HC Deb 01 May 1981 vol 3 cc1049-72 12.30 pm
Mr. Mayhew

I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 4, line 1, after `(1)', insert 'In England and Wales'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take the following: Government amendment No. 8,

Amendment No. 12, in page 4, line 3 leave out from `to' to 'a' in line 4.

Amendment No. 13, in page 4, line 5 leave out 'or both'.

Amendment No. 7, in page 4, line 5 leave out from `both' to end of line 7.

Amendment No. 17, in page 4, line 6 leave out from 'to' to 'a' in line 7.

Amendment No. 19, in page 4, line 7 leave out 'or both'.

Mr. Mayhew

As drafted, clause 4 provides maximum penalties, on summary conviction, of imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum—£1,000—or both, and, on conviction on indictment, of a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or a fine or both. In England and Wales, therefore, it is triable summarily in the lay magistrates' court and, where the magistrates so decide, or the accused so chooses, on indictment in the Crown court.

By section 7 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act, however, where a statute does not otherwise provide, it is competent for the lay district court to try only statutory offences with a maximum penalty limited to a fine of £200 or 60 days' imprisonment or both. Summary jurisdiction over offences of indecent display under clause 4 as it stands is therefore confined to the sheriff court.

As set out in section 380(5) of the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act 1892, section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824 and the Indecent Advertisement Act 1889, the offence of indecent display in Scotland currently carries penalties below the limit of £200 and/or 60 days, thus making it triable in the district court. Although the offence will vary in seriousness according to the nature of the material and the circumstances of its commission, it may in some cases be no more than a relatively minor public nuisance. With such cases in mind, it seems advisable to retain the option of trying the offence in the district court, in order to avoid burdening the already overloaded sheriff court unnecessarily. Moreover, in such cases, it can be argued that this is a function appropriate to the district court, the local lay nature of which may more accurately reflect the moral consensus of the community which has been offended by the display.

For those reasons we think that it is sensible to amend clause 4 by extending summary jurisdiction over the offence of indecent display in Scotland to the district court. In order to ensure that only minor cases are so tried, the penalties available in the district court should be limited to a maximum fine of £200 and/or a maximum of 60 days' imprisonment. Summary trial of the offence of indecent display before lay justices, which, as the Bill is drafted, is possible in England and Wales, will thus also be possible in Scotland. I commend the amendments to the House. I think that it would be convenient for me to ask the leave of the House later to reply to what is said on the other amendments.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

I congratulate the Minister of State on the erudition he displays in Scottish law, to add to all his other accomplishments. He read his speech extraordinarily well. The amendments to which he spoke and the one he intends to propose are formalities—I think he will agree with that—if one accepts the general proposition that the power to imprison is a necessary part of the Bill and of the offence.

I hope in due course to move amendment No. 12 which is directed to the fundamental question whether in such a Bill it is necessary to have imprisonment, especially within the powers of a court of summary jurisdiction. I appreciate that a number of amendments have been tabled which seek to do various things, but I am considering that which seeks to remove the power of a court of summary jurisdiction to impose imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months but which leaves the fine. If that amendment were carried there would still remain the power, in the more serious type of offence or repeated offence, to move to subsection (1)(b) which enables a person to be tried on indictment. In that case, imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years is available. There is a separate amendment seeking to remove that power.

In considering amendment No. 12, I am proceeding on the assumption that in that respect the Bill will not be altered. I am suggesting that in relation to this offence it is unnecessary to make the change—indeed that such a move would be contrary to the expressed view of the Home Secretary, the Lord Chief Justice and other people who are much concerned with the prison population, the overcrowding and the results that flow from that. Recently in newspapers we have had further drastic confirmation of the results of unnecessarily adding to the possibility of sentencing people to imprisonment.

My amendment would remove from a summary court the power to sentence to a term of imprisonment and would leave it with the not unsubstantial penalty available to fine up to the statutory maximum of £1,000—a considerable fine. We must consider the issue against that background. We are not dealing with the sale, publication or distribution of obscene publications or articles because they are dealt with, as I have already pointed out, in other legislation, which is given effect to both by the powers of seizure and condemnation and by the powers to prosecute for an offence.

The matter is also dealt with in the Customs legislation relating to the entry into this country of indecent material. Therefore, there are wide powers to deal with the more serious types of offence, the hard porn and so on, so long as it is considered necessary to have those powers. They are on the statute book today.

What we are dealing with is something less than that, that which is not obscene but indecent. We are dealing simply with the display of that which is indecent, in the streets or within buildings. That is a much narrower and more limited type of offence, as I pointed out in our long debate earlier.

I am not disputing the value of the Bill, but I pick up the words used by the Minister in his speech on the first group of amendments, the main group, when he pointed out that we were dealing with an environmental matter—indeed, the kind of matter that might well be dealt with not by the criminal law but easily, with sufficient planning powers, by planning legislation. It was interesting that when the hon. and learned Gentleman spoke about the possible future intention of the Home Secretary with regard to the licensing of sex shops it was in that very context of planning legislation that he was talking, rather than in the context of the criminal law.

That is how we are considering the question of indecent displays. Again and again the Minister has emphasised that. I entirely agree that we are concerned with people's susceptibilities being upset by what they see in public, whether in the streets or, as the Bill stands, in the shops that they have to go into, in exactly the same way as people's susceptibilities are upset by seeing other kinds of serious contraventions of what they regard as suitable and appropriate to their neighbourhood. The lamer problems are dealt with by legislation that does not have the backing of the criminal law.

Why, then, are we even giving the power to a court of summary jurisdiction to sentence people to imprisonment for this offence? Why are we, by doing that, encouraging courts of summary jurisdiction to say "This is an offence that Parliament thought sufficiently grave, even perhaps on a first offence, to send someone to prison for a breach of the law"? I can see no reason for that. I do not think that it is necessary for a deterrent, because the deterrents are adequate. It does not conform with the way in which Parliament recently dealt with the same type of matter in other legislation, where, in Committee, the power to imprison for an offence of similar gravity was removed. It does not conform with the philosophy of the Home Secretary and the Lord Chief Justice in seeking to persuade the courts not to send people to prison unnecessarily.

I am aware that we dealt with the matter in Committee, but it is of such importance that we should deal with it in the House. It should be on record as having been dealt with here, so that whatever happens here can be looked at in another place in due course. In those circumstances, it is my intention, after we have dealt with the preceding amendment, formally to move this amendment.

12.45 pm
Mr. Dan Jones

We are given to understand that a lot of money is to be made in this illicit and, to me, very dangerous practice. Is it possible—I ask the question; I am not trying to answer it—that if that money were available and my right hon. and learned Friend's recommendations were carried out, people could escape their responsibilities by breaking the law?

