§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1 line 17, leave out from `display' to end of line 20.
§ Mr. Speaker
With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments:
1017 No. 9 in page 1, line 18, leave out from second 'shop' to end of line 20.
No. 11, in page 2, line 35, leave out subsection (6).
§ Sir Bernard Braine
I should like to make it clear at the outset that I am not opposed to the Bill. I hope that it will make progress. As there are several amendments to consider, I shall make only a brief speech.
The Bill deals only with the public display of pornography; it does not deal with the increasing volume or nature of such material. In other words, it deals with the display of the cover rather than with the material's contents. That is not the fault of the Bill's sponsors. I am sorry to say that the failure to deal with the larger question of pornography lies at the door of successive Governments. It is a public scandal that they have not yet grasped the nettle of our outmoded and largely ineffective obscenity laws. As a result, we are forced to consider even this modest measure against a background of legal uncertainty and confusion. All hon. Members would agree with that.
If there is uncertainty, however, I believe that the public have a healthy instinct about the public display of indecent material which is what the Bill is all about. They may or may not be revolted themselves by the public display of material that links sex with violence, degrades women and debases love, but they know well enough whether what they see is obscene and offensive. But they have natural anxiety, and the House should take full account of it, about the exposure of young children—even teenagers—to such material. All hon. Members will have received representations on that subject.
We are concerned, therefore, not only with such material displayed in public places but with the manner in which it is displayed, without regard for our constituents' susceptibilities and feelings or for their concern for the young. So the question is not whether the Bill is necessary, but whether it will, as drafted, ensure effective control in this respect. I submit that, in one crucially important respect, the Bill does not provide effective control. Indeed, it may well have the opposite effect to that intended.
Clause 1(3)(b) provides an exemption for indecent material that is displayed behind a warning notice beyond which young people under the age of 18 may not proceed. Thus the concept of a private corner in a shop from which young people and children are excluded is to be introduced into the law. On Second Reading this particular matter was hardly discussed. I concede that it is not a new subject. It has received attention during the discussion of earlier Bills. In Committee it was considered only when an amendment was moved that was accepted without question or debate.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) is not in the Chamber. With the exception of his senseless remarks on Second Reading this provision seems to have slipped through in what amounts perhaps to a fit of absentmindedness. Yet it needs only a moment's reflection to realise the absurdity, wrongheadedness and immorality of a provision of this kind. It is a licence to the pornographer to display material in a corner of his shop, 1018 not necessarily screened off. There is nothing in the Bill about that. It is a licence for him to display material with covers of the filthiest and most corrupting nature.
It is almost unbelievable that Parliament should say that it is lawful to display such material behind only a warning notice that prohibits the entrance of young people to the area although they may already be on the premises. That is a gift, if ever there was one, to the merchants of pornography, since more offensive material than exists at present will be put freely into circulation. If pornographers had a trade association—perhaps they have one—it would surely wish to see such a provision on the statute book. If there is to be a law that limits their lucrative and offensive activities, they would like it to be one that heightened curiosity, encouraged the prurient and confused the public.
That is why I have tabled the amendment. The Bill is limited to the control of the public display of indecent matter. Yet we are being asked to approve an exemption which may well encourage the sale of even more offensive material. Is that what our constituents have been led to expect from this long-awaited Bill? I doubt it very much.
The situation is worse than that. Even if there were a case for the type of exemption provided for in clause 1, any police officer would testify that it would be unenforceable. The warning notice will be virtually useless. How is the shopkeeper to prevent a 17-year-old in the public part of the shop from straying or deliberately going into the area behind the warning notice? Does the shopkeeper have to judge the young person's age? What is he to do if a 16-year-old goes into the prohibited area and states on being questioned that he is 18? If the shopkeeper does not see the youngster crossing the threshold, is he to rush in to the area when he discovers what has happened and demand the production of a birth certificate? One has only to ask such questions to realise the sheer absurdity of what Parliament is being asked to do.
I have great respect for the Minister. On Second Reading he frankly acknowledged that there were legitimate doubts. He said:We shall have to wait to see what impact the Bill has on prosecution policy once it is enacted".—[Official Report,30 January 1981; Vol. 997, c. 1189.]What an extraordinary statement for a Home Office Minister to make. He has said that we cannot be sure that the Bill will work so we shall have to wait to see what our prosecution policy will be. Arbitrary decisions will have to be made by the prosecuting authorities—there is already too much of that in other areas—on whether it is right and proper to prosecute.
I understand that when these doubts were expressed to Home Office Ministers behind the scenes their answer was that there would have to be evidence of the shopkeeper's persistent failure to keep young people out of the prohibited area before a prosecution could be brought. A single failure would not be enough. How could such persistent failure be established unless a police officer was permanently stationed in the shop?
May I ask what consultation there has been with the police about the practicality of enforcing the ban? I am not talking about the porn squad in London. This is a problem which affects every police force in the country. It affects urban communities everywhere. Even in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury), there is a proliferation of these shops. It is happening all over the country. Before we enact a law which gives 1019 greater encouragement to pornographers by telling them that provided they put up a warning screen the market is open to them, I want to know what consultation there has been with senior police officers and chiefs of police throughout the country.
For many years—the hon. Lady the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) will recall our exchanges during the period of the Labour Government—I have represented in the House senior police officers. I am the parliamentary adviser to the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales. I have asked the association whether it shares my views, and I am told that it does. I want to know, therefore, what consultation there has been with the police, who will have the task of enforcing this extraordinary provision. Parliament will be brought into contempt if we enact a law which may lead to still greater mischief and which is impracticable anyway.
With her characteristic forthrightness, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said recently, in an entirely different context, that "a crime is a crime is a crime". So it is. We live in an increasingly permissive society where standards are visibly crumbling and crime is becoming increasingly vicious. Yet we are being asked to add to the confusion by enacting an unenforceable law.
I hope that hon. Members will make a stand. If my hon. Friend the Member for Hove will say that he is seized of the point, that there must be proper protection for young people and that his sponsors in the other place will direct their attention to the problem, that will influence me and my hon. Friends. As this is a Private Member's Bill, I hope that he will give us that assurance. However, it would be an even more important influence on us if the Minister of State were to say that the Government, too, realise the importance of the argument, that since this is purely an interim measure they have every intention of grasping the nettle of the larger question, and that legislation will be brought forward during the lifetime of this Parliament to reform the obscenity laws. I should then be prepared not to press the amendment.
This may be a small Bill, but it deals with a vital principle, and it affects the credibility of the House. I shall therefore listen with great care to the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Hove and the Minister of State.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) expressed his views with his usual great force and in a most impressive way. As I tabled one of the amendments in this group designed to remove the provision from the Bill, it is not surprising that I find myself in agreement with much of what he said. I, too, regard the warning provision as unenforceable nonsense. If it is retained in the Bill, the purpose of which the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) knows that I generally support, it will make a laughing stock of Parliament and the law. I do not know whether plain clothes policemen will stand around in local corner shops to see whether arrases have been erected behind which those who wish to look at indecent material may do so, or whether we shall have a new corps of indecency inspectors to perform that function.
None the less, it is absurd that a provision of this nature should find its way into legislation, not only for the reasons given by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East but for other reasons, for example, that the provision is an absolute one. That means that every word of the warning 1020 notice, precisely as it stands in the Bill, with no corrections—I do not know whether even a mispelling of "material" would make a difference—has to be there if the warning is to be effective. The shopkeeper is not even to be allowed to give a warning in a form which conveys the intention as effectively as—or even more effectively than—the warning in the Bill. The words of the warning must be exactly as printed in the Bill. The word "warning" and, it seems, no other, must appear in the heading. To legislate in that extraordinarily restrictive way makes a laughing stock of Parliament.
Those are merely additional arguments to the forceful ones deployed by the hon. Gentleman to the effect that this provision will undoubtedly be unenforceable. One has only to consider the kind of shop, to which I drew attention time and again in Committee, selling material that is on the borderline between what is permissible and what is impermissible, to realise the difficulties that are involved.
In one of the small villages where I now do some of my shopping there is a small corner shop. It is a post office that sells newspapers, magazines, chocolates and cigarettes, razor blades and many other things. It is not a Sainsbury's superstore, or a shop of that kind. It is a small shop packed with materials to save people having to travel four or five miles in their car to the nearest town—and after last night's vote that is more important than ever. The idea of finding a little corner of that shop in which to erect a barrier or an arras or curtain with a warning notice is a palpable absurdity. It simply will not be done. Here, unfortunately, I part from the hon. Gentleman's amendment, because the result is that that shop will not risk selling material about which there is any doubt.
I am not talking about material that is indecent or perhaps material which has an indecent cover but the contents of which are innocent. Where there is any doubt at all, such a shop will not take the risk. The shop will not put up curtains and warning notices. It will cancel its orders. As a result, people will visit the nearest sex shop if they want to buy Playboy or, for all I know, The Sun. I am not sure whether what appears on page 3 of The Sun falls within the definition of "indecent". The result will be a form of disguised censorship. I do not think that that is the intention of the Bill. These borderline magazines will be driven into the sex shops. Therefore, the Bill will encourage sex shops. Again, I am sure that is not the purpose of the Bill. I hope that the promoter of the Bill will see the force of the views expressed by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East and myself and will agree that these parts of the Bill should be removed.
