his Bill.
982 The Sun, as the country now knows, is the most popular newspaper in the country. It has more readers than any other newspaper. Why? It is because it changed its policy in order to produce each day on page 3 a photograph of an unclothed woman. I notice that today the page 3 lady has some clothes on, but that is a rare occurrence. I find that deeply offensive, and have always found it offensive. I think that Rupert Murdoch degraded Fleet Street when he managed to persuade it to follow this particular line. But he managed to persuade Fleet Street because his policy sold newspapers and a lot of readers wanted page 3. What I want to ask the sponsor of the Bill is whether that photograph on page 3 of The Sun is indecent.
§ Mr. Lyon
The hon. and learned Gentleman says "No", but that picture in The Sun is no more and no less indecent than most of the photographs on the covers of soft porn magazines which can be found in most newsagents' shops. It is certainly the kind of thing which is sold by W. H. Smith and sold regularly on station bookstalls throughout the country. Personaly, I find it indecent.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
On this very point, the picture in The Sun is of a nude. Beyond that, there is no particular indecent aspect to it. But if the hon. Gentleman looks on the bookstalls of Victoria Station today, he will see pictures on the front pages of magazines of girls engaged in the act of masturbation of themselves and other acts involving actual sexual intercourse, time out of number.
§ Mr. Lyon
Of course, we will find worse than what we see on page 3 of The Sun. I am not denying that. But that is a harder kind of pornography. But, for the usual soft pornography which can be seen in "Playboy" or "Mayfair", the sort of photographs that one sees there are very much like this one. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Make no mistake about it. That is the concern of most of those who will be joining Mary Whitehouse's campaign on the Bill. That photograph is the sort of thing to which they object. They object, of course, to the pictures that the hon. and learned 983 Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) has talked about, but most of them have never seen such pictures. They have seen the pictures in The Sun and that is what they dislike. If that picture is indecent, by the test allowed by the sponsor—whether a jury would dislike it, and there are plenty of jury women, in particular, who would dislike it—is a reader of The Sun in a public place—on the Underground or in the street—to be prosecuted under the Bill because he opened the paper and showed that photograph in public?
§ Mr. Lyon
The answer is that, technically, he could be prosecuted. The picture is, arguably, indecent. There is a prima facie case for saying that it is indecent. There is display. It is in a public place. I submit that in those circumstances there could be a prosecution.
Of course, the police would not prosecute, but that is the very objection of many of those who support the Bill. That is why they will not subscribe to the view that prosecutions should be instigated only by the DPP. Mrs. Whitehouse will not have that. It is stressed that we must have private prosecutions in order that the DPP's view can be overruled.
I subscribe to the general objectives of the Bill, but I hope that it does not go through. If it does, I intend to prosecute The Sun for publishing this photograph and displaying it in a public place. When that happens, the ludicrous nature of the Bill will be demonstrated for all.
It is far better that we leave it to the Williams committee to come up with a workable solution to the problem of indecency and obscenity. It may be that the committee will fail, as the House has failed in the past, but the committee has had the evidence carefully put before it. It will be able to consider that evidence and we shall have its report by the end of the year. Do we really need the Bill for any other reason than that it might get a few votes for the Conservative Party?
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)
I shall not be tempted to follow 984 the line advanced by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon), because he took us off on an unhelpful tangent.
As an ordained clergyman, I feel at a disadvantage in debates such as this because I am expected to take a certain line. I am the first to defend the right of any man or woman to engage in a life style that is different from that which I follow—provided that it does not hurt or offend. However, I believe that the sort of activity and commerce to which the Bill is addressed—and we are grateful to the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) for introducing the Bill—is hurtful and offensive.
I ask myself two questions about such a Bill. Is it necessary? Is it enforceable? Being an Irishman, I shall take the second question first. I believe that it is enforceable. I profoundly disagree with almost everything that the hon. Member for York said in the latter part of his speech. We are not talking about borderline areas or about partially clothed or wholly undressed ladies with an inviting or mischievous look in their eyes. We are talking about the portrayal of group sex practices, the most explicit lesbian practices and bestiality.
All that is to be found in the bookstalls and corner shops and on the pavements of the great cities of this kingdom. We are not talking about a narrow borderline issue, but about a flood of pernicious pornography. It will be enforceable because the nature of the products and the publications will place them within the amibt of the law that will ensue from this Bill. Beyond a shadow of doubt the Bill will be enforceable.
The second question that I must ask is whether it is necessary. I believe that it is, for three reasons. First it is necessary to protect those who do not want to be exposed to this rubbish. It is necessary to protect people from the bombardment of obscene material. Young and old, immature and mature, willing and unwilling are subject to offensive, erotic materials. There is no escape. It is relentless and remorseless.
The second reason why I believe that the legislation is necessary is that we must make clear that a choice is made to view erotic materials. The hon. Member for Hornsey dealt with that aspect adequately. Northern Ireland is no better and no 985 worse than any other part of the kingdom in this context. In Northern Ireland shops, offensive materials are displayed alongside children's comics. They are priced not at £1 or £3. They cost 45p or 50p. They are not much more expensive than a child's comic.
We must make clear that a choice has to be made to view offensive materials. We must place those materials in a special part of the shop so that a decision to view can be taken and, perhaps, that decision can be made more clear by the payment of a small sum of money.
My third reason is that it is contended—I do not know by whom—that people can remain impervious to the detrimental influences of erotic and pornographic material. I believe that if we make pornography a norm in society young people in particular will be inclined to accept that sexual expression, with whomsover and whenever it is available, should be undertaken without reserve, without judgment and without prudence. If we allow this offensive material to remain in the corner streets it will create the impression that that is the norm.