Mr. Silkin

My hon. Friend raises a perfectly valid point. I take his point to be that there may be a person who breaks the law and continues to break it day by day because it is worth while his paying out fines, even of £1,000. The answer is that as the Bill stands, if the amendment that I am now proposing to move were carried, there would remain the provisions in subsection 1(b) enabling such a person to be tried on indictment, and there the fine would be unlimited. In addition to that, there would be, in the last resort, the possibility of imprisonment for a term of up to two years.

But when we come to the sort of offence that might possibly be committed by the owner of the kind of shop about which we have been talking so often, the corner shop, I ask whether it is necessary to have in the background this heavy power of imprisonment available to a court of summary jurisdiction? My answer is "No."

Mr. Dan Jones

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Christopher Price

The inclusion in a Bill of this kind of such a provision for imprisonment is the sort of thing that sometimes brings about the danger of a perfectly worthwhile Private Member's Bill getting lost. I earnestly appeal to the sponsor to take on board the seriousness with which some of us view this amendment. I have put down other amendments, Nos. 17 and 19, which would remove imprisonment on being convicted on indictment from superior courts as well as from summary jurisdiction. I very much hope that these amendments are called and that the House is able to decide on these matters.

The report of the prison department which WEB issued yesterday is highly relevant to the introduction of new legislation with extra requirements for imprisoning more people. We in this House cannot for ever go on behaving in this hypocritical manner, saying, on the one hand, that we wish to reduce the prison population and, with our other legislative hand, raising it time and again. I do not see the sponsor bobbing up and down, as he was doing on the previous amendment, ready to concede. But I very much hope that on this amendment he takes these arguments seriously, because it is 10 minutes to 1 o'clock now and it would be nice to have some indication that these arguments were to be taken seriously and that some concession could be given on this point.

I now respond to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Jones) in his recent intervention. I appreciate its validity. However, if there are prosecutions under the Bill, I am sure that the vast number will be against innocent small shopkeepers for whom imprisonment would be ludicrous. If prosecutions are against owners of Soho bookstalls, my hon. Friend feels that imprisonment might be the appropriate penalty. I can only tell him that in all too many cases the real criminals never go to gaol. In Soho, especially, someone is nearly always put up to go to gaol, and that is made very much more easy by clause 3, which refers to "a body corporate". Often shell companies own the sex bookshops, and it is difficult to find any of the directors of the companies. The directors with the money and the control more often than not are in the Channel Islands or somewhere else outside the jurisdiction of our courts.

The clause goes on to say that where it is proved that the offence occurred with the consent or connivance of, or was attributable to any neglect on the part of, any director, manager, secretary or other officer of the body", both he and the company are guilty. The object is to get someone to prison, assuming that it is possible to get to the end of the road. However, I can assure my hon. Friend that the people who own these bookshops are extremely well to do. They can afford expensive lawyers such as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin), although I am sure that he has never taken on such a brief in his career. I mean that they can afford the sort of scale of fees that it is now my right hon. and learned Friend's custom, in his great eminence, to charge.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

My fees are moderate.

Mr. Price

I am quite sure that they could afford to brief half a dozen lawyers of the calibre of the Minister, when he is relieved of his office and is back practising at the Bar, assuming that they want him to defend them.

Mr. Silkin

I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that I have never represented such a person.

Mr. Price

I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend would not accept that sort of work. However, it always amazes me when I see the sorts of people whom our legal friends are willing to represent in their legal careers from time to time. But I am also sure that the Minister has been represented any such interest and, in any event, I have no intention of pressing him on the matter.

I was trying to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley that even if it was possible to imprison such people, in the end the persons imprisoned would be some poor, unfortunate so-called company secretaries who did not know what they were doing, and not the persons whom I know my hon. Friend would like to imprison.

Mr. Dan Jones

Time is not on my side.

Mr. Price

Nor, I suspect, on the side of any of us at the moment.

Even on indictment and even beyond summary jurisdiction, I do not think that there is any point in imprisonment. If people are known to be making very large sums of money, I believe that the proper way for the courts to deal with the trade is, in effect, to tax them—to fine them very heavily and, if necessary, repeatedly.

It has been said again and again that this Bill is intended only to control indecent displays. It is a very limited Bill. There are other elements of legislation, especially that dealing with obscene publications, where very heavy fnes are available and where, if necessary, it is possible both to fine and to imprison offenders.

We want the Bill and I want a concession from the Government. The Government have a greater influence over the promoter on legal matters than on other drafting problems. I know that when it is 12.55 pm and we are discussing a Bill which must be fully considered by 2.30 pm, I am in a strong position.

The concession that I want is particularly proper the day after a unique report on the work of the prison department was issued by the director-general of the department, who has written in terms which no such director-general has written before in any report.

Paragraph 11 of the report states: No substantial relief from the problem of overcrowding through the provision of additional accommodation is in sight. The director-general discusses prisons falling down and states: The existing estate is suffering from years of neglect and problems of maintenance exacerbated by overcrowding, shortage of works staff and tradesmen. Indeed, the maintenance—sometimes the shoring up—of worn-out building is one of our greatest problems. We have to run ever faster in order to stand still, to keep pace with the rate of decay. That is what is happening to Britain's prisons. it is described not by a sensational newspaper or the Sunday Times "Insight" column but by a civil servant presenting a report to Parliament.

The report goes on: At present we have not arrested the rate of decay. It is sometimes suggested that the new prisons we are planning would not be needed if the prison population fell; that argument is based on a fallacy that existing buildings are adequate". The director-general quotes the all-party group which said: We cannot overstate the seriousness with which we view the present situation in our prisons; it is an affront to human dignity, contains real dangers for the lives and well-being of both staff and prisoners and detracts from the world-wide reputation of British justice. The director-general quotes that with approbation and says that it is an illustration of the growing public realisation of the implications of the burden of excessive prison populations.

He continues: Coupled with this realisation has been an increasing acceptance that the chronic overcrowding crisis in our prisons constitutes a threat to the criminal justice system as a whole and that a reduction in the prison population is not only desirable but essential. If I wished to initiate a classic filibuster I could read many more of the director-general's remarks. For the first time the senior civil servant responsible for prisons, in a report to Parliament, is telling the House that there is an imminent crisis in the prisons. Many people have been saying that for some time. There is a seething crisis which could blow up like Brixton, yet the Home Offfice is sanctioning and agreeing with a Private Member's Bill which will increase the number of offences punishable by imprisonment.

What are those offences? The whole burden of the speech of the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) was that this is a limited Bill. It is a Bill which deals with the environment. It does not seek to cover the whole Williams committee area or the whole range of obscene publications. It is an extremely limited Bill to deal with a particular subject. I entirely agree. That is what it is and what it has properly been fashioned into on Second Reading and in Committee.

1 pm

Yet when we come to the penalty provisions we find sentences of six months on summary conviction and two years on indictment. Why? Surely if we wish to treat this as a limited, environmental Bill, that should be recognised in the penalties. To the extent that the promoter is influenced by the Minister of State, whom I regard as the chief influence in this matter, one must ask why the Home Office consistently talks with about six heads and six voices in these matters.