It was noteworthy that the hon. Member for Essex, South-East dwelt on the defects of the Bill without going into the effect of and the reasons for his amendment. The effect of his amendment would be to extend the ambit of the Bill far beyond its present scope. It would push out the frontiers of restrictiveness in a way not contemplated by the promoter of the Bill. It would be unconstitutional to extend the Bill—which received an unopposed Second Reading on the basis that it proposed a limited approach to the problem—beyond that limited purpose.
The effect of the hon. Gentleman's amendment would be to remove the exclusion from the Bill. Those who supported the Bill on Second Reading—as I said, without a Division on the principle—had no idea that that might ultimately come out. I suggest that it would be wrong to 1021 do that, not only from a constitutional viewpoint but from the point of view of pushing out the frontiers of restrictiveness, particularly in a House as thinly attended as it is this morning. It would also be wrong to do that before full consideration of the Williams report, now of respectable vintage, in which all these matters are thoroughly discussed.
The fact that that was not done before cannot be laid at the door of the Labour Government. I do not want to make party points about this matter. I regret that the hon. Member for Essex, South-East sought to do that. The House is responsible for having failed to debate an important report on this subject. It has failed to clarify its ideas about this difficult subject, which one can generally call pornography but which includes indecency, obscenity and many other terms meaning somewhat different things on which the law acts in different ways in different contexts. Indeed, juries act in different ways in different parts of the country when dealing with the same subject matter. We have failed to introduce a common approach to the subject. Yet the hon. Member has sought to anticipate such a decision by a considerable extension of the purpose of the Bill. I hope that his amendment will not be accepted.
My amendments have a more limited purpose. I speak from a wholly different viewpoint from the hon. Member for Essex, South-East in my general approach to the subject. I should have preferred the removal of the restrictions which will operate on shops. I take the view that I expressed in Committee that there is a strong argument for removing the unpleasantness that assails the passerby in Soho and other such places. He cannot avoid it. But it is a very different matter to go into a shop for a specific purpose. That is a separate point which need not have been dealt with in the Bill in advance of any decision on the Williams report. I have put forward that view on many occasions in Committee, as the hon. Member for Hove knows, but I have not pursued it here.
My amendment would still keepa shop or any part of a shopwithin the ambit of the Bill.
Despite my strong reservations, which I hope will be noted when the Bill is debated elsewhere, the Bill will still contain the provisions at the top of page 2 governing youung people under 18 years of age. My amendment would do no more than deal with the defect so forcefully brought to our attention by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East, by removing from the Bill the necessity for a warning notice in the specific form provided and the other provisions relating to curtaining off, gaining access and so on. Otherwise, the principle of the Bill would remain precisely as it is. There would be provisions that indecent displays should be permitted only ina shop or any part of a shopprovided that those under 18 years of age were not permitted access to the displays by going into the shop without warning paraphernalia—curtaining off, warning notices and so on.
It is surely sufficient, even for the promoter's purpose—and I do not challenge his purpose, although he knows that I do not approve of the provisions—if there is a simple restriction in the form provided for in the first three lines of page 2—that is, a person displaying indecent material must ensure that those under the age of 18 are not 1022 there to see it; putting it the other way round, a person must ensure that he does not display indecent material if there is a likelihood that those under 18 will come into the shop in order to see it. What more does one require? We do not need all the paraphernalia about curtaining off and warning notices.
We must never forget that whatever different views there may be about the law on obscenity—and I believe that it is a jungle, and we set up the Williams committee to get enlightenment about it—it remains in force. Obscene publications, whether sold in corner shops, W. H. Smith or elsewhere, are subject to that law. They can be seized. Those who publish and distribute them can be prosecuted. The Bill is dealing with a narrow area that lies between obscenity and indecency. Heaven alone knows what that covers, but it is a very narrow area indeed. It goes further. We are dealing here not with indecency in magazines or books but only with the indecency that appears on the outside of them. As a result of the debates in Committee, the promoter has amended the Bill so that, provided that the indecent material is not on display in the sense of being there to be seen either on the outside of the magazine or because the magazine is left open by the shopkeeper at the point where the indecent material is to be seen, the Bill does not bite upon it.
Is it really worth while making a laughing stock of ourselves and Parliament in order to cover that narrow area by having the provisions relating to warning notices and so on? Is it not all covered perfectly adequately by the provisions at the top of page 2, even within the full context of what the hon. Member for Hove intends—and going much further than I would like to see? As I have said, it will put the shopkeeper at risk and on warning if he is displaying the kind of material that the Bill is concerned with.
Although I cannot support the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East, I support 90 per cent. of what he says. I hope that he will support in his turn—because they go a long way to meet the points that he makes—the amendments that I have tabled, which in due course I hope to have the opportunity of formally moving if the promoter of the Bill does not respond in the way that he has suggested.
§ Mr. J. F. Pawsey (Rugby)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) on his skill and good fortune in having steered this worthwhile Bill so far on its passage through the House. It is an honest and genuine attempt to improve an untidy and difficult situation, although, with respect, it does not go far enough.
In amendment No. 9, the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) seeks to reduce the already limited safeguards in the Bill. If it is accepted, the Bill will become a charade and a shambles. He described the legislation as a jungle, but his amendment will make the situation worse. It is a cynical exercise. In the context of the debate it could be described not so much as a probing amendment as a castrating one. The Bill requires the display of a warning notice, but, as suggested in the amendment, it will be totally inadequate. It will be difficult to enforce. Perhaps all that can be said in favour of the amendment is that its intention is good.
Amendment No. 1 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) has at least 1023 one virtue: it is simple. It does not seek to damage the fabric of the Bill and it does not distort. It seeks to strengthen the good points in this worthwhile Bill. It will separate with absolute finality hard and soft pornography.
At present young people may enter premises to look at or to buy girlie magazines and be gently drawn towards the hard stuff. Between the two will exist only a notice saying not "Keep off the Grass" but "Keep off the porn". It will not be so much "Beware of the bull" as "Beware of the body."
Does the House believe that such a measure would have any effect? It will be totally ineffective. It will bring our legislation into disrepute. The notice will be as much use as those that exist on the side of cigarette packets. It will be there for almost the same reason, which has far more to do with cosmetics than the protection of our young people. If exhibited as outlined in the Bill, the notice will add a touch of challenge. It will be almost a come-on to young people to see the hard stuff. It will be a positive invitation to see something that is being concealed.
It will be difficult to identify 18-year-olds—and one has only to ask a licensee how difficult it is to enforce the age limit to understand the impossibility of such an operation. The distinction between 17-year-olds and 18-year-olds is negligible.
The solution lies in amendment No. 1. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hove will accept it. It will strengthen a worthwhile and important Bill. The essence of Private Members' Bills is time, so I shall now sit down. The point could be argued at much greater length, but I hope that my hon. Friend will accept the amendment and that we shall see the Bill on the statute book.
§ Mr. James A. Dunn (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I am attracted by the statements made by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), who moved the amendment, but I am also much aware that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) has drawn the attention of the House to the fact that the amendment, in one sense, would be contrary to the general practice of the House and might even amount to an unconstitutional approach to the matter. I am attracted by the amendment, but I am taking full account of the remarks of those who do not fully share the enthusiasm displayed by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East.
I feel a little apprehensive about the difficulties that might ensue as a consequence of a notice stating that on one side of the notice there are certain protections but on the other side no protection, with the dividing line being that the person is over 18 years of age. I am concerned not only about public display. Some material I have seen goes much further than girlie magazines and tends to corrupt. Some of the letter columns in these girlie magazines are highly offensive and highly corrupt. These magazines are just as offensive if a person can read what is contained inside them before making a purchase.
I am aware of the many complexities and difficuties of approach in seeking the protection that many hon. Members desire. I am also aware of the dividing line between censorship and what the community may wish to do for itself and the protection that should be provided for those who are offended or who may be corrupted by the cover and contents of the material if the contents are on public display.
There was some dilemma among hon. Members in Committee in trying to decide how to create the protection. 1024 I am aware that we are creating a fundamental principle that has not been adequately discussed. Hon. Members were seeking to give some degree of protection against the public display and against the offensiveness caused to many people and perhaps the corruption of those under a certain age who were unable to overcome the temptations that might be presented by pictures or words. We had to decide how far to go.
I take into account and share some of the concern expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich. I also take into account remarks made in support of the amendment. I believe that we should look at the matter again. It would be within the propriety of the practices of the House if the matter was reopened in another place with adequate notice given beforehand. This would appear to meet all the suggestions made in relation to amendment No. 1. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend and the sponsor of the Bill would agree to my proposal.
I have grave doubts about whether the House, by accepting my right hon. and learned Friend's amendment, would achieve what it seeks to achieve. I understand the compelling reasons that prompted my right hon. and learned Friend to put the amendment before the House. I can see, in his approach, the legal mind trying to achieve some clarity and trying to remove doubts about the provisions of the Bill relating to shops. My right hon. and learned Friend has told the House that he goes into a village shop. What happens if that village shop becomes a purveyor or material that causes offence? There is nothing to stop that from happening. What is my right hon. and learned Friend's answer if young people enter that shop to purchase one type of commodity only to be faced by another type of commodity that can be offensive and corrupting?