If the displaying of the sex act in magazines becomes the norm, how long will it be before the actual exercising of the act in public becomes the norm?
We must be blunt about the problem. There are those—and they are brave—who contend that exposure to indecent erotic material does not deprave and does not lead to promiscuity. But I find that strange, particularly when the disciplines of psychology and psychiatry remain silent and retain a noble agnosticism on the subject.
I turn to the question of the Williams committee. I hope that the Government will not resist the Bill because the Williams committee is sitting. I advance that view for two reasons. First, it is inconceivable that the committee will not address itself to the type of pornography about which we are talking this afternoon. If that is so, how could it not decide to ban this stuff?
We are not talking about the photographs that have been displayed in the Chamber today. We are talking about the most disgusting and depraved productions. If the committee does not address itself to that type of publication, it will be 986 a waste of time and should receive the censure of the House.
The committee has two objectives. It must examine the definition of indecency and obscenity. It is also concerned with the display of indecent matter. Are the Government seriously telling us that they should not deal with one evil until they are in a position to deal with two evils?
What sort of man would advance the idea that, where there is a problem of dual illnesses, one illness should not be dealt with until it is possible to deal with both illnesses? If we can now deal with one malaise in the society—the display of obviously erotic and dangerous material—it is incumbent on the Government to take that opportunity and to support the Bill.
Exposure to beauty enriches. That is beyond doubt and beyond peradventure. Exposure to filth corrupts. We are trying to save the nation from an exposure to filth and obviously to consequential corruption.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Vivian Bendall (Ilford, North)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) on the excellent way in which he has introduced the Bill. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford), who made an excellent contribution to the debate.
I am concerned with a number of areas which I shall try to define very clearly. We have heard from the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) a comparison between The Sun newspaper and various magazines which are freely available in the newsagents' shops and outside stations up and down the country. But there is a very big difference between the sort of photograph to be found in The Sun and the type of material that is now openly available alongside comics in shops and on news stands today.
It is important that the House should be clear that the sort of photographs to be seen in the newspapers are invariably of topless ladies, whereas the sorts of photographs to be seen in the types of books which can be purchased openly on news stands are often of ladies who undress in a full frontal position. Also on these news stands there can be seen in these magazines the type of mixed sex play which is not to be seen in the newspapers. There is a very big difference, 987 therefore, between what can be seen on page 3 of the popular newspapers and what can be seen in certain magazines.
We have been waiting for over six years, since 1973, for a measure to be put on the statute book to deal with this very real problem. It is not simply a problem, as was suggested earlier today by a Labour Member, which concerns elderly ladies. Young mothers come to my surgeries week after week complaining about the type of material that is sent to them through the post. This type of material, often in the form of a broadsheet, is published in Holland or in some other European country and is posted in this country, after having been sent over here, so that it arrives with an English postmark. The result is that young mothers and young people open this type of envelope only to find inside photographic hard porn on a broadsheet. That is the sort of thing with which this House has to deal, and with which the Bill, I hope, will deal.
§ Mr. Cormack
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is unnecessary to wait for Professor Williams to tell us how to deal with this sort of thing?
§ Mr. Bendall
That is absolutely right, because the areas with which Professor Williams will deal are much wider than this. The Bill would enable these special problems to be dealt with now. We have, as I said earlier, been waiting since 1973 for legislative action to be taken to deal with them. There is, therefore, a very real area for action at the present time.
During the nine months in which I have been in my constituency I have dealt with a large number of problems arising from broadsheets which, having been first sent from abroad, are then re-posted in various parts of London. I have been in constant touch with the Home Office and I thank the Minister of State for the help and assistance that he has given me, because there is another problem in this area which we must face. Although much of the material is posted in this country, it is sent from abroad. Therefore, there must be co-operation between the British police force and police forces abroad. The Minister has started to take steps to see whether we can control the entry of this type of literature which is then posted in this country.
§ Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown)
I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend said. Would he care to relate some of the offences about which he has been telling the House to the clause dealing with fines and imprisonment? Many people are making a great deal of money out of this literature. The profits run into tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of pounds. Are the fines adequate? Does he consider three months' imprisonment adequate? [Interruption.] We can ignore the stupid comments from the Government Benches. Have we not got to get at the penalties and punishments for these offences?
§ Mr. Bendall
Yes. The penalties and punishments may not be adequate at present. But the proposals in the Bill will deal more adequately with such offences than is possible at present.
I believe that the introduction of the Bill will assist the police in being able to deal with the problems which are arising throughout the country. Over the last few years we have seen a vast increase in the amount of hard porn coming on to the market and being sold more openly than ever before. We cannot wait for another two or three years to deal with this important problem which affects many people. It is a matter of great concern to many people who fear that it may affect their children.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
The debate on Second Reading of the Bill is not a question of who is for or against pornography. I have always regarded the existence of pornography in the Western world as a facet of capitalism. One of the features—and it is only one—that I have always admired about the Socialist countries of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union is that they have succeeded in drawing up a formula which has reduced the gross exploitation, particularly of women, that we see in the United States of America and in Western Europe generally.
If I am against the Bill, it is because I believe not only that it will not solve the problem which the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) honestly believes it will solve but that it could in many ways make the situation worse. I start from that point.
989 I thoroughly agree with my hon. Friend the Minister of State—
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The House proceeded to a Division—
§ Mr. BRADFORD and Mr. CORMACK were appointed Tellers for the Ayes but no Member being willing to act as Teller for the Noes, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER declared that the Ayes had it.
§ Question, That the Bill be now read a Second time, put accordingly and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).