We are told that the Home Office wishes to reduce the prison population. Yet it effectively seeks to increase that population by advising the promoter to retain the penalty of imprisonment in the Bill. The prison officers recently forced the Home Office to reduce the prison population by their industrial action and nothing very terrible seems to have happened as a result. Yet those on the criminal side of the Home Office, which I do not regard as the sharper, more humane or even more enlightened side of that greater Department of State, persuade the promoter to stick in the same old penalty of on summary conviction … imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months … or … on conviction on indictment … imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years". I know the argument that the Minister will advance, so I hope that he will not come out with it, as it were, raw. He will say that imprisonment will not be used, that he does not envisage it being used in any but the most exceptional cases, that the courts will normally rely on fines but that they must have a longstop or a backstop for really serious cases. They already have that. There are plenty of laws relating to obscene publications and so forth under which such cases may be dealt with.

The real danger is that in areas where magistrates are not familiar with the rules and tariffs, as it were, in some area such as Ashby-de-la-Zouch, a little tobacconist will be shoved into gaol, which was not at all what Parliament intended, and there will be a national outcry.

One way to achieve a reasonable degree of uniformity in the operation of the legislation is to exclude imprisonment. We are honoured with the presence of two Ministers today. I should have thought that the first of May would be a very good day to bring in new resolutions. It would be a wonderful day for the Home Office to turn over a new leaf and to make a good new resolution to the effect that we should not advise any legislation to be enacted that includes a term of imprisonment unless we are convinced that it is necessary. With not only two Ministers, but rows of functionaries witnessing us, the Home Office could make a concession that would enable the Bill to go on its way nice and smoothly. I am sure that the Bill's promoter does not feel terribly strongly one way or the other about imprisonment on summary conviction. If a concession were made, the Bill would go to the House of Lords in better shape.

Dr. Summerskill

The main purpose of amendment No. 7 is to ensure that the offence mentioned in the Bill is treated as a non-custodial offence. I fully support the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price).

A few weeks ago the House did not oppose a Ten-Minute Bill that sought to make prostitution a non-custodial offence. There is not only a crisis in our prisons but a general feeling among those who work with offenders and among those who have anything to do with criminal law that we should try to keep people out of prison. It is felt that if they have to go to prison sentences should be shorter. Such views have been expressed by the Home Secretary, the Lord Chief Justice and several eminent judges as well as by report after report from those who work in the prison service and with offenders. The Home Office has now produced a report.

This legislation is new. There is no reason for saying that we are decustodialising an existing offence. We are creating an offence in a new Bill. We could start to think in terms of larger fines instead of imprisonment. This type of offence should be dealt with by means of fines. I believe that the maximum fine should be greater than £1,000, but that is not mentioned in the amendment.

On 8 March 1981, The Observer quoted a Soho pornographer—I do not know how he came by the title—as saying "Fine us £1,000 a day and we might begin to feel the pinch." In Committee, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) suggested a daily fine. Those involved have a great deal of money. Some are tax exiles because they have too much money.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

My hon. Friend will recall that I moved an amendment in Committee, but it was slapped down by the Establishment view of the Home Office.

Dr. Summerskill

Some of those involved have too much money and have to flee the country in order to keep it. Lower down the scale are small newsagents. This morning, I received a letter from Grosvenor Public Relations Ltd. Other hon. Members may have received the same letter. It was sent on behalf of the publishers of adult magazines. It pointed out that indecent displays carry a severe financial penalty. It may be severe for some, but not for others. It says: Small newsagents represent a trade which is particularly hard pressed at the moment and adult magazines provide a major proportion of their income". That is a revelation to me. I did not know that adult magazines provided a major proportion of the income of small newsagents. So they will be affected financially if the Bill is enforced in the way that we hope. Fines will hit the small newsagents. In my opinion, they should be used as sparingly as possible.

My amendment seeks to do away with two years as a maximum term of imprisonment. It would leave only summary conviction, which does not exceed six months. If my amendment fails, I shall support amendment No. 12, standing in my name and that of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich and others, which seeks to leave out imprisonment altogether on summary conviction.

It is now the established official Opposition view that, wherever possible, offenders should not be sent to prison if that can be avoided. Research has shown again and again that imprisonment does not prevent recidivism, and that long-term imprisonment is useless. Any effect that imprisonment has occurs in the first month.

In the existing law, which has been totally ineffective concerning indecent displays, the penalties have not proved a deterrent. They include the possibility of imprisonment, so it cannot be claimed that the present penalties are effective enough. Imprisonment under the new law will not be a deterrent, nor will it be effective. There are few prosecutions under existing law, not because of the penalties or lack of them but because of other factors. We come back to the vagueness of the law, and the fact that no one knows what it is or what it means. Prosecutions are simply not taking place. We do not get as far as consideration of penalties because people are not being prosecuted.

In introducing new legislation with new penalties, we must study the matter in the context of the serious prison crisis and the fact that the Home Secretary himself is urging the courts to keep people out of prison. Presumably, therefore, he would also urge Parliament to do likewise in legislation.

Mr. Sainsbury

Subject to anything that we may decide about the second group of amendments affecting England, Scotland and Wales, I commend the amendments which affect Scotland moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Minister.

Secondly, I appreciate the seriousness of the issues that have been raised by hon. Members.

I agree that we should minimise the occasions on which people should be sent to prison. The best way to do that, of course, is to prevent the crimes which require that deterrent. I also accept that it is sensible to equip ourselves with a range of alternatives to prison—perhaps a rather wider range of alternatives than we have at present—to achieve better the objective of minimising our prison population. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides will recognise that on this matter, as on others, a balance has to be struck, taking into account the fact that penalties in the Bill are alternatives which are the maximum sentence that can be imposed. Incidentally, they are the same penalties as were in the Bill debated on Second Reading. They were not changed in Committee.

1.15 pm

There are problems associated with this offence which are a little different from other offences which appear to be of similar gravity. The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) rightly pointed out that this is a limited Bill, but we have the problem of persistent offenders. The hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) referred to a report of one such case and of a fine of £1,000 a day being necessary as a real deterrent in view of the profits that people are able to make.

We must recognise that criminal elements are undoubtedly involved in the pornography trade and the operation of some of the least satisfactory premises which would be subject to the provisions of this legislation. We know about the size of profits. Indeed, there has been strong criticism of the inadequacy of penalties in existing legislation, and comments have been made during the various stages of the Bill about the major defect of the inadequacy of penalties within it.

Mr. Christopher Price

I do not know whether the pornography trade, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, was the one with which he was having discussions a few weeks ago. There are various categories of people in the trade, some of whom are criminal. But in view of the report on the prisons, which was not available on Second Reading—the crisis has become even more grave since then—would not the right technique be to take out the summary imprisonment provisions now, in the hope that the other place will have another look at the question of fines and with some confidence that for persistent offenders the level of fines appropriate to deal with the £1,000 a day problem referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) might be sorted out.