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
My hon. Friend directly asks me a question. I repeat the answer that I gave. Whatever my personal preference is about the situation he has described, the Bill, even if my amendment was passed, would still contain provisions to prevent the dangers to which my hon. Friend refers. The exclusions in clause 1(3)(b) shall only apply where persons under the age of 18 are not permitted to enter.
§ Mr. Dunn
My right hon. and learned Friend will forgive me if I do not share completely his interpretation as he presents it. I acknowledge his skill and expertise, but I do not grant him the absolution of being always right. I have my grave doubts. It would be dangerous to adopt the amendment suggested by my right hon. and learned Friend. I hope that the sponsor will indicate his opposition to it. These matters were examined in detail in Committee. I do not believe that the House should return to them at this late stage to insert the protections that my right hon. and learned Friend now seeks.
There are anxieties, rightfully expressed, about the protections offered by the Bill. I can understand that many people would like to see more than is contained in the measure. I may share some of that desire. However, politics is sometimes the art of the possible. This is the judgment that should be applied to this Bill. If we lose the Bill today, we may never get it again.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)
I agree entirely with the last observation of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn). There has always been 1025 difficulty in achieving this sort of legislation. This extends back over seven or eight years. There have been a number of occasions on which such a measure has nearly reached the statute book. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) made some progress before an election intervened. The Government tried themselves to introduce a Bill. I also tried six or seven years ago, and there have been other attempts. All the Bills have been drafted on similar lines to the Bill before the House. There have been lengthy consultations with police and all sorts of people going back over many years. Both the Society of Conservative Lawyers and the Labour lawyers have considered the matter.
All agree that Governments of both complexions have funked the issue of dealing with the difficult problems of obscenity and hard pornography. Because the Government have funked, and still funk, the issue, hon. Members have at least to try to take some action. It is recognised that Private Members' Bills have no chance unless they deal with a fairly narrow issue and the path is fairly clear. By pursuing such an approach, my hon. Friend has obtained a Second Reading for the Bill without a dissenting voice. Many matters were discussed in Committee, and the House is now faced by a number of amendments. I hope that the Minister of State will say today that the matter will be taken further.
Since Second Reading, there has been throughout the country a large increase in the number of sex shops. For the first time, there are two in Thanet. Reports of sex shops being set up are coming in from all over the country. There is little doubt that discussion of the Bill has made clear that large sums are being made by the porn merchants of Soho, and that has resulted in people opening sex shops in other parts of the country.
That must be dealt with and that task is primarily one for the Secretary of State for the Environment. We must immediately bring sex shops within the town and country planning classes of use orders so that local authorities can refuse to give planning permission for sex shops and therefore outlaw them. We could then go on to consider how the laws of obscenity need to be amended. I hope that the Home Office can be persuaded to take action, though it will be difficult to achieve that, because the Home Office will say that there is no agreement in the House or in the country.
The Bill is limited in scope and concerns only indecent display—something that is an affront to the public. It is a public nuisance Bill and nothing else. It is not a pornography Bill. Being a public nuisance Bill, it seeks to deal with two classes of premises—sex shops and bookstalls, including perhaps even village shops.
We need no change beyond what is contained in the Bill in relation to sex shops because they are already implementing the Bill. Sex shops in Victoria and Soho have blacked out their windows and are displaying a warning notice couched almost exactly in the terms contained in the Bill. The sex shops have no objection to that. They want to attract their own particular public and they know that a blacked-out window with the words "sex shop" on the front will do that. It is wrong to suggest that 1026 the Bill will not be effective and could not be enforced. Some provisions are already being complied with and will require no enforcement.
Bookstalls must be cleaned up. We do not want them displaying this filthy muck, and anything that stops them from doing so is welcome. I do not find immensely appealing the argument of the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) that we should permit the display of explicit sexual material in village shops so that people can save petrol by not having to drive miles to the sex shop in the nearest town. We do not want to see explicit sexual material being displayed in village shops. If that means the end of girlie magazines with explicit front covers, I am all for excluding them.
In practice, the girlie magazines will take the girlie stuff off the front cover—indeed, they are already doing so—and we will not see repellent lesbian scenes on the covers. They will go inside and the Bill will not prevent the sale of such magazines because it is concerned only with indecent display. If the magazines cannot do that, it would be better that they were not sold.
I do not believe that the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich is correct in saying that we shall be made a laughing stock if we have a warning notice or a provision setting out the precise words to be used on such notices. Setting out the precise words is probably better, because we are dealing with a trade and the porn merchants would prefer to know exactly what a warning notice should say. That is why I support the provision for such notices.
In practice, warning notices will cover the whole shop, but some small shops in small towns sell tobacco and newspapers and may also sell a certain amount of soft porn. They may want to put that material in a back room and a warning notice on the door to that room would offer complete protection. That will not make us a laughing stock. It will be total protection.
I believe that the amendment goes too far at this stage, but we do not need the limitations suggested by the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich. I hope that we shall pass the Bill and encourage the Government to take the matter a good deal further along lines that we all approve.
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
I do not intend to speak for long, but I should explain why I put my name to amendments Nos. 9 and 11. There is a civil liberties group on the Opposition side which examines Bills that seem to affect civil liberties and the consensus about this Bill is that there is no desire to prevent it from going on to another place, but certain aspects of it worry us. I should also say that certain aspects encourage many members of the group, particularly the female members who feel that pornography is the greatest single inhibition upon a move towards equality between men and women in this country.
I come new to the Bill, but I hope that it will not be felt that I am injecting a new element that has it in mind to hold up the legislation. However, I also hope that the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) will listen to criticisms, even at this stage, because the pilot of a Private Member's Bill needs to be flexible right up to the last minute. I acknowledge that on the Opposition side the spadework on the Bill has been done by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) and my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), who are not obvious pornographers' narks.
1027 There seems to be a curious agreement between the three amendments. I am worried about the proposed notice and that is why I put my name to the amendments of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich. I wish to address myself to the third class of shop that the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) mentioned, namely the middling sort of shop in a city or small town that does quite a trade in tobacco and sweets, has built up a newsagent's trade and has got into the habit of selling quite a lot of soft porn because there is a demand for it.
I want to address myself to the effect of the Bill on the proprietor of a shop who, after all, is in business to make money. One must remember that at present he is finding it difficult to keep his head above water and to make money.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
The hon. Gentleman should pose himself a slightly wider question. The barons of soft and hard porn are watching these proceedings. Within two to three months they can decide to alter the front cover of magazines. One must consider that, too, in connection with the retailer and his problems.
§ Mr. Price
I hasten to say that I am not an expert in these matters, but I am concerned about the balance, which is strangly different in different shops. As the hon. and learned Member said, we are talking about a trade—wholesalers and publishers make a great deal of money—which all the time is looking for new retail outlets. Discussions have taken place with the porn producers. I do not know whether they have a statutory producers' organisation with someone responsible for them in the Department. I understand that the discussions have demonstrated that they are content with the Bill. Even that makes me a tiny bit worried.
I am worried that the shopkeeper will have to make a decision about whether he should display material with indecent covers. Perhaps he may decide not to and we could all say "Three cheers". He is in the business of making money and a living. If he decides to sell porn and he is selling sweets, which children come in to buy, he will have to build a back room to his shop. That will involve him in capital expenditure to convert the shop and he will have to find someone to lend him the money. It will involve investment on which he will want a return. The danger that I see in this statutory notice business and back rooms with curtains is that it will positively encourage the shopkeeper to build his back room and the money he borrows may come from his trade in porn. Before he knows where he is he will be stocking not just soft porn and a little hard porn but a great deal of soft and hard porn and a range of other goods that it never occurred to him in the past to stock.
§ Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)
We are not being asked to legislate for occasions of that kind. Is there not an obligation on the House to give a lead to the country in what I call, without a doubt, a Christian attitude? We should challenge the setting up of such agencies and not help them to be subsidised to encourage the corruption of our young people.
§ Mr. Price
I am certain that it is the job of the House to give a lead to the country, I am acutely aware that time after time over the past 20 years when the House has 1028 legislated expecting one set of circumstances to be the result of that legislation, a completely different set of circumstances that no one has thought of has resulted.
I am fundamentally a libertarian. I would like everyone to do what he wants to do. I do not want to stop people from doing things.
§ Mr. Price
No, I do not mean things against the law. If it is not against the law, I want to allow people to do what they like.
When we pass legislation we should think carefully about its effects. There is a confluence of attitudes between the two sides on the issue of the back room. The hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West is right. We have these notices not only in Soho but in sex shops that are springing up in other places. The danger of statutorily laying down a warning notice in such terms is that one will positively encourage warning notices to be put up all over the place and new effects will occur that encourage small shopkeepers to do things that it had never occurred to them to do in the past.
After the Wolfenden report, some people thought that sweeping prostitution under the carpet would make it less prevalent. We swept it under the carpet, but the broad result was to tend to make the pimps richer and the girls poorer.
I would not wish any legislation passed by the House to make pornographers richer and the small shopkeeper more open to exploitation by them. For that reason, I want to leave the situation more or less as it is. That is why I would dispense with the warning notice and that is why I put my name to my right hon. and learned Friend's amendment. I was not a member of the Committee, but when my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) says "at this late stage", I should remind him that Report is the only occasion when hon. Members who were not members of the Committee have the chance to participate in the debates.
I believe that grown men should be able to do what they like in private as long as it is not against the law. I am against people interfering. But everyone else should be protected against offensive items staring them in the face. The Bill goes a long way to enacting that. However, we must be careful that in some of its knock-on effects we do not wake up to a Britain in two or three years' time in which our tobacconist shops are different places from what they are today.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Patrick Mayhew)
It may be for the convenience of the House if I indicate the Government's views on the amendments which are in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) and the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin).
It is the achievement of my hon. Friend the promoter of the Bill, the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury), that he has so constructed it as to attract, on what is a notoriously difficult and uncertain subject when it comes to legislation, a wide degree of support in the House. So it was that on Second Reading not only was there no vote against the Bill but no voice raised against it.
I think that without such wide all-party support there is today no chance of progress being made by a Private 1029 Member's Bill—or indeed a Government Bill—on this subject. In this context I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) that our experience in the House when trying to legislate on this or related subjects has unhappily often been to find that different consequences have resulted from those that we expected. It is very important that that should be avoided. My hon. Friend has achieved that by the policy of not trying to do too much. It is because the Government want to see progress in giving more protection to the public against the display of pornographic filth, and especially greater protection to children in this regard, that we have so warmly welcomed my hon. Friend's approach to the drafting of the Bill and have tried to help him in every way that we can.
I should like to say, in response to what has been said by more than one of my hon. Friends, I think with the concurrence of the whole House, that the Government recognise the widespread anxiety in the country about the proliferation of sex shops. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) said, control over the use of premises for retail purposes of any sort lies primarily with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. The Government fully understand the anxiety—and, indeed, in many quarters the anger—arising from the proliferation of sex shops. We have accordingly been giving urgent consideration in the Home Office, in consultation with our friends and colleagues in the Department of the Environment, to ways in which more effective control over the opening of such shops might be introduced.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already announced his support in principle for the proposal by the Greater London Council to introduce a licensing scheme in Greater London by means of a Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill. My right hon. Friend has been impressed by the representations made to him that a licensing system would provide the only effective means of preventing the swamping of places such as Soho by the uncontrolled spread of such establishments. There would be the additional advantage that with a licensing system, which would no doubt have regard not only to demand but to the opposite of demand, control in an area would be placed in the hands of those elected by the residents of that area to give effect to local wishes, opinions, fears, anxieties and other local considerations.
§ Mr. John Ryman (Blyth)
The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the Government are considering the introduction of a licensing scheme as a result of representations from the GLC. One can see the argument for that, but is not the great danger that by such a scheme the Government would be giving the stamp of respectability to the shops and encouraging their growth, just as under the betting and gaming legislation of 1960 and 1963 there was an enormous increase in cash betting once the Government had authorised licensed cash betting shops to be set up? A huge new industry grew. Is not the danger that the proposal would have the opposite effect to that which the Government want, by encouraging a growth in sex shops?
§ Mr. Mayhew
That is a consideration to be borne in mind, but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's forecast is likely to be fulfilled.
1030 The House must always bear in mind when considering legislation on this and related subjects that we get into great difficulties when we seek to determine that which is respectable and that which is not, and to legislate against what we regard as not being respectable. That is a trap that my hon. Friend the Member for Hove has so far effectively avoided. He has concerned himself with the environmental aspects of the problem, the public display of indecent material, and has been concerned to protect members of the public from having indecent material thrust before them without warning when going about their ordinary business. I believe that that is much the most practical approach at this stage, when there does not exist on the broader issues the degree of agreement that is necessary for the success of any legislation with a much broader scope.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is aware that there are those who wish to see a licensing system introduced on a wider scale. He does not dismiss that idea, but he believes that at this stage it would be sensible to assess the effectiveness of the GLC's proposals before contemplating the introduction of legislation on a national scale. However, he will pay the closest attention to what is said in the debate.
§ Dr. Brian Mawhinney (Peterborough)
As my hon. and learned Friend and I have discussed this matter before, I have been listening to him with great care. May I impress upon him that while Governments will want to consider, assess and evaluate, and do all the other things that Governments want to do, the large majority of the people of this country want action, not only to affect places such as Soho but to protect corner shops from being turned into sex shops, with the unhappy results of such changes? I was slightly concerned about my hon. and learned Friend's comment, because it opens the way to considerable delay, delay which would not be appreciated by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, not to mention the people of this country.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I know the anxiety that has arisen in his constituency over the appearance of sex shops there. I think that he will draw comfort from the fact that I have just been able to say that we have been consulting colleagues in the Department of the Environment. He also knows the difficulties that the existing planning law imposes. I am glad that my hon. Friend is present, and that he will perhaps take part in the debate later, because he is one of those who have taken it upon themselves in the past to try to amend the law relating to this aspect of pornography. I take comfort from the fact that his Bill provided for virtually the same warning notice and provision. I believe that that was a proper provision. It is a great pity that unfortunately his Bill did not survive.
Whilst I share to the full the strong feelings of distaste for pornography and for those who peddle it that were expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East, and that underlay his speech, I cannot advise the House to support his amendment or the amendments of the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich. My fear is that in supporting them we should be providing poor protection to the public against having pornographic, indecent material thrust before them without warning, and that there would be a greater risk that children would be 1031 drawn into sex shops than if the Bill were passed in its present form. Moreover, I do not think that, with the amendments, we should see the Bill on the statute Book.
The method that my hon. Friend the Member for Hove has adopted is to steer away from the enforcement of a code of morality and to address the Bill to the protection of the public against having indecent displays forced on their attention as they go about their everyday business. I suspect that no one has a stronger belief than has my hon. Friend that the creation, let alone the display or sale anywhere, of a great deal of pornography is morally wrong. Many of us would share that view. But my hon. Friend has been wise to concentrate on the environmental aspect. It is this which has won him such wide support, where a moral crusade would not—however regrettable that may be to many of us—have had an equal chance of success.
On Second Reading, speech after speech supported this approach. More than one hon. Member referred to "pollution of the environment". Accordingly, the scheme of the Bill is to ban the display of indecent material in a public place, but then to exempt its application in certain places to which the public have access and on certain conditions. Its theme is that if adult members of the public choose to seek out this material, then, subject to the far from negligible provisions of the Obscene Publications Acts, that is up to them. Those Acts may be unsatisfactory, but their provisions, as the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich has reminded us, remain upon the statute book, and they are far from negligible. I would certainly not argue that they are perfect, or anything like it, but they are far from ineffective.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
So far, my hon. and learned Friend has dodged the issue of enforcement. He has said nothing about the charge that I made—that the Bill is unenforceable, with special reference to the police. Secondly—and I hope that he will remedy this omission—he has said nothing about the Government's intentions, if we pass this interim legislation, to tackle the wider question of the obscenity laws, which he acknowledges are not all that effective, in the lifetime of this Parliament. I hope that he will address himself to that matter, because that will determine the way in which I vote.
§ Mr. Mayhew
My hon. Friend is, as ever, enthusiastic. But he must not confuse preparing to answer a question with dodging a question. I am looking forward to answering the questions which he has very pertinently put.
The theme of the Bill is that, if adult members of the public choose to seek out this sort of material, that is up to them. The Bill's protection is against their having it thrust before them.
All that the Bill will do is to permit the display of indecent material in premises that are protected by the Bill. The sale of pornographic material will be governed, as it is now, by the obscene publications legislation. I do not think that it can be denied, however strongly one feels about sex shops—and I speak as one who greatly sympathises with the objections made to them—that the provision we are discussing is wholly consistent with the philosophy of the Bill. That which the amendments seek to remove is a provision of the Bill which is wholly consistent with the philosophy that I have tried to spell out. 1032 I think that it can be described as epitomising it, because if the aim is to ensure that people who do not want to see indecent material should not have to do so, while not preventing others from seeing it if they wish, provided that they are over the age of 18, then nothing is likely to achieve that aim more effectively than a clear warning notice of the kind specified in the Bill.
I want to deal with the argument that this will in some way encourage the spread of sex shops. The Government do not believe that that unhappy consequence will in fact come about. Even if the provision were deleted, even if my hon. Friend's amendment were carried, these shopkeepers could, if they wanted to do so, avoid having their shops regarded as public places by the simple expedient of charging a nominal entrance fee and thus bringing themselves within the scope of the exemption in clause 1(3)(a) for displays which those over 18 pay to see.