Mr. Sainsbury

I have sympathy with that point. Whatever we do or do not say, I am sure that the other place, which has many expert lawyers among its members, will look carefully at these provisions.

I understand that the maximum fine on summary conviction is £1,000—I think that is right. If so, there will be a problem if we limit proceedings under the Bill to summary trial, because the maximum fine would remain at £1,000. That is a weakness in the amendment to which the hon. Member for Halifax spoke. We must keep trial on indictment, ignoring the issue of imprisonment, because otherwise there will be no opportunity for imposing the size of fines that the hon. Member for Lewisham, West suggested would be necessary for persistent offenders under this legislation.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

I feel it only fair to give the hon. Gentleman a warning. I am principally concerned with amendment No. 12. It is our intention to press that amendment to a Division if we do not get any assurance from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Sainsbury

I was proposing later to deal with amendment No. 12. In the light of what was said by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West, it would seem necessary to preserve trial on indictment, leaving aside imprisonment, because only in that way could we impose fines of the kind that the House agrees would be appropriate for certain offences under this legislation.

The point about imprisonment comes up at two levels—first, on summary trial and, secondly, on trial by indictment. To deal with them in the reverse order, if we are concerned with an offence that can involve persistent offenders making large profits, even the opportunity for courts to impose large fines is not sufficient reason for taking away the ultimate deterrent in the most serious cases.

Imprisonment is appropriate for a persistent offender. In some cases, there may be difficulty in enforcing fines. It may be difficult to get behind the screen—and the case of an unfortunate company secretary was referred to—to the people who derive the profits from the trade in pornography. It may be difficult to get at them in order to get fines of sufficient size paid. It is, therefore, right to keep at least at that level the ultimate deterrent of imprisonment.

However, I am receptive to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's arguments about whether it is right to retain the power to imprison for summary conviction. He has put forward a strong case why it should not be necessary at that level. I do not wish to criticise magistrates where it was suggested that they may reach unexpected decisions, but as long as we preserve the power of imprisonment upon trial and conviction on indictment, so that there is full scope to deal wth the most serious and persistent offenders, there is a strong case for taking away the power of imprisonment and leaving a maximum fine of £1,000 at the lower level. I am sympathetic to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's arguments on amendment No. 12.

I shall listen with interest to what my hon. and learned Friend has to say. Perhaps we should leave the point to be reflected upon and to be considered in another place.

Mr. James A. Dunn

The hon. Gentleman would be wise to reach an accommodation on the amendment before the Minister gives advice. If the Minister, for an adequate and good official reason, advises against the amendment, the further proceedings of the Bill may be in severe jeopardy, which I want to avoid at all costs. If later advice is not to accept the amendment, the matter can be changed in another place, but let us pass the amendment here.

Mr. Sainsbury

I am sympathetic to what the hon. Gentleman says, but, bearing in mind the Minister's responsibilities for the administration of justice and the penalties involved, it would be rash to jump to a conclusion without hearing him. However, there is a powerful case for removing imprisonment on summary trial, as long as we keep it on trial by indictment.

Mr. Mayhew

It has been an interesting debate, which will no doubt continue, but it may be helpful if I state now how the Government view the difficult question of the appropriate maximum sanctions for any offence created by new legislation and what the nature of those sanctions should be.

I agree that we must have regard to the persistent offender. We are dealing, as is acknowledged by both sides of the House, with very big business. Some who are engaged in this business regard the fines available to magistrates' courts as a form of VAT to be written off against expenses while they continue in business. One needs to have regard to that situation when considering whether to keep available trial by jury on indictment. Nothing would cause this House to be brought into greater contempt than for hon. Members to go through all these hoops but to allow the prosecuting authorities to secure no greater sanction than a fine of £1,000. That would be laughed off.

One has to preserve the option of trial on indictment for offences under this Bill which are of a more serious character. Persistent and deliberate repetition must fall within that category. It is a flouting of the law and the will of Parliament if people simply say that they are content to go on being prosecuted and paying the fine. An individual engaged in this business in a big way might adopt that approach. It seems eminently reasonable that the court should have available the maximum penalties that are prescribed in the Bill for conviction on indictment.

I listened with great care to the remarks of the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) not only because of his great experience in these matters as a former Law Officer but because of the care that he took throughout the Committee proceedings on the Bill. I do not think that it avails the right hon. and learned Gentleman to say that we are discussing an environmental matter and that imprisonment is in no circumstances suitable or appropriate for an offence of this kind. We are dealing with a Bill that approaches the matter in an environmental way. We are dealing with a Bill that says it is wrong that people should have this material thrust before them. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will know that in some instances planning law and environmental law contain the sanction of imprisonment in the case of a breach.

All hon. Members have read reports of the case earlier this year in which listed buildings were destroyed deliberately and without permission in order to overcome the need for spending a large amount of money on restoring them. The relevant statute provided on summary conviction for a fine of £1,000 or three months' imprisonment and, on indictment, for 12 months' imprisonment together with a fine which, I think, was unlimited. Even in planning law, there is the sanction of imprisonment in certain instances for breach.

I approach the issues raised by the amendments and by the speech of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) in that way. The hon. Gentleman founded his speech upon the overcrowding in the prisons. I agree with every word that he used to describe the gravity of the situation. It has been described in the prison department report in terms that have not previously been employed. It is right that all proper and practicable steps should be taken to reduce the prison population to an extent that is compatible with maintaining the safety of the public. However, it does not follow that any new offence should carry only the sanction of a fine and not the sanction of imprisonment.

We ask that those who are responsible for sentencing should ask themselves whether a custodial sentence is necessary before proceeding to pass one, and in the vast majority of cases that practice is already followed. However, it is proper for Parliament to ask whether there is a need for the possibility of a custodial sentence when it creates a new offence.

For the reasons that I have given, I am sure not only that there should be the right of the possibility of trial on indictment for serious offences, but that in such circumstances there should be the power of imprisonment. Magistrates can be trusted in summary trials not to impose imprisonment except where it is proper to do so, and there is an appeal structure to put right cases in which magistrates may have gone wrong.

In the cases that we are considering the House may think it proper to think carefully about whether magistrates necessarily need to have the power of imprisonment. As long as serious cases can be dealt with, where the court thinks fit, by means of a sentence of imprisonment, I do not believe that the Bill's impact would be seriously diminished if the power of magistrates were limited to fining offenders. If that assists my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) in determining how to respond to at least one of the amendments, I am glad.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No 12, in page 4, line 3, leave out from `to' to `a' in line 4.

No. 13, in page 4, line 5, leave out 'or both'.—[Mr. C. S. Silkin.]

No. 8, in page 4, line 7, at end insert— '(IA) In Scotland, any person guilty of an offence under this Act shall be liable—

  1. (a) on summary conviction—
    1. (i) in the district court, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 60 days or a fine not exceeding £200 or both;
    2. (ii) in the sheriff court, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both; or
  2. (b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or a fine or both. '.—[Mr. Mayhew.]

1.34 pm
Mr. Sainsbury

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I should like to express my thanks publicly to all who have assisted me in the preparation and progress of the Bill, including you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at an earlier stage in our proceedings. It has been a privilege to have support from so many quarters in the House, together with a great deal of support and encouragement from outside organisations and a massive mail, more than 99 per cent. of which has been in favour of the legislation.

As I have pointed out, the Bill is a relatively modest measure. However, it is necessary and useful. Its objective is clear—to remove indecent material from public display and, by so doing, to restore to people their freedom to choose whether to look at such material.

It has come out as clearly in our proceedings today as it did on Second Reading and in Committee that the Bill does not seek to deal with a more serious and perplexing problem—that of the availability of hard pornography. I hope that as a result of what has been said on Report that the House will shortly turn its attention to the serious and worrying problem. There is a strong feeling on both sides of the House that the present law is profoundly unsatisfactory. I hope that we can make early progress on that.

The Bill is concerned with public nuisance rather than private behaviour. Whether we look on it as a worthwhile measure of protection for the family or upholding, albeit in a small way, Christian moral standards which have been neglected in the country and in the House for rather too long or as prohibiting a public nuisance, I commend the Bill as a worthwhile though modest step towards improving the environment of our public places and providing protection to our citizens from indecent, obscene and at times filthy material which they do not wish to see.

1.37 pm
Mr. Ron Lewis

I join in congratulating you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on presiding over the Third Reading of this measure. As has already been said, you were one of the original sponsors.

I congratulate the hon. Member of Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) on his initiative, when he came first in the Ballot when there were clamours for Bills of all kinds. He was wise to tread quietly and slowly along the path he has been travelling with his Bill. I offer him my congratulations.

Within the last two weeks in my constituency a sex shop has opened. I have been inundated with correspondence from all over Carlisle from both men and women voicing strong opposition to the opening of that shop. Although I refrained from speaking to the amendments, I was pleased to hear the Minister speak about the consultations with the Department of the Environment to see whether it could help. I telephoned the Department of the Environment and the Carlisle civic centre to see what help they could give in trying to stop this shop going ahead. I was advised that they could do nothing. The only control they have is over outside advertising. I am assured that they will do everything that they can about the advertising on the walls.

I received a deputation just two weeks ago from men and women genuinely concerned about the shop. The sex shop has opened close to a public convenience. The greatest concern that many of my constituents have is that they are worried about the possibility that young people might buy pornographic publications and go into the toilets where they might be confronted by homosexuals. That is a genuine concern in Carlisle.

I am glad that the Bill, even though it is a modest measure as we have all said, is a step in the right direction. As the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) said, I too would like to see the Bill go further. However, we must proceed a step at a time and this measure will bring a small ray of comfort to men and women throughout the country who are opposed to the spread of the disease that has grown in our society over the past few years. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hove.

1.40 pm
Mrs. Sheila Faith (Belper)

When I was canvassing before the general election of May 1979, I found that many aspects of British life were causing deep concern. The new Conservative Government promised to restore the economy, protect our freedom and restore law and order. However, there was also an unspoken but strong feeling that measures should be taken by the new Government to improve the country's moral climate.

Because of public anxiety over the increase in pornographic literature, the number of blue films, and offensive material on television, the previous Government had set up a committee under the chairmanship of Professor Bernard Williams to look into matters relating to obscenity. After sitting for two and a half years, the committee published a report in November 1979. That important report has never been fully debated in the House. Although we may not all be fully in agreement with some of its findings, the majority of people welcome the report and agree that if its recommendations were accepted and efficiently applied that would lead to a dramatic decline in the nation's consumption of pornography.

Many people, particularly Professor Court, still correlate the increase in violence and sexual crimes with the dissemination of pornographic films and literature. I am inclined to agree with Professor Court, although that idea was refuted by the Williams report. However, most people would agree that the committee was correct in suggesting that the display of indecent material should be controlled and that there should be a law to ensure the imposition of heavy penalties on those who display pornographic and indecent pictures for sale to minors under the age of 18.

As I have said, as well as being elected to restore prosperity and protect freedom, the present Government were elected to restore the moral and intellectual climate of this country and ensure a wholesome and healthy environment. It was thought that a Conservative Government would take any action that was shown to be necessary to deal with pornographic material, particularly when that concerned the protection of children and young people. Many of us were disappointed that the Government did not introduce legislation immediately, but we all approve of the fact that they have given a warm welcome to the Bill, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury). I am glad that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State has said that he will consider further legislation.

I had the privilege of serving on the Standing Committee that considered the Bill. Doing so was rather a balm to the soul, for Members of all political persuasions agreed that the Bill was admirable. The only controversy was over how we should facilitate its progress and make it practical in application. I believe that the Committee succeeded, and that, after the Bill becomes law, when people go to buy a newspaper or magazine, or our children go to buy their comics or sweets, they will not be shocked or disgusted—or even, in the case of children, emotionally harmed—by having porn thrust at them.

I do not believe that the restrictions in the Bill will cause an inflation in demand and make indecent publications more interesting and attractive. In fact, I believe that most ordinary citizens will hesitate before entering a restricted area if it should prove necessary to do so in order to buy soft or hard porn, and that fewer casual purchasers will buy such magazines. When these publications are freely available a small number of people discover by accident an unhealthy taste for soft porn, and they may even become addicted. Indeed, the younger and more impressionable mind may more easily become addicted and may progress, as with drugs, from soft porn to the even more decadent and harder variety, which, even if it does not influence him to commit sexual crimes, will certainly contribute to the cheapening and lowering of the status of women in his mind and affect his relationships with the opposite sex, and may even diminish his chances of a happy marriage.

We do not give up doing something worth while because it is difficult. People have suggested that we should not proceed with the Bill because it may be difficult to interpret. But I think that most newsagents will take note of the Bill and understand that by passing it the House has indicated how the country wishes them to operate in this area. The vast majority will accept these limited restrictions.

I expressed my own worries on Second Reading about the possible difficulty in interpreting words, but I believe that the courts will be able to interpret the spirit of the Bill, and I do not think that when these provisions become law they will be constantly flouted.

We all feel a great debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Hove for his having brought this matter forward. We would all like to congratulate him. Many hon. Members have already done so. We congratulate him on the admirable way in which he has steered the Bill through all its stages. I should like him to know that I have received many messages from many of my constituents asking me to support him.

The Bill is modest. It cannot offend those with excessively libertarian views, and I hope that this is a first step towards further improvements in the law. As well as restricting the sale of offensive literature, I hope that this will also help to stop the pollution and degeneration of many areas of our cities where sex leers at us from all sides, making walking through certain areas an uncomfortable and embarrassing experience. I trust that this will not be the end of the story. I understand that the Home Secretary has asked his officials to formulate plans to licence the setting up of sex shops, and I welcome that.