I ask whether it is not more satisfactory, as a means of protecting the general public from affront, to require a clear warning notice. Again, such premises could resort to putting, for example, brown paper covers over the items actually displayed. There would then be a much greater risk of children frequenting these premises, because those in charge of the shop would be under no obligation to keep the under-18s out. Nor, of course, would they have to display any form of warning notice. Provided that no material was displayed—that is, in such a way as to be open to view—no offence under the Bill could be committed. But customers would, of course, be invited to view material by raising covers, looking inside boxes and so on. Again, I think that it is a question for consideration whether it would not be much more satisfactory, as clause 1(3)(b) now requires, to exclude children entirely, while permitting those adults who choose to do so to pass the warning notice and to view indecent material if they wish to do so.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
Surely the hon. and learned Gentleman realises that the alternative stratagems which he is suggesting that shops might get up to in order to evade the provisions add to the folly of having the provisions. Those very stratagems are in themselves such as to add to the probability that this provision will be regarded as a laughing stock, because people will get up to just that very kind of stratagem.
§ Mr. Mayhew
The provision which provides protection only in the case of a shop where a warning notice is put up excluding those under 18, and which excludes the display of indecent material save from a position behind that warning notice and where it cannot be seen is a provision that it is important to keep. The Bill would be greatly the weaker if that protection were removed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East suggested that the notice was all that was necessary and that a person could perfectly well be within the exemption provided by the Bill if he had stuff that was indecent in his shop, which, none the less, could be seen by anyone as he went into the shop or seen from the right side—if I may put it thus—of the notice. That is not so. If the material can be seen from the part of the shop outside the notice it is effectively on display within the entire premises and is therefore not exempt.
Clause 1(2) provides that any matter displayed so as to be visible from any public place is publicly displayed, 1033 while a part of a shop set apart behind a warning notice is not a public place. Therefore, if matter therein is visible from outside it, in a part of a shop which is a public place, there is a public display, just as a poster in the window of a private house visible from the street is deemed to be publicly displayed. Therefore, I can reassure my hon. Friend on that point.
The Government do not agree, either, with the view that the requirement that under-18s shall be excluded would be ineffective. Here I come to the enforcement point. In a case where it can be shown that a shopkeeper deliberately and knowingly admitted someone under age, that evidence will suffice to establish that his display on that occasion was a public display and, therefore, in contravention of the law. Therefore, it is not the case, and it has never been contended by the Home Office, for example, to anyone who consulted it, that in every case one would have to show persistent breach of the law, persistent admission of those who were under 18. Circumstances may arise in which a person under 18 has been admitted and the evidence is abundantly clear that that admission was made with what can be called guilty knowledge, deliberately and on purpose, and with full knowledge of the relevant facts.
In other cases where that position cannot be established—and each case will turn on its own facts—any evidence of persistent admission of children under the age of 18 will be relevant to any individual case where a shopkeeper denies that he knew that the person in question was under age. However, in my view the Bill rightly does not make this offence an absolute one—an offence which can be proved without the proof of guilty knowledge.
My hon. Friend asked me what consultation there was with the police. As he knows, this is not a Government Bill, but representations were made to the Home Office by the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. Neither commented specifically on the enforcement of this provision. However, the Government want to give all the practical help they can to those who wish to see greater control over the proliferation of sex shops, and I have indicated the ways in which we are examining that matter.
I believe that we would be unwise to ignore the fact that each of the Bills introduced previously by my hon. Friends the Members for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) and for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) provided for a warning notice to be required. That was as a result of very long and detailed consideration of the difficulties that arise when seeking to achieve the object which we in this House all share in this regard. Each of those Bills contained such a provision.
At the time of the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey, the Government of the day supported him in that provision. The Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough provided expressly for keeping out the under-18s. The Home Office working party in 1976 concluded that this approach could be achieved.
To remove this provision from the Bill would be to depart radically from the Bill's philosophy, for the reasons that I have given. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich that there may be difficulties for those who operate bookstalls or village shops, and who do not wish to construct back rooms and so forth, in 1034 determining whether the material which they are showing at present falls within the category dealt with by the Bill. As I said on Second Reading, it is no bad thing that, where material is on the borderline, those proposing to sell it should be invited to err on the side of caution. I do not think that that is against the public interest. However, to remove the provision from the Bill would dangerously diminish the protection that the Bill gives. If these amendments were carried, we should be seeking to legislate not against public display but against public availability.
That is an argument for another day and perhaps for another Bill, but I believe firmly that we would gravely damage the effectiveness of this Bill and its chances of reaching the statute book if we carried any of these amendments. Therefore, I hope that none of them will be carried, assuming that they are pressed.
§ Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)
My first reflection on the Minister's speech is that he failed to answer the specific question asked twice if not three times by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine). I do not know whether the hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to remedy that now. It seemed to me to be an extremely important question about the Government's intentions in this legislation. If the hon. and learned Gentleman will not answer, or does not want to answer, it may be that the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) will answer for him. As the hon. and learned Gentleman seems to be answering for the hon. Member for Hove on so much of the Bill, perhaps the hon. Member for Hove will answer for the Government and tell us about their intentions.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I thought that I had made the position clear on Second Reading. What is more, the Government have made it clear subsequently in this House in response to questions. There is no early prospect of legislation on the broad issues covered by the Williams report, for the reason that I gave a few moments ago, that in the Government's view there is insufficient general agreement on the subject to warrant early legislation. If I had not made that clear before, I apologise and make it clear now.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
I am surprised that my hon. and learned Friend did not give me a straight answer. I asked him in my speech and in an intervention to give an answer. He has had to be pressed now by the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill).
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Who is holding the Floor at the moment? Is it the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), or my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine)?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
The hon. Lady had given way to the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine).
§ Sir Bernard Braine
I did not ask my hon. and learned Friend to assure the House that there would be early legislation. I asked him to say whether the Government intended to grasp the nettle in the lifetime of this Parliament. Is the answer "Yes", or "No"?
§ Dr. Summerskill
I take it from the Minister's silence that the answer is "No". If he disagrees with that interpretation, he can say so. But it is clear that the 1035 Government are not initiating a debate on the report of the Williams committee, which looked at the subject exhaustively over two years and produced unanimous recommendations. In spite of their not initiating a debate on the report and seeking the views of the House on it, the Government now say that they do not intend to introduce legislation.
I noticed today that the Minister gave a warm welcome to the Bill, whereas on Second Reading he simply said that he felt towards it a friendly or even affectionate neutrality. Apparently his enthusiasm for it grew during the Committee stage, though I cannot think why. The Committee stage, far from clarifying the Bill or making it more easily enforceable, led us into a positive quagmire of perplexity, to use the appropriate phrase of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin).
We want to see a practical and workable Bill and an improvement on all existing legislation. The Bill having come out of Committee, I am disappointed in what remains of it. I hope that, even now, improvements can be made to it in this House and in the other place.
My attitude to these amendments is determined largely by the fact that in Committee the most important and significant word in the Bill—"indecent"—was left unchanged. No definition of that word is now contained in the Bill. We are discussing a Bill concerning indecent display, but none of us knows what an indecent display is. No one is sure. We all have different views. It is in the eye of the beholder. Presumably the police will all have different views, as will the courts.
The Minister did not mention the Williams report. It has been sadly neglected. The Williams committee was set up specifically because of the complexity of this subject, and one of its main recommendations was that the word "indecent" had outlived its usefulness.
As long as the word "indecent" is retained, I cannot see how the provisions of clause 1 will operate any more effectively than the present vague and totally ineffective law on the subject. It is not surprising that the Adult Book Publishers Association—for that is its name—is content with the Bill.
The difficulty or impossibility of defining an indecent display is relevant to the amendment tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich. Once we start to include displays inside shops, we are entering the realm of the small corner newsagent, of Smiths in the High Street, of the railway station news-stand and of the town book shop. How are responsible publishers, jacket designers or photographers, or responsible shop owners, to decide whether a magazine cover or book jacket is an indecent display? I asked that question on Second Reading. Attitudes will differ between one individual and another, from court to court, from area to area and from year to year as public opinion change.
What will the people involved do? Responsible artists and publishers could be inhibited, for fear of contravening the law, by the Bill's provisions from producing the magazines or book jackets which they wish to produce. Responsible and experienced shopkeepers could decline to stock a whole range of publications for fear that they would be committing an offence and for fear that they would make an indecent display.
The third extreme and unlikely possibility is that ordinary shopkeepers will go to the trouble and expense, if they have the space, the inclination and the money, of 1036 cordoning off a special indecency section. They must first establish which of their stock is indecent. When they have decided which is and which is not—although they have nothing on which to make that judgment—they can continue to stock and sell anything with impunity.
The first two possibilities smack of disguised censorship. The Bill will extend the borderline of censorship to an extent which is indefensible and dangerous. The measure is piecemeal and fails to be comprehensive. The undesirability of legislating for such special areas was stressed by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East but for different reasons. The hon. Gentleman's argument for a complete ban on all indecent displays, whether in front of the curtain or behind it, involves wholesale censorship which is not the. Bill's purpose.
The alternative offered by the Bill is an unhappy compromise. It imposes a ban on one side of a warning notice but a free-for-all on the other side. That is not a satisfactory way to legislate against indecent displays.
My doubts are not new. They were not brought up for the Report stage. On Second Reading and during the Committee stage we all emphasised the complexities of the problem. As the discussion proceeded the whole Committee realised more and more the difficulties involved in the subject.