If Members of Parliament were able to watch more television, perhaps they would understand their constituents' concern at the excessive presentation of sex, violence and nudity which repels so many people. Earlier this week I was able to watch television, and I saw a programme which was about film-making in the 1930's, in which older actors and actresses spoke about how carefully bedroom and love-making scenes were monitored in those days so that they would not cause offence. How I wish that we could return to those days of innocent films, when we could have confidence in allowing our youngsters to go to a cinema.

The existing film censorship is patently inadequate. Therefore, I should like the House to have the opportunity of debating the whole of the Williams report, and particularly the proposals for categorising films. I believe that we should follow the suggestion that the grading should be made clear to the general public.

Other hon. Members have said that it is a pity that the Williams report is not to be debated in this Chamber. I hope that it is not to be another neglected report. If a document as valuable is neglected by the Government and it is left to a private Member to implement one of its most valuable recommendations, it becomes obvious that committees set up by the Government are not being properly utilised, and those who sacrifice their time to serve on such bodies may feel very disillusioned.

In a letter to The Times recently, Lord Vaizey said that reports should always have an opportunity to be debated, and he thought that the way of doing that was that they should have as an appendix a draft statute for legislation, and that once legislation had been drafted there would be very little difficulty in obtaining a debate in the House of Lords. That would certainly be preferable to the present situation, in which reports lie gathering dust.

I am sure that the House will agree to this Third Reading. The vast majority of people in this country are turning away from the permissive society, the permissive society which was very much all the rage in the 1960s and 1970s, and are in agreement with the provisions of this very mild and proper legislation. In passing this measure, Parliament will be swinging gently with the pendulum of opinion in Britain.

1.48 pm
Mr. S. C. Silkin

The House has just listened to a very sincere speech. I cannot say that I agree with every word of it, but the hon. Member for Belper (Mrs. Faith) made two points with which I agree. The first was that the House ought to have an early opportunity of debating the Williams report—indeed, it ought to have had that opportunity before it had to deal with legislation of this kind. I say that without any offence to the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury). The second matter on which I agree with the hon. Lady is in her congratulations to the hon. Gentleman on having got this far with the Bill. I hope that he will get it all the way through Parliament.

The hon. Gentleman described his Bill as relatively modest. I think that in doing so he was being relatively modest. It is an important Bill. I have made no secret of my belief that it goes too far before we have dealt with the Williams committee report as a whole. I would have preferred the Bill to deal only with the street offence part of what concerns us in the Bill and left what happens inside buildings until a later stage. However, I did not want to hold up matters on Report by dwelling upon that, because it might have involved very long debates.

I hope that the hon. Member for Hove will appreciate that, as I, in turn, appreciate the flexibility that he has shown over some matters, perhaps a little at the last moment, which has enabled a very important principle to be written into the Bill whereby we do not include provisions for imprisonment unless they are absolutely necessary. I hope that that will be a precedent for the Government, especially for the Home Office, whose representatives were listening while that was taking place, and that in future we will not automatically put sentences of imprisonment on summary conviction into Bills which do not need them.

1.52 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Huddersfield, West)

I add my own congratulations to those offered already to my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury). This is a very important Bill, and I am sure that my hon. Friend was being modest when he described it otherwise. Today, with all-party support, we are seeing his measure on its way to the statute book.

There is no doubt that the Bill seeks to protect our country and its character not only from within but from without. People visiting the country are appalled by what we allow to happen in our cities and towns, especially all over London, with saunas, massage parlours, sex shops, theatres and cinemas and bookshops. There is no end to what families, especially families with young children, are subjected to.

Hon. Members will know of my child pornography campaign and will realise that children seeing displays of this kind can be corrupted, can seek older children to gain access to this material and, if they are corrupted, can gradually be procured for child pornography, which is quite disgusting. For that reason, I believe that the Bill is even more important than for the reasons to which my hon. Friend referred and that today we are on the threshold of cleaning the mind of the country a little.

However, I hope very much that with such legislation on the statute book, our Law Officers will not put the wrong interpretation on it. Either we bring Acts of Parliament into being and implement them, or we repeal them. I have been very disturbed over recent weeks to think that we have machinery of this sort and that it is not being used. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Hove that this is a splendid effort and that I am sure that the country will support him. However, one or two hon. Members in the Chamber at present may like to keep a watchful eye on the interpretation which Law Officers put on the legislation that we provide for their use. If we have a law such as this, we must see that it is used to its full advantage.

I shall not delay the House any further, because I want to see the Bill receive a Third Reading.

1.54 pm
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I wish the Bill well in its remaining proceedings in another place, and I express my appreciation to the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury), who has pursued it so assiduously through its Committee stage, in which I was glad to be able to support him.

There are two issues concerning the House which are related but are different, and the Bill deals with only one problem. There is the offence caused by the display of obscene materials in our streets and newsagents' shops in places where they give offence and can be a source of corrupton to children. There is the other much wider problem of what the general law on obscenity and pornography should be to which this House will have to turn its attention again.

It is no criticism of the Bill that it does not attempt to tackle the major, complex and controversial problems of the law on pornography and obscenity. I say that particularly because the hon. Member for Hove has been subjected to some unfair criticism from people outside the House who do not realise how difficult it is to pilot through a Private Member's Bill. It is not sufficiently widely recognised that such a Bill will not succeed unless it commands very wide support and contains little that is the subject of disagreement. That must have guided the promoter when deciding the scope of his Bill. I disagree with some of the criticisms from outside the House about the limited nature of the Bill. A Private Member's Bill is not adequate to deal with the whole and general law on obscenity which will remain unchanged by the Bill. The Bill does not limit that law.

I also refute the criticisms that suggest that by requiring warning notices we shall weaken the existing obscenity law which will still apply in any part of any premises.

The Private Member's Bill procedure has been used rightly for the limited object of removing some very offensive material from the streets of our cities and some corrupting material from shop windows even in smaller towns. The wider questions require Government legislation. The Government must turn their attention to that. I welcome the reform in the Bill.

1.56 pm
Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

About 11 years ago I was the first Back Bencher to introduce a Ten-Minute Bill which sought to do what this Bill does. I rise because I wish that I were my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) and could claim the Bill as mine. I also wish to congratulate him on winning the top slot in the ballot for Private Member's Bills and on his skill and ability in piloting the Bill through its Second Reading, Committee, Report stage and Third Reading. We all appreciate his great knowledge of the subject and the sensitive way that he has treated a complex and difficult matter.

Some hon. Members have suggested that even now the time is not ripe for legislation on indecent displays. They suggest that there is a certain equivocation in the country about obscenity and the type of magazines that have polluted too many newsagents for too long.

I wonder where the doubts spring from. When I introduced my Bill 11 years ago I did so because of public pressure and because of my personal dislike of indecent displays. I have seen and read nothing since that has persuaded me that the public have changed their minds and now wish such displays to continue. Indeed, the public feel as strongly about them as ever.

They have wondered, when our nation is beset by the dregs of a permissive society, a lack of moral values, sexual assaults and a 400 per cent. increase in rape in the last 20 years—when we have wrung our hands in despair and asked what is the cause—why nobody has felt that a law is required to remove that which might be described as the sexual arousal industry.

When the Bill becomes an Act and when shop windows which euphemistically state that "sexual aids" are provided, are no longer allowed, when the rows of magazines have disappeared into other parts of the shops, when the life-size posters are no longer outside cinemas and when we cease to allow the propaganda of sex as a physical activity pure and simple, and often muddled with sado-masochism, we shall have taken a step towards a new morality. We shall have taken a step towards a new chance to establish the values that all who believe in a decent society want.

When the displays have disappeared, who will regret their passing? When our newsagents and sweet shops no longer have rows of lewd material to shock the eye of the shopper, young or old, to make the mother wonder what her child might or might not have seen and taken away, who will mourn their passing?

If some newsagents are uncertain as to which magazines they will now be able to display without danger of prosecution, I suggest that when in doubt they should leave the whole lot out. Those who come to their shops will not criticise them for so doing.

The Minister spoke of the Bill in terms of an environmental clean-up. He was right, of course. My hon. Friend the Member for Hove was also right to go for that approach. But when the Minister suggested that the Bill did not seek to strike a moral tone, I believe that he was wrong. As he well knows, the very subject of indecency and decency is a moral subject. I therefore say this to him. The Bill is indeed an environmental clean-up because the streets of our towns and cities will no longer be an affront to public decency. My hon. Friend was right to go for indecent displays and not for obscenity because indecency is a matter of contemporary moral values, which are changing values. The courts must therefore view the matter in terms of the changing contemporary values of our society. In so far as the Bill is an environmental cleanup, I welcome it. In so far as it strikes a moral tone, I welcome that even more.

Finally, I join the chorus of hon. Members who have asked the Government to take a more positive view on the Williams report. The task of that inquiry was to review the laws on obscenity and indecency. The then Home Secretary gave as one of his reasons for setting it up the view the subject should not be treated in a piecemeal way because something more global was needed.

The Williams report has concluded that the law is in a mess. If that is so, how can the Government sit back and let this parliamentary Session pass by without doing something about it? That doubt should not exist in my mind because the Home Secretary has indeed said that the Government will do something. I was a little surprised at the source of that statement. Nevertheless, I have brought it with me. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was assailed by a letter from Mr. Henry Root, who is known to some of us as a writer of rather dubious reputation. My right hon. Friend said in his reply: I can confirm that our Conservative Party will take action against pornography. I welcome that statement. I welcome even more the progress of the Bill and the admirable work of my hon. Friend the Member for Hove.

2.4 pm

Mr. James A. Dunn

Before congratulating the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) on reaching this height of attainment, I must say that I regret that there has been some reference to party political philosophies. When I contributed to the proceedings on the Bill, I had no thought of any party political mantle, and I am sorry that some have sought, however lightly to introduce it in. I do not accept that morality lies in greater measure on one side of the House or the other.

I also congratulate the House on this achievement. It would be wrong to allow this moment to pass without acknowledging the help of those members of the Committee with a background in the legal profession. I am sure that all members of the Committee would wish to register appreciation of the help and guidance that they gave to us in difficult discussions and debates. The House has achieved a milestone with this Bill—the first of many steps that I hope will be taken. I make no further comment on the Williams report, as that has already been done by others.

The Bill goes just so far. We need to go further and we should delve into the realms of the media, including television and the method of mass communication that broadcasting represents. Often what is shown on the television screen is indecent and it is displayed. If the Government do not do anything about it, I hope that a Private Member's Bill will be brought forward.

Much remains to be done if we are to return to those values that most of us appreciate and would like to see maintained and enhanced. Much work has been done, but more is required. Let us hope that those who undertake such work are as successful as the hon. Member for Hove. We should also acknowledge the wise contributions made by the hon. Gentleman's predecessors who laid the foundations. Time and again we have resorted to their advice and to the proposals included in their measures. The House will acknowledge that. I hope that the measure will make progress.

2.8 pm

Mr. Peter Mills (Devon, West)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) on the progress that he has made, and on introducing the Bill. I am one of those who have remained quietly behind the scenes, doing nothing unless called upon. That may have contributed to the Bill's success in some small way. If I had spoken, the Bill's progress might have been delayed.

The only measure that I have been responsible for placing on the statute book was enacted years ago. It took a Friday to do everything. The measure was called the Dangerous Litter Act. My hon. Friend's Bill is more difficult and complicated, yet he would seem to have achieved his objective. The Bill represents a step forward. There is a great desire in the country to roll back the permissive society. The Bill is a start. I hope that much more will be done.

I warn the Minister and the Government that some of us are watching their actions carefully. We hope that something will be done about the Williams report. Some of my colleagues and I will prod the Government into doing something. There is a biblical truth concerning doers of the word as well as hearers of it. I hope that the Government are hearers, and that they will become doers on such important matters.

2.9 pm

Dr. Summerskill

I join all those who have congratulated the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) on the way in which he has piloted the Bill through the House with such patience and tolerance. As he knows, I have not been uncritical of the Bill. Some of my hon. Friends tabled many amendments. Fortunately, at a late hour, he has accepted the amendment on imprisonment. We welcome that as a great achievement. In Committee, the hon. Gentleman also accepted other amendments.

I share the view expressed by several hon. Members, from both sides of the House, that after 16 months it is regrettable that the Williams report has still not been debated in the House. Nevertheless, we have had to deal with an extremely complex piece of legislation which deals with the subject for which the committee was set up. I hope that the Government will not allow another ballot for Private Members' Bills to take place—as a result of which another hon. Member could introduce further legislation on obscenity, indecency, offensiveness or anything related to that subject—before we have had a debate on the Williams report and have heard the Government's views on the committee's unanimous recommendations. I hope that the report will not be put on the Home Office's shelf to gather dust. I also hope that the Home Office will not think that it has done its bit.

I hope that the Bill will improve the unacceptable face of Soho and areas similar to it, which are growing up in our large cities and towns. I hope that it will succeed in its aim of reducing displays which many people find offensive. Unfortunately, at our last sitting of the Committee, the Minister said that the Bill will not make many substantial changes to the substance of existing law. I agree with him. It is unfortunate, but it is true. It will not make many substantial changes to the present totally ineffective existing law. That is why the Bill has been brought forward. There are indecent displays, and the existing law can do nothing to counteract them.

The Bill has taken away old-fashioned words, we are told, such as "rogues" and "vagabonds". It may have done that, but it has retained the word "indecent", which the Williams report recommended should be removed. That word remains, and it is still undefined in the new legislation.