What is meant by "open to view"? We had no further clarification from the hon. Member for Hove and yet the warning notice contains the word "display" not "open to view". The difference between "display" and "open to view" is left for hon. Members to interpret. When is an art gallery an art gallery? Art galleries are excluded. What about a shop with indecent displays calling itself the Soho art gallery? We discussed such matters in Committee. Again and again the Minister and the promoter told the Committee "The courts will know what we mean." It was clear that members of the Committee did not know what was meant or at least could not agree about what was meant.
There must be shops in Bond Street which sell reputable, erotic works of art which could be judged to be indecent by many people. Will such works of art have to be put behind a warning notice? We do not know the answer. Shopkeepers do not know the answer, the police do not know the answer any more that the House. There is no established definition of the word "indecent".
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
Does my hon. Friend recall that if such a work of art were transferred from a shop to a local authority art gallery a notice would not be needed although the same people could see it there as in the shop?
§ Dr. Summerskill
I am glad that my right hon. and learned Friend agrees with me.
I am sorry that we did not discuss the warning notice in detail in Committee, but so many other more complicated issues and matters of principle faced us at every turn that we neglected to discuss warning notices in detail. It is right to return to that subject today.
Attention has been drawn to the more obvious practical defects of a warning notice, to the way in which the police will ensure that the warning is adhered to and to its provocative effect. Warning notices could crop up in small shops. We cannot be sure what will be the character of small shops, newsagents and news-stands in two or three years' time as a result of the Bill.
1037 When the promoter moved an amemdment in Committee setting out the contents of the notice, one of his arguments was that the Williams committee suggested it. He quoted the committee's report which said that there might be an advantage in having the text of such a notice prescribed by legislation. The hon. Gentleman appears to be able to adopt a suggestion by the Williams committee when it suits him. The Minister failed to mention the report and the promoter has adopted one of its less important recommendations. He totally rejected the committee's main recommendations.
The Committee's main recommendation was that a comprehensive new statute on the subject was required, not a little Bill such as this which deals with only a narrow part of the subject. The second main recommendation was that the term "indecent" should be abandoned. Both those main recommendations have been disregarded. In that context only should we introduce warning notices and legislation which can indirectly lead to overt censorship.
We all want an effective and enforceable measure. Far from clarifying the provisions in the Bill, our discussions in Committee often served to illustrate and reveal the complexities inherent in this extremely difficult, long standing and intractable part of the law.
The promoter and the Minister have underestimated the difficulties that will be faced by all those who will deal with the Bill's enforcement. They have tended to show a blind faith in the judgment of the prosecuting authorities and the courts. We were often told in Committee that the courts will understand the meaning of the words in the Bill. We were told that even if hon. Members put different interpretations on the Bill they must not worry because the Bill means what it says. That is the wrong way to legislate. We need sensible, effective and enforceable legislation. For that reason I did not originally attach my name to the amendment. I wanted to give careful consideration to it. Having heard the discussion today I recommend that the House supports the amendment.
§ Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bethnal Green and Bow)
I apologise to the House, and especially to the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin), for having arrived late and therefore missing 30 minutes of the debate. I can be brief because my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) anticipated some of what I intended to say. She was more authoritative than I could be.
I join the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey) in paying tribute to the promoter of the Bill for having made yet one more attempt to clarify this messy, imprecise, dubious and unclear part of the law. I wish that he had succeeded in his intention because we all share his objectives. As we have been reminded, that was made clear by the fact that the Bill received an unopposed Second Reading. We are with him in his objective, but we have all seen cases in which a Bill turns out in practice not to fulfil and sometimes even to negate its own objectives.
I got into trouble myself a year or two ago with a Bill which had very good objectives but which was so badly drafted that it would not have fulfilled them. In that case the matter was put right in another place, but that opportunity was provided only because this House, to the indignation of many, refused to let it through on the nod 1038 and insisted that it be looked into. That is not the only case in my recollection in which Bills have failed through their own defects to fulfil the objectives which they sought to carry out and which had widespread support.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax, I believe that the Bill is nonsense so long as its central concept—the word "indecent"—remains undefined and almost undefinable. I noticed that the Minister ran away from this obvious problem by not using the word himself. He used it only twice in his speech—once in a quotation from the Bill, and once in a quotation from the speech of the hon. Member for Essex, South-East. In his own original contribution to the discussion, however, he consistently used the word "pornographic". His speech would indeed have been relevant if clause 1(1) had begunIf any pornographic matter is publicly displayed",but it was not relevant to the subsection as drafted.
It might have been better if the Bill had used the word "pornographic", as I believe that that word is much easier to define than the word "indecent". When my mother was a girl, the display of the carved legs of dining tables and grand pianos was considered indecent. The more moral ladies of her day used to make frilly covers to hide them so that the bare wood could not be seen.
Tastes change. Halfway between that period and the present day—about half a century ago—page 3 of The Sun would have been considered indecent. I consider it indecent now, because I am revolted by the sexist use of women's bodies to stimulate erotic fantasies. It is not "displayed", of course, because it appears on page 3 and not on page 1. But who is to guarantee that the picture will not be shifted to page 1 at some time in the future? It would be a less revolutionary change than that made by The Times some years ago when it decided to put news on the front page instead of small ads. I also find racist slogans daubed upon the walls of synagogues and mosques offensive. That is my definition. I picked up a so-called comic the other day. I cannot imagine why it is called a comic as I have seen nothing less funny in my life. To me that publication was grossly indecent, not in any sexual or erotic sense, but because it was full of the most appalling violence. I should be far more worried about a 12-year-old grandson picking up that publication than about his picking up pictures of ladies with little or no clothes on.
The word "indecent" therefore means different things at different times and different things to different people. It may well also mean different things to different courts and benches of magistrates. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax pointed out the danger of simply saying that the courts will know what we mean. We all know that different courts in different parts of the country—and often the same court at different times, because magistrates work in rotation and the same people are not always on the bench—take a different view of the same legislation. How can we, therefore, conclude that the courts will be able to apply an objective and consistent interpretation of the word "indecent"?
§ Mr. Dan Jones
I do not wish to argue against my hon. Friend's theory, but could it not be said that because he has led his life on a far more sophisticated pattern his views are vastly different from those of the average 17 or 18-year-old maiden?
§ Mr. Mikardo
The reason why I have a very different attitude from the average 17-year-old maiden is not a 1039 matter of lifestyle. It is because I have lived as a member of a different sex and for very much longer. What worries me, however, is not the difference in outlook between 17-year-old maidens and myself, which I accept as a fact of life, but the differences in outlook which are bound to occur between the bench in Halifax and the bench in Burnley. Newsagents in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Jones) will therefore not know what view the bench will take.
I have had many representations from newsagents who are not porn merchants by any means. Outside Soho and a few other areas such as Chelsea, we are not much bothered with sex shops in inner London because they are so readily available a few stations along the Underground line. I am speaking of ordinary newsagents who sell confectionery, newspapers and so on. They are ordinary, decent blokes and they are worried about this measure, as people always worry about things that they cannot clearly understand.
The Minister put his finger on a very important fact. The sex shop boys will get away with anything. As he said, they do not need to have any display. Indeed, the absence of display is their greatest attraction. This, incidentally, relates to another problem to which the hon. Member for Rugby drew attention, when he said that the warning notice might in fact act as a "come-on" to young people—the temptation of forbidden fruit. My own grandson recently reached the age of 18. He goes into pubs less than before, because he is now allowed to do so. In the past, they had the attraction of forbidden fruit. A notice could provide just such an attraction to the 16-year-old who looks 18. Will the newsagent be expected to ask him to produce his birth certificate or what? The sex shop merchants will get away with it. The blank window—the absence of display—is their biggest sales gimmick. They will have advice, and they have all kinds of means of dealing with their problems. I am thinking about the ordinary small newsagent who is already burdened, as we all know, with VAT problems. Having shut his shop, he has to spend all Sunday afternoon on the week's VAT. He is the chap who will get it where the chicken got the chopper, and he is worried about it.
"Indecent" is too vague a term. We cannot rest on a term that is so vague when no attempt has been made to define it. It would have been better if a stronger word such as "pornographic" or "obscene" had been used, because legislation is already in existence that is based on the word "obscene" and we have some experience of interpreting it. No one has had to interpret "indecent". Like my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax, I am worried about that.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that we are dealing with a public nuisance and an affront? "Obscene" is a strong word that is used in the definition of "pornography". Whether the public should be allowed to see pornography is another matter. After months and years of debate, "indecent" was chosen instead of "grossly offensive to the public" because many Ministers and hon. Members concluded that "indecent" was better. The question arose whether it was possible to define "indecent". As I think the hon. Gentleman will agree, it is not. The question is: should those who consider this matter be the public at large, namely, members of the jury? There may well be one verdict in Margate, another in Plymouth and another in the Western Isles, but what is wrong with that?