I hope that the new legislation will act as a deterrent to indecent displays, unlike the present legislation, which is no deterrent at all. I hope that there will be more prosecutions, because few have been intitiated under the present law. We expect much from the Bill, because the present legislation is totally ineffective. I do not know what guidance will be given to chief constables, shopkeepers, newsagents or publishers about what is indecent and what is not indecent, because there is no definition. We must all decide what is indecent.

The effects of the Bill therefore remain to be seen. They are totally unknown. In a year's time we shall know whether it has deterred, whether there are prosecutions, whether it will affect the character of local shops, the shops in high streets, and the corner shops. We shall know whether their character has improved or whether the warning notice and the curtain dividing the acceptable from the unacceptable have adversely affected their character. We do not know what effects the legislation will have on local shops. However, I hope that the Bill will be effective and enforceable, and that it will succeed in its aims and objects.

2.13 pm
Dr. Mawhinney

At the risk of being repetitious, I, too, wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury). I do so with some feeling, as he will understand, because I was particularly pleased when he approached me, after he came first out of the hat, to discuss the possibility of introducing a Bill, the substance of which is similar to the one that I introduced last year. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the way he introduced the Bill and carried it safely through this far.

I also congratulate the House, because it needs a degree of good will across the Floor of the Chamber to achieve success on a matter of this nature. This time there has been a determination to succeed, reflecting the wishes of our constituents who wanted the House to move decisively in this direction.

This is a limited and a modest Bill. It demonstrates the art of the possible. The House is composed of people who represent all the viewpoints that are found in our society. I endorse what the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said to defend my hon. Friend the Member for Hove. It is easy for people outside the House with a particular interest and, in some cases, a particular vested interest, to push a certain line and insist on a Bill which reflects that viewpoint. Those of us who enact legislation know that to try to proceed on that basis would doom the Bill to failure.

I support the moderate and sensible approach taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove. He has demonstrated that it is possible to find wide agreement. He has not achieved what any of us would have wished to achieve had we been dictators, but he has nevertheless achieved a measure which will find broad acceptance.

The Bill is about the right of people to choose not only what they wish to see but what they wish not to see. The pendulum has swung too far in our society. Society is saying that it wishes to go back to a more neutral position. The Bill reaffirms the right of people not to look while protecting the rights of those who wish to look.

I welcome the warm support that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State has given to the Bill. It is no secret that the Government rushed out the Williams committee report one week before Second Reading of my Bill last year. The welcome given to my Bill by the Government was somewhat less wholehearted than that given to this Bill. I welcome that change of emphasis. As the House recognises, we are doing what the country has been demanding for a long time. It is always difficult to get a body of opinion into motion. But today we are moving the body forward. We want my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to know that, now that the body is in motion, we expect the Government to continue to increase the momentum and that many of us will help to give it a push in the right direction.

2.16 pm
Mr. Christopher Price

I thank the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) for the concessions that he has made on imprisonment. The House now realises that they are an improvement to the Bill. It may be that the other place will seek to improve financial penalties. I do not know. However, I believe that we are sending forward a better Bill.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hove on his success so far. I am sure that, in retrospect, he realises how wise he was to choose a limited Bill of this kind rather than impale himself upon the prong of the Abortion Bill as many hon. Members were urging him to do for so long. His experience will be a lead and a warning to whoever next wins first place in the Ballot that it is better to adopt a Bill which has a wide measure of public support and the possibility of getting through the House within 12 months than a vastly controversial Bill which leads to endless Committee sittings and, in the end, gets talked out on Report. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his wisdom and hope that his successors will be as wise as he has been in eschewing issues which the Government ought to take on if they are to be taken on at all.

Although the hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) said that he hoped the Bill would roll back the permissive society, that might be——

Mr. Peter Mills

A start.

Mr. Price

—a tiny bit optimistic.

This is something of a cosmetic Bill. It will create a cleaner environment for the public. From that point of view, it is a good thing. It is not in our interests to exaggerate its effects or to try to make out that it will change society. Things will go on, but behind rather more curtains and closed doors than previously. The covers of magazines, which hold the same material between pages 2 and 76, will simply have different pictures.

I hope that the Minister of State will take to heart the fact that the debate has emphasised that the House cannot continue to ignore the Williams report for ever. One day the Government will have to be brave enough to have a debate in which the Home Office says something about its attitude. Until then, the deeply-unsatisfactory state of the law on indecency that has been responsible for many of our problems hitherto will continue. The House should be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) for the way that she has dealt with the Bill and highlighted the problems.

2.21 pm
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills), I played a waiting role—but They also serve who only stand and wait. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) on his achievement. As a long-time friend of his predecessor in Hove, Martin Madden, I know how much he and the electors of Hove will be delighted by what has been achieved.

As many of us know, and as I have seen twice in recent weeks, Soho still has aggressive pornographic displays close to schools for very young children, and the Bill will help to tighten up the law. In Pimlico, where I have lived for 20 years, a sex shop has recently opened near the local swimming pool. It has an appallingly aggressive display outside, offering explicit sex. Children who go to the pool have to mix with the clientele that it attracts, and the Bill will help to clear up such problems.

I hope, too, that the Bill will bring about a higher standard of staff in the shops where such material is handled. I went to the shop in Pimlico to ask what it was about. I asked politely and reasonably, but was set upon by a young thug aged 19, of very little brain, who tried to throw me out without explanation. I asked to see the manager and, fortunately, was young enough to stand ray ground until he came, when I was able to object to what was taking place. People with low intelligence are frequently in control of such shops, and they cannot handle members of the public. I hope that that symptom will disappear under the Bill.

2.24 pm
Mr. Mayhew

This is a unique occasion, because the lawyers have been thanked. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) who is responsible for it, has been overcome by what he has done and has left the Chamber, but I am grateful to him.

The predecessors of my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) were entitled to the thanks that they received, but, above all, my hon. Friend is entitled to thanks for his judgment, determination and skill in piloting the measure through. It is an example of the good sense that the House can show when we are united by sufficiently wide agreement. My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) spoke of the art of the possible, which exactly describes what my hon. Friend has demonstrated with such effect.

The work of the House and the Committee in dealing with the Bill has been arduous but not unduly long. which shows what can be done by the step-by-step approach. Many valuable measures can be lost if they are embedded in a major, comprehensive measure. The dissension generated by other parts of a Bill can be so great as to pull down even the provisions upon which most of us agree.

The Bill will have a useful effect, even though it does not make major and substantive changes to the law. Prosecuting authorities will draw strength and encouragement from the manifestation in this House of so wide a body of opinion wanting this modest measure to succeed. This measure is couched in modern, clear language very differnet from the law as it stands at present. We shall watch to see how it develops. I take note of the remarks of those hon. Members who say that the Bill gives an impetus to the Government to move further along the lines that many people want to see achieved.

It is difficult to place on the statute book provisions that adequately and clearly give effect to broad general feelings. The Government will note the degree of support received by the Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hove on his rare good fortune and on his judgment in securing a place on the statute book for a measure that is popular, good, desirable and right.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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