§ Mr. Mikardo
I do not agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman. He said that many Ministers had considered the matter and had thought "indecent" better than "grossly offensive to the public". They did not give any reason why they thought that. I do not feel bound to accept that as an obiter dictum or as something that I must automatically obey. I do not have to accept it just because Ministers, with their Olympian omniscience, have reached the conclusion—for reasons undisclosed—that "indecent" is preferable to "grossly offensive to the public". I should have thought that the use of the term "public" was advantageous. It is something that can be put to the test. "Grossly offensive to the public", or "believed by the public to be indecent", might be useful terms.
I do not wish to go into detail about a licensing system, because there are problems. However, given what the Minister said, if there were a licensing system and elected representatives of the public were responsible for making the final decisions, they would be obliged to find out what their constituents believed. They would have to discover whether an item was offensive to the public, or believed by the public to be indecent.
The Bill will cause a lot of trouble. Indeed, it will cause trouble to innocent people. It will not cause sex shop marchants any trouble. It will cause trouble without achieving the objectives that the Bill's promoter seeks and that most hon. Members, if not all, would like. For that reason, the limitations that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich proposed would be advantageous. I do not say that they will solve the problem. In terms of the Bill's text, the problems cannot be solved completely. However, they would be advantageous, and on that ground I shall support them.
§ Mr. Ryman
I had not intended to speak, but, having heard the Minister's comments, I wish to raise two matters. I hope that the Minister will listen to my speech when he has a moment, because I wish to ask him some questions. I am sorry to inconvenience him, but I should like him to expand on something that he referred to which greatly disturbed me, namely, the reference to the representations that the Home Secretary had received from, I believe, the GLC about establishing a pilot scheme for licensing sex shops in the London area with a view to introducing such a system throughout the country. I understood that to be the tenor of his remarks.
I am astonished at that suggestion and am strongly opposed to it. If the Home Secretary intends to introduce legislation to license sex shops, in stages, throughout the country as a result of applications to set them up, a dangerous situation will arise. Such legislation would give the stamp of respectability to those shops and. would inevitably lead to a great increase in their number.
I should like to draw to the Minister's attention an analogous situation. In the early 1960s cash betting, which was illegal on the streets, was confined by legislation to the concept of a cash betting shop. The Betting and Gaming Act 1960, which was succeeded by the 1963 Act, created the concept of a cash betting shop. That led to an enormous increase in cash betting and to the creation of a vast industry worth millions of pounds. That industry has grown over the years and cash betting has increased enormously. That is the danger of introducing a system of licensed sex shops.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he is going wide of the amendment. The debate has been wide, but hon. Members should speak to the specific amendment under discussion.
§ Mr. Ryman
I am talking about the amendment that involves a notice.
The Minister specifically referred to the scheme that the Home Secretary had in mind for introducing licensed sex shops. I support the Bill's promoter in its general object. However, I have grave reservations about various aspects of it. The Minister volunteered something that has been rumoured in newspapers, namely, that the Home Office was seriously considering introducing licensed sex shops. In my respectful submission, that subject is highly relevant to the amendment under consideration. I have risen to express my horror at that suggestion and my strong objection to it.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I am anxious that there should not be any misunderstanding about the position of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I said that my right hon. Friend was aware that there are those who would like a licensing system to be introduced on a wider scale. I indicated that the GLC was considering taking powers in its own Bill to introduce one in London. I said that my right hon. Friend did not dismiss that idea. However, at this stage, he believes that it would be sensible to assess the effectiveness of what happens, if anything, in London. That was his reaction to the idea.
In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), I should point out that I said, in relation to legislation on the broad spectrum covered by Williams, that there was no prospect of early legislation. I wish to make it clear that my right hon. Friend is prepared to consider legislation within the lifetime of this Parliament and would be greatly helped by a debate in this House. I cannot give an undertaking about Government time. I hope that I have made the two matters clear.
§ Mr. Ryman
I am grateful for the Minister's intervention. I am glad to know the Home Secretary's thinking on the matter. It confirms one's worst fears, because the Minister seems to confirm the impression that the Home Secretary is contemplating introducing such a scheme, certainly in the London area and perhaps later throughout the country. I strongly object to the introduction of such a scheme, because it would involve enormous increases in the number of sex shops throughout the country.
I wish to inject a note of realism into the debate. I am sympathetic to the small newsagents who have been mentioned, but, as the Minister knows, the vast majority of obscene and pornographic material comes from abroad and is sold at huge profits for the people who manufacture the materials. The only effective way to deal with it is to amend the Customs and Excise legislation to enable Customs officers to seize the material at airports and ports where it enters the country. The material is not just publications, but obscene films, pictures, and so on.
A naive approach has been displayed on occasions during the debate about the sympathy that should be extended to newsagents. They are often specialists. I am not talking about the small newsagents who carry on respectable businesses, but in Soho and elsewhere there are newsagents who specialise in this type of pornographic material and make vast profits from it. They risk running 1042 foul of the law and the obscene publications legislation because even if they are prosecuted and brought to court—in practice, prosecutions are difficult because they involve much police time and expense, and so on—the sentences, normally financial, imposed by the courts are in no way detrimental to the carrying on of that business. The business is so lucrative that the proprietors can afford to pay fines every now and then as part of their running costs.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
The kind of shop that I mentioned—I do not know whether my hon. Friend heard my speech—was not necessarily the newsagent shop as such, but the small corner shop in a village which sells many different articles. There is one less than a quarter of a mile from here which sells groceries, a few magazines and paperbacks. Its trade comes from the diversity of the goods that it provides for a limited public. That is the kind of shop that cannot possibly have the materials which the amendments seek to exclude.
§ Mr. Ryman
My right hon. and learned Friend is correct. I am sorry that I was not present to hear his speech, and I apologise for my absence.
The shops that I have in mind are quite different types of premises. The licensing of sex shops would be exploited by the professional porn merchants, and they are not the people to whom my right hon. and learned Friend was referring. They are the professional plyers of pornographic literature with whom the Government should get tough and not encourage, by implication, through a licensing system which can only result in huge financial advantages for them. I hope that the Home Secretary will think carefully before giving his blessing to a system which would give the stamp of respectability to such shops.
I welcome the Bill, and I recognise the difficulties of definition. I welcome, too, the amendments which have been so ably spoken to. However, the reality is that many men are living on the fringe on the criminal law who are systematically importing huge quantities of pornographic literature, films and so on, and who are free to ply their trade through many shops throughout the United Kingdom because the police and Customs officers have inadequate powers at present to control the trade. I accept that the Bill is concerned with display, but the Government should realise that the time has come—quite apart from the implementation of the Williams proposal—to give the police and Customs officers far greater powers to deal with these men who simply laugh at the law. They make huge profits, knowing full well that, if they are prosecuted and convicted, the fines that they will pay are a drop in the ocean compared with the profits that they make year after year. At the moment, the Government are not tackling the problem.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
May I say, first, what a pleasure it is to have you, Mr. Armstrong, in the Chair on this occasion, since your name was happily associated with the Bill when it originated.
At times today I have been at a loss to know whether this was a Second Reading or a Third Reading debate, or even a general debate on obscene publications and pornography. We have wandered fairly widely over the ground, and only occasionally returned to the amendments.
I welcome the speeches that have been made by hon. Members who had not previously contributed to our 1043 discussions. I welcome what the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) said about the group of which he is a member, and its support for the Bill. I was also glad to hear the speeches of the hon. Members for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) and Blyth (Mr. Ryman).
We have spent much time discussing whether the word "indecent" should be defined. We discussed the matter extensively on Second Reading and very fully in Committee. I recommend all those who spoke on the matter to the relatively unusual occupation for hon. Members of reading the proceedings of a Committee of which they were not a member. We accept that some problems are inherent in the use of the word "indecent", although it has a long legislative history and is a word in common use, but all the alternatives that we considered seemed worse.
The debate has highlighted the pressures which inevitably are put on an hon. Member who seeks to introduce Private Member's legislation, either to do much more with his legislation or to do rather less. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) and the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) do not misunderstand me because, as the promoter of the Bill, I must steer a course between Scylla and Charybdis if we are to reach the destination which I think the whole House wishes to reach. The legislation is needed, and the repeal provision of the Bill which relates to unsatisfactory nineteenth century legislation is a good justification for it.
The consequences of the legislation, as presently drafted, particularly in relation to the amendments, reflects not only our discussions in Committee but discussions that I have had with a number of organisations which are involved either in operating so-called sex shops or in publishing, distributing or retailing literature of various types, including the National Association of Retail Newsagents. They all agree that there is no likelihood of a widespread proliferation of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman called back rooms. That is not envisaged.
What is envisaged is that magazines, such as Playboy, Mayfair, Penthouse and so on, which have a wide distribution and large sales, will ensure that their covers are not indecent. If their covers are indecent, they will know that their distribution will be limited. Many newsagents—I think the vast majority—and operators of the kind of shops to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred will not wish to display alongside sweets, local papers or anything else material with covers which are offensive to many of their customers. That is not foreseen as a consequence of this measure.
I appreciate what was said by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West about sometimes legislating and being surprised at the consequences. I am sure that the other place will consider what has been said in the debate. However, in the light of my knowledge of what the people concerned seem to expect, including the National Association of Retail Newsagents, I should be very surprised if the consequences envisaged because of a warning notice were to follow.
Many premises operate now with so-called warning notices. It is not without interest that when I moved the amendment in Committee to introduce the precise wording 1044 of the warning notice, no other member of the Committee spoke to it. It was accepted without further debate. I think it reflects the view of the Committee.
We put in the precise 'wording for the warning notice because we were uneasily aware that there are warning notices which are very much "come-ons", as my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey) said. Indeed, they are not only "come-ons" but indecent displays. For that reason, the Committee believed that precise wording for the warning notice was required.
I believe that there is a great concern, not only in the House but throughout the country, about the experience of many people of finding on display in CTN shops—confectionery, tobacconists and newsagents—material that they find distasteful, material which adults, wives, mothers and children do not wish to see on display.
We would be failing in our duty if we followed the line of argument of the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich and said that what is displayed inside the shop does not matter. Concern was expressed on Second Reading and in Committee—and many organisations have written to me expressing their concern—about what is displayed inside shops. It would be a mistake to give the impression that we are not concerned about that aspect.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
The hon. Gentleman is showing less than his customary fairness. I made it clear that I could have moved an amendment that went that far, but I deliberately did not. My amendment deals with the requirement for the display of the notice. The protections referred to by the hon. Gentleman are inherent in the Bill, even if it does not have the warning notice provision.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
Perhaps I was being unfair to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, because he did not push his amendment that far. However, others implied that that was the consequence of his amendment. Indeed, the hon. Member for Lewisham, West suggested that it would be better if we left out what was inside shops. That seems an area of major concern.
§ Mr. Christopher Price
I should like to set the record straight. The argument is between a specific warning notice in the terms in the Bill and a general duty on the shopkeeper to adhere to the terms of the Bill without the specificity of the warning notice. That seems to be the argument at issue in the amendment tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) and myself.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
Let us confine ourselves to that point. As my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State said, surely we are better fulfilling the purposes of the Bill by giving a warning notice than relying on the proprietor or the staff in a shop preventing young people under 18 years of age from coming in and giving some form of warning about the nature of the material on display. We are concerned about what is on display inside the premises and preventing young people from coming in if there is no warning notice. It could not be done if the person in the shop were busy serving when school childern came in. He would not be able to stop them from coming in and browsing among the material. It is more practical and sensible to fulfil the objectives of the Bill by having a precisely-worded notice.
My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East has done the House a great service by raising this matter—he 1045 was ably supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby—because he pointed out that the Bill has a limited objective concerned with public display. That is all that is possible in a Private Member's Bill. However, as he pointed out, there is a more serious and different issue—the widespread availability, distribution and sale of the kind of material to which hon. Members have referred. This issue involves a careful judgment of the extent to which it is possible to put moral values and Christian standards into our legal code.
I am glad that the Minister of State, in an intervention to the hon. Member for Blyth, indicated that we can at long last expect a debate on these issues. I believe that there is a widespread feeling that the present situation is unsatisfactory. Indeed, the right hon. and learned Member for Duwich referred to the law as a jungle, and many hon. Members would agree with that view.
There may be wide disagreements between us about what should be done, but that is not the issue. We are concerned, for the reasons that I explained on Second Reading and in Committee, with a limited but worthwhile and necessary objective. There is a wider, important issue, and we are indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East for drawing attention to it, but I do not think that, within the context and philosophy of the Bill and the way in which it has been presented, defended and supported—the Bill restores the freedom to choose whether or not to look—it would be wise to support my hon. Friend's well-intentioned amendment. I am a little reassured by what the Minister of State finally said about the need to take action in the wider area. Therefore, I ask that the amendment be rejected.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
I have listened with great care to all that has been said in this interesting debate. I took account particularly of the appeal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury), who, whatever we may think about particular aspects of it, has steered the Bill through with skill and reasonableness.
I confess that I am in difficulty over my amendment. The motive behind the amendment in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) differs greatly, for honourable reasons, which I respect and understand, from my amendment. I am anxious not to frustrate this modest interim measure—that is all it is—but I was moved by the modest claim made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove.
The Bill will not have much impact without a system of licensing, a definition of indecency and enforcement. That is why it was imperative for us to know that the Government are considering legislation to deal with the larger question of definition. It took my hon. and learned Friend the Minister a little time, but his last intervention eased my mind somewhat. I did not expect the Government to consider introducing legislation next Session, but I understand that the Home Secretary is ready to consider legislation in the lifetime of this Parliament. We shall hold the Government to that.
It is, therefore, only fair to allow the Bill to have a fair wind in another place. What has been said this morning will receive a great deal of attention there. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.1046
§ Amendment proposed: No. 9, in page 1, line 18, leave out from second 'shop' to end of line 20.—[Mr. S. C. Silkin.]
§ Question, That the amendment be made, put and negatived.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 14, leave out 'public or".
The amendment reflects again the lengthy debate that we had in Committee when we discussed the exclusions in the Bill. A number of categories of display and place are altogether excluded from the provisions of the Bill, including television, broadcasting and art galleries. The wording in subsection 4(c) isdisplayed by or with the authority of, and visible only from within a building occupied by, the Crown or any public or local authority".The exclusion has a long history and derives from the 1973 Bill. It has changed its wording at various times. The justification for the exclusion is that Crown and local authority bodies are democratically elected and publicly accountable for what they do. For example, local authorities in public libraries and other municipal facilities sometimes have exhibitions which, if they were in private premises, would come under another exclusion. Health authorities come under the Government and so are Crown authorities. Therefore, exhibitions of material in connection with health—perhaps in connection venereal disease—in health authority premises are included under the crown authority exclusion. Further, as the Government are always exempt from law unless it is specifically provided to the contrary, we do not need to include the exclusions, but perhaps it makes the issue a little clearer.
We had a lengthy debate about public authorities such as the London Underground and bookstalls at railway stations in which my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) played a leading part. We concluded that, as drafted, the Bill was unsatisfactory. On further reflection it is clear that, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain by not applying the exemption to public authorities, which would include bodies as diverse as the British Steel Corporation and British Telecom. We see no reason why they should be exempt from the provisions of the Bill. I hope that the House will see fit to accept this small amendment.
§ Mr. Mikardo
What is the precise definition of "public"? The BSC is a public authority. Works canteens can be used to display pictures painted by employees. How can a distinction be drawn between displays in a BSC canteen, in a local hospital canteen, in the local borough council canteen and in the canteen of a near by privately owned company? Some are covered and some are not. Why should something be permitted in a local authority canteen and not in the BSC canteen, or vice-versa?
§ Mr. Sainsbury
The exclusion relates only to matter:displayed by or with the authority of, and visible only from within a building occupied by, the Crown or any public or local authority".Displays in canteens are not public displays, because the public are not normally admitted to them, so in both cases there is equality of treatment.
§ Mr. Mikardo
What about entrance halls and foyers, which are open to the public? How then is the distinction drawn?
§ Mr. Sainsbury
There is no need for a distinction, as we are excluding public authorities from the exclusion. Public and private authorities are being treated equally. The remaining exclusion is only for the Crown and local authorities.
§ Mr. Christopher Price
It is unusual for the promoter of the Bill to table amendments on Report. He normally keeps his remarks short.
I am concerned about London Transport. Some people at the GLC believe that London Transport premises are GLC premises. Others believe they are part of London Transport. Is the assumption that the amendment will bring London Transport back within the provisions of the Bill? If so, on what advice was the assumption made?
§ Mr. Sainsbury
I hope that my introductory remarks were brief. The amendment is in response to an undertaking in Committee, partly because we were not then able to determine to our satisfaction whether what one could see, for example, in a tube station on an escalator or on the platform, was a local or public authority matter. However, the Home Office assures me:It seems clear from the terms of the Transport (London) Act 1969 that it is the London Transport Executive, not the GLC, which is directly responsible for the London Underground system and that it is the LTE who would be regarded as the occupier of the premises concerned".One of the principal purposes of the amendment is to ensure, for example, that the premises of the London Underground are included under the provisions of the Bill.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
In Committee many hon. Members were concerned not so much about this specific point, which we realised creates difficulties, but because it is yet another example of the wide range of complexities introduced into the Bill by not confining it to the narrow purpose of cleaning up the streets of Soho but extending it to entry into buildings. The need for this distinction arose only when the question of entry to buildings, where people can go if they wish but do not have to go, was introduced. If the Bill were confined to display in the streets, this would hit against the assault upon people's susceptibilities, which cannot be avoided when everyone has a right to passage along the street.
It may be some consolation to my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) to know that if a canteen, apart from selling food, sells chocolates and other commodities, as most do, it may well be a shop and fall within the provision where, if a notice is posted in the terms described in the Bill, there is exemption for people over 18 years of age.
§ Mr. Dan Jones
I have listened attentively to the debate. I have been staggered by the number of legal objections put forward. I wonder whether that part of the community, equally as important as the legal faction, namely, our constituents, has been consulted. The constituents of Burnley, a town I am proud to represent, has always respected an old-fashioned and well-established morality. I concede that the legal points are important to the legal fraternity. Is it not equally important that those in the constituencies should be consulted?
§ Amendment agreed to.